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Transference: "It's What We Do"

See also: Mental Health, Counseling and Personal Wholeness

Students of psychology will have heard the term "transference". This is defined as

TRANSFERENCE: The displacement of one's unresolved conflicts, dependencies, and aggressions onto a substitute object (e.g. substituting a lover, spouse, etc. for one's parent). This operation can also occur in the psychoanalytical cure, when a patient transfers onto the analyst feelings that were previously directed to another object. By working through this transference of feelings onto the analyst, the patient can come to grips with the actual cause of his or her feelings.

After contemplating this, and several discussions with the practitioners in the DC Area Guild of Body Psychotherapists, I am very comfortable with the realization that all people use a kind of transference for all their interactions. This larger view of the concept may tend to dilute its value for use as a tool by psychotherapists, but I think everyone should know how strong this phenomenon is. As humans, we can "see" only that which we know. If we have a larger paradigm, for instance, we can understand more from observing a situation (or a patient' case) than can other practitioners with a more bounded paradigm.

Simply put, I want us all to realize that every day we filter all the inputs that come to us through the filter of our previous knowledge. The people we encounter and their actions will make sense to us in terms of our background. We can have problems because of this. We may think they mean one thing by a certain action or word and they meant something else. An example is motioning someone to come over and say hello, and and doing this by a hand gesture of arm outstretched, palm upward and flexing the wrist; a simple intent, but that person may be offended because the gesture was in their culture reserved for commanding a pet, a dog for example. The offended person would have expected the hand to be facing palm down and the fingers curled/flexed inward.

I am seeing daily how powerful this concept of Transference is. I must be aware of my own presuppositions, and on top of that, be sensitive to the ways others may respond to my actions and my words. It can become nearly overwhelming at times. It seems that all of human experience is based on transferring our preconceptions and our desires onto our interactions with others. Sometimes it seems that humanity has this risky behavior as its major way of communicating, and it all too often causes problems.

So it is that I use the phrase "It's What We Do," to reflect the challenging reality that humankind has an inborn problem with listening and communicating. That is behind a lot of the work that I do in counseling and personal awareness. We want to empower the individual to be able to make their own choices and not depend on a practitioner. May this essay bring you more of the wholeness you seek.