Following on from Blog 58, here are some examples of how the various transference formats may show up within organisational settings.
In the following examples, Chris would set up a Parent-Parent competitive symbiosis, while Vijay would set up a Child-Child competitive symbiosis. Both create scenarios where there is an apparent rivalry over who gets to exhibit one particular ego state.
Chris had a tendency to take charge of project meetings, even when not in the chair. Chris would display Controlling Parent behaviour, whilst at the same time believing that the chairperson was being overly controlling. Chris would challenge decisions made by the chairperson, try to run the agenda and determine the time allocations for topics, push forward decisions without giving others chance to comment, whilst at the same time accusing the chairperson of being an incompetent control freak.
Vijay, on the other hand, would get into a competitive symbiosis with a co-trainer, Andy, about who was the most needy. Whenever Andy talked about needing a break or asked Vijay to take the lead in a training session, Vijay would feel a similar need for a break and would want Andy to take the lead in the next session. In this way, Vijay and Andy would end up competing over who was going to get taken care while the other one did the work.
In the following examples, Lauren creates a false Parent-Parent empathy while Prakash opts for Child-Child empathy – in both cases the assumptions of being the same mean that the parties avoid certain topics, either because they think their opinions are the same or because they think they know how the other person feels.
Lauren worked as an external change management consultant. When meeting new clients, Lauren had a tendency to assume that the client had the same values about how a healthy organisation should operate. This would mean that Lauren made assumptions instead of checking thoroughly to establish client opinions and requirements. With some clients, the assumptions Lauren made were close enough to reality for it to be virtually unnoticeable. However, every so often Lauren would have major problems when it transpired later that the client had very different views. Interventions designed by Lauren would then have to be cancelled or significantly amended in order to meet the true requirements of the client and their organisation.
And, of course, there are clients who assume the consultant shares their opinions, so they commission the work and then rely on trust rather than any accurate monitoring of how the interventions are conducted. Such clients may also conclude that any shortcomings are caused by participants rather than the consultant being at fault.
Prakash was a mentor who would imagine that the mentee felt the same way, had the same emotional responses, wanted the same things in life, as Prakash did. Prakash would therefore feel that a very high level of empathy had been established. This would mean that Prakash avoided raising the sort of topics or feedback that Prakash would have found personally upsetting. Because of this, the mentee was denied opportunities for increased self-awareness and development.
Mentees may operate the same kind of transference – they then avoid telling the mentor about anything that the mentor might find upsetting or embarrassing. Instead, the mentee censors their own comments – and might, for instance, be afraid to use the mentor to help them review the pros and cons of leaving the organisation because they believe the mentor will be upset to lose their mentee.
Lim-lim has grown up with an overly-controlling caregiver, with whom Lim-lim had consistently behaved rebelliously (and been punished). Lim-lim had also spent many years transferring these controlling characteristics onto teachers, so that Lim-lim was rebellious towards even the most easy-going teachers. Lim-lim now did the same to managers, relating to them just as if they were the original caregiver.
This resulted in many Parent-Child interactions in which managers tried unsuccessfully to tell Lim-lim what to do and Lim-lim agreed and refused to comply.
Lim-lim works in a large organisation and has been transferred several times – Lim-lim’s current manager also grew up with a very controlling caregiver but has opted to copy that person so is unwittingly filling the parent role that Lim-lim seems to need to rebel against.
Pat had children and had adopted a very Controlling Parent way of behaving towards them. When at work, Pat behaved as if other staff, especially Pat’s subordinates, were really rebellious children and needed to be treated as such. This led to much conflict – even the fairly easy-going members of staff found themselves feeling resentful and rebellious over the way Pat interacted with them. Pat, of course, saw these reactions as proof of the need to treat people as children.
When someone like Lim-lim ends up working for someone like Pat, they both feel that their views of how to treat people are validated.
Due to circumstances, Alia has grown up without nurturing caregivers but had been aware that other children, especially those in films and TV programmes, seemed to have caring parents. Alia was therefore yearning, out of awareness, for such a parent figure. This led Alia to behave in a ‘helpless’ way, whilst transferring nurturing tendencies onto almost everyone who was older and/or more senior then Alia.
At the same time, Kim had grown up in an overly-nurturing environment and had somehow opted to adopt very nurturing characteristics. Having practised with siblings and dolls, Kim was ‘programmed’ to take care of anyone younger or more junior – so would expect to adopt a Nurturing Parent role to their ‘needy’ child.
Once Kim and Alia started working together, they seemed to be locked into a Parent-Child relationship. The symbiosis led each to believe they couldn’t function on their own – it needed both of them to create one full set of ego states between them.
Note that it is possible to have a healthy symbiosis for a real child with a real parent. This is because such a relationship rejects reality and does not involve transference – the child really does need parenting until they reach a certain age. Couples may also set up functional symbiosis. For example, one does the gardening and the other cares for the house. No transference is involved as long as both recognise these as choices – and know that they are capable of swapping tasks if necessary.
Hay, Julie (2003) Transference INTAND Newsletter 11:1 1-8
© 2018 Julie Hay
Julie is a fan of open access publishing so feel free to reproduce any of these blogs as long as you still attribute it to her.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.