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Parataxic distortion

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Parataxic distortion was a 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 that the real person did not match their 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 the stress is perceived as pleasurable and sometimes as quite unpleasant. “Falling in love” can create the atmosphere where Parataxic Distortion is primarily involved in the perception of the object of affection.

Molnos, A. (1998): A psychotherapist's harvest Parataxic Distortion results when the therapist’s evaluation of the client is effected by past experiences, either clinical experience or in life experience. For example a particular trait of a female client could perhaps 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. The media could also be a source of parataxic distortion, for example, stereotyping of a drug addict as having certain traits and personality components as presented in the media, can have an impact on the clear assessment of a client who has 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.

FARLEX Free Dictionary defines it as: An attitude toward a person based on a distorted evaluation, usually due to identifying that person with emotionally significant individuals from the past.

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