The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Reacting to good and bad

When experiencing something good we’ll react with satisfaction. Something bad will lead to frustrations.

I regularly experience how well accepted it is, to share satisfaction and how challenging it can be to share frustrations.

In a world that emphasizes the positive aspects of life, it becomes difficult to sit with more complicated feelings. It’s a lifelong learning process that starts as a very young child.

It starts at a stage in which the child cannot yet rationalize how he is experiencing his situation. Reality is still too complicated for the child to grasp. Nevertheless, they need a solution to cope with the situation. The strategy children of that age develop is one of “splitting”. It serves them to distinguish between whom they perceive as the “good person” and the “bad person”. The first being the one who nurtures them. The “bad person” is the one creating frustrations. The toddler can’t grasp that it is the same person. A person who is there to react to their needs in a timely manner but also finds herself in situations in which this can’t be achieved.

As the child seeks to build trust in the caregiver he’ll welcome the “good person” and will reject any bad feeling he has when he experiences frustrations. The child does this by projecting his feelings onto the caregiver without realizing that it is creating the “bad person” at the same time.

For a child that’s an ingenious way to deal with something, he can’t deal with by himself. Melanie Klein helped us understand this method in 1946.

As a result of the splitting, the child develops a projection informing the caregiver about the bad feelings experienced. It’s helpful as it gives the caregiver information to deal with. Nevertheless, it requires that the caregiver understands that this splitting mechanism is natural and serves them in their relationship. It is up to the caregiver now to take in the projection and contain it. The better they succeed the better the child will be able to learn to deal with the situation. That’s how we start to learn that frustrations belong to our experience.

It is by building on this experience that we continue to adapt to frustrations as adults. If we learned it well, we reduced the splitting and projection. If not we continue to live in a world of duality between good and bad, challenged by our ability to deal with things frustrating us.

What makes it difficult to change this learning later in life, is that it has become a habit we are not aware of. To change the way we react to frustrations in our working relationships requires us to become aware of the splitting and projecting we do.


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