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Grossman, L. (1996). A Note On Empathy And The Analyst's Transference.. Psychoanal Q., 65:372-375.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 65:372-375

A Note On Empathy And The Analyst's Transference.

Lee Grossman, M.D.

A Jewish man in analysis used a Yiddish expression, which he immediately translated into English. “I don't know why I have to translate for you,” he went on; “I know you're Jewish.” (In fact, he was not sure). I said to him, “You try not to think of me as family.” He immediately agreed, going on to say how some Jews don't speak Yiddish, but his family does. This led to a new angle on a familiar theme in our work, which was his emphasis on ingroups and outgroups. The new material had to do with how he used his sense of exclusion, as well as his sense of being one of the Chosen, as a way to rationalize his various distancing maneuvers.

The patient's immediate experience of my comment was to feel connected to me. It seemed that my remark let him consider why he needed to exclude me, and for the moment why he needed to refrain from doing so. But besides the apparent correctness of the interpretation, I subsequently learned that he had heard my phrasing, and even the cadence of my speech, as Jewish. I was confirming that I was family, at least for the moment, without intentionally either affirming or denying my Yiddish-speaking status.

In fact, when I started to speak, I had been about to use the Hebrew word “mespocheh” instead of “family”; without knowing why, I had changed it at the last moment. In retrospect, it was clear to me that I had wanted to use the Hebrew word to prove I knew it, and to compete with him in Yiddish knowledge—a subject about which I feel inferior. I was going to “prove” I was family—not to be connected, but to outdo him, to prove I was in the ingroup.

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