Freud - Exploring the unconscious mind by Enrico
Freud – Exploring the unconscious mind by Enrico

For Sigmund Freud transference is a psychological dynamic where mostly unconscious ideas and feelings associated with past figures or events are displaced onto current figures or events, thereby distorting current relationships.

Charles Rycroft notes that Freud initially saw transference as inappropriate and an unfortunate aspect of the psychoanalytic relationship. But Freud later recognized it as an unavoidable and, in fact, useful aspect of psychoanalytic therapy.¹

While the narrow definition of transference refers to distortions generated by the patient and thrust onto the figure of the analyst, counter-transference refers to distortions created by the analyst and falsely attributed to the patient, these also based on past experiences.

C. G. Jung‘s view of transference emerged from the Freudian school but includes the concept of the collective unconscious and extends to the borders of the metaphysical.

For Jung, transference is positive and negative, making it a significant interpersonal factor among friends, coworkers, lovers, family and marriage partners. On the plus side, transference is a special type of projection that may link human beings in an almost mystical bond of meaning.²

English: Group photo in front of Clark Univers...
Group photo in front of Clark University Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; Back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi. Photo taken for Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts publication. (Wikipedia)

While at the extremes transference may exhilarate or enslave, according to Jung it is a natural dynamic in which the psyche strives for genuine individuality and wholeness. Jung calls this quest for individuality and wholeness the individuation process.

When projections are made conscious and stripped away, Jung believes individuals are faced with the task of relating in a more mature, realistic manner. This arguably is a never-ending process by virtue of our inherent human limitations.

In pop culture the idea of projection appears in Bruce Cockburn’s song “Tell the Universe” (2006):

You’ve been projecting your sh** at the world
Self-hatred tarted up as payback time
You can self destruct–that’s your right
But keep it to yourself if you don’t mind

Image via Tumblr

¹ A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, p. 168.

² Today it’s becoming increasingly common to talk about other people’s “energy.” Some believe this can transfer and linger, especially from intimate contact like sex (See, for instance: But the term “energy” might be misleading. Sensitive people might perceive not so much energy, but rather, a spiritual environment (technically called numinosity).

Related Posts » Future of an Illusion, Lévi-Bruhl (Lucien), Participation Mystique, Psychoid,  Syntonic Counter-Transference, Unconscious





  1. If you accept such under-used ideas as ‘transference scripts’, ‘transference games’, and ‘transference complexes’, then a whole host of inter-connected distinctions can be made such as:

    1. ‘Transference-Projection’: A form of interpretive perception that may be distorted but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes transference-projection as interpretive-perception may show an ‘extra amount’ of ‘interpretive intuition and/or awareness’. These are cases where the ‘pot’ can see that the ‘kettle’ is also black, or worded otherwise, we can see that someone outside of ourselves shares some of our inner ‘transference chemistry’.

    It usually (but not always) takes ‘two to tango’ in any particular type of transference game thats comes from our ‘neurotic childhood background’ — usually a particularly ego-traumatic and/or otherwise fixated memory (or series of memories).

    This memory we may carry around with us subconsciously as adults — almost like the ‘script of a movie’ where we need one or more actors to also play in the script — may become highly eroticized in many particular situations.

    This is how ‘sex’ and ‘ego’ often get ‘married together’ in the same ‘movie script’, the same ‘transference script’. Let the drama — the same essential drama and/or soap opera that we bring with us into adulthood from our childhood —
    replay itself out. Only this time, generally we are looking for a better ending, a more ‘ego-satisfying’ ending to our usually much less satisfying ‘neurotic childhood movie’.

    The question might be asked: ‘Why is love, lust, passion, and sex often so ‘neurotic’? For one simple reason. We are trying to ‘undo’ our childhood neurotic transferences based on ego-traumatizing memory. Sometimes we end up with a more ‘satisfying adult movie’. Often we don’t — as the same basic movie from our childhood plays itself out all over again — with our crashing in emotional/egotistic despair. This is what Freud called the ‘repetition compulsion’ which he connected with the ‘death instinct’ or a ‘death wish’.

    When things go wrong — so very wrong — in the deepest, darkest throes of of ‘the return of our worst childhood ego nightmare’, the return of the suppressed or repressed, the return of our our deepest, darkest childhood transference neurosis, it is indeed, very much like we are in an ‘egotistic and/or existential death spiral’. This may be a spiral into self-destruction.

    One never really know which way our transference neurosis is going to take us — to the gates of heaven, or the gates of hell. Or both. Indeed, usually it is both.

    That is transference — the ‘neurotic fixations’ that are attached to our ‘highest highs’ and our ‘lowest lows’.

    And all in the name of marrying — sex, love, lust, passion, and self-esteem.

    — dgb, April 25th, 2009.


    • Thanks for this. I had to admit that while reading your comment, I thought of myself. Lately I’ve really been enjoying the music of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Both were big before and when I was a kid (myself born 1962). But I think, in my case anyhow, it’s not just a reexamination of childhood memories. I think there’s more going on than just that. It’s more like a visit to a particular time period. Now that I’m older I can appreciate past styles and trends more fully. It’s almost a spiritual dynamic. Not just psychological (in the conventional sense of the term).

      So I’d agree with you here…

      “One never really know which way our transference neurosis is going to take us — to the gates of heaven, or the gates of hell. Or both. Indeed, usually it is both.”

      But I would add that it doesn’t necessarily have to be neurotic. It can just be a mingling of our personal self and something bigger. I gather this is similar to what you are suggesting in your first point… A positive, Jungian view of the dynamic.


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