• Netflix series Beef follows the developing relationship and obsession of two people caught up in a road rage incident

  • Psychotherapist Ajay Khandelwal unpacks what the show reveals about human relationships

This great new show on Netflix is a must watch. Psychologically it demonstrates some concepts that I find especially helpful when working with couples. Although the key characters in this drama are not in a romantic relationship they share plenty with couples who are.

They first meet in a car park in a road rage incident. They spend most of the rest of the episodes attempting to damage one another. She is upper class, works in a creative field. He is a broke manual labourer. He urinates all over her pristine designer bathroom. She daubs his car with graffiti.

In close relationships these types of skirmishes are common place. Aggression erupts. Attacks are made. Even if no bathrooms or cars are damaged, egos are scratched and battered.

We may choose to project aspects of our personalities onto our partner. They may become the screen for various aspects of our less conscious selves. We may then denigrate or even attack this aspect which we find unbearable in ourselves. It's always easier to attack it in another. An intimate other. Some psychotherapists refer to this as the "intimate enemy." 

Or perhaps we project into them and keep them close at hand like a processing plant. Perhaps they will be able to take the mass of ugly material we put into them and make something beautiful out if it. When we see what they do with our loaned psychic baggage we may wish to reintegrate it.

In Beef aspects of ideas about money, sex, race, ambition, childhood are constantly being passed between the two characters. Somehow they can't get away from other. They are held together in a strange fascination. They become more and more depraved and the psychic material passed between them becomes more and more primitive. But there are epiphanies too. Bruised, battered and caked in blood they find themselves driving off a cliff edge.

They mistake some berries for food and end up vomiting and hallucinating. In this altered reality they become closer and the "beef" between them seems to evaporate.

If you choose to watch this drama have a think about who is an intimate enemy in your life. What psychological function do they serve? We all have a "beef", usually several. But such beefs maybe an important part of our development as we constantly project our dissatisfactions outward and then reintroject them in a never ending cycle. 

Dr Ajay Khandelwal is a verified Welldoing psychotherapist in London and online

Further reading

This might be why that person gets under your skin

Are you afraid to break your own rules?

Am I the problem in my relationships?

The unconscious reasons opposites attract