The Past-Present Confusion, Part 1

Parataxic distortion occurs when you react to a present situation as if it were pulled out directly from your personal past.

Parataxic distortion can be associated with any event from a person’s past but the most common source of distortions are negative experiences from a person’s childhood.

A person’s history can be utilized in a variety of ways; however, only a few of these ways are useful in marriage. You have to make sure that you are not using mental filters that distort your use of past experiences.

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How does parataxic distortion affect people’s relationships?

Here’s a sample scenario that features parataxic distortion:

Jimmy was wildly in love with Daphne.

However, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Daphne was a lot like his mother, whom he secretly abhorred because she was verbally abusive and critical of all her children.

When Jimmy was 15, he ran away from home and never came back, because he didn’t want to be exposed to his mother’s verbal abuse and general negativity.

Many years later, Jimmy was able to land a small managerial position in a local company that distributed electrical parts and components to neighboring cities and states. Life was good: he was financially stable and after so many, years he found love.

However, his relationship with Daphne was often marred by depression and sudden angry outbursts. Daphne had no idea that whenever she asserted her own ideas, Jimmy was secretly seeing her as his own mother.

Though Daphne never criticized Jimmy harshly, in Jimmy’s mind, she was saying the exact same things that his mother had told him when he was still little.

After much counseling, Jimmy finally admitted that he found many similarities between Daphne and his estranged mother, whom he had not seen since he was 15.

Jimmy’s mom was still alive but he never found the courage to return home, even though Jimmy’s siblings say that she’s changed for the better.

What can you do to remedy parataxic distortion?

By itself, parataxic distortion is not a mental disease. It is a psychological state and the good news is that once you recognize the problem, you can reverse this mental trend on your own.

Of course, this would only be possible if you really want to end the parataxic distortion. Some people hold on to this type of mental filter because they view it as a defensive mechanism so they “won’t be hurt again.”

The main problem with parataxic distortion is that it actually magnifies a person’s feelings of vulnerability. When a person is vulnerable, his mindset shifts from logical to “raw and emotional.”

If you are already experiencing plenty of conflict in your married life, you don’t need to add to the turmoil. You also don’t need more raw emotions marring your lines of communication.

What triggers parataxic distortion?

Parataxic distortion involves a set of thoughts and behaviors that are generally harmful to all kinds of relationships, not just marriage. A person who is deeply entrenched in parataxic distortion can project his past traumas on anyone.

If you want to stop parataxic distortion in its tracks, you need to be aware of its specific triggers. Here are some of the most common ones that I’ve observed over many years of advising troubled couples:

1. Stressful situations

2. Aggressive interactions

3. Unresolvable conflicts and issues within a relationship

4. “Global labelling” and other negative communication techniques

5. Poor management of stress

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6. Presence of a dominating or controlling spouse

7. Excessive and unmitigated anxiety

8. Remembering past trauma in adulthood and negative childhood experiences

9. Different types of rejection from people who matter (e.g. spouse and children)

10. Inability to fulfill desires and needs within a marriage.

All of the triggers that I’ve mentioned so far involve some form of unresolved issue in a person’s life. Parataxic distortions occur because people are not normally able to cope with every negative issue or experience that comes their way.

Parataxic distortion can be extremely toxic to a marriage because you may end up being angry with your spouse again and again and your spouse would have no idea as to why this is happening in the first place.

People who admittedly have this type of vision distortion should accept the fact that the present time is different from past experiences and we actually remember past experiences subjectively.

We should never use our subjective experience as an objective measurement of how we are actually being treated by our spouses if we want to maintain harmony in the marriage.

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