Thursday, April 16, 2009


A fellow blogger (thank you, HappyOrganist) introduced me to the psychological concept of “transference.” I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this before. The way I understand it, it means to transfer your ideas and feelings about someone onto another person you don’t know, based on the assumption that those two people are similar to each other. So for instance, I meet someone new and I like them instantly for no reason at all. Subconsciously, the person reminds me of someone else I knew and liked very well, so I assume that my feelings for this person will be similar to what they were for the other person. I do all of this without even realizing it. From a mental health web site, “The brain does this because if a match can be found between something new and something old, then all of the stored knowledge inside the schema can be applied to the new situation without having to figure it all out again and again.”

I have to wonder if this is what happened with MJ. From the same site, “Our acts of transference provide an information rich window into what we desire and what we wish to avoid. What we read into other people reveals our secret prejudices and our unfulfilled wishes.”

MJ will insist, no matter how I try to tell her otherwise, that she is not looking for surrogate mothers in the older female friends she chooses and attaches herself to. She will say that she has a mother—a dutiful, compassionate, caring, motherly mother, and that there is no reason why she would look elsewhere. But I happen to know that her mother worked when MJ was a child. And when she wasn’t working, she was dealing with a child with bipolar disorder and another child with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is no easy task. And since both of these siblings were older than MJ, my guess is that she didn’t get a lot of attention. She told me herself that she spent a lot of time alone. I think she may have felt neglected, and misunderstood, and she’s even tried to describe feelings of not being completely accepted by her parents—especially her mother, who was the disciplinarian.

So, if what she desired most was acceptance, affection and tenderness, someone to listen to her and care about her thoughts and ideas, someone who would focus on only her…she found that in me. I don’t know that she found it before me. I think she idealized those she chose, but they didn’t respond like I did.

In my case, I obviously wanted someone to love and dote upon. The letters we wrote to each other fulfilled all of my romantic fantasies about lovers exchanging letters. I craved the same things she did: affection, attention, someone interested in and focused on me. It didn’t matter that she was 17 and female. I was getting what I had always wanted, and the obstacles that jumped into the path (people who were opposed to the intensity of our relationship) only made us more devoted to each other. In my ignorance of the presence of counter-transference that was happening, I automatically responded to it by feeling romantic feelings for her.

It’s fascinating, really. From an outside point of view.


  1. that is wondeful! Good job! Very great.
    I bet you would really like the book I am so in-love with, "the Educated Heart." It is SOOO fun to read. very very entertaining. At least for me. maybe that's just b/c my situation was more similar to what was described in the book. but it was/is still an enlightening read. Talks about all the tiny little TEENY details doctors should be aware of .. things that make a huge difference for patients (even subconsciously).
    And I don't know if you would like this, but I also enjoyed "It's called breakup b/c it's broken." It didn't really *Help me, per se, but I blushed and died laughing through the whole thing (b/c I could identify with almost every example in one way or another). terrible, really. it is a hilarious book. Tremendously cathartic, too, I think.

  2. Oh, and in Nina McIntosh's book (educated heart), she actually says (and I don't know whether I agree with this or not), "you should never tell your patients what you think is going on in their head." (that's actually a paraphrase). But I thought that was interesting. She actually suggests that the practitioner NOT tell the patient "you like me b/c I probably remind you of your mother" (or whatever the case may be). I thought that was really interesting. She makes the point that the patient will often have No Clue what the practitioner is talking about (if they try to explain what they see going on in the patient). Kind of interesting. I kind of wish my 'friend' woulda just slapped me and said "snap out of it!"


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