Have you ever had a boss who could bring you to tears or enrage you to scary proportions? Do you ever wonder why you select certain people from an online dating service only to be disappointed time and again? Are you sometimes confused by an irrationally angry or frustrated response you have to a virtual stranger or acquaintance?

Most people can answer yes to these and similar questions. So, is the exaggerated emotion really about your boss, the blind date, or people you barely know? The answer is typically no. There is more to these interactions than the surface facts.

In psychotherapeutic terms, this phenomenon is a transference reaction. Originally theorized by Freud, the concept of transference, in a nutshell, means you become unconsciously triggered by a person or situation, and your reaction is fueled by an earlier unresolved experience that is in someway similar to the current situation or person.

I will help guide you, with a few simple steps, to become conscious of this behavior so it does not negatively impact your life and relationships.

Transference reaction, also called transference experience or just transference, might seem super confusing, but it’s something we all experience and, as a concept, is really quite simple.

To help clarify, let’s look at how transference plays into the original scenarios.

The boss: A male. Your heightened reaction to him does not have to do exclusively with him, but with something about him, maybe his voice pitch, his eyes, the way he walks, that reminds you of your father who was very controlling and belittling. Your fear-based or approval-seeking behavior with your boss is related to your childhood experience but is informing your current work situation. You are transferring charged emotions from unresolved issues with your father to your boss.

Online dating: You’re a male seeking a female. Your past relationships have all ended with your partner being unfaithful. Since all you know about the prospective woman is what she has written and the couple pictures she posted, you tend to project your desires and fears about women and relationships onto her based on your past romances. But there is an earlier downloaded blueprint about women and how they are that informs your dating preference. Even in this superficial “filtering” process, you are drawn to the same types of women that are somehow familiar to you. There is an unconscious recognition and a compulsion to repeat what you have seen, most likely in your family of origin, which becomes what you recognize as love, although it does not produce the result you seek. Again, transferring feelings from a past situation onto your current and potentially future relationships.

It’s important to note that these reactions do not have to be with solid, long-term relationships you are trying to form. It can be a fleeting interaction, like with a cab driver or a waiter or a sales clerk who completely annoys you for no obvious reason. But if you dig a little deeper and ask a few key questions, it might be revealed that the stranger reminds you of an incident or person from your past or an “original injury”(a.k.a. experience that left a wound).

As you read these scenarios, think about reactions you have to certain people and situations in your life. Where do you transfer feelings from a past injury into the present? If your response to a scenario or incident is extreme in relation to what is actually happening in the present moment, this is a hint you may be having a transference experience.

To help you gain clarity and find the root (original) injury, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Where have I felt like this before?
  2. Why is this familiar?
  3. Who does this person remind me of?

When you connect the dots backward to the original injury, you can free yourself from the transference. You will move from being driven unconsciously to making a clear choice about how to respond rather than compulsively react in situations.

I know this might be a bit confusing, so please ask any questions and leave comments. Also, know that your insights can help others who are struggling, so share your stories and responses to the questions.
I hope you have a liberating week and, as always, take care of you.

Love Love Love

Terri

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  1. Amazing, I am going through this right now. My mother died a few years ago from cancer, I had a lot of unresolved feelings, now my dad has cancer(he is nowhere near the end) and I find myself over reacting to certain situations. I know this is related to my mothers death but I seem to lose momentary control of my emotions at these times. My strategy so far has been to get up and leave so as not to burden anyone else, but now I find that even that is being misinterpreted . Emotions are so contagious, what can I do to be more supportive to my family? Thanks

    1. T-
      You have got to properly honor what you experienced with your mother so you can be clearly present to the moment that is actually happening. You can do this by talking to a therapist or calling my pal at the Grief Recovery Institute in LA (it’s free his name is Russell Friedman one of the co-founders) You can journal what you remember about your mother death and leading up to it-how you felt etc. you can properly mourn her by writing down what you miss and what you don’t miss about her being here (sounds weird but that is how we do it). Your response is normal you just need a little help in processing.
      love love love
      terri

  2. Terri,
    This tip resonates with me because I’ve lately had experiences with a roommate whose new friend seem to be triggering in me a reaction related to someone I knew in the past that hurt me. Also, it triggers in me an irrational fear that my roommate is picking me for someone better, neither of which are healthy for maintaining a friendship. The trigger will likely happen again, so I’m grateful for the insight so that I’ll know how to consciously react. This is a fantastic tip! Thank you so much for reminding me to take care of me. Much love.

    1. Karina-
      I am so glad the tip resonated with you and now you have a CHOICE about how to respond because you have a deeper understanding of what is actually happening for you! Yay for empowerment! Keep up the good work <3

  3. Wait. Clearer now. So if someone in passing reminds me of either of those two women, I will be aware that its not the person in passing, but long ago relation that is no longer real.

    1. Charity-
      Yes sometimes we are drawn to the same type of person because of what we have experienced in our lives but what you are describing is feelings of transference from past unhealed wound. So yes remind yourself that now is not then if a person reminds you of the old person but also take a look at what feelings you may still have about that original wound and journal about them to get them up and out and that will also help the transference be less. Thanks for writing! <3

  4. I had two particular… a unbalanced roommate (never knew when a door would slam or upset unfold) and a liaison I had to work between in order for children to receive a school program. I didn’t want to quite, as my involvement enabled a lot of growth to the school. Yet she made it very intense for many colleagues. One colleague lost a parent and be and got sick for two weeks, still, no let up. Said liason continued to expect same level of work and said there are no excuses. For me, I lost something during that time too. Her presence appeared to make many uncomfortable. In this situation, are we all trying to get passed an old wound, an old action by another? Or was this the first, of which any futures encounters with an alike person, I’ll get out of under the thumb sooner. Are some people just bent for periods in thier life, misuse false hierarchy? I suppose its all untwined in zones ways. I’d like to think any future red flag I’d take heed of before spending a year with it. Hmm. Just typing as the thoughts come. Your thoughts? All the best. Important topic.

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