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So, I was struggling a couple of days ago with a serious bout of ET, and I started wondering about it. I KNOW nothing will happen with my T; he has very good boundaries and wants me to feel safe. But there's this part of my brain that seems convinced that something could happen and is obsessed about it. Why?

Well, I realize that part of it could be my limbic system trying to get me to run away from therapy. Our connection has grown much deeper recently, and I'm not sure how to handle it. However, another thought struck me: What if I'm sensing some sexual tension in the room?

To be clear, my T has never done anything to make me think that he's attracted to me in that way. He's never commented on my appearance or given me the elevator stare. But...he clearly admires me. And last session when he was gazing into my eyes, I thought I saw a spark there - like he was romancing me in his mind.

As soon as I had this thought, I freaked. And then I wondered at the freakout. If I know my T will never act on any feelings he has, why do I care if he has them? Why does it make me feel unsafe? And then I realized this has something to do with my father.

***Potential Triggers*** My father only abused me once, but I could tell he thought of doing it again. Last night I had a dream where he was back in my life and trying to seduce me again as a grown woman. ***End Triggers***

And then I had the thought that maybe this perception I have of sexual tension coming from my T is just a projection I've cooked up in my head to avoid experiencing deep emotional intimacy. I don't know. It's really confusing. And, per usual, I should probably bring this up next session, but...talking about how he might feel? It's unsettling.
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Hey Affinity,

Wow, I've been having a lot of the same thoughts and feelings lately, but about my friend, not a T.

For me, it's scary to accept the perception as reality, not just because there is at least some level of "danger" if it's accurate, but because it would be rather humiliating to be wrong!

It's one thing to feel safe in a relationship in which there is no libido to be safe from. That's a good feeling of it's own-- comfortable and cozy, but safety-within-chemistry is altogether different. It's deeply re-enforcing to have one's attractiveness affirmed by someone who cares too much about you (and himself) to either act on that inappropriately or to run screaming because oh-my-gosh-what-if-we-had-an-affair. I really believe people can control themselves, but there is a bit more zing to life when there is something to control!

It's not a balance everyone can maintain, but there is something beautiful in-- oh, I don't know, getting it exactly right. Trust and boundaries and attraction. It's also delicate and maybe the thought of that beauty being violated by inept handling is scarier than it not being there, which is also scary if you half think it is and half want it to be.
Oh Hun - your father abusing you 'just once' was once too many.

I know AG has a lot on her blog about erotic transference that I've read and has helped me make sense if things. I think having experienced sexual abuse by a male caregiver must make transference and erotic transference so much more complicated also. So it's really no wonder yr mind is going a bit all over the place trying to find meaning with what you're thinking, feeling, and trying to sort out what might be 'real' and what might be plain old projection / transference!

Do you think it's BECAUSE you know nothing will ever happen with your T; that he won't EVER act out in a sexual way with you, that that means you feel safe enough to have the fantasies?

Sorry I don't have any real words of wisdom or great suggestions (other than looking over AGs blog perhaps if you haven't already).

Have you ever talked to yr T about the erotic transference?
Trust and boundaries and attraction. It's also delicate and maybe the thought of that beauty being violated by inept handling is scarier than it not being there, which is also scary if you half think it is and half want it to be.

This. All of this.

Do you think it's BECAUSE you know nothing will ever happen with your T; that he won't EVER act out in a sexual way with you, that that means you feel safe enough to have the fantasies?

That's a possibility.

I follow AG's blog regularly and have read all of her stuff on transference. I occasionally go back and reread it. It has been massively helpful to me. I think the difference in our situations is that she's never sensed any sort of attraction on her T's part, while my T's affection is obvious and occasionally spoken. Both situations are complicated in their own way.

I have discussed ET with my T several times. For a while, it was coming up about every 3rd session. These feelings have been very difficult to deal with, so it was either discuss or go nuts. I thought the shame would kill me at first, but it got better.

When I indicated that the fantasies were becoming obsessive and intrusive, my T wrote this little prayer on the back of his card. He said reciting it would break the thought cycle. I keep it taped to my computer screen at work and glance at it whenever the fantasies become distracting. It does help. I guess the thing that makes me feel good is knowing that my T wants to help me manage this stuff and not encourage or exploit it.
I may be a cynic, but I'd explore the possibility of projection first. Looking up eroticized (not erotic) transference may help but the definitions I've found aren't as helpful as some I know are out there. Sometimes, I look at my T and feel like she hates me - that I see that "spark" in her eye that she is thinking of doing violent things to me and wishes I'd die, etc. That's my parental transference speaking... Where I feel so powerfully that T represents someone/something in my life I get myself convinced that she must feel a certain way.

I think at times this can happen in erotic transference. I'm not at all saying it isn't possible for your T to have feelings for you (I don't know what other people think unless I ask them)... but.... It is common for people to assume their T is in love with them for the same reasons they love their T. The formula is: someone makes ME feel xyz... Therefore they must feel abc. (Example: if someone makes me feel like I want them sexually, then they must want me. - if that had always been someone's experience it completely makes sense how this equation would work).

I guess the idea I'm working with (and I've never had any sort of erotic anything feelings with my Ts - so I have no experience to speak from) is that... I have a feeling far more people have been pretty sure your T wanted them romantically or sexually than he ever may have actually had those feelings for. Just like how many people figure if they'd met their T outside of therapy they'd be best friends and really... Could a T have 40 (or however many clients) best friends? A lot of it is transference - when we give Ts prescriptions for intense feelings.

Anyway - these are just my ideas. I don't want to argue your feelings or ask for proof or justification. He totally could want you, but I'd explore projection first.

Discuss discuss discuss with T! If it's him having trouble and needing supervision he can do that, if he's doing things in session that at giving the wrong impression or something you can work through them... And maybe concentrate a bit more on the transference stuff again.

Hug two

What would be your rule of thumb for distinguishing a projection from a genuine perception? It seems to me going through life with the first assumption that we are projecting things would make for a confused and crippled existence, but of course I know it's true that people *do* project.

I guess I kind of disagree with assuming projection in a case like this, since it isn't inherently unlikely in the way assuming our Ts wish us dead is. Feelings of attraction are pretty common, people do get vibes, etc.

Either way I think it's a great subject to explore in therapy if Affinity (or whoever) can manage it. Smiler Because the meanings we assign to these things, the associations and fears, are such rich grounds for therapeutic work.

I don't mean to be argumentative and please don't feel you have to respond unless you want. I think I react a little to the idea of making "it's all in your head" a starting point, so I wanted to throw this out there, but that might just be my stuff.

I don't know if I think there is a true 'projection'. A projection I thought I was putting my feelings on someone else. A perception on the other hand could be accurate or inaccurate. In my non-therapy life I generally trust my perceptions but will check myself if maybe it's a projection. I'm pretty direct - so I tend to ask and I don't think I, or the people I relate with in my daily life project much. And I agree it would be a crappy way to live being so unsure of what is 'real'. I think a lot of people who project naturally would never think to think about it so for them it is perception.

For example, I was on a date the other night and she was uncomfortable about a place where we were going. I perceived she was - but I also know I tend to take care of people so I'll Assume some sort of need. So I asked her... I am worried you're uncomfortable? Are you? And yes, she was.

In therapy... I'm more apt to check of something is a projection ... By asking. Or I try to think about myself... I am convinced my T is mad.,, what do *i* feel rather than what so I think someone else feels? If I feel ashamed, scared, triggered.. Then I may be assuming. Actually, I guess my default is that I can't imagine how someone may be feeling - I can get a perception I figure is accurate - but cannot know unless I ask.

As far as attraction goes... Given how one sided the T relationship is... I am more apt to assume it's the client having a fantasy. I think it's easy to be profoundly convinced the fantasy must absolutely be real because I have my own fantasies and made up stuff about my T that I've held on to for years (negative transference but transference none the less). I feel I've never been more blatantly delusional and apt to assume the other person must feel xyz about me than in therapy. For some reason with my therapist I've been convinced that it has to be oh so true because in my parental relationshis as a young child... What they said became my truth. They told me I was bad therefore I'd assume I was bad and everyone must have thought that. But again... Can't know unless you ask. I know it's not terribly popular thoughts I have but.,. I tend to take most "my T feels _____" with a grain of salt unless someone asks them.

I don't mean to invalidate anyone or insult what someone heartfeltly believes without asking the person who they've given the feelings to.
Gosh Affinity - I admire your courage and strength - to be able to talk about it with your T ... I'm in awe, truly. I feel horrified just considering your situation, in terms of how much courage it would have taken to regularly talk about it...

do you think you will being it up - the possibility of his counter-transference? I really don't know how you manage it aye (meant in an admiration kind of way not a judgement way!)... I couldn't even cope with the idea of seeing a male T; the even vaguest hint or possibility of the opposite sex having any feelings of attraction for me, in even the most benign way really really scares the hell out of me (in a trauma induced way)...

Whn do you see your T next?

My next appointment is on Saturday. I hope I'll be brave enough to bring this up. (I envision lots of stammering and staring at the floor.) I honestly don't think I could have tackled this issue so often without the support of people like AG and the utter compassion of my T. This stuff seems wretched and shameful, but it's really normal for abuse survivors. It's also something I feel I need to work through in order to heal.


Thanks for your input. It was helpful. You're right: I won't know for sure what my T is thinking unless I ask.
I just want to say Affinity, that maybe it doesn't matter if your T finds you attractive or not, since nothing will come of it one way or the other. It's therapy and YOUR feelings are the ones that matter. Trying to figure out how attracted your T might be to you is kind of a distraction, just like sexual fantasies about your T could be a distraction from the real work you need to do in therapy.

Here's another article that might be helpful for you:
Thanks for the article, I thought there was a lot of good stuff in there. Some of it was stated in such a clinical and detached tone that it was hard not to hear it in a pejorative way, but upon reflection I did think it identified a lot of the dynamics I unearthed in myself in working through these feelings. (Just wish there had been more compassion shown, but I am also aware that this was written by a professional for other professionals). Really appreciate you posting it though.

I think you have been very courageous in discussing this with your therapist and I understand your need to talk about these feeling and sort through what is going on. I returned to the topic again and again in my work, and part of what I think is useful in looking at it, is to examine your feelings and your T's. I agree with BLT, that ultimately our focus needs to be on our feelings, but part of what we are trying to figure out is what comes from us and what comes from them and an important part of that process is that in therapy we have a chance to safely check in with another person and ask. It makes the process of figuring out what is ours much easier (which is not to say easy or painless mind you, just closer to possible. Smiler )

I think you're doing good work, just keep talking. Especially as I think that while you can make generalizations about ET and what might be involved, like the article BLT linked to, I think that what is actually involved for any particular person is going to be unique to them. While I saw a lot of my own dynamics in that article, some of them really did not apply to me. So I think you working through this and coming to your own understanding is really important work.

And last but not least, no matter how your therapist feels about you, I can't imagine that it isn't a little flattering at least, especially for a much older therapist to have a younger woman tell him that they find him attractive. I know BN told me he was flattered, but has also made it clear on a number of occasions that he knows it's not good, or realistic, for him to think "hey, it must be because I'm so wonderful." He gets that the setup of therapy contributes to these feelings. I think he doesn't take my feelings of attraction any more personally then my fears of abandonment or anger at his holding his boundaries. Ironically, the only time I have seen him grow uncomfortable on the topic was the time that he was acknowledging that there was a "here and now" component to my attraction for him. Based on things said then, and at other times, I'm not sure his self-image includes seeing himself as attractive. I know it sounds terrible, but it was a relief to see him as the embarrassed one for once. Smiler


Yeah, the article is certainly a bit matter-of-fact, owing to the intended audience. It's also true that he lists a lot of possible factors in ET, all of which may or may not apply to a given individual.

Something that strikes me about psychodynamic folks in general is that they really think nothing of discussing sadism, jealousy, murderous rage, manipulation, etc. in their clients, which is shocking at first and yet they do it without the slightest hint of judgment. I was at a meeting of a psychoanalytic group recently and after discussing a case, someone in the audience asked if the client was aware of her rage at her mother. Everyone took it for granted that this client did in fact have rage, based on her childhood, just as they would assume the ground would be wet after a rain. I actually found it oddly refreshing.
I think that is a really good take on it! You're right and I'm not sure I've ever thought of it that way. I get terrified of my murderous rage and at times have expressed some pretty sadistic stuff I would like to do to my parents, but while I'm feeling so ashamed and so warped, my T basically shrugs his shoulders and says "yeah, that's an appropriate way to feel."

It's an excellent observation, that they are well-acquainted with the darker sides of being human and do not see as something to reject, but something to understand and own. Much less dangerous if it's acknowledged and accepted as part of ourselves.

And I had to laugh when I saw manipulation in the list. The first time my T told me I was being manipulative (and his attitude was very much what you talk about here: You're human so of course you are manipulative at times.) I totally freaked. I think we had to spend half a session. It's am important attitude.
Thanks, BLT, for the article. A little hard to read emotionally, but I agreed with it. Like AG suggested, I'm more interested in what my T thinks/feels about me because of my desire to separate projection from reality - or his stuff from my stuff. To deal with projection requires a different approach than dealing with real feelings. My T said something a few weeks ago about setting emotional boundaries. I think that's exactly what I'd like to do. I love my T and our connection, and I hope it continues to grow. But I need to start moving past the ET at some point so I can focus on the underlying issues. Honestly, I'd rather not know if he's attracted to me in that way. If he can find a way to talk around it or put it delicately, that might be my preference. I really just want to talk out my thoughts and the reactions and conclusions I've had. I'll be the first to admit that ET can be really distracting, but simply ignoring it doesn't make it go away. It has to be worked through.

I too had ET for my Old therapist. He was not the type to disclose if he had similar feelings so I never knew if the feelings were mutual. I don't care to know anymore but at the time, wanting to know was quite consuming. I felt as though, if my feelings of sexual tension were NOT reciprocated, then I could not trust my feelings at all. Feeling as if they weren't reciprocated would make me feel less than and powerless.

On the other hand, I felt that if they were reciprocated, I'd be happy but I'd also be able to acknowledge it was something we could never act on and I could move on. Additionally, feeling as if they were reciprocated would make me feel an equal. It seemed that the reasons behind wanting to know if the feelings were reciprocated were more important than the feelings themselves.

I do know that the last two times, aside from my therapist, I felt a sexual tension between me and someone else, the feelings were reciprocated. I don't believe for a minute that my feelings arose out of nowhere in regards to my therapist and I don't believe they came about just because he listened to me more than anyone had ever done. If the feelings weren't reciprocated, I believe that there was something unconscious going on in him that contributed to my feelings developing. Some need in him to be desired. IMHO. Wink

Last night I had a dream where he was back in my life and trying to seduce me again as a grown woman.

Wow, I think your dream is really telling. Perhaps the fear you feel if it IS true is based on your experience with your Dad. Interesting that you had the dream right around this time.

Maybe it's not so much that you are afraid of deep emotional intimacy ... maybe it's just that you have never experienced it separated from being a love/sexual object for someone else? So when you DO experience deep emotional intimacy, your experiences of being objectified in the past get brought up?

So brave of you to delve into this in an effort to undertand it. Good luck on Saturday.

Back again. Smiler I had another thought. I was thinking that it feels good and empowering to believe that we are attractive and can have an impact on the world. So, what if you started there? Just assume your T is attracted to you and nothing would ever happen. Surely in our lives there are times when we are attracted to others and/or them to us but we can't act on the feelings because they are not available or we are not available, etc. So ET in therapy is not something that only happens in therapy.

So, back to assuming it's all true. You feel it. He feels it. Nothing can happen. How do you want the relationship to develop from here? What feelings do you want to listen to that are coming from you?

In my experience with my therapist, not being able to get emotional feedback when he was not comfortable was very difficult and felt like a dark hole that I fell into. Having someone who is able to contain your feelings while you sort through them is soo important to moving on but this is a difficult topic. Not being able to discuss them can cause the feelings to fester.

Managing the feelings when they happen and guiding ourselves to where we want to be anyway is ultimately where we want to go with all of this. But getting out of the space of "does he" or "doesn't he" and what it all means is so very hard to do when you can't get feedback from the other. Does that make sense or I am just rambling? I just woke up so I'm not sure I am coherent.
I just wanted to chime in and say, that the outcome of a conversation about projection isn't necessarily to discover whether you are "right" in observing something, it is about what you perceive, why, how it affects you, and where it comes from. I would be surprised if your T confirmed or denied your suspicions-- in the end, his attraction, or lack thereof, is his own.
I'm more interested in what my T thinks/feels about me because of my desire to separate projection from reality - or his stuff from my stuff.

YOUR perception is YOUR reality because that's what's making you tick, that's what's making your head spin, that's what keeps you up at night. If you're convinced he's attracted to you, you start there. He's already drawn a physical boundary, so that much is clear.

So what if he's not attracted to you after all-- you had a feeling about it, right? And it's worth listening to that.

Best of luck sorting through this-- and I totally get it, the desire to KNOW!!!
I understand where you're coming from and think you're approach is just fine. But I wanted to comment on knowing or not knowing because I have been doing a lot of noodling on the topic of ET lately (for various reasons).

I have stated publicly, both here and on my blog, on numerous occasions that I have never picked up even a hint of my therapist having any reciprocal erotic/romantic feelings. But if he did, I am sure I wouldn't know because he is the most difficult person to read I have EVER known. He is very steady from session to session and I very rarely, if ever, even get a feel for how his life is going. (I found out years later that I was working with him when his father died. Never caught a hint.) My guess is that my T is a naturally reserved person about his own feelings so there is a natural reticence to add to his consciously keeping his feelings out of my therapy. I don't mean to depict him as a total blank slate or emotionless, he is very warm and accessible. I see him react to me. But he doesn't talk about how he is feeling unless it is therapeutically helpful to me and would be considered reasonable self-disclosure. I say all this to make it clear that I really am clueless as to his feelings about me in an erotic/romantic context (I am sure about other feelings such as love, care and respect because he has demonstrated them.) and recently in thinking through this topic, I have realized I like it that way. I am grateful it is an open question.

Cause here's the thing. I think it would be really painful to absolutely know that he felt no attraction for me. So while I don't believe he does, the hope that maybe something is there is still alive. And that allows a fantasy play space in which I can examine my reactions to being desired and wanted in that way.

OTOH, if I definitely knew he was attracted to me that way, it would scare the crap out of me for obvious reasons and I'm not sure how safe I would feel to explore these feelings. So its easy to feel safe when I need to because its easy to believe that there is nothing there.

This lack of knowledge allows me to flip back and forth, learning about myself in both situations so to speak. Don't get me wrong, my head has almost exploded from the desperate desire to KNOW his feelings, but after so long and exploring this topic so fruitfully I have come to see the utility of not knowing. It allows me to focus on my stuff. FWIW.

Hi Affinity,

This is such a confusing issue to make sense of. I have been there and am often still there but it has changed over time.

I have had intense ET for my T over the past four years that I have been seeing him. At times it is very present and other times it recedes. My thought about your need to know his feelings, which I think is very "normal", is about wanting to feel special and to know that you matter to someone. A unique aspect of the therapy relationship is its one-sided nature. It is not meant to be about the therapist getting their needs met, nor is it about them telling us what we should think or feel, especially about ourselves. This doesn't mean they don't feel or think anything about us. The goal is to experience a healthy relationship so that we can eventually know that we do inherently matter and are special.

I think ET is very healthy, normal and surfaces when there is a need for attachment and if there is a good bond and connection between the patient and the therapist. I think it is also a very complicated and nuanced dynamic.

I am not particularly in agreement with the article posted. I feel as if this article, by focusing on sexual attraction as a defense mechanism, places it in the category of something to be done away with, as most defenses that are no longer serving us should be. While some patients may use this as a way to deflect from more painful feelings, I think it is also purposeful. In my opinion, AG's posts and numerous comments go a long way to explaining how ET can function. My experience is that it is about very infantile feelings and needs for love and attachment from care-givers but because we are adults they come through in an adult way.

I have found that while at first I found my feelings for my T embarrassing and humiliating, later, when I began to sense that I deserved to have needs met by my parents for love and affection and that I never got them met, I was suddenly able to speak freely about my feelings. I realized they are absolutely fundamental to human nature. I had to process a lot of fear and shame to come to this realization. Now I believe it is self-evident.

I agree with a previous poster that just because your father only abused you once doesn't minimize it's impact. I absolutely think you are on the right track with linking your perceived fear that your T might act on an attraction to you with your father.

As difficult as it is, when you feel you are able, it is good to talk about these things, which it sounds like you are doing.

Hey affinity...

Just thought what I do with my T might help you, when talk g about the stuff you worry they might say something in response that freaks you out - the 'I hope he says something delicate' thing.

One of the fears is that my T who I saw 3 years ago in public practice for an assessment to see if I could join the only therapy group in town, if I met the criteria or not. It as for people with BPD. I was misdiagnosed with that 20 years ago and the 'treatment' only added to my trauma - it is a very very VERY sensitive subject for me.

Anyway, years later and I see my T privately. I finally got up the courage to talk about the outcome of the assessment. When I saw her for it I had had expressed my intense fear of being diagnosed again with it. So she never really told me the results.

I'm still not ready to KNOW exactly what she thought and if she does in fact think I do have BPD. It would be absolutely intolerable to me to know she thought I have it. But I needed to talk to her about my huge fear of what she thought.

So I just emailed her and said I need to talk a out it BUT I did NOT want her to tell me the answer. I wasn't ready for it; I just wanted to let her know it is a huge fear of mine, and it was very important she did not tell me either way.

She respected my boundary. I think in actual fact she really doesn't think I have BPD and I think she felt caught between not being able to tell me either way but wanting to tell me so I'd let go of the fear...

Anyway sorry that was so long. I haven't sleep hardly at all and can't think straight. I just think it would be perfectly ok to talk to him but make it very very clear you do NOT want him to say either way whether or not he does or does not have any sexual feelings for you. Just to out it out there, and even if that's all you say for now, if it's too scary ... It's a start huh.

I also agree with the person who said it doesn't actually matter if he does or doesn't - YOUR PERCEPTION is what counts; YOUR feelings, and how you deal with them or make sense of them.

I dint read the article but for what people have said I think it's one idea - it might or might not be true for you or me or all people; nor does it mean it is or isn't like that for you RIGHT NOW.

ie it might be more fluid, less black or white and might or might not apply to you (or me or Sally or joe).
My goodness, so many replies! Thank you, everyone! Hug two

I'm so sorry I've been absent from the boards over the past few days. I've been exhausted beyond belief and emotionally fragile to boot. Responding is getting harder and harder.

I did see T on Saturday and had 'the talk.' I did preface it with "I think this has more to do with me than with you." He was pretty much on point with his response, neither admitting or denying whatever feelings he might have. Talk about relief!

We did discuss ET in general and how it plays out in therapy. He was very interested to hear how I thought our connection had deepened recently. I thought the conversation would take all session, but we actually blew through it pretty quickly. Maybe it helped that I was so tired - it was almost like I was emotionally numb.

I told my T that I was doing more to practice emotional regulation in regard to my ET (inspired by one of AG's recent blog posts. Thanks!!!), and that it was helping. But today is a new day, and being emotionally vulnerable on Saturday has brought a new wave of heat to the battle. Sigh.

For all of you.

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