Inappropriate Relationship Behavior © Martyn Carruthers

Do you react to some people as if they were someone else?
Do some people react strangely to you?

What is Transference?

Imagine that someone owes you a lot of money … and that you meet a person who looks quite like your debtor. How would you spontaneously feel? That’s transference.

Do you remember feeling in love with someone, perhaps a person with whom you never went the next step? Imagine that you meet a person now with a similar name and general appearance. How would you spontaneously feel? That’s transference.

Transferences are emotional experiences that may trigger inappropriate behavior. Although they are reactions to other relationships, people feeling strong emotions may be unaware of their distortion and act out inappropriate intimacy or irritation … often claiming that they are following their intuition or gut feelings.

Freud Eggs

Freud defined counter-transference in The Future Prospects of Psycho-Analytic Therapy (1910) as a therapist’s emotional entanglement with a client, and “a result of the patient’s influence on [the physician’s] unconscious feelings“. We expanded Freud’s work on counter-transference and developed some effective solutions.

Sigmund Freud noticed that some patients reacted to him as though he were their father, and that some patients seemed to fall in love with him. Freud concluded that his patients were unconsciously transferring feelings from earlier relationships onto him. His conclusions formed a basis for what he called
and psychoanalysis.

Was he acting fatherly by the prevailing middle-class Central European standards?


Freud wrote that every boy has an Oedipus Complex that affects his life – that every boy represses a sexual desire for his mother and jealousy toward his father. Is this part of Freud’s autobiography or a facet of Central European culture at Freud’s time? We mostly find such transferences in families where mothers are confused between their sons and lovers. (See Mother-Bonded Men)

Getting Junger

Carl Jung indicated wrote in 1946 that people in transferences and counter-transferences often experience conflicts, and that the ability to endure the
of those conflicts allows people to grow and to transform.

Jung warned that ‘counter-transference when an analyst cannot let go
of a patient … both fall into the same dark hole of unconsciousness

Freud wrote in his Introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis (1917) that he asked Jung what he thought of transference. Jung replied, ‘it is the alpha and omega of the analytic method‘. Freud responded, ‘Then you have grasped the main thing.’


Everyday Transferences

You meet someone and you immediately feel that “this will be fun” … or perhaps … “be careful!“. Are your feelings accurate assessments of other people? The most difficult people in your life may be those who somehow trigger your emotions!

The wife of a colleague was friendly until I started talking, and then she withdrew. I asked her what was happening and her voice became childish and angry. I asked her if I reminded her of someone. She said, “My step-father! He had a British accent like yours – I suddenly felt that you were him!” Martyn

If you react to a transference by being overly friendly or unfriendly, your actions will likely affect the other person’s behavior towards you. If your transferred feelings about that person become self-fulfilling, you may become convinced of the accuracy of your intuition or gut feelings.

A female student was staring at me with wide eyes. During a break, I asked her who I reminded her of. She said, “Nobody … wait … you remind me of my last boyfriend!.
Now I feel sad that you are not him. There is so much I want to tell him”.

Transference indicates a blurring of identities that can lead to confusion, anger, affairs or codependence. Ask yourself if this person would behave in the same way with a lawyer or a bank manager. Ask yourself how different your behavior might be if this person was of the other sex, younger, older or less attractive?

Common Signs of Transference

Transferences are a likely cause of people becoming resourceless or resourceful during meetings. Such people may call transferences positive or negative.

  • A positive transference may refer to an inappropriate pleasant reaction
  • A negative transference may refer to an inappropriate unpleasant reaction

Here are some signs of positive and negative transferences, although the issue is the appropriateness of your behavior, not the pleasure of transferred feelings.

Positive Transferences Negative Transferences
  1. attempts to touch you
  2. overly complimentary
  3. offers warm comments
  4. tells you intimate details
  5. tries to engage you in conversation
  6. asks personal questions
  7. asks for help with personal problems
  8. may say that you remind them of someone they liked
  1. avoids you
  2. overly critical
  3. offers cold comments
  4. avoids intimate details
  5. avoids conversation
  6. avoids personal questions
  7. avoids personal problems
  8. may say that you remind them of someone they disliked

Transference overlaps with projection, where people project their emotions or biography onto either specific individuals or onto the world generally, distorting how they perceive people. But doesn’t everyone do that? … Exactly!

Double Transference Loops

Where there are transferences, there will be reactions. If the reactions are also transferences, we call the result transference loops, which are very common in relationships. Loops can trigger both massive pleasure and massive suffering.

You noticed that whenever my husband rubbed his nose, I became irritated. I hadn’t realized that this reminded me of my angry father. Then we discovered that my way of showing irritation reminded my husband of his grandmother, who he liked very, very much.
No wonder our communication was sometimes totally crazy.

Transference loops can damage partnerships and teams. Transferences can trigger unexpected romances, conflicts and hidden agendas. Notice when you become unaccountably friendly, resourceless or irritated with someone.

I married a man with my father’s problems and I tried to rescue him. My husband
realized that he often didn’t see me as his wife … he saw me more as a daughter.
You helped us love each other for our qualities instead of our baggage.


Transferences & Transference Loops Part 2

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