Treating adults like children is a common form of transference. Illustration: Sturt Krygsman
The Australian, NOVEMBER 7, 2015
A rather odd encounter with a new colleague shook me up. We had to go to a work function together and she became very strange with me.
She started becoming overly familiar, not in a nice way. She was crossing boundaries, speaking like she knew me, getting irritated at small things. Saying “well, you should do this … and that” in an inappropriate manner.
I felt very unnerved when I ordered something later at lunch when we were alone and she chastised me. It was not normal behaviour. It was a tone I would only use with familiars — my daughter, my sisters, my mum, my partner. I wouldn’t have the audacity to speak to a work colleague in such a manner. She was also overly intimate, calling me Ruthie.
Given she’s an intelligent, put-together woman — not mad — I was miffed. Later she started talking about her sister, and bingo! I realised she was projecting on to me. Somehow, unconsciously, I had become the sister. It’s called transference, which sounds very Woody Allen, very Freudian, but it’s happening every second of every day around us, albeit not as obviously as in this encounter.
One definition of transference is “the inappropriate repetition in the present of a relationship that was important in a person’s childhood” or “the redirection of feelings and desires especially those unconsciously retained from childhood towards a new object”.
It may explain why bosses pick favourites; why some career women defer financial power to their partners. It happens when we find ourselves attracted to someone who grins in a certain way, despite the fact we have nothing in common.
It goes a long way to explain why, despite the beauty myths we are fed about perfect skin and bodies, many times we see plain, overweight people happily in relationships or desired. When I was a relationships writer I had a letter from a man who was sexually attracted to “frumpy women in loose dresses”, which made him feel “safe and turned on”.
Often during a row one partner may really be arguing with their mother while another answers a dad, sibling, teacher or even a former spouse.
When this woman started telling me how to eat, I reacted badly and ended up having a bit of a “storm off”. The subtext was she was telling her sister “You’re so badly behaved!” and I was saying: “Don’t tell me what to do, Daddy.”
The bottom line is that transference is narcissistic because those doing it don’t see the real person they are projecting on to. Suffice to say it was a very long lunch — not in the “happy” way.