Give the work back: Transference, projection, and basic counseling skills for empaths

Metaphysical/Metaphysics empath blog

Give the work back: Transference, projection, and basic counseling skills for empaths

This blog has been many months in the works and comes to you as a tool, especially if you are an empath! In my own academic training, I took many courses in psychology and therapeutic techniques, as those were central to my work in my previous life. But many people do not take such courses or explore such theories; yet they find themselves interacting with and on the receiving end of many common psychological dynamics.

In this blog, we will explore two of the most important dynamics: transference and projection. Especially in a social media age (OMG!) we need to understand 1) what transference and projection look like, so we can identify them and 2) how to engage with these dynamics, or not, for your own well being. Engaging directly with transference and projection set us up for codependent relationships, so we will take a look at strategies to assist you as well.

Let’s break the two concepts down in simple terms, beginning with the WHY – why do people engage in these dynamics? If you read this blog and say to yourself, hey I do that too! Don’t be hard on yourself. It’s so human to engage in these dynamics. But if you are on a spiritual path, you learn that engaging in transference and projection incurs a significant amount of psychic and karmic debt and baggage that begins as an energetic impulse and ultimately shows up as illness, disease, and destruction. Hence the reason for this post: I am here to help stop the madness! Share this post with your young loved ones too; bullying often masquerades as transference and projection.


As human beings, we have lots of feelings and thoughts – some of which are uncomfortable to feel or think. But our soul, our higher self, knows that we have to feel and think and SEE ourselves clearly in order to grow and evolve in this life. But OMG sometimes it’s so painful to see ourselves clearly, to see our truths, to see the parts of ourselves that are chaotic and disharmonious and harmful.

So what do we do? We ‘project’ those unwanted bits and parts and behaviors onto others around us. And then we get mad, we get self-righteous, and we tear them down – both the other people, and the parts of ourselves we can’t stand to see or explore. Most people buy right in and start helping you tear down the other person until they realize that this is more about you than it is about them. When you see on Facebook, people commenting and saying things like, “Wow Mary you should really let this go! Why are you holding on?” you know you’re seeing projection in action. Sometimes people need that mirror in order to let go. Facebook becomes this incredible Montessori for adults where we hop around and learn and explore and engage and avoid and project, all while evolving, all while living, and all while learning. It’s a process. But the consequences in a digital age are real. Not only for adults, but for kids too.

You see, projection hurts the person onto whom the behaviors and actions are projected. It’s not fair. When you project your own challenges and issues onto others you are giving them your work to do. Not ok! And definitely not what a spiritual path requires. Transference is the same thing as projection, but instead of projecting your own baggage you instead project other people’s baggage or behavior (although you can also transfer your stuff from early life through transference too or transfer your parents behaviors onto a therapist or friend, for example). 

If projection is bad, transference is worse. In a transference dynamic, the person engaging in the dynamic isn’t even present in the dynamic or has extreme temporal distance from the projection, and yet orchestrates the dynamic from afar.

In human relations work, we talk about “giving the work back” and making sure that people don’t do the very human thing of expecting other people to do their work for them, work out their problems for them, and solve their problems for them. Nope! You are here to DO YOU and only you can work through your issues. Projection is for spiritual teenagers, not spiritual adults. If you sense yourself projecting and playing into what I’ve described here, stop! Pause, reflect, and acknowledge where YOU need to change. But don’t look over at Sally or Rick and project onto them what you don’t like in you. Not only will that defer your spiritual development (do you really want to keep coming back?) it will earn you some karmic debt you may not wish to accrue, without even knowing it. Sometimes when a person is being called upon to do shadow work in their spiritual lives but have not yet begun that work or identified it, you will see them begin to engage in projection; it’s a hell of a lot easier to analyze the parts of yourself you don’t like when you attach them to another person!

Here are three tips to prevent yourself (and others too) from projecting stuff and avoiding their soul work in a virtual environment – although these apply to ‘real life’ too:

1) If you find yourself attacking someone viciously, especially someone you don’t know in your real life, you may be projecting. Look closely at what you are saying about them. Is that really a statement about you?

2) If you see someone online engaging in projection, comment and ask them what in the post or content is triggering them and why? See if you can solicit a response, which would require them to stop PROJECTING and start REFLECTING.

3) Ask yourself what you need to work on right now, and commit to just three aspects of your own development that you can enhance in the months to come. Doing YOUR work will help you innately avoid projection.

And if you’re ever on the receiving end of a projection (I am daily – but as a teacher I expect it – that’s what we are conditioned to do to our teachers) remember that 90% of energies you interact with DO NOT belong to you. Send them back to their owners with love, and call your own energies back to you. Use the mantra I love: “I am not here to fix anyone but myself.” If you can, take a deep humble breath and acknowledge how imperfect you are. LAUGH at yourself! It’s all so funny, this human experience! Hilarious at times! Stop, reflect, pause, love, laugh, and let go.

If you engage with projection, especially with someone who might be early in their spiritual process and maybe not even familiar with the concepts outlined here, a productive conversation can easily devolve into a fight, a complete loss of energy, a waste of possibility. If you project onto others as a consistent practice, you will lose the integrity of your center. You might feel better for a minute, especially if others jump into the ring with you; but long term, you lose – your energy fades, your vibe drops, and your friends will eventually see the game for what it is, a very valiant but vain effort to make someone else responsible for your problems.

So much of what I’m discussing here begins in childhood, as do most forms of dysfunctional behaviors. Make a list of the people in your life that you are critical of, and why, and then look at that list as a mirror of yourself – your life, your patterns. What connections do you see? I’ll say this too – jealousy and insecurity are at the root of most projections. When someone has what we want, we will spend all day tearing them down when what we need is to allow, acknowledge, release, let go, and appreciate what we already have. What belongs to others is theirs. Your inability to see that is your problem, not theirs.

May this information guide and bless you, today and always.

Amen, Aho, So it is

6 thoughts on “Give the work back: Transference, projection, and basic counseling skills for empaths

  1. Oh, this is good! “Stop,reflect,pause,love,laugh and let go.” Excellent advice. Thank you for all you give!

  2. Thank you for reminding me. I am very familiar with this work. I’m dealing a lot with passive aggressiveness in my work place and having read this I will need to ponder my roll in that which is around me. This is beautifully written Athena……
    Love to you

    Cheryl Mann-Hall

  3. This has litterly opened my eyes, heart and soul. It explains why I am so ill all the time…while pouring my heart and soul out to others. Thank you for the words of wisdom. I’ve absorbed and will continue to do so daily as well as sharing with others. ❤

  4. Wow, very thought provoking! As someone who has only recently awakened and who is just now learning to embrace her gifts, (and who is also beginning a spiritual journey), this really resonates. Thank you for sharing (and teaching)!

  5. I have been facing this concept a lot with certain people lately- thank you for this post it’s really helpful. Athena, can you recommend any good books that explain this even further ? Thanks Kayla

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