. . have been in psychotherapy for almost a year. My doctor has been very
sympathetic and I have found myself flirting with him to avoid dealing with
the various issues for which I sought his help. As a result, Ive felt
that the sexual tension has been building between us for a number of months.
I am now in the process of experiencing a strong erotic transference which
I believe is a result of both of our actions.
When I discussed the transference with him, his immediate
response was Its not me. Although I understood what he
meantthat I was projecting my experiences in past relationships on
himI interpreted his response as defensivealmost guilty. Naturally
this was very disconcerting to me. Although he was very supportive during
the session and asked me if I thought he had been inappropriate, (I
couldnt bring myself to answer him honestly) I left wondering whether
he believed he had played a role in activating my feelings.
In a prior session, he happened to comment on the fact
that I had gotten my hair cut. While this sounds innocuous, when he asked
me about it, he sounded annoyed. Then, when I turned to face him, he said,
It looks good. He seemed relieved. Again, I felt that his tone
revealed a certain selfishness that made me think that he was looking at
me as someone other than his patient. A week or so later I saw him in the
gym. (Coincidentally, we belong to the same club.) It was shortly thereafter
that the transference feelings emerged.
For the last two months I have been obsessed with him,
thinking of little else. I feel as if I have lost control over my life and
I find myself blaming him for it. I also blame myself for flirting with him
and trying to illicit a response. Although we continue to discuss the
transference, I have been unable to express my anger toward him in an effort
to protect myself. I realize as I am writing this that I must tell him how
I feel. Nevertheless, I am conflicted about whether all of these questions
about his professionalism are simply my attempt to resist treatment, or if
I should in fact be questioning his behavior.
Well, first of all, congratulations to you for having
recognized one of your prime defensive strategies: not talking about how you feel.
Thats good work!
Now for the rest
of the story.
illustrates what I mean when I speak about psychotherapists who lack the
competence to deal appropriately with an
erotic transference. Your doctor has
not done anything unethical, but he has made a major blunder in terms of
When he made
his comment about your hair, he stated that he was seeing you
(that is, looking at you). Now, that might sound innocent enough because
we say such things all the time in daily life. But its important to
understand here that daily life is just a mass of
that we use to hide our existential
By making ourselves look good to others, we self-deceive ourselves into believing
that we are desired by the world and therefore possess some important social
unconscious process of making ourselves seen goes back into the pre-verbal
state of infancy where being noticed by a caregiver equates with our survival.
At its most primal level, if you are not seen, you are not fed, and if you
are not fed, you die. As we grow and mature, however, we develop the use
of languageand with our acquisition of language, our lives are radically
altered. From then on, mature communication depends on making ourselves
heard, rather than seen. This represents a profound shift from the narcissism
of self-survival to a charitable involvement with the needs of
many children fail to receive from their parents adequate acknowledgment
of their needs. This can happen through outright
abuse, it can
happen through authoritarian criticism, or it can happen more subtly through
emotional neglect or disinterest in the childs inner experiences. Such
childhood wounds involve a lack of communication itself, and children who
experience these wounds, therefore, will tend to revert to the pre-verbal
state of making themselves seen by the world, as I said above, as a way to
make themselves feel less unnoticed and worthless.
seen (or, as you call it, flirting), though, does nothing to heal yourself
of your inner pain. If your wounds are to be healed, it must be by learning
how to make yourself heardthat is, by speaking about your pain to another
person in such a manner that you hear the true
of that pain. This, then, is what
psychotherapy is all about: the speech and language by which you communicate
your pain to someone who can understand its unconscious meaning and then
reflect its truth back to you.
So now let us
return to your doctors remark about your hair. This sort of comment
is unconsciously destructive because, technically, it plays into your unconscious
need to make yourself seen by others as a way to cover up your feelings of
inadequacy. It adds fuel to the fire, so to speak, and thus you end up obsessed
with whether or not he notices you. Instead of feeling secure in his
hearing your pain, you feel preoccupied about whether you look
good enough to measure up to his desires. When youre in
this place, youre, well, in the same gym with him; youre right
out on the playing field of the brutal, competitive game of life itself.
But youre not in psychotherapy.
why you feel so conflicted about his behavior. If he doesnt understand
enough about the unconscious implications of his seeing you, then
he lacks the ability to understand the transference itself.
So we come to
the conclusion. You seem to understand what you are doing, but maybe
your doctor doesnt. Maybe he doesnt even understand what
he is doing. And thats why you feel the way you do.
What should you
do? Well, you should question his behavior, and if this doesnt
lead to a breakthrough in the treatment, then you have good reason to
terminate the treatment
and find someone who can help you face and confront the transference right
in the treatment and not in the gym.
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