Transference at Work can be Perilous

Patricia Frank

Transference is when you redirect your childhood thoughts, beliefs and emotions about a person onto a new person later in life. It is a psychological phenomenon that is usually unconscious.

Transference in the workplace occurs when certain people and situations are reminiscent of your prior relationships and situations. You may not recognize these feelings or beliefs as something from the past and therein lies the danger professionally. You might not have learned how to handle the original relationship or situation, so you are likely to repeat your reaction to it, regardless of whether or not your reaction is appropriate or inappropriate. This leaves you very vulnerable because you might overact or under react.

You may be creating a negative scenario in your mind and all of your interactions with the current person are based on that. Your father may have been very authoritarian. Your co-worker or your boss may remind you of your father. This can cause a lot of friction and passive aggressive behavior on your part. On the other hand, you may remind your coworker or boss of someone from his past whose behavior he disapproved of. This is equally dangerous. There is a possibility that you may be fired.

The situation could go the other way and you could be overly compliant with an individual because they remind you of a childhood friend or teacher who liked you. Your reactions to that person could make you look weak and ineffectual. This is equally hazardous.

If you are experiencing any negative emotions or situations at work don’t just blame the other person. Make an effort to understand what is really happening. Look for similarities in the person’s appearance or their mannerisms. Ask yourself if they resemble anyone from your past. If they do, you will need to look very closely and decide if your reactions are appropriate or not. If the negative reactions are coming from them you will have to talk to them in a gentle, non-confrontational manner.

Patricia Frank is a Licensed Psychologist. She can be reached at 305-788-4864, 212-308-0309.

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