Have you ever had a boss who could bring you to tears or enrage you to scary proportions? Do you ever wonder why you select certain people from an online dating service only to be disappointed time and again? Are you sometimes confused by an irrationally angry or frustrated response you have to a virtual stranger or acquaintance?
Most people can answer yes to these and similar questions. So, is the exaggerated emotion really about your boss, the blind date, or people you barely know? The answer is typically no. There is more to these interactions than the surface facts.
In psychotherapeutic terms, this phenomenon is a transference reaction. Originally theorized by Freud, the concept of transference, in a nutshell, means you become unconsciously triggered by a person or situation, and your reaction is fueled by an earlier unresolved experience that is in some way similar to the current situation or person.
I will help guide you, with a few simple steps, to become conscious of this behavior so it does not negatively impact your life and relationships.
Transference reaction, also called transference experience or just transference, might seem super confusing, but it’s something we all experience and, as a concept, is really quite simple.
To help clarify, let’s look at how transference plays into the original scenarios.
The boss: A male. Your heightened reaction to him does not have to do exclusively with him, but with something about him, maybe his voice pitch, his eyes, the way he walks, that reminds you of your father who was very controlling and belittling. Your fear-based or approval-seeking behavior with your boss is related to your childhood experience but is informing your current work situation. You are transferring charged emotions from unresolved issues with your father to your boss.
Online dating: You’re a male seeking a female. Your past relationships have all ended with your partner being unfaithful. Since all you know about the prospective woman is what she has written and the couple pictures she posted, you tend to project your desires and fears about women and relationships onto her based on your past romances. But there is an earlier downloaded blueprint about women and how they are that informs your dating preference. Even in this superficial “filtering” process, you are drawn to the same types of women that are somehow familiar to you. There is an unconscious recognition and a compulsion to repeat what you have seen, most likely in your family of origin, which becomes what you recognize as love, although it does not produce the result you seek. Again, this is an example of transferring feelings from a past situation onto your current and potentially future relationships.
It’s important to note that these reactions do not have to be with solid, long-term relationships you are trying to form. It can be a fleeting interaction, like with a cab driver, or a waiter or a sales clerk who completely annoys you for no obvious reason. But if you dig a little deeper and ask a few key questions, it might be revealed that the stranger reminds you of an incident or person from your past or an “original injury”(a.k.a. experience that left a wound).
As you read these scenarios, think about reactions you have to certain people and situations in your life. Where do you transfer feelings from a past injury into the present? If your response to a scenario or incident is extreme in relation to what is actually happening in the present moment, this is a hint you may be having a transference experience.
To help you gain clarity and find the root (original) injury, ask yourself the following questions:
- Where have I felt like this before?
- Why is this familiar?
- Who does this person remind me of?
When you connect the dots backward to the original injury, you can free yourself from the transference. You will move from being driven unconsciously to making a clear choice about how to respond rather than compulsively react in situations.
I know this might be a bit confusing, so please ask any questions and leave comments. Also, know that your insights can help others who are struggling, so share your stories and responses to the questions.
I hope you have a liberating week and, as always, take care of you.
Love Love Love
Terri Cole, founder and CEO of Live Fearless and Free, is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. For almost two decades, Terri has empowered companies, celebrities, professional athletes and individuals to Live Fearless and Free. Follow Terri on Twitter @terri_cole.