home page intimacies

therapeutic living
january 1, 2012 / May 28, 2012


As Janna was becoming a psychotherapist, we had fun learning together various dynamics. I guess I always envied that she lived frequently what was academic for me. (I often considered going through training, but the business in the Bay Area is overstaffed.) My insatiably-fascinated sense of psychotherapeutics was textual and (apart from what was known between us), secretly present in my own interpersonal life, but causing “dangerous” candor and curiosity with others for which I cared very much. A small burden of hiding interest and appreciability has been with me a long time.

Likewise being a philosopher (which was a burden for Janna), quite apart from any interest in being conceptually therapeutic (a common identity for professors of philosophy). People are delighted with their own ideas—until they find out that I can enjoy them much more than they implicitly anticipated. Then they clam up. It’s saddening, because I love others’ senses of life and world, but have learned that unmodulated curiosity unwittingly evinces others’ projections and insecurities.

One fun issue between Janna and I was: What’s the difference between projective identification and counter-transference? I still don’t know well, in any sense near to what a therapist knows through an extended client alliance (and the extended self-reflective testing that sessions may provide). But I recall that we had fun “worrying” about it, years ago, as an aspect of our relationship. (Have I earlier belabored mention that Derrida was married to a psychoanalyst?)

But a therapist doesn’t regard friends like clients, and a philosopher doesn’t regard friends as objects for judgment. Yet, others easily confuse themselves by feeling judgmentally entertained (a delightfully bi-directional notion). They may have no idea how integral to being a therapist is keeping clearly distinguished sessional work and having a life: being accepting and open with one’s friends and intimates, just like any of us presumes (or hopes) to have with others in our lives. (Indeed, only by knowing the difference can a therapist keep clear in sessions what belongs to the client and also be the reliable anchor that allows clients to understand what’s theirs). Philosophy is like this, too, in its own way.

Nevertheless, the emotional intensity of sessions has to flow into the emotional life of the therapist. Living with and working with the important difference (as a matter of fairness to oneself, as well as to one’s friend) is part of being a therapist. For this non-professional inquirer (whose love of conceptual intensity unfortunately caused Janna emotional difficulties), the dynamics of being the therapist was sometimes too delicious to me, and I was unfairly strident, basically because I presumed that she could enjoy anything I played with, and she needed to presume that, too—which led to me holding back too much and her feeling a lack of my candor (which was projection on her part, I would insist) as my withheld risk of tripping her up, which threatened her sense of professional competence, even though I was just pursuing ideas like anyone fascinated to learn (not evaluate), with due regard (I really tried) for where the other seems to be in their thinking. My conceptuality always intimidated her, no matter how much rapport we had, because she always saw my staying with her as holding back what I thought she couldn’t understand. (In fact, she could completely Lose It and break down into sobbing because she felt so incompetent, though I’d just been enthusing about ideas that fascinated me, not expecting her to reciprocate.)

I saw us as peers in learning; I really did. I learned so much from her, and I easily showed my pleasure learning through her. But that could intimidate her, because (evidently) she didn’t feel the enthusiasm for learning that I showed. She wanted my curiosity—but only to a point—so she also didn’t want it (because I had no boundaries, and she didn’t like that I reached hers). She was intimidated by my curiosity, but also wanted to be challenged by it. Fine! That's life: learning never ends. Because we loved to learn, we hit the boundaries of her zone, but too often. I could never get enough of having mine exposed. I loved it.

I just now Googled ‘projective identification’ and fortunately got a listing on this and counter-transference, which doesn’t surprise me. Janna and I were playing with a central issue for the profession. I’m not going to pursue the matter, but let me quote the article’s abstract:

Projective identification is examined as an intrapsychic and interpersonal phenomenon that draws the analyst into various forms of acting out. The therapist struggles to use understanding and interpretation as the method of working through the mutual desire to act out the patient’s core fantasies and feelings. Clinical material is used to illustrate the ways in which projective identification affects the analytic relationship. The focus is on methods of using interpretation to shift from mutual acting out to mutual understanding.

I can relate. I’ve been so enchanted by others’ fantasies that I would try to make them real between us. I’ve turned my own fantasies into storylines and let others think it’s autobiography. I’ve turned my own dreads into realistic narrative, as a way to work through fears. I’ve inhabited others’ fears, in order to see where they go. I’ve hurt others unwittingly because I failed to set boundaries between us.

Such becomes the stuff of novels because only the constructive freedom of fiction provides opportunity for articulating the vertiginous subtleties of lives that seldom take time to understand what they’ve lived through. That too becomes part of the story. But a story never stays wholly true to the too-complex reality that gets manageably drawn into character and articulate scenes which allow for discernible progress of a comprehensible plot, having enough richness to keep one enthused, but not so much that one risks feeling shattered and useless.

Next: section 2 of “intimacies.”


  Be fair. © 2017, gary e. davis