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The Intimate Partner as a Persecutory Object: Love is a Battlefield

Uploaded 6/19/2018, approx. 3 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.


Today we are going to discuss an obscure concept in psychology, and that is the persecutory object.

People with certain personality disorders, mainly borderline, narcissistic, compulsive obsessive-compulsive, schizoid people, and paranoid people, these people have a persecutory object.

What is a persecutory object?

It is a tormenting, devaluing, and sadistic inner voice, inner critic, known technically as introject. The introject repeatedly and authoritatively informs these patients that they are bad, worthless, weak, immoral, and generally a disappointment.

Such an inner critic, a relentless integrated prosecutor and judge, is of course intolerable.

In an attempt to exercise this interminable voice, the patient projects it, and the patient usually projects it, onto the nearest person, the intimate partner, the spouse, the mate, the lover. These people then become the outer embodiment or reification of the internal agonizing construct.

The persecutary object also serves as an organizing, an explanatory principle. It makes sense of the patient's world, life. The patient's inner processes and life events are accounted for by attributing them to the nefarious presence, intentions, and actions of the malicious intimate partner, also known as the persecutary object.

Even the patient's attachment to her spouse, or her lover, or her intimate partner is interpreted as the lamentable outcome of brainwashing and manipulation. Everything that goes wrong in the patient's tortured existence is her partner's fault, not hers.

This is an alloplastic defense. It is an almost supernatural emanation from the partner's malevolence, or at the very least indifference and rejection.

This explains everything. It creates relief. It makes the world sensible. It gives meaning.

The patient tries to coerce and shoehorn the intimate partner into behaving in a way that upholds his newfound status as an enemy and a threat.

This defense mechanism is known as projective identification. I have a video dedicated to it on this channel. So the patient tries to force the partner to behave in ways that support her view of him as a persecutory object.

If the intimate partner has his own issues, however, he will comply in his assigned role. He will transform himself into an abuser, and this is known as introjective identification.

If we talk to people who are not versed in psychology, they will say, well, I provoked my partner. That's why he is abusing. And to a large extent, it's true.

The patient then proceeds to rebel against her externalized persecutary object, to defy her intimate partner, to punish him by behaving, for example, promiscuously and by cheating on him, being a slut or whore, by envying and sabotaging her partner's career, by passive-aggressively challenging and provoking him, by humiliating, rejecting, and undermining his well-being and self-esteem, by compromising his public image and standing in society, and by penalizing him in myriad other ways. It's a war. It is a battle here.

Naturally, the patient, having engaged in these unsavory behaviors, then expects a penalty commensurate with her egregious misleading. She becomes paranormal, hypervigilant, and exceedingly anxious. These dissonant emotions also augment her perception of the intimate partner as a source of unmitigated sadistic control and judgment, an imminent and omnipresent threat, and the fount of ambivalence, love-hate relationship. It is a very sick dynamic, but unfortunately, very common.

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