New year and new beginnings: or does moving out of the comfort zone lead to transference and repeating dynamics?


I recently moved from a seaside town to a city, which constituted a ‘big’ move. Throughout it, I felt a whole wave of emotions pulse through me – exhilaration, readiness, anticipation, anxiety and apprehension . . . all of which continued well into my arrival.

At the local pool, I found myself seeing similarities between strangers and people I used to swim with.  “Look, he’s that guy, she’s that woman” and so on. And then the thought struck me – am I looking for similarities because I need that sense of familiarity around me, or are they really there?

Not a minute after thinking that, the man who reminded me of ‘the- irritating-smug -guy-who never-lets-anyone-pass-and-who-refuses-to-change-lanes’, stopped; a broad and gentle smile illumined his face as he let a swimmer by.

Firstly, check out the judgments in that description and secondly, how wrong was I about this stranger?

I realized that our behaviour in new ventures – including our interactions with others, our environment and ourselves, is determined by:

  1. Our relationship to change – which affects our perception and response to the new, including what we create and recreate
  2. The transference that a sense of familiarity to strangers can trigger

So how far out of our comfort zone are we willing to go to in order to create something truly new?


For a lot of people, the new can set off an element of apprehension. Perhaps it’s a new:

  • Job
  • Neighbourhood
  • School
  • Relationship
  • A New Year’s Resolution that precludes a different pattern of behaviour
  • A change to one’s routine on a trip, with guests etc.

In each case we are asked to go passed our comfort zone and embrace the changes and challenges that the new brings.

Some people thrive on change and seek it; others prefer the stability of the known, and others still a mixture of the two. Added to that, life has an uncanny ability to bring change to us, whether we seek it, like it, or not.

For the purpose of this article, I will focus on our relationship to the unknown through voluntary change, rather than change per se.

Our body is the first and last authority in determining our readiness towards change. Rigidity in the body could entail a deep sense of knowing of a need, or a boundary being put in place, or, a psychological resistance that is triggering a fight-flight-freeze response. Further exploration of our physical response, can help us understand ourselves better and inform our choices.

If we find ourselves in a new experience, it’s because at some point we have had the courage to scream “Geronimo!” and jump off the cliff.  So how are we experiencing our great leap?

Perhaps we’re in mid-air in cartoon-style anxiety: our legs moving rapidly as we realize that the ground beneath us is miles away.  Or, maybe we leap and summersault in the graceful style of an Olympic gymnast who lands seamlessly with unfaltering feet on the mat.  Perhaps it’s a mixture of the two; we free-fall with both apprehension and surrender – maybe with one hand clutching the last thread of the familiar, that will somehow keep us bound to a (false) sense of security. In all cases “resistance is futile” and one might as well embrace it!


For the most part, any leap into the unknown will have been a calculated one, based on some sort of risk assessment of loss and gain that will inform our choice. If we have undergone this type of evaluation, then we have done an element of internal ‘spring cleaning’ based on memories and experiences that help us to:

  • Establish our needs
  • Determine our likes and dislikes, and
  • Decide what we wish to create, and avoid, in this new phase

Whether we have jumped or not, this process has helped us evaluate the old ways of being and consider new pathways – internal and external.

And now, wisened by experiences and informed by memories, we resolve to apply what we’ve learned to create something new – but do we? Or do we allow these memories to make us overly vigilant and form expectations of what we will find?


Sometimes people’s faces, characters or energies can remind us of people we know, love, tolerate, dislike or who have hurt us, and this can affect our response to them.  Depending on the memory this person triggers, we may be:

  • Friendly and open
  • Vigilant, or
  • Cold and distant

This is transference; defined as “[T]he unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another” .  The word ‘unconscious’ is pivotal; which means that making the switch from ‘unconscious’ to ‘conscious’ can alter our experience and deepen our learning.

Doing this, we can minimize the risk of:

  • Repetition
  • Disappointment and
  • Lost opportunities


Vigilance can be a tool for self-care or self-sabotage, depending on how tightly we are holding onto the reigns. I see it as the difference between the calm indigenous hunter and the meerkat! The hunter is aware, open and calm, attentive without necessarily pouncing at the first sound. The meerkat on the other hand is on high alert, looking this way and that, and well, a little anxious…!

While our intuition and body response can provide valuable information, they are not always foolproof yardsticks.

Too much vigilance can put us on such high alert that any perceived similarity can cause an Amygdala Hijack as we misread the person and fight, flee or freeze.

When transference occurs, we risk:

  • Creating unnecessary animosity, or being regarded as ‘overly’ familiar
  • Believing our thoughts to be ‘the truth’
  • Not exploring that person’s uniqueness and gifts


Transference and vigilance carry with them an element of expectation, as one may assume or imagine a particular outcome with or from that person.

Like transference, expectations are based on a discomfort of the unknown and can lead to:

  • Disappointment
  • Self-fulfilling prophecies or
  • Repetition of patterns and dynamics.

Be they positive or negative, the best thing to do with expectations is to let them go!


Without discarding the value of intuition, it is worth checking out our expectations, assumptions and transferences.  In ‘The Work’, Byron Katie suggests reality testing and truly exploring the validity of what we take to be a ‘fact’.  She offers four essential questions through which to explore our beliefs:

  1. Is it true? (Yes/No)
  2. Can I absolutely know it is true?
  3. How do I react, what happens, when I believe that thought?
  4. Who would I be without that thought?

These four questions help us turn the ‘unconscious’ act of transference into ‘conscious’ and bring our actions under our vigilant eye too. Indeed, Katie argues that judgments are not indisputable facts, but projections we make about others that pertain to ourselves. Briefly put, by engaging in the ‘Turn Around’ we turn the ‘s/he is …’ into ‘I am’ and ‘I feel…”

These two aspects of the ‘The Work’ can help us remain present in our new adventure and also aid greater self-exploration, compassion for self and other and a great dose of humility!


In the words of Monty Python: “we are all individuals!”  No two people are the same. To assume that, we miss out on discovering uniqueness and risk repeating patterns.

At the same time, we are also teachers and mirrors for each other and seeing it from that perspective can turn a challenging situation or interaction into an opportunity for learning, growth and change.

I learnt a lot from the man at the new pool. He alerted me to my judgments and transference. And ‘turning around’ my conclusions of the man at the old pool led me to consider aspects of his behaviour towards myself. A humbling experience I can assure you! 😉

Moving out of the comfort zone entails trying out new approaches to life that invalidate our old, tried, tested and failed ones.  It means being adventurous, present, aware and conscious, like the calm hunter and look for the teaching.  It also requires questioning our core beliefs, and reality checking our assumptions of ‘the truth’ all along the way. After all ‘new’ does not suggest ‘repetition’, but novelty.

There is always space for adventure, even in our most familiar lives; we can be adventurous in our attitude, behaviour and judgments. Are we ready to embrace it and jump off the cliff and scream “Geronimo!”?

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