Tag Archives: Transference

What do I do now? (and why does DS feel so far away)

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For the last few months, my colleagues and I have been dealing with a highly uncertain situation in which our company was considering closing down. There were meetings in which very little was actually said. Most of us went on holiday in December without knowing for sure whether we would have some form of job security in the New Year. The most horrible part was the rumours. People in the industry seemed to know more about what was going to happen than we did. It was humiliating.

We eventually had a staff meeting on Thursday. A few of my colleagues and I tuned in via conference call after a stressful two hour delay. Our boss confirmed that our company was being liquidated and would shut its doors at the end of next month. It was like a punch to the gut. My belly twisted and turned as I heard the fear and anger in my colleagues’ questions.

The last few days have been weird. I have only cried for a few minutes. This is highly unusual as its usually the first thing that happens to ease internal pressure. I’ve felt lost, sad, angry, confused, tired, numb and sick. I’ve had blurry nightmares where I wake up without remembering what happened but feeling horrible and tired. Last night, my eyes shot open at 3.30am and I couldn’t fall asleep again. I usually sleep pretty well. My husband has been amazing and I don’t think it would have been possible to get out of bed if it weren’t for him.

The retrenchment has brought up all sorts of issues and questions. I am extremely sensitive to changes in my life and threats to security (You may say: well that’s life…full of surprises! While I realise that, I can’t change my fundamental sensitivity. I can only hope to work with it rather than against it). I don’t want to be a burden to my husband by relying on him if I can’t find a job. I loved my job and it was a big part of my identity and sense of accomplishment in life. How do I find a job that offers the same challenge and is also in line with my ideals and ethics? I guess I will have to find out.

The timing of the retrenchment coincides with confusing feelings about the therapeutic relationship. DS and I had a really weird session a week ago. I drew quite a few parallels between the transference and not feeling I was “good enough” for my dad. There were moments of insight and clarity as we chatted but the session was also painful. I can’t really remember the whole hour. It feels as though someone took an eraser and haphazardly worked on parts of my memory. What I can recall is sitting at the end of our session, feeling very out of sorts. Things felt fuzzy and I sunk into his couch, staring up at the ceiling. My whole body felt tingly and I floated about. I think I remember DS asking me a few times about what I was feeling in my body. It took a lot of effort to answer him. I just wanted to escape into the fuzziness. It felt so relaxing and inviting. Not sure what it was. And then I snapped back into my body when I realised I was running past our time. I am always very conscientious about keeping to time. I felt disorientated but told DS I was “fine” and got up. He said he would see me next week and I walked slowly out of there, putting my hand on the door frame to steady myself.

That bodily experience has never happened to me in therapy and I felt vulnerable and confused afterwards. I desperately hoped DS would e-mail or text to check in and see whether I was okay. He didn’t. That, and the fact that he let me walk out of his office in that state, makes me feel like he doesn’t really care. Like it’s just an illusion. I know therapists sometimes don’t make contact in these types of instances because they want the client to know they have faith in their self-soothing and coping capabilities. But I feel more alienated now. I don’t feel stronger.

As if that weren’t confusing enough, he said he would not be able to meet with me for our session next week because he is away. It was me who noted it was after the Valentines weekend. I immediately assumed that he must be in a relationship and going away with the one he loves. Not good for the transference feelings, especially abandonment, pining, anger and loss.

I guess it just feels like I have to do this alone because he won’t really be here for me during this very stressful time. Yes, he may meet with me an hour a week but whose to know if it really means anything.

Everything must eventually pass and on some level, I know this will be an opportunity for growth. It just feels so overwhelming.

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Call in the transference crew

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I wish I could call in a cleaning crew to deal with the mess of the hectic transference I am dealing with in the therapy room at the moment. My feelings are splattered across DS’s wall in garish colours. It’s confusing and disorientating to look at. The sheen of shame casts a veil. I cringe. My true feelings trickle down in globs, split into rivulets, meet again as new shades. This is the Jackson Pollock of erotic transference, peeps.

I’ve been in its grip for quite a while but have always kind of tamed it with vigorous swipes of denial, obfuscation or throwing cold water over affectionate, loving feelings for him. As it has progressed, I’ve felt safe enough to open up to DS about my experience of him. He’s dissected dreams and fantasies of beds, being in nature together and other symbols. In my dreams, he appears as a playful, warm, loving, open and accepting male figure who cares about me. I feel beautiful, happy and seen. Awake, there is a longing that gnaws at my soul.

While I’ve tirelessly read up on what transference is and how it works, it has not eliminated the shame of feeling this way about DS when I am a married woman in love with her husband. There’s this little voice that screams that I am bad, not loyal and do not deserve my husband. Today is a strong day so I can muster up a “screw you” to that voice. Other days, I tend to believe it.

I guess the thing that I am slowly discovering is that feelings are not something you can really control. They just are. They pop up when they please. We then choose to assign meaning to them. This is new for me as I tend to to feel overly responsible for my thoughts and feelings, as well as of others’.

This magnetic pull to the wonderful DS is FIRMLY rooted in some long unmet childhood needs that he’s given the space to surface. If I think of it like that, DS is merely a safe container or receptacle for those desires. Instead of acting on them, he’s gently probed for meaning to help me understand what is going on.

The last thing I would want is for him to actually act out the fantasies or cross the boundaries. To do so would be very scary and completely obliterate the professional relationship we’ve both worked hard at creating and nurturing.

On Monday, DS asked me whether I had thought about being with him or what a romantic relationship with him would feel like. Obviously, he asked this question with the professional aim of working out the root of my longings. It was not intended as a suggestion or come-on. I replied that I had not really thought about it in concrete terms. Rather, I would have visions pop up every now and then of what it would be like to do things together or various scenes in which certain scenarios or feelings would play out.

The child in me wants to be loved without conditions or limits. She wants to be given the space to be playful, unrestricted and creative. Above all, she wants to be seen and be enough.

At the moment, I am restricted by my own doubts and fears about being worthy enough to assert myself in the world. Maybe, in the future, I will be brave and skilled enough to successfully fulfill these needs outside of therapy.

In the meantime, I have to trust in the process and try to deal with the awkwardness of talking about all sorts of erotic and romantic notions.

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Being held (and the promise of a transitional object)

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I sit wide-eyed and stiff on the therapy couch, anxious at our imminent separation over the holidays. My body plays “statue statue” and attempts to remain as inconspicuous as possible. I feel very young in this session. While I am sure I’ve shown my young side to DS before, this is the first time I am aware of it. It is the strangest sensation. My mind peeks at my arms and legs and they seem fully-grown. My feet can easily reach the floor if they want to. And yet, I feel small. My lips pout like a toddler. My throat emits a slow, somewhat babyish and unsure voice. Me, but not me.

DS, on the other hand, is exactly the same. He wears one of his checked shirts, unbuttoned over a soft cotton top, jeans, and sandals. His feet are nice. Soft and squishy toes like mine. Re-assuring.

When we started the session, I’d shared another dream I had about him. I was with my mom and sister in his waiting room, and my mom was asking about him. I looked through all his client folders and pulled out one with his information. It was in my handwriting and we looked through it. Out of all the text there, all I could recall seeing was his name and surname. The next folder I pulled out contained a drawing of a bunny rabbit. We found this peculiar and laughed. The scene changed and we sat under a tree in a lane. DS walked past with a bottle of red wine or champagne in his hand. He was on his way to a party and he stopped to greet. I was dressed in a lilac and silver dress with revealing cleavage. He seemed taken aback by my appearance in a good way. I introduced him to my mom and then we chatted while my mom and sister chatted. DS was so relaxed. He seemed spontaneous and uninhibited. I was in awe that he could speak so much! The scene changed again and I was walking into a cottage, with DS leading the way. I was telling him how much I needed him and how scared I was. I sensed he was trying to let me down gently without upsetting me. Not wanting to be confronted for my neediness or held accountable for my behaviour, I pretended to sleepwalk while talking to him. My eyes were closed at times and I held out my hands to guide the way. He stopped in the bathroom with his back to me and said “We  have reached a really important stage in your therapy”. DS seemed to be very conflicted and weighing up the best course of action. Eventually, he invited me to wrap his arms around him from behind. It felt surreal and warm. Then he turned around to face me and brought me closer to his chest, like a parent would with their child. We gazed into each other’s eyes. I felt truly held and safe in that moment.

Tears fall down my cheek and he asks what I am feeling. I am sad and he wants to know why. I figure out that it’s because I know he can never hold me like that. From the dream, the session unfolds into memories of pretending to sleepwalk as a small child so I can spend time with my parents instead of being alone and scared in a dark bedroom. I have a bedtime and am supposed to leave my parents alone after that. I make myself as inconspicuous as possible in front of the television and hope they notice but don’t notice me. Sometimes it works.

“So you were supposed to disappear after 7pm? You were not supposed to exist after that,” DS says gently, more as a statement than a question. I nod and feel the pain of these weighty words. He draws a parallel between me then and the me sitting before him now, present but not able to be fully present.

He doesn’t know that for the last month or so, I’ve been sleeping with a soft toy cow my mom gave me a few years ago. I want to ask him about transitional objects but also fear that if he knows about the cow, he will deem that sufficient. Then I think that obviously it’s not the same because it’s not his. With my mind made up, I shyly ask him if he ever gives his clients something to hold onto during breaks.

“Yes I do. Actually I had been thinking about that for you,” he responds. My eyes widen even further and my heart skips a few beats. He understands. The mood changes in the room and although I am still reserved, excitement pops its head out.

I ask if he has chosen an object and he says yes, a book. The corners of my mouth shoot outwards. Books are special. We often talk about them and I sometimes share with him what I am reading. Has he chosen a specific book yet?

“I have a few in mind,” he says, adding that he is still deciding between fiction or non-fiction and what do I think?

I want to bounce around in my seat in anticipation. “Fiction”. Fiction is personal. I imagine reading the words that his eyes have already sealed onto the page and imbued with meaning just waiting for me to discover. While a book is not soft, it can still be held and even better, loved in words and thought.

It becomes clear he has spotted the ‘Haruki Murakami’ book lying next to me, which I’d bought along to read beforehand. He asks whether I’ve read Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and I reply that it’s my favourite book.

“I would like to read something I haven’t read before. Surprise me.” The kid is feeling cheeky and brave. He takes it well and we agree that he will think about it.

The session comes to a close quietly. I feel shy again but content. My eyes slowly gaze upwards at DS and he smiles. I smile and quickly look down again. A few seconds pass and I look at him again. His eyes radiate and he smiles again. A fun game. For a moment, I am held in mind.

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Reclining in therapy

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I went to my therapy session last night after deciding I was going to resist a pattern of avoiding intimacy and difficult feelings. The idea was to tell my therapist DS (Deep Soul) that I had considered taking a month’s break from therapy and that it was a way to punish him. In a weird way, I wanted him to know how awful, hurtful and lonely it felt for someone to be inaccessible. The same way I felt he was… Someone who would not show me how he was really feeling, who he was and what he was about.

It took a while for me to open up last night because the pain I felt from the previous session sat in my chest. DS listened carefully and seemed curious to know what I had felt at the end of our last session. I sensed he was waiting for me to make the link between describing myself as “upset” and the undercurrent of anger that he was picking up in the moment.

My GPS can’t find anger?…

Needless to say, it has taken over a year in therapy to even admit to being angry sometimes. Before then, it was a landscape I dared not tread or reveal to others. At my core, I have believed that anger is destructive and will annihilate relationships if expressed.

After some back-and-forth questioning, I eventually admitted that I was angry with him. I was so exhausted from a mentally and physically draining day at work, there was barely energy to remain seated upright on his couch. Admitting to the anger was a relief but also seemed to suck out the last vestiges of energy. I so desperately wanted to lie down, tuck a pillow under my head and relax into the slate grey material.

But everything inside was screaming that it was not safe to lie down. It felt too intimate and dangerous. Lying down was as good as being defenceless and at his mercy. Not only did I think these things but my body was tensing up to defend itself from something.

I took a deep breath and realised that I needed to take a risk. Especially as I had already risked baring my anger in a small way to him. And with that, I explained I was going to lie down a bit because I was tired.

Not my most graceful couch dive…

Have you ever seen a cat being forced into a bathtub of water? That’s how my body felt as I leaned back and rested my head against the pillow. Every limb wanted to spring up and out of there! My chest, stomach and legs felt exposed. I curled my legs up away from him and placed a cushion over my legs as a sort of barrier. I told DS that I felt like putting up the cushion between us as a makeshift wall.

It was a peculiar situation. I can’t say I knew exactly what possible scenario I was protecting myself from. After the initial internal freak out, the fear and anxiety became manageable and my body melted into his soft couch. I had never noticed the lampshade with dull, comforting light next to the couch. The position afforded me a view out into the street below and of his two bonsai trees on the window sill. Being there was surprisingly comforting in a way. I was going to tell DS that the couch felt  like a boat, drifting along the sea but I didn’t end up sharing that for some reason.

My reclining body was triggered again when he spoke about the difficulties of the therapy relationship and how it was inherently one-sided. He was trying to empathize with where I am right now. As he said this, it was like there was a bubbling volcano about to explode in my stomach. A pain in my stomach erupted. It was scary and I was sobbing. He acknowledged that it probably felt like he was putting up a boundary. I agreed and felt like showing strong emotion was pointless. There was no use in being angry with him because it would not change anything. DS agreed but said that not having a use didn’t eliminate the anger. It was still there.

Thanks for getting the Wild Thing song stuck in my head…

At the end of the session, he suggested I read the children’s book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, which some psychoanalysts believe is a reference to how destructive anger may seem in a relationship but is a feeling that can be tolerated if the attachment is strong enough. I quite liked listening to someone read the short picture book aloud here. If you watch the video or know about the book, you will spot how synchronous it was that the couch felt like a boat!

One thing I really enjoyed about last night’s session was that DS used “shitty” and “crappy” when talking about moments of anger. It’s the first time he has sworn. I told him that it made me feel like he was a real person and that he was probably doing it to encourage me to vent a bit more. If only he knew I swore like a sailor sometimes 😉

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Therapy clients often feel sheepish

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My therapist DS (Deep Soul) definitely cares about me. I have come to this realisation after blogging about our last session and how devastated I was that he had kept me at a distance. It was one of those moments when things are so emotional that you are blind to your own issues and first need to vent before being able to think straight.

To the bloggers who are either in therapy, therapists or just emotionally intelligent: Your insightful and objective comments as outsiders gave me a lot to think about. Thank you for being there, not judging and also giving me the space to come to what now seems obvious.

My more rational and gathered thoughts about Monday’s session are as follows:

– I went into the session with two opposing expectations. On the one hand, I expected him to be there for me and comfort me, when my dad had not. On the other, I was expecting him to be exactly like my dad and disappoint me.

– I think DS kept a clinical distance with his neutral tone of voice and unaffected demeanor because he did not want to enter a dynamic playing out in the moment.

– He was being a good therapist by giving me the space to fully feel the overwhelming fear, panic, sadness and anger that seemed to emerge out of nowhere. He was allowing these feelings to discharge their energy.

– Not rushing to alleviate my abandonment fears allowed him to observe me and listen to what I had to say, in order to get a better understanding of why I was feeling this way.

– As far as I understand, he was basically allowing the negative transference to strengthen. He then timed his interventions to make me aware of the similarities between how I was feeling about him and how I had felt with my mom and dad, two major attachment figures.

– He did not rush in to offer comfort because that is not his job. By standing back, he was trying to allow me to sit with the discomfort and build the capacity to do that by myself in future.

– When he did not answer my question about whether he had thought of me during our break, he might have been extra icy and seemingly detached to tease out the anger and rage that I’ve been too scared to unleash.

– He put the transference needs above the needs of our therapeutic relationship. While research shows the relationship as being the most reliable marker of therapy success, I think he took the risk because he knew it would pay off.

– The risk was that I might think he was such an absolute asshole that our relationship would be irrevocably damaged and I would cancel all sessions. (But I think that would more likely have happened with an avoidantly attached client and not an anxiously attached one)

– I don’t think it was easy for him to see me in such pain and to indirectly cause me more pain in the moment by not responding as I had wanted.

Sheep have feelings too…

I am satisfied with these findings and they resonate on a cognitive level. They are starting to sink in on an emotional level. If he had responded as a friend or family member, we would have lost a good opportunity to advance my therapeutic goals. Could I go so far to say that he was giving me tough love? (And I hate to use the L word here because I cannot even comprehend that would be his feelings for a mere client)

Yes, I am only human and I am still feeling very raw. And it does hurt to expose a wounded heart. There is also an emotional pain volcano inside my torso that I have to deal with. After erupting on Monday, it’s now at the point where it’s bubbling and simmering slowly.

DS said that even though he was going away this weekend and would be taking Monday and Tuesday off, he would let me know if an evening session opened up on Wednesday. Failing that, I would see him in two weeks time.

While I was wiping my snot and streaked mascara from my face, he also said he thinks I am being too hard on myself by expecting progress all the time. When I think of how he dealt with me, it actually just strengthens the warm feelings I have for him as a therapist. Which creates a dilemma in the sense that my attachment to him has now only strengthened. It’s going to be a bitch to eventually say goodbye.

 

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A letter to my therapist from the top of disappointment mountain.

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I was disappointed that you couldn’t make our regular session tonight. And then my heart dropped when you said you couldn’t see me tomorrow morning instead, especially because I was so excited to have some time off from work, which never happens. I had felt quite enterprising to come up with that solution. I needed to see you because of what I was feeling on Father’s Day.

I’ve reached the point in disappointment mountain…

My aunt and I had planned this whole lunch in honour of my dad, my grandad and her boyfriend, who is a dad. The day before the lunch, my dad’s wife (my step-mom) got awful news that her elderly dad had finally passed away. My dad apologised and said he would not be able to make lunch because he had to be there for her. I was trying to deal with the mixed feelings of not seeing my dad and also feeling my step-mom’s pain at losing her father. I completely understood that my dad needed to be there for her and I said as much to him. I guess I felt though that this was not the first time he had been there for other people and not me. Obviously, it was not just about my dad not making this one thing. It brought up a lot of times in the past when he had not shown up when he needed to. When I was left disappointed by his actions. The times I felt achingly alone and like he didn’t care that he was leaving me in that state. I realise I am sitting on a mountain of disappointment that’s collected over the years and I don’t quite know how to get off it. This mountain is high and its magnitude is dizzying. Disappointment sits thick in the base of my throat and stomach. It threatens to choke and engulf me from the inside. I remain vigilant, waiting for other people to do the same. I even half expected you not to answer my e-mail before tomorrow, but you did.

Where’s the pause button in my brain?…

It was when I was sitting with these emotions, trying my best to deal with them, that I got your message. I was happy that you had taken the time to respond to me. But then I found out that you wouldn’t be able to meet me at an alternative time because you were sick. So much ran through my mind and I tried to slow it down. I tried to think about things logically. But I couldn’t deny what I was feeling. The disappointment was rising through my torso, slowly. My body felt tight, clenching. Scared to relax in case I drowned. My chest also felt tight. Was that my heart closing off? No.

It felt like a scratch on an open wound I guess. And you didn’t cause the wound. It felt like a scratch because I had expected so much from you. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have just waited for your response before imagining our session and the relief at being able to let go of what I was feeling. The relief of being in your consistent, accepting and calming presence. There is no relief now.

Let’s all just acknowledge that sick has ick in it…

Within this maelstrom is sickening worry. This is the second time you have taken sick leave in a few weeks. I am so concerned for you. Are you sick with a heavy cold because of the weather and long working hours? Did you come down with flu because you are burnt out from us and your body needs rest? Or is it something far more serious?

I try to take a deep breath and think of the safe place in my head I shared with you recently. In the field you stand in your sturdy green tweed jacket among the verdant winter bushes. The misty mountains act as a backdrop and a light drizzle leaves a film of crystals on your clothes. You smile gently and I pray this reassurance washes away the disappointment.

I can’t afford to lose another person who means so much. You are like family to me. Please don’t leave me.

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