The defence mechanisms of Projection and transference. Sigmund Freud first identified the psychological process of transference and projection and brought it into what is now modern day psychotherapy. He noticed that people had strong feelings and fantasies about him that had no basis in reality. Transference has become a more modern concept since Freud. In fact, transference is actually something that happens in life – and not just in psychotherapy. What is Transference? During transference, people turn into a “biological time machine”.
A nerve is struck when someone says or does something that reminds you of your past. This creates an “emotional time warp” that transfers your emotional past and your psychological needs into the present. In less poetic terms, a transference reaction means that you are reacting to someone in terms of what you need to see, you are afraid of or what you see when you know very little about the person. This all happens unconsciously. What Is Projection? Some therapists refer to transference as a “projection.
In this case you are projecting your own feelings, emotions or motivations into another person without realizing your reaction is really more about you than it is about the other person. Although projection is a common process in human beings it is a “blind-spot” to ourselves. We have a tendency to see in others what we don’t wish to see in ourselves.
According to Sigmund Freud, projection is a psychological defence mechanism whereby one “projects” one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else. Emotions or excitations which the ego tries to ward off are “spit out” and then felt as being outside the ego… perceived in another person’s. In Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety, Freud (1926) listed ten manners by which the ego defends itself against dangerous thoughts: regression, reaction-formation, isolation, undoing, repression, introjection or identification, projection, turning against the self, reversal, and sublimation or displacement of instinctual aims. Therefore, becoming defensive is all about learning to identify and avoid painful and dangerous situations.
The other day I was holding my two year old daughter in my arms after watching a film on the Psychodynamic course on loss, and was thinking about the psychological distance between her mind and my own, and became conscious of all the personality defences and coping strategies we learn while growing up; how important these things are for keeping us safe from the more predatory elements of our world, but also the openness we can lose as these defences get built. Becoming defensive therefore is all about learning to identify and avoid painful and dangerous situations.Discriminating when to be defensive and when not to be defensive is I believe key for good mental health. I have realized through my own therapy that unpleasant feelings and thoughts are sometimes hard to accept, especially if they don’t fit our own image of who we want to be or who we ought to be.
Anger, hatred, rage, jealousy, fear, and many other emotions I have realised can be hard to incorporate into our own self-image. I don’t like to see myself as angry, fearful, or bitter, so I have often tempted to disown those feelings.One way I have disowned my thoughts and feelings is to project them onto other people like my wife, children, clients etc. I seem to have convinced myself over the years that those unpleasant thoughts and feelings that I experience seem to come from “someone else” and not from me. For years I thought this only applies to clients and not to psychotherapists like me!. Peter Gay describes it as “the operation of expelling feelings or wishes the individual finds wholly unacceptable too shameful, too obscene, too dangerous by attributing them to another.
“In one of the recent seminars on the psychodynamic course at Oxford I became aware of my recent feelings of dislike towards a colleague at work. My unconscious mind did not allow me to become aware of the negative emotions and admitting dislike for that person my conscious mind repetetly informed me that “he doesn’t like me. ” In becoming aware of this recent process I could see how projection is related to denial. I have denied that part of myself that is desperate to come to the surface. I was not admitting for a long time that I did not like my friend.Projection fills in the space of our fears we want to know and answer instead of risking the uncertainty of finding out. Personally I have found learning about projection and transference through my personal therapy very empowering, placing the responsability squarely at my door!.
For example, the painful experience of my stepfathers violence has made me reliase my mother’s failure to protect me, and in my relationship with my wife I have projected her female weakness, inadequacy or inability to look after our children ‘properly’.The difficulty I have found with projecting our feelings and thoughts onto others is that this practice causes conflict in our relationships and detracts from the authenticity of our way of being. Many of my clients who are addicted to drugs or alcohol often use projection as one of many ways of avoiding true feelings, but in our therapy sessions they learn that the way to recovery is recognizing the painful feelings and learning to own them for what they are.I was driving the other week to work and dropping my children to school at the same time when some fool speeded past me, nearly forcing me off the road. My adrenalin started pumping and I was seetheing with anger; my anger continued for the next few miles, and I began verbally berating the other driver. “You idiot! You numbskull! You inconsiderate bastard! People like you make me crazy and angry! You don’t care about anyone but yourself! Look at you in your huge, gas-guzzling new truck while I am putting along in my 10-year-old Range Rover with my children! During my therapy I started thinking back to the last time my righteous indignation went sour and crossed over into my projection of my own, personal unwanted, suppressed garbage.
Just because I drove an old Range Rover doesn’t mean that I don’t have a gas-guzzling car! Nobody died; nobody had a wreck. but I am furious. This is because inwardly, something bigger than the actual incident occurred and I reacted with a 10 on a scale of one to 10, when the actual incident was probably only a three.
That’s my unconscious, reacting by projecting. Another form of projection is Projective identification which differs from simple projection in that projective identification is a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby a person, believing something false about another, relates to that other person in such a way that the other person alters their behavior to make the belief true. The second person is influenced by the projection and begins to behave as though he or she is in fact actually characterized by the projected thoughts or beliefs.This is a process that generally happens outside the awareness of both parties involved. Projective Identification is a term first introduced by Melanie Klein of the object relation’s school of psychoanalytic thought in 1946.
It is a concept ‘more and more referred to in psychodynamic work’, especially in circumstances ‘where A experiences feelings that belong to B but that B is unable to access; and instead “projects” them into (not just onto) A’ (Jacobs 2006).Projective identification is seen to be ‘used as a form of affective communication ‘(Cassemant 1990), it has become accepted that ‘Projective identification may unconsciously aim to get rid of unmanageable feelings but it also serves to get help with feelings’ (Casemant 1997). As a result, the therapist’s capacity for the ‘toleration and containment of the projected identifications of unwanted aspects of the patient’s self, particularly the negative aspects, for very considerable periods of time’ (Start 1992) is considered to be a valuable and essential therapeutic resource.
An example of projective identification can be seen in a person who doubts his/her own intelligence level and attempts to manipulate others perceptions/opinions by discourse with ‘elevated airs’ or by referring to themselves as having a high IQ or implied superior knowledge/expertise. They attempt to lead others to feel unintelligent by their complicated intellectual-sounding verbiage, due to their own doubts about their own intelligence. They may be highly critical of others and belittle others’ accomplishments to compensate for their inferior feelings, thus triggering others to feel ‘less than’.This is also a common component of narcissism, where the person actually feels superior (unrealistically so) in the midst of mediocre people whom they look down upon.
As therapists we also have transference reactions while treating a client. It’s a two way street. Counter-transference is basically a therapist’s “emotional time warp” around our client’s transference.
In other words, counter-transference is a therapist’s counter- reaction. That’s why some therapists think they are falling in love with their clients.I have personally experienced this defense mechanism and through supervision was able to identify its source. A past romantic relationship that ended in ‘tears’. Psychodynamic therapists use counter transference much more than transference (M Jacobs 2006). One explanation to this point might be that because ‘in object relations therapy.
.. the relationship is so central, “counter transference” reactions are considered key in helping the therapist to understand the transference'(Grand and Crowley 2002), something appearing in ‘the post-Kleinian perspective…
as] Indivisible transference countertransference ‘(Grotstein 2009). Countertransference can be quite intense in response to projective identification experiences. Pick (1985)writes: To suggest that we are not affected by the destructiveness of the patient or by the patient’s painful efforts to reach us would represent not neutrality but falseness or imperviousness. It is the issue of how the analyst allows himself to have the experience, digest it, formulate it, and communicate it as an interpretation that I address. (p.
164)In other words, as the result of the client’s projective identification dynamics and the totality of the therapeutic relationship, countertransference will exist. The question is not what to do if countertransference is present in a treatment, but what form it takes and how to use it effectively. Transference reactions are caused by unmet emotional needs, neglect, seductions and other abuses that transpired when you were a child. In some forms of psychotherapy, a therapist will intentionally create or allow transference to form.When done properly, this helps a therapist to understand and find a connection between the client’s past and how the patient misreads the present and may react ineffectively. Once you discover a transference pattern, you can chose to respond in terms of what is really happening instead of what happened 20 or 30 years ago.
People who don’t recognize the difference between past and present can end up in the same messed–up relationships over and over or with the same problem over and over.Working as a therapist I have found that Transference is really difficult to recognize, deal with and understand, but it is incredibly interesting. I tend to avoid people who are “oozing” with transference potential. Working with transference, or creating transference in therapy can make a therapist look I believe mystical and brilliant. Cult therapies are based in part on generating positive transference to control and manipulate people.
I now avoid treatment approaches that artificially inflate my ego, would allow me to control anyone and make me feel powerful. But not everyone feels the way I do about transference. Some counselors and therapists love the power and think they can handle it. As a therapist I must face transference issues and encourage clients to deal with them as much as possible. In some cases a client is not able to deal with transference issues and will terminate therapy.
While it is regrettable and potentially a lost opportunity, it must be supported.I have become aware that it’s transference when you fall in love at first sight, because something about that person leads you to believe they are your soul mate. It’s transference when the porn star dresses up as a French maid, or wears pigtails to suggest youth and innocence. Furthermore it’s transference when you assume that a doctor is competent because she wears a white coat and carries a stethoscope, when the banker’s pin-striped suit leads you to infer wealth and stability, and when the neighbors appear to be richer than they really are because they have a (leased) BMW.It’s a form of transference when a woman who was abused by her father, goes and gets involved romantically with a partner who also abuses her. It’s also transference when a confidence man (or woman) leads you to trust him or her and then steals your money, or when a politician leads you to believe that he or she will act one way, causing you to vote for him or her, and then proceeds to act another way you didn’t expect(Tony Blair springs to mind! ).
From a personal example I was speaking recently with a friend debating about issues of Love.She responded a bit harshly and walked away from me – I remember getting angry at her and made it known that I am ending our friendship because I can’t deal with her outbursts anymore. I later relised that she had a transference of her past feelings towards me and when she walked away from me there was a countertransference from me of possible rejection from a past relationship I experienced when my ex partner used to walk away when talking about Love, hence I was transferring my feelings on to her.
Another defence mechanism part of the projection and transference is displacement (Anna Freud also called displacement outward) is whereby the mind redirects affects from an object felt to be dangerous or unacceptable to an object felt to be safe or acceptable. For instance, some people punch cushions when they are angry at friends; a college student may snap at his or her roommate when upset about an exam grade.