NDJ:3 Linda B. Sherby, PhD

WHOSE FEELINGS ARE THESE ANYWAY? 

Although almost twenty years has passed, I still remember the first time Tom walked into my office. He was a man in his mid-thirties with curly brown hair, a full mustache, glasses, and a bit of a paunch. I was immediately attracted to him. Knowing my own dynamics, I was sure that Tom, like my father, was a narcissist. During the course of what was to be a relatively successful treatment, my instantaneous diagnosis was confirmed again and again. Tom had to be the center of attention. He craved accolades and applause. He was easily wounded and would then plummet into despair. In addition to being a narcissist, Tom was also a womanizer, a man who craved sexual conquests and variety.

I remained attracted to Tom throughout our four-year treatment. Although I never worried about acting on my desire, I did feel burdened and discomforted by it. My fantasies have grown dim over the intervening years, but I do remember that most of the scenarios occurred outside the consulting room, usually after an accidental meeting. My car would break down and Tom would stop to help me. We would be seated next to each other on a plane. I would be eating alone in a restaurant and Tom would sit down next to me. It was then he who would make first the flirtatious, and then the more overtly sexual overtures, and I would be swept away in the passion of the moment.

Because I had felt immediately attracted to Tom and because I could so easily see the parallels between him and my father, I always assumed that the sexual desire in the room was all my own. It was as though the immediacy and intensity of my feelings led me to forget about countertransference as a joint creation of two subjectivities. I took the desire as my own and never looked further. This led to a very serious shortcoming in the treatment, namely my failure to explore Tom’s sexual transference to me. Although Tom and I dealt with many of his sexual issues, he never expressed any such feelings towards me and I never encouraged him to examine this aspect of our relationship. Despite this serious lapse, Tom’s treatment progressed well. He became less interested in sexual conquests, became seriously involved with one woman and, shortly before termination, became engaged to be married.

After termination I missed Tom, but was also glad to find that my sexual fantasies began to recede and then to disappear completely. Several years later I was sitting at an outdoor cafe with my husband. Tom came by with his wife and was seated at a nearby table. As is my usual behavior with patients or ex-patients, I did not acknowledge him, leaving it to him to decide whether or not to approach me. And approach me he most certainly did. He came up to the table and kissed me on the mouth! In that instant I knew that the sexual feelings in the consulting room had not been all mine and that I had left totally unanalyzed Tom’s sexual feelings towards me. Once that became clear to me, I was surprised by how blinded I had been by my own desire. Here, after all, was a womanizer, a man who loved sexual conquests. How could he not have had sexual feelings towards me? Perhaps I had felt more guilty or more frightened than I had thought about my own sexual fantasies and had therefore been afraid to risk heightening the sexual tension in the room by addressing Tom’s feelings directly. It is an omission I sorely regret, but one that taught me yet again how intertwined the transference/countertransference matrix is, making it so difficult to know, “Whose feelings are these anyway?