Thursday, October 27, 2011

Narcissus: why empathetic failure hurts

Imagine that you are a tiny twin embryo, for many weeks moving in perfect synch with your identical twin:

But then,  because your twin dies, you are left alone.....

What would you miss?

You would miss someone so like you that they moved with you in perfect harmony and synchrony. You would miss that instant response to your every move; the sense of someone very near....

Empathetic failure in therapy
Some patients stay in analysis for several years, seeing the analyst twice a week. This is a long-term, very intimate and dependent relationship, with a professional who is carefully trained to maintain a professional distance from the patient and not to respond emotionally in any way. It is possible that among these patients are MZ womb twin survivors, who can find their heart’s ease only in an artificially-generated, dependent relationship with a deliberately un-responsive person. This reflects the Dream perfectly, for here is the un-responsive womb twin, who was once responsive but then stopped responding but it now made manifest in the therapist. 

If there is any feedback, a frequent complaint from such clients is a “lack of empathy” on the part of the therapist.  This means that the therapist is supposed to lack one of the essential tools of his trade and he may be already seeking professional support or even considering a career break as a result. This may have already been your experience as a client.  If so, it may be helpful interesting to know how your Dream of the Womb can impact on the therapeutic relationship if you happen to be playing the empathy game.

The empathy game

If you are a womb twin survivor, feeling very isolated and “out of touch” with your feelings, you may play the empathy game when you are in therapy or in a close relationship. You may not have realized it before, but then that is the nature of the Dream.
The game goes this way: you carefully conceal your inner feelings from other people, but drop occasional hints - just enough to maintain interest in you. Then you draw them into a prolonged guessing game to try and pinpoint accurately what is going on in your mind. You may believe that you genuinely do not know what you feel, so you carry on being “unable to articulate your feelings” until the other person has fully engaged with you in an intense struggle to understand. This struggle ends up being far from mutual - your therapist does all the work while you remain helpless and wordless. This happens frequently in psychotherapy.
In time the other person becomes drained by the encounter as you both battle on, but you get exactly what you want: a feast of empathy at the other person's expense. 

In therapy, even if your therapist gets close to burn out, you can keep going for a long time.  The therapist, drained of all empathy and by now doubting his abilities as a therapist, seeks emotional support elsewhere.
This example reveals how carefully we are all managing our relationships, minute by minute, and always in terms of the Dream. For some, in the Dream is the twin who does not respond any more.  There once was a close, wordless empathetic connection, but it has died away and will never return, leaving a sense of lack. This is how the womb memory is made manifest in the relationship. Every failure of empathy recreates the rejection and painful alone-ness.

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