Negative transference

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Negative transference is the psychoanalytic term for the transference of negative and hostile feelings, rather than positive ones, onto a therapist (or other emotional object).

Freud's preference[edit]

In his pioneering studies of transference phenomena, Freud noted the existence of both positive and negative transferences, while expressing a preference for the former, which he initially saw as a prerequisite for analytic work.[1] Freud considered that "The hostile feelings make their appearance as a rule later than the affectionate ones and behind them";[2] and more frequently in same-sex than in mixed-sex analytic pairings.

Otto Fenichel pointed out that whereas neurotic aggravations can follow the emergence of a negative transference, so too (paradoxically) can improvements: the patient gets better to spite the therapist for emphasising the patient's problems.[3]

Later formulations[edit]

Melanie Klein in her disputes with Anna Freud laid much greater emphasis than her opponent on the constructive role to be played by interpreting the negative transference.[4] Jacques Lacan followed her theoretical lead in seeing "the projection of what Melanie Klein calls bad internal objects" as key to "the negative transference that is the initial knot of the analytic drama"[5] - though he himself would face criticism for glossing over the negative transference in training analyses, to keep his analysands in dependence.[6]

W. R. D. Fairbairn was also more interested in the negative than the positive transference, which he saw as a key to the repetition and exposure of unconscious attachments to internalised bad objects.[7] In his wake, object relations theorists have tended to stress the positive results that can emerge from working with the negative transference.[8]

Technical blocks[edit]

Literary analogues[edit]

Describing the process of becoming the focus of a paranoid's hostility, C. P. Snow wrote:

"No one likes being hated: most of us are afraid of it: it jars to the bone when we meet hatred face to face."[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1988) p. 38
  2. ^ S. Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (PFL 1) p. 495
  3. ^ O. Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 559-60
  4. ^ C. Frank, Melanie Klein in Berlin (2009) p. 33-9
  5. ^ J. Lacan, Écrits (1997) p. 14-15
  6. ^ D. Macey, Introduction, J. Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (1994) p. xii
  7. ^ M. Stark, Working with Resistance (2002) p. 97
  8. ^ P. Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (1990) p. 112-3
  9. ^ E. Timms ed., Freud and the Child Woman (1995) p. 115
  10. ^ B. Thorn, Carl Rogers (1992) p. 72
  11. ^ C. P. Snow, Corridors of Power (1975) p. 131

External links[edit]

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