When Transference Harms: My Story (part 2)

In my last post I described the somewhat contradictory personality of Mr C, my ex-therapist, and how our relationship began. (Spoiler alert: the relationship ends in abuse, grief, disaster.)

Yesterday I was reading an article about Adverse Idealising Transference (AIT), and felt that I couldn’t complete my story without dedicating a post to this subject.

Adverse transference became a central issue in my therapy and in my life, and without this powerful dynamic I think I would have fared better when things went wrong with Mr C.

Maybe the transference itself was a causal factor in the whole thing – though I wouldn’t like to bypass Mr C’s responsibility for mistreating me. He shouldn’t have been so cruel, regardless of the dynamics. It was the nature of the exchange – the things he said and did – that really hurt me in the end.

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Therapy took over my life. My waking thoughts and my sleeping dreams became about therapy. It quickly became apparent that I couldn’t cope in the gaps between our weekly sessions, and any period of time that Mr C wasn’t at work due to holidays or sickness (of which there were many) were times frought with distress for me.

It was a strange experience. I was a strong and normally independent woman feeling an out of control compulsion to immerse myself in this interpersonal connection (with a man who terrified me, to be honest). I wasn’t used to being dependent on another, and certainly not a medical professional.

My partner used to say there were three people in our relationship – him, me, and Mr C. He was right. Therapy dominated our domestic conversations, which was unfortunate for my partner, who quickly tired of the topic despite his best intentions. He became jealous of Mr C and the way that he stole away my attention. It caused a few fights and made me hate myself even more.

I would do anything to keep a connection open with Mr C. That usually meant looking him up on social media. Granted I’m not the stalking type (phew), though when it comes to technology I have a certain proficiency for acquiring knowledge. I’ve been called a hacker once or twice in my life, though I prefer to think of myself as IT literate. So I used the only means I had to keep his memory alive – I found his public social media accounts and I looked through them. That was as far as it went, but it was certainly far enough. I’d become a woman possessed! I didn’t respect Mr C’s privacy, and I was so ashamed of myself.

I raised the transference issue with Mr C a few times, but it was somewhat indirect and sketchy. I was ashamed, frightened and saddened by it. I was terrified for my life, and what it would mean to lose everything when our professional relationship ended. I couldn’t tell him how much I missed him, how much pain I was in due to therapy, and how strong my urge to care for him was. I became anxious, depressed and isolated. My work life suffered.

Mr C definitely knew I had issues because I alluded to them, but he never pushed the topic and neither did I. We both let it churn and fester. In that sense, he didn’t look after me very well. Maybe he should have been more assertive, insisted we bottom out the issue and asked me to put my cards on the table and be honest about my feelings. Knowing that Mr C was a narcissist, I wonder if he simply allowed it to unfold as he enjoyed the power and the admiration. I’m not really sure, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

The cause of the all-consuming transference is still unknown to me. It’s documented that there are therapists out there that cause these types of things to happen – sometimes deliberately and sometimes without even realising they are causing harm (see my previous post about this here). There are also certain types of clients that are predisposed to it, regardless of the therapist’s behaviour.

I know he was an unethical man at times. He was also a self-aware narcissist. It’s not out of the realms of imagination to suggest that Mr C was the one fostering my dependency, knowingly or unknowingly. I also recognise that my own childhood was centred around a gaping chasm of lack. Mr C brought unconditional love where I’d never felt it before. Maybe I became intoxicated by that, by no fault at all of Mr C. I can’t decide whether it was abuse, incompetence, or total innocence on his part.

One thing I can be sure of is that I haven’t had such a strong response to either of my subsequent therapists. Dr R is away on holiday at the moment, and I don’t mind at all. I respect her very much and I’m pleased with the value she is adding to my life, but she has not become my life. I’ve had no urges to look her up on social media (in fact, it disturbs me to imagine knowing anything about her). I talk about her only in the context of our sessions. She’s a lovely lady, but I’m not confused by that. I’m not drawn into any kind of role reversal, either. It’s early days with her, but I’m confident that it’s healthy this time.

Another element of therapy that exacerbated my transference reaction was the lack of structure. We didn’t set goals. It was a sort of ‘turn up and talk’ approach, which meant that my focus drifted. Actually, we had almost forty sessions together and I didn’t talk about the behaviours I wanted to understand. Mr C was passive like that. I figured it was a psychodynamic thing, all very Freudian.

There was probably no excuse for him not setting a number of sessions with me, and never reviewing our progress except at my request. It left me feeling insecure and out of control. I once asked how many sessions therapy would normally entail, and his response was something like, ‘you don’t trust me.’ Wow. Forgive me, almighty therapist, for I shouldn’t have asked. I’ll get back in my subservient little box. Anyway, as it happens he later provided an answer, but lied about the number of sessions that the service normally provided. Odd.

If Mr C was telling me the truth about his own feelings, he had a counter-transference reaction that involved a positive attraction towards me. He’s not one to shower affection anywhere (except his own ego), so I can’t be clear what he meant when he said he’d liked me ‘for a while’, though the text flirting was a bit of a giveaway. 

Before all that, there was once a social media incident where he slipped up and replied to something I posted on a forum. I was shocked he’d looked me up. He was a mumbling mess when I confronted him about it, evading all responsibility as per his usual style. I’m sure he didn’t take it to his own supervision. He didn’t seek help for himself, or for me.

Therapy ended very suddenly, and my world fell apart. I don’t regret texting him that day, because I know how strong my feelings were. I regret almost everything that came next, though. I regret the way I allowed the psychological abuse to manifest, the denial and cognitive dissonance. I regret continuing to love him when he couldn’t show me even basic respect. I regret my compassion for his circumstances, and the way I let it blind me. I encouraged his victim status and he rolled around in it like a pig in mud.

I still love the damn narc, you know.

Next time, I’ll write about the abuse and the confusing conversations we had over the following months.

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