What I find interesting is that in most buddhist literature and other spiritual studies there is an overwhelming theory that we ALL project. What do you hate about other people? It's something you hate about yourself I have always heard. I have heard it most recently make a little more sense - we judge others for their behaviors and attitudes because it relieves the judgments we have against ourselves.
My whole point being, don't we all project? Is it the degree to which borderlines project that causes the problem? The malignancy of it?
I think about this issue a lot. First, I do not think that it is absolutely true that we all ONLY project. Second, I do think there is a different way that people who have learned a behavior or story in a traumatic context relate to that "story," and later attempt to project that "story" onto other experiences.
While I feel there is real value in looking to my own experiences to understand my intense feelings about others, especially when my feelings seem inappropriately intense in the present context, or when my response does not help me to get more of what I want, I also think that when someone is yelling at me and telling me they will kill me (as only one person has, the BPD ex of my DH), experiencing her as angry and feeling my heart beat faster is not just projection. I mean, it is projection to the degree to which I know that when I yell, it is due to anger, and so forth...but I am reacting in part to something that is beyond my experience, that is new to me. I am not only projecting.
My perceptions are conditioned by my experience, and so in some very basic way any cognitive process is informed by what I have learned to date. If I have never been taught what a chair is, I will not recognize one when I see it, and so to the degree I recognize it, it comes in some way from some experience I have had. But even if I have heard of the chair and know it, I may have just heard about the chair, I may use imagination to extrapolate between something similar, and I may just sit in it not recognizing the concept chair, but doing something that is just natural for human bodies to do.
Likewise, if someone yells at me and I have a hard time with that, that may be because I have learned from my dad yelling at me and withholding affection that yelling is scary; I may yell myself at other times, and feel judgmental of that and thus react more strongly with someone who is yelling at me, or I may have a hard time just because for humans, yelling means possible threat and danger, so retracting and being scared is an appropriate response in our cultural and biological history.
I also feel there is a difference between the way the BPD ex wife in law in my life holds her projections. First, she is not just extrapolating based on her experience, as I am when I think her threatening to kill me means she is angry and scared. I am trying to figure out what is happening in her so I can help her to feel better so I am safer. I am drawing from my diverse experiences.
My T talks about something he calls a "trauma dialogue," which is a "story" that is learned in a very traumatic situation. In my DH's BPDex's case, she was seriously abused by her mom and sexually abused by her mom's boyfriends for most of her youth. She did not find a way to get this to stop, so her rage and anger and manipulations and acting victimized did not give her a reliable sense of power. Acting victimized was the most effective. Under that kind of life-threatening trauma, "splitting" is a natural response--trying to separate dangerous from not dangerous, and getting away from the danger...but it is so confusing when the danger is mom, who is also the possible protection from the danger of other abusive adults, not to mention the one who feeds you. But for some reason, this kind of trauma seems to result in a much more clearly defined "story" and much more rigid adherence to that story. Few situations in my BPD's life will be as traumatic as those of her childhood, so there are few situations in which there is a strong enough risk to her well being to be forced to evaluate the effectiveness of her "story," which may have been the story that worked better than others she tried to get mom to stop hitting her.
My T talks about this trauma dialogue being very robust, not being easily altered by new information. I see my own stories that I project on new situations, trying to anticipate what will happen or to develop an approach that helps me get what I want. But these projections are somewhat fluid...they are responsive to new information. My stories are more diverse, and when no story applies, I am able to recognize the limits of my knowledge and learn something new. The more traumatic the past experience, the more reluctant I am to learn or let go of the associated "dysfunctional" behavior. But I am still willing to try.
For the BPD person in my life, she has a really narrow story. She repeats it over and over. It is very potent, and she is very attached to it. She alleges at some point that anyone she is involved with romantically has tried to rape her. In the past 10 years, all her significant partners have been amazingly decent men, who have not tried to rape her. But at some point, men did do that to her, when she was very young, and there is a part of her when she is afraid or angry or feels powerless that clings to that story. She projects her personal history on others.
She also has no tolerance whatsoever for self criticism or criticism of others. She must be perfect in her own and others' eyes. We all want to be perfect, but the consequences of me failing to be perfect as a child were low, and were not terrifying or hugely traumatic. The worst that happened is that my daddy would yell at me a lot. So I am willing to see me as not perfect.
The BPD person in my life is not able to take that in, so she projects in such a direct way. She is not finding the same fault in others as she feels in herself so she does not feel too alone, she is unable to accept herself as someone who does that thing, so she just assigns that to someone else. My SD6 told me of a conversation between SD10 and her BPD mom in which SD10 was whining, BPD mom was yelling at her A LOT, and SD!) said, "Please do not yell at me!" and BPD mom said, "I am not yelling. You are the one who is yelling." BPDmom also had modeled by her mom making others at fault for her feelings.
Finally, there is the enmeshment issue. I see my SDs responding to trauma that their mom creates in their lives by merging their feelings with their mom, by ignoring their own inner life and focusing exclusively on maintaining mom's well being, so that she will not traumatize them. Mom's feelings are expressed as their own. This looks like projection, or like the reverse of projection. I imagine BPD was far more enmeshed with her mom, who was far more terrifying than she is. So now, if she has a strong feeling, there is no difference between her intense feeling and others' imagined feelings. She has profoundly killed her own inner life to take care of a dangerous mom, and now she is an adult and just does not have an "unenmeshed" reality from which to draw.
This is how I see this stuff, anyway. I still do not get it at times...when BPDmom alleges that we let her kids go to big parties and witness drunk adults...but we actually have NEVER done that in our memory, and do not drink much or hang out with heavy drinkers--but SHE does drink a lot, and parties in front of the kids...this is so confusing. Partly, I just think, does she not get that making a big issue out of this will call attention to HER problem? Normally, people are sort of covert in accusing others of problems we have, we are sort of sly. But this woman does not get it somehow, and just bursts out with some accusation. But for us, this is useful...she is unlikely to call up and say, "I have been feeling like I am about to be abusive with the kids," but when she calls and accuses us of being abusive out of a blue sky, we know to think...Hmmmmm, perhaps this is a sign that we need to look at what is happening at mom's house...