Thinking About Transference in a New Way

Transference — erotic and otherwise — is worth an unconventional look.

What past events push one toward an unconscious like or dislike of his therapist? What previous learning does the patient now misapply to a stranger who offers help?

A child reacts to his parents based on reiterated experience. If the adults are pleasant and welcoming, his sentiments tend toward the benign. If the guardian’s proximity signals rash criticism, irrational outbursts, or inappropriate physical contact, he associates them with troubled, private states of mind and feeling.

The young one’s mood changes even in anticipation of adult attention. Looking forward to mom or dad’s return home from work can trigger joy or fear. Repeated signals of happiness or trouble will be learned. When an alcoholic overseer opens a beer can, the internal stir tells the child what might soon happen.

The scene or place connected to a wound matters. The familiar location informs a sensitive offspring of potential discomfort. A bedroom, for example, causes alarm if sexual abuse tends to occur there. The boy or girl’s emotional alteration becomes automatic. Conscious thought isn’t necessary.

We are thus conditioned by neglectful or abusive parents. The brain is a predictor, foreseeing danger. Our time at home trained us to notice subtle warning signs of mistreatment. High alert occurs in proximity to anyone resembling those who inflicted the injury, as if we are wearing glasses enlarging false positive features of menace. The distorting lenses sometimes govern how we see employers, friends, and lovers. Youthful coping mechanisms kick into gear.

A trauma survivor’s life is one of constant reliving.

What characteristics of the therapist contribute to this? First, counselors are most often older than the patient, just as the mom and dad were senior to him. The treating professional has an advantage of authority and power in the relationship, as guardians do. He also sets rules and requires their fulfillment. Payment is expected, rather like the home stipulation to do your chores, or else.

The doctor creates the schedule and determines the length of the session. If you wanted more intimacy with your parent, you might be frustrated by your provider’s boundaries. If you never felt special in the family, the doctor’s full caseload reminds you of growing up without status. You are one of a crowd, not first in line.

A clinician needn’t do anything remarkable to provoke a facsimile recreation of a historical script he never read. As if by magic, he arranges the set for the client’s long-running drama. The latter’s well of resentment, love, sadness, and yearning reveal themselves act by act.

A considerate and wise healer gives all his attention, looks in your eyes, and accepts you without judging. You know little about his life. His imputed resemblance to the rejecting sire allows you a mirage-like new chance at the love you never won. He assumes the form of the imagined caretaker you didn’t have, now come to life.

Transference is a kind of disguise, a costume the unknowing client applies to his doctor, who is taken for someone else. The apparel designer’s imagination fills him with qualities belonging elsewhere.

A risk exists here: the mistaken identity can overwhelm the therapist’s capacity to interpret it and refer it back to the initial source.

If this sounds like a guarantee of a bad outcome, however, it isn’t.

Once you accept the idea of transference, you may begin to actively catch the triggered emotions as they develop (or soon after) and work on their underlying cause: the ancient shadow of old relationships and the need to grieve them.

An erotic transference must be more tactfully managed. Tender feelings, romantic or not, are problematic even when unmentioned. While their connection to the past is identical to more common transferential moments, the universal hope for a sainted parent or perfect mate adds a layer of complexity to emotional resolution.

In each case, if your counselor does not overreact to your unhappiness, resentments, or thirst for unique closeness, your imbedded responses should lessen: they will be extinguished or unlearned with time. Likewise, the ability to recognize the difference between your doctor and early custodians is a first step toward doing the same with bosses, companions, and suitors.

People will be recognized more as they are, less similar to Halloween characters. Improved life choices and increasing ease of intimacy becomes possible.

Life and therapy offer us endless challenges. Muhammad Ali, a man who knew a bit about contests inside and outside the ring, offered this advice:

I hated every minute of training, but I said,
‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’


The first and last images above are both untitled painting by V.S. Gaitonde, the last from 1953. The middle work is called Painting No. 1, 1962, by the same artist.

22 thoughts on “Thinking About Transference in a New Way

  1. One thing that I have wondered about is the idea that transference can occur every day, by every person onto another fellow human being. The fact that we are all influenced at an early age by a human caregiver means that we all “transfer” this influence onto our adult experiences with life.

    However, I think that this transference can be very strong when we encounter people who are similar to our original caretakers, regardless of whether they are a therapist or not.

    I have had several different therapists over the years, and only one has triggered an incredibly intense transference, and for him as well a counter-transference, because we both strongly resemble familial characteristics from our extended families in an uncanny way.

    This is something that I think needs a solution in therapy. It is immensely frustrating to meet someone in a therapeutic setting and not be able to have a relationship. The power imbalance is flawed, IMO.

    Not sure if there is a solution to that though.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The transference can be thought of in “learning theory” terms as “stimulus generalization. I didn’t want to get too bogged down in the terminology for the purpose of this essay and those who might never have encountered that concept. You are doubtless right about how it is, to a limited degree, an everyday event, though more dramatic and meaningful when a therapist is involved, someone you see regularly and share so much with. As to the power differential, few would deny it, but the solution has thus far escaped all of us. Thanks, Wildheart.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting idea, because it brings into question then the concept of choice. If we all are responding according to a subconscious learned response, then where is the human will involved?

        I hope you don’t mind my questions, I have been told I overthink everything. 🙈

        Liked by 1 person

      • This is a big question. Scientists raise the possibility that once we have the ability to discover all that is encoded in the brain, we will realize some combination of that which is baked into the cake and an individual’s history will predict every thought and action. Meaning, of course, there will be no room for will. Obviously, most of us think we have will and make choices that could go one way or the other. The jury is out.


      • That is something to ponder, because what then happens to meaningful purpose for living if we are in fact just a collection of atoms?
        On the other hand, I think that an explanation for mental illness would be beneficial for many reasons. As a registered nurse working on an acute mental health unit, I see the shame many feel in the struggle to battle mental illnesses that are not only difficult to understand but also no one’s fault( just like any other disease I suppose).
        Any way I’ve digressed quite far off the main topic. Thank you for your posts, I always appreciate them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love love love this post! Thank you, Dr. S. What makes this post different from the information provided online or in textbooks is your tone in really understanding the perspective of the client in relationship with the therapist. Most textbooks and online descriptions of transference write about it as a negative, or write about it as an either/or (if the different types of transference were to be thought of as different “personalities” of the person, or different co-experiences within a given dyad). Thus, I would suspect that the conventional training for transference consists of approaching it with caution, as opposed to care. The caution, however, can be seen as a negative when therapists don’t understand its role in the therapeutic alliance and in therapy. You clearly stated an alternative view to show that transference is not only understandable, given the conditioning the client has experienced earlier in life, but also welcomed as a tool to use in therapy. Using transference as a tool is not a new concept, but how that transference can be utilized is. Your description about how transference can be used as a tool for therapy seems to me like a form of “desensitization,” which is somewhat similar to what therapies are offered to veterans, though not in the same context at all. If learning theory, as you mentioned in a previous reply to a comment, is the crux of transference, then unlearning, or desensitizing, would make sense as a therapeutic approach. Unlearning and desensitization take time, especially when the learned behavior – unconscious and conscious – is deeply ingrained from childhood or early adulthood, when the brain is still purported to form (at least by 24 or 25 years old). What I’d love to see is a post, or better yet, a book you could write on this unconventional tool, which could be used to advance research on clinical practice, clinical training, outcomes, and theoretical paradigms affiliated with transference. Your take on this is wise, and it is profound, but it is only as wise as you allow it to be. When I suggested earlier that maybe you could write a book, this is what I meant. Although, I understand if you don’t feel like writing a book. But as a client for many years who has dealt with transference issues in life and in treatment, as well as by retraumatizations in treatment and otherwise, a book like this could mean hope for those who are starving for change, healing, and an understanding of themselves and their own prognoses. What if a book could reveal issues with not only clients who transfer, but also therapists who transfer as well? What if a book could reveal what Schweder and other scholars reveal in their take on cultural psychology, cultural anthropology, psychological anthropology, and cognitive anthropology – that culture, or the broad ecological system, teaches us how to interact with others, and how to react to others, in such a way that our learned behavior becomes part of that transference, too? What if a book that you could write could influence news ways to train clinical psychologists and counselors in dealing with transference and counter-transference, and new approaches to treatments for various people with various trauma and/or victimization profiles (with embedded cultural sensitivities, of course)? As a client and as a student, I have been waiting for someone like you to state something like this – something I couldn’t possibly fathom, but something that I knew was out there somewhere because it explains my pain, and it explains part of my own failings in therapy as well as the failings of some therapists in my past as well. I have a really awesome therapist now, but maybe that’s because she’s about 20 years or so my junior; the therapists and others I’ve had a problem with tended to be those who (a) really abused their power, or (b) tended to be infantilizing, fragilizing, belittling, undermining, smothering, stoic, insensitive, and/or victim-blaming. In treatment, we learn how to utilize skills as part of our own individual responsibility, and we learn from the dynamics from the therapeutic alliance itself. Transference within the therapeutic dyad appear to be an important treatment tool, if we are to extrapolate what you said as an innovative first-step toward improving the ways we view transference and teach others about it. Transference, then, can be heterogeneous, but the crux of its theoretical origin is homogeneous; at least this is what I’m assuming since trasnference is neither either/or, but rather a normative phenomenon that occurs from learned experiences in the past – in particular, childhood. I’d love to see what you’d have to say about the therapist’s point of view on their own counter-transference, and more about the comparisons between the conventional views of transference and your new unconventional take on transference. The only example for where I saw counter-transference somewhat mentioned (though many other examples may exist) is in a book by Jurkovic (1997) called “Lost childhoods: The plight of the parentified child.” If you look at Chapter 8, entitled “Wounded Healer: From Parentified Child to Helping Professional,” Jurkovic discusses primarily the problems affiliated with being the “wounded healer,” which may include or allude to counter-transference issues (though I haven’t read that full chapter since I was skimming it for other information at the time). That’s one example of how counter-transference is seen primarily as a negative, or one where it is problematic in therapeutic settings. However, they still may allude to the conventional views of transference, as opposed to what you have discussed about unconventional views of transference. On a positive note, there’s an article that my current professional development mentor had offered me, which emphasizes the benefits of the wounded healer: Zerubavel & Wright (2012), “The Dilemma of the Wounded Healer.” I’m sure you’ve read into way many more articles than I have, but I thought I’d offer my humble two-cents’ worth just to weigh in to the need for more people like you, Dr. S, to explain other viewpoints about transference, and how that could help advance the field (or many other fields beyond psychology). In terms of trauma-informed practices, this would be huge because trauma-informed paradigms are utilized in criminal justice settings, juvenile justice settings, grade schools, community outreaches, and more. To best advance trauma-informed practices is to understand the heterogeneous nature of trauma and their related transference issues that should be dealt with. Building off on what a previous comment suggested, transference occurs in real life as well as in the therapeutic room. What better way to find healing than to embed new paradigms about transference in the therapeutic room as well as among trauma-informed communities that offer external instrumental and emotional support as well? Understanding how transference occurs in any given situation helps us to understand ourselves individually, ourselves in relation to another person (or other people), and ourselves as a unit with another person (or other people). Transference can also extend beyond the dyad and into political and group realms as well, and maybe it can influence our decision-making and our career paths, as exemplified or eluded by Jurkovic (1997). What you suggest, Dr. S., is wise and profound. 🙂 I find hope in what you said, and it excites me.


    • Delighted that you enjoyed, this, Multinomial. And yes, someone should write a book (unless someone already has)! Thanks, too, for the references.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “…your imbedded responses should lessen”. That is the moment the tears started. It sounds to me like a note of hope in this cloud of confusion that is therapy. I hope you don’t mind that I take away a promise of sorts that the pain and longing of reaching for that “unique closeness” is for a beneficial purpose – that I am headed down a path to healing and maybe maturity. Once there hopefully I can also figure out what to do with the transference I have from reading your blog! 🙂

    Thank you once again for a peak behind the curtain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m touched that this touched you, Rebecca. There is reason to hope. But beware of looks behind curtains. “The Great and Powerful Oz” might be less impressive than you were hoping!


  4. On the notion of counter-transference: “Transference is a kind of disguise, a costume the unknowing client applies to his doctor, who is taken for someone else. The apparel designer’s imagination fills him with qualities belonging elsewhere. /A risk exists here: the mistaken identity can overwhelm the therapist’s capacity to interpret it and refer it back to the initial source.”

    If the doctor is seen by the client as someone else, and then the transfer of feelings for that “someone else” is presented to the doctor, then how does the doctor differentiate between the source that needs identifying and the (over-) reactions to the doctor’s own methods of therapeutic engagement? What is counter-transference? What is a therapeutic mistake? What is therapeutic harm/abuse? What is pure transference (by the client), and how is that distinguished from therapeutic harm/abuse versus a therapeutic mistake/iatrogenic effect versus a therapist’s counter-transference? What if more than one of these issues exist in the “stage” that the therapist sets, and what if the therapist is as confused with the dynamic as their client?

    The presumption is that the therapist is well-trained and administering the correct treatment. However, there are times when therapists, bosses, friends, significant others, etc., make mistakes, or flat out abuse. When those dynamics enter the stage, it seems to be easier to blame the “victim” for transference than to admit therapeutic wrongdoing or an iatrogenic effect stemming from a therapeutic mistake, even when the client is transferring at the same time as re-experiencing some trauma or some mishap. In my own personal example, when a therapist tried to convince me that I needed to spend the night at her house, sit with her on her bed in her bedroom, be held by her for nearly an entire session, and hear her own painful history about how she was raped and couldn’t have children, I transferred so many different feelings toward her at the same time feeling re-traumatized and re-victimized by not only the setting, but the manner in which the therapy became about my enmeshment between the therapist’s unresolved therapeutic needs and my own. When I addressed this as a client to my therapist, she insisted that I transferred feelings about my own sexual abuse and rape onto her, and that if I had left her as my therapist, that I’d be abandoning her. I never had such an experience with any other therapist, so the good therapists I had before her gave me some reference point to know that this was wrong and unethical on her part. Still, I blamed myself for transferring, and I became starkly afraid of my feeling special because I got to spend time at her home and feel trusted enough and needed enough to hear her stories. When it was my turn to share about my own issues, or when I was told to name each alternate personality, time was short for me, and my desire for more time or closeness became an issue. I felt as though I was falling in love with my therapist, and that reminded me about feelings of falling in love with my best friend (before she had gotten murdered by some man when she was 13). So many emotions came to the surface, including the grossed-out feelings I got from being in her bedroom, and the fear-based feelings I had when being behind the closed door in her bedroom. Images of my father, my military sexual trauma (which I failed to even bring up with any therapist at that time or prior), and my then recent rape in 2004, meant that I was to blame for my feelings of transference on my therapist, even though my therapist had issues of her own. Other things I had mentioned in other comments transpired thereafter, such as her roommate getting jealous of me and then threatening my life, and my own therapist threatening me to slap a personality disorder on my record if I were to leave and abandon her. I never saw my leaving as abandoning her; I saw it as a necessary move because I wasn’t getting the treatment I needed, and this just didn’t feel right. But I felt transference, nonetheless, and there was no way that this experience helped me to resolve any issues; it made it worse.

    When a former mentor of mine explained how he was trying to work things out with his mother with me, and perhaps alluded to the notion that I reminded him of his (borderline) mother, I felt as if he was trying to attribute that diagnosis onto me, which reminded me of the therapy abuse I had experienced above, which then reminded me about the threats that came after. I transferred my feelings from therapy onto my former mentor, but I also experienced negative things that didn’t have anything to do with my mental illness or my transference. Juxtaposing these two experiences, I had to find my way to my own truth, and I am now in therapy to deal with recent events, so that I can eventually get back to the treatment I deserved initially – which has since been delayed because of new traumas and non-traumatic stressors. I made many mistakes because I thought that disclosing my personal information was something that my mentor wanted, in order to help him to help me with figuring out (eventually) what I would need to do to improve for future graduate school and/or clinical training. In his mind, however, it began as an exchange that turned into a counter-transference nightmare.

    Nothing about our relationship was professional, even though I continued to do work. It felt very similar to my therapist (per above) who had me pay for four-times-per-week therapy sessions by cleaning her house, working on her client files, etc. Somewhere in my experiences of these two very similar beings – in personality and in demeanor – I found myself having many different transference feelings toward them.

    Overall, I saw both therapist and mentor as mothers (even though their genders differed) much like mine, who were infantilizing, passive-aggressive, and “weak.”

    By infantilizing I mean the kind of fragilizing that comes with assuming that I needed to be held back, coddled, and cradled in life, or that I “was not ready” for certain things, even though I was intellectually, emotionally, and otherwise. My mother would constantly be afraid for me whenever I went out on my own to work at the age of 13, to leave the house and join the Marines when I was 21, etc. My mother never thought I could cook, so I never learned. My mother never thought I was strong enough, but my father thought I was too strong, so that countered that. My mother never left my abusive father, and she would blame herself over and over and over again for my father’s behaviors. My mother stayed and never learned her own self-worth or her voice to communicate her own needs; my father overpowered that. I feared my father and detested my mother, but I loved them both, and they loved me when they were finally lucid. I had good times with my parents, and I had bad times. Similarly, I had good times with my therapists, and I had bad times. I learned to leave the infantilizing nest and be the strong person I knew was in me, and I learned to do that later on in life with those who reminded me of both my mother and my abusive therapist.

    “I’m a grown up.” “I’m more intelligent than what they make me out to be.” “I’m independent; I’m sick of being smothered.” “I’m ready to move on.” “Why can’t you see that there’s healthier ways to approach me and approach life for yourselves?” “Why do I have to be the parent here, or the wise one here, or the mediator here?” “Why do I know better, but I cannot speak my mind?” “Why doesn’t anyone believe me?”

    By passive-aggressive I mean that words were never said directly. I hate mumbles, the silent treatment, and indirect actions that send me indirect messages over and over again – which felt like a sort of mind control. I wanted to say, “I’m not a mind-reader; tell me what you really think!” I wanted to say this to my parents, and I wanted to say this to my therapist and my former mentor. Only in the end when I left and made my direct laments as I left were both my therapist and former mentor finally honest with me; hell, it would have saved us all the time, heartache, and trouble if they were only honest and assertive to begin with. Again, why do I have to be the one to approach this first? I never had these issues with other therapists or other mentors; but it was precisely the kind of personality that resembled my mother that really got to me. It wasn’t so much my father as my mother, and I love my mom to pieces. But I have to convince my mother that her purpose in life isn’t about what she can do for other people; her purpose is enjoying life however she wants to enjoy life, and that she isn’t alive because she is to help her great granddaughter now, or because I “need” her to be alive; I want her to be alive because I love her for her, and as my mom, not because she is needed and has a job to do. She was parentified, so I learned to be parentified in some regards. It makes me sick when that turns into being passive-aggressive. “Oh, you’re too emotional and sensitive, so I cannot talk to you right now.” My response, “I’m emotional and sensitive because you’re not talking at all!”

    And, finally, when I mean “weak,” I mean the kind of person who cannot assert themselves because they are afraid of me or because they are afraid of themselves, or both. My mother was “weak” because she never asserted her needs above others’ needs, and because she made excuses for staying with an abusive husband (my father) rather than standing up to him and leaving him. My mother was “weak” because she threatened suicide and said things like, “Maybe I’d be better off dead.” I was three when I remember her saying those words, and I was about ten when my father took a knife and threatened his own life right after he threatened my mother’s life. They were both terribly “weak” when it came to loving themselves or each other, and they were weak with us kids. As a thirteen-year-old, I reported my father for domestic violence, but the cops just thought of me as a lying teen who didn’t get her way. Flash forward to adult life, I couldn’t report or even speak about my military sexual trauma for fears of the same reaction as the police when I tried to report my father, and it made me feel weak, and it made me see police as weak, and it reminded me about how weak everyone was who allowed all this to go on. I demanded righteousness and justice, and I had the strength within to know that none of this was right. I loved myself, but I feared being narcissistic and selfish, so I avoided even learning to express confidence. It was safer for me to play the role of infantilized and needy person, as opposed to strong and intelligent person. It was easier for me to appear weaker than the weak. But it drove me nuts because I DID DIFFERENTIATE MYSELF from them; I just had to be who I had to be to keep the peace. And if I had dissociated or lost time, then it was due to feeling so terribly scared of getting physically hurt or killed. I hated feeling sabotaged that way, and I hate it when people threaten me directly or indirectly, and when they treat me as if I’m a danger when I’m not. I’m not the stigmatized veteran Marine they make me out to be. I’m not the stigmatized “Split-movie” or “Sybil” they make me out to be when they hear or connect D.I.D. to me. I’m not the personality-disordered person they think I am, and I’m certainly not fragile or weak. I’m sick of weak, but I’m weak in some areas, so I’m sick of that, too. All of this is to say that it isn’t just my fault, or my transference. People make mistakes in their interpretations of you, and you make mistakes in allowing those people in power to make all the decisions for you, or to present to them that which is not assertive (i.e., weak), true (i.e., passive-aggressive), or strong (i.e., fragile). I should have been more strong and assertive and professional, but I really didn’t know that I could in those settings – at least until now. It took a new therapist to, in our second session together, identify what was my responsibility and theirs by asking me what I thought (as opposed to her just outright dictating to me what I should think).


    • It doesn’t sound that either life or therapists have served you well. There is no formula for determining either what is/isn’t transference and what is/isn’t countertransference. Therapist’s need to have a kind of confident humility as to such questions. Mistakes will be made, but it is malpractice to persist with treatment paradigms that don’t fit the client, especially where there are empirically validated treatments. In my view, any patient coming to a treating professional, whether with a medical or psychiatric diagnosis, needs to be his own advocate. Regrettably, life often puts the individual in a weakened state just when they need to take particular self care and accumulate knowledge of the kind of treatments/surgeries/medications being offered.

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      • I’m a difficult person to treat, so I cannot blame everything on everyone else. I want to blame because I’m angry and grieving, but when it boils down to it, I had a role to play, and I know it. I’ve been wanting justice for so long that I’ve displaced that anger in every other area of my life – any wrongs turn into this justice-need, which is wrong on my part. I have a hard time with facing myself, and I make it hard for anyone who tries to help me. After reading your After Life post, I was reminded about God, about this notion of “surrender,” and about my own responsibilities. It’s funny how I just happened to read through your blogs from the earliest blogs forward (while I’m reading your current postings that come through on a weekly basis), and I read the Anger and then the After Life post. It’s strange how those two posts stood out to me out of all the other posts you had published around that time, and it’s strange how I was reminded about God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance of me in my anger and my fear of death and my need to be in control and my need to blame. There’s something about your comments, Dr. Stein, that remind me about God’s heart. It’s more than a kind word that I rarely had growing up, or a few words of wisdom; it an amazement that I have when I felt God’s love working through other people, and how God sometimes protects me from transferring, which I can so easily do to anyone. With all the embarrassing comments I make, you have always responded with honest, wise, and kind words. I have not been so kind in my words to some people lately, or even about situations I describe from my recent or distal pasts. I forgot what it was like to be kind, even though it has been shown to me by so many different people. I wanted to remain in my anger because it hurts to feel kindness when your anger demands something else. But being flooded with kindness that I do not deserve, and then reminded of God at the oddest moments (it seems), shows me where I’ve gone wrong, and what arguments I present are moot. I’m sorry that I’ve been so argumentative, though I’m not sorry for raising questions and hopefully encouraging some different thoughts, or for spilling my own story and finding some relief in just getting it out online before I can find the courage to take this to my therapist. I’m afraid of therapists, but I need them in my life right now, and have always needed them to help me with all of the things I am too afraid to admit that I struggle with. I’m learning to not be so afraid anymore, and I will need to learn quickly how to keep my replies short (I’m just not there yet, but I will be). Thank you for your replies and for sharing your wisdom and knowledge.


      • I’m a bit dizzy on the pedestal, but I will take the praise and say “thank you.” Nothing about your comments strikes me as argumentative or offensive. If it helps to tell your story here, you may, though the length you’ve identified might reduce your audience. This audience member will try to read them, regardless, though I can’t promise I will always be able do as thorough a job as I’d like. Not that they aren’t worthy. Your story is one of a tenacious woman of integrity. That is how I see you.

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      • Thank you! And thanks for sharing how you see me. 🙂 I am really just trying to get the courage to share this stuff in treatment with my therapist. I feel like I go through a series of “practice runs” online and in my head, which is probably not a good idea, though I’m glad that you allow the freedom. Sorry about the dizzy.


  5. Dr. Stein, I read this post and particularly this passage with my heart pounding in my throat.

    “A considerate and wise healer gives all his attention, looks in your eyes, and accepts you without judging. You know little about his life. His imputed resemblance to the rejecting sire allows you a mirage-like new chance at the love you never won. He assumes the form of the imagined caretaker you didn’t have, now come to life.”

    My therapist does not remind me of anyone, but his kindness and gentleness is appealing to me. I did not have this with either parent and as I have posted, my upbringing was very difficult. I had thought transference meant that the therapist reminded the patient of someone from their earlier life? Whew! Heady stuff! This does make me feel less ashamed….the reason for this is possibly beyond my control?


  6. So, some questions, if I may?

    1. If transference happens from patient to therapist partly due to the fact that “you know little about his life”, then how do you rationalize counter-transference from therapist to patient, since the therapist knows a great deal about the patient’s inner and outer life? Isn’t this a paradox? Therapists are not responding to a blank slate as it were.

    2. Can’t a person have 2 things going on, a) both real and true feelings for somebody alongside and at the same time as b) those feelings therapists attribute to transference?

    3. Can a patient have these deceptive feelings (you believe you care for somebody but really you’re replaying some kind of previous feelings for or about somebody else and laying them on the person you’re with at the moment) for multiple people during the same span of time?

    I had a therapist who told me a great deal about himself, his family, his friends, his childhood, his beliefs, etc., in part, I’m guessing, to try and get me to open up and reciprocate with similar revelations about myself so he could address the problems that brought me to him. I ended up becoming deeply attached, but unable to tell him my feelings face to face. The feelings for him were, and still are, very real. To label them “transference” feels very diminishing and hurtful. As Wildheart above wrote, “It is immensely frustrating to meet someone in a therapeutic setting and not be able to have a relationship”. It’s not just frustrating but sad and painful. I’ve been out of therapy for many years, yet the footprints he left on my heart are cemented in at this point, and the tears continue to flow for this cruel twist of fate that instead of meeting in a setting that might have led to a long and meaningful friendship, (and yes, I realize it might not have) we met under the one sure circumstance that would never allow such a relationship between us.


  7. Transference is, in a sense, more easily identifiable when the imputed characteristics of the therapist amount to beliefs and feelings that the patient has no access to: he becomes the construction of the patient, his “blanks” having been filled in. But yes, therapists have reactions to clients, too, sometimes because all they know about the client stirs unresolved emotions concerning their own past relationships. The answer to #2 is yes. Yes, also, to #3: you can have multiple transferential kinds of relationships playing out simultaneously. As to your final paragraph, the fact that you had strong feelings might have been inevitable regardless of what your therapist told you about yourself. And, your expression of frustration is shared with many, as comments on this and other sites remind us over and over. Nor is the experience of such frustration unique to therapy: books and movies tell stories about people who met at the wrong moment or circumstance in their lives, a moment or circumstance that did not permit fulfillment of what might have been possible between them. One need only think of “Romeo & Juliet.”

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  8. Dr. Stein, having grown up in a home with an abusive father, I can relate with your clinical observation: “We are thus conditioned by neglectful or abusive parents. The brain is a predictor, foreseeing danger. Our time at home trained us to notice subtle warning signs of mistreatment.” I believe that the same could also apply to those among us who have grown up with privileges they now see threatened by foreign intruders.

    I’ve come to this conclusion after watching the movie, 22 JULY, released on Netflix. It’s based on the true story of Anders Behring Breivik’s far-right terrorist attack in Oslo and Utøya, Norway, on July 22, 2011. The massacre resulted in the deaths of 77 people, many of them teenagers, with hundreds more left wounded. []

    Perhaps, you would argue that Anders Behring was a neglected child from a broken home. He, on the other hand, refuses to be labeled thus.


  9. I do not know the film, but remember the news coverage of the Breivik mass murder. I don’t know Breivik’s background. In any case, whatever his past experience and however much it might — might — help us understand his motives and actions, it did not give him license to kill. But, I believe the point of your first paragraph is spot on. You, of course, know it from the inside, as someone who has endured (and is now enduring) this double-offense.

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