Enactment and Transference

I have some questions for you all. I would appreciate it if you would help me out by answering. You can answer in the comments or email me at alicewithptsd@gmail.com

1. Does it upset you when your therapist labels reactions or feelings as transference or as an enactment? Why?

2. Do you have a positive, negative or neutral feeling towards the concept transference/enactment? Why?

3. If you have been read my blog, you most likely know that whenever transference, enactments, or other “shrinky” terms are used to label my behavior or feelings, I get very defensive and shut down. I refuse to consider the idea and become very triggered. Does anyone feel like this, or have you ever felt this way? Do you know why? If you no longer feel this way, what changed?

I’m trying to understand a few things about myself. This last week, I have been able to see clearly that the great rupture of spring and summer 2018 were an enactment, and that my reactions were about mom stuff. I can see it clearly, and I could (and may in a later post) list it all out, but I can’t talk about it or face it. It all feels very negative and bad to me. I know that in order to deal with the stuff the teen part needs to deal with, this mom transference/enactment stuff has to be sorted first. And yet, I can’t do it. I’ve read and read about these things, but there is nothing I can find to explain why transference feels bad to me. Yes, there are plenty of writings about how painful and difficult it is to be experiencing the feelings of transference or to be in the middle of an enactment, but there is nothing out there to explain why the very idea of transference triggers me. I thought that maybe someone here may understand this.

Xx❤️ Alice

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29 thoughts on “Enactment and Transference

  1. At the time(s) when transference was taking over, i too got triggered -volatile and angry- when my reactions were labeled as such. What I now know is, I wanted/needed the chaos between my therapist and me because without it, I didn’t feel connected to her. If the chaos wasn’t between us and some old wound projected unto her, then “is our relationship even real? Just one sided?” I couldn’t accept that. Also, it was hard to accept that she had no blame in the conflicts and that it was all my overblown reactions due to the projections I through unto her. It’s weird realizing that as this is happening, she knows that’s exactly what I’m doing and I have no idea. “Dammit! It must be her fault!! No way she has no blame and thinks an apology would suffice!” I know the struggle. I’ve come a long way and now recognize it when it happens – which is far less than before – and when it surfaces I acknowledge it before she does and I tell her that I sometimes need the chaos and conflict between us in order to feel she cares. The discussions become even more difficult and vulnerable because it essentially saying I don’t know how to have a healthy, non chaotic, relationship and feel connected. It tells me how twisted and dysfunctional my relationships have been all my life and I’ll need a lot of learning to accept and love the calmness. I too have been told I have many characteristics of BPD ( how could we not) and I recognize when I’m falling into those patterns of needing to harm myself, miss an appt, yell at her- anything – to get her attention. I now admit to her what I feel I need to do because I’m feeling disconnected from her and I’ve come to learn and accept that this is how I was taught to get attention or care as a child because my caregivers were emotionally unavailable. It’s still unreal to me that that’s not needed when you have someone who is healthy and present in your life. The triggers at the slightest slight are still there, however, because of the work, Ive begun to recognize them before I react/over react and talk it out in a healthy manner. It’s a learning curve and a tough one at that for sure.
    Hope I didn’t ramble on too much and I’ve been able to help somehow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! I need my relationship with Bea to be real. “It’s weird realizing that as this is happening, she knows that’s exactly what I’m doing and I have no idea.” And this. This is some of it. I don’t like this idea of Bea knowing what’s happening and I don’t….it makes it like she’s this all knowing, higher than thou shrink. I don’t know. The teen does not like someone having power over her, and this feels like it gives Bea power. It’s hard, too, because it does highlight all the pain and grief of what I didn’t have. The whole thing is hard. This helps. Others getting it, talking about it with me helps. So thank you. 💗

      Liked by 1 person

      • If it helps, soon enough you will come to know and feel that it is not “power” she is exhibiting, rather real unconditional love and respect for you as a whole being. Sure there’s a slight power dynamic because she knows more about you than you about her and, of course, boundaries. It’s the boundaries that allow her to be the “boxing bag” to your every emotion without having her internalize them. This is what you do daily for Kay. Bea, as much as you may want, can never give you all you deserved and never got as a child, however, she can lean in and help you grieve them and learn how to give them to yourself. Everything your feeling and experiencing is normal and part of the journeys with a great therapist.

        Liked by 1 person

      • For the teen, it’s hard not to feel it as power. Maybe harder yet to believe she cares, that she could love and respect me. It feels very much like why would Bea even want to stick around and help a mean teen drama queen? Does that make sense?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This isn’t something I’ve dealt with personally, but it makes sense to me that it would feel scary. If the idea is that it’s a good thing to project negative stuff onto a safe T, it seems like it could have the potential to go in the opposite direction and contaminate (for lack of a better word) a safe T and make them feel less safe.

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    • There is definitely some worry, maybe a lot of fear, that all my “stuff”, all of my “crazy” will contaminate her. There’s all this stuff, all these overwhelming feelings and this awful ick that I can’t deal with, that leaves me barely able to cope and it feels like I am a terrible person for then wanting to ask Bea to help me contain it all. Who does that? And I know that those fears have nothing to do with Bea and who she is, it has nothing to do with what she can handle. I know those fears are all old stuff, things from the past. But it’s hard. I don’t know if this even makes sense. 🤷🏼‍♀️🤦‍♀️

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s hard for us to imagine that our words and actions won’t effect someone else’s feelings. However, that is the goal at the end of our healing- to be as confident and self assured as our therapists to know and understand that no one can make us feel anything and no one can break us with their words or actions because it’s not about us. Soon we too will not let the words and actions of others determine and control how we feel because we’ll know it’s their projection onto us. We – like our therapists – will no longer judge and see others with more empathy. You won’t break her!

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      • She keeps telling me that I won’t break her, that she can handle my stuff, that when I’m ready she will be there. And I know that. Sort of. I mean, I know it in my head, but then I’ll go to tell her something and I just freeze. All the words turn to dust in my throat and I can’t breathe, I can’t say them. I’m simultaneously afraid of her leaving and wishing she would just go away already. It feels crazy. 🙈

        Liked by 1 person

  3. slantgirl says:

    Thèse are such good question, and really hard ones. I struggled so much with transference this year and actually took a break from therapy for 6 weeks because I had to get my head around the dynamic with my therapist and how I wanted to proceed. Justbreeth described it so well – it’s hard to feel like you’re alone in creating the intense emotional pulls and pushes, it feels unintuitive to conceive it as one-sided, to feel like you’re to blame for the very real hurt you’re feeling. And therapists do make mistakes – they misjudge, they handle things tactlessly, they misunderstand or trigger you unintentionally. What changed for me, and the place where I’m at now, is a full-on embrace of trauma and enactment — but first I had to accept that my therapist is in some ways very much a stranger and someone I will never know. I had felt very rejected by that earlier on – like I was not good enough to know her. I had to process that, and work through what that said about my background and self-regard — in fact, work throughout as an enactment – to get to the place where I could see transference as an opportunity to work through the dynamics of my past that don’t serve me. This changed the way I felt about my therapist in a super positive way – I felt like she and I together were working through my stuff, and when I felt the dynamic become emotional, I could understand it as the result of transference, and not an actual problem between me and her. Also, now I am able to do very tricky and serious attachment work with her because the dynamic between us is really figured out, and I am able to really trust that she is in it to do this work with me, and that’s it’s centred fully on me. I think this latter part is key S there is a way that people like me – and I think you’re similar! – who do a lot of caring for other in intense ways (momming complicated kids, for Instabce), and who have hidden large parts of ourselves that we were taught were unacceptable, are really hesitant to be at the centre. Therapy necessarily centres us, both our best and also our harder parts, and one way we deflect is to get into it with our therapists. It’s taken me 18 months to really take on bled that she doesn’t need anything from me, and to relax Into that. All of his said, take your time, transference is the absolute hardest, and working with it (psychoanalysts tell us) is the final stage of therapy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know they are hard things to answer. And I really appreciate you taking time to answer them. “it’s hard to feel like you’re alone in creating the intense emotional pulls and pushes, it feels unintuitive to conceive it as one-sided, to feel like you’re to blame for the very real hurt you’re feeling.” This right here. I feel like transference puts up this wall, where I’m on one side with all the blame and Bea is on the other side with all the shrinky power. 😞 “I felt like she and I together were working through my stuff, and when I felt the dynamic become emotional, I could understand it as the result of transference, and not an actual problem between me and her.” This makes so much sense, and is super helpful. You are right, it is hard to be the center of something. Parts of me crave that attachment and attention, but other parts are afraid of being seen that much. It’s a vulnerable place to be. Thank you for this. It helps to hear from people who get it and who have come out the other side. 💗

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lina says:

    I dont have the answers to these issues, but I wanted to comment to share that i relate and i understand.

    I struggle with transference and attachment issues with my therapist frequently and I also struggle, like you have posted about, with how I feel about the transference as a concept and how it is trying to work through it. Again, I dont have the answers to why it is so hard, but it is.

    It is just plain painful. Its painful to feel and experience in the first place, and it obviously comes with a lot of strong emotions, and then added guilt and shame and resistance to working on it and talking about it. I dont have the answers for how to figure that out, how to understand and get through the resistance and shame, because I too understand logically that it is something that I need to work through with my therapist. Its hard and there isnt one answer to how to do this. It’s something that is and will probably always be a work in progress.

    I know for me there are times I do better than others. There are times where I am more willing and able to work through the transference than others. I know, like someone else said, that when these issues are triggered, the emotions are so strong that make it feel impossible to work through. I try to do more of the work when it’s not triggered or so present for me, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel as important during those times. It also feels like unnessessary hurt and pain to feel.

    I am trying and have tried in the past to process these feelings with mytherapist, which usually seems to be the answer, as hard as that is to do. It’s a start and it helps me identify what the blocks are for me (for me its shame) to having these conversations and working with these feelings. It usually helps me decrease the shame talking about it with my T, because she does not feel or express that, or any resistance to it.

    Sorry this probably isnt super helpful, but maybe knowing you are not alone with this will help you in even a small way.

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    • It is hard! Therapy is hard work. Maybe the hardest. It’s funny, because one of the possible reasons Bea suggested I don’t want to talk about transference and enactment is because it feels bad to think I’m not unique in my experience. I told her that didn’t ring true, but I wondered if maybe I was just not wanting to admit to needing to be *special*. But I can say for sure that’s not it, because your words (and others who responded) fit so perfectly how I feel, and my first thought and feeling was relief that I’m not the only one who struggles with this. If anything, I think the issue is I need Bea to see ME, and not see this as *just a thing that happens in therapy* and that *Alice is just like every other client I’ve had.*

      “I am trying and have tried in the past to process these feelings with mytherapist, which usually seems to be the answer, as hard as that is to do. It’s a start and it helps me identify what the blocks are for me (for me its shame) to having these conversations and working with these feelings.” I think you are spot on here. We have to start where we are at, and right now I need to work through the feelings I have about present day life triggering my past and causing me to act in ways that don’t really mesh with my present. Thank you for taking time to answer my questions. And it was helpful! 💗

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  5. DV says:

    I hate it if therapists use “transference” as an excuse to completely disown their part in a conflict, because I think there’s always a mix of transference plus countertransference plus present/real relationship stuff going on and that it is important to look at what they’re bringing into the situation as well. I think you can only really trust your therapist to work through transference or enactments with you if you know from previous experience with them that they are capable of containing all of the strong emotions for both of you and not prone to interpreting things as personal attacks, and are able own up to any ways they contribute to the dynamic and to actively work through that with you as well. Mind, you, it’s worse if they don’t recognise or work with the concept of transference at all and instead blame any conflict or upset on the client having a personality disorder or a bad attitude.

    I found it really difficult to accept that Dr L wouldn’t get sick of me mentally casting him as a potential abuser and feeling scared of him sometimes, no matter how many times he reassured me that he recognised this as transference.

    What’s interesting though is that there were a lot of situations where I gradually came to recognise that transference/enactment was going on and it resolved or at least improved without Dr L having to shove that idea down my throat. He was quietly doing what he thought would resolve the situation but without making that explicit to me. It was something we discussed afterwards, because I was curious about it. Sorry, that’s all a bit cryptic, maybe I should give an example.

    I had Dr L’s email right from the start because it was on his business card and website, but we’d never really discussed what was or wasn’t okay as far as out of session contact. Once we started working on the more intense issues a few years back, I would often get very upset by something he said or did in sessions but not be able to fully feel it or pin down why until afterwards, and would then send an angry email to him. The issues always got resolved although there were a few times where we went through difficult ruptures first. I never questioned this process until I started blogging and realised that other therapists had very different boundaries, but when I asked Dr L if what I was doing was okay he reassured me that he didn’t think I was abusing the process and that it was helpful for our work that I could let him know what had upset me in session if I wasn’t able to do it in the moment. And it’s true, having everything written down did allow me to see a pattern, not just in identifying what had bothered me, but also to see that his part in it was actually fairly small. He’d say something that triggered a reaction and then things would snowball and take on a life of their own. Being able to recognise this was also helped by the period I worked with the trauma therapist before going back to Dr L. Anyway, over time to just stopped feeling the need to email. I was able to hold my feelings until the next session and discuss them then. One of the other things I realise afterwards was that although he would sometimes defend himself about the *content* of the emails, he never got angry or punished me for the *process*, and that this was a good example of a “corrective experience”, of being able to be angry at someone and have them be able to hold that and not take it personally or retaliate.

    What I’m getting at here is that he was fully aware that this was transference, but he didn’t “interpret” what I was doing or force me to see it, just waited until I came to that realisation by myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • slantgirl says:

      Yes!! That last sentence – that’s how it’s been for me too! My T let me come to it on my own and was fully there to start processing about it when I brought it to her.

      Liked by 3 people

    • What’s interesting though is that there were a lot of situations where I gradually came to recognise that transference/enactment was going on and it resolved or at least improved without Dr L having to shove that idea down my throat.

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      • Grrrr. This posted before it should have. Sorry! 🤦‍♀️

        Yes! It always feels like an excuse or a way to not hold any blame. I think Bea did take a lot of stuff from the spring rupture personally but she’s also admitted that, and has owned her mistakes in it all. “What’s interesting though is that there were a lot of situations where I gradually came to recognise that transference/enactment was going on and it resolved or at least improved without Dr L having to shove that idea down my throat.” This gradual recognizing of enactment….I think that’s what is going on now. Bea has said before she thought the rupture was partly about the present and her mistake, but also partly about the past. I wouldn’t accept that and she did let it go and we repaired things. But the rupture was brought up again (by me) recently, and I just saw it so clearly, how it all correlated so perfectly with my past. And that scares me. Because…..well, I don’t know exactly. It just does. And it feels shameful. Like, I acted out, I behaved so badly, and it was all directed at Bea but wasn’t really about her. 🙈😞 Was it painful when you realized the pattern, and what was happening? Because this feels so painful and difficult. Thanks for taking this out a bit. I always love your insights and examples. 💗

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      • DV says:

        The comments section ran out of nesting so I’ll reply to this part of the comment instead of the bit below.

        In answer to your question, yes. Not so much painful as embarassing, to realise how horrible I’ve been at times – getting upset out of all proportion to what was going on – and him just patiently taking it and waiting for me to work through it. I was actually thinking about this exact thing yesterday because I happened to drive past his office on the way home from the place I was working, and I had a sudden urge to send him a card or an email thanking him and apologising.

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      • Yes! I’m embarrassed by my behavior. I think it’s painful because I don’t like this about myself. Facing my bad behavior is just….🙈🙈😭🙈😭. Thank you for sharing this with me. 💗

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  6. slantgirl says:

    Yes!! That last sentence – that’s how it’s been for me too! My T let me come to it on my own and was fully there to start processing about it when I brought it to her.

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  7. Do all your parts get triggered, or is Ms. Perfect fine with it? I wonder if some of it is a reminder of the kind almost clinical detachment that is associated with her being in control – and thus other parts not feeling wanted or valued?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s the teen that gets really triggered. Ms. Perfect sees it all as shrinky BS, just nonsense that is not necessary. The adult is curious and would probably spend hours discussing how her brain works and why and all the shrinky things with Bea. The little girl doesn’t really care. As long as Bea isn’t leaving and there is no conflict, she’s good. But the teen…..it feels shameful. She feels embarrassed that she can’t figure out how to control herself. I don’t know if I’m explaining that right. It’s confusing. This was a good question. It definitely made me think and helped clarify some things. 💗

      Liked by 1 person

  8. i actually really hate these words as they are really therapisty and clinical and generally piss me off. however, i realize that it’s semantics…and that we’re really talking about the same thing, which i prefer to call attachment. and yup, i’ve been through the wringer with this stuff (also: i second the boundary ninja. brilliant.)

    i don’t know for sure if this is the case for you, but i sometimes react really strongly to the idea that i’m not a special little unique snowflake in the universe; that, like many clients before me with their therapists, i struggle with the therapeutic relationship. it also makes me feel really…i don’t know…reduced, somehow, to a clinical idea that therapists learn in school. it feels shameful that i am not smart enough to not have issues of transference/attachment.

    except…when there’s childhood trauma/neglect/abuse/parental narcissism, i think that’s the truth of it: our attachment to others (all others) is disordered. through no fault of our own, we were hurt and damaged in ways that make relating to others difficult. that feels so, so awful. i hate owning that my relationships to other people are so fraught, because it necessarily means admitting how bad it was. how alone i was. how much i didn’t get. that horrible stuff did happen. that i didn’t get like this on my own. and…all of that feels absolutely terrible.

    and lastly, why wouldn’t the very idea transference trigger any of us? it’s a word that refers to the ways in which we unconsciously direct feelings from the past onto a person in the present. it sounds nuts. it sounds like we should be able to logic our way out and control it. it sounds child-like and weak. it reeks of freud and is so so smug. i hate it too! and…i think it is THE work that i need to do, to be free.

    no idea if i answered your question, but yeah, it’s a toughie. sitting with you as you work it through, if okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 😊 I hate those words, too. But the attachment word also isn’t one I like. 🤦‍♀️ Or. rather, a part of me finds anything having to do with attachment difficult because she would rather not be that vulnerable. “it also makes me feel really…i don’t know…reduced, somehow, to a clinical idea that therapists learn in school. it feels shameful that i am not smart enough to not have issues of transference/attachment.” This right here. It feels very shaming and blaming to me. I didn’t see it before, but reading this I could see exactly how those shrinky words feel the same as “drama queen” and “over reaction”. (Ironically, those words hold such negative connotations because of my mother. Transference much? 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️) “through no fault of our own, we were hurt and damaged in ways that make relating to others difficult. that feels so, so awful.” This. It does feel awful. Unbelievably painful to let all that in, go really see how messed up I am. Maybe part of this is finding a way to accept that. This did help. You can sit with me if you want. Thank you. 💗

      Liked by 2 people

      • However messed up we are, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. We were just little kids. We had help with getting how we are. In fact, I would even go as far to say that the mess isn’t ours…yet it remains ours to clean up. That makes me want to rage-scream and sob for weeks on end, depending on the day.

        Ugh. This shit is so shit.

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      • Rage scream or sob for weeks….that about sums it up. It’s not fair, and that is simultaneously frustrating and devastating. But we are healing. Sometimes slowly, but we are doing it. 💗

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