Friday, 4 May 2012

Transferring you

"Transference is a phenomenon in psychoanalysis characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another. One definition of transference is "the inappropriate repetition in the present of a relationship that was important in a person's childhood." Another definition is "the redirection of feelings and desires and especially of those unconsciously retained from childhood toward a new object." Still another definition is "a reproduction of emotions relating to repressed experiences, especially of childhood, and the substitution of another person ... for the original object of the repressed impulses." Transference was first described by Sigmund Freud, who acknowledged its importance for psychoanalysis for better understanding of the patient's feelings." SOURCE: Wikipedia

Rightly or wrongly, and to put this term in psychology into lay man's terms, I prefer to think of transference in terms of all the myriad of assumptions we all make about others. The most important thing to remember about anyone, and following on from 'You are a Centre' is that we can never know everything about anyone. It's not only that we don't have their personalities, reactions, thoughts, feelings and behaviours; we also don't have their histories of experiences. Even identical times vary in their reactions to the exact same upbringing.

We relate to others by recognising what we know of ourselves. This is great when it comes to things we find we have in common, but it can lead to all sorts of trouble when it comes to meeting new people or when there are differences of opinion and behaviour. In lieu of vital information everyone is at least prone to filling in the gaps based on our experiences of 'types' of people, 'types' of behaviour and 'types' of communication. In short, we make assumptions which are seldom based on facts.

"To 'assume' is to make an ASS out of U and ME" is a phrase I came across many years ago. Even now I have to remind myself at times not to make assumptions about others and either ask or wait for more information to be forthcoming. Sometimes that information never materialises, so that all I can reasonably do is act according to the basic facts I do know and in doing so try to remain non-judgemental, impartial and respectful.

The acceptance of not knowing basic information is rarely easy to achieve. As individuals it is always helpful to know where we stand with others; to know what their situation is, how they are feeling and what they are thinking. It can greatly aid how we communicate with them. For example, a manager might need to instruct a member of staff that they'd like them to undertake new responsibilities, but either the timing or how that is phrased can (and in my view should) be shaped by where and who that staff member is at that time. Would they welcome the challenge or fear it? Best not to assume.

Assumptions can not only make things awkward and difficult, but they can even become incredibly damaging. Gossips thrive on assumptions. Whenever you hear phrases like "they're jealous", "they're attention seekers" or "they're control freaks" etc, be careful. Such phrases are not statements of fact, but of personal opinion, far better to add "I think" before all such phrases to take ownership of those opinions. That way it soon becomes clear whether or not gossips have a good word to say about anyone. Equally this applies to seemingly positive phrases such as "they're brave", "they're amazing," or "they're a survivor" as it can lead to unrealistic expectations of individuals and the false concept that that person never has any need of support or is invincible. While it may be true some of the time, it is unlikely to be true all of the time.

Both imply a variety of personality characteristics which can be unfair, unjustified, unhelpful and in some instances damaging. What if the person you think to be jealous isn't at all? What if that brave person needs your help? The assumptions we make about others and the opinions we hold and express say far more about us than they ever will about the person they are referring to.

I am not against all forms of gossiping as it can be helpful to release tension and to inform people to raise a concern over another person's well-being, but ownership of what are our feelings is I believe, always advisable. When we make assumptions about others we are imposing (or transferring) our thoughts about them. We are seldom accurate and often completely wrong due to the lack of facts. Even when we are right we are not them so if we happen to correctly observe that someone is sad, angry, tense, elated, happy, ambitious or anything else it is to be remembered that they are in their way and not in the same way as we would be if we were experiencing those emotions. We can never be them so therefore we can never be completely right about them. Yet transferring our interpretation onto someone else is common to all of us; it's natural, normal and in many instances is a healthy thing to do.

When we hear of someone we care about on the receiving end of a disappointment we automatically draw upon our own memories of what disappoint feels like to empathise with them. If you imagine your brain to be a library of files of information about emotions, thoughts and behaviours we soon come to realise how vast that depository of information is. Even under the 'disappointment section' an infinite variety of variations are possible. The disappointment over not getting a job is different from the disappointment at not securing an item on eBay, not being asked out by someone we're smitten by or of spilling tomato sauce down you. Depending on which is most important to you at the time the experience can change and so too can the level of importance you place on it. If that's true of you, it is also true of everyone else.

In "Sometimes being strong means letting go" I cited how I was protecting myself and coming up with a contingency plan should my house move not go ahead. It's now not going to and yes I am disappointed but this doesn't mean that I have been in floods of tears. Others might be in such a situation, but if so they will be for a variety of reasons which have not been factors of my set of circumstances. I have been angry by how that dream/ambition got shattered but over all I feel relieved because to go through with it could have ended up with me buying a money-pit of trouble.

This illustrates just how only knowing a single fact can limit our understanding and our ability to say or do anything that is supportive of those we care about. Negative feelings can be helpful to help us to adjust and recover, but in order to maintain our health it is wise to remind ourselves of where the boundaries of fact and fiction lie and not to feed the negative emotions beyond their usefulness.

It is wise to guard against transferring what our reactions would be to another person's situation. When we make statements such as "they're brave" or "they're jealous" what we are actually doing is seeing them through our eyes, imposing our values on their behaviour and their way of communicating. We are putting ourselves in their shoes but as ourselves, not as them. What might seem to be an act of bravery to us, is rarely what that person regards as bravery. What you might get jealous about is probably not what others get jealous over. Demonstrating a degree of empathy through drawing upon our own experiences can be a positive thing, but it is always subject to the pitfall of simply not being that person. Their behaviour is not yours and nor are their thoughts or feelings.

In most situations it is useful to think about how we would feel, think and behave in someone else's circumstances as it can help us to become considerate, understanding and supportive so long as we never forgot to listen for how that individual wants to respond to that situation; so long as we remain respectful of their choice in what they want to do. There are exceptions though. Any parent set upon preventing their child from trying to scale a tree branch that would never hold their weight is one, as are any and all circumstances that have the potential to put a person's safety in jeopardy. On the other hand a parent trying to prevent their teenage son or daughter trying to pursue a career they are passionate about... perhaps not.

As with all things regarding relationships, they stand a better chance of becoming more rewarding through sharing information than not, if handled with sensitivity and respect.

Arguably the most valuable use of transference is when we apply it to prevent causing ourselves harm.  By asking ourselves "would we do to others what we are doing to ourselves," can be a very revealing question to consider. Would we harm others, torture others with stress and worry, not bother to find help for those we love or even a stranger? Would we be happy about them being bullied or a victim of abuse? If the answer is 'no' to when it comes to others, we should never permit such things for ourselves and wherever possible, prevent it.

In my experience of working with the mentally ill it is alarming how much damage sufferers cause themselves in this regard. Not wanting to worry, distress or 'be a burden' to loved ones is common. It was evident in abundance in my mother's illness but the effect was that I was all the more distressed because I didn't know what troubled her and therefore could do next to nothing to help. How could I or anyone even know where to begin without that basic information?

People can surprise you with the support they can offer and are willing to offer if you give them the opportunity to do so. Yes, you have to be careful about who you trust to protect your safety, but that's why I feel it's all the more important to try to inform many rather than rely on one person. It doesn't mean you have to tell everyone everything though, but I believe there is safety in letting several people know if you are experiencing any difficulty. It is also far more likely to result in doors opening for any ambitions you are trying to achieve.

None of us are superhuman and in my opinion, no one should ever expect either themselves or others to be infallible. However, by learning to become aware of our assumptions and the difference between the circumstances which make them useful and those which are unhelpful to ourselves and others we can help both. In the process we can take major steps toward becoming a person others respect and value to have around if we choose to be considerate and understanding. Most of all it can help prevent the pitfall of all manner of relationship problems as well as spiralling toward dangerous levels of paranoia for ourselves.

For this reason, I advocate assumption (or presumption) awareness (as I choose to call it) as a means to prevent not only damage to others, but also to ourselves. I recommend always taking ownership of our own opinions, but allow that they may be wrong or may need to change in the light of new facts emerging. Be prepared to change your mind when new information becomes available and most of all, I recommend taking a step back from any difficult or emotional situation and look upon them all as much as possible with an objective eye, independent of all the circumstances and the people involved. Ask, "How would a stranger look on this if they heard from all those involved."

This is a phenomenal ability, tool and skill to acquire and is worth the investment of learning to master it as I've discovered it to be invaluable to help me in just about every situation and relationship of my life. It's not to say I don't forget sometimes, but using assumption awareness has already saved me from slipping into serious bouts of depression and as a bonus has greatly enhanced the relationships with others that I value most. You too, I firmly believe can do the same regardless of whether you have ever suffered mental illness or not.

PS: Please don't assume I am an authority on anything though. I am merely able to articulate my opinions to a certain degree! Such as been one of the benefits from what I call 'learning assumption awareness'.

1 comment:

  1. "they're brave" or "they're jealous" what we are actually doing is seeing them through our eyes, imposing our values on their behaviour and their way of communicating.
    I loved all the post. People find it easy to state conclusions, and assuming the know how one is feeling or why he did this or that, but those conclusions can only hurt both parties


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