Forgive me, this is a very long post. But it’s about transference, and it’s the first time I’ve experienced this and have spoken about it properly. If this subject interests you then have a read, but no worries if not – it is a lot to read!!
Here’s the truth. I’m not okay. I’m not coping. I want to have another breakdown and be given permission to avoid life for a bit. I rushed back into it. I’m even putting on a strong front in therapy now, as I don’t want them to worry or kick me off the course and abandon me. I’m joining in more now, and it’s taking so much effort to do so. I’m not strong enough. They now know why I harmed myself two weeks ago, and we’ll now ‘draw a line under it’… in other words it’s my issue and I’m on my own with it. It’s taking real balls for me to continue attending the course after everything that’s gone on. I hope they realise that. It’s hard. But my recovery is more important to me than anything. That’s why I’ll force myself to get through the whole thing.
But the issue isn’t resolved. It can’t be. It never will be. So every week I have to go through the same shitty feelings, feeling sick and having pain in my heart….
So here’s where I discuss transference. Simply put this is when you’re led to believe you have feelings for your therapist. These feelings can vary from person to person, depending on their past issues and unresolved feelings. Some people grow attached to the therapist and see them as a mother / father figure. Perhaps they were neglected or abused as children, and the therapist fulfils what the parents never did. Others experience negative transference, where they feel angry towards the therapist, if they seem to represent something from the past. Other times people experience erotic and romantic transference, whereby they think they’re falling for the therapist, and see them as a potential partner.
Whatever the case, it is a very distressing experience. I’m going to be talking about romantic transference, as that’s what I’m experiencing. It is very hard to talk about, but that’s why I’m going to do it, because it’s obviously something that needs to come into the light. I’m keeping it in the dark due to a feeling of shame and embarrassment. But I think so many people experience this and don’t talk about it for that reason. Consequently it makes us all feel very isolated and as if we’re strange for having these feelings. We need to talk about it, and bring the subject into the open, to feel less alone with it.
This is a heavy burden for me right now, and I’ve decided to write it out, to see if it helps lessen the load. But just know this is one of the hardest things for me to write about….
* Names have been changed *
When I started my twelve week course of group therapy, I didn’t know anyone who would be attending. This filled me with immense anxiety – going to a new place, with new people, not knowing a thing about anyone there. However I remembered the names of the people running it, after my individual therapist told me. To ease my anxiety I looked them both up online just to see what they looked like, so I felt I’d recognise someone there, and I could tell what they might be like (not that you can judge a book by its cover of course!!).
The first thing that struck me was that *Sarah looked very much like one of my old best friends, who betrayed me badly and messed up my whole life as a result. I thought that might be a block in going to the group, as it might stir up those old feelings of pain and hatred.
The next, was seeing *James. I thought ‘Oh shit, he looks young’. I had imagined he might be an older, less attractive man. My first thought was ‘How am I going to be open and honest about my problems to a young man?‘… and then I thought ‘Don’t get feelings for him. DO NOT get feelings for him’.
And what did I do? Yep, I went and got ‘feelings’ for him. Really quite rapidly. I walked in the door, he said hello, and ‘Oh crap’ my mind went. The first session wasn’t too bad, although I did bawl my eyes out in a room full of strangers, which was embarrassing. I told them to ignore me and carry on, but James stuck with it and spoke to me, and used it as an example to everyone else.
Other people felt a bit hostile at times about the therapy, and I felt for James and Sarah, having to cope with that on their first session. I strangely felt protective of them, and wanted to make an effort so they knew I appreciated what they were trying to do.
I went away, and that first week was mainly just a feeling of embarrassment for my emotional outpouring, so that emotion took up most of my headspace. But I spoke to James at the start of the session to ask what happens if during another mindfulness exercise, I get transported to an upsetting place and can’t get back. He made some helpful suggestions about grounding, breathing and stepping out if I need to.
I also had to ask at the end about the vicious circles the whole course is about, as I wasn’t sure I understood it properly. I felt more of a connection with James than with Sarah, as although he’s a man he seemed warmer than her. So I asked and he sat down with me after the session and looked through my folder. I felt embarrassed for him to see my vicious circle surrounding anger, and self-harm. And then one about rejection. He seemed to understand my issues more after that, but I feared judgement.
At one point Sarah left the room, and it was just the two of us sat together talking. I looked round as she left the room and as I looked back round I started blushing, so kept my head down. I liked the feeling of being alone with him. And this was quite an alarming feeling really. I knew nothing could or would happen, but oddly I wanted it to. I think because it’s ‘taboo’… it’s ‘forbidden’ it created a sense of excitement. And that’s a long-lost feeling for me. I hoped to God he didn’t notice me turning red! I imagined things that weren’t there. I imagined a change in tone when Sarah re-entered the room. I imagined the way he said my name after I thanked him. I know that. I had gone into fantasy mode, where I see signs that aren’t there. Thinking about it now, I reckon I’ve been there before, several years ago. Only then, I honestly believed the guy was stringing me along. So at least I had the ability to see it this time as something different.
From that moment on I knew I was in trouble. From then on I would spend all week thinking about him. I would feel physical heartache from MISSING him. I wanted to be in his presence. I would fantasise about him. I would think of him leaving his wife for me! Yes, he has a wife. And he’s going to become a father. Hence my extra strong feelings of self-hatred and guilt for having these feelings, as I’m no ‘home-wrecker’. I’ve beaten myself up relentlessly for feeling how I do. I remember hearing that he’s going to have a baby, and it felt like a stab to my heart…. as if the wedding ring wasn’t enough of a red-flag! It was a peculiar feeling, to feel jealous and to wish I stood a chance of winning his heart. I had met him two times! It was overpowering though. Intense. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I wanted to learn more about him. I wanted to see him and talk to him. And yet… at times I couldn’t even remember clearly what he looked like!
That was when I knew I had feelings for a feeling, not him. It wasn’t necessarily about him. It was about what I wanted and needed. I’m talking about it in the past tense, as if it’s not something I’m still going through – I am. That’s what makes it so hard to understand.
Now, I did Psychology A Level. I have had many years of mental illness and researching all about mental health, to help myself. Plus there have been mentions of it on TV shows over the years. So I know that the term I needed to research was ‘transference’. I knew this was what I was experiencing, and I wanted to know how people cope with it.
Upon looking it up, I was surprised at just how many people have experienced the same. The general consensus was that it was actually a GOOD thing. A healthy sign that you’re healing, or ready to heal. The advice given by the majority was to talk about it with the therapist. You have to understand that nothing can come from disclosing it. It’s not to get some validation or reciprocation of feelings, as that will never happen. It’s off-limits. Obviously depending on what the therapist is like, they might even transfer you to another therapist if they think it will get in the way of your recovery. Or they might help you through it. They might help you understand why you’re feeling the way you do, and help you see what you can learn from it, about yourself and how you relate to your past.
The research I did was very positive, and I decided to do something completely out of my comfort zone and admit to it, early on…. to nip it in the bud, stop it in its tracks and make the most out of the course. It filled me with the worst anxiety I’ve had. I came up with a plan of how to approach it, easing the idea in, so that he realised I just wanted to be rid of it, and that I understood what transference was. But as much as I appeared to be skirting round the issue (when in reality I was building up to finally unburdening myself), James was also skirting the issue in his questioning. He probably thought I didn’t want to actually say what the problem was. Now the problem is he’s not my individual therapist. So really I shouldn’t have followed the advice from online, because most of those people probably transferred onto their individual therapist, who they see every week and can work through the issue with them one-on-one. I don’t have that opportunity because it’s a group session, and not about dealing with individual issues. So I knew I might not have time to work through it with him. I just wanted it off my chest. I already felt trapped with it, BECAUSE I couldn’t work through it with him…. yet I had to attend the group every week, filled with these distressing feelings. I felt trapped.
So when he didn’t give me the space to say what I needed to, and suggested I speak to my individual therapist about whatever was troubling me, I felt powerless. I’d had my decision taken away from me. Not only that but I felt even more trapped, because I still had to carry on with the course – returning to the group after the ten minute break, where I’d spoken to James, and not made any progress.
This feeling of powerlessness, feeling trapped, overwhelmed with emotions and feeling stupid for doing the wrong thing, made something inside of me snap. As James went back into the group and I followed him, I decided I couldn’t face going back into the room, unable to focus, and with all those other people there. I excused myself, said I’d be there in a minute and went off to the toilets.
There I broke down in tears, and made a stupid choice to harm myself. I had prepared for things going very wrong, and had a tool in my pocket, to harm myself with. Unfortunately I was so desperately upset and broken that I wasn’t in my usual mind of damage limitation. I usually contain it, and most of my wounds are deemed ‘superficial’. But I was lost in a moment of feeling unable to carry on with life. I didn’t want to die, but I honestly didn’t care at that point I made the cut. Anyway it ended up being the worst self-harm I’d ever done. Sarah ended up treating me with my own steri-strips, but advised me to go to the hospital. So I did.
When I got home from the hospital I was angry. I was furious. I was raging… that I was made to feel that powerless that I resorted to self-harm. I blamed James. This was probably an aspect of the transference… from times when unresolved issues with men led me to self-harm. I wrote it all out, as I just wanted to scream. Just a day or two later I switched to blaming myself instead.
That was a long, painful, exhausting week. I couldn’t sleep properly. I was going to have my dressing changed every couple of days. I didn’t have an appetite. I kept having flashbacks, very vivid ones to what happened. I felt so ashamed that Sarah got involved. And I felt so guilty that I did it straight after talking to James, and he was told what happened, so probably blamed himself. I still can’t let go of the shame and guilt even now.
I knew it would be hard going back again, knowing they’d likely talked about me, and what happened. I apologised to each of them, and James actually said he’d learnt from the experience too, to be more direct in questioning. So there’s positives there, but this was before he even knew what the problem was, so it shows he went away and thought about it and the role he played. Which increases my guilt. He didn’t make me harm myself. I’m the one stupid enough to have had something on me to hurt myself with. He wouldn’t have known. I feel worse for James than I do for Sarah – and she had to actually see the wound and fix it for me! But it’s more embarrassment with her. But with James I feel bad for making him feel bad. I hate to hurt anyone.
I picked myself back up and threw myself into the therapy course, joining in more. I had given James and Sarah something to read which explained why I did what I did. In it I explained about the transference, but said that I don’t want to talk about it now. It’s done and dusted, and not such an issue anymore. I lied….. Well… I didn’t LIE as such – it was true at the time I wrote and gave it. But now it’s crept back in and it’s overwhelming.
Just this morning I was crying at the thought of the end of the course, and knowing I will NEVER see James again. In fact I’m welling up again as I write this. It’s crazy. How can I be so attached to someone I only met a month ago? But I have realised this too, is part of the transference. I’ve had a think about it today and come to the conclusion that I have been abandoned by so many people… so many men that I cared about have just disappeared on me. They gave me no closure. They didn’t appreciate my feelings. They just vanished, leaving me with so many questions and unresolved feelings. They made me feel worthless and like I didn’t matter…. didn’t exist. They taught me that if I like a man, he will leave me without a word. I will lose him from my life… forever. And I don’t cope very well with ‘forever’ or ‘never again’. It’s too scary. It’s too sad.
So the thought of never seeing James again. I can’t bear it. And it’s making me relive that feeling of losing someone I care about, and can’t imagine my life without.
I have so many different emotions coming up from knowing James, and I wish I could work WITH him to work through those emotions. I feel jealous… when I had my incident, Sarah was the one who came looking for me, and has spoken to me since. But when someone else in the group went off, James went to check on her. This made me jealous. I also felt a tinge of resentment this week towards Sarah for dealing with me and taking charge of speaking to me, rather than letting James be in on it too. When another member didn’t get on with their therapist, James made an appointment with him, but when I said I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my therapist about the issue I had, he didn’t suggest that for me. This stirred up feelings I had in the past, where guys would treat me differently. They would have time for their friends, but not for me, they’d always cancel on me or not make time for me. I notice other members being ‘flirtatious’ with James (in my opinion), and it makes me angry with them. And it makes me feel shit about myself. I feel like they’re ‘competition’, and that he would never pick me over them. Nobody ever picks me over anyone else. Nobody would even pick me if there was no longer even a choice! Of course all of this is putting aside the fact he’s married, and a therapist, so it’s not even an issue! There is no actual competition because he’s not available. But it just wakes up these emotions and memories in me.
I love every little thing about him. I can’t even begin to explain all the things that melt my heart. He’s quirky. He’s different. He’s got such a soothing voice in mindfulness exercises. I added one to the list this week – his cute, dorky laugh… it made my heart smile. But you see, I feel BAD for feeling this way. You’d think that feeling emotions similar to admiration and love, and appreciation would be a good thing. But for me it’s hell. When you know it’s unrequited… when you know it’s impossible and hopeless, it’s horrible. And to know as well that it’s not even real. It sucks.
I feel so embarrassed to admit how I feel towards this therapist. But I guess one piece of achievement I have to take from it, is that if I had to say it out loud, I wouldn’t say ‘I’m in love with James’. I would say ‘I feel like I’m in love with James’, and there IS a difference. I know that I’m not. But the feelings I have are mimicking that sensation of loving someone… of being attached to someone. And knowing it can’t be and that I’m going to lose him soon, is breaking my heart, like real heartbreak.
Transference is about the past. I’m feeling this because of my experiences with men. But also because of what James as a therapist represents.
He is a man, who, as part of his job, listens to me…. understands…. doesn’t judge…. is supportive… is sensitive to my needs and feelings… respects me…. But of course these are traits necessary for the job he does. I have no way of knowing what sort of man he is away from work. He might be just like the rest of them! But I was likely attracted to him for these traits, as my experiences with men have been lacking in them. I have been hurt by men, and they were not very good men. They seemed to be the opposite of what I imagine James to be.
But also to add another layer to the transference…. James seems like a ‘nice guy’. And the last nice guy I liked, I had pictured settling down with him. I needed him. And I lost him. I lost him because I didn’t have the balls to speak up and tell him I liked him, until it was already too late and he had been swooped up by one of my supposed ‘best friends’ behind my back. So now, being in the presence of a ‘nice guy’ who embodies everything I’d need in a man, and knowing that he’ll never be mine, and in a few weeks it’ll be another loss of a good man from my life, that stings like crazy.
It’s very complex, and conjures up some extremely painful emotions. But something interesting that’s come to me today, is that originally I saw the transference as a BLOCK to my therapy. A distraction. Now I realise it’s actually an important part of the therapy. It’s just knowing how to use it to my advantage and get the most out of it moving forward. I don’t know if these therapists are geared up for helping me with that, or if that’s something for the future.
I do wish I’d just stuffed it down and ignored it. But at the same time I know I shouldn’t regret things, as it felt right at the time. And it’s shaping my character, strength and understanding of myself. Do I wish I had more support with this? Of course. But there’s not enough out there. Nobody can spare me the time. So that’s why today I am becoming my own therapist, and trying my best to understand this transference, alone. It’s all I can do for the next two months.
Understanding that it’s transference doesn’t mean it isn’t killing me every day. It really is. I keep crying today. I’m not looking after myself properly. I’m depressed even more. I feel ill. And I can’t cope with life in between sessions.
I had Sarah suggest to me that if I’m struggling too much then I can stop going to the group right now, and maybe do something in the future. But what she doesn’t understand is I WANT to do the therapy. It’s LIFE I don’t want to do. I’m happy (well, as happy as you can be when dealing with very heavy, upsetting topics!) at my therapy group. That 1% of my week is one of the better times. It’s the 99% of the week that I struggle with. Giving up on the course would be giving up on life for me. It would be admitting I’m not ready to have help, and I just want to self-destruct. It would be allowing me to destroy myself. It would be dangerous now. So I will push on, to learn as much as I can and put the skills into use. I just hope the therapists realise how hard I’m having to work to just be there. I’ve not felt such intense feelings, both good and bad, about one person so rapidly. And it’s distressing.
Have you ever experienced transference with a therapist? Feel free to share your story below, so that we can all connect with each other and realise we’re not alone in feeling this. It’s the silence and secrecy about transference which brings the shame and isolation. There’s nothing to be ashamed of – it happens for a reason. It’s just working out what that reason is.
Take it easy xxxx