Nearly everyone with Borderline Personality Disorder who participates in therapy knows about the phenomenon called transference. Transference occurs when the patient’s expectations, desires and feelings are put onto another person, usually the therapist. The types of transference issues the patient brings to their therapy will often be representative of issues which occurred in childhood and which have remained unresolved.
Some history about transference
Sigmund Freud the most famous psychotherapist of all wrote about transference in one of his early seminal works called Hysteria.He considered it to be an extremely important aspect of psychoanalysis because it revealed hidden parts of the patient. He came to this idea because he began to notice the many complex and usually unconscious feelings many of his patients were having.
Though many people on their way to a BPD recovery will certainly experience transference issues, not all do. Experiencing transference is not indicative of anything serious being wrong with the person with Borderline Personality Disorder, it is merely an occurrence which happens naturally during the therapeutic process and one should not be alarmed by it. A skillful and well-trained therapist will know how to handle it.
Different Kinds of Transference
One of the most common kinds of transference is a maternal transference. This occurs when the patient has unresolved issues with their mother, either a biological mother or an adoptive mother. This transference can be one of nurturing feelings of full of ambivalence and anger.
Paternal transference occurs when the patient looks at the therapist as a father figure. The patient may want to receive advice and protection from the therapist who she or he sees as all powerful and very wise.
Sometimes the patient will experience sibling transference with the therapist during which they have had strong, oftentimes unhealthy bonds with their siblings when relationships with the parents were extremely lacking or highly dysfunctional.
Transference does not only occur during therapy though it is more likely to occur in that setting. It can occur in a workplace situation when a person is dealing with a co-worker who may remind them of a sibling for example. The worker may give this co-worker extra leeway when it comes to deadlines because their sibling was always late and they have empathy for the sibling. Or a person may have had a spouse who cheated on them and so every new relationship following carries the baggage of the first and is tainted by the transference of anger and resentment to the previous spouse.
Transference is not always only positive or negative. Negative as well as positive transference can be beneficial to the therapeutic relationship as long as it is handled skilfully by the therapist.
How does transference affect the person with Borderline Personality Disorder?
Transference when not dealt with properly can lead the person with Borderline Personality Disorder to engage in other types of maladaptive behaviour like cutting, drug use or excessive shopping or gambling. These type of self-injurious behaviours can have devastating consequences.
Transference helps the therapist help his or her patient because it sheds light on what issues need to be addressed during therapy. Most therapists see it as a tool to help them understand their patient’s repressed feelings and unconscious desires and/or fears. Once these issues and/or fears begin to be addressed the healing can start to occur.
Transference should not be confused with projection
Projection is a common defense mechanism many people use when trying to cope with emotions or feelings they find difficult to face head on. An example would be a situation in which you take an almost instantaneous dislike to someone you have only just met. This may be because they remind you of your sister with whom you have recently had a big argument. Another example of projection is a person who accuses another person of stealing from them because they themselves have been shoplifting.
I firmly believe that the therapy itself is not what heals the patient but rather it is the relationship between the patient and the therapist which heals. That relationship happens because of transference.