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There Ain't No Cure for Love:

The Psychotherapy of an Erotic Transference


Helena Hargaden

Abstract Charlotte Sills (Hargaden& Sills, 1999,2001),


This case study charts the process of psy- in which the transferential relationship is
chotherapy with a young man over a period viewed as central to the therapy.
of about five years and discusses the emer-
gence of erotic feelings in the transference Romeo and Juliet: In the Beginning
and countertransference. When I opened the door for Noel on the day
of his first session, he stood there, dressed in
black and wearing sunglasses. At the time I
The following case presentation involves the lived next door to a pop music group, and my
exploration ofa psychotherapeutic relationship first thought was to wonder whether had he
in which the emergence of Eros in the trans- come to the right house. But he introduced
ference had to be taken into consideration. This himself and I invited him to come in. He
relationship occurred prior to the publication of walked into my consulting room; I sat down
David Mann's (1997) Psychotherapy-An and invited him to choose a spot. He sat diago-
Erotic Relationship, in which the author ex- nally across from me and grinned: "Well, what
plores the significance ofsexual feelings in the happens now?" He seemed embarrassed, but
therapy relationship. In fact, he views the before I could answer, he asked another ques-
therapeutic dyad as equivalent to two lovers. tion: "Do you mind if I smoke?" Having given
However, during the time I worked with the up smoking only recently, I was particularly
patient described in this article, I found a evangelical about the subject and replied im-
dearth of literature on the subject of erotic mediately that maybe it would be useful to find
transference; this meant that I had to rely pri- out what he felt when he did not smoke. As
marily on my intuition and imagination in soon as I said it, I realized that this rather threw
working my way through this transference re- us into the deep end. "You don't waste any
lationship. I think I did so with some success, time, do you?" he laughed, and I did too. In a
and since then Mann's work has both con- sense this was the beginning of rapport be-
firmed some of my thinking and influenced me tween us, for he took my directness and played
to consider other aspects of the transference. with it. And in that moment I experienced my
This article presents the narrative about the first feeling of liking toward him.
case in four parts, each of which represents a Noel told me that he was 37 and that, al-
phase of the transferential relationship. Each though artistically creative and successful, he
part describes the therapy process followed by found himself with nothing much either ma-
a theoretical discussion. I have selected those terially or emotionally in his personal life. He
aspects of the therapy that are most relevant to wanted to change this. In particular, he de-
this discussion, but, of course, this is not a clared himself to be deeply and passionately in
complete version ofwhat took place. The theo- love with a fellow artist, Anna, but he had
retical model of psychotherapy used in this messed up the relationship early on and now
case is the relational model that I developed with found it difficult to reconnect with her. He de-
scribed her as a woman of intense femininity:
She was not only physically beautiful, but also
This article was originallypresentedin a seminar ofthe had a receptive spirit, a tender heart, and was
same title at the Institute of Transactional Analysis (ITA) bright and wise. In fact, it turned out that it was
Conference in Keele, England, 5-8 April 2001, with dis-
cussants Richard Erskine and Charlotte Sills. The title de- she who had suggested that Noel enter therapy.
rivesfrom a song written by Leonard Cohen. I was struck by his passion for her and

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HELENA HARGADEN

immediately engaged in his dilemma. I liked This raised the question for me of how I could
the sound of her and felt her allure in the room; be powerful with him when pitted against such
maybe I, too, was falling in love with her. The an idealized situation. In his fantasy life there
problem seemed to be that Noel was frightened were no ties, no commitment-not to others
of making a commitment or even letting Anna and not to me. He idealized but never got close.
know of his love. There was no question in his What was he avoiding? Noel seemed stuck
mind and none in mine at this point about the with the desire and unable to transform it into
reciprocal nature of the love. anything more meaningful. Was he telling me
As the therapy relationship unfolded, it was of his impotence? I began feeling that I had
easy for me to like Noel. Our rapport contin- been on a merry-go-round. An aspect of my
ued. He was personable, intellectually curious, collusion may have been a fear that he would
and politically observant and had an ironic wit lapse into depression. If his love was an illu-
that I enjoyed since I have a similar sense of sion, what would happen if the veils were
humor. Many of our sessions involved him dragged away?
describing his feelings for Anna, his times with I did not share my experiences of him at this
her (they did some work together), his fear of stage because I thought he would find them in-
rejection, and the intensity of his desire and trusive and doing so would have been thera-
longing for her; he seemed to be hopelessly and peutically ineffective. I knew I had to get to
completely in love. I became imbued with a know him and that he was hiding behind his
passionate sense of how important it was that fantasy. At the same time, I never lost the feel-
he communicate to Anna that he was in love ing that contained within the fantasy was some-
with her. And while I had some misgivings at thing essentially authentic about Noel. My feel-
this stage-although I could not have articu- ing that I might be falling in love with Anna
lated them then-I repressed them, somehow was, I think, significant in this respect. So
knowing that at that point I needed to accept while not inclined to be cynical about the ro-
Noel at face value. manticism, I was now more alert to my naive
Thus, the first few months of the therapy assumptions that this was a case of romantic
were spent circling around his fear of com- love in the literal sense. But where was Noel?
mitment. After a while I began feeling some- Who was Noel? I knew I had to find him.
what restless. Noel did not seem to change, and
the sessions seemed repetitive. I began to won- Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All
der about the nature of the problem and to re- About You
flect on what Noel might really be trying to tell Noel continued to procrastinate about declar-
me. ing his love to Anna, and as the story unfolded,
Discussion: In this initial stage ofthe therapy I recognized that there was a considerable
I believe that I was partly seduced by Noel into amount of fantasy in what he told me. Again
believing in his story of true love-a love that and again he would revert to the story ofAnna.
had been ill starred from the beginning, one Not only was she beautiful, intelligent, crea-
fraught with misunderstanding and missed op- tive, and so on, but she was now also capable
portunities. He appealed to my romantic im- of profound therapeutic understanding. I began
agination. I found myself thinking of the great to feel that I had a rival. I felt envious of her,
loves from literature-Romeo and Juliet, that I could never measure up to her. I began to
Troilus and Cressida-or the lyrics of love be aware of other things, too. When not talking
songs. Retrospectively, I ask myself why was about Anna, Noel described some of his past
I preoccupied with those myths, the stories of relationships and how much he enjoyed making
idealized heterosexual unions that go badly love to women. In particular, he spoke fondly
wrong. Did he need to convince me about his and erotically about his last lover. At that point
heterosexuality? Or was it about potency? As it became clear that he had been celibate for
long as he did not tell Anna about his love, he seven years, and I was aware of feeling
could assume that she equally desired him and shocked and thinking, "What a waste." I began
therefore retain his power in the relationship. to notice that Noel often sat directly opposite

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THERE AIN'TNOCURE FOR WVE: THE PSYCHOTHERAPY OF ANEROTIC TRANSFERENCE

me in shorts with his legs open as he elaborated the therapy relationship? This made me reflect
on how much he enjoyed making love to wom- on my feelings with him. Maybe I was annoyed
en. Partly I wanted to feel amused at the trans- about being attracted to him because I felt that
parency of what he was saying and how he was he was "turning me on" only to withhold. Even
behaving, but instead I was annoyed to realize though rationally we both knew that this was a
that I felt sexually attracted by the idea that he therapeutic relationship, I think we both brack-
was such a good lover. eted those aspects of reality to allow the sado-
As he learned to trust me more his story masochistic dynamic to develop within the re-
gradually unfolded. I learned that he had often lationship. The fact that he knew there could be
been beaten by his father and had experienced no sexual contact felt like part of the tease.
his mother as ineffectual. His father had been This alerted me to the potentially sadistic as-
religious and puritanical, a union man with a pect of his sexuality; in fact, this turned out to
clearly frustrated passion that he expressed in be his pattern with women: to make them in-
envious attacks on his son. Noel's mother not terested and then withhold. At this stage I also
only seemed subservient to his father, but she wondered about Anna: Was she desperately
also used his father's violence as a way of waiting for him to get on with it? Or was that a
keeping control of the children. Noel both ad- fantasy?
mired and hated his father. He loved his mother My resistance was, in part, also due to my
yet felt rage and hurt at her betrayal. It was not feelings of insecurity about sex rearing its head
until much later in the therapeutic relationship within the therapy relationship. The incest ta-
that I came to understand that Noel's father ex- boo is strong and has permeated our under-
pressed a type ofsexual passion in the beatings standing of the therapeutic process so effec-
he gave his children and that Noel took some tively that Mann's (1997) seminal work on the
pleasure in first provoking an attack and then subject was not written until the late 1990s. Yet
denying any pain. I was struck by the sado- in my relationship with Noel, sexuality was
masochistic dynamic, although it was not clear intimately tied up in the problem that he faced
who was, in reality, beating whom. This dy- in finding a companion with whom to spend his
namic had bred in Noel an intense love/hate life. My resistance may also have been a re-
feeling that had left a scar on his heart; his sponse to picking up on his passive aggression:
sense of how to love and how to express pas- an "I will not be seduced" feeling or, "If I am,
sion had been distorted and subverted. I will not let you know about it."
Shortly after this phase of the therapy began, I also felt intimidated by his fantasy, as I said
Noel embarked on his first sexual relationship before. The idealized woman he described in-
in seven years. I thought this indicated that the creasingly took on aspects of a goddess to
therapy was working. However, his choice of whom one may aspire but with whom one may
a partner was disastrous (the woman sounded never compete. As I analyzed my countertrans-
highly disturbed), and he had a truly dreadful ference, I recognized my sense of impotence
time with her. Of course, she did not match up when pitted against the reality of Anna. Was I
to Anna, and the reality and difficulties of the being invited to experience how it had been
relationship threw Noel back into a prolonged between Noel and his father? I also wondered
examination yet again of why it should and if there was a sexual element in his father's
needed to be Anna with whom he settled down. arousal-a sexuality that resulted in Noel's
Discussion: In this phase of the therapy I humiliation and brutality. Because of this, it
recognized two prominent features ofmy coun- seemed to me that to share my experience at
tertransference. I felt strongly invited, maybe this stage could be potentially brutal and hu-
even provoked, into feeling attracted toward miliating to Noel. As I said, part of me wanted
Noel, and at the same time I felt intense re- to be amused, to laugh at him, and I feel sure
sistance tinged with frustration at that idea. I that this was an unconscious manifestation of
felt that I was being teased. Was I being titil- the original protocol.
lated and then denied since we both knew that In reflecting on my countertransference, it
sexual contact could not occur in the context of occurred to me that my position of amused

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HELENA HARGADEN

detachment may also have been designed to schedule that I have a family. He could also see
protect me from feeling vulnerable and/or some evidence of this when he looked into the
shamed because of having sexual feelings to- garden outside my consulting room.
ward my patient. As I thought about these ele- At about this time he came in with the fol-
ments, it seemed that the question for me and lowing dream. He dreamed that he was in a
for us was how I could have congruent, in- regular session with me, and then in the next
timate contact with Noel. Together we had re- scene he was on a high building where a man
created an interpersonal dynamic that, in part, was trying to kiss him. He recoiled and fell off
appeared to reflect the father-son relationship. the building. I arrived, dressed in white, to tend
Perhaps the task now was to find a way to to him. In the next scene he and I are walking
transform this dynamic into an emotionally along with a child in a pram. Next he is trying
close and intimate one. Mann (1997) wrote to get into my house, banging on windows and
about the transformational possibilities inherent doors. I am inside entertaining, unseeing and
in a creative analysis ofthe erotic countertrans- impervious to him. He spots a man, dark, in the
ference. As I analyzed my countertransference, garden (who could have been him) and feels
I became more accepting of my feelings. I rec- caught and embarrassed so he leaves.
ognized how much I liked Noel and what real When reflecting on the dream, my analyst
attractive qualities he held for me. He was supervisor at the time suggested that the man
creative in the arts, and we shared a love of lit- represented Noel's latent homosexuality. But I
erature and art. I also came from a political wondered if it was representative of his re-
background, so we met intellectually and po- lationship with his father-elose but brutal (the
litically as well. When researching the erotic jumping off the building.) However, as already
transference I came across Diamond (1993), suggested, it could be that Noel's close rela-
who emphasized the therapist's capacity and tionship with his father, who was brutal, also
willingness to integrate fully and move fluidly contained elements of the homoerotic, which
between his or her own masculine and femi- left Noel afraid of his homosexual aspects and
nine attributes and his or her own heterosexual ambivalent about his sexuality.
and homosexual responses. Iri this therapy I When talking about the dream with Noel, he
was now involved in the full scope of my own particularly liked the part about us having the
sexuality. child in the pram, which we understood as
symbolic of the product of our union. I also
I Need You to Believe in Me thought of it in terms of us bringing his Child
In the third phase of the therapy I relaxed into the relationship. One of the themes of our
into the relationship, which was reflected in relationship was that he felt naked and defense-
subtle changes in the dynamic between us. For less in front ofme. He often complained that he
instance, Anna became less of a focus, al- wanted to perform for me but I did not allow it:
though if Noel felt too threatened, he would no sex, no art, no seduction. He bemoaned this
bring her into the conversation. I could rec- frequently but somehow I always felt that he
ognize the extent to which I had made a thera- was saying, "Thank you for seeing me." I was
peutic error by the amount of time spent on confirmed in this shortly after the dream, for in
Anna. So, although often I experienced feelings discussing it I brought up more overtly some of
of mutuality and warmth, I only had to misun- the sexual feelings between us in a way that
derstand him or be misattuned in some way- was bearable for him and for us. He seemed
perhaps by referring to the limitations of our pleased and at the same time told me that he
relationship (i.e., overemphasize here-and-now would be brokenhearted if I betrayed his trust
reality)-and he would take refuge and sud- and seduced him sexually. I turned this around
denly become tangential by talking about Anna and asked him if! should resist all his attempts
or rambling on about something else. I was to seduce me, thus letting him know that I had
often, therefore, reminded ofthe fragility ofour noticed him sexually. He seemed pleased with
relationship. Noel knew little about my per- this interpretation and at the same time was still
sonal life, but he inferred from my practice keen for me to understand that he resented the

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THERE AIN'TNOCURE FOR LOVE: THE PSYCHOTHERAPY OF AN EROTIC TRANSFERENCE

fact that he would be used sexually. I think his conception-s-or did it mean I was idealized
response reflected the quality of the impasse and/or an angel or goddess-type figure? What
between us: I am to be seduced but not seduced to make of the end of the dream? Was he un-
and given all the responsibility for whatever able to enter my house? Could he only ob-
happened. Linked to this was my realization serve? Was this about his potency? Could the
that Noel wanted to impress me as a substitute dream be telling us about the obvious limita-
for emotional relating, and yet he made it clear tions ofour relationship? Perhaps the exclusion
how important it was to him to be seen and from my house was a breakthrough of Adult
valued just for himself. He grinned once and ego in that somewhere he knew, understood,
said, "I just can't pull the wool over your eyes, accepted, and even welcomed the boundaries
can IT' And he looked pleased. "I feel naked in and limitations of our relationship. For in-
here because I can't use the things I usually use stance, one of the things I had come to under-
to impress women." stand by now was that an essential ingredient in
Discussion: I think the vital issue in this his fantasy was that he never found out the
phase of the therapy was that I had sufficiently truth about whether Anna (or other women)
analyzed my countertransference so that I really found him as attractive as he imagined
could feel less frightened ofthe sexual feelings they did. By letting him know that I found him
in the relationship and could understand the attractive, I broke through some of this, but
sadomasochistic element. Thus I did not either then I felt the trap of not being able to enact it,
enact hostility toward him or become seductive which reflected a significant aspect of the fan-
with him. I became clearer in this phase about tasy: It kept women at a distance, waiting and
the role of his fantasy life, because whenever I hoping and never getting.
was too blunt or assumed a more Adult ego
awareness than was the case, he slipped into I Want You
talking about Anna. At the same time, I al- As the transference deepened, Noel's expec-
lowed the ebb and flow of my own sexual tations ofand demands on me increased. In this
responses either to him and/or to Anna to exist phase he replicated his feeling toward Anna in
without trying to repress them. Noel and Anna his relationship with me. The pull from his
were becoming increasingly more fused in Child was so strong that I started to feel mater-
terms of my emotional and sexual responding. nal toward him and inclined toward nurturing
The dream suggested many possibilities. him and acting on his demands. For example,
Often one can see a thread and theme in a one day he came in rapidly, after a break, sat
dream, but this one seemed particularly coded forward earnestly, opened his appointment
to me. I understood that it seemed to reflect his diary, and said, "This can't go on. I need to see
struggle with his core sense of who he was in you more regularly." I was surprised and
the world. It seemed important for him to tell slightly anxious. I thought he meant that he
me about his sexual energy, but it was not clear needed to see me twice a week, but it trans-
how much he was in it versus how much he pired that he felt that he needed to see me dur-
was observing himself in it. I thought the ing my holidays and expected me to make a
dream positive on several levels. It demon- special case of him. One of my initial re-
strated that I was in his psyche, in his uncon- sponses was to say, yes, of course I will make
scious, and that in that place I represented the a special case of you. I wanted to fold him in
potential for closeness and procreation and my arms, put him in a carry cot, and bring him
therefore sexual intercourse and intimacy. In away on holiday with us. I also wanted to make
his dream I heal him, tend to him, and make ajoke out of it, perhaps in the sadistic fashion
him better, the result of which seems to be that reflective of his father. Instead, I was able
we have afour child together. Does the dream easily to show tenderness toward him and in-
refer to his fear of homosexuality; am I the per- terpret his need for holding and loving without
son who will "cure" him and with whom he shaming him or acting on it.
will have a baby? My white dress could sug- After the break he chose not to come twice a
gest purity-maybe it was the immaculate week but started to become more hostile in the

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HELENA HARGADEN

sessions, arguing with me about why it was my maternal countertransferential response was
time, my house, and my agenda. He suggested one of nurture and a feeling of needing to meet
that we meet halfway. I wondered ifhe wanted his needs; my paternal countertransferential re-
to deny the therapy relationship and make it sponse was to scoff at the need. I was imme-
into something else. But he persisted with his diately aware of the duality of my experience.
points, impervious to my reasoning. I stayed in Knowing this enabled me to respond with ten-
the battle with him but remained firm. He derness and to interpret his need without sham-
vented his frustration and anger, "hitting" me ing him, thus avoiding reenacting the intrusive,
in all my sore spots about equality, fairness, de- controlling mothering or the sadistic fathering
mocracy, and so on. However, I kept myself he had experienced from his parents. I think
anchored, believing that these were all ploys to this was a critical moment in the therapy. In not
subvert the therapy and attempt to make it into getting the need met with me, Noel became
a friendship-or something else. In these mo- frustrated enough to break through his fantasy
ments he was forced to recognize the limita- and attempt to get his needs met in a more
tions of our relationship. realistic way. Diamond (1993) wrote that the
Noel's frustration with me manifested itself client's capacity to separate from the symbiosis
in a more conscious attempt to get his needs depends, in part, on the therapist's capacity to
met elsewhere. After a break, he revealed that experience both maternal and paternal identifi-
he had met a new woman. This time there was cation.
a different feeling. She was in a different career The added information about the circum-
area and also in therapy. This sounded hopeful. stances of Noel's conception and infancy is
He was hopeful. As their relationship pro- enormously significant; it is not difficult to
gressed, we visited again the terrain with Anna. imagine that Noel's mother was probably de-
He reported feeling the gulf between his ex- pressed and not very available to her infant son
perience with Jane (his new girlfriend) and because of the stillbirth. Although the mother/
how she just did not compare with Anna. We infant dyad has traditionally been sanitized of
seemed to have arrived at a pivotal moment in its erotic content, there is evidence to suggest
the therapy. He believed that he now really had that conscious and unconscious eroticism is at
to make a choice. He did make some overtures the heart of this primary relationship (Kohut,
toward Anna, but what transpired made me 1971; Lichenstein, 1970).) When such love
realize that this love ofhis was not reciprocated goes wrong, can it be put right? How will the
and that his obsession was just that. However, psychotherapist understand the inarticulate
I did not confront him about this, but instead speech of the injured heart?
we explored some of his feelings. "Some say a heart is just like a wheel
At this point he brought a piece of informa- When you bend it, you can't mend it."
tion into the therapy that offered insight into (From a McGarrigle Sisters album)
the nature ofhis obsession. His mother had had In this case I think an accurate enough analy-
a stillbirth, his baby sister, just prior to his con- sis of the countertransference was crucial to my
ception. As we talked about this he expressed staying emotionally available to be with Noel.
a felt sense of having shared a womb with a It enabled me to avoid either behaving seduc-
ghost. Was it too fanciful to understand his ob- tively, which was a huge temptation; laughing
sessive need to fantasize in terms of the echo, at him, which was also tempting at times; or
the ghost of this sister who stalked his life in becoming hostile toward him.
the form of Anna-who was perhaps just a
convenient personification? Noel found this in- Is There a Cure for Love?
terpretation about his sister's ghostly influence How successful was this therapy? If we
on him useful; he connected with it and used it judge it by Noel's behavior in the world, there
to help him ground himself in the new, evolv- was some degree of success because he was
ing relationship with Jane. able to sustain an emotional closeness with
Discussion: This phase of therapy clearly Jane, work at the relationship, and deal with the
implicates Noel's experiences as an infant. My dissonance between his fantasy and reality. He

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THERE AIN'T NO CURE FOR WVE: THE PSYCHOTHERAPY OF AN EROTIC TRANSFERENCE

was increasingly able to tolerate both his own Perhaps one of the most significant trans-
and his partner's vulnerability. Through this actions I did not make in the work with Noel
process he became more confident in his ma- was to confront his fantasy of Anna. Would it
terial work and developed more realistic goals. be too fanciful to consider that, as a result of
Ultimately, however, he had to leave the ther- therapy, the full beauty of Anna remained in-
apy because he left town. I am not convinced tact but no longer outside Noel-that now she
that his dependency and/or sexuality needs was inside him?
were fully worked through with me, which I
think left him vulnerable to his defenses. Helena Hargaden, B.A. Hons. (English),
When reflecting on the work with Noel, one M.Sc. (Psychotherapy), Teaching and Super-
of the main areas in which there was some vising Transactional Analyst, has a psycho-
transformation and integration was between his therapy practice in South East London, where
masculine and feminine aspects as personified she lives with her family. She also teaches in
in the role of Anna in the therapy. My enthral- the M.Sc. in Transactional Analysis at the
lment and fascination with Anna intrigued me. Metanoia Institute in South West London. She
I felt sure that she was more than a fantasy, and is a member of the subclinical committee for
now I think back and wonder if Noel's depic- the development of transactional analysis
tion of Anna was so strong, passionate, and psychotherapy. Please send reprint requests to
feminine because he was, in fact, describing Helena Hargaden, 43 Brockley Park, London
those aspects of himself without knowing it. SE23 IPT, England; or by email at
My theory is that she personified split-off as- helena@hargadenfreeserve.co.uk .
pects of himself that he had been forced to
deny in the brutal relationship with his father. REFERENCES
Diamond, D. (1993). The paternal transference: A bridge
As he transferred some of those aspects of
to the erotic oedipal Psychoanalytic Inquiry. 13 (2),
Anna onto me, he was then able to let go of her 206-225.
and integrate those parts of himself through Hargaden, H., & Sills, C. (1999). The child ego state: An
me. integrative view. ITA News. 53. 20-24.
Hargaden, H., & Sills, C. (2001). Deconfusion of the child
Frequently, we seem to create unconscious
ego state. Transactional Analysis Journal, 31,55-70.
senses of self in relation to our earliest relation- Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self: A systematic
ships, including relational stories and self- approach to the psychoanalytic treatment of narcis-
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we currently believe to characterize our earliest
Lichenstein, H. (1970). Changing implicatims of the
relationships and earliest sense of self. In the concept of psychosexual development: An inquiry con-
therapy with Noel, I felt involved in the broad cerning the validity of classical psychoanalytic assump-
scope of my sexuality, including both hetero- tions concerning sexuality. Journal of the American
sexual and homosexual connections and pater- Psychoanalytic Association. 18.300-318.
Mann, D. (1997). Psychotherapy-An erotic relationship.
nal and maternal identifications. London: Routledge.

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