narcissistic wounding + transference

Some starting questions from the conversation with David:

  • narcissistic wounding
    ~ what is it?
    ~ how to defend oneself against it?
    ~ is it related to transference?
  • transference
    ~ what is it?
    ~ how to defend oneself against it?

I’ve heard about transference before, and although I don’t understand it exactly yet, it fascinates me and I have some ideas about.

This, for example, from Wikipedia, doesn’t make any sense to me:

Transference is a theoretical phenomenon characterized by unconscious redirection of the feelings a person has about a second person to feelings the first person has about a third person. [*goes cross-eyed*] It usually concerns feelings from an important second-person relationship from childhood, and is sometimes considered inappropriate. Transference was first described by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who considered it an important part of treatment in psychoanalysis.

Okay, this helps, from GoodTherapy.org:

Transference is a psychological phenomenon in which an individual redirects emotions and feelings, often unconsciously, from one person to another. This process may occur in therapy, when a person receiving treatment applies feelings toward—or expectations of—another person onto the therapist and then begins to interact with the therapist as if the therapist were the other individual. Often, the patterns seen in transference will be representative of a relationship from childhood.

This makes me think of all the lovers I’ve had who secretly wanted me to be their father, and all the lovers I’ve secretly wanted to mother me, to love me in ways I hadn’t yet learned to love myself. Maybe this is transference ~ I always thought it was more like projection, but maybe these are synonyms. I haven’t fully grasped projection yet either :/

This definition helps:

in psychiatry, the unconscious tendency of a patient to assign to others in the present environment feelings and attitudes associated with significant persons in one’s earlier life; especially, the patient’s transfer to the therapist of feelings and attitudes associated with a parent or similar person from childhood. The feelings may be affectionate (positive transference), hostile (negative transference), or ambivalent. Sometimes the transference can be interpreted to help the patient understand childhood attitudes.

So, a person who was abandoned by their father might expect a male lover to abandon them also? (Or I, who was abandoned by his father, might expect a male mentor to abandon me.) And this fear of adandoment plays out in all sorts of detrimental ways until we see this fear pattern by privileging the unconscious and bringing these fears to light.

I understand this is why I have typically had trouble forming and maintaining male friendships, but that’s changing and I have a lot of exceptional men in my life. I also understand, though, that I have had a tendency to over-share with older men I meet, and I eventually wondered if this was because I want them to know me in ways my dad was never willing to know me. The kind of full-frontal emotional exposure I tend to subject peopel to has frightened a lot of people off, especially barflies, and I imagine it’s the sort of behaviour that would get a bloke arrested in a George Orwell novel.

To my question of whether transference and narcissistic wounding are related, David responded with:

Narcissistic wounding and transference are related in so far as they are both unconscious processes inherent in pedagogical learning. (There is another type called Androgogy, first outlined by Carl Rogers). Rather than resisting either (avoiding) them – we’ll embrace them and make the unconscious conscious.

The word ‘pedagogy’ is one I always forget the meaning of, though it reminds me of the word ‘peripatetic’ because I know it has something to do with ways of teaching and learning. I’d never heard of ‘androgogy’, but I like what it seems to describe after a quick goOgle:

Andragogy refers to methods and principles used in adult education. The word comes from the Greek ἀνδρ- andr-, meaning “man”, and ἀγωγός agogos, meaning “leader of”; it literally means “leader of man”, whereas “pedagogy” literally means “leading children”.

The notion of teaching as a leadership tactic is interesting and illuminating ~ I never felt as though I was being effectively lead by most of my high school teachers, except that I was being lead to believe things they had not really questioned for themselves.

It seems paramount that a good teacher be willing to lead a good student in the process of inquiry, rather than to lead them down the garden path of indoctrination into established beliefs and to then set them ‘free’ as emerging adults into the world, utterly incapable of questioning what they are told.

How-to-Think-About-Weird-Things-coverThe greatest learning experience I encountered in my young adult life was a subject called Argument and Critical Thinking, during my one year of English and Philosophy at Adelaide Uni in 2002. I left after that, for various reasons ~ one being that I felt I had gained enough guidance, from that one subject, to go out into the world and continue thinking for myself. It was very empowering. The textbook was called How to Think about Weird Things, and I always loved the cover.

How this relates to narcissistic wounding, transference, and counter-transference (I’m just riffing here ~ of course, pull me up if I’ve got this utterly arse-about):

as a client might expect a therapist to play the role of their absent father (transference), a therapist might expect the client to behave as a father expects their child to behave, by strictly following their advice (counter-transference);

when a therapist expects this (or makes this expectation explicit), a client might experience narcissistic wounding (it hurts to be told you don’t know what’s good for you), and when a client doesn’t “follow the doctor’s orders”, a therapist might feel narcissitic wounding (because it hurts to have one’s advice discarded, especially if you genuinely care about someone).

How this relates to education:

in our dominant educational model, teachers are frequently offering advice about what to believe (rather than teaching a student how to arrive at their own beliefs and how to discard them as new evidence emerges);

this is hurtful to any individual who feels they are able to think for themselves ~ perhaps this is how mainstream education quashes creativity;

there is apparently a five-year attrition rate among teachers in this system ~ it is presumably hurtful to dispense advice to classfuls of unruly students (who are unruly because they are being preached to rather than educated).

How this relates to therapy:

a good therapeutic environment should be an educational experience, in the true (Aristotelian?) sense of the word ‘education’ ~ a truly good therapist should be educating an individual about self-regulating their own wellbeing, lest the individual become dependent upon the therapist for fixing their problems;

a good therapeutic environment should be andragogical in the sense that it leads or enables an individual to become their own, whole, fully integrated, adult human being.

How this relates to my own experience:

throughout my school career (before university) I was something like a good-bad student ~ I cared about learning, but I guess I was deeply reluctant about being told what to think, so I fell in with the ‘wrong’ crowd, skived a lot, and occasionaly derided my teachers for being idiots, but instead of just going down the creek to smoke bongs, I went down the creek to smoke bongs and read books;

I was an avid reader from the moment I learned how to read, and I maintain to this day that I learned more (of positive value) from gorging on books that I ever learned from my teachers;

I see now that perhaps I experienced a kind of narcissistic wounding by having my individual creativity and intelligence disregarded by the public school system (and also in 50 per cent of my home environment), so perhaps it was this pain that I was trying to self-medicate against by developing a massive marijuana habit;

I did not want to be dependent upon fools for what was being passed off as education, so I became a stoner-autodidact;

one of my earliest memories of using marijuana is from a time I was high in my cousin’s tinny on the Murray River ~ I remember reporting, to one my primary-school peers, how wonderful it was that my thought processes changed and I was able to think of things I had never before imagined;

years later, while at Adelaide Uni, one of my favourite pastimes was to take my uni readings to the River Torrens and get high while I read them;

George Carlin has a great sketch about how this might be a positive method initially, but once we develop a tolerance for such a substance we begin chasing the dragon and, before long, the sacred herb becomes a drug of dependence and leads to all sorts of negative consequences (I thought it was a sketch, but what I found on goOgle was this interview;

it’s the autodidact part of ‘stoner-autodidact’ that is more relevant (and I’ve started to discuss my experience of addiction elsewhere, so I’ll leave that aside for now);

I became an autodidact because, despite (or perhaps because of) the hopefully unconscious attempts of others to discount my intelligence and creativity, I believed in myself (and I had enough people in my life who also believed in me);

for this reason I consider myself to be a survivor of the industrial education system, but not everyone yet has access to the internal resources required to resist the indoctrination so omnipresent in the mainstream school systems of the neoliberal Western world.

How this might relate to my experience as an emerging therapist:

if we can enable and empower clients to access their internal resources (their own inner wisdom), we can help individuals to emerge in the world as self-reliant masters of their own destiny;

my limited understanding of narcissism comes from what I learned in Classics during that time at Adelaide Uni ~ Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection and died from hunger and dehydration (from ego-attachment leading to the self-neglect of his basic needs);

basic needs (as well as food, water, shelter, clothing, breathing and sex), include learning how to maintain a healthy degree of self-love ~ instead we are taught (in the industrial education system) how to martyr ourselves for the economy, and this feels something like anti-narcissism, which might explain why there are so many narcissists in positions of power (we have been dragged away from our self-reflection and taught to serve the state, in a way that is couched in terms of self-interest … which is all very confusing and convoluted and seemingly counter-intuitive);

by pursuing and offering truly good therapy we might hope to, in the words made famous by Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”,

emancipate [y]ourselves from mental slavery,
none but ourselves can free our minds.

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via Marcus Garvey

 

floodwater dreams + empathy mgmt

I had a floodwater dream this morning, the first since I can remember. I don’t feel stressed or otherwise overwhelmed in my life, but things are about to get more full-on at uni when the subject about psychotherapeutic models begins. There was a dream before this where I had gone adventuring with a friend and we had for some reason not taken my camping gear ~ he had his, but there was a feeling that me having my gear was unimportant (not that I would cope without it, but that if I didn’t cope it wasn’t important ~ like, my needs were unimportant).

While writing about this I checked my various channels for messages and there were messages from two women friends who have been confiding in me a lot lately (about their traumas and consequent insecurities). I read these messages while significant numbers were displaying on my phone ~ 44%4:00am (first message from one friend), and 43%4:03am (message from the other friend). After reading these messages I saw a video from Bored Panda’s feed about chocolate makers who had sculpted Atlas, replete with world-symbol on his shoulders.

After the camping dream I woke up, and it was too early to get out of bed because I was still tired, but my mind was too active to sleep (thinking mostly about what uni work I will prioritise today). I eventually must have slept, until I woke from the flooding dream.

In that dream I was coasting down some really nice slopes on my bicycle. They were grassy but firm and my bike is good for those conditions. I was really hookin along, around curves and down sudden gradients, no worries. There were some muddy patches I thought would unsaddle me, but they didn’t. There were some places where water was lapping at the track. I reached the bottom of a valley and saw that floodwaters had engulfed the path ahead, brown and surging. I tried to backtrack but the waters were coming from that way now too and I was stuffed. I woke up just as the waters began to lift me.

Another question I have is about a dream that was accompanied by an experience IRL. I had been awake studying since about 3 or 4 (my typical waking hours, which I accommodate by going to be around 8 or 9), and I did my sadhana around 10 or 11, which this day included yoga nidra. I got about 5 mins into the session before I fell asleep (unusual). I slept for nearly an hour and woke up from a dream where I was asleep in a chair in an outdoor-setting on a verandah. A young girl wanted my attention from inside the house behind a sliding glassdoor, but I couldn’t make my eyes open to be present for her. It was distressing for me that I couldn’t keep my eyes open ~ I wanted to give her the attention she needed.

When I woke up and turned my phone on there was a msg from one of these friends, who for a few days had been saying she wanted to confide in me about a recent dating trauma she had experienced. The message was somewhat leading (asking what was happening for me at the time ~ she must have messaged during the time I was doing the yoga nidra and/or having the dream). Her and I identified a few months ago that we are twinflame soulmates. It’s not a romantic or sexual relationship, but we connected immediately when we met a few years ago, didn’t see each other for years, and have since reconnected and begun to notice there are distinct parallels in our lives and the paths we took independently to get where we are now.

I called her when I had composed myself from this paradoxically exhausting sadhana, and we spoke on the phone for half an hour or so, during which time she wasn’t able to express what had happened on the traumatic date, saying it was too painful to speak about. She texted me about it after we got off the phone, and it was indeed an experience that no one should allow themselves to have, calling into question all sorts of things about boundaries and in/abilities to say ‘no’.

During the phone call and immediately after, I felt profoundly exhausted and unable to take a full breath (as though I was deep in anxiety, but instead of anxiety I just felt numb and tired). I wondered if it was because I had too much coffee that morning and was having a caffeine crash. But I should have woken up restored from the yoga nidra. It wasn’t until a few hours later, when I noticed that I was once again full of beans (no pun intended) and ploughing through some uni readings, that I wondered if maybe I had picked up on what she was feeling.

I found an interesting empathy quiz the other day, and learned that, according to the model behind that quiz, I am an “authentic empath”. I’ve been wondering more and more lately about how much of what I feel is actually “my stuff” and how much is stuff I pick up from people and the environment around me. This phone-call case was especially extreme and I’m still learning how to manage the boundaries between my empathy and other people’s suffering.

I don’t know what my question is exactly. Maybe I’m just seeking validation. But if anyone has some resources about how to manage unruly empathy, I would appreciate that very much. Thank you.

~~~

featured image by Silvia Cordedda