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Book Review: When the Past is Present by David Richo

by Abi Opall

· Book Reviews

Many are aware of the complexities that exist in human relationships, the dynamics of dealing with, and understanding ourselves. Some may be aware that sometimes the nature of our past relationships impact on our current relationships and how we choose to address issues we identify within ourselves that attempts to hinder our relationships now in one way or the other, could and would impact on the quality of our future relationships etc.

The book ‘When the Past is Present: Healing Emotional Wounds that Sabotage our Relationships’ by David Richo, is one of the best books that address issues around our emotional states and how to overcome the hurdles they present in us having what Richo coined, the ‘authentic you and I relationship’. An ‘authentic you and I relationship’, is a relationship where we deal with people as they really are, not as who they remind us of, who we expect them to be or who we think they are, based on our past relationships and past met or unmet needs.

This book talks about ‘transference’, the ‘unconscious displacement of feelings, attitudes, expectations, perceptions, reactions, beliefs and judgement that were appropriate to former figures in our lives, mostly parents, onto people in the present’.

The idea here is that all human beings, no matter who we are, even the most emotionally healthy person, engage in transference in one way or the other in their relationships - this includes relationships with partners, friends, colleagues, religious leaders, and the likes. Furthermore, we learn that not all transference is negative; some transferred emotions or needs are positive.

So for example, a negative transference could be, as a child, mum was very controlling, and as an adult, a man may become agitated at his wife if her behaviour triggered that memory of his mother.

Or perhaps, dad was such a great dad and was always there for us, so we expect that our spouse will be there for us just as dad was. The experience transferred here is positive, though the expectation now is for our spouse to be dad rather than himself.

Or we can transfer the quality we detest in one of our parents onto a boss, and find ourselves responding to our boss in a particular manner as a way to resolve the issue we have with that parent, though we are not addressing the issue directly with our parent.

Richo proposes that we transfer as a result of unresolved issues from our past, particularly from our childhood, as we learn about human relationships and expectations from our primary caregivers (our parents or any other person that fits that position).

In ‘When the Past is Present’ we are introduced to the five As of love: Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, Affection and Allowing to be self. The fives As of love is what we should all ideally have received in childhood and is what we seek in our adult relationships. However, a shortfall in childhood results in us seeking that which is missing in childhood in our adult life; therefore, we transfer those needs in our present relationships to meet them. We do this so that the person we are transferring to can see it and respond in a way that we would like and help us address those needs.

In this book, Richo helps us to understand the importance of bringing our transference to consciousness. So we can address them and build 'an authentic you and I relationship' where expectations, reactions, beliefs in relationships are not fuelled by past relationships. Instead, developed in a manner that we see our partners, our friends, our colleagues for who they are, not who we have projected onto them to be.

Furthermore, in this book, we learn about other things that influence our transferences, e.g. our fears, our compulsion to repeat negative experience, memories of maltreatment etc.

Richo structures the book in a way that it provides information, discusses challenges we encounter in relationships and provides resolution practices that we can engage in addressing these issues, moving from transference to transformation. This arrangement is consistent throughout the book, in each chapter.

The book combines psychology and spirituality to help individual address the issue of transference by bringing it to consciousness and working through them through loving-kindness.

While the book makes a lot of references to Jungian Psychology, and a pre-knowledge of Jung's archetypes and the concept of human shadow may be beneficial, the book is a worthy read.

The authour writes in a clear, concise and easily understandable manner, using very little psychological jargons and explaining clearly those used.

I love how the author uses quotes from different literary genres and religious text to exemplify or prove his points. For example, quotes from Shakespeare’s play, poetry by Emily Dickinson, quotations from the Bible and Buddhist texts. If you enjoy literature, you will enjoy this as it gives the book life and makes it easily relatable.

The concepts in this book are mind-boggling. One you will find fascinating if you engage it in thinking and assessing some of your current relationships, though not all our existing relationships are as a result of transference which is also explained in the book.

This book I believe will help anyone get to their truth if they are willing to engage the suggestions made, help to understand and respond to others better and works towards building more authentic relationships.

About The Author

Abi Opall is a wife, a mother of two and a lifestyle blogger & podcaster at An avid writer, book lover, and motivator, based in the U.K. She is passionate about supporting people to reach their full potential.

Connect with Abi on Facebook, Twitter or at her Official Website at

Read Abi's Book Review Inside Our Latest 2019 (B)old Winter Issue of BRAG!

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