Why Your Childhood Might Be Interfering With Your Adult Relationships! - Daily Love with Mastin Kipp

Why Your Childhood Might Be Interfering With Your Adult Relationships!

DaveRichoTransference is putting your parent’s face on someone else, especially a partner. Our present partner may serve as the most recent understudy for the original stars of our drama in childhood. We might ask, “What did my psyche see in my wife that made her so apt an actress for this role? Perhaps she was the most suitable scarecrow on which to hang the tattered rags of my past, rags of childhood promises believed but unkept.” How ironic that we can use others in that way even though they have an integrity and personality all their own. It must be that transference is a technology of the psyche to work out old unfinished business. Unfortunately, it does not really work that way. We see our issues but don’t solve them through new relationships. A relationship or marriage shows us our past and then it is up to us to address, process, and resolve it.

Instant anger is often a sign of transference. For instance, in a childhood in which a boy’s every move was scrutinized by his mother, his innate need for freedom of movement was ignored and he felt stifled. Now, when he is comfortably in his office at home and his wife calls to him: “What are you doing in there?” he hits the ceiling – feeling again the sense of intrusion by a woman. If he has explored his past, he may recognize his extreme reaction as part of a displacement from childhood. If he has not, he will take his anger out on her and blame her rather than taking responsibility for the work he has to do on himself. The work is addressing, processing, resolving, and integrating his mother issue.

During my marriage, I recall occasionally, in my thoughts, confusing my wife with my mother. I also recall being unkind to my wife occasionally, even though she was kind to me. I wondered over the years why I was like that toward her. Recently, I was thinking of my ex-wife and again used the word mom. Suddenly I had my answer: I was getting back at my mother for her harshness toward me in childhood through my wife, the new significant woman in my life. It was an important insight for me. I explained all this to my ex-wife, now a friend, and I apologized for my unconsciousness. I saw so clearly how transference can be dangerous to a relationship as long as it remains unconscious.

When a transference reaction becomes conscious, we may suddenly recall the exact nature of the original events of our past. For instance, when my sister continually criticizes me and I keep taking it, I may one day recall that this is precisely how my mother treated me. Then I may speak up, usually in anger, and that reaction will be directed at both the sister in front of me and the mother behind her. In another example, a man sees how his wife treats her son and he is envious. Her affection is reminding him of what his own mother did not give him. The signal is envy; the work is grief for what he missed out on. Here is a final, more poignant example: From the way I love my son, I realize my father did not love me.

We were often blamed in childhood, so now we hear blame when others express healthy anger toward us. We feel criticized when others give us reasonable feedback. Even healthy anger directed at us by another feels scary when it is picking up on transferred energy. For instance, it may remind us of how father came at us so menacingly in childhood. The reminding can be conscious (our minds remember) or unconscious (our cells remember). Our fear of others’ anger may keep us always on the alert, and we become adept at smoothing things over so that anger will not erupt. Such alertness is itself a form of pain.

A wife may act like a mother; a husband may act like a father. This is the equivalent of reliving our parent’s life rather than becoming persons in our own right. Erotic passion for our partners fades quickly when we become parent figures. Is the transference then a way of avoiding intimacy?

Transference may explain why we overstay in relationships that do not work so well. We may be too hasty in blaming ourselves as needy or foolish. Perhaps we hang on because we are trying to work out a whole lifetime of issues and this one relationship seems so apt a stage on which to accomplish it. We stay because the dim and flaring lamps of our childhood still light the stage.

A distressed, unfulfilled past calls for grief work before it can be laid to rest. Grief work means feeling sad, angry, and afraid. It means letting go of resentment about and attachment to the past. When we find a partner who seems to offer the fulfillment of all that we missed in childhood, we jump into his arms. He stands in as the parent who this time will come through for us. We thus seem to hop over the grief requirement. Then grief becomes the missing link in our journey toward psychological health. Transference makes the missing link look like a bridge. This mistake is trickster energy, since it eventually shows us our skipped step rather than letting us skip it. We soon find all the same issues arising with a partner that we hoped to skip over from childhood. Under the bridge we constructed, our psyche was constructing its own bridge to export its shipment into our adult relationships. But, ah, the missing link of grieving turns out to be a required link between a wounded childhood and healthy adult intimacy.

What relationship(s) might you be experiencing transference in?




From: David Richo, When the Past is Present (Shambhala)

David Richo, Ph.D., M.F.T., is psychotherapist, writer, and workshop leader. He teaches at a variety of places including Esalen and Spirit Rock Buddhist Center. He shares his time between Santa Barbara and San Francisco, California. Dave combines psychological and spiritual perspectives in his work. Connect with him on his website.

His most recent books are:
How to be an Adult in Love (Shambhala, 2013)
How To Be An Adult In Faith and Spirituality (Paulist Press, 2011)