I understand the concept of coercion in the process of projective identification. You cite a good examples. What I do not yet understand -- and here is an opportunity for me to learn something -- is how the example scenarios are “different...to one in which she has become confluent with him.”
My thinking in this area is based on my understanding (which may be flawed) of Object Relations as articulated by Horner and Gestalt “resistances to contact” as expressed by Wheeler. Althea Horner discussed the coercion of projective identification: “The false self attempts to maneuver or coerce behavior from the environment, which is reciprocal to the false self identity organization and in which it can function in the familiar manner. It is critical that the therapist does not participate in this acting out.”
My initial thinking was that in the moment the therapist joins with the client in the client’s projection, he or she has become confluent with the portion of the therapist’s environment that includes the client and the client’s projection. You made a good point about the therapist needing “to be aware and honest enough to know if emerging feelings can really be attributed to projective identification and not the therapist’s own unfinished business.” I suspect that the therapist’s own unfinished business may be an important factor in his or her vulnerability to a particular projection or bit of coercion by the client (or anyone else in his environmental field, client or not). Wheeler states that confluence is “an overidentification of self with the environment, a failure to perceive and distinguish the boundary between the two, by which the organism identifies and knows itself.”(p. 78) If we think of the example scenarios in which the therapist participates in (is confluent with) the client’s projective identification as one of several “contact solutions,”(p.79) that is, the choice of one path from many potential roads to contact, we may say that in that moment the therapist is unaware of another, better contact solution. Contact solution is defined as “the best resolution of environmental/self resources and subjective needs that the person cam make at the time.”(p.79) The therapist makes the best contact solution available in light of his or her awareness. Indeed, Wheeler further states “...increased awareness is the necessary and sufficient condition -- not for ‘dissolving the resistance,’ but for making another contact solution possible.’”
The background for these ideas comes from Wheeler’s discussion of the “Goodman/Perls Model” of Gestalt therapy in which he says: “Like Freud, Goodman emphasizes that a defense, or ‘neurotic mechanism,’ is a solution to a problem -- though characteristically, Goodman highlights the creative aspects of the problem-solving act, where Freud would use the more pessimistic language of compromise between opposing ’forces’. The problem in question is a block or disturbance, in awareness: ‘Neurotic behaviors are creative adjustments of a field in which there are repressions’...Thus, in contrast to Perls, the ‘neurotic mechanism’ here is not so much a ‘resistance to contact’ as it is a kind of contact - i.e., the best contact, by the definition of contact itself, that the subject can make under the given circumstances (which is to say, without full relevant awareness, without all the relevant elements of the problem at hand).
OK, all that being said and cited, as someone relatively new to the world of Gestalt and certainly to the translation of Object Relations concepts to Gestalt terminology, I will be pleased to have you elaborate further.
Horner, Althea J. (1984) Object Relations and the Developing Ego in Therapy, Jason Aronson
Wheeler, Gordon (1991) Gestalt Reconsidered, A New Approach to Contact and Resistance, Gardner Press