MOM, DAD, COMPUTER
TRANSFERENCE REACTIONS TO COMPUTERS
You as You, Computer as Parent
You as Parent, Computer as You
In this type of transference, a
person's mind reverses the roles played by the child and parent. A
clearly visible, and pathological, example of this is when the abused
child grows up to become a child abuser. This is a process of "turning
the passive into the active" where the child's feelings of helplessness
and anxiety in the face of being controlled, manipulated, and used is
warded off in adulthood by assuming the role of one who is powerful and
It's possible that some users might
abuse their computers just as they might have been abused, to a greater
or lesser extent, within their family of origin. But computers are
expensive. For most people, the possibility of damaging them would not
be very satisfying in the long run. On a more subtle level, people who
once were controlled, dominated, and manipulated within their family -
as if they were not really people at all, but just objects to be used -
may very well as adults treat their computers in the same manner. Anger
and outright rage at the computer, when it doesn't behave the way YOU
want it to, may be a symptom of this kind of transference. This may
have been the same emotional reaction of the disappointed, "betrayed"
The computer also can be perceived,
almost lovingly, as one's baby. You attend to it's needs, nurture it,
help it develop and grow (by adding software and hardware). Not unlike
Jenny, who assumed a parental role towards her father, you feel
protective and responsible for the computer's well-being. You become
invested in it's strivings and achievements, even taking pride in the
new things it can do. With delight and wonder, you take part in the
creation of a new individual with it's own unique abilities and
personality. It is a reflection of you, YOUR abilities and personality,
but you also realize that much of what you have done is to direct and
shape the raw qualities and potentials that already existed inherently in
your "baby." And quite unlike real life babies, this silicone substitute
will never become independent and leave you. For some people, that may
be a very attractive proposition.
You as You, Computer as Wished-For Parent
Many people wish, consciously or
unconsciously, that their parents could have been different in some
way. That wish may shape their perception of the computer as possessing
those desired characteristics.
Sam's mother was, to use a less than
technical term, "crazy." Her behavior and emotions were unpredictable.
One moment she would be caring and loving, and the next harsh, critical,
and punishing. Never being able to tell what was coming his way next,
Sam became a hypervigilant, paranoid child. He needed always to be on
the lookout for subtle cues indicating how his mother would behave. He
tried to anticipate her moves, but often was not successful.
Feeling helpless and angry (in some
ways similar to Leonard), he experienced life as unpredictable,
dangerous, and beyond his control.
As an adult, Sam takes comfort in his
computers. They possess the qualities he wished his mother had -
predictable, reliable, non-judgmental, and no unexplained emotional
outbursts. If he applies his hard-earned skills at analyzing the subtle
details of how it behaves, almost all of the time he CAN predict and
control how it will behave. There is very little intimacy and
"loving" feelings towards his computer. But that's quite OK by him.
Those things only got him entangled in trouble with his mother. In fact,
he takes some pleasure in his cold dominance over the submissive machine.
Lorna experiences her computer quite
differently. She sees it as a benign presence. It is always there,
waiting for her. It pays attention to what she wants and gives immediate
feedback. It allows her to express her thoughts, her feelings, her
creativity. It takes and accompanies her wherever she wants to go on
the internet. She almost sees it as a very responsive, compassionate
companion who recognizes her value and individuality as a person. It
even HELPS her develop her individuality.... How unlike her parents who
were so busy and preoccupied that they often neglected to show an
interest in her life.
You as Wished-For Parent, Computer as You
In this last type of transference, a
reversal once again occurs - only this time the user acquires the
wished-for parental qualities and the computer becomes like the child.
Often people strive for the benign qualities that were missing in their
parents - which is often a matter of reversing some characteristic of
the parent. Sometimes that reversal may go too far. If your parents
were too strict, you may become too liberal with your child. If your
parents were uninvolved in your life, you may become too intrusive in
your child's life.
Becoming the wished-for parent of
one's computer may follow the same pattern. Users strive to be "good"
to their computer in ways that their own parents were not "good" to
them. In some cases they carry that effort too far. One user is careful
about making sure her computer is safe and healthy. Another becomes so
worried about viruses and possible damage to his machine that he refuses
to explore the internet, is wary of installing new software, and rarely
lets anyone else use it. One user takes interest in what goes on "inside"
his computer and so tries to learn about its hardware and software.
Another becomes so invested in the technology of her machine that it
becomes an obsession that rules her life.
You are Me, I am You, We are All
John Suler, PhD, is Professor of Psychology
at Rider University and a practicing clinical psychologist. He has published
on psychotherapy, mental imagery, and eastern philosophy. He currently maintains
several web sites.