Recognizing Transference

Transference Have you ever had an experience where someone reminds you of a person you have known before and you view and interact with them as you did with that person from your past?  If so, you may be experiencing transference.

Transference Can Be Positive or Negative

Transference occurs when a person directs feelings and experiences of a person or figure from their past onto a completely unrelated person or object.  This can be either positive or negative and is a completely normal phenomenon that we are sometimes aware of.  For example, you recognize that the friendly neighbor next door who always greets you with a smile and a word of encouragement reminds you of your favorite high school English teacher.

Sometimes, however, transference is unconscious and subtle. We may not even discern that our responses in the present are really about experiences from the past.  For example, a strong emotional reaction to a partner’s seeming lack of response and engagement during a disagreement may be due to a similar experience of feeling ignored by a parent as a child.

Transference Can Show Up In Any Relationship

Transference can show up anywhere, in almost any relationship – with a spouse, a boss, a coworker, and even a therapist!  Furthermore, transference may not only affect how we see others but also how we see ourselves in relation to others.  For example, an encounter with a verbally aggressive colleague may remind an otherwise assertive individual of an incident with a bully in middle school. This encounter may cause him to feel afraid and trigger avoidant behavior of further interactions with that individual.

Talking with a therapist can help you to identify how and where transference may be showing up for you.  The process of recognizing transference is not always easy but can be helpful to healing unresolved emotional wounds.  When we don’t recognize and address negative transference, it can cause us to view situations and relationships through the lens of our past hurt. This limits our capacity for full awareness, understanding, and fulfillment in the present.  However, when transference is recognized and addressed, we can gain enlightenment and revelation about ourselves. This enables us to view and respond to present situations with a clearer perspective.


By Mary Jackson, LPC

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