A three-person perspective on transference

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Different approaches to psychoanalysis may be classed according to the number of persons that they assume to be necessary in order to adequately describe mental life. One-person approaches assume the basic autonomy of the individual to act as a subject in her world, while 2-person approaches assume the irreducibility of object and subject, their essential complementarity and their mutual affirmation as subjects. Three-person approaches, on which the present article focuses, argue that the subject can fully develop only by creating enough space for herself among other persons who compete for subject positions. Such space is created in relation to (at least) 2 other subjects, hence the system of 3 persons. In the 3-person perspective, the position of the subject is defined as First, and the Second is defined by the one with whom the subject identifies and in whom she mirrors herself through cycles of projection and introjection. The position of the Third involves the personification of the cultural matrix and, especially, the way language informs our ability to relate to each other. This is best represented in the universal system of personal pronouns: the subject takes the position of the 1st person (I), the Second takes the position of the 2nd person (You), and the Third is posited as the 3rd person (she or he and it). In psychoanalytic therapy, the patient takes the position of the Subject, the First. Transference is construed as the superposition of both the 2nd and the 3rd persons upon the figure of the analyst, a mental process that (re)creates the necessary conditions for the development of subjecthood. As a result, in the discourse of transference, the position of the analyst keeps fluctuating between the 2nd and 3rd positions: When one takes place on the actual level, the other acts in the background, and vice versa. The therapeutic consequences of this view are discussed; for example, transference love is construed as a process in which the 2nd person struggles to dominate the positioning of the analyst. Other transferential configurations are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)296-318
Number of pages23
JournalPsychoanalytic Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • Agency
  • Lacan
  • Language
  • Thirdness
  • Transference


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