The Strange World of Emotion

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Transference




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Love and Hate

The conventional usage of the term ‘transference’ is the description of the client’s interaction with the therapist in the counselling relationship. The client has transferred to the therapist intense feelings of affection, even love. Sexual thoughts and feelings are usually in evidence. Eventually this positive transference turns negative and the therapist is now regarded with hostility.

Love-hate relationships always indicate the presence of transference.

Sub - Headings
Stages
Negative effects
Origin
Emotional factors
References

Freud thought that the stage of affection and sexuality was the start of a process, which then reversed itself to end in hostility. Perhaps this is why Freud thought that sexual urges, or libido, underlay all personal relationships.

In fact, the stage of affection and sexuality is the second stage in the abreaction of guilt. In this stage, jealousy in self-pity mode is dominant; this mode of jealousy means that the client is seeking some form of social support. The closeness of the relationship with the therapist means that the client’s anxiety turns into sexual anxiety, and so sexual feelings are projected onto the analyst. [¹]

This phenomenon of transference can be prised apart into three separate, but closely related, parts. The whole process represents the usual form or pattern of bonding that a child has with a parent. [²]. A child never grows out of the bonding process, so that the relationships that the child has with its parents are continued into its adult life in its relationships with other people. The three parts of bonding, of the ‘transference’ situation, are imprinting, identification, and true transference. All three parts feature mind, will and emotion, but the emphasis differs. The emotion is always jealousy. The basic way that I separate them is that, for a heterosexual boy:



Transference itself can be split up into two broad factors, one focusing on sexuality and the other focusing on authority. Each parent is a source of both factors.

I give two definitions.

Sexual transference is the pattern of the parent’s sexual attitudes that is admired in other people.

Authority transference is the admiration of the pattern of authority and morality that is exerted by the parent.


What do these views entail?  When a man is acting from within his pattern of bonding (or the ‘transference’ situation) then at that moment his relationship with any woman is modelled on his relationship to his mother; similarly, he acts towards other men in accord with his relationship to his father.

Bonding means that the values and traits of parental character and identity that a child admires become the basis of the traits and values of adult character and identity that it will later, as an adult itself, admire in other people. All three factors carry through into adulthood and are involved, to some degree, in all forms of personal relationships.

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Stages

Imprinting. In the stage of imprinting, the child will follow the parent around the house. Similarly, the adult man, during the jealousy stage of the abreaction of guilt, may follow a woman that he admires, or who has given him support. When the jealousy mode of self-pity is particularly intense in a man, then the phenomenon of  ‘stalking’ may occur. The same process is visible in some young females (‘groupies’) through their sexual obsession with and pursuit of rock stars.

The stage of imprinting is not always noticeable. The stages of identification and transference work together and they usually take the limelight.


Identification. The stage of identification is the crucial one. If it does not occur, then imprinting does not end in transference. This stage represents the influence of character. If a child does not like a parent’s character, then it is unlikely to accept their values. [4]


Transference. This is the final stage and product of bonding. In this aspect of the bond, minds overlap: the child is part of the mother, and the mother is part of the child. Similarly in the father - child relationship. Hence transference produces overlapping ego boundaries. In my self-analysis I had to investigate which part of me is me, and which part of me is mother. Transference bonding is mutual; not only did I have a love - hate relationship to my mother, but also she had the same relationship to me!

The transference is mutual. It is the interpretation by the infant of the parent’s feelings and actions. It is the interpretation by the parent of the child’s feelings and actions. In infancy it is the child’s understanding that has paramount importance. In later childhood it is the parent’s views that dominate the child, as that child becomes subject to discipline and rewards and punishments. Transference is the transmission ( or the transfer ) of concepts of good and evil to the child ; this process is both conscious and subconscious in its operation.

The parent transfers concepts of good and evil to the child. Therefore transference is moral dependency – the child assumes the moral values of the parents, who in their turn had assumed the moral values of their parents. When a teenager leaves home he or she becomes mentally independent but not morally so. Transference provides the inter-personal bonds that maintain social relationships. Hence society is cemented together by transference rather than by any self-chosen values.


It is transference that produces the apparent uniformity of social values in any community or nation. Yet there are different levels to transference. When society is class-based, the classes have different domains of conscious and subconscious values and attitudes, hence different domains of repression and internal conflict. So transference always has a class base to it. The same remarks apply to a society that is caste-based, or has any other rigid hierarchy to social status.

When a child rebels in some ways against its parents, then it is rebelling against aspects of bonding. The child needs to try and establish its own identity, perhaps by aligning itself with peer groups. It usually has to reject some of the transference values, and hence reject some aspects of identification too. This is a blind process, since the child has no clear idea of what it wants. Once it finalises a mixture of parental values and peer-group values then it usually re-institutes some degree of identification.

During this process, the subconscious attempt to repudiate the influence of identification usually gives rise to the problem of hostile and aggressive behaviour. The reasons for this hostility often originate in the abreactional process. Each attempt to follow peer values instead of parental values institutes a catharsis; the consequent stages of resentment and bitterness focus on the restraints on freedom that the parental values are felt to have. [5]

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Negative Effects of Transference

The initial impulse that started my self-analysis was the desire to eliminate social conditioning. Social conditioning is an imposition of social rules that regulate social values and behaviour. In the backlash of resentment that is the tail-end of social abreaction, a new morality is created, along with a new sexuality. New moral and sexual values are created by social conditioning, and this conditioning, along with these values, is handed down through the generations by transference. Hence social conditioning has a factor of transference.

In the family situation, the values of transference are being imposed on a child. Now transference becomes an unsettling mixture of parental values, some of which are admired and some feared. For a person of sensitive character the transference is a source of internal conflict. Moral and sexual values that are grafted onto the child without its consent are just second-hand values. [6]

The parents transfer their moral and sexual values to the child. But this transfer is enmeshed in confusion, a confusion caused by repression. [7]. The parents’ attitudes and emotional responses exist in two forms, those openly expressed and those which are repressed. The expressed ones represent acceptable (to the family’s social network) moral and sexual values, and the repressed ones represent problematic, even immoral, values. The repressed ones, because they are considered to be undesirable in the existing state of society, are in conflict with the acceptable ones. If there were no conflict there would be no need for repression. But the repressed ones are still a source of motivation for the parent, though he or she is unaware of this motivation because it is subconscious.


Repression creates problems. Perhaps repression may work as a moral discipline in low-stress societies; in modern high-stress ones it is not very effective – repression will always fail when the level of stress becomes intolerable. When this occurs then the repressed attitudes and values rise, erupt, even explode, into the person’s relationships. The function of repression is to reject a problem from awareness. This does not eliminate the problem. The person just ceases to be aware of it. This can mean that a person, using repression, may still express (to others) what he or she considers to be undesirable, but he or she is no longer aware that they do so. For example, an observer can see that a person is being motivated by hate, even though that person, if questioned about it, would deny the hate.

Whatever is repressed can reappear in consciousness in an unrecognised form. Repression means that the parent is usually unaware of when he or she is acting from a stimulus that is derived from their problematic values. For example: one common consequence of denying guilt is to become obsessed with non-stop activity. The person turns into a workaholic. Whilst such activity may be valuable, it still indicates confusion within the mind.

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The young child is more receptive to the subconscious mind than an adult is, since the child has not yet built a superstructure of conditioning and rationality that effectively isolates its conscious mind from its subconscious mind. So the ambivalence and confusion in the parents’ values produces ambiguous feelings in the young child, since it is aware of the parent’s repressed emotions and attitudes, whilst the parent is not. If the child responds to the conscious attitudes of the parent, then it may be rewarded; but if it responds instead to the subconscious attitudes of the parent then it is likely to get punished. To ensure its own survival, the child has to learn to deny its awareness of the subconscious mind. The child becomes like the parent. So the confusion of the parent is absorbed by the child. Therefore, for each moral value that the child absorbs, it also absorbs the corresponding conflict.

Repression means that the parent is unaware of the ambivalence of their response; if the ambivalence is brought to the parent’s attention then they will either deny it or else (if they cannot deny it) find some way to rationalise and justify it, rather than alter their response. For example, anger in the child will not be acceptable to the parent, yet the parent will often get angry with the child; or the mother will expect the child to be considerate to her, whilst she finds fault with the child. The parent sees nothing contradictory in these responses, yet the child will be punished if it shows contradictory behaviour. This confusion, which the child has to deny and keep subconscious unless it wants to get punished, is a main source of conflict in the individual and in society.


I summarise the negative effects of transference:

In the drama of family life the child can detect the repressed aspects of the parent’s consciousness, but it is forced to deny this awareness. So the subconscious internal conflicts and confusions of the parents are transferred to the child, and become a part of its subconscious mind too.


Transference and social conditioning have some positive effects. Even confused values may be better than no values. If there are few limits to the ego, then it will find it very difficult to establish an harmonious life in society. A life within society always requires rules in order to create tolerable boundaries in each person’s relationships. But I am mainly interested in understanding the negative effects. Only by understanding the negative effects can the confusion be removed from ethical debate.

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Origin of Transference

Transference is created during the early months of an infant’s life, during the period when it is beginning to create an ego. I formulate the problem in the following way, using a perspective of reincarnation. The baby is very susceptible to the state of mind of the mother and her feelings (assuming that it is the mother who initially cares for the baby). The baby brings with it into incarnation its desires and sensitivities and abilities and conflicts from past lives. Its sensitivities and conflicts form its previous pattern of anxiety, which it brings with it ; this pattern then fuses with the mother’s conscious and subconscious motivations to produce a new pattern of anxiety, generating new phantasies and giving a different emphasis to its subconscious conflicts. [8]

During the early months of its life (before it creates its ego) the baby has no conscious mind; it only has a subconscious one. This makes it easy for the baby to attune to the mother’s subconscious mind, and to her internal conflicts too. One reason for this is that the subconscious mind operates without the limitations of rationality and social convention: it functions through intuition. Her intuition enables the mother to understand what the infant needs, but also the infant’s intuition enables it to attune to the mother’s mind too. 

[ Another way of attunement occurs when two people are close enough (spatially) to each other : emotion can flow from one person to the other via the auras. ]

An adult is not usually adequately aware of their degree of social conditioning. So the conditioning is subconscious, and much motivation is therefore subconscious motivation. [9]

In my view the intensity of emotional factors in modern man, modern woman, is greater than the intensity of their conscious desires and intentions. Whence dominant desires and intentions become only a response to or a rationalisation of the subconscious motivations. The conscious desire derives its power from the underlying subconscious motive, either from harmony with it or from being antagonistic to it. Any conscious desire that is free from subconscious forces has no power to motivate a person consistently and regularly. For example, moral and noble ideals are usually a reaction against powerful subconscious feelings of self-hate (as a mode of guilt).


Can the undesirable effects of social conditioning be eliminated? Most of them can be; perhaps even all of them. But it is often necessary for the individual to work alone, since he or she will be involved in the process of examining, and perhaps changing, some or all of their values. Subconscious motivation is eliminated only by insight into its cause and never by the use of discipline or reason or suggestion (these three uses only enable a person to control their subconscious motivation). At a much lesser intensity of involvement, social conditioning can be changed (rather than eliminated), for better or for worse. The influence of friends, a partner, and new environments can effect change.

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Emotional Factors

I turn to the emotional factors of transference.

Sexual transference is simply the effect of anxiety on sexual jealousy.

Jealousy = self-pity + love.

Anxiety = vanity + fear.


Therefore,

Sexual transference = fear + vanity + self-pity + love.
= (fear + love) + self-pity + vanity.


Since self-pity and vanity form a binary, or complementary pair ; they will cancel out each other when each is equal in intensity to the other one. [10]. When the intensities are unequal then whichever emotion is temporarily greater in intensity will prevail, reduced in effectiveness by the intensity of the lesser one. Hence the simplest form of sexual transference is:


Sexual transference = fear + love.

Authority transference has the same factors of fear and love, since the only difference is that jealousy now focuses on authority rather than on sexuality.


This result means that if a relationship is harmonious, love is emphasised and so ‘positive’ transference is in the ascendant. Then transference consists mainly of admired values. If the relationship is inharmonious, then fear is emphasised and ‘negative’ transference holds sway. Now transference highlights the feared values.

It is through the emphasis on the fear factor that transference plays its part in social conditioning. By contrast, the admired values (if they are ‘good’ ones) can lead to social learning.




References

The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it. For the addresses of my websites, see the Links page.

[¹]. My definitions, descriptions, and analysis of emotions are given in the three articles on Emotion. See first article or go to home page for list. [1]

[²]. The analysis of bonding is continued in the articles Bonding and Faith. [2]

[³]. The factors of ‘who I am’ and ‘what I am’ are given in the article Acquiring Attitudes, on my website Discover Your Mind. [3]

[4]. For a more detailed analysis of identification, see the article on Aspects of Personal Identity. [4]

[5]. My analysis of catharsis and the process of abreaction is given in the five articles on Abreaction. See first article or go to home page for list. [5]

[6]. There is an article on Sensitivity and Effects of Fear on my website Discover Your Mind[6]

[7]. See the article on Confusion. [7]

[8]. An article on the creation of the ego is Vulnerability of the Ego, on my website Patterns of Confusion. An abridged version is the article Creating the Ego, on my website Discover Your Mind[8]

[9]. Subconscious motivation is mentioned in the article on Confusion. [9]

[10]. The binary relationship of some emotions is explained in the first article on Emotion. See first article or go to home page for list of articles on Emotion. [10]


Books

Freud, S. Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Pelican
I prefer this book to the later version called New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.




Home List of  Articles Links Top of Page

The articles in this section are :

Transference - introduces the patterns of bonding.

Projection and Introjection - the basic loop of desire and emotion.

Power - the loop of power and happiness.

Aspects of Personal Identity - inferiority, social approval, and more.





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Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath
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Ian Heath
London, UK

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