The World is Our Mirror: Transference vs. Projection

What’s the difference between transference and projection?

Transference is what happens when we harbor certain feelings we aren’t aware of towards one or both of our parents. We then go about life directing these same unresolved, conflicted and often contradictory feelings on other people. Our demand is that they fix their problems so we won’t have to feel this way.

What we don’t see is that “the problem”—whatever is creating our little frowny face—is really our own. It originates inside us and others are just bringing it to the surface. When we don’t recognize that this is what’s going on, we’re stuck in transference.

This stirs up our original feelings towards our parents—like that we’re not seen, heard, understood or appreciated. We blame the one standing in front of us for creating these feelings, but if such feelings didn’t already exist in us, their faults—and since people are human, there are probably some actual faults going on—would be merely annoying or irritating. They would feel like a thistle under our feet we can choose to walk around, rather than a burr under our saddle driving us crazy.

Projection, on the other hand, is when we have certain traits in ourselves that we can’t quite accept, so we shy away from looking at them. But when they show up in someone else, look out, because there, they will irk the bejesus out of us.

In other words, we project what we can’t accept in ourselves onto other people, and then react toward them the way we truly react toward ourselves. Beneath, that is, all the contorting and hiding and excuse-making we do in order to not see ourselves in truth.

So transference applies to how we react to a human relationship, and projection applies to how we react to a trend or quality we see in someone else. Both, however, are nothing but mirrors for what are actually aspects in ourselves.

—Jill Loree

Adapted from Guide Q&A #121