Clutter and Transference

“Martha had a sister named Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” –Luke 10: 39-40A

“For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.” –2 Corinthians 7: 5

“We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.” -2 Corinthians 10: 4 (The Message Bible)

Clutter on a radar screen shows unwanted echo impressions that do not come directly from the target. Foreign objects or atmospheric disturbances can cause these signals, which can make for serious performance issues with radar systems. In heart-healing counseling we define clutter as any confusing force or behavior that distracts from the Holy Spirit’s direction. Of course, we are imperfect vessels who don’t always recognize “clutter” on our own inner “screens”, but experience in heart-healing hones discernment.

One form of clutter is the common experience of difficulty in making it to deep heart-healing sessions. People may experience many unexpected hindrances before scheduled counseling times and may unconsciously find reasons for not making it to the sessions. Some of this is attributable to the sufferer’s desire to avoid the pain of “spiritual surgery”, and some is undoubtedly the work of the enemy, seeking to sabotage the process of inner healing.

We have sometimes found it helpful in our first session to alert the one needing ministry that this may happen, as we try and ascertain whether his desire to face the pain and make changes is greater than the desire to stay the way he is. Certainly sensitive ongoing silent prayer by the counselor as the sufferer faces his past hurts is helpful in combating this.

A fine line of care and concern coupled with strengthening encouragement must be walked here. Sometimes we allow the person to miss his appointment; sometimes we may encourage him to wait awhile before attempting deep healing if he doesn’t seem to be ready. Each situation is different.

Another form of clutter is the interjection of lighthearted humor or small talk at inappropriate times in the session. Although an interval of “working into” inner healing by sharing friendly banter is appropriate before the intense concentration of the session begins, it is very easy to get sidetracked from the spiritual warfare of heart-healing into the more guarded cover-up of pleasantries and joking. And, of course, we all tend to laugh and make “wise cracks” when we are uncomfortable.

In heart-healing counseling we often find ourselves looking for “threads” which, when pulled, seem to unravel the veil that hides the pain. At times when we are tugging at one of these threads, a completely different and unexpected issue will surface. This may be the Holy Spirit’s leading in a direction we had not seen, or it may be clutter, trying to divert us. Again, whether the clutter is demonic or proceeds from the person’s inner desire to avoid facing truth, our job is to discern its presence and deal with it. Generally, this involves intense inner listening prayer for guidance, while redirecting the focus of the session when necessary. If there is confusion, we stop and wait specifically to get our bearings until the next step becomes evident. Here the role of coordinator, if this is a team ministry, is critical.


Transference can be another form of clutter. The idea of transference was developed by Sigmund Freud, who noticed in therapeutic relationships that clients sometimes started negatively relating to their counselors as though they were persons from the past. In other words, unresolved issues from infancy and childhood, with parents especially, are projected onto the safe relationship with the therapist. Thus a mode of perceiving and adapting to difficult circumstances in early life can be inappropriately transferred into the adult context. But the scope of transference extends far beyond the psycho-therapeutic relationship.

Transference, to a certain degree, is natural to life. We all have unresolved themes, which are being “woven together” our whole lives, as certain feelings seem to recur over and over again. When we overreact to a person’s behavior and wonder why, we may be exhibiting transference. This can be a God-given “flag” to alert us to a situation from the past that is unhealed. As we humbly “look inside”, God will often reveal the “trigger” in the current circumstance and the root it stems from. Walking through healing from these diseased personal history reactions results in greater transparency and emotional connection with the present. This is a lifelong enterprise, part of what the Bible refers to as sanctification.

Sanctification involves, among other changes, transcending transferences, because transference keeps us from clearly perceiving what is happening in the present. Painful unresolved early memories skew our perceptions of events and people today, and to the extent we are unaware and unhealed of these memories, we tend to project emotional residue from the past onto the present screen of our lives. Thus we are unable to see authority figures, spouses, friends, and even our children as they truly are. Instead we more or less unconsciously drive ourselves to make these present relationships similar to ones in the past, in the specific ways we still want to make right.

For example, if my father was verbally abusive and alcoholic, I may be drawn to an abusive alcoholic mate because I am trying to resolve the pain with my father, by getting my early unmet needs satisfied now. This sets up a compulsive repetitive pattern in the relationship, as I unconsciously “push” my husband to act differently than my father, to fill the love deficit developed in childhood. The game of attempting to resolve the past by using present relationships is doomed to failure, because it sets up inauthentic behavior patterns and keeps us from seeing the other person as he really is. Consequently both the sender and the receiver are deprived of the spontaneous, creative joy of being together today.

In heart-healing team counseling it sometimes happens that a ministry recipient will project on a team member negative characteristics from a parent. When the team is aware of this possibility, it helps them be more objective and less likely to take incongruent reactions personally. Counter-transference can also occur; i.e., a team member may project on the prayed-for person something from her own past.

When working with teams, we tell them it is very difficult indeed to walk in empathy and love. They must develop “Teflon skin”, so they can let go of a sufferer’s pain when it has been unjustly vented on them. Team members above all need openness and vulnerability with one another. This, coupled with an awareness of pitfalls such as transference, helps guard against clutter and the destructive energy it can generate.

Here are some signs that you may personally be experiencing transference in relation to another person:

1. Excessive absorption of your thought life with the other person
2. Frequent rehearsals of imaginary conversations with the other person
3. Frequent discussions and gossip about the person, either idealistically praising him or venting criticism
4. Struggles with envy and jealousy toward the person
5. Wonder about how the person is feeling toward you
6. Constant prayers about the person, or concentration in prayer broken by thoughts of the person
7. Judgmental feelings about the person
8. Childish outbursts of anger at the person
9. Imagining wrongs committed by the person
10. Consuming compulsion to spend time with the person, causing neglect of other responsibilities

Heart-healing counseling often takes care of transference without the need to directly address it. When this is not sufficient, a loving family-type group of believers walking in transparency one with another is the best place for it to be gradually dispelled. As the wounded one gains intimacy with the group, old pains are triggered; but this time she is loved through to the healing presence of Jesus instead of being abused or ignored. The transference is transitory, and she finds freedom to see her friends with new eyes, not clouded by the clutter of the past.

In addition to individuals, the concept of transference is also germane to understanding how we work with couples in heart-healing counseling.