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by Robert M. Young 

In my first lecture I stressed primitive functioning, psychotic anxieties and unconscious phantasy. I now turn to Kleinian ideas about the Oedipus complex. I will also discuss projective identification and pathological organizations.

Klein was not opposed to orthodox Freudian ideas about the Oedipus complex, but, as I have said, she believed that the superego was in operation very early, so it could not be the heir to the Oedipus complex of classical Freudian theory. She can be said to have left that in the background and to have foregrounded what she called ‘the Oedipal situation’, a broader concept. She dates the superego from the oral phase. 'Under the sway of phantasy life and of conflicting emotions, the child at every stage of libidinal organization introjects his objects -- primarily his parents -- and builds up the super-ego from these elements... All the factors which have a bearing on his object relations play a part from the beginning in the build-up of the super-ego.

'The first introjected object, the mother's breast, forms the basis of the super-ego... The earliest feelings of guilt in both sexes derive from the oral-sadistic desires to devour the mother, and primarily her breasts (Abraham). It is therefore in infancy that feelings of guilt arise. Guilt does not emerge when the Oedipus complex comes to an end, but is rather one of the factors which from the beginning mould its course and affect its outcome' (Klein, 1945, pp. 78-9).

Klein’s final remarks on ‘The Oedipus Complex in the Light of Early Anxieties’ (1945) begin with a passage which supports my impression that she intermingles concepts which would be carefully distinguished in a Freudian developmental scheme. She says, 'The sexual development of the child is inextricably bound up with his object relations and with all the emotions which from the beginning mould his attitude to mother and father. Anxiety, guilt and depressive feelings are intrinsic elements of the child's emotional life and therefore permeate the child's early object relations, which consist of the relation to actual people as well as to their representatives in the inner world. From these introjected figures -- the child's identifications -- the super-ego develops and in turn influences the relation to both parents and the whole sexual development. Thus emotional and sexual development, object relations and super-ego development interact from the beginning’ (p. 82)

She concludes, 'The infants emotional life, the early defences built up under the stress between love, hatred and guilt, and the vicissitudes of the child's identifications -- all these topics which may well occupy analytic research for a long time to come' (pp. 81-2). The paper I have been quoting was published a year before she coined a term to characterise the mechanism which she called 'a particular form of identification which establishes the prototype an aggressive object relation. I suggest for these processes the term "projective identification"' (Klein, 1946, p. 8), of which more anon. This lies at the heart of the paranoid-schizoid position, in which splitting, projective mechanisms and part-object relations predominate. Once again, this configuration is in a dynamic relation with the depressive position, in which whole-object relations, concern for the object and integration predominate. What has happened in the subsequent research to which Klein alluded is that these ways of thinking have been brought into relationship with one another. As David Bell puts it, 'The primitive Oedipal conflict described by Klein takes place in the paranoid-schizoid position when the infant's world is widely split and relations are mainly to part objects. This means that any object which threatens the exclusive possession of the idealised breast/mother is felt as a persecutor and has projected into it all the hostile feelings deriving from pregenital impulses' (Bell, 1992, p. 172)

If development proceeds satisfactorily, secure relations with good internal objects leads to integration, healing of splits and taking back projections. 'The mother is then, so to speak, free to be involved with a third object in a loving intercourse which, instead of being a threat, becomes the foundation of a secure relation to internal and external reality. The capacity to represent internally the loving intercourse between the parents as whole objects results, through the ensuing identifications, in the capacity for full genital maturity. For Klein, the resolution of the Oedipus complex and the achievement of the depressive position refer to the same phenomena viewed from different perspectives' (ibid.). Ron Britton puts it very elegantly: 'the two situations are inextricably intertwined in such a way that one cannot be resolved without the other: we resolve the Oedipus complex by working through the depressive position and the depressive position by working through the Oedipus complex' (Britton, 1992, p. 35).

Isn't that neat and tidy -- a sort of Rosetta Stone, providing a key to translating between the Freudian and Kleinian conceptual schemes? In the recent work of Kleinians this way of thinking has been applied to broader issues, in particular, the ability to symbolise and learn from experience. Integration of the depressive position -- which we can now see as resolution of the Oedipus complex -- is the sine qua non of the development of 'a capacity for symbol formation and rational thought' (p. 37). Greater knowledge of the object 'includes awareness of its continuity of existence in time and space and also therefore of the other relationships of the object implied by that realization. The Oedipus situation exemplifies that knowledge. Hence the depressive position cannot be worked through without working through the Oedipus complex and vice versa' (p. 39). Britton also sees 'the depressive position and the Oedipus situation as never finished but as having to be re-worked in each new life situation, at each stage of development, and with each major addition to experience or knowledge' (p. 38).

This way of looking at the Oedipal situation also offers a way of thinking of the age-old question of self-knowledge or insight: 'The primal family triangle provides the child with two links connecting him separately with each parent and confronts him with the link between them which excludes him. Initially this parental link is conceived in primitive part-object terms and in the modes of his own oral, anal and genital desires, and in terms of his hatred expressed in oral, anal and genital terms. If the link between the parents perceived in love and hate can be tolerated in the child's mind, it provides him with a prototype for an object relationship of a third kind in which he is a witness and not a participant. A third position then comes into existence from which object relationships can be observed. Given this, we can also envisage being observed. This provides us with a capacity for seeing ourselves in interaction with others and for entertaining another point of view whilst retaining our own, for reflecting on ourselves whilst being ourselves' (Britton, 1989, p. 87). I find this very helpful, indeed, profound. This is how we fulfil the injunction of the Oracle at Delphi: ‘Know thyself’.

So, gaining the capacity to dwell in the depressive position is the pay-off of the process of working through the Oedipal situation, a set of problems which life can pose over and over again. Hanna Segal calls Klein’s concept of the depressive position ‘the cornerstone of her understanding of psychic life’ (Segal, nd).

What I think was really novel and utterly breathtaking about what Klein and her colleagues were reflecting upon was the primitive ferocity of the content of unconscious phantasies and psychotic anxieties which, as Hinshelwood puts it, lie 'beneath the classical Oedipus complex' (Hinshelwood, 1991, p. 57). This is particularly true of the combined parent figure and the terrified phantasies -- normal but psychotic anxieties -- associated with it (p. 60), as well as the child's feelings about his or her role and situation -- at risk, excluded, responsible. I experience a number of my patients as in stasis because of inactivity in this space due to depression, preoccupation or estrangement between the parents. They cannot get on with life, because there is no living relationship in the lee of which they can prosper. Sometimes they stay very still, lest the stasis give way to something far worse.

I often feel that the controversialists in the Freud-Klein debates were talking past one another -- the Freudians about actual parents and conscious feelings and the Kleinians about internal objects, part objects and utterly primitive unconscious phantasies of a particularly distressing and preverbal kind. The analogy occurs to me between the truths Oedipus thought he was seeking and the deeper ones which eventually emerged. One of the main features of recent Kleinian developments in this area is that the Oedipal situation is increasingly being seen as concerned with the prerequisites of knowledge, containment and that which is being contained. The focus changes to the riddle of the Sphinx and the search for the truth of origins which represent the Oedipal quest in its widest sense -- that of the need to know at a deeper level: epistemophilia.

I want now to say more about a concept I have already mentioned several times, projective identification. It is probably the most influential Kleinian concept; it is certainly the most popular. I am going to talk about the concept of projective identification generally, but I want to begin with an instance of it.

I want to point out that countertransference is an aspect of projective identification. In the countertransference relationship, the patient puts something into the therapist which the therapist experiences as his or her own. That's not a bad definition of one of the forms of projective identification, in which the patient splits off an unacceptable or undesirable (or otherwise uncontainable) part of the self and puts it into another person. That person must have, if only to a very small degree, the potential to identify with and express that feeling. It rises up from the general repertoire of that person’s potential feelings and gets exaggerated and expressed. The projector can then feel: 'It's not me; it's him', while the process of identification in the recipient may yield a bewildering feeling, reaction or act (Hinshelwood, 1991, pp. 179-208). In an attentive therapist, interrogating the countertransference leads to a fruitful interpretation.

While there are important differences in the degree to which various practitioners may be willing to express their countertransference, it is my impression that there is a growing consensus that being closely attuned to it is a, if not the, basis for knowing what is going on in psychotherapy and for making interpretations. The tendency to treat it, as Freud did, as pathology and to 'get rid of it' is certainly waning among recent writers, while more and more is being made of it. My best experiences in supervision have resulted from the supervisor asking me what I was feeling at a particular moment — usually a moment when I felt I did not understand the material. I would go so far as to say that this has never failed to provide at least some enlightenment. Interrogating the countertransference must not be seen as seeking a fact which is available on the surface of the mind. Countertransference is as unconscious as transference is. Understanding it is an interpretive task.

The modern approach to countertransference is not to get rid of it or even to exploit it and then get rid of it but to 'go with it'. The experience of countertransference is, in the first instance, apprehensible but not comprehensible. What is occurring between patient and therapist is not merely interactive; it is interpenetrative or dialectical. Much, often most, of what goes on in an analytic session is non-verbal and atmospheric, and one could not say how it is imparted. The atmosphere may be bland, soporific, tense, comforting, assaultive, arousing.

A paper by the Kleinian analyst, Irma Brenman Pick, takes the normality of countertransference to its logical extreme, without a trace of seeing it as something to be got rid of. She carefully considers it as the basis of understanding throughout the session: 'Constant projecting by the patient into the analyst is the essence of analysis; every interpretation aims at a move from the paraniod/schizoid to the depressive position' (Brenman-Pick, 1985, p. 158). She makes great play of the tone, the mood and the resonances of the process: 'I think that the extent to which we succeed or fail in this task will be reflected not only in the words we choose, but in our voice and other demeanour in the act of giving an interpretation...' (p. 161). Most importantly, she emphasises the power of the projections and what they evoke countertransferentially. She says, 'I have been trying to show that the issue is not a simple one; the patient does not just project into an analyst, but instead patients are quite skilled at projecting into particular aspects of the analyst. Thus, I have tried to show, for example, that the patient projects into the analyst's wish to be a mother, the wish to be all-knowing or to deny unpleasant knowledge, into the analyst's instinctual sadism, or into his defences against it. And above all, he projects into the analyst's guilt, or into the analyst's internal objects.

'Thus, patients touch off in the analyst deep issues and anxieties related to the need to be loved and the fear of catastrophic consequences in the face of defects, i.e., primitive persecutory or superego anxiety' (p. 161). As I see it, the approach adopted by Brenman Pick takes it as read and as normal that these powerful feelings are moving from patient to analyst and back again, through the processes of projection, evocation, reflection, interpretation and assimilation.

Kleinians have not always taken this view of countertransference. Klein had begged Paula Heimann not to deliver her first paper on countertransference and told Tom Hayley in the late 1950s that she thought countertransference interferes with analysis and should be the subject of lightning self-analysis (Grosskurth, 1985, p. 378). According to Spillius, ‘Klein thought that such extension would open the door to claims by analysts that their own deficiencies were caused by their patients’ (Spillius, 1992, p. 61). Having said this, it is important not to be too literal. about the use of the term ‘countertransference’. Klein’s subtle interpretations of her patients’ inner worlds — especially their preverbal feelings and ideas — only make sense in the light of her ability to be resonant with their most primitive feelings, and Bion’s injunction to ‘abandon memory and desire’ is made in the name of countertransference, whatever term we attach to the process. Indeed, it can be said that his writings are about little else.

I have argued that countertransference is projective identification operating between therapist and patient. I now want to turn to the broader concept. I begin by suggesting that projective identification is the most fruitful psychoanalytic concept since the discovery of the unconscious. Of course, as soon as something like that is said, competing claims rush forward to be recognised, for example, the significance of the Oedipus complex. Suffice it to say, then, that it is very important. Elizabeth Spillius describes it more modestly as Klein's most popular concept (Spillius, 1988, vol. 1, p. 81), and Donald Meltzer calls it the most fruitful Kleinian concept over the past thirty to forty years (Meltzer, 1991). Hinshelwood suggests that as well as being a, if not the, most fruitful Kleinian concept, it is also the most confused and confusing one (Hinshelwood, 1991, pp. 179-208).

Reviewing the psychoanalytic claims made on behalf of projective identification, Thomas Ogden presents the ideas of Harold Searles, Robert Langs, A. Malin and James Grotstein and describes projective identification as the essence of the therapeutic relationship. Therapy is said to consist of dealing with it. It is the basic unit of study of the therapeutic interaction (Ogden, 1979, p. 366). He also tells us that Bion 'views projective identification as the most important form of interaction between the patient and therapist in individual therapy, as well as in groups of all types' (p. 365). In 'Attacks on Linking', Bion says, 'Thus the link between patient and analyst, or infant and breast, is the mechanism of projective identification' (Bion, 1967, p. 106). In the course of a careful review of developments of the concept from its initial formulation in 1946, to the present, Hinshelwood says that for Bion it became 'the basic building block for generating thoughts out of experiences and perceptions' (Hinshelwood, 1991, pp. 189-90). At this same level of generality Segal has described projective identification as 'the earliest form of empathy' and 'the basis of the earliest form of symbol-formation' (Segal, 1973, p. 36). Looking to later developments and more broadly, Hinshelwood describes Bion's notion of 'container-contained' as 'an attempt to raise the concept of projective identification to a general theory of human functioning — of the relations between people, and between groups; of the relationships between internal objects; and of the relationships in the symbolic world between thoughts, ideas, theories, experiences, etc.' (Hinshelwood, 1991, p. 191).

These are large claims — very exciting, uplifting, constructive. Yet this same mechanism is seen to be operative at the heart of autism by Meltzer and his co-workers. He also describes it as 'the mechanism of narcissistic identification... and the basis of hypochondria, confusional states, claustrophobia, paranoia, psychotic depression and perhaps some psychosomatic disorders' (Meltzer et al., 1975, p. 228). It is also the sovereign defence against separation anxiety (Grinberg, 1990, p. 64). Relinquishment of excessive projective identification is described as the precondition of achieving a fully-dimensional inner world. (Meltzer et al., 1975, pp. 226-7). As Meltzer says in his essay on 'The Relation of Anal Masturbation to Projective Identification', 'The feeling of fraudulence as an adult person, the sexual impotence or pseudo-potency (excited by secret perverse phantasies), the inner loneliness and the basic confusion between good and bad, all create a life of tension and lack of satisfaction, bolstered, or rather compensated, only by the smugness and snobbery which are an inevitable accompaniment of the massive projective identification' (Meltzer, 1966, p. 104). In his more recent work, Meltzer describes it as central to the most social Darwinist forms of ambitious competitive, survivalist conformism, in his concept of 'the claustrum', in which patients use excessive projective identification as a desperate defence against schizophrenic breakdown (Meltzer, 1992). I’ll mention this again in a moment. Another Kleinian, Leslie Sohn, recalls that the original thoughts on projective identification in the British Psycho-Analytical Society conceived of it 'as a defence against intolerable envy and as an outcome of hatred of dependence' (Sandler, 1989, p. 190). Projective identification (of which splitting is an integral part) is also the  basic mechanism in, sectarianism, virulent nationalism, fanatical religiosity and blind obedience to political and gang leaders.

As if all this wasn't problematic enough, Spillius begins her overview of the concept by telling us that 'the term has gradually become the most popular of Klein's concepts, the only one that has been widely accepted and discussed by non-Kleinians — especially in the United States' (Spillius, 1988, vol. 1, p. 81). The problem is that she goes on to say that 'it is often discussed in terms that are incompatible with Klein's conception' (ibid.). Hinshelwood draws a similarly disconcerting conclusion when he writes, 'There appears to be no consensus on the value of the term "projective identification" outside the Kleinian conceptual framework' (Hinshelwood, 1991, p. 204). It is in danger of degenerating into what he calls 'a catch-phrase for all interpersonal phenomena' (p. 196) The most controversial issue is whether an external Other has to be involved in a projective identifications. Americans say yes; English Kleinians say no –- that one can project into parts of one’s own mind.

Hanna Segal's definition seems to side with those who call for an external object: 'In projective identification parts of the self and internal objects are split off and projected into the external object, which then becomes possessed by, controlled and identified with the projected parts' (Segal, 1973, p. 27). Bion also includes projection 'into an external object' (Bion, 1992, p.159). Unless we assume that they are written from the point of view of the projector’s phantasy, these definitions do not embrace both sides of Spillius' broad approach, which allows for projective identification into an internal object as well as into an external one. It is important to emphasise that projective identification can occur wholly inside the unconscious of the projecting person and need not be involved at all with behaviour which is unconsciously designed to elicit a response from another person. The Other can dwell exclusively in the inner world of the person who creates the projective identification and supplies the response from his or her phantasy of the dramatis personae in the mind. In this case it is a relationship between one part of the inner world and another. Where behaviour is involved, the process of eliciting the unconsciously desired resonance from the Other can be very subtle, indeed. Betty Joseph has made the detailed understanding of these interactions an area of special study. In particular, she draws attention to the patient’s uncanny ability to ‘nudge’ the therapist to act out in accordance with the patient’s projection — to evoke the disowned feelings from the therapist’s repertoire and induce the therapist to experience and perhaps reproject them (Joseph, 1989, esp. chs. 7, 9-12).

  There are further elaborations: 'Projective identification has manifold aims: it may be directed towards the ideal object to avoid separation, or it may be directed towards the bad object to gain control of the source of the danger. Various parts of the self may be projected, with various aims: bad parts of the self may be projected in order to get rid of them as well as to attack and destroy the object, good parts may be projected to avoid separation or keep them safe from bad things inside or to improve the external object through a kind of primitive projective reparation. Projective identification starts when the paranoid-schizoid position is first established in relation to the breast, but it persists and very often becomes intensified when the mother is perceived as a whole object and the whole of her body is entered by projective identification' (Segal, 1973, pp. 27-8).

Mutual projective processes are powerfully at work in couples and in large and small groups. Tom Main writes, ‘Certain pairs come to live in such locked systems, dominated by mutual projective phantasies with each not truly married to a person, but rather to unwanted, split off and projected parts of themselves. But the husband, dominant and cruel, and the wife, stupidly timid and respectful, may be miserably unhappy with themselves and with each other, yet such marriages, although turbulent, are stable, because each partner needs the other for narcissistic pathological purposes. Forcible projective processes, and especially projective identification, are thus more than an individual matter; they are object-related, and the other will always be affected more or less. The results are a variety of joint personality deplenishments and invasions and interpersonal disturbances' (Main, 1975, pp. 100-01).

None of the above descriptions sufficiently emphasises projective identification into parts of one's own mind, a topic well-expressed (in the context of envy) by Joseph Berke, whose book, The Tyranny of Malice (1989), can be seen as a compendium on splitting and projective identification: 'Projection and projective identification are activities that influence different parts of the self. These, of course, include phantasized or internal representations of actual relationships. Thus a person can indeed feel under attack because he is attacking mental images of his own father or teacher or therapist.

'However, a more ominous reaction occurs when, beset by envy, the envier tries to preserve himself from himself by splitting up and projectively identifying his spite and malice with and into parts of his own mind. Consequently the envier contains a multitude of envious others all threatening to attack him from within. These exist as split off and extremely hostile representations of his own envious self or of envious parents and parental substitutes.' This process leads to an over-severe and envious superego and saps the individual's progressive and creative capacities.

'In order to avoid such a psychic catastrophe, whereby a host of inner enviers assault each other, the afflicted person may utilise projective processes to deflect these enmities outward. The net effect is like picking out a pack of piranhas and throwing them into the air. Because of the action of projective identification, when these vicious little enviers land on something, and they always do, the envious person (fleeing from his own envious selves) inevitably converts elements of external reality (benign people, places, or things) into malevolent entities (witches, evil influences, bad omens). But instead of solving the problem, this manoeuvre compounds it, for the individual feels threatened by malignity emanating from within himself and from without. Thus the envier becomes the envied, and the hunter becomes the hunted' (Berke, 1989, p. 67).

Donald Meltzer’s book, The Claustrum, is entirely devoted to projective identification into internal objects. He is at pains to reveal the evolution of his thinking. He had for some years been uncomfortable with a bias in Klein’s paper ‘On Identification’ (1955) and came to ‘discover the real reason for my dissatisfaction: the tendency of Mrs. Klein’s paper to continue treating projective identification as a psychotic mechanism and one which operated with external objects, primarily or exclusively’ (Meltzer, 1992, p. 13). He emphasises that an important part of mental space is inside internal objects (p. 118) and that entry into projective identification is a ‘ubiquitous phenomenon in early childhood’ (p. 118). More generally, he concludes that ‘the existence of one or another infantile part either living in projective identification or easily provoked to enter the claustrum of internal objects is fairly ubiquitous’ (p.134; cf. p. 153).

There is one more aspect of projective identification to which I want to refer before moving onto a broader canvas. I have already stressed the intrapsychic form, where both parts are played inside the inner world. I now want to draw attention to a feature of the process when it occurs between people. In much of the literature on this topic, reference is made to 'projecting into the Other, whether externally or internally. I believe that there is an important distinction which is, as yet, not fully worked out. It concerns putting something into another person as distinct from eliciting something from the repertoire of their responses, exaggerating it and evoking a reprojection of that aspect of their personality. The process is one of the projection finding a home and of unconscious collusion on the part of the person receiving the projection. In my opinion this is by far the most common manifestation of the interpersonal form of the process, as distinct from being invaded by something entirely alien, a strange feeling in oneself. What is strange in the case of evoked and exaggerated feelings is the intensity. The recipient reprojects a degree or strength of feeling that is surprising, but, though an exaggeration or enhancement, it is still his or hers.

The patient's hook catches its fish in the analyst's unconscious and reels it in. In my view, much of the striking originality of Harold Searles' work stems from this important insight, one which has been grasped by some Kleinians for example, Irma Brenman Pick (1985, esp. p. 41), Betty Joseph (1989) and Michael Feldman (1992, pp. 77, 87), but its implications are far from being taken in by most writers on the subject. There is too little awareness of how nearly fully interactive the processes are, and I believe this is a remnant of objectivist attitudes on the part of therapists, who do not grant the fundamental role of the countertransference in therapy, as in the rest of life.

I have, in an attempt to lay the groundwork for my argument, raised rather a lot of possibilities. Projective identification is the basis of all relationships, yet the basic mechanism in some of our most alarming mental disorders and some of our worst inhumanities, as well as for the therapeutic process. At the same time, the tacit injunction to our patients — 'Take back the projections' — is a useful way of characterising the goal of helping her or him to dwell as much as possible in the depressive position, and, as we have seen, the effort to shift from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position is, according to Brenman Pick, the aim of every interpretation (Brenman Pick, 1985, p. 37). So — in one Kleinian formulation it is the model for the process, while in another its diminution is the goal of that process.

What sense can we make of all this? First, I have to say that it's all true. There are a number of forms of the process of projective identification, and it would not be fruitful to legislate away any of them. We have to try to live with the mixture in the depressive position and bear the consequences and the anxieties. That sends us back to basics. That's always best, and directs us to what many believe to be Klein's most important single text, 'Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms', delivered on 4 December in 1946 — a good point in history for taking back projections, you might say, in the wake of the Second World War and at the genocidal dawn of the Atomic Age.

Klein concludes seven pages on the fine texture of early paranoid and schizoid mechanisms as follows: 'So far, in dealing with persecutory fear, I have singled out the oral element. However, while the oral libido still has the lead, libidinal and aggressive impulses and phantasies from other sources come to the fore and lead to a confluence of oral, urethral and anal desires, both libidinal and aggressive. Also the attacks on the mother's breast develop into attacks of a similar nature on her body, which comes to be felt as it were as an extension of the breast, even before the mother is conceived of as a complete person. The phantasied onslaughts on the mother follow two main lines: one is the predominantly oral impulse to suck dry, bite up, scoop out and rob the mother's body of its good contents... The other line of attack derives from the anal and urethral impulses and implies expelling dangerous substances (excrements) out of the self and into the mother. Together with these harmful excrements, expelled in hatred, split-off parts of the ego are also projected onto the mother or, as I would rather call it, into the mother. These excrements and bad parts of the self are meant not only to injure but also to control and to take possession of the object. In so far as the mother comes to contain the bad parts of the self, she is not felt to be a separate individual but is felt to be the bad self.

'Much of the hatred against parts of the self is now directed towards the mother. This leads to a particular form of identification which establishes the prototype of an aggressive object-relation' (Klein, 1946, pp. 7-8). Note carefully that we have here the model — the template, the fundamental experience — of all of the aggressive features of human relations. Six years later Klein adds the following sentence: 'I suggest for these processes the term "projective identification"' (ibid.).

She goes on to say that if the infant's impulse is to harm, the mother is experienced as persecuting, and that in psychotic disorders the identification of the object with hated parts of the self 'contributes to the intensity of the hatred directed against other people', that this process weakens the ego, that good parts are also projected and that 'The processes of splitting off parts of the self and projecting them into objects are thus of vital importance for normal development as well as for normal object-relations' (pp. 8-9). In the course of all this, Klein makes it quite clear that the very same processes involve 'anxieties characteristic of psychosis' (p. 2). I am relating these matters in the way that I am in order to make it apparent that the very same mechanisms are at work in a wide range of internal processes.

This leaves me with a painful, rather Aristotelian, point to make here — at the centre or pivotal passage in my argument. What is crazy and murderous and what is essential to all experience and human relations are the same. The same. It is all a matter of degree, and all we can hope to do is attempt to find and hold onto something akin to Aristotle's ethical principle, 'The Golden Mean'. This is contrary to what we are taught in the nosologies of the psychopathologists, where normal and pathological are sharply distinguished and lie on either side of diagnostic dichotomies. As I understand the Kleinian notion of projective identification (as with much else in Kleinian metapsychology), there is no sharp line to be drawn between normal and pathological, between benign as compared to virulent or malignant projective identification. The relevant division concerns points on a continuum representing the force with which the projection is phantasied, along with other criteria which do not arise inside this primitive mechanism. I am not suggesting that good is the same as bad. There are all-important distinctions to be drawn between benign and virulent manifestations of projective identification. They are based on content, motive, situation and moral criteria, but the psychological mechanism involved in all of these is the same.

As we have seen, Klein began in earlier papers by attempting to specify fixation points for paranoia and depression (Klein, 1935). She went on to specify developmental points. Bion and others completed the universalization of the paranoid-schizoid (ps) and depressive (d) positions by putting a double-headed arrow between them and emphasising that we move back and forth in the mundane processes of daily and moment-to-moment experience: psÖd.

Lest you think my position utterly eccentric in lumping all things together and then domesticating them, I can claim that I am not alone in discerning this broad view of projective identification in the literature. After reviewing the development of the concept, Torras de Beà writes, 'These authors consider that projective identification is the basic mechanism of empathy and primitive communication and also of the defence mechanism which consists of dissociating and projecting anxiety in order to be rid of it. I agree with this and think also that what we call projective identification is the active element in every communication from empathy to the most pathological and defensive' (Torras de Beà, 1989, p. 266). He concludes that it is 'the mechanism basic to all human interaction' (p. 272).

Faced with all this conceptual muddle and the close proximity between constructive and destructive aspects of our most basic ways of feeling and relating, what hope is there for sorting out our personal and collective feelings and forms of co-operation and conflict? Not a lot, I have to say, but we are at least in a position to see where the problems lie for individuals and beyond

I only have time to sketch some other developments in the Kleinian literature. (If you want to familiarise yourself with more developments in Kleinian theory since her death, I recommend the article by Elizabeth Spillius in the reading list and the two volume collection which she edited, Melanie Klein Today (Spillius, 1988)). One development which follows on from the concepts of paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions is a third position in which the patient is stuck and shows a characteristic lack of insight and a resistance to change. There are benign and virulent versions of this position, the benign having been described by John Steiner in a paper and a book, the latter entitled Psychic Retreats (1993). The virulent form was characterized by Herbert Rosenfeld, who, along with Hanna Segal, Henri Rey and Donald Meltzer, took Kleinian ideas into work with psychotics. The benefit to the patient of this haven is that it allows him or her to avoid the anxieties of both the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive positions, and the aim of the organization is to maintain the status quo. Steiner suggests that it occurs in all of us from time to time (1993, p. 11). In discussing the virulent form, called pathological organization (considered at length in volume one of Melanie Klein Today), Harold Rosenfeld refers to a ‘gang in the mind’. He writes, ‘The destructive narcissism of these patients appears often highly organised, as if one were dealing with a powerful gang dominated by a leader, who controls all the members of the gang to see that they support one another in making the criminal destructive work more effective and powerful. However, the narcissistic organization not only increases the strength of the destructive narcissism, but it has a defensive purpose to keep itself in power and so maintain the status quo. The main aim seems to prevent the weakening of the organization and to control the members of the gang so that they will not desert the destructive organization and join the positive parts of the self or betray the secrets of the gang to the police, the protecting superego, standing for the helpful analyst, who might be able to save the patient. Frequently when a patient of this kind makes progress in the analysis and wants to change he dreams of being attacked by members of the Mafia or adolescent delinquents and a negative therapeutic reaction sets in. This narcissistic organization is in my experience not primarily directed against guilt and anxiety, but seems to have the purpose of maintaining the idealization and superior power of the destructive narcissism. To change, to receive help, implies weakness and is experienced as wrong or as failure by the destructive narcissistic organization which provides the patient with his sense of superiority. In cases of this kind there is a most determined chronic resistance to analysis and only the very detailed exposure of the system enables analysis to make some progress’ (Rosenfeld, 1971, reprinted in Spillius, 1988, vol. 1, p. 249). That is one of my favourite passages in all of the analytic literature. I am attracted by its vivid evocation of the way things are, the atmosphere in the unconscious of the patient. The phenomena described by Kleinians in terms of the concept of pathological organization are called Borderline Personality Disorder in standard psychiatric classifications (Tarnopolsky, 1992). I find the Kleinian account more resonant and evocative.

That’s all the examples we have time for. (I have been particularly negligent of Kleinian ideas about groups and institutions. You can find writings about these in Armstrong et al., Introduction to Group Relations.) I want to conclude by characterizing the kind of theory Klein is offering us. In a very interesting paper in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis Ruth Stein took 'A New Look at the Theory of Melanie Klein' (Stein, 1990). She argues that Klein's is fundamentally a theory of affect in which the focus is 'shifted from Freud's cathectic explanations to the concepts of objects and the feelings attached to them' (p. 500). 'Positions' become more important than structures, and these are 'built around different core feelings' (p. 504). There are basically two psychological configurations, corresponding to the two basic instincts. They 'differ fundamentally according to the capacity of the individual to tolerate unpleasant or conflictual feelings’ (p. 505). Psychic life is the regulation of feelings (p. 508). She concludes that 'Klein has no theory of the mental apparatus, and feelings are not placed in any such frame' (p. 509).

Where all this is leading is a way of thinking and of writing about patients in which the technical language of psychoanalytic mechanisms are in no way eschewed, but they become background. In the foreground we find a narrative of the vicissitudes of the life and the inner life of the patient, an alliance between the language of narrative and that of object relations. Theory becomes the base clef, as it were, while an appropriately dramatic emotional story is told in the treble clef. A good example of this is Ronald Britton’s case material in his new book, Belief and Imagination, where in one chapter he is illustrating the moves as well as moving on in vacillations between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions and a psychic retreat.

Behind this apparently undramatic point about background and foreground is a model of the mind which is very different from the neo-Freudian one. My understanding of the ego’s mechanisms of defence, as outlined by Anna Freud, is that we strive for an increasingly conflict-free sphere of the ego where rationality predominates. The irrational is being kept at bay by defence mechanisms acting as safety-valves. The big difference between this model and the Kleinian one is that the role of the primitive is very differently conceived. In the Kleinian model the unconscious is rather more like the cauldron I mentioned in my first lecture, always bubbling away, threatening from time to time to boil over or burst its container. Primitive, psychotic anxieties are at work all the time in the process of unconscious phantasy. Indeed, without them, according to Klein and Riviere and Isaacs, we have no mind. We are engaged in a perpetual, ongoing process of compromise formation whereby we move between one position in which splitting and projective identification, punitive guilt and part-object relations predominate, to another in which there are whole object relations, concern for the object, moderation depressive (i.e., non-punitive) guilt and reparation. There is no escape from this vacillation, only the hope that we will not be taken over, colonised, as it were, by malignant or virulent splitting and projective identification. The inner process is always dramatic, and we are only ever relatively at peace with ourselves and our internal objects. The primitive is never transcended. And life is hard; when it is not hard, it is manageable; it is rarely wonderful. It is worth adding, however, that toward the end of her life Klein wrote more about the loving, grateful and hopeful side of human nature, but she characteristically continued to pair the positive with the negative.

In the light of all of this, you won’t be surprised to learn that my hero is the mythical Sisyphus, always pushing the stone up the hill, knowing it will sooner or later roll back. He will never complete the task but he may not give it up. The process of the pushing is its own reward. Albert Camus concludes his essay on ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ as follows: ‘One must imagine Sisyphus happy’. 

This is the text of the second of two talks on ‘Melanie Klein’ and was given at the Tavistock Clinic 25 January 2000, .in the series ‘Psychoanalytic Pioneers’, sponsored by CONFER. It draws on my other writings.


(Place of publication is London unless otherwise specified.)

Anderson, Robin, ed. (1992), Clinical Lectures on Klein and Bion. Routledge.

Armstrong, David, Lawrence, Gordon and Young, Robert M. (1997) Group Relations: An Introduction.


Bell, D. (1992) 'Hysteria - A Contemporary Kleinian Perspective',  Brit. J. Psychother. 9: 169-80.

Berke, Joseph (1989) The Tyranny of Malice: Exploring the Dark Side of Character and Culture. Simon and Schuster.

Bion, W. R. 1967) Second Thoughts: Selected Papers on Psycho-Analysis.  Heinemann Medical; reprinted Maresfield, 1984.

Brenman Pick, I. (1985) 'Working Through in the Counter-transference', Int. J. Psycho-anal. 66: 157-66; reprinted in Spillius, ed. (1988), vol. 2, pp. 34-47.

Britton, Ronald (1989) 'The Missing Link: Parental Sexuality in the Oedipus Complex', in Britton et al. (1989), pp. 83-102.

______ (1992) 'The Oedipus Situation and the Depressive Position', in R. Anderson, ed. (1992), pp. 34-45.

______ (1998) Belief and Imagination: Explorations in Psychoanalysis.  Routledge.

______ et al. (1989) The Oedipus Complex Today: Clinical Implications. Karnac.

Camus, Albert (1942) ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, trans. In The

Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. N. Y.: Knopf, 1955, pp. 88-91.

Feldman, Michael (1992) ‘Splitting and Projective identification’, in Anderson, ed. (1992), pp. 74-88.

Grinberg, L. (1990) The Goals of Psychoanalysis: Identification, Identity and Supervision. Karnac.

Hinshelwood, Robert D. (1991) A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought, 2nd ed. Free Association Books.

Isaacs, Susan (1952) ‘The Nature and Function of Phantasy’, in Klein et al. (1952), pp. 67-121.

Joseph, Betty (1989) Psychic Equilibrium and Psychic Change:

Selected Papers. Routledge.

Klein, M. (1928) 'Early Stages of the Oedipus Conflict', Int. J. Psycho-anal. 9: 167-80; reprinted in Klein (1975), vol. 1, pp. 186-98

______ (1935) 'A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States', reprinted in W. M. K. II, pp, 262-89.

______ (1945) 'The Oedipus Complex in the Light of Early Anxieties', Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 26: 11-33; reprinted in Klein (1975), vol. 1, pp. 370-419 and in Britton et al. (1989), pp. 11-82, esp. summary, pp. 63-82.

______ (1946) 'Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms', Int. J. Psycho-anal. 27: 99-110, reprinted in Klein (1975), vol. 3, pp. 1-24.

______ (1955) ‘On Identification, W. M. K. III, pp. 141-75.

______ (1975) The Writings of Melanie Klein, 4 vols. Hogarth. Vol. I: Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works., 1921-1945. Vol. II: The Psycho-Analysis of Children. Vol. III Envy and Gratitude and Other Works; 1946-1963; . Vol. IV: Narrative of a Child Analysis. all reprinted Virago, 1988. (W. M. K. )

______ et al. (1952) Developments in Psycho-Analysis. Hogarth.

______ et al., eds. (1955) New Directions in Psycho-Analysis: The Significance of Infant Conflicts in the Patterns of Adult Behaviour. Tavistock; reprinted Maresfield,

Main, Tom (1975) 'Some Psychodynamics of Large Groups', in L. Kreeger, ed. (1975), pp. 57-86; reprinted in *The Ailment and Other Psychoanalytic Essays. Free Association Books, 1989, pp. 100-22.

Meltzer, Donald (1978) The Kleinian Development Part I: Freud’s Clinical Development; Part II: Richard Week-by-Week; Part III: The Clinical Significance of the Work of Bion. Strath Tay: Clunie.

______ (1992) The Claustrum: An Investigation of Claustrophobic Phenomena. Strath Tay: Clunie.

______ et al. (1975) Explorations in Autism: A Psycho-Analytical Study. Strath Tay: Clunie.

Money-Kyrle, Roger E. (1978) The Collected Papers of Roger Money-Kyrle. Strath Tay: Clunie Press.

Ogden, Thomas K. (1979) 'On Projective Identification', Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 60: 357-73.

Rey, Henri (1994) Universals of Psychoanalysis in the Treatment of Psychotic and Borderline States. Free Association Books

Riviere, Joan (1952) 'General Introduction', in Klein et al. (1952), pp. 1-36.

______ (1952a) 'On the Genesis of Psychical Conflict in Early Infancy', in Klein et al. (1952), pp. 37-66.

Rosenfeld, Herbert (1965) Psychotic States: A Psychoanalytical Approach. Hogarth; reprinted Maresfield Library.

______ (1971) 'A Clinical Approach to the Psychoanalytic Theory of the Life and Death Instincts: An Investigation into the Aggressive Aspects of Narcissism', Int. J. Psycho-anal. 52: 169-78; reprinted in Spillius (1988), vol. 1, pp. 239-55.

______ (1987) Impasse and Interpretation: Therapeutic and Anti-Therapeutic Factors in Psychoanalytic Treatment of Psychotic, Borderline, and Neurotic Patients. Routledge, pp. 157-90.

______ (nd) ‘Introduction to Melanie Klein’ (excellent brief

Sandler, Joseph, ed. (1989) Projection, Identification, Projective Identification.  Karnac Books.

Segal, Hanna (1973) Introduction to the Work of Melanie Klein. Hogarth; reprinted Karnac, 1988.

______ (nd) ‘Introduction to Melanie Klein’ (excellent brief account) http://www.egroups.com/docvault/klein

Spillius, Elizabeth B. (1983) ‘Some Developments from the Work of Melanie Klein’, Internat. J. Psycho-Anal. 64:

______ (1988) Melanie Klein Today, 2 vols. Routledge

Stein, R. (1990) 'A New Look at the Theory of Melanie Klein', Int. J. Psycho-anal. 71:499-511.

Steiner, John (1987) ‘The Interplay between Pathological Organizations and the Paranoid-Schizoid and Depressive Positions’, Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 68: 69-80; reprinted in Spillius, ed. (1988), vol. 1, pp. 324-42.

______ (1994) Psychic Retreats: Pathological Organizations in Psychotic, Neurotic and Borderline Patients. Routledge.

Tarnopolsky, Alex (1992) ‘Borderline Disorders: A British Point of View’, in Daniel Silver and Micheal Rosenbleuth, eds. Handbook of Borderline Disorders. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, pp.177-204.

Torres de Beà, E. (1989) 'Projective Identification and Differentiation', Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 70:265-74.

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