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Monday, October 22, 2012

Why Do I Suffer So Much by the Behaviors of Others?


Carl Yung, one of the pioneers of psychoanalytical therapy, stated "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." How we react to an external person or situation is based on a word called transference. Transference is a natural process of how we all make sense of our world. We are constantly sensing and judging our environment based on all our previous experiences.
Even before we are born, our brain is already making distinctions of external cues, laying the foundations of what is considered safe and what in not. Once we are born, we are exposed to many experiences that our brain interprets and stores in memory. The amount of variation in experiences is virtually infinite; however, too simplify we can look at some basic differences that all humans encounter. Dr. Pamela Hays using the ADDRESSING model to help describe cultural influences as a multidimensional combination of Age, Developmental and acquired Disabilities, Religion, Ethnicity, Socioeconomic status, Sexual orientation, Indigenous heritage, National origin, and Gender.
When we react very positively to another person or situation or react very negatively, the reason has nothing to do with the object or situation outside of us and everything to do with what is going on inside of us. In the United States, our general cultural belief is a need to make sense out of everything we encounter as soon as possible - this makes us feel safe. Moreover, whether we have all the information or very little, most of us will come to a definite conclusion. Unfortunately, when little information is known we have an almost instinctive response to fill in the missing information with our transference. In essence, we complete someone's or something's story based on our experiences. The use of past experiences to explain current situations is the most basic definition of transference.
Much of the time we focus our attention on negative transference, "I am pissed off because my boss talks to me like I am his/her teenage child!" However, transference can be completely positive, "Wow I find that man/woman extremely sexy." When working with my clients, having them recognize the source of his or her reactions is difficult. I explain that this journey of discovery is not meant to condemn or codon others behavior. Simply, understanding why he or she is reacting to the external person or event can cause dramatic shifts in brain functioning and relief from suffering. For example, if a client is in an anxious or depressed state because of the way his or her boss is talking to them, we can begin to look at what it mean to the client if in fact the boss is being an asshole.
I will often ask "if your boss is talking to you this way, then what does that mean to you?" More times than not the client will respond by saying, "it means my boss has no respect for me and that pisses me off!" When looking deeper I will ask "if your boss has no respect for you, then what would that mean?" This goes on for a few moments, while the client really processes what it means to them to not have the respect of his or her boss. At some point, everyone comes to the conclusion that others treating them poorly led to a triggered response that indicates his or her self-worth is being challenged. "If he does not respect me, then he must not think I am worth anything... it means that maybe I am not worthy of respect... or he thinks I am lazy... I am not smart enough... I am not good enough... or I have to have everyone respect and appreciation for me to be OK with myself."
Most of us have come to rely heavily on the opinions of others to support our self-esteem. I often ask clients to respond to the following question. "When I am at peace, I thing... I feel... and I want? After years of asking this question the most commonly report answers are "When I am at peace I think clearly, I feel content, and I want nothing." Explaining the "why" of other's behavior and language is impossible, because of the multiple influences of the ADDRESSING model, I encourage my clients to rely on the simple three questions to discover the one simple answer. If we can safely assume that a person at peace is a clear thinker, feels content, and wants nothing, then a person that is negative, aggressive, mean, rude, crude, obnoxious, is most liking "suffering" and not at peace.
By understanding our own transference we can quickly see how others are doing the same thing. Soon the need to react or defend ourselves can be replaced with empathy, compassion, and curiosity to what is going on with the other person (the nasty boss... who is obviously suffering on some level).
To your mental health my friends!
Scott is a mental health practitioner in Central Minnesota working with clients in the areas of depression, anxiety, panic, OCD, PSTD, sexual health and relationships, health and sport Psychology, weight loss, chronic disease management, and runs support groups for sexual health, trauma, depression, and anxiety.
Scott Farmer MA, MS, CSCS, CES
Mental Health Practitioner CT
Exercise Physiologist
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