This past Sunday a friend was trying to help me understand some recent events in my life. His first question was, “do you know what transference is?” I did not, so he shared this example. If I meet someone and his smile reminds me of someone who bullied me in high school, then I will undeservedly transfer those negative feelings to this new person. My emotions and feelings to this new person will not match how I should feel. It should be a clean slate.
Transference happens when the response does not match what happened. My friend went on to tell me that if I stepped on his toe and he responded by shooting me, that probably happened because of transference. His response of shooting me is more likely a response to having his toe stepped on several times by other people.
I called my wife after meeting my friend to share this explanation. Within minutes we found several more situations where we both had used transference on someone else. As I began to do the math, it seemed that maybe as many as 9 out of 10 disputes are suffering from transference.
My friend suggested two things when this happens. If someone is doing this to you, try to have a conversation about their hurt and keep them on topic. Continue to press them for explanations by saying something like, “help me understand this…” Eventually the person will bring up other stories similar to yours. At that moment you will know you are experiencing transference. This will give you compassion and sympathy for what the person is going through and you can show how you are acting differently than those before.
Also, be careful of doing this to others. If you hear yourself saying, “it’s just like that time before” or “this happens to me everytime” or “why do people do this to me?” These statements all reflect transference.
While using experience to make future decisions is important, sometimes we use old emotions in new situations. If someone cut you off in traffic yesterday because they were being a jerk that does not mean the next person is. Maybe the second person neglected to check their mirror and is now embarrassed. That is how transference can create an undeserved response. That is why we should be slow to respond with our emotions.
Question: How is transference creating stress in your life?