emotional immaturity

Psychological projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when an individual unconsciously attributes their own feelings, thoughts, or attributes to another person. Projection is a way for people to cope with and protect themselves from unwanted or uncomfortable emotions such as guilt, anger, or anxiety. In essence, psychological projection involves transferring one’s own emotions, thoughts, or motives onto someone else, as a means to avoid confronting or dealing with them directly.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, initially conceptualized projection as a defense mechanism. According to Freud, the mind has various ways to protect itself from psychological distress or anxiety, and projection is one of many methods. While Freud’s work laid the foundation for understanding projection, our understanding of the concept has evolved over time, with many modern psychologists examining its cognitive, social, and emotional aspects.

Several factors contribute to the likelihood of an individual engaging in psychological projection. These factors include personality traits, social and cultural influences, and situational factors. People who are more prone to projection often have a higher level of neuroticism or difficulty regulating their emotions. Social and cultural factors can also play a role, as people may be more likely to project certain emotions or traits onto others depending on societal norms and expectations. Situational factors, such as stress or emotional conflict, can further exacerbate the tendency to project.

Types of projection

There are various types of psychological projection, including:

  1. Complementary projection: This occurs when an individual projects their own feelings or thoughts onto someone who has a complementary role in their life, such as a partner or coworker. This type of projection can often be seen in relationships, where one person may accuse their partner of being unfaithful when, in fact, they are the ones who are struggling with feelings of infidelity.
  2. Complimentary projection: In this form of projection, an individual attributes positive qualities or traits that they themselves possess onto someone else. This may be done to reinforce a positive self-image or to maintain a sense of self-worth.
  3. Projective identification: This is a more complex form of projection in which an individual not only attributes their own emotions, thoughts, or motives onto another person but also manipulates the other person into actually exhibiting those characteristics. This can be seen in interpersonal relationships where one person tries to control or manipulate the other to confirm their own beliefs or fears.
  4. Collective projection: This occurs when a group of individuals projects their shared feelings, thoughts, or motives onto another group, often as a means of maintaining group cohesion or protecting the group’s image. This type of projection can be seen in situations of intergroup conflict, where one group might blame another for problems that actually stem from within their own group.

Negative consequences of projection

Psychological projection can have several negative consequences, both for the individual engaging in projection and for those on the receiving end. For the projector, it can prevent them from taking responsibility for their actions, feelings, or thoughts, thereby hindering their personal growth and emotional development. It can also distort their perception of reality, leading to poor decision-making and strained relationships.

For those on the receiving end, psychological projection can be confusing, hurtful, and damaging. It can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and emotional distress. Additionally, being subjected to projection can cause individuals to question their own reality and self-worth, potentially leading to feelings of self-doubt or depression.

Projection in politics

Politicians and their supporters often engage in projection as a way to deflect criticism, discredit opponents, and maintain a positive image of themselves or their party. Projection in politics can manifest in various ways, including the following:

  1. Accusing opponents of misconduct: Politicians may accuse their opponents of engaging in unethical or illegal activities that they themselves are involved in, as a way to deflect attention from their own actions and create doubt about the opposition (classic example: when then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich waged a campaign against then-President Bill Clinton for having an affair, while he himself was having an affair with a Congressional aide on his staff).
  2. Misattributing motives: Politicians might project their own motives or goals onto their opponents, suggesting that the other side is pursuing an agenda driven by selfish or malicious intent. This can be a way to delegitimize the opposition’s policy proposals or campaign messaging.
  3. Stereotyping and scapegoating: Projection can also be seen in the form of stereotyping and scapegoating minority groups or other marginalized communities. Politicians may project their own insecurities, fears, or prejudices onto these groups, blaming them for social or economic problems, as a way to rally support and distract from the real issues at hand.
  4. Groupthink and collective projection: Political parties, factions, or movements may engage in collective projection, projecting their own faults or shortcomings onto rival groups. This can help maintain group cohesion and reinforce a shared identity, but it can also contribute to political polarization and conflict.

Projection in politics can have several negative consequences, including the distortion of facts and reality, the exacerbation of political polarization, and the perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudice. It can also hinder constructive dialogue and compromise, making it more difficult for politicians and policymakers to address pressing issues and find solutions to problems.

To counteract the influence of projection in politics, it is essential for individuals to remain vigilant and critically examine the claims and accusations made by politicians and political parties. Media outlets and journalists also play a crucial role in fact-checking and holding politicians accountable for their statements and actions. Encouraging open and honest dialogue, promoting empathy and understanding, and fostering critical thinking can help mitigate the impact of projection in the political arena.

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A scapegoat is a person or group who gets unfairly blamed for the wrongdoings, misdeeds, or crimes of others. Scapegoating is the act of doing this to someone.

The term comes originally from the Bible, in a story from Leviticus where a Jewish chief priest symbolically laid the sins of the people on a goat before releasing it into the wilderness. The goat psychologically cleansed the bad deeds of the population, serving as a convenient mechanism for group healing.

The modern scapegoat

In contemporary times the scapegoat metaphor is used to describe situations where a guilty party gets away scot-free by loudly and vociferously blaming an innocent “enemy” instead. This can be on a small scale like a workplace or a family, but it can also be on a larger scale within society — labelling entire groups or racial identities as “enemies” fictitiously and thus, dangerously.

Scapegoats have a close cousin in the political realm, in the “Us vs. Them” core dynamic of fascism. Fascists essentially pretend that only Outsiders are dangerous, because it gives anxious people the illusion of safety. This ideology increases the followers’ dependency on the in-group, to the point of hero worship or even cult worship.

The illusion of control

Scapegoating is often driven by prejudice and bigotry, fear, and a need to maintain the status quo. When people feel threatened, either by external factors such as economic or political instability or internal factors such as a sense of personal inadequacy, they may look for someone to blame. Scapegoating can provide a sense of control and empowerment, allowing people to believe that they are doing something to address the problem. However, this illusion of control comes at the cost of dehumanizing and harming others.

Scapegoating can have serious consequences for individuals and communities. The scapegoated individuals or groups can become marginalized, ostracized, and stigmatized. They can experience discrimination, harassment, and violence, both on a personal and group level. Moreover, scapegoating can distract attention from the real problems and prevent work towards constructive solutions. By focusing on blaming individuals or groups rather than addressing the root causes of problems, scapegoating can perpetuate injustice and inequality.

Dealing with scapegoating

Preventing scapegoating requires recognizing its underlying causes and addressing them. This can involve promoting empathy, understanding, and open communication, and fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility. It can also involve challenging the narratives that promote scapegoating and promoting a more nuanced understanding of complex issues, with less black and white thinking. Educating people about the dangers of scapegoating and the benefits of cooperation and collaboration can also help to prevent it.

Scapegoating is a harmful and unjust practice that involves blaming individuals or groups for the problems of a larger community. It can have serious consequences for the scapegoated individuals or groups and perpetuate injustice and inequality. Preventing scapegoating requires recognizing its underlying causes, promoting empathy and understanding, and challenging the narratives that promote it. By working together and taking responsibility for our collective well-being, there’s no reason why we can’t build a more just and equitable society.

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Words, words, and more words.

In a world of increasing disinformation, it’s more important than ever to be armed with actual information. And being curious about the meaning, nature, and origins of things is a rewarding journey in and of itself.

Think of these dictionaries as tools for your mind — they can help you make connections between concepts, understand the terminology being used in the media and all around you, and feel less lost in a sea of dizzying complexity and rapid change. A fantastic vocabulary also helps you connect with people near and far — as well as get outside your comfort zone and learn something new.

Dictionaries List

This section includes dictionaries and definitions of important terms in important realms — and is continually being built out. Stay tuned!

Terms and Concepts

Authoritarianism and American Fascism

Psychology

Definitions and terms relating to the study of the mind, including ideas from social psychology and political psychology.

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Considering your thought patterns and style of interacting with the world, which set of personality traits seems to characterize you more:

InternalizerExternalizer
Believe it’s up to you to change things Expect others to do it for you
Mentally active; love to learn things Impulsive and reactive; take action before thinking about things, to blow off anxiety quickly
Self-reflective; learn from mistakes Avoid self-reflection; rarely use mistakes to learn how to do better next time
Solve problems from the inside out Assign blame to others; believe if others would only give you what you want, your problems would be solved
Sensitive; try to understand cause and effect Insensitive; prefer to forget and move on
See life as opportunity for self-development Firmly attached to the idea that things in the outside world need to change
Work hard to cope with reality Struggle against reality, often by attempting to avoid it
Instinctively take responsibility for solving problems on your own Feel that competent people owe you help; depend on external soothing
Feel guilty when displeasing others Fear being cut off from external sources of security
Can suffer from imposter syndrome Can have low self-confidence and/or a sense of inflated superiority
Can be overly self-sacrificing Overly dependent on others for support and stability

While striking a healthier balance is important for both personality styles, extreme externalizers have it worse than extreme internalizers. The Internalizers’ use of self-reflection promotes psychological growth, while the Externalizers’ staunch refusal to self-examine creates a vicious cycle of self-defeating behaviors and thought patterns.

An extremely Externalizing worldview has the power to stunt psychological and emotional growth, and is often a hallmark of emotionally immature individuals.

Let’s look around us and see if we can spot any examples of emotional immaturity in American culture: in our leaders, in celebrities, in the rich, powerful, and theoretically Most Successful individuals in our society. Seen through the lens of Externalization, do some of their behaviors and statements seem to make more coherent sense?

Emotional immaturity is the core problem we face in American culture

We spend a lot of time spitballing about whether the Misbehaving Elites deserve clinical diagnoses as a way of explaining the frequently callous, antisocial nature of their words and actions (there are even professional advocates in favor of lifting the Goldwater Rule inhibiting diagnoses “from afar”), but the fact is — as with intimate romantic relationships — it’s dangerous to sit around and wait for a professional diagnosis that is unlikely to be forthcoming.

We don’t need an expert opinion to inform us about how their actions make us feel. We don’t need to defer to any central authority to determine if the outcome of their actions is damaging, or morally inappropriate. By the time we get confirmation someone is a malignant narcissist, they’ve already bled us dry and fleeced us for all we were worth, all the while paying the poor victim.

We have the tools of evaluation already in our possession, each and every one of us. Whether behavior can be construed as pathological or within the ever-shifting spectrum of cultural normality (a sort of social psychological version of the Overton window), we can evaluate its effects on our psyche, our moral compass, and — as best we can — its objectively measured effects on the world.

Emotionally immature acts are net destructive (although they may greatly benefit the actor, particularly in the short term). They are the hallmark of the “easy way out,” the lazy “I shouldn’t have to lift a finger” worldview, the “effort is for other people” belief system, the EZ button mentality.

In a culture no longer wholly preoccupied with meeting basic material needs, we remain curiously obsessed with materialism, external validations of success, and hoarding wealth. Meanwhile, we completely devalue our emotional and psychological lives, inner states, self-reflection, and all the “icky, squishy” stuff of human nature — interactions that are not transactions, that cannot be measured, traded, or indexed, that are not profitable to someone, are predominantly seen as worthless. We are told that we need to become “more efficient,” which is techno-utopian speak for “able to generate more profit for America’s economic winners” who already have far more than any person legitimately needs, yet still feel curiously empty and unfilfilled (i.e. the Utility Monsters).

If we do not check this tendency; if we do not put a stop to the relentless devaluation and eradication of our inner lives; if we continue to look the other way while EZ buttons are continuously offered and implemented in lieu of deep effort — then it is probable that the inexorable march of capital’s power will continue to squeeze out anything truly sacred, altruistic, whimsical, unprofitable, and non-transactional in the world. Certainly most of our dystopias have imagined this possibility.

Reclaiming emotional maturity as a value

Emotionally immature Externalizers impulsively act out to distract themselves from their immediate problems, instead of working to solve them. Does this feel at all familiar? Does the grand political game of Kick The Can feel perilously like the kind of group denial that snowballs into much larger problems down the line?

Yes, it does. And we Internalizers should stop feeling guilty and uncertain about calling out examples of emotional immaturity when we see them — for fear of lacking a diagnosis, power, authority, social support, or other inhibition thanks to our perhaps overly-developed good nature.

We should call it like it is: there are a frightening number of Adult-Shaped Children in positions of power. And when the de facto leader of the free world has a finger on the most powerful nuclear EZ button of all, emotional immaturity has swiftly become the greatest, most urgent threat to humanity in our time.

Inspired by…

I’m surprised the internalizer / externalizer framework does not seem to be more widely known, as it feels very descriptive of much of what ails us here in modern society. I got it from this most excellent book, that’s a great one to read in general if you think you might have grown up in — or are growing up in — an emotional immature household and want to know more about what “side effects” that may have produced:

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