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Unresolved Relationship Issues

Recognizing, addressing, and helping others deal with transference.

It was easy to identify transference with Karen because she openly talked about her painful mother-daughter relationship, communicating that I triggered conflictual feelings. Unfortunately, recognizing transference is not always so obvious. Here are a few real-life scenarios when transference can occur to give you a bigger picture:

  • Transference with an authority figure who elicits negative feelings connected to a parental wound.
    Marc had an emotionally distant father who liberally used sarcasm. Decades later, when a male boss or leader makes a sarcastic comment, Marc experiences the same shame and defensiveness he did when he was an adolescent. He then either writes off the leader or boss, or transfers his historic anger onto present tense relationships.
  • Transference with an authority figure who evokes unmet needs.
    Nadia’s mother was an addict and seldom available to her or her siblings. Whenever Nadia is led by an older, nurturing woman, she begins to call and email on a daily basis. Nadia’s deep needs overwhelm many of the authority figures in her life, causing them to retreat—further amplifying her fears of rejection.
  • Transference with a peer who triggers painful or traumatic memories.
    Daniel is a leader, but his many scars prevent him from leading effectively. During his childhood, his older sister routinely bullied and beat him up. Now, when strong or physically large women disagree with him, he lashes out and becomes highly critical—leaving them scratching their heads and wondering what just happened.

Though it is often unpleasant to be on the receiving end of transference, it can be productive if we remain objective. This requires keen self-awareness. We need to quickly recognize when our buttons are being pushed so that we do not engage in negative countertransference. As Steven Reidbord wrote in an article for Psychology Today, “Countertransference can serve as a sensitive interpersonal barometer, a finely tuned instrument in the field of social interaction.”

When the person we are leading transfers unwarranted emotions or feelings onto us, it can trigger a whole host of reactions in us, including insecurity, ambivalence, and resentment. While it might be tempting to simply blame our irritation on a needy individual, it’s imperative we not dismiss or blame them. We may have done or said something insensitive that caused them to feel angry or act out.

November21, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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