Transference and Counter Transference

Psychoanalysis provides a powerful tool to navigate challenging relationship patterns and ultimately enable more meaningful relationships. This phenomenon referred to in psychoanalysis as “transference and counter transference”, the subject of over a century’s detailed research, considers the role the unconscious plays in our relationships. It is one of, if not the, most important factor in any psychotherapeutic encounter, determining the course of the encounter and its ultimate success or failure. The exact same dynamic takes place in every single encounter between two people and effects how they see and relate to each other. Understanding this dynamic is invaluable in navigating your own relationships; both in overcoming relationship challenges and in developing more honest and meaningful relationships.

We have developed a method to identify this transference dynamic in a tool we call The Transference Identification Tool. This tool can be used by the layman without any training in or previous exposure to psychoanalysis.

Watch the video or read the transcript below if you would like to understand this better.

Transference Introduction

Transference and Counter transference is a well-known phenomenon in therapy. First coined by Freud in 1895, the concept of transference was identified by Freud in psychoanalysis. Freud recognized that his patients transferred a “false connection”[1] onto him without realising it consciously and without being able to control it.

So what is it?

Transference is a projection of a relationship dynamic that you as an individual have, onto another person. Usually this relationship dynamic mirrors the one you have with one of your parents. So you either project your relationship dynamic with your mother onto others, or your relationship with your father onto others. In therapy this occurs spontaneously, but it is also prevalent in our normal day to day relationships with friends, bosses, partners and others.

Where it becomes really interesting is that when you transfer onto someone, they adopt the behaviour of the person that your transference mimics. So in other words, if you are transferring onto the other person your relationship dynamic with your mom, that other person will relate back to you as if they are your mom – with the same dynamic. This is called counter-transference.

This explains why you sometimes get the same type of response from people that you meet again and again. Or you have the same pattern repeating itself in your romantic relationships. Or at work, with colleagues or your boss.

Navigating relationships are not easy. Often when we find ourselves in the same pattern with romantic partners, we consciously decide to behave in another way, or try to date someone totally different to the last person, but somehow you always end up with the same outcome. Or you are sure that people are just generally selfish, or dismissive, or belittling, or nasty, or emotionally unavailable, etc. The truth is that YOU are getting this result again and again. The question is WHY?

The answer to this question is in this phenomenon called Transference and Counter transference. It reflects what you are communicating UNCONSCIOUSLY, in other words, what you are putting out there that you are unaware of. You know how you can look at someone else and see what their attitude is towards people and the world? Chances are they are not aware of it consciously and their attitude is unconscious. It is the same with you. You think you have a specific attitude and perspective on people and situations, but actually there is something else, entirely different to what you think you are communicating, going on unconsciously. It is very difficult to identify these unconscious dynamics and attitudes, and usually this causes an enormous amount of frustration and tears. There is nothing more infuriating that saying and relaying something to others and they just don’t listen or get you. Or they say they understand but they react completely differently to what you want.

There is however a way to realise what this unconscious attitude is that you are projecting out into the world and that is getting this repetitive response from others. This is a simple application, using your imagination and works on what you are consciously aware of.

I will use an example to explain this exercise to you. I would like to introduce you to Candice, she is an accountant at a big corporate. Candice is continuously receiving an attitude from people of being unavailable. Her partner is unavailable when she needs him most, and her friends too, even her boss is unavailable when she needs to resolve conflict or escalate issues at work.

So there are two things that Candice knows consciously:

1. When she needs help she asks for it.
2. Everyone is unavailable when she needs them.

So these are the two facts that she is aware of. How can Candice identify what it is that she is unconsciously projecting that gets this response?

The first thing Candice needs to do is to describe exactly what it is that she is experiencing by journaling about it.

Her journaling would look something like this:

When I need help and I am consciously asking for it, the other person usually has an excuse that they can’t get there. They don’t have available time.They are busy with other things. I feel like I am not important enough. Not high enough on their list of important people. They dismiss me and my needs. I feel invisible and unloved.

Now the next step is to look at what Candice has written and identify keywords. So looking at the above example, let’s identify some keywords:

  • Not available

  • No time

  • Too busy

  • Not important

  • Dismiss my needs

  • Invisible

  • Unloved

So now that you have some keywords, using your imagination, what do you think they are picking up from Candice’s unconscious communication? Be brutal here, so that you can get to the heart of the problem. Using the above example, I suggest the following statements are what Candice is putting out there unconsciously. Remember this is an attitude that Candice is unaware of, she is only aware of her conscious communication, in other words, her expression of needing help.

Here are some examples of what Candice’s unconscious communication may look like, based on her keywords that we highlighted above.

  • Don’t make time for me, I am unimportant.

  • I am invisible.

  • I am not lovable, you can dismiss me.

  • I understand if you are too busy for me.

  • I am unimportant, your needs are more important than mine.

So you can see that if Candice is projecting the above to her partner, friends and boss, it is no wonder that she is not getting help when she needs it.

Candice now needs to reflect on her primary relationship with her mother and father and see if any of these statements ring true for her in relation to her parental relationship dynamic. She is getting the same response from her partner, peers and employees that she used to get from her mom or dad? Once she has recognised this pattern in her relationship dynamic, then she will be able to change it by being conscious of it.

If you found this interesting and would like detailed information and access to the Transference Identification Tool, complete the process to receive three detailed videos. The videos are free and they will help you identify your particular relationship dynamic that is causing you frustration. The videos will go in to much more detail about the process and how to extrapolate your own unconscious dynamic. How to work with this dynamic once you have identified it; and ultimately how to relate to others more honestly and authentically.

This enlightening video series is brought to you by the Centre for Applied Jungian Studies.

[1] Quinodoz, J. M. (2013). Reading Freud: a chronological exploration of Freud’s writings. Routledge. P. 18

Get the rest of this video series now by signing up below!