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This site is dedicated to the work founded by Carl Gustav Jung.

The intention of the website is to provide a bridge between the anglophone and francophone Jungian communities in the world.

JPS contains part of the content of Espace Francophone Jungien that has been translated into English.

In addition, it contains anglophone articles, whose French translations have been published on the Francophone mother site.

Holding the tension of the erotic transference: embodying Captain Picard in Star Trek’s “The Perfect Mate”

Peggy Vermeesch explores how a therapist can accompany the type of patient whose healing and transformation depend on being given a second chance to experience a healthy parental first love through the myth of Star Trek.

In addition to the need for good boundaries, it is crucial to genuinely enjoy and love our patients when the coniunctio is constellated.

French version of this article

I explore the myths that surround sexuality, and the danger of abuse and long-term harm in a disturbed maturation process. I highlight the inequality in societal empathy, care, and protection for men. Using Rutter’s (1989) theories I discuss both potential and danger of « forbidden zone relationships ». 

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INTRODUCTION

The episode from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” called “The Perfect Mate” portrays the sexual awakening of a young woman and the challenges she and her environment face during this transition.

When this passage from child to adult goes awry, people can find themselves perpetually wounded and rewounded in their most important subsequent relationships, unable to take care of their own boundaries, sexual or other. They live with a constant longing for love, connection, and approval that can never be fully satisfied.

To some extent we have all suffered the difficulties of this transition and all of us are left with at least some remnants of such a wound.

The PROMISE of the FORBIDDEN ZONE

When these people seek healing, they may for the first time find new hope in the form of a professional relationship of trust with a person who holds power over their future. It may be a therapist who holds the key to psychological and emotional health, a teacher or mentor who has the power to foster intellectual or professional development, a lawyer, a doctor, a spiritual guru, or a political leader.

In this context Jungian analyst Peter Rutter speaks of the forbidden zone:

“The forbidden zone implicitly offers the women who enter it a parental quality of trust.” (Rutter 1989, p.61)

Forbidden zone relationships are modeled on the parent-child dynamic due to the imbalance of power, and the trust that is transferred onto the professional to always act in the best interest of the person under their care.

The therapeutic relationship is designed in part to reawaken the childlike parts in patients, so that their wounds may be worked through and transformed. With the position of trust and authority also comes the ethical responsibility of the parenting role and thus the taboo of sex.

Consent becomes meaningless in this situation. Just as children lack the emotional capacity to refuse an incestuous relationship, whether acted out literally or lived symbolically, adults in a forbidden zone relationship cannot give consent either.

“Violations of these boundaries are, psychologically speaking, not only rapes but also acts of incest.” (Rutter 1989, p. 101)

Throughout his landmark book on sexual exploitation in professional relationships, Rutter shows how incredibly harmful a sexual relationship is for both the person in power and the person under their care.

Although sexual behavior in a professional relationship of trust is the worst kind of boundary-crossing, any behavior in which a person in power uses any part of the person that was entrusted to them for their own benefit is harmful.

Erotic transference and countertransference

Rutter also explores the psychological mechanisms responsible for the allure of sex in the forbidden zone for both participants and bystanders, which makes this widespread problem so difficult to bring to consciousness and to guard against.

Sexual intimacy lives in our collective psyches as the ultimate symbol for the experience of love, passion, and meaningful connection with another person, with our own body and psyche, with life itself, or with the Divine.

It makes sense that in the context of renewed hope for healing and connection, which emerges in a forbidden zone relationship, one or both participants might be flooded by longings of intimacy. And yet, for a person who has been wounded in a sexual way, this longing may at the same time be terrifying and fiercely defended against. When these yearnings for closeness arise, it is the person in the position of power who has the responsibility of holding the tension and setting the boundaries.

When the erotic transference and/or countertransference is constellated, therapists must undertake the delicate task of untangling the confusing longings for themselves, while at the same time respecting the feelings that come up in the process and allowing the much-needed freedom for them to be lived by the patient on a symbolic level instead of a literal one.

We should never shame our patients for their deep longings, no matter how uncomfortable these may make us feel. Too much rejection in the form of a an overly strong defense against the erotic projection of a patient forecloses the important potential for growth and healing that this constellation brings.

“Images of sexual contact with forbidden partners often represent a need to make inner contact with a part of ourselves depicted by the forbidden partner’s image.” (Rutter 1989, p. 63)

Men, women, and non-Binary People

Although the story I interpret is about a woman who longs to be loved by a man, I strongly believe that a woman’s maturation process has much in common with that of a man. Although there are differences, I am committed to write from the point of view of our shared human experience as a person, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

With this decision I hope to get to a broader description in which all people can recognize themselves, and one which promotes equal opportunities and rights to protection, care, and empathy.

STAR TREK’s PERFECT MATE

In “The Perfect Mate” (Star Trek: The Next Generation, S5E21) Captain Picard agrees to host onboard the Enterprise starship a ceremony of reconciliation for two alien races. The Kriosians and the Valtese have been at war for centuries over a conflict that originated by two brothers who fought for the love of one extraordinary woman.

She was an empathic metamorph, “with the ability to sense what a potential mate wants, needs and what gives him the greatest pleasure and then to become that for him”.

Only once in seven generations such a woman is born. To achieve peace between their two warring civilizations, the Kriosians have brought Kamala, also an empathic metamorph, to be gifted to the Valtese Chancellor as his mate. Peace, in the form of this gift, was negotiated at her birth.

Sexual awakening

Kamala is brought on board under the cloak of secrecy. She has been put in stasis and kept in the cargo bay in what looks like a human-sized glowing egg. Nobody would have been the wiser had it not been for two Ferengi who came onboard with a ruse and the intention to steal the precious anima woman for financial gain.

The Ferengi are a shadowy humanoid species that is notorious for their adulation of economic profit. They have based a whole civilization on the worship of money. They are known for their obnoxious, ruthless, yet often innocently stupid, pursuit of childish pleasure, power, and wealth.

In true Trickster fashion, a technical glitch occurs while they attempt to steal the egg, causing Kamala to awaken prematurely from stasis. It soon becomes clear why the Kriosians tried to hide her away. First, Captain Picard is not too understanding of the fact that his ship is being “used to transport a sentient being as property”.

Second, Kamala, as empathic metamorph, is in the final stage of her sexual maturing process and claims that this “can be quite uncomfortable for the men around her”. An empathic metamorph changes according to the man she’s with “until she reaches the final stage of bonding, when she must imprint upon herself the requirements of one man: to serve as his perfect partner in life”.

As Commander Riker accompanies her to her quarters, where she is told by the Kriosian ambassador to remain, we get an idea of the risk, as her presence quickly becomes highly provocative and seductive. Although Commander Riker manages to walk away after no more than a passionate kiss, a man with less ego-control or a weaker ethical stance would have succumbed to her charm instantly.

The masculine myth of the feminine

As often happens in Star Trek episodes, one part of human psychology and behavior is amplified and explored. In this case it is the sexual awakening of an adolescent girl at the height of puberty, and the masculine fantasy surrounding sexually mature women. Rutter identifies three parts of the cultural myth which explains the inner attitudes that shape how women are perceived by men and how women see themselves.

Deference

“In masculine mythology, a woman above all should show deference to a man. The ideal woman is available to a man as a sexual partner, a source of emotional comfort, and a helpmate in running a household and raising children.” (Rutter 1989, p. 75)

Despite our discomfort at such inequality and the word “deference”, we cannot ignore that this idea remains ingrained in both men and women. It takes consciousness and effort to not simply follow the age-old patriarchal pattern.

Women in a group still largely defer to a man’s opinion. Studies show that publications from male authors are associated with greater scientific quality and are prone to incite more collaboration interest than those written by women (Knobloch-Westerwick et al. 2013).

As a reaction to this unfair state, some women fall into its opposite: the belief that a man must submit to their every wish. Some men have also internalized this and believe that the only way to hold onto their female partner is to always say “yes dear”.

I propose an overarching, more reciprocal myth that may apply to all gender identities: that we must either defer to the other or make the other defer to us. We either dominate or are dominated.

Feminine healing powers

“The second component of the masculine myth of the feminine involves the tremendous healing, nurturing and sexual powers that men attribute to women. Men have a firm conviction that women hold these powers in order that they can be bestowed upon men.” (Rutter 1989, p. 76)

It goes without saying that there is a similar feminine myth about the masculine, although it may at first sight look a little different. In an improvisation exercise with a group of strong-minded female engineering students I was recently reminded of the pervasiveness of the rich husband allure. Although these women will have no trouble supporting themselves in a comfortable lifestyle, several of them betrayed the deep-seated desire to be loved and taken care of by a wealthy man who can provide them with a beautiful and luxurious home.

But if comfort is what they desire, why don’t they work towards becoming wealthy themselves? Maybe because deep down women still believe that men hold the financial (and professional) power that can then be bestowed on them.

Masculine and feminine myths do seem to become more interchangeable than they used to be. Many men are quite open to the advantages of having a rich and successful wife, and women do also expect nurturing and sexual healing from their husband or partner.

Men, women and non-binary people are all driven to look for sexual intimacy with a potential partner onto which they have projected their own not-yet-integrated qualities and powers. They unconsciously believe that intimacy is the only way they can obtain them.

The above aspects of Rutter’s masculine myth of the feminine are amplified in the idea of the empathic metamorph. What’s more, there isn’t even any need to feel guilty about using the woman in this way. It’s not exploitation, because this is her true nature, and deferring to his wishes is her biggest source of happiness.

This comes dangerously close to an attitude which still surfaces to this day in discussions on rape and sexual abuse. Although laws have become better at dispelling beliefs like “she wanted it” and “she was asking for it”, and it has now become socially unacceptable to say this out loud, our unconcious is taking its time to catch up.

But there is hope for transformation. The same female engineering students who imagined a rich husband, attend university in crop tops and without bra, declaring that it is not their responsibility to take care of men’s desire, and that it is time men take responsibility for their own feelings and drives. They are absolutely right, no matter how uncomfortable this may make previous generations feel, or how fearful we may be for them.

People should not have to take responsibility for what others project onto them. We can only hope that the more people stand up and rebel against these cultural projections, the faster transformation will occur in the collective.

Exploited compassion

Initially Captain Picard accepts Kamala’s situation because he has sworn an oath not to interfere in alien civilizations and because she seems to know what she’s doing.

But Dr. Beverly Crusher, who throughout the series plays the voice of conscience and protector of the rights of all sentient beings (see Star Trek’s Borg: symbol of the collective unconscious in its devouring and annihilating shadow aspect), thinks otherwise. She uses words such as prostitution and slavery and points out that Kamala was “conditioned since the day she was born to believe it’s perfectly acceptable to exist only to please men”.

Some people have indeed been conditioned by their upbringing to consider they exist only to fulfill someone else’s needs. Sometimes parents are so severely injured that the only way a child can hope to receive some positive attention (and survive) is to cater to the needs of the parent. In this way the child unconsciously integrates the message that their own needs, hopes, and desires are not important.

As adults, these people are at risk of repeating the same dynamic in every subsequent important relationship. Rutter names this pattern of exploited compassion as one of four categories of woundedness that puts people at risk for later sexual-boundary violations. These people are sharply attuned to the wounds of the person in whom they have put their trust and hope for healing. They will have a very difficult time refusing any request to heal the other’s wounds, whether the request is overt or projected in an unconscious way.

Double standards

Contemporary views on gender equality demand that we open up Rutter’s important ideas and make them applicable to the experience of all human beings. This is especially important now.

Although there seems to be a greater understanding in the general population of the harm inflicted by a romantic and/or sexual relationship between a male therapist and a female patient, we still see female therapists getting into relationships with their male patients in TV-series, without any acknowledgment of harm to the patient.

In season 2 of “Perception” (2013-2014) psychiatrist Caroline starts a romantic relationship with her schizophrenic patient Daniel. When the relationship ends, she admits that she should have known better than to think this would be good for her. The harmful effect on Daniel is never acknowledged by her or indicated in any other way in the series.

At the start of Season 7 of “Suits” (2017-2018) main character Harvey asks his former therapist Paula out on a date, claiming that enough time has passed since the end of their therapy. They go out to dinner, but when it becomes clear that Harvey is in denial about being in crisis and needing therapy, she gets upset and says:

“You don’t think I’ve had fantasies about you? That one day you’d show up at my office as I was heading home for the night, and I turn around, and you’d be there. You wouldn’t say a word, but… you’d take me in your arms and kiss me, and it would actually be the start of something special. Well, I have.” (Suits, S7E1: Skin in the game)

She proceeds by telling him that they cannot date and that she can no longer be his therapist. But the next day, Harvey drives up to her house, takes her in his arms and kisses her. He fulfills her fantasy, and they start a relationship. Harvey has lost his therapist in his time of need.

The forbidden quality of the relationship and her fear of being judged by her peers is acknowledged, but the harm to her former patient is never addressed.

To this day there also remains a double standard in the way we feel, culturally, about a teacher who engages in a romantic relationship with a student.

The male teacher is now considered by most to be a predator who takes advantage of his power and authority, especially if the student is much younger than he is.

In contrast, when a female teacher sleeps with her male student, it is often still seen as romantic and exciting. The female student is a victim. The male student is considered lucky to have an experienced woman introduce him into the art of sex.

It is time that the abusive behavior of women in power, even if less common, is also brought into consciousness.

Our societies still have a long way to go to protect young women and care for female victims of sexual exploitation, but the situation is even worse for men.

Men are not even considered victims, even if the situation is exactly parallel. Men should have the same access to protection, empathy, and care as women. It is not less harmful for a man to be sexually exploited than it is for a woman. The myth responsible for this particular double standard is two-fold.

  • The first part posits that men are stronger than women, that they are the ones in charge of any physical relationship between them, and therefore not likely to be a victim of sexual exploitation.
  • The second part of the myth is that men are so wired for sex that they cannot be harmed when it is offered, even by a person who has power over them.

These beliefs are perpetuated by both women and men, and the stereotypes we continue to see in film, advertising, books, and music. Both beliefs are wrong.

Note also the difference in our every-day language: women are asked for sex, but men are offered sex. This clearly goes along the lines of Rutter’s second part of the masculine myth: that women are the holders of sexual power, which can then be bestowed on men on demand.

TRANSFERENCE LOVE

When Captain Picard learns that Kamala is confined to her quarters, he goes to check up on her. When she starts adapting to his deepest desires in a seductive manner, he catches it immediately: “Don’t. Don’t do this … this you do with men.” But she responds that this is who she is. She cannot change, “until the time has come for her to bond to her permanent mate”.

Likewise, a patient whose maturation process has been perverted somehow, will not be able to just stop relating to others in the way they have been conditioned. This is even more true for those relationships that hold the promise of hope and healing.

The resolution that comes with “the bond to a permanent mate” can be interpreted as the transformation that occurs when these patients form a relationship with their inner soul figure: their Anima/Animus or Beloved.

Captain Picard asks about her own wishes and needs, and she responds that they are fulfilled by what she gives to others. Giving gives her pleasure. When she’s alone, she feels incomplete.

As Captain, his focus is on making sure that Kamala, who is on his starship and thus in his care, is being well-treated and free to make her own choices. When she uses her charm on him, his first reaction is to ask her to stop. But she cannot stop because this is her nature. So, he reasons with her and tries to get her to think about her own wishes. But she cannot do it, at least not yet, and she falls back into her familiar pleasing behavior.

This is a dynamic that therapists might recognize from the consulting room, even when it isn’t played out so obviously. The people we meet in therapy are the people who have been wounded. They put themselves in our hands with the hope and trust that we will enable the healing they so long for. And they bring us their illness, their self-destructive patterns, in the only way they know how: by repeating it in the transference (Rutter 1989, p. 6).

Overly agreeable or pleasing behavior by a patient, whether overt or unconscious, sexual or non-sexual, reveals a deep longing for love and affection, problematic boundary setting, and a potential history of boundary violations. The point is that our patients cannot help it. By showing us their pattern, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to: they bring us the problem so that we may work on it together.

Personal and archetypal transference

Despite the Kriosian ambassador’s warnings, Captain Picard negotiates some freedom of movement on Kamala’s behalf. Lieutenant Data, an android and hence immune to her sexual allure, is chosen to chaperone and protect her as she explores the ship. But she was hoping to spend more time with Captain Picard.

Kamala’s automatic and unconscious reaction to become what Captain Picard desires in a soulmate, can be seen as analogous to the personal and historical projections a patient brings to the transference/countertransference relationship in therapy. Over the course of the therapeutic work we hope to dissolve these types of projections so that our patients may be freed from their compulsion to repeat the wounds of their past with us and others, and so they may have a wider range of choices in their interpersonal relationships and their relationship to self. This is normally achieved in the transference/countertransference work and the therapeutic use of reconstruction.

“Reconstruction, it should be noted, is essentially different from anemnesis or simple recollection of the past. It occurs piecemeal over the course of a long analysis and is put together bit by bit from emerging memories and interpretations. One might say that the analysand’s personal history is constellated in the course of an analysis, and this constellation depends upon the energy of the transference/countertransference process.” (Stein 1987, p. 52)

But there is a part of Kamala that feels drawn to Captain Picard beyond her automatic and conditioned adaptation to men. When she awakened from stasis, she instantly went over to him, sensing his authority and strength. We can also imagine that she chose him to embody her inner Beloved from the very first moment.

Something that came from deep inside her seized the opportunity of her accidental premature awakening to leave the world of conditioned unconsciousness and work towards greater consciousness. Guided by the Self, she recognized the qualities embodied by Captain Picard as an unrecognized part of herself and felt the longing and curiosity to get closer to that.

In the analytic setting this is part of the archetypal transference. Whereas we aim to dissolve the personal and historical projections, it is not the same for the impersonal or archetypal projections which look to the future, not the past.

“These archetypal contents in the transference cannot and should not be dissolved, nor do they demand interpretation. Instead, they need some kind of acknowledgement in the analysis.” (Wiener 2009, p. 24)

This is partly why it is so important not to reject our patients in their genuine feelings of love and care for us, even if these feelings are expressed as a desire for sexual intimacy, which we may or may not find appealing.

Although we can never give in to the yearning to live this desire in the outer world, we must find a way to acknowledge and honor their feelings, and even amplify them on a symbolic level.

Enjoying our patients

While walking around the ship with Lieutenant Data, Kamala instantly becomes the perfect mate. Like a chameleon, she adapts and changes with every man she meets. Some men from the crew recognize the danger of succumbing to her magnetism only just in time, and subsequently make their escape out of an ethical obligation to their ship, their Captain, and the peace negotiation they are helping to organize.

Android Data saves Kamala from a few less ethical men who are ready to simply take what she is offering. A physical fight nearly breaks out.

This scene shows that in the outer world, represented by the star ship beyond Kamala’s quarters, the dangers are twofold. Either patients’ unconscious offering of themselves is taken up and there is a repetition of the feeling of being used and possibly abused, or their offering is rejected and people flee their dangerous presence.

While we assume the latter to be less harmful, it is potentially experienced as even more wounding, as it constitutes a rejection of the special gifts of connection and love that our patients have to offer.

In either case no healthy relationship is possible, which may make patients feel insecure about themselves and may lead to even more attempts to sacrifice their own wishes to please others.

Back in her quarters Kamala tells Captain Picard that she will choose to remain in her quarters voluntarily if he agrees to come visit her. What follows is an intricate scene of seduction. Not the physical kind, but seduction on an intellectual and soul level, the kind that could very well occur in the therapeutic setting.

Kamala proceeds to connect with him on the subjects that he feels most passionate about: archeology, Shakespeare, and the beautiful gardens where he grew up. Captain Picard allows himself to enjoy her company and her gifts of connection specifically catered to him, as long as their interaction remains platonic and innocent. He has enough ego-strength, knowledge of self and others, and sense of responsibility to stay in her presence in a healthy way: not using her but not fleeing or rejecting her either.

It is very important for a therapist to allow this kind of true connection to occur in the analytical setting.

Many people who come to therapy have never known the feeling of being truly enjoyed by their parental figures in a safe environment where they did not have to sacrifice themselves for the slightest token of affection.

True moments of healing can occur if as therapists we can hold the tension of the erotic charge, take care of the sexual boundary, and still cherish our patients’ company and unique gifts, especially the ones they bestow us in a healthy way. Just like Captain Picard, we need to find an alternate solution to the outer world reactions.

Holding the boundary

When Captain Picard asks whether Kamala’s empathic abilities allow her to know his interests, she admits that she inquired about him. Among all the men that she has met on the ship, Captain Picard is the one that caught her interest, notably when he’s not around: when she’s alone and unincumbered by her adaptive nature. In this sense it seems like a semi-conscious choice to focus her gifts on him.

People in therapy as well, may decide, consciously or unconsciously, to focus their gifts of love and care onto us. As one of my students said: all transference is erotic. It’s always about love.

We might wonder what part of our patient’s feelings for us is due to the safe container of the therapeutic relationship and the hope it provides, and what part, if any, is because of who we really are. The first set of feelings are ascribed to the field of the transference/countertransference relationship, and the latter to the real relationship in the outer world. But of course, we can never neatly split them apart.

These kinds of projections are part of every relationship, even in the outer world. What’s important in the therapeutic relationship is the promise and ethical obligation to prioritize the well-being of our patient. Hence, we must always and foremost keep in mind the part that comes from the repetition of past patterns in the patient’s history, without failing to relate to our patients in the here and now of the outer world.

Just like Captain Picard is subjected to the promise of healing his lonely and injured heart by Kamala’s loving hands and body, we may feel tempted as well by our patients. The archetypal projections may also be particularly flattering.

And just like Captain Picard, we must find the strength to resist without being rejecting. To a certain extent we need to channel and amplify the positive qualities our patients have transferred onto us, while carefully avoiding identification with those parts.

The reason Kamala feels drawn to Captain Picard above all others is that he exudes calm and confidence. He knows deep down that he would be worthy of her love. That he has something to offer her. That he is her equal and that he might be attractive to her. She feels safe with him because he is not insecure and doesn’t look to others to feel whole. He has no need to use her or dominate her.

He is also confident in his boundaries, and thus he doesn’t fear her. He doesn’t adhere to Rutter’s masculine myth of the feminine.

Although we may sometimes lack confidence in the outside world, as therapists it is essential to channel our « inner Captain Picard » and embody his deep inner confidence and self-worth. This allows our patients to see and feel this pattern, thus encouraging them to develop these qualities in themselves.

Kamala explains that her empathic powers can sense a man of deep passion and conviction who is so controlled and disciplined, and that she is simply curious to know what lies beneath. Captain Picard senses the danger they are in as she hits the nail on the head. He is a proud man, lonely and deeply wounded by his past, and thus her words are particularly touching.

Holding her well-being above his own, he stays aloof: “Nothing lies beneath. I’m really quite dull.” She warns him that he shouldn’t take it lightly when a metamorph finds him interesting. He acknowledges how special that is but doesn’t give in to it. “I’m not taking it lightly. I’m just trying to be as dull as possible.” She insists again that he come visit her, and he says no. She reminds him that even the walls of Jericho fell.

Likewise, our patients may get very frustrated with us if we resist too much or hold back too much of ourselves for too long.

When he asks her why she is doing this, she responds that there can only be one reason: “that part of him wants her to”. She is probably right.

When our patients tune into our own wounds, intuit our deepest desires for healing, and feel that part of us longs for their love and affection, they are probably right too.

“These women make good on our invitations to intimacy, bringing us long-hidden feelings, dreams, and fantasies. These feelings, often laced with passions both luminous and dark, swirl about the room.

In a mysterious way, almost like electromagnetic induction, we men cannot stop ourselves from beginning to experience, prompted by what women share with us, some of our own long-denied fears, injuries, hopes and fantasies.

Just as the woman in a relationship of trust may look to the man in power for an answer to what has been injured or unfulfilled in her, the man may begin to look to the woman as a source of healing for himself.” (Rutter 1989, p. 7-8)

Like a good-enough therapist, Captain Picard resists the temptation to take what is being offered. He is deeply affected, but he thinks of her well-being, as well as his own.

It is important to let our patients affect us and touch us on an emotional and symbolic level. No healing can occur if we don’t enter the therapeutic relationship with our whole being. But succumbing to a patient’s charm would be harmful to us too, as it would mean betraying our own values.

Captain Picard knows that this would not end well. That the promised gain is only an illusion, and that the cost would be too high. Just as in any other forbidden zone relationship, falling for Kamala would cost him his dignity, reputation, self-respect, and likely his career.

Even if he didn’t act on it, giving in to the idea that she could complete his life and heal all his pain would cause him endless suffering.

The danger of admitting his desire to her lies in the risk of encouraging her, and of becoming her ghostly lover and thus keeping her bound to him, never being able to go her own way.

It must seem cruel and unfeeling to Kamala, in addition to dishonest, but he resists for the greater good. Kamala is to remain in her room until her future mate arrives. Captain Picard perseveres in his distance and never admits his longing to her.

CONIUNCTIO

Trickster in service of the Self

But life works in mysterious ways. As the two Trickster Ferengi try to bribe the Kriosian ambassador into giving them Kamala, the ambassador is injured and falls into a coma, thus compromising the peace negotiations and ceremony of reconciliation that are supposed to take place two days later. Kamala’s sexual maturation is coming to a close, and she must be bonded with her mate within the next two days, so she pleads with Captain Picard to take the ambassador’s place. He accepts, again, for the greater good.

In order to prepare for this, they end up spending time together after all. There’s a beautiful moment in which she is teaching him to play a ceremonial song on a traditional xylophone. He confides in her that he used to play the piano and that this pleased his mother.

It is very significant that he brings up his mother. In the more recent “Star Trek: Picard” series (2021-2023) we learn that the deep childhood wound he suffered is connected to the loss of his mother when he was ten. She was full of life and imagination, but she also had periods of being deeply troubled. Although he has forgotten the details, Picard blames himself for her suicide. It is this traumatic event which caused him to choose a life among the stars and shy away from ever building a lasting romantic partnership.

Symbolic friendship

Sensing Captain Picard’s continued resistance, Kamala pouts and asks whether he finds her unattractive. He answers beautifully: “I find you unavailable.” She apologizes for the question.

At this point we can clearly see the tenderness in his eyes and expression. Through the work they have done together, trust and acceptance for who the other really is has developed on both sides. Yes, Kamala momentarily falls back into the trap of trying to seduce him. But the slip is short-lived, and Captain Picard is accepting of her true nature.

With the trust that has been built between them, there is no more need for him to defend so fiercely against her advances. He can respond honestly and without any defensiveness or rejection.

The same outcome is possible in a long analysis, especially once the personal projections have largely been worked through. Jungian authors then speak of the potential of a “symbolic friendship” (Henderson 1954, quoted in Wiener 2009, p. 25) or a “true coniunctio” (Kalsched 2014, p. 164).

Kamala confesses that this is the very first time in her life that she has spent any time alone, and that she has been pondering his curious questions, such as who she is and what she wants when she is alone. Her only answer is that “she is for the Valtese Chancellor”. Picard asks her again whether she is doing this of her own accord. She responds that she is honored to be chosen to be emissary of peace but finds it ironic that on the eve of the ceremony she meets a man like Picard.

They are interrupted by the arrival of the Valtese Chancellor. When Captain Picard meets him, he is disappointed. Uninterested in sentimental things or the metamorph, he only cares about the trade agreements.

The evening before the ceremony Kamala asks Captain Picard to stay and talk to her because she doesn’t want to be alone. She says that she loves listening to his voice and that she will turn off the lights. Maybe because of his own inner distress at the unfairness of such an unfortunate match, he stays. But he continues to take care of the boundary: “The lights stay on.”

To ensure the safe container, the relationship must remain in the light of consciousness.

She asks him whether she is one of the most unique lifeforms he has ever met in his long career of space exploration. He says yes.

At this point in the work, it’s important for therapists to feel free to convey the (innocent) ways in which a patient is special to them.

In a very tender moment, she touches his forehead. He asks whether he has not done everything in his power to discourage this. She responds that maybe that’s the perfect way to attract a metamorph.

Captain Picard: “I don’t want to use you as other men do.”

Kamala: “But you’re not other men. You could never use me. That’s the very reason why I’m with you tonight.”

The reason our patients decide to love us is exactly because of the safe haven we provide. For many it is the first time they have ever had that opportunity. This makes it all the more important to guard the boundary and never use any part of them for our own benefit. With the potential of healing and transformation also comes the risk of reliving our core wound (rewounding).

Transformation through bonding

The next day, moments before the ceremony, Kamala explains to Captain Picard that there is no greater pleasure and wish for a metamorph than to bond at the end of her maturation cycle with the kind of man who opens her heart and mind to endless new possibilities. To hear herself say: « I like myself when I’m with him ».

She reveals that she has bonded with him, and that who she is today, she will be forever. Shocked by this turn of events, Captain Picard tells her she can’t go through with the ceremony. But she knows that he would never put his own selfish desires over the needs of the greater good, and now that she has bonded with him, neither would she.

Looking back, we realize that this was a conscious choice on her part.

Knowing that her sexual maturation cycle was coming to an end, she asked him to stay with her, and she touched his forehead. We imagine that the ultimate moment of bonding happened then: in the tender instant of physical, embodied touch.

No matter how innocent, it was enough to secure the bond. She decided that he was the one, and he let it happen, while continuing to safeguard the boundary.

In this way Kamala chose to be the person she wanted to be. She could have waited to meet her future husband and bonded to him the next morning. She would have become a different person. Her life might have been easier, but it would have been a life in which she remained unconscious. Instead, she chose consciousness, maturity, and individuation.

Taking the story literally, we are appalled by the idea that she must now lead a life pleasing a man who, in our opinion, does not deserve her and who will never appreciate her unique gifts and talents. Many of us long for a Hollywood ending in which Captain Picard jumps on his white horse (or starship), declares his love for her, and saves her from a life of oppression.

But real maturation looks different. Fully conscious of her own inner nature, she recognized something in Captain Picard that she wanted for herself.

She chose to bond with him, and only him, and become, permanently, the kind of person that he would love. But only because that is the kind of person she wanted to be.

She did not pursue any of the other men she met on the starship. Only he stayed in her mind when she was alone. And only he took up the challenge instead of shying away from it. Only he was able to resist using her for his own benefit while at the same time allowing her to affect him deeply.

This is part of the task we must fulfill for our patients. In addition, we must also leave room for our mutual story to unfold: we must be patient and trust life.

Whenever Captain Picard did walk away, faith and providence, and a healthy dose of Trickster energy, made sure that in the end, working towards the greater good meant spending time working closely with her: time in which they got to know each other and formed a healthy and soulful attachment.

In her closing words to Captain Picard, Kamala reassures him that she is still an empath and that she will be able to please the Valtese Chancellor and ensure peace between the two worlds even though she has not bonded with him. She is at peace with her choice and who she is.

She has amor fati.

She jokingly adds that she hopes he likes Shakespeare. Although her interest in Shakespeare originally stemmed from her desire to connect with Captain Picard, it has now become a part of her life as well.

In a long and successful analysis, the same might happen.

“The analyst is generically important as the constellator of the atmosphere in which the [patient’s] story emerges, and as the assistant in the task of reconstructing and understanding, but he or she is particularly important for bringing the most personal ingredients of this other psyche into the intimacy of the analysis.” (Stein 1987, p. 52)

The analyst’s personal history, personality, and qualities somehow get woven into the life of the analysand. These influences do not apply only to the analysand’s present and future, but also to their past. The way a patient’s personal story is reconstructed during the analysis, and thus their resulting personality and narrative, is profoundly influenced by that of the therapist.

We can assume that the process is also reciprocal. As therapists, our life story, both past and future, can also be influenced profoundly by our patients. As in any other meaningful relationship, we are deeply changed by our bond with another person.

Limitations of the therapeutic bond

For Kamala, Captain Picard is her first love: her first romance that teaches her who she is and that sets her up for making healthy choices in all her subsequent important relationships. In the real world this is the role our parental figures are supposed to play.

When these first relationships are unhealthy, people may become overly vulnerable to being used and rejected.

Our patients have a second chance at a healthy first love with a good-enough therapist who understands the potential as well as the risk of this particular constellation.

There are however important differences between the parental bond and the therapeutic one (or other forbidden zone relationships).

Although all children must eventually separate from their parental figures in terms of primary dependency needs and independent thought and action, parents ideally continue to be a source of support and love throughout life. The separation is not literal and sharp, but symbolic and fluid.

A healthy parent-child bond allows for moving back and forth between independence, and temporary and partial dependency on some level when life throws them into the deep end.

Even if, as therapists, we continue to safeguard our role after therapy ends and keep the door open for patients to come back when needed, the threshold and commitment of resuming therapy is much higher than that of calling up our parent or meeting for tea. Likewise, as therapists we are simply not there to keep an eye out for our former patients.

In addition to the rigidity of the boundaries and the strict goodbye is the lack of embodied relationship. Although a sexual relationship is also out of the question with parents, there are many other ways of caring in an embodied way. This includes not only physical affection, but also simple acts such as sharing a meal, helping with a move, babysitting, bringing a gift, noticing a new haircut. In short: being part of each other’s daily embodied life.

None of these things are possible in the therapeutic relationship.

Therefore, it may feel particularly cruel to many patients to share such incredible intimacy with another human being, to create the deepest healthy bond they have ever had, while obeying the strictest limitations and with the only possible outcome of saying goodbye.

In theory, patients are supposed to integrate the qualities of the bond and form a relationship with their inner figures, so that the presence of the flesh-and-blood therapist is no longer needed.

Kamala managed it. But our patients are not empathic metamorphs: they are people with wishes and desires of their own. Adaptation to what’s expected from them, even by a well-intentioned therapist convinced of the validity of the analytical goal, might come at a cost.

In addition, our patients are not just psyche and soul. They are also warm-blooded animals. It is important to keep in mind the real danger that analysis may constitute a rejection of the patient’s embodied self, and the end of analysis a renewed injury.

The ROLE of SOCIETY

Ideally, society should work towards a good-enough framework to take over parts of the parental task, when necessary. Society should provide greater protection to people who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, especially at a tender age (well above the age of consent of 14-18, depending on the country) and/or in relationships where there is a power imbalance.

Sadly, it is not enough to have stricter rules about sexual misconduct, as these regulations are meaningless when bystanders do nothing when they are broken. Sometimes rule backfire, as people shame and blame the victim out of fear for the repercussions of the rules that are supposed to protect.

What is urgently needed is more awareness of the dynamic and potential harm of romantic and/or sexual behavior in forbidden zone relationships.

Good modeling is also essential.

In the absence of experiencing healthy boundary-setting by our own parents and in subsequent relationships, we look to popular culture for clues on how to think and behave. And popular culture still has a way to go in terms of correctly portraying how therapists, teachers, etc. should behave with the people in their care.

May 2024

The above article is currently under review
by the International Journal of Jungian Studies (IJJS).

References

  • Henderson, J.L. (1954) Resolution of the Transference in the Light of C. G. Jung’s Psychology, quoted in Wiener 2009, p. 25.
  • Kalsched, D. (2014) The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defenses of the Personal Spirit.
  • Knobloch-Westerwick, S., Glynn, C.J., & Huge, M. (2013). The Matilda Effect in Science Communication: An Experiment on Gender Bias in Publication Quality Perceptions and Collaboration Interest. Science Communication, 35(5), 603-625.
  • Rutter, P. (1989) Sex in the Forbidden Zone.
  • Stein, M. (1987). Looking Backward: Archetypes in Reconstruction, in Archetypal Process in Psychotherapy.
  • Wiener, J. (2009) The Therapeutic Relationship: Transference, Countertransference, and the Making of Meaning.

 

Peggy Vermeesch, PhD

Dr Peggy Vermeesch is a Jungian-oriented therapist based in France, an English language teacher at the University of Western Brittany, and former researcher in geophysics at Imperial College London (UK) and the Universities of Texas (US) and Southampton (UK). She writes articles in French and English and acts as bilingual liaison between Jungian Psychology Space (JPS) and its Francophone mother site Espace Francophone Jungien (EFJ).

For more information, see her webpage.

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