Transference


Transference is a phenomenon in Freudian psychoanalysis characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another. It is known as one of the six main self-defence mechanisms.

Possible definitions include:

– The inappropriate repetition in the present of a relationship that was important in a person’s childhood.

– The redirection of feelings and desires and especially of those unconsciously retained from childhood toward a new object.

– A reproduction of emotions relating to repressed experiences, especially of childhood, and the substitution of another person […] for the original object of the repressed impulses.

Transference was first described by Sigmund Freud, who acknowledged its importance for psychoanalysis for better understanding of the patient’s feelings and feelings of rage.

During transference, people turn into a ‘biological time machine.’ A nerve is struck when someone says or does something that reminds them of their past. This creates an emotional time warp that transfers their emotional past and their psychological needs into the present.

A 1929 artwork depicting Sigmund Freud in a Session

It is common for people to transfer feelings from their parents to their partners or children – cross-generational entanglements. For instance, one could mistrust somebody who resembles an ex-spouse in manners, voice, or external appearance; or be overly compliant to someone who resembles a childhood friend.

Carl Jung states in his Psychology of the Transference that within the transference dyad both participants typically experience a variety of opposites, that in love and in psychological growth, the key to success is the ability to endure the tension of the opposites without abandoning the process, and that this tension allows one to grow and to transform.

Madonna-Whore Complex


In Freudian psychoanalysis, a Madonna-whore complex is a psychological complex that is said to develop in the human male.

Red chalk and silverpoint on rose-colored prep...

da Vinci’s Madonna

According to Freudian psychology, this complex often develops when the sufferer is raised by a cold and distant mother. Such a man will often court women with qualities of his mother in adulthood, hoping to fulfil a need for intimacy unmet in childhood. Often, the wife of the sufferer is seen as mother to the husband – a ‘Madonna’ figure – and thus not a possible object of sexual attraction.

For this reason, in the mind of the sufferer, the feelings of love and sex – the physical act – cannot be mixed, and the man is reluctant to have sexual relations with his wife, for that, he thinks unconsciously, would be as incest.

He will reserve sexuality for ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’ women, and will not develop ‘normal’ feelings of love in these sexual relationships. This introduces a dilemma where men may feel unable to love any women who can satisfy them sexually and are unable to be sexually satisfied by any women who they can love.