Embodied Countertransference

Jacqueline Gerson
Mexico City, Mexico
Asociación Mexicana de Analistas Junguianos

This is a brief passage from a clinical case when the transference was established and I became the positive mother, an experience that was needed for my patient, whom I will call Orly, and where I was able to realize what was taking place between us in that moment of the process, through the feelings I experienced in my own body.

This took place around a time when Orly would comment about how beautiful my office was, and each little thing that was part of it. She would also say things about myself, such as how soft and beautiful was the fabric of my dress. She wondered how my voice could be so calm and I could talk so nicely (especially when mirroring what she was saying). She would ask about my hair, “Do you do something to it?” and she always noticed when I was wearing a new bobby pin or a flower.

She reminded me of a baby discovering the world that she was lacking, the sensorial awareness of softness, beauty, and the embrace, representing the positive mother that she needed to find, and it was thorough my voice, my hair, and the experience of play with these relevant elements that she would find hers. She once asked me if she could feel the fabric of a long wavy skirt that I was wearing, since it looked so fluffy and soft. I agreed, thinking of the enormous curiosity the baby feels when discovering the world. She felt the fabric on my skirt with the most careful movement, using two fingers, and then looked back to my face saying: “It is so beautiful.”

I remember a day when, after Orly left, I went into the kitchen that I have right by the door. I was making tea for myself, and while waiting for the water to boil, I started feeling almost like floating, totally given to the softness and beauty that Orly had described. It was a marvelous feeling. I felt, as we say in Mexico, like a “swollen turkey,” big and round, with my arms like opening wings ready to embrace it all.

When the water was ready and the kettle started whistling, I wanted to turn around to prepare my tea, and then I felt that I couldn’t – I could not turn around, because the kitchen seemed to be too small! And I did not fit in it! I was stuck in the grandiosity of my beautiful self, soon my whole office seemed to be too small, and even the world appeared smaller for the “swollen turkey” that I had become.

The kettle kept whistling. The water was boiling, and I, being taken by the grandiosity of myself in this fantasy, was unable to move. I had lost myself! I had totally fallen into the projection of the positive mother. In this “acquired size,” I felt the proportion of Orly’s need, but I also had entered such a state of inflation that the rest of me seemed to have vanished. To bring myself back, I started dancing. I needed to feel my body, to recover myself, my proportion and my mind; and, through the movement I was able to differentiate, to move out of this projected image of the Positive Mother. Nevertheless I was still able to observe and feel it, as a creation born in the container made by the two of us. As such, I knew it was to be respected and cherished, because it was very important for our work. But I also knew it was not me.

The possibility of dancing meant relating myself to this new born image from a symbolic perspective, and it raised in me the feeling of trusting in the work and in myself. I was then able to carry along the Positive Mother and still be me. When I had landed from this kind of floating and was again standing on my feet, I became aware of the one-sidedness of the compensatory phenomenon I was experiencing and of the possibility of constellating the original negative mother, of having the witch jump from the background into our relationship, because it had been forgotten and denied.

Also, I realized that if I had stayed identified with the Positive Mother, Orly would have been left without the possibility to see it in herself; in other words, if I stayed in the inflation, which finally I was able to recognize through my embodied countertransference, I would have been the devouring Mother, devouring everything including Orly, all the while believing that I was being the Positive Mother.