|Transference is simultaneously one of the most commonly experienced and, yet, one of the most frequently overlooked mechanisms of dysfunctional behavior today. This article combines biblical examples and personal insights while revealing some of the developmental roots and hidden workings of transference in our lives.
Defined by Love
God purposely designed mankind with the capacity to experience remarkable personal significance through a loving relationship with Him. God’s original plan, as initiated with Adam and Eve, was that we would understand that our self-worth is determined entirely by the fact that we are created in God’s image. We were designed to discover personal value and purpose through the fact that we are created in His image and through the unhindered realization of God’s plan for our lives through His unconditional love for us. Man and woman were created with the ability to enjoy and appreciate relationship with God, one another, and the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26-31). Man’s individual sense of personal significance was considerably enriched through these loving, healthy relationships.
Spiritual Identity Crisis
Ever since the intimacy in mankind’s relationship with God was displaced by sin, our souls have keenly missed the magnitude of the love that man once intimately realized with God. The absence of a close personal realization of God’s love has created a spiritual identity crisis for mankind. Where once we found secure definition, direction, and fulfillment of self as sinless recipients of God’s love, we now struggle with the incessant misdirection and selfish inclinations of the sinful nature (1 John 2:15-17).
Transference is, essentially, a desperate attempt, usually initiated by our subconscious to bring temporary relief from the pain or anxiety of unsatisfied needs, unresolved conflicts, or emotional traumas from the past. It is a behavior that arises from the desire to either deny or soothe past emotional pain through the present day utilization of a vicarious replacement. The unsettled subconscious mind frequently motivates an individual who is in denial to seek consolation for unresolved past disappointments by punishing with anger or demanding unrealistic compensatory affection from people today. Using the mechanism of transference as a tool, we try to gain some degree of compensatory relief or satisfaction through our present day relationships.
Hiding From the Pain
A person who is in denial and is transferring is often unaware that their current dysfunctional behavior is motivated by past issues. By remaining in denial through transference, a person is able to temporarily suppress or relieve the pain behind the feelings associated with the original causative event. It is important to realize that feelings of emotional pain, desperation, and powerlessness over past events are the primary motivations drawing one to this kind of behavior in the first place. An underlying fear of regressing to this painful emotional state from the past causes the person that is transferring to steadfastly avoid examining their motivations, even if the underlying motivation is clearly revealed to them.
Letting Off Steam
There is usually considerable anger, anxiety, emotional abuse, and, sometimes, deviant sexual activity in relationships where extensive transference is occurring. Self-righteous indignation, combined with a sense of powerlessness to change what happened in the past, contributes to the striving of the soul to seek relief – no matter what the cost to the relationship. The subconscious mind has nowhere to go with all the anger and heartache from the past that is stored up in an unforgiving, unrepentant heart. So, through the opportunity afforded by the mechanism of transference, it finds a temporary pressure release by blaming, manipulating, and making unreasonable demands of others (Psalm 4:4).
“It’s Not My Problem, It’s Your Problem”
One of the most common aspects of transference is that, most of the time, just like the perpetrators, the victims of transference are not even aware of what is really happening. You see, people who frequently and successfully transfer onto others, really believe that their issues originate in their current relationship and that their cause is both honest and fair. Being convinced of this, those doing the transference become very proficient at convincing others onto whom they are transferring, that they are both current and justified in their present stance. This maintains a readily available human “well” into which they may dip, as they desire, to satisfy their insatiable thirst for unhealthy recompense.
Marketing the Lie to Support Transference
The prideful secular psychological spirit of the age fondly embraced by society today has helped to advance the self-gratifying illusion that happiness can be obtained exclusively by human efforts and through human relationships. Hoping to further advance this illusion to the point of hopeless delusion, the “god” of this world (Satan) spends a considerable amount of time and energy trying to seduce us through the propagation of his definition of the true source of contentment (Mat. 4:1-11).
Looking For Love in All the Wrong Places
The Bible characterizes a person’s habitual concession to the gratification of the flesh as tantamount to “a dog returning to its vomit.” Although this example may be repugnant, a dog returns to its vomit because the dog’s sense of smell has indicated to him that it is attractive. Also, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud” (2 Peter 2:20-22). Quite simply, the sow returns to her wallowing because it feels good – right now!
Bible Characters in Transference
Although transference is often rooted in hurts from the past, not all motivation for transference is located in some mental archive, buried long ago in the deep recesses of the human psyche. Consider the transference activities of these well-known biblical characters as they responded to current events in their lives.
The man said, “the woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
In Genesis 4:2-8, we observe Cain’s anger when the Lord rejects Cain’s offering, but accepts the offering of his brother, Abel. Cain, in a classic transference, lures Abel to a field and kills him in his anger. Instead of honestly dealing with his anger at God for rejecting his offering, Cain makes Abel into his scapegoat. His issues were really with God and his own personal shame, but, unwilling to repent, he sought relief by expressing his anger at someone else.
The Antidote: Wisdom for Discernment and Repentance
James 1:5 reveals God’s promise of wisdom to those who desire to know the way of truth. We are instructed to ask from God, without doubting, believing that He is a “God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” Without finding fault means that God has no intention of shaming us for our previous folly, but instead, He desires that we come to the knowledge of the truth so that we may choose to be set free. He will share His holy wisdom with us, that we may come to believe there is a better way. If then, we will believe in His way, we can be freed from the many entrapments of fleshly enticements that deceive us with their promises of fulfillment through dysfunctional compensation.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”
Cain had made an inappropriate offering to the Lord, but was angry about what he perceived to be personal rejection. Although given the opportunity of restoration, Cain chose to continue in his anger instead of looking honestly at his behavior.
Transferring Our Dependence onto God
In the end, most of the seeming complexities of transference are little more than an idolatrous dependence upon others to satisfy the flesh. Using a dysfunctional psychological mechanism, we use people to bring us temporary satisfaction, enjoyment, or relief. This kind of dependence on creature, instead of Creator, is idolatry. Psalm 4:2 exhorts us:
How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
In transference, whether we are punishing with anger or demanding compensatory affection, we have turned to the wrong source and are using the wrong method to effect either lasting resolution or restoration. The true source is God and the only truly effective method is repentance and forgiveness, which brings freedom from bondage and emotional healing to us, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Redefined by Love
And I pray that you,
Copyright © 2000 by R. Thomas Brass