Psyche & Spirit Archives
brief articles for busy clergy


Interpersonal vs. Intrapersonal Conflict
Meredith Whelan
May 2, 2006

When you find yourself the repeated focus of confusing, and perhaps unpleasant, interactions with a member of the congregation, rather than having a straightforward interpersonal conflict, you may be a stand-in in the personís intrapersonal conflict.


Through the process of projective identification, a person who has a rejected part of the self may project that onto another person and then continue their relationship with that part of the self through their interactions with the person. The most complicated aspect of this is when the recipient of the projection actually resonates in some way with this role and unconsciously plays out the drama with the person.


The role of pastor is often evocative of projections because the role itself holds strong meaning for people. One of the common projections is of parent where the intra-psychic struggle is about being loveable, acceptable or dependent. You may sense a person's need for approval and unconditional care-giving on one end of the spectrum or the need to put you down with constant criticism in an effort to win the parent-child style of power struggle on the other end of the spectrum. Other common projections are of pastor as judge or gatekeeper, standing between a person and God.


The main thing to keep in mind is to respond to these projections with consciousness about your response. Sometimes it is appropriate to respond from within the role, if you choose to, such as being "the face of love" as a person shows you just how unlovable they feel with their negative behavior. Other times, it is more appropriate to let the projection fall flat and not pick it up as much as the person wants you to. For example, when a person tosses you the "hot potato" of being judgmental, and in fact you may even feel judgmental, you could choose to focus on communicating clearly about your boundaries with expectations about how you are treated so that you can continue in a healthy relationship with them. Here you have recognized the projection, chosen not to play out the drama of judgment and rejection, but rather offered a clear and healthier expectation. Recognizing when you are dealing with some oneís intra-psychic conflict can help you to choose your best response.

Copyright 2006 Psyche & Spirit














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