In our practice we often come across a phenomenon called " transference". It has been observed since the beginning of psychotherapy practice that many a time, the client projects his/ her unhealed emotions from a particular relationship on to the therapist. A simple example: If the client feels neglected and unseen in his relationship with his partner or spouse, it is quite common for him to feel the same way with his therapist, especially if the therapist is of the same gender and age as the partner.
Most often it happens without the conscious awareness of the client.
And it can be seen in our other interactions too.
If we observe our thoughts and emotions, we will see how we are constantly manipulated by the experiences we've had in our relationships, and how these form the basis of our inner stance in new relations in many ways. We may also see that when we are in a relationship, we often demand those things which we thought we did not receive from our parents.
Often we are making choices based on our past experiences with another person, another relationship. Unknowingly, we try to fill the "lack" felt in one relationship through another. Our ability to trust, to be open, to receive and our expectations are constantly moulded by our past relationships, be it with parents, teachers, friends or a partner.
Niharika, a businesswoman and single mother of a 14- year- old boy, came with feelings of uneasiness and conflict with the man she was currently seeing. The following is a part of the conversation with her.
Niharika: I always feel that Amit (current boyfriend) keeps a distance from my son Rohan and that bothers me. If we have a future together, he has to include my son.
Therapist: Do you know why you feel that way?
N: Yes, he is never excited to see Rohan. He just talks to him, never hugs him or shows his affection. I am just not sure how he feels about Rohan.
T: I see. So with you he is all right?
N: Well, I don't expect him to be like a teenager. I don't have complains about our dynamics. We give each other space and we are comfortable.
It's just his relationship with Rohan I am worried about.
T: How do you think Rohan feels about it?
N: Rohan likes him very much. On many occasions I've asked him directly. He is a loving boy. But I feel Amit does not share the sentiment.
T: Okay. So what I hear from you is that though your son is all right with the new man in your life and has accepted him, you fear that this person may not be an ideal father?
N: Yes, exactly. Though, when you put it that way, it sounds kind of odd.
I keep seeing glimpses of my ex-husband, Rohan's father Rohit's behaviour in Amit. He sometimes behaves as cold as Rohit. I can't subject myself to the same emotional trauma of neglect and coldness that I have gone through and I definitely do not want Rohan to suffer.
T: I understand. So in your perception, your ex- husband was emotionally cold towards you and your son?
N: With Rohan, Rohit was very caring, but he was more like a teacher than a father. We separated when Rohan was six years old. In those six years Rohit never did any " fun" thing with him. With me too, it was a passionless, very monotonous, relationship which both of us were dragging. I felt neglected and it was as though it did not matter whether I was there. ( Pause) I can't believe I am talking about my ex- husband…. I thought I'd dealt with it years ago.
T: I see... so with your ex- husband you felt neglected and did not feel the emotional connect.
N: Yes. Actually he was my father's student. I was only 19 when I chose to marry him, I had a very emotionally scarring childhood. My father was a strict disciplinarian and used to impose army rules. It was so claustrophobic that all I wanted was freedom. When I met Rohit he was this calm, soft- spoken person and I fell for him. He was not controlling like my father but emotionally he was very aloof.
T: Correct me if I am wrong, you felt unloved by your father as he was very strict with you, and in your perception that was not how love should be expressed. You then married someone who was the opposite of your father but you still felt unloved. And now you want to make sure Rohan gets a particular kind of love from your partner so that he feels loved, though Rohan himself is apparently all right.
N: ( Long pause) I can see the connections. My father used to say that he was strict with me because he loved me and knew what was best for me… I did not see it that way... I feel I am behaving like my father… May be like him I too want only "my way".
Freedom of choice :
The only way we can get more freedom of choice is by understanding ourselves and the unconscious motivations of our choices. This week, sit with yourself and try to find out how your current relationships and your expectations and needs from them are being influenced by your past or other relationships. Share with us your realisations and findings.
[ Case studies are modified and names changed to protect the identity of our readers and clients]
Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches.
Share your problems with them at dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com