Transference & Trust
At least that’s what it feels like sometimes. Fortunately, the intense, romantic feelings are fleeting and sporadic. Sometimes, though, I’m distracted during a session by his smile or the way his lips move, wondering what they’d feel like against mine. When he gets up to check his phone, I find myself averting my eyes so as not to admire his form. Fortunately, those feelings are fleeting, too. I’m still unsure about sexuality and romance at this point in recovery, even if he wasn’t my therapist and monogamously married.
Romantic or sexual feelings towards one’s therapist are known as transference and erotic transference, respectively, and it’s quite common, especially for rape and incest survivors. Even feeling platonic love for one’s therapist, likening them to a parent, is a type of transference.
Mostly, I just feel gratitude and affection towards him. The little I know about him, for I pay him to talk about me, makes me want to know more. He’s a vegetarian and into alternative medicine, like me. He’s an environmentalist and into progressive politics, like me. He leans toward Eastern spiritual traditions, like me. (I get all these things from his bumper stickers, btw. :D) He seems like an amazing person, and I’d like to spend more time with him and his wife. Coffee. Games. Hikes. Whatever. Just to have a friend. To be with people I trust. To start to rebuild community.
I intellectually recognize that these romantic and sexual and even friendly feelings are directed towards him because he’s safe. Because he’s the only other person on the face of the planet other than my husband and my best friend that I trust. He summed it up in one session: “It’s natural to want to be close to someone who feels safe.”
I’m stuck between the place of a natural tendency to make myself the most attractive possible for a potential partner, while being genuinely myself, and intellectually recognizing it’s transference. I used to talk with him about things without a second thought, like intimate details of my sexuality or past experiences, anxieties and such. Now I’m hyper-aware of everything I say because of my attraction. There is a disconnect between what I feel and what I intellectually know to be true.
It’s extremely important to talk to your therapist about transference, if you’re having those feelings. They are trained to deal with it professionally because it is such a common occurrence. It’s part of the therapeutic experience, especially in recovery from sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Talking about your feelings of transference is paramount to your healing, as they are likely demonstrating patterns and underlying issues that should be addressed in therapy.
If your therapist crosses that boundary and alters your interactions to include romance or sexuality, you must get away quickly. If they cross that line, they are not only betraying you and your trust, they are also betraying the ethical code of their profession and very likely their spouse/partner. No matter how much you think (and they will tell you) it’s because of how special or sexy or awesome or how deep and unique your connection is that caused them to breach that boundary, the reality is this: they are an unethical person with little-to-no integrity who would betray their profession’s ethical code, their client’s trust, and possibly their spouse. That is not someone you can trust, nor are they conducive to your healing.
The rules and guidelines behind “dual relationships” with psychologists, counselors, therapists, or psychiatrists are strict for a very good reason. Dual relationships are damaging to the client—any dual relationship, not just those in the realm of romance and sexuality. Friendships. Hiking partners. Poker buddy. RPG team. Plumber. Home improvement contractor. Yoga instructor. Any of these and more constitute a “dual relationship,” and they aren’t conducive to your healing or recovery. They are, at worst, severely damaging, for there cannot be a balanced relationship between you. You share intimate details of your heart, mind, and soul with your therapist, putting you in an extremely vulnerable position, where you know next to nothing about them in comparison.
One there therapeutic relationship ends, the accepted time period before establishing any social or professional relationship with your former therapist is two years. Some professionals say no other relationship for life.
You are in therapy for your healing, to get your needs met. They are not there to get their needs met. It’s not a two-way street, as my therapist says. You pay them to make it a one way street. They go to therapy to work out their issues. They have other relationships to meet their needs. This therapeutic relationship is about you and your healing, period.
If you therapist breaches that trust, that speaks to them not only as a professional but also as a person. As much as I, at times, want him to cross that boundary and kiss me or hug me or even just grab a cup of coffee together and let him talk about himself for a change, I know if he did that then he wouldn’t be the man I feel this affection for. It’s a very frustrating place to be.
For now, it’s wonderful to see him once a week for an hour or two. I have an intelligent, skilled, compassionate, understanding, accepting, handsome man who I pay to focus completely on me for our time together. That alone is healing. I feel seen. I feel heard. I feel cared for and respected. I feel accepted and validated. I feel love and desire, on and off, and it’s nice to know I still can.
I’m healing because of his empathy and skill, because of his compassion and presence…and because of the boundaries that are there to keep me safe. To keep everyone safe.
When I first admitted to having these feelings of transference, he handled it with perfect professionalism. Without hurting my feelings or mocking me or compounding the shame I already felt around it, he said that he would not cross that line. He said if he did cross that line because it would be severely damaging to me.
He didn’t say wanted to or didn’t want to.
He didn’t say he was attracted to me or not.
He didn’t say anything except: “If I did this, it would be extremely damaging to you.”
I broke down and cried.
He’s right. It would be. He would become yet another man who betrayed my trust, who got me to feel safe and loved, then exploited that situation for his own needs. For he would not only be violating his professional ethics, he would be deceiving his wife. That is not the man I am drawn to. Everything would crumble.
He also said that it was perfectly natural, especially in my healing, to want to be close to someone with whom I felt safe and who I could trust. As the only person on the planet, save my husband and my best friend, who I trust and feel safe with, it’s a pretty small circle right now, as he put it.
It’s perfectly natural.
He knows that. He also knows the power that gives him, and it speaks to his integrity that he chooses not to exploit that power. He said he knows he’s sitting there with a loaded gun, as a man in a position of power with a vulnerable woman before him. He could take advantage of my transference feelings, take advantage of my trust and vulnerability, take advantage of the entire situation, but he chooses not to use that power. That’s the difference between a man with integrity, like my therapist and my husband, and a man like The Rapist and predators like him, when he knows he holds that power and he uses it for his own momentary pleasure and his own selfish needs, exploiting the vulnerability and emotional distress of his prey.
There is also something called counter-transference, where the therapist develops feelings for the client. That is also natural. My therapist has not indicated whether or not he is experiencing counter-transference, and I don’t expect he will. As he has reminded me time and again, this therapeutic relationship is about my needs getting met, not his. If he is and if he says so in therapy, we would then discuss that professionally with those boundaries firmly in place. As in any relationship, I always encourage complete transparency. In this case, however, I trust that he wouldn’t even say as much, even if it were true, unless it would be beneficial to helping me heal.
Last year I had a therapist, the first of many I had after the rapes, humiliation, and discardment. He practices humanist psychology and is polyamorous. He was kind and compassionate. He was very loving. He helped me take the blinders off and see the underlying abuse and mind-fuck by The Rapist long before I accepted what happened as rape. My relationship with this first therapist was extremely helpful and healing, until it wasn’t. He didn’t hold those boundaries. In fact, he didn’t believe in “boundaries.” He thought they were too rigid. That just serves to demonstrate not only what kind of therapist he is, which isn’t a very good one, but also the kind of man his is: one without, or with very little, integrity.
We had a therapeutic relationship and a friendship growing at the same time. He talked about himself, too. He opened his home and office and community center to me as a safe haven, stating that The Rapist wasn’t welcome there as a client (he said he didn’t want The Rapist’s money) or as a poly community member. He created the only place in Austin I felt safe other than my own little room. I loved him like a father, also a form of transference. His community center became my second home, my office, and my safe haven, all of which he offered to me. I didn’t ask for any of those things.
Then, one day, about three months into therapy, he ripped it all away. Suddenly, The Rapist would be welcome if he showed up. The anxiety attacks started again, and I thought it was my “issues” causing them, but now I see it’s because I was yet again betrayed by someone who cultivated a relationship, got me to feel safe, then tore it away. Ironically, the exact same time period as the relationship with The Rapist.
So after establishing this dual relationship with me, by not holding the client-therapist boundary and pursuing a fuller relationship, he caused more damage. While it was satisfying and healing in the short term, when he reneged on his promises that The Rapist wasn’t welcome there, I felt betrayed. I felt exposed. I felt violated. Not only by my therapist, but by my friend. He ripped away the one place I felt safe outside of the little room I was renting at the time.
This secondary trauma set me back months in healing. The tertiary trauma would come when the entire poly community embraced The Rapist and called me a liar. Fuck Austin, as I’ve said before.
That first therapist didn’t hold those boundaries. He didn’t act with integrity. He crossed the line, established a secondary relationship, and then changed his mind about his promises, further damaging an already-traumatied client.
This is why those boundaries and rules are in place.
In a therapeutic relationship, it is the therapist’s responsibility to hold that boundary. As a client, you are there to be completely open, to talk about the most intimate and vulnerable details of your life, your past, your mind, your heart, and your soul. That, of course, is going to feel very intimate to the client who is sharing things they may not even share with their spouse.
As I’ve said countless times throughout this blog, I always advise total transparency in any relationship, and especially in romantic and sexual ones. I tell my husband everything, which is one of the reasons our foundation is utterly unshakable. It’s how we not only survived the last three horrific years, but how we’re stronger because of it. In times of trouble and fear, you turn into love, not away from it. Still, very few people, I’ve found, can be that transparent.
My current therapist holds those boundaries with graceful professionalism. Even though at times I wish with all my heart he wouldn’t, that he’d come close to me and breathe into my lips how much he can’t stay away from me a moment longer…I know if he didn’t hold that boundary it would not only be damaging to me and my healing, it would be damaging to him, his career, and his marriage. It’s a no-win situation no matter how attracted to him I might feel. I’m also intellectually aware, as is he, that this is part of the therapeutic experience. I feel drawn to him because I trust him, because I feel safe with him, because I have opened myself up with all the pain and trauma and shame and intensity screaming inside me, and he has held that space, accepted me without judgement. He has validated me, my feelings, my thoughts, and my experiences. He has helped me see the level of abuse I’ve endured throughout my life, not just in the last year in the aftermath of rape, but how that relationship was even possible because of ongoing abuse over a lifetime that has, for the purpose of survival, has altered my nervous system to the point where I don’t recognize early signs of danger. Even when the violence is occurring, whether sexualized violence or verbal or emotional, I freeze when instead of fighting or fleeing. I explain it away. I make it my fault, something I did wrong.
He explains my feelings and diffuses my shame with words of clarity and compassion and care, and it turns out I have a lot of shame. I’ve been shamed for feeling throughout my life, for just having emotions. For feeling insecure at times. For loving. I’ve been shamed for my sexuality. I’ve been shamed for saying no. I’ve been shamed for saying yes. I’ve been shamed for falling in love. I’ve been shamed for falling in love too fast or too deeply. I’ve been shamed for unrequited love.
He takes that shame away.
He said it is completely natural to want to be close to someone with whom you feel safe and who you trust.
It is completely natural.
Although I fantasize about severing the therapeutic relationship now and setting iCal to remind me in two years to call him up for coffee, then spend more time talking about him to balance the budding relationship, the reality is that he’s my therapist. He will always be my therapist. For someone who has had their sense of trust and boundaries so severely violated, a relationship with firm boundaries is exactly what I need, no matter how much my heart yearns for more at times. What that shows more than anything is that my ability to feel love, to trust, and to desire someone is not permanently damaged. From a position of safety, I can feel love again. I can feel desire again. I can ease back into exploring those options with new people, all from the safety of therapy.
May you find peace.
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~ by omgrey on May 8, 2013.
Posted in Romance & Relationships, Trauma & Recovery
Tags: author, broken heart, erotic transference, fear, grief, healing, honesty, intimacy, love, non-monogamy, o.m. grey, olivia grey, open, open marriage, passion, rape, rape survivor, relationship advice, relationships, romance, sex, sexual assault, shattered, somatic therapy, therapist, therapy, transference