Has your partner ever accused you of thinking things that you were not thinking or feeling things that you were not feeling? Have you ever felt like you were in the twilight zone and wondered if your partner really knows you at all? If you answered yes to any of these questions, two things may be driving your partner’s behavior. If you and your partner can identify and work through these things, your communication and understanding of one another will improve drastically.
Many times when our partner has assumed things about us that just don’t make any sense, and we feel like he or she doesn’t really know us, projections and schemas are at work behind the scenes.
Psychological projection is a theory in which people defend themselves (usually unconsciously) by attributing their own negative or unacceptable qualities onto others. For example, a person who tends to be manipulative may accuse other people of being manipulative or a person who is often angry may constantly accuse others of being angry. Projection may be at play when a person assumes others view the world through the same lens as they do and assume that others think and feel the same too. For example, a person who often lies may assume that others lie just as often and accuse a partner of being dishonest.
A schema is a strongly held belief that a person holds about him or herself, about another person, or about the world. In relationships, people often force information to fit their particular schema, or worldview, and ignore or discount information that is contrary to their personal paradigm. Schemas are usually formed in early childhood and can interfere with all adult relationships unless identified and worked through.
Examples of Schemas
A person who was abandoned either physically or emotionally as a child may hold an abandoned schema and accuse a partner of wanting to leave or abandon them.
A person who was abused as a child may be very distrustful in adult relationships and assume that they will ultimately be abused in some way even if their partner has no abusive tendencies.
Someone who grew up feeling emotionally deprived may believe that he or she will never get the care that they long for and go through life highly aware of when their emotional needs are not getting met and discount situations in which they are receiving the care they need.
A person who grows up with very manipulative parents may assume everyone is manipulative and force their partner into that schema accusing them of being manipulative.
When your partner accuses you of something that you have never been accused of before, something that just doesn’t make sense, explore the possibility that schemas may be at play. Also know that none of us are immune to projections and schemas. We all project from time to time and we all have our own personal schemas. In order for our relationships to improve, we will also have to be willing to let down our defenses and examine our own stuff- stuff that may be unfinished business from the past.
This post was written by Kristin Barton Cuthriell, MEd, MSW, LCSW. Kristin is a licensed psychotherapist and author of the book, The Snowball Effect: How to Build Positive Momentum in Your Life. The Snowball Effect explores how to let go of resentment, harsh self-judgments, and explosive reactions. It also focuses on moving forward through fear, living with vision, and taking baby steps to get to where you want to go. To check it out, click here. You can also receive the first section of the book free here. www.thesnowballeffect.com