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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought - Countertransference

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Last week I mentioned I would talk about countertransference. To understand what countertransference is, though, you have to understand what transference is. Freud was the one to coin both these terms. Transference was thought to be the patient's emotional reaction to the therapist (a present relationship) based on unresolved, early family relationships in the past.

By default, then, countertransference is the opposite of that: emotional reaction on the part of the therapist to a patient in treatment. I like the original meaning of thes word (from Freud) than the more broader generalizations it carries now. Originally, Freud said that countertransference came about not because of the patient's personality traits (they are sulky or beligerant) or disorders (think too highly of themselves or are annoying because they worry about everything. No, he said it originated from the therapist's own unresolved conflicts.

Ah-ha!! Gold mind for digging deeper into our own psyches as writers! From Freud's perspective (and no, I'm not a Freudian therapist...but he had some interesting theories), the therapist's conflicts were unconscious, yet tapped into by something about the patient. For example, one woman might remind a male therapist of his mother or ex-wife. A young high school student about to enter college might reflect the therapist's own child at that stage in life.

What does this mean for our manuscripts? I honestly beleive that our unconcious conflicts play a much greater role in our writing than even we know. Why do we write what we do? Why do we chose this character, with red hair and brown eyes, over another? Why this quirk over that one? Why this particular backstory and not something else?

I think if you look hard enough, or maybe not even hard at all, you'll see little bits or yourself in each character. You'll see a pet peeve you have reflected on the page of a secondary character and it makes you smile as you use the medium of your writing to really jab at people who drive to slow on the left lane. You'll see anger issues about the same thing you have anger issues about. You'll see a character description that is exactly like the friend who moved away in eigth grade who you still think abotu and wonder what became of her. You'll see real-life issues like divorce, adoption, abuse, adultery and other heavy-hitters because you or someone you know went through it.

I did a whole series of posts on why we write to heal, starting here. And I think that's where our countertransference comes in. The transference isn't necessarily to the writing itself, but more o the characters. Have you ever written in a character you loved to loathe? What about one that made you cry out of compassion for the things YOU YOURSELF were putting her through? Really...what's that about? A sadistic impulse for your character? Or a masochistic one for you as a writer?

Q4U: What are your thoughts about countertransference with your characters? Do you see it happening in your books, or do you think I'm a quack (which I am, folks)?

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Jessica said...

No, I think this sounds right. Each of my characters have dealt with either feelings I've had or situations I've seen others go through. I think the challenge is taking these things that are OURS and making them the Character's own. (lol, does that sentence make sense?)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Oh, definitely! I write to heal and learn, and grow as a person, not just to have my characters do the same. Always have, and pray that I always will.

The problem there, though, is that everything I write is still fictional, the characters I create are fictitious. They may have one characteristic that I know I also have or a dear friend has, but that's just one small part of them. So even though their journey helps me understand something or heal over something, it's usually not over the same thing. Their story just gets me thinking and working through an issue of mine, not the one actually in the story. Very confusing, but do you know what I mean?

Jill Kemerer said...

My heroine had a major attitude problem today, and guess what? So did I. Countertransference baby!

Tess said...

I had to read this post twice to wrap my brain around those words :) Not enough sugar in my blood, I guess. Now I get it, though, and it's very interesting. I sometimes tease my hubby when he does countertransference and call him "hector projector". It makes him laugh.

Seriously, - this is the whole 'write what you know' idea and it makes your work stronger IMHO

Katie said...

I LOVE psychology! I feel like I'm in psych 101 all over again when I read your Thursday thoughts - it's wonderful! Countertransference, ay? Hmmmm... you have me thinking and analyzing my characters now. I think I did this a lot with the first story I wrote. The main gal is very passionate about something near and dear to my heart and I wrote it as a tribute to my trip to Kenya. The others... I'll have to psychoanalyze myself now. :) Great post, as always Jeannie!

Jeannie Campbell said...

sounds like we're writing through our own stuff, ladies! :)

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.