Distant Enablers and Projective Identification: How we enable individuals that we see ourselves in
Case Study: Deobra Redden and the Las Vegas Judge Attack
There is an appetite to become enablers of objectively bad behavior from a distance, especially through social media.
This enabling happens because we see ourselves via identity group in the character we don't know.
This is called "projective identification".
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If you're not familiar with this situation, Deobra Redden attacked a Clark County District Court (Las Vegas) judge by leaping over the bench to assault the judge. This action led to him essentially getting an onslaught of additional charges added to his sentencing.
While most people are not fazed by these additional charges and agree that his behavior was abhorrent, some want to find excuses for his abnormal behavior. Their excuse of choice: mental illness.
Redden indeed has a history of mental examinations and diagnoses but what ends up happening is that people use mental illness as a catch-all excuse for any negative behavior that a person exhibits. However, in psychology, there is always a choice in behavior despite the diagnosis.
What tends to happen is that when there is a desire to apply empathy, distant enablers remove agency from an individual who has a struggle and make excuses for the inexcusable. No psychologist would say that due to his illness, the judge is at fault for his behavior.
If mental illness was a legitimate form of excuse for violent and criminal behavior, much of the prison population would be free. Prisons are filled with relatively unstable and anti-social individuals but there is always acknowledgment of agency in the court of law & in psychology.
Much in the same way, being an addict or having a bad childhood is not an excuse for your present-day behavior: you still have agency. By understanding that prisons are filled with people with lots of behavioral issues, what Redden did still stands out as being very abnormal.
However, the phenomenon of projective identification happens all of the time, whether it's based on race, gender, or political affiliation. The enabler is projecting onto the world what they feel insecure about and taking something that has nothing to do with them personally.
It is typically fueled by insecurity and tends to lead to paternalistic framing for this distant individual. They lean into victimhood by exclaiming "They couldn't help it", rendering them helpless in controlling this inevitable urge to be violent, devilish, or irrational.
If people are just helpless to their urges, then why have therapists and psychologists? They would be obsolete, right? It's because there is an understanding that humans can change their pattern of behavior and mitigate their emotional state with effort, strategy, and repetition.
When anyone enables, it's not for the benefit of the person they're enabling; it's for the benefit of the enabler. It makes the enabler feel good even if it weakens the person they're infantilizing. This is even more exaggerated for these distant enablers with zero relationships.
People who aren’t enablers understand that there are consequences for breaking rules and crossing boundaries. They can be empathetic to an individual's struggle while simultaneously recognizing that punishment must be rendered for committing a heinous act.
But mental illness does not mean you have zero agency: you always have a choice. Redden stood in the face of a judge like many others & made a choice, a terrible one at that, but he chose it. Deflecting to "if white people did it" is a deflective statement fueled by paternalism.
When you enable an individual because you feel a kinship to this person via identity, you're inadvertently saying that excusing their bad behavior is more tolerable than managing your insecurity. Enabling from a distance is a luxury activity since you'll suffer no consequences.
It's easy to forgive the negative behavior of a terrible human being when you don't know them or will ever suffer their wrath if leniency was actually applied to them. However, someone else would pay and you'd be none the wiser.
A nation of enablers begets a victimized nation.