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Unresolved Relationship Issues

Recognizing, addressing, and helping others deal with transference.

Typically, I feel a great deal of affection and warmth toward those I lead. With Karen, my normal patience and empathy quickly gave way to impatience, annoyance, and other uncharitable feelings. That was a red flag for me. Obviously, some individuals will elicit such feelings because they resist being led, or are simply the complete opposite of us. In this case, however, Karen reminded me of my own critical mother.

Countertransference is not always bad—it can reveal areas in our own souls requiring attention or healing, and remind us of our need to depend on Jesus in order to serve others in an uncompromising and unconditional manner.

Once we recognize transference and respond objectively, the next step is pointing the individual to Jesus. This often involves helping them to forgive the ones who hurt them and repent of any sinful reactions. Before Karen was able to break free from transferring onto others, she had to grieve her losses, forgive her mother, and confess her bitterness. This is often a time consuming and slow process.

Present tense relationships—whether in the context of a small group or pastoral care—will provide not only insight, but opportunities to make different choices in the face of old patterns. The best place for the person we are serving or leading to work out their transference is one on one with us or in the context of a small group. Because of the power differential, the best place for us to process our countertransference is with a supervisor or therapist.

Though it may be complicated—and often messy—transference can actually help us and those we serve to process painful experiences and disengage from dysfunctional patterns of relating. As Karen became able to recognize and articulate her insecurities, she began to change how she related to women in authority. Rather than trying to earn affection and friendship, she presented her needs and gave others the freedom to meet them. My countertransference helped me to become more aware of my tendency to judge women who are emotionally needy. By helping individuals make connections between the past and the present, we all gain a new level of self-awareness and health in the process.

* Names have been changed.

Dorothy Littell Greco is an author and writer living outside Boston. She is a regular contributor to WomenLeaders.com and CT Women, and a member of Redbud Writers Guild. She is the author of Making Marriage Beautiful.

November21, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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