Tag Archives: transference

Dear Therapy, (dispatches from the bunker)

Standard

I’m at this ever-so-familiar point in my experience with you, which is inevitable.

Transference. That fantastic adolescent stage of The Work when I become a snarky dismissive teenager again.

I’m assigning to you whatever emotions, biases, fears, hostilities and actions I would to a person of significance in my life. At this juncture, despite my obvious progress, it all becomes Mother, again. You are my Mother. Your agent, another ever-pleasant and helpful therapist with the wingback chair, low lighting, doilies, sets of clocks and tissues, commercial carpeting, collections of I’m OK, You’re OK books, posters explaining states of emotional identification, is Mother.

Sigh.

Editorial note: buckle in. This post goes all over the place but lands without much turbulence.

Due to my track record, and my intellectual tendencies to do all I can to learn about “law of diminishing returns in therapy” and to debunk the “value of long-term psychotherapy” I have to say that I am yet again at a crossroads: I don’t like this … this occasional visit to you to tell you about my nocturnal dreams (heaven forbid my life ambitions) and memories and the pattern I exhibited in choosing some friends (boy- and girl-) who were like Mother: distant, brilliant, funny, competitive, self-absorbed, unreachable, private and terrified.

Two weeks ago, the death of a former friend whom I’d unknown (read: hung on every syllable) more than 11 years ago rocked my world. She was all the things I’d apparently (and unwittingly) looked for in a friend. The news and my reaction at first were other worldly, as though on a ticker tape: “HUMAN FEMALE CONTEMPORARY OF REMOVED YET SIGNIFICANT PERSONAL HISTORICAL CONTEXT ON SEPARATE EXISTENTIAL PLANE HAS EXPERIENCED CELLULAR AND SOMATIC FAILURE. CHECK BOX HERE TO ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIPT OF THIS DATA. THIS MESSAGE WILL SELF-DESTRUCT IN … 60 DAYS.”

She is the first of my mommyhood friends to go to God and she was young, vivacious and super-involved. After initially processing the news, I thought I was ok. What I was unprepared for was the just-hours-away first shipment of hungover emotional detritus ranging from authentic heart-wrenching sadness to fervent antipathy due to how things died between us. How from the beginning I was dazzled by her glitter trail, slack-jawed and dazed like a five-year-old in Health-Tex clothes and Mary Janes at the tetherball pole and almost two years later, at 34, wrapped soundly by the tether around the pole as she slapped the ball again and again and again ever tighter.

I felt compelled to perform. To join in the chorus of mutual persons who knew her and voice my once-knowing of her. To be a part of something, despite my personal perspective, which likely everyone else was feeling: her loss. I shared on my Facebook wall about her some kindnesses and candor: that our relationship had ended years before, but that her loss was significant to me nonetheless. Most of all, I was sad that I would never see her again and thus, the exchange of another awkward civility between us was impossible. Everything I wrote was sincere. I took it down after a few days because I felt sticky, as though I didn’t belong: those people still deeply loved her. I share this here and now, likely at risk to my friendship with mutuals, but that’s how life is. I’ve never been a faker. When we share these intricacies with people and then they die or we divorce from them, our loss of them also become a loss of ourselves as well, I think. That part of us / our relationship (or co-identity) we have and which they held (in their own value system) has ceased to be held. It’s “floating” out there, vulnerable and alone. That can be hard. 

Our relationship imploded, as many have, due to my allegiance to and advocacy for my children over the relative intensity, tenure and we-all-know-it’s-really-not-healthy but we-will-deny-it-because-its-easier friendship with this person. Just like so many others. So many others with people who so energetically reminded me, in one shape or another, of my woeful habit of picking people who were stunning/terrified, cheerful/angry, energetic/hostile, altruistic/competitive, ____ and ____ and ____… and ____ (read: just like me) to populate my consciousness.

As Rumi said in his poem “The Guest House”:

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

he may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

Yet here’s the difference, this time: I am wiser. I understand now that my “selection” of those vipers (energies) in my life had little to do with them, and everything (or at least more) to do with me. This is what maturity has given me: extremely poor distance eyesight and a mirror to hold at 18″ away. That somewhere in the lineage of all these souls, are lessons about myself. About my predilections (will I EVER spell that word correctly?) due to history.

Rumi continues,

the dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

‘Guide from beyond.’ I like that.

I’m done with saying “conditioning.” At some point, I must cease blaming this stuff on my former life and wake up to the pattern and see that the tenor of familiarity in those people is what hooked me — because honestly, I KNEW.

Not two months after she vaporized from my life, I’d lined up another vacuum. And then four more in two years’ time. If I’d just slowed down for a few breaths, stepped back, checked in (as if a 34-y.o. pregnant mother [with braces and bad hair] of 2 boys under 6 could really do that: STAYBUSYSTAYBUSYSTAYBUSYSTAYBUSY BLOCK ALL INTUITIVE FEELINGS) and assessed, I would’ve walked run. I would’ve kept things high level. But there was something in ME. Every single one of those people was just like me: floundering. We just didn’t know it. I’d like to chalk it all up to battle shock, loneliness and sadness from her exodus, but no. It was me.

In retrospect, at almost every relationship genesis, the other person was in pain and I think I was there to save the day. Not to assuage their pain (initially, anyway) but to somehow apply my kindness to them to alleviate the guilt I unconsciously felt about my mother and my inability to fix her and have some semblance of normal. (Now I know it wasn’t my job — that this is all part of the lesson, the journey in life that we are all on — we are here to do the best we can with what we have and love one another, no questions asked, and mind our own business while at the same time effecting peace and harmony as much as we are able. Right?)

Oh Therapy…  the magnifying-glass-under-the-sun, focusing-on-the-leaf feeling I have toward myself (me, being the leaf, the sun and the glass, all at different times) and my hesitancy to go forward with your agent? What of that? True to my other -ections, I need a goal. I need to have an end point, an expiration date. A “best used by” date. Something that tells me, some form of pee-on-the-stick, get-a-prick-of-blood test that tells me… I am good. And not just “good” in the sense of how my father would say, “We’re good…” as in “has everyone used the bathroom and we’re good to go?” -good:

he will make good his promisefulfillcarry outimplementdischargehonorredeemkeepobserveabide bycomply withstick toheedfollowbe bound bylive up tostand byadhere to.

But GOOD… (have you ever looked up “good” in the dictionary? My word….) — these are great:

for good those days are gone for good: foreverpermanentlyfor alwaysevermoreforevermorefor ever and everfor eternitynever to returnforevermoreinformal for keepsuntil the cows come homeuntil hell freezes overarchaic for aye.make good 

TRUE EXAMPLE!:if I don’t get away from my family, I’ll never make goodsucceedbe successfulbe a successdo wellget aheadreach the topprosperflourishthriveinformal make itmake the grademake a name for oneselfmake one’s markget somewherearrive.

That good. The “those days are gone forever -good.”

My mother has died. Corporeal and somatic and cellular death occurred over a year ago. 19 months, 7 days and 20 hours ago. -ish.

I would like to move the fuck on. For good.

Being a student of life, an examiner, a truth-teller and a “seeker” (whatever the what that means), instead of moving the fuck on, I instead have found myself dissecting the lint from my navel and wondering about shit which simply doesn’t matter any more.

I have been given numerous “signs” to move on. Signs and messages that have told me “All is well” and “You have been written a blank check by God” and “For every shame there is a star.” Those are the audible ones. The supposed more subtle ones are the breath-by-precious breath fact that I am here, every day, aspirating and exchanging gases with the trees and the grass.

There is no “thing” I’m doing “wrong.” Therapy is …. Not my mother, but I’m beginning to treat it as though it is: I’m dismissing it, arguing with it, wondering about its value and its harm. My therapist is lovely — as transference (in my case) dictates, I’m polite with her. I’m talking and “listening” and nodding and “Oh? Yes… Well…” -ing while at the same time … inwardly hostilely wondering, “What the fuck is the point of this? Can’t we just exchange casserole recipes and be done?”

I told her yesterday, “I miss my sense of humor.”

“Really? What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, I used to be really flip and funny, before …”

“Before what?”

“Before this. Before therapy. Before ‘help’ and ‘healthy’ got in the way…” I squirm in my chair. Instead of looking away, I look right at her. With dead, laser eyes and a sneer beginning its curl on my upper lip. “Oh, I know… it was a defense …”

She said nothing.

I continued. “Was it wrong? Maybe. No. It wasn’t. But it was certainly more fun than this.” (Pass the sugar, my venom is getting acidic. I need you to think it’s a nectar first….)

She adjusted herself.

I sat there. Put the old well-intentioned pillow (covered in who knows what) on my lap. I wanted a blanket. I trusted no one. I knew I’d done it, was in for it. I was expecting some sort of comment along the lines of, “Well, I don’t take much of what you say with any weight. At least you’re you. Much of what you say is figurative emotionally, loaded with a lot of irregularities. And I don’t take it that seriously…” which is part of the rambling and incoherent voicemail message my mother left for me three days after my birthday a few years ago. The other part of the message is the blaring daytime television talk show playing in the background. She left the message on the heels of yet another argument we’d had when she called me earlier in the week to say happy birthday to me and then remind me that it was she who should get the presents because she did all the work, “HEE HEE.” My eyes rolled so much they spun themselves out.

“But it was all a joke, don’t you see, Mally. You take everything so seriously…”

God, I’m screwed.

What do you do with that? Yes, I still have that message. Part of me says, “IT’S POISON! GET RID OF IT!!!” and the other says, “NO! IT’S DATA! IT’S PROOF!” and then another part of me says, “You’re 47. Move on.”  To which I reply, “Move on and keep it –move on? Or move on and delete it –move on?” It’s hard to decide.

Why? Because like most of us, Mom had a different face for each place. I’d like to say that I’m pretty consistent, but the fact is that we’re all a little scared inside. Hence, the faces.

So, Therapy, what do we do?

A message I woke with in my head this morning was “This is life. Everyone has their shit to deal with. The more you inspect it, the more you find… How much more do you want to find? It’s all about you anyway — your deflections and projections and transferences and ruses to throw Therapist off the scent by bitching about other people are all about you anyway… YOU DO KNOW THIS… Accept it. Accept what’s yours, learn what you can and grow up. Cut it out.”

Her wings are her fingers.

Her wings are her fingers.

It wasn’t quite that Joan Rivers-esque, but it was close. Wouldn’t it be funny if my Messenger were Joan Rivers? It would be The Best.

Mother is gone and I have learned. The latent vipers I welcomed have also vacated. I don’t give all my bandwidth to the vacuums anymore and yet… . Egads, I don’t want to be a vacuum. So this requires Radical Acceptance of what is and screw the rest. After all, what are we going to do? Unring a bell? That’s crazy. The thing is: we all have stories. We all have -isms.

My goal, I just realized 20 minutes ago when the computer locked up and I was concerned I’d lost all this post (which I hadn’t), was that I think I’ve have resumed with Therapy was because I had a certain, alien, expectation of Therapy, that I would emerge from it somehow taller, Scandinavian, in fabulous boots, and perky. That all my shit would be gone and my baggage replaced with a new set of Louis Vuitton — all of it, from the key fob to the casket — and I’d be ready to pack in new experiences, taller experiences.

I honestly thought I would be scrubbed of stuff. It’s like when I rowed in the stroke seat for the first time; the coaches just automatically assumed I knew that I wasn’t supposed to pull the hardest, but that I was simply supposed to set the time. Well, I did both, and I screwed up my back. I wonder how many other people think that Therapy somehow has a new YOU waiting at the end of the ever-distant and moving finish line? But that’s not it, is it? That’s not at all how it goes. I’m going to emerge emerging wiser and older with my same mismatched luggage, two rolls of animal print duct tape, some WD-40 (one of the small cans, I’m 47 after all), and toolkit instead of an array of showy new designer luggage and casket.

And that’s the point. We are who we are, with all our baggage and shit and we can still get fabulous boots. 

I’m feeling that when I bring this wagon back to center, that when I identify with these moments of transference and realize that they are really about ME, then change can happen. 

We’ve got this. 

 Thank you.

Transference — Tend Your Own Garden

Standard

I don’t know what it is about the winter, but it seems to bring out the bear in me. At a time, when I should be going inward, slowing down and reflecting in order to prepare for a better or new / improved renewal in the spring, I have found myself lately drawn in to the drama of other people and getting really tired of it.

Usually I can float on the surface of such things; usually I can smile and nod, like a game show host at the unraveling contestant on my set. I could gesture to the camera tech or producer to cut to another shot.

But lately, the allure has been too much. I have found myself zooming in, in super-HD to examine the pores and nose hairs of the people in my life, looking for flaws and looking for ways to fix them. For me, this is wrong, and it’s classic transference:

Transference is a phenomenon characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another. One definition of transference is “the inappropriate repetition in the present of a relationship that was important in a person’s childhood.”

Basically, I am recreating the dynamics of the same crap / relationships I had as a child. (Transference is hard to depict, and it’s very subtle. If someone wants to help me out here, correct me: please do!)

This is my own layperson’s understanding of transference: that when a person named Percival does something that reminds you of a person named Mortimer and you end up unconsciously treating Percival like you would have treated Mortimer, even though conditions, situations, context, relationship, everything is different.

And so Percival is all like, “Gladys! I had no idea you felt this way!!” And you’re all like, “Gladys?! My name is Hilda!”

WAKE UP! This isn’t about your grandparents.

Hahahaaaa… Anyway…

That is transference as far as I can understand. And it’s unconscious; it is something we are not aware of, but when we become aware of it, and our tendency to exhibit transference in our relationships with other people, our lives can change.

I miss you, Charles Schulz.

I miss you, Charles Schulz.

It didn’t used to be like this. I have had significant “training” (therapy) to help me understand when this is happening. In fact, I quit my first therapist because I believe he started exhibiting transference to me and I felt the neutrality was jeopardized. But lately? It’s not like it’s been happening without my knowledge. I know better.

It was like sipping from the bottle of chaos for me. Look at another person’s so-called problems, and treat them as I would the person that I’m reminded of so I don’t have to focus on myself.

I chalk it up to boredom. I also chalk it up to a basic fatigue of navel gazing, of looking back at the misfires in order to create a more content and pleasant future or present.

It’s addictive, the navel gazing, and it’s really narcissistic too, because after a while, if we don’t make any healthy changes based on our navel gazing, if we don’t become aware of our tendencies redirect, or deflect, or point the finger at someone else, we end up deciding that our way of living is A-OK, Billy Bob. (I don’t know where Billy Bob came from…) And nothing changes. We drink/gamble/eat/smoke/shop/dream/navel gaze too much, we shout too much, we hold on too tightly. We don’t improve.

What bugs me most about result-less navel gazing is that lots of people are into it. As a yoga instructor, I try very hard to live the code of mindfulness, of “live unto others” and be cool with whatever happens because that’s meant to happen.

I had a student who reached out to me. She has since quit my classes (yes, they do leave me). It was not under the best of circumstances that she left (she transferred her past / mother on to me and wanted more of me than I felt was professionally appropriate). But I don’t “cut” people off unless I get a directive from them or the situation goes from awkward to untenable. So as is customary, when I was sending out the announcement for the upcoming session, she asked me to remove her from my email list. I did. I get it: clean slate, start over. I dig that. It showed me growth from her. I was actually happy for her.

Namaste and all that stuff.

Moving on.

Oddly, a few months later, she sent me a link to a blog about yoga instructors and how we need to check our egos at the door and not make the classes all about ourselves and trying to attain the perfect pose and just letting our students meet THEMSELVES where they are, so-called “limitations” and all.

Well, if you’re a friend of mine, or you’ve read anything I’ve written or taken a class of mine, you would know right off the bat, that I strive each day to be a growth-oriented and “it’s ok where you are” type person. That paradigm shift for me was massive, 10 years ago. I can hear me now: I didn’t just accept things the way they were! I fought them! That solid, cold, black iron rod must be bent and turned into a platter to suit my needs! Without fire! Without heat! Without cajoling or kindness or flattery, sincere or otherwise… Man, I was a fighter, but without cause.

Back to reality: the irony, of course, is that this former student (and I can say this with a ton of confidence) was still projecting her stuff on to me. My days of “perfectionism” are toast. Twenty years of combined marriage, parenting, yoga, crazy mother, and classic psychotherapy, CBT and EMDR have exorcised that demon. She spoke endlessly to me about her need to make the Yoga Journal -cover perfect pose when reality simply didn’t allow for it.

I recall clearly that I would speak with her after many classes. Calmly, nodding, listening and hearing her, feeling her desperation for acceptable levels of perfection….

I drew her attention to a tree outside and said, “Would you ever consider that tree imperfect? Would you say that it’s not a ‘tree’ as defined by what our understanding of what a tree is? It’s got a missing limb or two, some knots and a hole in its trunk…” She shook her head ‘no.’

“Those things give it character. A place for animals to live.” I added, like freakin’ Snow White Freud.

She nodded and agreed, her eyes welling up a little in the sun. Her nose grew pink and she started to chew on her inner cheek, leaning on one leg more than the other.

“Then why do you beat yourself up? Do you think that tree would consider you somehow imperfect? Why must you insist that you are? And why must you fight your story, your reality, to prove –for whom I don’t know– your perfection?”

I was all “This is our reality… It is what it is, man… y’dig?” In my Nehru shirt and dandelion chain tiara crown.

She said she understood, that she appreciated my help and time. That I was a true teacher and friend to her for doing so and she thanked me.

Then the phone calls increased, the emails increased and the text messages increased. She wanted more of my time; I began to feel uneasy. This is my issue: I didn’t like being someone’s salvation. I couldn’t save my own mother, there was no way I could to do it for a yoga student.

She wanted more of the class’s time and attention. It became a cyclone of need. I had to draw a line; I had my own personality limitations as well as a real interest in protecting the integrity of the class, the time of other students, as well as my reputation as an instructor to manage disruption. I had to ask her after class to stop the chatter, the distractions in class, the bringing of the “outer world” into the room. “…We take our shoes off as a gesture of the solemnity and respect for the practice of yoga, likewise, we need to do with our day, our woes, our ego and our mirth. I ring the bell at the beginning to announce the tenor of practice, to introduce a new moment. Not everyone had a bad day like you did… not everyone just aced a final like you did… everyone is working on something personal and unique in here, so please respect that.”

She didn’t say so. She didn’t say anything in fact. She packed up her stuff and thanked me for a nice class. Only later, I surmise, did she decide to tell me (indirectly through that email) that my interests in protecting my yoga classes felt unkind and ego-identfied to her. That I was asserting my “authority” in a non-produtive and territorial way. I was the enemy. She resorted to her native coping skills and never communicated with me again.

Until that link to the blog.

So I sit and I sigh. Distracted by this not-very-subtle jab at my person and teaching style I start to wonder, actively, about that person. About what makes her so high and mighty, what makes her the high priestess of ego and yoga teaching? She’s not such hot stuff, why if she were then … And what’s with the contacting ME when she told me to take her off my list?? Talk about BOUNDARY ISSUES!!! Why she …. …. …. ….

And down the rabbit hole we go. Watch out for that root on the right as you go down, it’s like a whip.

The good news is that that rabbit hole is brighter now; it has landing strips by it and it’s not as bumpy, deep or as curvy as it used to be. My descents into it are less intense and more fleeting. It’s more of a gopher hole. But the gopher holes are everywhere and they’re in my garden.

Instead of tending to my gopher holes, instead of sealing them up or planting a flower in them, I look over the fence, into someone else’s garden and I start to think about where an azalea would look good to cover up that ugly corner; or that a shade tree would do well to keep from burning up the astilbe… My, she doesn’t know how to tend to her garden; she’s got shade plants in full sun… her kids are likely on drugs too… that son is a mess… I thought my mom was weird … her mother is a trip…

… and there we go again. Me thinking about someone else’s crap instead of my own. Me transferring my energy and my thoughts and my precious little time left on this planet to someone else, someone who’s into the drama, who’s into the distraction and who’s not able to understand my “brand” of help; or my timing.

People need to work at their own pace and just because I can see all the traps and falls awaiting that person, it doesn’t mean 1) she can or 2) he cares. Sometimes the elixir of someone else’s problems or issues are SO important strong that they keep us from working on ourselves. As I said to a friend this morning, fully aware of all the trappings of the drama I’m hovering over, “I love decorating someone else’s house…”

What else this means is that I stop the narrative I’ve been telling about my life. I’m 47. It’s time I put things in their boxes and ship them off for the garbage dump (or the book). My story of who I am and how I got here is precious to me, yes, but it doesn’t define me and it needn’t hold me hostage anymore. I’m not just the result of my parents’ union; I have transcended that — years ago — and I am a fully functional adult female human who has co-created three more humans. I am more than 1967 – 1990; so much more. I am 1991 – 2003; and 2003 to now, and counting. I look back at the time I feel I have squandered worrying about my mother and father, about “reputation” and about fear.

The only way I can, and you can, and your neighbor and your former friend or ex-spouse, or ex-lover, or former yoga student can fully achieve our own fantastic full-blown personhood is to learn from the past, not let it hold us back or down anymore, see it for what it has provided (a backdrop, that is all — and that backdrop changes with the set of our stories!), and move on, with gratitude for all it has provided. We can leave that garden where it is without regret — and that is hard!

Leave that garden in the sun or in the shadows, in a state of flourish or disrepair, but walk away from it nevertheless. It’s not our garden anymore, and the garden that IS ours, needs us. We can walk into our own garden, as modest as it is, and tend to it. Talk to it, let the sun in and the rain fall. We can see it in the greater landscape with all the other gardens, in their own individual growths, and we can admire it all, while keeping the errant vines and the weeds out of ours. And we can step back. And we can see it grow.

Thank you.