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Word Gems 

exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity


The Great Psychologists Speak:

In Freud's "transference" we see the
needy inner-child
of a grown person,
distorting the world to relieve his
helplessness and fears, seeing things as
he wishes them to be for his own safety



return to the main-page article on "Satan" 




Dr. Ernest Becker's "Denial Of Death" I count among the top-five most important books of my life. In a work bristling with profound insights, I especially marvel at Freud's distillation of a most common psychological malady - what he called "transference." Allow me to quote from Dr. Becker:

"Freud saw that a patient in analysis developed a peculiarly intense attachment to the person of the analyst. The analyst became literally the center of his world and life... [Freud] called it 'transference.' The patient transfers the feelings he had toward his parents as a child to the person of the physician."


mental constructs looming large, safety for the inner-child

"He blows the physician up [as a mental construct] just as the child sees the parents [as omnipotent]. He becomes as dependent on him, draws protection and power from him, just as the child merges his destiny with the parents...

"In the transference, we see the grown person as a child at heart, a child who distorts the world to relieve his helplessness and fears, who sees things as he wishes them to be for his own safety, who acts automatically and uncritically..."


Editor's note: "Transference," truly, is one of the great psychological and philosophical discoveries of the 20th century. Armed with this penetrating insight, psychoanalysts can begin to dismember, piece by sordid piece, the inner workings of the Small Ego. There is so much to learn here. I would encourage anyone desiring to understand more to make Dr. Becker's book a close companion. Transference relates to many issues of life. Here's a big one. In other articles, I have written about "John and Mary" - the typical spiritually-unconscious couple in the world - with their marriage as domestic business contract. Think about transference in terms of how people choose a mate - not for real love but for purposes of security and safety, of acceptance and approval. We see transference in the crowd's adulation for political leaders, movie stars, singers, athletes, on and on. Immature people attempt to attach their identities to seemingly more powerful others in order to invest themselves with greater significance. And think about this: That which passes for "leadership" in our troubled world is usually little more than a Machiavellian manipulation-process of playing to the fears and insecurities of the mob.


"[Transference] reflects the whole of the child's attempts to create an environment that will give him safety and satisfaction; he learns to act and to perceive his environment in such a way that he banishes anxiety from it. But... when you set up your perception-action world to eliminate what is basic to it (anxiety), then you fundamentally falsify it. This is why psychoanalysts have always understood transference as a regressive phenomenon, uncritical, wishful, a matter of automatic control of one's world.

"Silverberg [says that transference] indicates a need to exert complete control over external circumstances [a rabid craving to remove uncertainty from life]... [transference] may be regarded as the enduring monument of man's profound rebellion against reality and his stubborn persistence in the ways of immaturity."


Erich Fromm: transference as idolatric worship

Erich Fromm: "In order to overcome his sense of inner emptiness and impotence, [man] chooses an object onto whom he projects all his own human qualities: love intelligence, courage... By submitting to this object, he feels in touch with his own qualities; he feels strong, wise, courageous, and secure. To lose the object means the danger of losing himself [because he has attached his identity to the object].This mechanism, idolatric worship of an object, based on the fact of the individual's alienation, is the central dynamism of transference [giving it] its strength and intensity."


Editor's note: Fromm takes us back to Dr. Stav's taunt, "why don't you worship [Satan] then?" which, psychologically, is what's really happening in this "idolatric" attachment.


"Jung's view [suggests that] fascination with someone is basically a matter of 'always trying to deliver us into the power of a [John-and-Mary] partner who seems compounded of all the qualities we have failed to realize in ourselves.'"


Editor's note: While "like attracts like" among the spiritually advanced, Jung makes the same case I've made elsewhere concerning the unenlightened's "opposites attract."


"Transference [in the Adlerian view] 'is basically a maneuver or tactic by which the patient seeks to perpetuate his familiar mode of existence that depends on a continuing attempt to divest himself of power and place it in the hands of the Other.'"


Two kinds of transference

(1) The "inner child" seeking for a powerful and protective "parent" might be called positive transference.

(2) But there is another sort, equally psychologically debilitating - a negative transference; and, under its aegis, we find that pandemic undue attention afforded to the concept of Satan.

Dr. Becker explains:

"Transference is not a matter of unusual cowardice but rather of the basic problems of the organismic life, problems of power and control: the strength to oppose reality and keep it ordered for our own organismic expansion and fulfillment."

"What is more natural than choosing a person with whom to establish this dialogue with nature?" That is, the internal dialogue of how to survive, how to make sense of the chaos that is this life.


We dysfunctional egos must find something to set ourselves against! 


"What troubles neurotics - as it troubles most people - is their own powerlessness; they must find something to set themselves against! ... It is a way of cutting [the strawman-danger] down to size," and thus, with drama and stage-lights, provide to one's self an heroic, but quite false, sense of control over life and death.

                                              Dr. Ernest Becker 



enlarging the other, more than is warranted

"Fromm uses the word 'idol' which is another way of talking about what is nearest at hand." That is, people can create a negative transference in relation to just about anything.

Dr. Becker explains:

"This is how we understand the function of even the 'negative' or 'hate' transference: it helps us to fix ourselves in the world, to create a target for our own feelings even though those feelings are destructive. We can establish our basic organismic footing with hate as well as by submission. In fact, hate [for a time] enlivens us more, which is why we see more intense hate in the weaker ego states. The only thing is that hate, too, blows the other person up larger than he deserves. As Jung put it, the 'negative form of transference in the guise of resistance, dislike, or hate endows the other person with great importance from the start.' We need a concrete object for our control, and we get one in whatever way we can... [This concrete object of hate] keeps us from slipping out of the world, from bogging down in the desperation of complete loneliness and emptiness... It makes us feel real and gives us a little purchase on our fate."


Editor's note: All of this is extremely important insight into the human egoic condition. Think about how demagogic leaders manipulate people with "goals" and "crises" and "enemies." These "objects of resistance" serve to "enliven us." Think about how this galvanizes popular support, as the people "feel more real" with an enemy to hate, a goal to distract, or a crisis to overcome. Goals can be good, but they are not good when we need them to "keep from slipping out of the world"! The healthy-minded person doesn't require drama to feel alive; doesn't need an object of hate to give purpose to life.


"From all this we can already draw one important conclusion: transference is a form of fetishism, a form of narrow control that anchors our own problems."


Editor's note: The term "fetish" is from the Portuguese word feitico, which means "obsessive fascination." The object of transference becomes a fetish as it is imbued with larger-than-life properties. The Small Ego needs this delusion in order to create for itself more of a sense of separateness, a "me against them" dynamic, which, for a time, enlivens one's organism. Another "short cut" to feelings of well-being, which becomes, a form of "evil."


"We take our helplessness, our guilt, our conflicts, and we fix them to a spot in the environment. We can take any locus at all for projecting our cares onto the world... [it is the root of] human slavishness"!


Satan and transference

People psychologically attach themselves to various objects of power in the world - both positively and negatively - by which they seek for a sense of purpose, of aliveness, and control.

On the negative-transference side, there's a supreme example of all hate-objects - that purported archfiend, the enemy of God, the Prince of Darkness.

For a time, people feel "closer to God" when they hate Satan. They get true religion; become true believers; find a spring in their step, feel more safe and secure, and gather misguided purpose to their fearful lives.

It's all very dysfunctional.



Editor's last word: