Transference Hatred

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Transference hatred represents the negative pole of the transference relationship determined by the analytic situation. Negative affects are expressed by means of ambivalent impulses within the transference neurosis (negative transference) and destructive impulses more characteristic of borderline states and transference psychoses, notably in passionate psychoses.

In "The Dynamics of Transference" (1912b), Sigmund Freud proposed "to distinguish a 'positive' transference from a 'negative' one, the transference of affectionate feelings from that of hostile ones" (p. 105), the object in both cases being one and the same person, the doctor. Reminding readers that Eugen Bleuler was to be credited for the notion of "ambivalence" that characterizes these impulses, he gave the example of obsessional neurotics, in whom "an early separation of the 'pairs of opposites' seems to be characteristic of . . . instinctual life" (p. 107).

While positive transference is classically used "in order to" interpret, throughout treatment (distinguishing it from transference "to be interpreted," in the case of resistance; Jean-Luc Donnet), the idea, by contrast, is to "defuse" negative transference before it is possible subsequently to analyze it.

In fact, it is in borderline structures and transference psychoses that hateful and destructive impulses are the strongest, though they are sometimes masked by the apparent features of love. This is especially true with passionate transference. Feelings of love and psychic flooding can invade the transference situation and be expressed in ways that undermine the analytic framework. They attest to mnemic traces that have not been successfully integrated into the psyche.

Passionate transferences express the violence of the unfulfilled need for love and of the need for reparation. Eroticization of the transference masks the impulses of hate linked to profound developmental deficiencies and failings in the early environment. These patients then make their analyst relive their despair and helplessness. They want to make the analyst feel the powerlessness and despair that they were unable to symbolize in infancythat is, their deprivation of primary symbolization.

Sándor Ferenczi's ambivalent hatred toward Freud, his analyst, is an example of this phenomenon. Ferenczi's insatiable need for support during his analysis can be considered as the expression of a transference depression, itself linked to a childhood depression that had not been worked over, either by Ferenczi himself or by Freud; Ferenczi's Clinical Diary can be read as his eroticized complaint, the culmination of a negative and idealizing transference. According to Thierry Bokanowski's interpretation (1994), Ferenczi, through his innovations in technique, was demanding reparation, maternal in origin, from his analyst, for he had managed to "freeze" in Freud the mother he was incapable of being. This is what borderline analysands sometimes do with their analyst: they "feed" him or her with the analysis in order to prolong it into an endless process.

After the second topography, in describing the negative therapeutic reaction, Freud emphasized the need for self-punishment, the severity of the superego, and the masochism of the ego. All the self-hatred in these subjects inhabited by what André Green described as a logic of despair (1990) reflects a compromise between the inextinguishable desire for revenge and concern for protecting the object from the hostile desires directed against it. Here, the conflict between love and hate is dominant. The desire for revenge is liked to the wounded narcissism of these subjects, who can no longer differentiate between the harm they want to inflict upon themselves and the harm they want to inflict on their object. From this perspective, "love is always uncertain, hate is always sure," wrote Green. Thus these subjects arrange to perpetuate their chosen form of sadomasochistic relationship as long as possible.

However, it is possible for the intolerable nature of negative transference not to appear, remaining unconscious for both the patient and the analyst. The only symptoms: a quality of "gloominess" in the treatment (Cournut), disconnected thinking, decathexis or noncathexisthat is, the "aphanisis" of the transference.

Other patients seek to "weld" their fragile narcissistic position back together again around an opposition to the object (Couvreur). In the transference and their complaints, they repeat early environmental deprivations. In them there is a fundamental hostility against the object, and the latter is thus loved in hate. Negative transference becomes a particular modality of the bond.

In "Hate in the Counter-Transference" (1949) Donald Winnicott showed the importance of the effects of this transference hatred. In the neurotic structures, the patient will tend to project his or her ambivalence onto the analyst and will believe that the analyst needs to negotiate his or her own ambivalence. By contrast, psychotic patients project their confusion onto the analyst. For them, love and hate coincide, and "should the analyst show love, he will surely at the same moment kill the patient" (p. 70). In certain cases, the patient seeks the analyst's hatred. In Winnicott's view, this hatred must be reached and experienced bilaterally in treatment, "or else the patient cannot feel he can reach objective love" (p. 72).

Jean-FranÇois Rabain

See also: Counter-transference; Negative therapeutic reaction; Transference.


Bokanowski, Thierry. (1994). Ensuite survient un trouble. . . Sándor Ferenczi, le transfert négatif et la dépression de transfertin. In Michèle Bertrand, et al., Ferenczi, patient et psychanalyste (pp. 9-52). Paris: L'Harmattan.

Cournut, Jean. (2000). Le transfert négatif. Acceptions diverses plus ou moins pessimistes. Revue française de psychanalyse, 64, 2, 361-365.

Couvreur, Catherine. (2000). Un mouvement qui est toujours le même, négatif. Revue française de psychanalyse, 64, 2, 367-381.

Ferenczi, Sándor. (1988). The clinical diary of Sándor Ferenczi. January-October 1932 (Judith Dupont, Ed.; Michael Balint and Nicola Zarday Jackson, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1985 [1932])

Freud, Sigmund. (1912b). The dynamics of transference. SE, 12: 97-108.

Roussillon, René. (1991). Paradoxes et Situations limites de la psychanalyse. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Winnicott, Donald. (1949). Hate in the counter-transference. International Journal of Psycho-Analyisis, 30,69-74.

Further Reading

Gabbard, Glen O. (1991). Technical approaches to transference hate: Borderline patients. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 72, 625-638.