Transference:the Saviour, the Madonna and the Slut
At the very heart of psychoanalysis is the issue of transference- counter transference. Transference is a technical term describing a somewhat mysterious phenomenon that occurs when the patient ‘transfers’ their relationship with one or both of their parents onto the psychoanalyst.
We are dealing with this topic in the November Foundation Module, and I want to share just a little about it with you.
When we say they ‘transfer’ this relationship, what is meant is that, this is done unconsciously. On the surface the relationship consciously is between patient and psychoanalyst, however underpinning this conscious relatedness is another unconscious relatedness, between the patient and the image of the parent that has now been projected onto the psychoanalyst.
This is a very well documented interpersonal dynamic that occurs in psychoanalysis. It is at the very heart of the psychoanalytic process and the psychoanalyst attempts to use this transference to heal past wounds- whether imaginary or real.
What makes this interesting from our point of view, i.e. not as psychoanalysts but in daily life, is that although ‘discovered’ in psychoanalysis this phenomenon is definitely not limited to the psychoanalytic stetting. By contrast it is something which occurs frequently (possibly every time) in our personal relationships.
We transfer onto the other person (the ‘other’) an aspect of our own psychology.
This could be the parent as in psychoanalysis, but not necessarily. We can and do transfer different aspects of our unconscious mind onto the other in our relationships.
Typical Forms of Transference
This transference can be identified as following typical universal forms (in Jungian terms archetypes).
The mother (queen)
The father (king)
The child (prince/princess)
The hero or saviour
The fool or joker
The genius or magician
Now it’s important to understand that although the transference will almost always assume a typical (archetypal) form, it is still coloured by your personal psychology and history. Your idea of the mother and mine, although they share certain qualities will also differ in some respects.
To illustrate the universal nature of the archetypal transference, consider your relationship with a few of personalities, fitting the above categories, and how your transference onto these personalities is similar to most people in your community. These personalities have taken on a collective transference of a typical universal type.
(Father/king): Nelson Mandela, Barrack Obama, the Pope
(Mother/ queen): Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale, Mother Mary
(Child/ prince- princess): Tom Sawyer, Justin Bieber, Hannah Montana
(Lover): Casanova, Brad Pitt
(Nemesis): Osama bin Laden, Hitler
(Hero or saviour): Christ, Mohammed, Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King,
(Joker, mercurial spirit): Julius Malema(in SA), Borat, the Joker
(Genius or magician): Albert Einstein, Mozart, Sir Isaac Newton,
(Diva): Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Lady Gaga
(Rebel): James Dean, Che Guevara
Now in these naturally my own social prejudices’ are apparent, and not all may resonate with you, particularly if you have a different cultural background. To site a good example in much of the world Osama bin Laden would be seen as the hero and Obama as the nemesis. However even if my choices do not resonate for you, no doubt you will be able to name a likely replacement which better fits your own social prejudices’. The point I want to illustrate is that certain personalities have attracted a collective transference.
The Problem of Personal Sovereignty
Now please don’t get me wrong, transference is a complex and multilayered phenomenon. However in this post I only want to discuss one or two aspects of the issue.
One of these is that when you transfer an aspect of yourself onto the other, naturally that aspect now resides with them. This is quite strange if you think about it, because intuitively we think of ourselves as autonomous self contained beings.
How then is it that I can transfer an aspect of my psychology (or mind) onto you, and then have it reside in you? Well actually this is such a complicated question that it requires a post all of its own. I merely want to highlight for you here what we are talking about and some of the strange implications of the transference process.
The point is that once you transfer your father image onto your husband, therapist or boss- for you at least that is what they become. Not entirely, you know consciously that this is not your father, but unconsciously the relationship with this person is effectively the same as your father.
The transference, typical of any archetype, has dual nature. It can heal or harm.
Let’s consider an example from both scenarios.
The redeemer or saviour
The transference of the saviour by one person on another has the potential for healing both parties. (Not always of course, it can be destructive but let’s consider here how it can heal).
You are in need of saving or redemption (or whatever), and you find a likely candidate. Your transfer the inner saviour that is unconscious and latent in your psyche onto this person.
Now two interesting things happen.
Firstly, you are now able to actively engage, interact and dialogue with the ‘saviour’. This is often the very foundation of the healing that takes place in psychoanalysis. Now naturally the possibility of a dependence on the saviour is present, nevertheless this must be weighed against the very significant advantages of making the inner saviour complex conscious and concretised.
This is how we learn. We first relate to something outside of ourselves and then later assimilate these qualities into our own psychology. Hence the significance of the character of the teacher over and above the content of their teaching.
The second aspect, which must be considered, is the effect on the recipient of your saviour transference. What happens to him or her? Well, conceivably it is what allows them to access the very best and most noble aspect of their humanity. Because in saving you, I first need to save myself, and if you transfer your expectation of the saviour onto me, I feel an equal and consequent expectation within myself to be what you believe I am.
Space only allows me to share this very simple example with you, and naturally there are many different ways in which this dynamic will manifest. Also of course it is fraught with potential pitfalls and complications. However the significance I want to share with you is that the transference can be and often is extremely positive, constructive and healing.
The Madonna or slut
Okay now let’s consider a less constructive transference. A well known split in psychoanalysis is the Madonna- slut projection or transference. It works something like this: for some men (quite a few actually) there exist two types of woman in the world.
The one is the Madonna, the virginal mother, chaste and pure. Typically this image is initially transferred onto the boy’s actual mother, who somehow miraculously conceived him sans intercourse. Even when he learns the undeniable truth that in fact sexual intercourse must have taken place in order for him to have been conceived he represses this most unpleasant truth. Preferring to see his mother as virginal in spirit, if not in body.
Then when the boy reaches sexual maturity he then starts having sex (well hopefully anyway ) and the girls he sleeps with are essentially sluts, or something roughly equivalent anyway. They allow him all manner of unspeakable sexual acts which cannot be conceived of in the same conceptual frame (image) as his ‘virginal mother’.
Okay so far so good.
Here comes the problem, the boy one day is a man and now decides to wed. Who does he marry- the Madonna or the slut?
Either way you can see that there is going to be a problem-right?
Now in a ‘normal healthy psyche’ (whatever the hell that looks like), the idea is that the man is able to hold the tension of these two opposites and transfer both onto his wife. But in the case of many, many men this is very difficult if not impossible. And so he transfers either one or the other onto his wife. (Remember if it is transference, it is happening unconsciously).
Two problems with this:
Firstly the feminine archetype contains both poles, the chaste and the sexually active, the mother/daughter and the lover. If he (the husband) transfers the Madonna onto his wife, at the expense of the slut
1) Where does he connect with the slut? And,
2) what injury is suffered by his wife he is coerced into repression of her own sexuality?
Beyond this another serious problem with this transference is that that being inherently one sided (in true Jungian style) it is bound to invert at some point. The Madonna becomes the slut (his perfect wife it turns out is having an affair with the neighbour) or the previously sexually interested and passionate wife loses all interest in sex.
Transference is a natural psychological process, sometimes for the good and other times for the bad. It can serve you or severely prejudice you. It is inhuman to think you can either control or prevent it. However by becoming conscious of your transference patterns you can learn a lot about your unconscious psyche. How it operates, what attracts it and what repels it.
You can learn to understand your relationships on a deeper and more psychological level. Your relatedness can become more sophisticated and better serve you and those you relate to.
Through becoming conscious of your transference patterns you have the opportunity to regain personal sovereignty and to give the gift of your soul with greater discernment.