Transference / Countertransference

TransferenceConversations can be frustrating and disappointing many times when all we want is to be heard and validated, yet we receive advice, judgment, control and criticism.

In the counseling profession there is a term called transference, in which one person subconsciously transfers what he or she is feeling to another person. For example, if I am feeling angry and am not consciously aware of my anger, I may assume you are angry. Countertransference is the same type of emotional transferring of feelings, this time from the second person back onto the person that did the transference.

I find that the potential of transference/countertransference exists, not just in therapy sessions, but in all conversations. I recently had a transference/countertransference experience that was a good reminder for me to be ever aware of the potential.

I wanted and needed to do something that required working with another professional. In order to do so, I needed to get approval from another colleague. What seemed to be a simple request turned out to be a big headache.

The colleague initially denied my request and presented a number of reasons that were inconsistent and incongruent. I began to feel controlled and manipulated. As I continued to negotiate, it became clear that their responses were not about me.

With the help of some feedback from others, I realized the inconsistency and incongruence of the responses indicated that some form of transference was occurring. I found it helpful to realize how easy and subtle it is for transference to occur. It prevented some of the people involved from hearing what I was actually requesting. Others, who did hear me, were able to help me explore deeper into my underlying motivation for this request.

This was a good reminder to be more aware of the possibility of transference. One way to reduce that possibility is to mirror back what I hear with the words and body language of the other person, with no interpretations of my own.

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