Jan 4, 2011

What is Parataxic Distortion

Parataxic distortion is a psychiatric term first used by Harry S. Sullivan to explain the inclination to skew perceptions of others based on fantasy. The "distortion" is in the perception of others, based not on actual experience with the individual but from a projected fantasy personality.
  • For example: when one falls in love they can create an image of the person as the “perfect match” or “soul mate” only to find out later the person did not match the original perception. The fantasy personality is created in part from experience and from emotional stress. The stress of forming a new relationship or finding a life mate, where one contemplates reproduction, can be seen as stress, although it is perceived as pleasurable.  
  • “Falling in love” can create the atmosphere where parataxic distortion is primarily involved in the perception of the object of affection. It is possible in these situations for chemical influences to play a role in the “falling in love” process.
Taxic (the word is from the Greek παράταξις, "placement side by side") distortion also results when the therapist’s evaluation of the client is affected by past experiences, either clinical or in life.
  • For example, a particular trait of a female client might remind the therapist of his or her own mother and therefore distort the perception of the individual. 
  • Parataxic distortion is very difficult to avoid completely, because of the nature of human learning and interaction. 
  • Media could also be a source of parataxic distortion, for example, stereotyping of a drug addict as having certain traits and personality components can have an impact on the clear assessment of a client with a history of substance abuse. This sort of stereotyping and classification of people in groups has a distorting effect on the clear perception of an individual.
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