5 Forms of PTSD Projection and How They are Reenacted

Keywords: Forms of PTSD.

PTSD Projection is mostly an unconscious process, and it can take considerable time to become fully aware of it. Often, it is so woven into the structure of our character, that we perceive it as being normal.

Projection does lead to the reenactment of emotional patterns. What this means is that the emotional hardships (trauma) that you experienced earlier in life are repeated. The circumstances and the people involved might be different but the emotional content is the same or it's opposite.

Projection does lead to the reenactment of emotional patterns. What this means is that the emotional hardships (trauma) that you experienced earlier in life are repeated.

Unconscious Patterning and 5 Forms of PTSD Projection and Reenactment

To make it transparent how projection and reenactment flow together, I will outline some examples and elaborate on them. These are meant to give you an idea of how projection and reenactment are commonplace.

  1. Jerry suffered severe neglect due to the emotional absence of both parents during most of his childhood. Both the hurt of not being loved as well as his righteously indignant anger, due to the absence of his parents, are too much to bear. Jerry’s most dominant symptoms in response are anxiety and depression. Besides being anxious and depressed, Jerry projects his uncontained anger through continuous self-hatred and self-reproach. Furthermore, this manifests as never feeling good enough - although well accomplished - and a severely adverse feeling about his body-image. The projection of anger through self-reproach and self-hatred reinforces his initial pain of rejection, and not feeling loved and validated. His prior outward circumstances though have now become internalized.
  2. Jim grew up with a father who wouldn’t abide by any words of resistance. His father was highly demanding, incessantly making comparisons and belittling remarks. Jim, to survive and get his father’s approval, did his best to please his him by anticipating his projected needs and wishes, and trying to excel at school. His core hurt also rests on a lack of validation, love, and acceptance. He seeks to bridge these by giving too much of himself to any situation, therefore, lacking in boundaries and integrity. Jim gets married to someone who is equally overbearing, just like his father; controlling and narcissistic, towards whom he projects his need for validation through pleasing her. He attracts and reenacts the same dynamics that were present in his youth. His reenactment, ultimately, leads to a mental breakdown, medication, and PTSD depression.
  3. James grew up with a mother who was short-tempered and would often shout at him and his sister. As a kid, he would often yell and fight back. James would project his anger, at the same time, onto his sister and get argumentative and abusive towards her. Married and with two kids of his own, he swore inwardly, that he would never be like his mother towards his kids. As a result, he allowed too much space (projection towards an opposite). Due to the absence of healthy boundaries, his kids get involved, as teens, with recreational drugs and hanging out in "bad" company. In this scenario, the projection seems more complicated, or more natural to miss, because it involves a projection towards a compensating opposite for what he experienced. It also leads to internal conflict and frustration for James. Thereby, he continues the reenactment of his unresolved anger from his childhood days.
  4. John has a mother who was and still is overly attached to him out of her insecurity and lack of love. She gives him very little space, always wanting to know where he is, and not allowing him space to form relationships. These smothering attachment patterns with her doesn't let him the space to grow into an entirely independent adult. As a consequence, making him feel afraid of women and sexuality resulting in delaying of intimate experience and eventually, leaving home. When he finally does meet his first girlfriend, he marries her, projecting and repeating a similar attachment bond that he had with his mother. His wife has a similar attachment need, and so they form a symbiotic relationship, as opposed to an interdependent relationship. They tend to be anxious, lonely and feel empty and lost without each other’s company.
  5. Jenny suffered severe physical and psychological abuse from both parents and sexual abuse by her father. She suffers from a lot of repressed anger that, as an adult, which she acts out as being severely judgemental and critical of everything and everyone, along with a strong sense of self-righteousness, fault finding and demanding justice. She separates herself from others, although when she does interact for a period, her inner conflict, through her outward projections and reenactments of anger, quickly escalates.

Forms of PTSD and The Complexity of Reenactment

These are 5 examples of the various forms of PTSD reenactment. They show how difficult and complex reenactment and projection can become and how widely spread they are in our present society. It gives some idea of how projection and reenactment further trauma through the generations and becomes hard-wired in our collective psyche.

Please keep in mind that the examples put forward are meant to shine a light on some of those patterns. They are not limited to only these five mentioned here.

Which of these five forms of PTSD projection and reenactment did you resonate most with? Leave your comment below.

  • Rebecca says:

    Number five hits the nail on the head for me. One of the most difficult things to overcome in recovery was acknowledging my self righteous narcissism. Recovery is a terrifying and vulnerable process of becoming humble, yet assertive, and then striking a balance between the two.

  • Jacqui says:

    number 2 is most similar. I still struggle with actually allowing myself to think the parent was ‘mean’ and abusive in her neglect. shoot forward 3 decades to divorced from my kids father and the relationship is kind of ok now with ex. Mother really hates my ex but cannot recognize herself. I attracted another narcissist recently and it was quickly ended (by he) his anger was harsh. I fell into a deep void following that brief experience.

  • Rikko says:

    Roland, as usual superb stuff!
    BTW— Your #1 + #5 explains me to a tee! Is it possible to have a combo or is everyone just one or another?

  • Lesley says:

    1. Jerry emotional abandonment rejection

  • Nicole says:

    I can find myself in all of these, although I haven’t gone through the adult reenactment of #2 (I tend to choose gentle, non-overbearing partners who break the parental mold, thankfully).

  • Eleanor says:

    Number 1 hits home for me. I was emotionally neglected by both my parents. My mom was a very self-absorbed alcoholic (still is) and my father was absent emotionally. I battle depression and anxiety. I’m extremely hard on myself and at times myself hate myself. I often feel like I don’t deserve to be loved, that I’m not good enough, and that there’s something inherently wrong with me.

    • Roland says:

      Thanks for sharing. See if you can allow yourself to connect with the underlying anger of it and hold that. What I mean to say with that is not to indulge in that feeling/emotion nor escaping from it but holding your awareness there while you face anger as it is.

  • Bevery says:

    This makes relationships sound as if people are bouncing around and colliding with each other all the time using each other to work out their particular angst
    I recognise this since my recall of childhood traumas, and that for me is the key knowing what makes you tick so that the damaging effects of past traumas can be separated from the here and now and avoid as much as possible more abuse and falling into old patterns.
    This takes lots of unravelling and deep self analysis

  • Rose says:

    #2 At 63, just learning not to be a people-pleaser, always try to get people to like me especially the ones who are mean, dismissive, and rude. Try to get their attention and then go overboard. Spent decades humiliating myself, so sad.

  • Susan says:

    What about PTSD that is suffered by those in the military? ?

  • Hannele says:

    Well, #5 is very much like me, but I also have a harsh inner critic, oversensitive nagging conscience, lots of shame and feeling guilty pretty much all the time. Still, I don’t think I hate myself.

    Disappointment in people and judging their actions in my mind is followed by “who do you think you are to judge others” -guilt trip. Anger and irritation are ever present in my heart… injustice that I see and experience triggers almost unbearable anger again and again.

    I avoid people so I don’t need to get disappointed and anger-triggered quite as much as when alone. And thus there’s less guilt (for the anger). I’ve isolated myself so totally that there isn’t a single person I keep contact with anymore. I feel I’ve become bitter, angry, hurting toxic human waste…

    I’d appreciate advice on how to start making a way out of this emotional dead end.

  • Rose says:

    Hi Roland,

    I have a question? Why is Jerry’s anger seen as righteously indignant anger and Jenny’s anger is seen as “self-righteous”? Isn’t that exactly what her father took when he abused her, her sense of self? Wouldn’t it make sense that she try to reclaim that self? Why isn’t her anger seen as righteously indignant, he took her innocence and her sense of self! I think this is flawed psychology and it does a sexual abuse victim great harm by not allowing their anger to be as righteous as it ought to be seen !!!

    • Angela says:

      I had the same thoughts about how Jenny was described. I don’t like the term self-righteous to begin with, because it assumes that an outsider knows the motivations for someone’s judgments of another person’s behaviors.

  • Gerri says:

    I am 1 and 2, and my name is Gerri. My husband (and I) are 4. I also relate to 5 to some degree

  • Jennifer says:

    Number one seems to hit home the most for me, but I think I have a mixture of all of them to a degree. Very great insights!

  • bernadette says:

    Tks for updates really helps me. having difficulties in my relationship, married an angry man like my father, does not want to admit it. I inherited fear and find it hard to connect. Trying to free myself from it, but not sure if the therapy I’m doing is helping??

  • Shelley Head says:

    I’ve done this all my life but one particular situation that became a real obvious issue as an adult stemmed from an incident in childhood. An older girl took advantage of me at the Bowling Club toilets telling me we were playing “mummy and daddy”. I like the attention and so naturally looked for her the next time I went. Sure enough she was there sitting at a table with other people. She turned, looked at me, then turned away again. She ignored me and did not join me in the toilet again. The hurt, the rejection that I felt was tangible. As a result, years later, I had a fear of walking into a room full of people – I anticipated some form of rejection. I thought that after having prayer and forgiving this young girl (my abuser), it would no longer be an issue for me – but I didn’t know I had PTSD then or that I was projecting. I couldn’t understand why, why, why, it was still bothering me so much. So, how does one stop projecting?

  • Momofspecialkids says:

    None of them really, I often find it difficult to find support for ptsd that has been caused by having my own child go through multiple surgeries and being in critical care NICU. Not many people talk about the post traumatic stress NICU and special needs parents suffer

  • liz says:

    no.1 and 3 my mother died when i was 6 and i was passed from pillar to post – whoever was available to look after me while my father worked long hours- sometimes days sometimes nights- about 18 months later he remarried and the only way i can describe my step-mother was nasty . cruel and abusive but when my father was around she was sweet and kind

  • Jim says:

    Well…i don’t relate to any of these. My situation was…odd. I slept in my parents bedroom until I was nearly 10 years old. Why? I have no idea. I asked my mom she said because I had high fevers and she didn’t want to run down the hallway. Umm. My sister’s bedroom was empty when she went to college. I was 4. So…it was 2 seconds away. My father died in 2004. I remembered all this suddenly after he died. I was 44.Guess I didn’t care or I blocked it out before that? My wife is neither like my mom or dad. But I am VERY dependant on her. I think by sleeping in their bedroom, I feel like I never grew up. I’m a 58 year old child? Hard to explain. I get angry, depressed, defensive VERY easily. Cannot deal with loss or the passage of time. I think my mom might have kept me in there…as a surrogate husband? I read it’s covert incest. And I will NEVER ever get over it. I had my own bed in there but…i was married to both of them it seemed I was a part of their marriage. Had a happy childhood though. They took me swimming, parks, department stores. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. It’s making me tearful. I feel violated somehow, boundaries were crossed and…sorry I CANNOT talk about this. I feel sick.

  • Nicole says:

    All 5 , ( other than direct sexual assault), resonate with me, and all 5 scenarios have somewhat played out in my life/a relationship within my 35 years of age. I was diagnosed with C-PTSD and BPD which, my Dialectical Behavioral Coach/Director should be renamed and referred to as Child PTSD, so that it explains how this affects the person’s personality and would help with the abusive stigma related to the dianosis. I was only correctly diagnosed after I advocated for MYSELF at this age. I’ve sought treatment on my own for depression/anxiety on my own since I was 20. My abuse is still validated by my parents. Saying that I, “earned It, “they were “stressed”, “I brought it upon myself by fighting back.” I suffered a breakdown two years ago, after teaching in the Public Schools for 8 years. Too many negatives, weapons pulled on me, lay-off threats, never-ending hours, abusive letters from some of the parents with in small budget town’s. Now I’m scared and angry of everything. My marriage is over, lost my house. My three cats, my brothers. Can not receive Social Security because I paid into a pension for my whole career….but there are those who never work? I’m on my ex’s insurance, but I just want him to move on. Leave me. My brain doesn’t know how to love, feel safe, not break. Yet, my greatest fear is to be alone. I pray none of you have BPD, it is a prison of misery and self-punishment that you don’t realize isn’t ok, until you’ve pushed everyone away and killed everything good. You’re like Cinderella, you have to flee before people “see the real horrible you!” The one ingrained in your head by your parents. You have to dazzle them, bask in the happiness that you give them, thinking that the memories will be enough to live off of after the clock strikes twelve and you turn “Back into a pumpkin.” Aka, yourself. Which is fine, but you think it’s not. You’re left feeling emptier than before, because you’ve felt such joy with them……..and…..Now you’ve broken their heart too. You realize that this was wrong, and what you did too late. The pain is excruciating.

    • Janine says:

      Wow, I have ptsd and bpd too and what you described is how I feel exactly. It.is.soul destroying, one where you want the.emptiness but you want the fullness at the sane.time. You spend.most your life scared and pushing.people away until there’s no one…then have a self.pity party over it. Sorry to be blunt but that’s uow it is for.me z

  • Charlene says:

    Several of these are a part of me. I am shaking and tears are running down my face right now. The hardest one to realise though is #4. What I have passed on to my daughter, because of my pain and fears has just hit me. All I ever wanted was to protect her. What I have done.

  • Jeannie says:

    #1 and #5 for me. Oh my goodness, yes. These hit home for me. I was rejected by my father, beaten regularly by my mother and then gang raped. I am now in my 60’s and finally found an answer to what is “wrong”. Thank you so much for your helpful information.

    • Rosie Rose says:

      Jeannie, you’re so brave for addressing those things that happened that should never happen to a little girl. Thank you for your strength.

  • Anne says:

    I grew up with my parents constantly fighting. My dad was a drunk. I later married a very abusive man. Stayed married for 25 years. He beat me so bad one night I went into a women’s shelter. 5 years later I met someone. And they have turned out to be also abusive. I hate myself now

  • David says:

    Number three describes me well

  • Kate says:

    # 5. Not sure about sexual abuse but I do have emotional flashbacks that seem to suggest it might have happened. I am an opinionated, pretty judgmental, and quite angry person, and I hate that about myself. I’m trying to overcome it and become more loving/ objective/open- minded, but it’s pretty hard as it sometimes seems as though I have no control over what comes out of my mouth!

  • Pam says:

    My PTSD is military related. How do I overcome that?

  • Bridget says:

    I have been diagnosed with PTSD after my sister was murdered during a mass shooting. Although I wasn’t there that day this was the church I attended for years, and got my sister to start coming. I moved and encouraged her to keep going, as I had gotten other family members to start coming. I am usually an outgoing person, but now I have severe anxiety and can’t handle large crowds. I have panic attacks for seemingly no reason.

  • Santie says:

    I associate the most with number 2. Due to criticism and rejection and abuse, I resorted to people pleasing and overachieving behavior. Needless to say my boundaries are sadly lacking, but on the mend. I actually chose my career because of these reasons that motivated me. So I became a veterinarian, of course because I love animals, but also so that people would see me as a success and accept me. Now at 40 years of age, I have ptsd, exacerbated by the euthenasias I have had to do. But understanding things better helps so much. Thank you so much Roland.

  • Cheri says:

    #2 and 3 I never thought of the situation of #3 in this way before, but makes a lot of sense. It is also the one that saddens and hurts the most because it effects the people I was responsible for doing my best for.

  • Virginie booth says:

    I will be more like number 1 jerry on the path of recovery after realizing that both my parents are narcissist and understanding that narcissists are unable to love l can free myself l suffered a lot for nothing wish l would have realized before but better today than never

  • Cassie says:

    Number 1 really hits home, something I struggle with and have been working on. Have to stay present and aware all the time.

  • Sian says:

    Number one definitely!

  • Deb says:

    All 5 of them. How is that even possible?

  • Kris says:

    Although getting better, my entire life seems to be a stage that I act out my childhood abuse, emotions, fears, etc. I’ve often thought of writing a book called “THE STAGE”. Its helpful for me to recognize who the other actors are in my life. Now, to undo and leave those unhealthy ones behind…

  • Trinity says:

    1 and 5 are the most relatable.

  • Angela says:

    Interesting stuff! I can recognise myself in different examples, especially the first. Also the idea of a ‘projection towards a compensating opposite’ from the third example strikes a chord. This is what happened when my parents raised me: they both suffered from neglect, and I suffered because there were not enough boundaries. It has always been clear that my parents suffered, but this also has been the reason I didn’t feel the space to feel, or need, or individualise. They needed me to fill their emptiness, and now I’m afraid of the emptiness inside myself..

  • Lou says:

    # 3 for me. My mother would fly off into an emotional rant at the slightest provocation, and I gave it back to her tenfold. I hated how she couldn’t control her emotions and I’d fly into terrible rages myself after she and my dad argued. Now I never shout at my children. I am too laid back with discipline, and I know it. I remain calm at all costs, and my daughter once said she couldn’t imagine me shouting at them. They are good kids, but they have very little respect for me. They more or less do whatever they want without me interfering. Luckily, they don’t want to do ‘bad’ stuff, except for thumbing their noses at me. They act superior.

  • Ruth says:

    The overly protective is unknown – unless contol is a substitute, but the rest is familiar. And I am angry as hell, with no place to leave my anger.

  • Lora says:

    The first three.

  • Just your friend unseen says:

    I struggle with abandonment, even with people online, if they blow me off for awhile, I assume the worst and push them away. I was told by one person I was projecting/gaslighting them. That was not conscious on my part. It’s had to forgive yourself when you were crippled by a sexually abusive father/alcoholic mother (he drinks too) who abandoned you. I find it really hard to make healthy attachments with people and am too good at finding fault. Some of it is that other people can be so triggering. I want to be gentle/kind with myself but after a lifetime of abuse, it’s difficult. I’ve had a LOT of pain. Because my mother was a religious freak I feel I must pray all the time for forgiveness, it’s truly phucked up.

    • Haylz says:

      Am sorry to read that. It’s hard to untie all the knots we get contorted into from the actions & behaviour of our upbringing. I was psychologically & emotionally abused & have problems getting on with my family. I’m looking into projection to see if it’s something I or they do & have come to the conculsion that we ALL do it ALL the time!

  • Bangsat says:

    Depressive disorder due to another medical condition,panic disorder,Generalized anxiety disorder,ptsd,alcahol use disorder.
    All formally diagnosed.

  • Recovering Partner of Someone w CPTSD says:

    Ugh… now I understand better about the bewildering behaviors my former partner displayed. I’d say every example here played out between us…so much narcissistic parental emotional and physical abuse… then other sexual abuse by a sib and then numerous others on into adulthood, including bearing a child and being forced into an abusive marriage…and that followed by another abusive marriage that lasted 8 yrs. It took me awhile to finally see the stories and lies that didn’t quite add up were survival strategies. Strong abandonment fears and lots of avoidant attachment too. It blew up in a way I’d never imagined. And the projections were oh so many that I was in disbelief.

  • Rachel says:

    What about the one where the parent experienced severe sexual abuse as a child? Then when she has a child thinks that everyone is sexually abusing them and goes so far as convincing the child to admit that they have been sexually abused. Only the child never discloses this to any agency that gets involved. Is this along the same lines?

    • Roland says:

      There are many types of scenarios. There is a tendency to either reenact in the same way as a parent or the exact opposite. Both can keep trauma bound intergenerational. For example: if you endured very strict control and abuse, you might go to an opposite with your own children in not giving them any boundaries, which will give its own set of problems. Your example is valid as well as a possibility.

  • Dominique says:

    #2 resonates with me. Thank you for this article. I’m continuing educating myself.

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