The issue of Transference

It started with Sigmund Freud. He initially conceptualized the idea of transference – that people can place their feelings regarding a person or situation on to another due to unresolved issues. Solve the issue . . . POOF! -transference issues are gone!

But . . . Is it really though?

I do believe that there are certain situations that recur because of the past, but I don’t believe that we need to remain a prisoner of our past. There are certain cycles that repeat because of our nurture or grooming which continues to encourage us to accept unhealthy behaviors. I believe that recognizing those patterns can help us break the cycle but it is important to understand the balance of understanding our past and learn ways to utilize the tools we have effectively.

Some of my personal experience with “transference” felt forced; it almost felt like my problem with an individual was expected to disappear because my therapist at that time made a connection.  Reflecting back on that experience, I feel that the disrespectful behavior of that individual was overlooked in hopes that understanding transference would help solve the problem.

Research has shown that the cycle of abuse reoccurs in various forms unless you incorporate appropriate tools to address the behavioral issues.  Certain behaviors become the norm for an individual and make it difficult to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy behavior. For example, if you were taught to remain quiet or punished for asking questions, you may find yourself behaving the same way in different scenarios because it feels so normal. The similarities in the relationship and/or behavior is not limited to romantic relationships, it can be transferred to any aspect of your life.

For example, if you are in a toxic work environment, how do you deal with the hierarchy created by your abusive parents that match the behavior of your boss? Do you find yourself reacting similarly to your boss like how you responded to your parents?

So, what are some tools you can use after recognizing any transference issues?

  1. Understand that this is normal.   

  * Relationships are important to us and we continue to categorize our interactions involuntarily.  You are reacting the way you were taught to react.

  1.  Recognize the similarities and the difference in the current situation.

  * If your transference experience reminds you of your childhood, that is a similarity; reminding yourself that you are no longer a powerless child, is a difference.  You have awareness now that you did not have in the past.

  1.  Safety Plan.

  * Safety planning can include gathering some self-care activities when you feel overwhelmed with emotions. Transference isn’t always a negative experience; even when you are experiencing positive emotions, you may still need to “step away” to ground yourself.

  1.   Process with your therapist

  * Reach out to a professional to process this cycle. I strongly believe that we continue to re-experience the same situation in different settings because we still have something to learn from it.  Our perspective changes with time and working with a professional can help you understand the situation more objectively.

Most times transference/countertransference catches us off guard because of this idea of being “strong” or “get over it” belief system. As I mentioned earlier, this experience does not always have to be a negative experience but the fact that similar experiences are still repeating is an indicator that there are unresolved matters waiting to be addressed and explored.

Reach out and let’s discuss some healthy ways of coping with your past!

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