MOM, DAD, COMPUTER
TRANSFERENCE REACTIONS TO COMPUTERS
You as Parent, Computer as You
You are Me, I am You, We are All Together
Some type of transferences (called
"selfobject" transferences) involve a bolstering and enhancing of one's
sense of self. When the parent admires the child's painting,
acknowledges her thoughts about a TV program, or empathizes with her
feelings of anger, sadness, and delight, the child's identity is
fortified through this "mirroring." When a boy imitates his father
mowing the lawn, or a girl plays with Mommy's briefcase, this
identifying with the parent in an "idealizing" relationship augments
their self-esteem and sense of self. So too in a "twinship" relationship
when siblings play and work with each other. The feeling that "we are
doing this together" satisfies their thirst for knowing who they are by
what they do with others. In these forms of transference, there is a
blending of oneself with the other, so that the other person is not
necessarily experienced as a separate person, but as part of oneself.
Users may rely on their computers to
clarify and strengthen their sense of identity. The computer is
attentive and accommodating to their needs. It mirrors them. As users
customize its hardware and software, the computer becomes more and more
like a responsive reflection of their needs, feelings, and ambitions.
It is part of them, a reflection of who they are, a world created from
within themselves. By idealizing it, by participating in all the
amazing, powerful things a computer can do, users strengthen their own
confidence and feelings of success. By spending time together with their
computer, it becomes a reassuring extension of their motivations,
personality, and inner psychological life - like a good buddy, a
sibling.... a twin.
But there is a danger in relying too
heavily on the computer as a support to one's identity. Placing all your
eggs in one basket is never a good idea. The system may crash at exactly
the wrong moment. The hard-drive may fail. For any of a wide variety of
reasons, your treasured machine may be taken from you. The rug has been
pulled out from under your feet. You feel betrayed, abandoned, lost.....
resulting in anger and depression.
Perhaps all computer transferences
involve a blending of the user's mind with the "cyberspace" created by
the machine. Cyberspace indeed is a psychological space, an extension of the user's intrapsychic world.
Using psychoanalytic terms, we would say that computers create a
transitional space - an intermediate zone between self and other -
where identifications, partial identifications, internalizations, and
introjects interact with each other. In more plain language, we would
say that cyberspace is a zone where the big and little bits of our
parents and siblings that we've taken into our own minds and
personalities become free to express themselves, to play, work,
fight, and, ideally, make peace with each other.
How Do You Know It's Transference?
Psychological reactions to one's
computer (and any significant "other") may be a complex combination of
some or all of the types of transference described above. Mother,
father, and sibling transferences can interact and change over time.
It's often difficult detecting the interpersonal origin of one's
thoughts or feelings towards the silicone-other. When thinking about
transferences in real life, clinicians often ask themselves, "Who is
doing what to whom?"
So how do you know when you're having
one of these transference reactions to your computer? .... There are
some tell-tale signs. When you want to throw the damn thing against
the wall. When it "makes you" feel betrayed and disappointed. When you
feel lonely and empty because you have not had enough time to spend with
it. When you often want to be at your keyboard more than you want to be
with family and friends, or when those people comment on how attached or
emotional you get towards it. Any seemingly exaggerated or
"inappropriately" strong feelings towards your machine probably means
you think of it as more than just a machine.
Transference also may be rearing its
head whenever one feels addicted (see "Why is
This Thing Eating My Life"). Computer addictions often mean that
the user is attempting to use the cyberworld to satisfy some strong
internal need, but the strategy never quite works. One never feels fully
satisfied or complete because the frustrated need arises from something
that was or is missing from one's relationship to real world people. The
computer has become an inadequate substitute target for that unfulfilled
Adult and Machine
Growing up into a mature adult is a
gradual process of realizing how the mental models from our childhood
have shaped our relationships and our lives. Sometimes these models
steer us in the right direction - towards the right people and
activities - and thereby enrich our lives. Sometimes not. We may need
to challenge, develop, or outright abandon some of them. In all cases,
the enlightening path is to see these models for what they are - simply
models. After all, the computer is not Mom, Dad, Sister, or Brother.
It's just a computer. Once you fully realize that, you become free to
enjoy cyberspace in the ways that you wish, without any unconscious
Back To Part I
Why is This Thing Eating My Life?: Computer
and Cyberspace Addiction at the Palace
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.