David Richo’s book, When the Past is Present, primarily addresses the psychological phenomena of transference and countertransference, and other related concepts.
“In transference I displace onto others the feelings and expectations that rightly belong to my parents, family, former partners, or any significant others. … Transference is thus a type of displacement in which archaic family/parental transactions are reexperienced with other adults. Those others are usually confused by our behavior toward them because they do not see that we are inveigling them into a time warp. … We can understand transference better if we look at one other unconscious defense mechanism, projective identification. A form of this happens when someone cannot stand certain of his own feelings because they seem too rude, too threatening, or too far out of character to know or show. So he does something that provokes his own unwanted or intolerable feeling in the other person, who in effect, feels it for him. … In doing this [he] may also be motivated by a transference need to re-create [his] parent’s way of acting toward [him]. … Transference not only distorts who others are, it distorts who we think we are. Thus, the whole book of our life is mistranslated in transference.” (pp. 10-11, 14)
As I read it, I felt shocks of recognition every few pages. Not in a good way.
I see now why so many relationships I’ve had with people who turned out to be abusive or just controlling reminded me of my parents. Because essentially I was relating to them as if they were my parents. And like my relationship with each of my parents, and other significant people, I usually didn’t like what was happening but I had no idea how to change the dynamics.
Very late in the book, there is a section in which Richo describes the difference between introverts and extroverts, in the context of emotional intimacy. Seemingly his purpose was to explain to extroverts why their introverted partners’ needs for solitude and boundaries more impermeable than extroverts’ boundaries are actually healthy for them, and not signs of narcissism.
“The introvert/extrovert distinction helps us see how we might be over- or under-incorporating, [that is] not taking enough in or taking in too much from others and the world around us:
[[There is a chart with examples of ‘shutting out too much’ and ‘opening to an extreme’. I’m only going to include the examples from ‘opening to an extreme’, which follow]]
- we let the other come at us too strongly
- we are overstimulated by the other’s presence
- we are so fascinated that we lose sight of anything else
- we are obsessed
- we make allowances for the other no matter how difficult he may be to endure
- we are overly excited by the thought of seeing the other
- we cannot get enough of the other
- we strongly admire the other even when he does not deserve it
- we experience a form of folie à deux, feeling what the other feels and losing our own sense of individuality
- we recall every detail of the other’s life
- we notice everything
- we have rescue fantasies
- we are overly familiar
- we make inappropriate inquiries into the other’s private business
- we are flooded with feelings (pp. 180-181)
So, according to his explanation, extroverts enjoy personal contact so much more than introverts that, during all the stimulation, they may let down their guard too much. He doesn’t use the term ‘enmeshment’, as I have in previous posts, but it does seem that he is talking about the same kind of thing.
I was rather astonished, and then horrified, to realize that all of the examples of ‘opening to an extreme’ have been present in multiple significant relationships of mine. Most of them turned out to be abusive too.
Somewhere else in the book he talks about how self-respect comes from maintaining your own boundaries, and not letting other people push you around. o.O
Ever since then, I’ve thought of more and more examples from my own life of me ignoring my own boundaries, and encouraging others to ignore them as well. Which they did.
I never connected any of that with why I have such trouble finding people to respect me. I guess I have to respect myself first.
The really unsettling thing about the chart above is of course that I am an introvert. So how would I have learned how to act like an out-of-control extrovert? Well, from my mother. Whom I was enmeshed with, from birth onward.
Hundreds of things are now becoming crystal clear. In a bad way.
I’ve known for a while that I need better boundaries. But somehow I kept missing just how omnipresent boundaries really are. They’re not just around for the big things; the little things, the everyday things, might be even more important.
So I could go back to my idea from a few weeks ago, to channel my NT side, and pull back from attempts at emotional intimacy, at least until I get this stuff sorted out.
But having just written the other post about how I need complexity and conversation (cross-pollination), I think a better answer is more complicated. I need to figure out how to be an NT with healthy boundaries, an NF with healthy boundaries, and an SP with healthy boundaries. I need to experiment with a bunch of things, in a bunch of different contexts, to understand my inner complexity more thoroughly.
And since I have developed the capability to ‘merge’ with people – what I always thought was normal emotional intimacy, alas — what could it be good for? Is it what I use when I connect to my non-human neighbors? My landbase? Can I use it in art somehow? Acting? Can I play with where the boundary is? Maybe every once in a while it feels really good to do.
What can I learn from this experience? How can I grow healthier?
*(e) should be an ‘n’, for the anagram to work correctly, but come on, who could resist?