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Working with Transference


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I have spent the morning reading & listening to information here, and it sounds like Transference therapies can offer a longer lasting crow bar to problems in some cases. Is it possible to self-help when it comes to transferences? If journaling or blogging can help raise awareness of yourself, looking at what you wrote & seeing some patterns... could someone go another step & look for childhood patterns? What else is required for healing to occur in working with transferences?

For example, here's a recent exchange that rang with patterns in the past: a coworker had an especially strong reaction to learning of sexual abuse of a student. Later the coworker revealed that her child was recently inappropriately touched by someone they knew. I immediately became tearful and thanked her for caring at all because the same thing happened to me as a child and my mother acted like it didn't matter.

So what started out as something that happened to a student quite apart from anyone at school, ended up pulling staff people in quite personally. The authorities are following up for the student, and my coworker has followed up on caring for her daughter. Now there's me needing to followup on me.

Aren't a lot of us in this position of minimal immediate support, and needing to find a way with what we've got at hand?

The most salient word I can use to describe how my relationship to my parents felt as a child is "confusing." I should probably say "profoundly confusing," because just "confusing" sounds too mild. Guess what, that's how my most intimate relationships feel currently.

There was this person who was supposed to parent me responding to my cousin's actions with indifference. I was young and had no way to make sense of any of that, and there was the rest of our stay all together to get through. I think I just went numb in brain and body.

What would a more positive, less "identity difusing," way have been for someone in my position? I can't change any of the people in the story, and there was no one else to seek help from at the time.

Thank you for listening.

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I think it quite possible (although also quite difficult) to analyze your own transference, so to speak. It's harder to do because people are so embedded in their own stories and the particular ways that they've always told those stories that they don't often have the detachment necessary to look at the larger perspective or find repeating patterns of attachment throughout their lives.

If you are to have a hope of seeing the patterns on your own, you're going to want to do stuff to make the pattens more objective. So writing down what you are going through - which makes what you are going through into an object you can comb through - is going to be a great help.

Keep in mind that understanding a relationship pattern is not the same thing as solving it. Sometimes people say that understanding is the "booby prize" because it doesn't always help you feel better. So in addition to working on understanding, you might also want to work on directly helping things to work and feel better in your current relationships.

Not sure if you found Psychological Self-Tools - which is our self-help book on the site. There are chapters in there about how to potentially go about doing this sort of thing.

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Thanks Mark. It has taken a few days to digest what you said (and read all that material!).

I especially appreciate your bringing up the "booby prize" of stopping at the stage of seeing the pattern and not getting further with changing the present.

Does it help to imagine the same scene from the past with a different outcome, just as an exercise to break up the "determinism" of that event? Maybe go back into that memory I carry with compassion and say, here's how I'd handle that now, if I were the adult caring for that child.

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Does it help to imagine the same scene from the past with a different outcome, just as an exercise to break up the "determinism" of that event? Maybe go back into that memory I carry with compassion and say, here's how I'd handle that now, if I were the adult caring for that child.

That's a great idea. You can do this in a variety of different ways. You can do imaginal exercizes, where you revisit events in the past and imagine yourself altering the script with the knowledge you have today (vs. the knowledge you did not have then). You can also do this sort of thing in the present by looking for instances in your current relationships that echo the way that you coped in the past that didn't work, and work on coping differently in the present.

the past is fixed, in the sense that we cannot go back in time and make changes, but we can easily imagine different outcomes that might have occurred if we changed just a few things back then, and we can alter how we behave today. Your person is not a static thing - it is a process - dynamic rather than static - and quite capable of being changed in the present.

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Thanks Mark. So to connect the transference dots, so to speak, I could look in current interactions for the times I feel confused and go numb in brain and body as a pattern of coping. Or I could look at patterns of attachment; the people I'm intimate with end up utterly confusing me.

Either way, I could venture to thaw out.

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Either of these themes could be good things to examine. I'd suggest writing about it. Writing puts it down at a distance and makes it easier to examine "objectively" - to put a handle on it and get some emotional distance. The thing to for is what are the things that make you uncomfortable in the present in your intimate relationships - write about that - and what sorts of transactions within your relationships cause that sort of feeling to arise reliably. Then - when you understand that transaction pattern somewhat, you can reach back in time and look for ways where that got started - or not. It's enough too to just figure out what is wrong here in the present and then work on ways to adjust things so as to make them work better for yourself.

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