Tag Archives: dysfunctional relationships

Transference — Tend Your Own Garden


I don’t know what it is about the winter, but it seems to bring out the bear in me. At a time, when I should be going inward, slowing down and reflecting in order to prepare for a better or new / improved renewal in the spring, I have found myself lately drawn in to the drama of other people and getting really tired of it.

Usually I can float on the surface of such things; usually I can smile and nod, like a game show host at the unraveling contestant on my set. I could gesture to the camera tech or producer to cut to another shot.

But lately, the allure has been too much. I have found myself zooming in, in super-HD to examine the pores and nose hairs of the people in my life, looking for flaws and looking for ways to fix them. For me, this is wrong, and it’s classic transference:

Transference is a phenomenon characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another. One definition of transference is “the inappropriate repetition in the present of a relationship that was important in a person’s childhood.”

Basically, I am recreating the dynamics of the same crap / relationships I had as a child. (Transference is hard to depict, and it’s very subtle. If someone wants to help me out here, correct me: please do!)

This is my own layperson’s understanding of transference: that when a person named Percival does something that reminds you of a person named Mortimer and you end up unconsciously treating Percival like you would have treated Mortimer, even though conditions, situations, context, relationship, everything is different.

And so Percival is all like, “Gladys! I had no idea you felt this way!!” And you’re all like, “Gladys?! My name is Hilda!”

WAKE UP! This isn’t about your grandparents.

Hahahaaaa… Anyway…

That is transference as far as I can understand. And it’s unconscious; it is something we are not aware of, but when we become aware of it, and our tendency to exhibit transference in our relationships with other people, our lives can change.

I miss you, Charles Schulz.

I miss you, Charles Schulz.

It didn’t used to be like this. I have had significant “training” (therapy) to help me understand when this is happening. In fact, I quit my first therapist because I believe he started exhibiting transference to me and I felt the neutrality was jeopardized. But lately? It’s not like it’s been happening without my knowledge. I know better.

It was like sipping from the bottle of chaos for me. Look at another person’s so-called problems, and treat them as I would the person that I’m reminded of so I don’t have to focus on myself.

I chalk it up to boredom. I also chalk it up to a basic fatigue of navel gazing, of looking back at the misfires in order to create a more content and pleasant future or present.

It’s addictive, the navel gazing, and it’s really narcissistic too, because after a while, if we don’t make any healthy changes based on our navel gazing, if we don’t become aware of our tendencies redirect, or deflect, or point the finger at someone else, we end up deciding that our way of living is A-OK, Billy Bob. (I don’t know where Billy Bob came from…) And nothing changes. We drink/gamble/eat/smoke/shop/dream/navel gaze too much, we shout too much, we hold on too tightly. We don’t improve.

What bugs me most about result-less navel gazing is that lots of people are into it. As a yoga instructor, I try very hard to live the code of mindfulness, of “live unto others” and be cool with whatever happens because that’s meant to happen.

I had a student who reached out to me. She has since quit my classes (yes, they do leave me). It was not under the best of circumstances that she left (she transferred her past / mother on to me and wanted more of me than I felt was professionally appropriate). But I don’t “cut” people off unless I get a directive from them or the situation goes from awkward to untenable. So as is customary, when I was sending out the announcement for the upcoming session, she asked me to remove her from my email list. I did. I get it: clean slate, start over. I dig that. It showed me growth from her. I was actually happy for her.

Namaste and all that stuff.

Moving on.

Oddly, a few months later, she sent me a link to a blog about yoga instructors and how we need to check our egos at the door and not make the classes all about ourselves and trying to attain the perfect pose and just letting our students meet THEMSELVES where they are, so-called “limitations” and all.

Well, if you’re a friend of mine, or you’ve read anything I’ve written or taken a class of mine, you would know right off the bat, that I strive each day to be a growth-oriented and “it’s ok where you are” type person. That paradigm shift for me was massive, 10 years ago. I can hear me now: I didn’t just accept things the way they were! I fought them! That solid, cold, black iron rod must be bent and turned into a platter to suit my needs! Without fire! Without heat! Without cajoling or kindness or flattery, sincere or otherwise… Man, I was a fighter, but without cause.

Back to reality: the irony, of course, is that this former student (and I can say this with a ton of confidence) was still projecting her stuff on to me. My days of “perfectionism” are toast. Twenty years of combined marriage, parenting, yoga, crazy mother, and classic psychotherapy, CBT and EMDR have exorcised that demon. She spoke endlessly to me about her need to make the Yoga Journal -cover perfect pose when reality simply didn’t allow for it.

I recall clearly that I would speak with her after many classes. Calmly, nodding, listening and hearing her, feeling her desperation for acceptable levels of perfection….

I drew her attention to a tree outside and said, “Would you ever consider that tree imperfect? Would you say that it’s not a ‘tree’ as defined by what our understanding of what a tree is? It’s got a missing limb or two, some knots and a hole in its trunk…” She shook her head ‘no.’

“Those things give it character. A place for animals to live.” I added, like freakin’ Snow White Freud.

She nodded and agreed, her eyes welling up a little in the sun. Her nose grew pink and she started to chew on her inner cheek, leaning on one leg more than the other.

“Then why do you beat yourself up? Do you think that tree would consider you somehow imperfect? Why must you insist that you are? And why must you fight your story, your reality, to prove –for whom I don’t know– your perfection?”

I was all “This is our reality… It is what it is, man… y’dig?” In my Nehru shirt and dandelion chain tiara crown.

She said she understood, that she appreciated my help and time. That I was a true teacher and friend to her for doing so and she thanked me.

Then the phone calls increased, the emails increased and the text messages increased. She wanted more of my time; I began to feel uneasy. This is my issue: I didn’t like being someone’s salvation. I couldn’t save my own mother, there was no way I could to do it for a yoga student.

She wanted more of the class’s time and attention. It became a cyclone of need. I had to draw a line; I had my own personality limitations as well as a real interest in protecting the integrity of the class, the time of other students, as well as my reputation as an instructor to manage disruption. I had to ask her after class to stop the chatter, the distractions in class, the bringing of the “outer world” into the room. “…We take our shoes off as a gesture of the solemnity and respect for the practice of yoga, likewise, we need to do with our day, our woes, our ego and our mirth. I ring the bell at the beginning to announce the tenor of practice, to introduce a new moment. Not everyone had a bad day like you did… not everyone just aced a final like you did… everyone is working on something personal and unique in here, so please respect that.”

She didn’t say so. She didn’t say anything in fact. She packed up her stuff and thanked me for a nice class. Only later, I surmise, did she decide to tell me (indirectly through that email) that my interests in protecting my yoga classes felt unkind and ego-identfied to her. That I was asserting my “authority” in a non-produtive and territorial way. I was the enemy. She resorted to her native coping skills and never communicated with me again.

Until that link to the blog.

So I sit and I sigh. Distracted by this not-very-subtle jab at my person and teaching style I start to wonder, actively, about that person. About what makes her so high and mighty, what makes her the high priestess of ego and yoga teaching? She’s not such hot stuff, why if she were then … And what’s with the contacting ME when she told me to take her off my list?? Talk about BOUNDARY ISSUES!!! Why she …. …. …. ….

And down the rabbit hole we go. Watch out for that root on the right as you go down, it’s like a whip.

The good news is that that rabbit hole is brighter now; it has landing strips by it and it’s not as bumpy, deep or as curvy as it used to be. My descents into it are less intense and more fleeting. It’s more of a gopher hole. But the gopher holes are everywhere and they’re in my garden.

Instead of tending to my gopher holes, instead of sealing them up or planting a flower in them, I look over the fence, into someone else’s garden and I start to think about where an azalea would look good to cover up that ugly corner; or that a shade tree would do well to keep from burning up the astilbe… My, she doesn’t know how to tend to her garden; she’s got shade plants in full sun… her kids are likely on drugs too… that son is a mess… I thought my mom was weird … her mother is a trip…

… and there we go again. Me thinking about someone else’s crap instead of my own. Me transferring my energy and my thoughts and my precious little time left on this planet to someone else, someone who’s into the drama, who’s into the distraction and who’s not able to understand my “brand” of help; or my timing.

People need to work at their own pace and just because I can see all the traps and falls awaiting that person, it doesn’t mean 1) she can or 2) he cares. Sometimes the elixir of someone else’s problems or issues are SO important strong that they keep us from working on ourselves. As I said to a friend this morning, fully aware of all the trappings of the drama I’m hovering over, “I love decorating someone else’s house…”

What else this means is that I stop the narrative I’ve been telling about my life. I’m 47. It’s time I put things in their boxes and ship them off for the garbage dump (or the book). My story of who I am and how I got here is precious to me, yes, but it doesn’t define me and it needn’t hold me hostage anymore. I’m not just the result of my parents’ union; I have transcended that — years ago — and I am a fully functional adult female human who has co-created three more humans. I am more than 1967 – 1990; so much more. I am 1991 – 2003; and 2003 to now, and counting. I look back at the time I feel I have squandered worrying about my mother and father, about “reputation” and about fear.

The only way I can, and you can, and your neighbor and your former friend or ex-spouse, or ex-lover, or former yoga student can fully achieve our own fantastic full-blown personhood is to learn from the past, not let it hold us back or down anymore, see it for what it has provided (a backdrop, that is all — and that backdrop changes with the set of our stories!), and move on, with gratitude for all it has provided. We can leave that garden where it is without regret — and that is hard!

Leave that garden in the sun or in the shadows, in a state of flourish or disrepair, but walk away from it nevertheless. It’s not our garden anymore, and the garden that IS ours, needs us. We can walk into our own garden, as modest as it is, and tend to it. Talk to it, let the sun in and the rain fall. We can see it in the greater landscape with all the other gardens, in their own individual growths, and we can admire it all, while keeping the errant vines and the weeds out of ours. And we can step back. And we can see it grow.

Thank you.


Glutton for Masochism and When It Ends


It takes a lot for me to quit anyone as a friend. I have realized that I put up with a lot, mostly because of how I grew up as a child. “You are terrifically loyal” (to a fault) my mother would say, in praise, either in an effort to deepen and reinforce my loyalty to her and her tribulations, or to inspire it from the ether.

I learned this about myself this week. I’ve been sick with bronchitis and a sinus infection and the growth of these maladies was so subtle that I didn’t notice it was happening until I was prone on my bed murmuring, “Oh my God… Oh my God…Oh my God… Oh my God…Oh my God… Oh my God…” through the pain. Through the pressure.

I have often said that of sinus infections (of which I have endured my share), that the time to call in the professionals is when I repeat “Oh my God… Oh my God…” a thousand times (and it ends up sounding like “obygaht… obygaht….” as well as utter the following novel concept of facial reconstruction:

“I want to take a zipper around my face, from below my chin, along my jawline, along my hairline and to the other side to meet at the chin again and unzip my face from my skull. Then, I want to take my face and shake it out and then zip it back up, just so.” (I’ll leave the nasal translation to your imagination: “N” becomes “B,” “D” becomes “HT” and “S” sounds like “Zn.”)

I got so sick I turned into a man.

I got so sick I turned into a man.

This one came out of nowhere, I think. The symptoms in my face were not so horrid until I admitted defeat and said to my husband, “I neeb do zee uh dogtoh.”

“Do you want me to take you?” he asked (he’s awesome).

“Yezdh.” And I barely walked to the car.

When I was finally seen (note to self: wait until AFTER the NFL game kickoff before going to see a doc-in-a-box), the doctor asked me, “Why are you here?”

“Beguzdh I veal lyghe crahb.”

He took one look at my right ear and said, “Feelled all de waiy. Dat ear ees feelled. Oh my. You cahn’t hold anymoh fluid…” (He was a lovely man from a part of the world with lots of consonants and only a few vowels in the last name.) So he went to the other ear and said the same thing. Then said, “Let’s juss looook aht dat sinus, jusss to be shure.”

And then, “Yup.”

So then he did the stethoscope and nodded. “How long you feel like deese? Why you wait sooo long?”

And I said, “Zogger games. I hud du go du my zon’s zogger games.”

“In dis weathuh? No. Not like this.”

I tried to sound convincingly happy… “I made hod cocoah. It’s gud. I drank dat… a lod….”

“Not good enough to beat dhis…” he said, standing up and reaching for his prescription pad. I left that office with three prescriptions. One for antibiotics. One for a nasal steroid and another for sleeping through a cyclone so I don’t cough.

It’s all working magically, this prescription stew. And can I give a shout-out my homie Mucinex D? Holla!!!

So what’s the corollary between a sinus infection & bronchitis and the demise of a friendship / relationship for me? It’s this: I sometimes take a lot of shit from people. I sometimes put up with a lot. And it’s not until the end, when I’m on my face saying “obygaht… obygaht….” that I am ready to admit dysfunction, that the law of diminishing returns is indeed at play in my psychic world. That no amount of GIVING and PATIENCE with people is going to be the salve. That when the proper definition of “compassion” is at play, that we also have compassion for ourselves enough to remove ourselves from the chaos, as well has have compassion enough for the other person to show them what shrews they are being.

And then… when the actions have been verified by a neutral third party as being obscene and horrid (such as in the case of the multiple infections) that I am liberated and allowed to say, “Duh hell wid dhat.” I put up with a lot.

I tried to express this schematic to a person today. A person who grew up in a normal world. A person who didn’t put up with the “let’s make a bull’s eye on your chest” -forming existence that created me today, and she tilted her head and said, “I guess so. I just know that when I feel like crap that I need to rest and take it easy. Or if I have someone in my life who’s treating me like garbage, that I need to take a break or leave.”

“NOT ME!!” I wanted to shout back. “I was one of those people, trained to put up with garbage and crap and stink and then shower and then go back at it again and again… that’s how I ROLL…” but I realized how insane that was. How insane that I ignore my own stink and that I allow the bull’s eye and that I put up with the nonsensical madness of abuse and the small daggers that eventually lead up to my being stabbed or clotheslined.

When I used to hit my threshold, it would just kept inching along, to the point of utter desensitization and then I’d miss all the cues. And then, later, when I’d sit up after being broadsided by the (betrayal / dysfunction / bronchitis) bus I shake my head like Shaggy or Scooby-Doo and say, “Was it something I said?” Still not seeing the damage as not being my fault, or simply as a symptom of taking too much crap.

So it’s like that. That’s the corollary. That’s the allowance we need to give ourselves. I’ve been in a few amazing situations where I’ve hurt people and they’ve welcomed me back. That does not come without a sincere heaping of “I’velearnedmylesson” and a realization that I must be my own person in order to be a good person to someone else. Lots of my actions and biases were fed to me, so it’s no surprise that my tolerance would also be fed to me.

Sometimes, in order to get back to our base, to come back to ourselves, we need to be broadsided after putting up with chronic weirdness due to the thickening of our skin (or our skulls). We need to have sense shaken back INTO ourselves in order to see where we’ve been abused. We need to have a neutral third party look at us and say, “You’re filled all the way. You can’t take anymore. How long have you felt like this? Why do you wait so long?”

Because you think it will get better? Because you hope your friend / S.O. will change?

Screw that. Be the change. I have realized after many years of therapy (oh! the boots I could have instead of the relative sanity!) that when you change yourself in a system, the system inevitably changes. Sometimes we stick around and things improve. Sometimes we stick around and things don’t change at all. Then we know. As long as we’ve changed, as long as we’ve done what we can to improve ourselves, then that’s how the healing begins. We can’t change what isn’t ours.

I’m proof that when you change yourself, the changes happen. When you go to the doctor, when you get the antibiotics, the healing begins. The friendships I had before I got “healthy” emotionally, almost all of them are toast. The ones that changed along with me (my marriage), they’re still around and I’m so glad of it. The ones that stayed where they were despite my changing for the better (for myself), they are in the rearview mirror.

We can only put up with so much for so long.

Thank you.