Transference Exercise

This exercise helps us understand why we might have such strong reactions to someone in our adult lives, and why those reactions might be so familiar to us. Basically, we ‘project’ our childhood experience of relationships onto the relationships we have in adulthood, and then behave as if the people we now interact with are our parents.

The exercise

I reacted negatively to you (name of person) ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

when (describe the event) …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. [note 1]

I thought you were  (adjectives; descriptors) ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… [note 2]

like my (mother / father) ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..  when I was a child. [note 3; note 4]

I felt (feelings) …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. [note 5]

and I reacted by  (behaviour: what I said, thought or did) ……………………………………………………………………………………………… [note 6]

just as my (mother / father) ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..  used to when I was a child. [note 7]

Footnotes

  1. Describe as neutrally as possible, without interpretation, emotive words, or any assumed motive on the part of the other person, e.g. ‘when you said you were busy’, ‘when you put the plate on the table’. I.e briefly report the behaviour.
  2. Now you can use emotive language, imagined motives. I.e. use labels to describe what you think the person was like, the attributes or characteristics they appeared to show when doing this behaviour. NB In the coolness of recollection, you might start thinking, ‘but that person isn’t really like that’ – that’s fine; this is you waking up to the story you transferred or projected onto them. At this point in the exercise, though, you are recalling you own immediate, patterned, reaction to the person, and the ‘story’ you went into about them at that time.
  3. Your parents may be different now. What you are looking for is how they behaved and what patterns they modelled for you when you were young and impressionable.
  4. This takes practice. Take each adjective or descriptor, and match up with who this was most like, mother or father (sometimes both). This is where you start to do the reflective work, learning about yourself, how you learned to react, think and feel the way you do, based on absorbing these things from your parents’ example.
  5. Use the Feelings list to help you.
  6. These might be patterns of thinking or doing.
  7. For each of these behaviours, who of your father or mother was most likely to behave that way?
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