The Healing Nature of Transference

Healing takes place in relationships where transference is allowed to exist. And I DO realize this is a very tall order! In an exclusively therapeutic context there is no such thing as too much transference.  In fact, rebellious attitudes about it could be counter-transference. Very few will likely admit it that is so. Transference is really challenging because very few people can handle anger and rage when it’s personal in spite of it not really being personal. No therapist or lay person can take anyone anywhere where they have yet to be themselves. To hold space for another’s personal rage or deeply regressed feelings of need and dependence, one would have to either dissociate to cope with it if they hadn’t gotten far enough in their own therapy.

In our world, rage and anger have always been possibly the most stigmatized emotions outside of shame. This may be in part because it causes emotional flashbacks or reminders of our own caregiver’s abusive rage that deeply traumatized us when we were little and fragile. As adults, it is almost impossible to separate ourselves from our emotional flashbacks. So, we ask others to stifle their anger so we don’t have to ‘go back there’. I can appreciate why so many of us are afraid of people being angry at us. I am not immune. I am good at holding space for anger, but I cannot say it makes me feel comfortable all the time. I will hold space for  it because I know what suppressed anger does to intimate friendships. And I know how it tortures and imprisons our spirit, mind, and body. And finally, I know if I hold space for someone else’s anger, they are more likely to hold space for mine.

Transference is a underappreciated important key to healing in therapeutic relationships. We basically use each other and our emotional flashbacks as catalysts to return to the past, express what wasn’t expressed as the child-victim so we can move forward as the adult-warrior leaving the past behind. It’s a process that takes time, but less time if you’re with the right person. And this will be likely repeated until the wound has bled enough and healed over.

Primal therapists (back in the day — not sure about modern primal therapy) were equipped to handle transference more than any other therapists I had seen. Primal Therapy also had a buddy system set up (for seasoned veterans since they know how this process works) so that you can buddy up with a primal therapy partner for free. We’d take turns sitting for each other. It was excellent for those like me who could not afford regular private sessions with a therapist. Transference was allowed because we knew what to expect. Rage was OK. It was ideal. It was the therapy that brought me to a place of aliveness that I had not known was possible since I had been so shut down all my life. Primal therapy was bringing the village back. It taught me that we all need each other. It taught me how simple healing was — just friends holding space for friends.  It reminded me just how therapeutic relationships can be if both parties are trauma-informed and strong enough to handle deep primal feelings.

Our fundamental nature is to be in service to one another.  I hope one day we won’t need therapists anymore and we can rely on each other instead. I am so used to telling people what to do and others telling me what to do, but that’s not healing. Healing is being heard and seen and validated in our pain —- even if it’s transference. I highly recommend process partnerships for this reason.

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