5 Signals to recognize ‘Double Exposure’ and how to solve this

In Healthcare it is all about the relationship between the patient and the caregiver. Warm and human relationships are healing for all parties.

But what happens if relationships are disturbed? And what can you do to solve these?

In this blog an explanation of a disturbance in case of ‘double exposure’, what it is, how it can be traced and resolved.

The red flag
Rob, healthcare professional in elderly care, came along with the following:

He does his job with great pleasure. He has heart for ‘his’ clients but 1 person has the effect on him like a red flag on a bull. He can’t get along with the older man.

Rob tells me that he feels increasingly uncomfortable with this situation. ‘This man always has something to grumble about’. He makes me feel small. Whatever I do, it never seems good enough,’ Rob adds despondently.

As you would expect, the ‘love’ was mutual. Rob was increasingly reluctant to visit the older man to look after him. The older man, in turn, also reacts surreptitiously and dismissively to his arrival and even asks about his colleague – whether he can just send her in……

Table ( Systemic) Constellation:
Rob and I set up a constellation with the wooden dummies I sometimes work with. Rob positions the wooden dummies for himself and one for the old man.

When he positions the dummy for the older man, Rob immediately shows a physical reaction. In short: he ‘shrinks’ on the spot, gets a different look in his eyes, almost begging for approval. He doesn’t speak the words out loud but we both feel the question in the air: Am I doing it right?

K: Who does this man remind you of?
R: My father.


What is this ‘Double exposure’?
A ‘double exposure’ means that we unconsciously exchange the person with whom we are currently dealing with, with another person from our past who we still have a claim on.

It is superimposed as two images resulting as one blur image. Both persons are not perceived as independent, completely different persons. We do not see the person we are dealing with now, the way he or she really is.

In other words: We interact with the new but react to the old. We no longer respond as adults, but as the small child we were in the past.

Indications are:
– You do not behave in a way that fits your age / position
– You react unusually violently to the other
– You feel ‘treated as a child’ by that person
– He or she reminds you of …..
– The relationship gets an inappropriate emotional charge/undertone

The solution:
Realizing that you are mixing up the person in question with someone else is a first step towards the solution. Sometimes this is enough. If not, a simple but effective intervention is the next step:

Take the two mixed up people and set each of them apart. (In the example of Rob we put the two dummies on two different spots on the table. ) Define exactly who is who. Separate the emotions and  feelings. Make sure you associate the right emotions and feelings with the correct person.

Check your reactions and adjust where needed. Try and repeat. Practice until you feel  you have enough clarity to see the two persons for who and what they, individually, truly are. 


For Rob:
In Rob’s case, he had exchanged the older man with his father. Something the man did triggered an old pain in Rob. A huge eye opener for him as it never occurred to him that a part of his youth could play such a big role in his current work: Although Rob has a good relationship with his father, he realizes that he still is looking for approval.

The above described intervention allowed him to see his father as his father and the client as a client.

He now sees the older man again ‘as he is’ and knows that from now on, while interacting with the man,  he is able to and will leave out the ‘reaction to his father’.

He will have a look into the need for approval, the ‘father part’ later, but for today  the question has been solved. Rob receives tips in case he still has the tendency to fall into the old patterns.

Some time later I talk to Rob again.
It’s a lot better. Occasionally he had to use the tips to get out of his pattern again but in general it is going well and the relationship with the older man has improved a lot.

Rob feels good about it: ‘ The air between us is clear now. I am able to see the man as he is and I can react and interact with him accordingly.’  Just like with his other clients.

And the client in turn? He sees and feels the change and today, as we speak, he accepts Rob’s help almost gratefully and without grumbling.