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.

0273ccf75b2bcd0738087f644b67d4cb
via Marcus Garvey

 

what makes us (not) mystics

I read a book recently called What Makes You Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse. The subject of the book is the “four seals” of Buddhism:

All compounded things are impermanent; all emotions are pain; all things have no inherent existence; nirvana is beyond concepts.

I had heard of the book while practising the lam rim at a study retreat, at a time when I was considering ordination ~ reading the book was part of my investigation into whether I actually wanted to be a Buddhist. The teachers at the retreat recommended the book as a good introduction to what a student should understand before they consider even taking refuge.

So I read the book with fervour and very much enjoyed Khyentse’s style ~ so much so that I eventually travelled up to Sydney to watch him speak at a day-long teaching that was more reminiscent of a rock concert than it was of any teaching I had ever attended before. He was very funny, and he managed to convey a lot of insights that were valuable without talking directly about Buddhism very much.

He remains one of my favourite Buddhist teachers, but there was something in the introduction to the book that has just now popped into mind and caused me to question the value of asking the question, “What makes me not a Buddhist?”

No wait … it wasn’t in the introduction to that book ~ it was in another book that was discussing the same concepts, the four seals. Anyway,

wherever I read it, the author was drawing on the same notion: that to be a “card-carrying” Buddhist, one needs to agree with or understand the essence of the four seals.

Based on the current state of my research/understanding, this includes me. I believe I understand and agree with each of these four principles.

These principles, however, are not exclusive to Buddhism ~ they are principles understood by mystical traditions everywhere … or perhaps almost everywhere. If we agree with or understand these principles, we are not necessarily Buddhist, but to identify as a Buddhist we need to agree with these principles.

I understand that doctrine is a valueable guide in the search for truth, but this feels a bit too-dogmatic to me, especially now, but even a little bit back then. I was willing to let the dogma-feel slide, because I was (and still am, sometimes), eager to feel like part of a group that shares the same beliefs ~ it’s comforting, no?

But just now when I was doing something other than actively thinking about truth (I was doing a sort of zentagle, a form of art therapy … and waiting for Centrelink to take me off hold … 1:02:51 hours so far ;/

Anyway!

I was doodling and it came to mind that if we want to call ourselves a “card-carrying” Buddhist, we need to look at that:

the mystical path is a search for our true identity, our true nature ~ in Buddhism it is taught that what we believe to be our identity, our self, is an illusion: our identity is comprised of such elements as, say, male, thirty-four years old, brunette, dread-locked, quite handsome but a bit lopsided 🙂 Other elements include our cultural affiliations: Australian, public-school educated, progressive and a little bit Buddhist.

It’s that term “card-carrying” that caught my attention while I was doodling. A card-carrying member of a club has easy access: show the card; people trust you won’t get drunk and trash the place; they let you in. To say that understanding the four seals makes you a card-carrying Buddhist just renders the whole purpose of understanding these truths irrelevant, because these concepts are also an illusion. Yes? No?

Dzongsar_Jamyang_Khyentse_Rinpoche
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse ~ he kinda looks like John Safran, don’t you think?

Something I remember now from the Khyentse book is that the conclusion, maybe even the final line of the book, is the statement that if you realise enlightenment and still think you’re a Buddhist, there could be a problem, you know what I mean?

I really appreciated that Khyentse concluded his book with that sentiment. I want to be accepted as part of a group as much as the next bloke, but if we look around and cling too much to various labels to know whether we are or are not making progress along the spiritual path … well, that’s a lot different from just straight-up knowing we are on the path without having to identify as a Buddhist or a Gnostic or a shaman or a Hindu or whatever.

I think it’s realy important to remember this. What do you think?

What makes us not Buddhists/shamans/whatever is what makes us mystics, I reckon.

~ ~ ~

featured image: gildedlilycharms