IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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Inter-Regional Consultants : Gary Schlesinger (North America), Florence Guignard (Europe) and Ricardo Spector (Latin America) Inter-Regional Coordinating Co-Chair: Arne Jemstedt (Europe)


Projective identification, a concept introduced by Melanie Klein in 1946, is both a primitive defense mechanism as well as a fundamental mode of unconscious communication with oneself and with the world. It allows the self to disavow unwanted experience while affording a modicum of control over the object of the projection. Projective identification is a bi-directional unconscious movement that ignores the boundaries between the Self and the other and deals mainly with part-objects and parts of the Self. By projecting them into another person, first real, then also fantasized, the subject – first, the infant – evacuates – first, into the mother – painful body experiences, death anguish and other emotions and feelings that overwhelm his/her capacities to contain them within him/herself. However, such a denial does not prevent the subject from keeping unconscious links with these expelled objects and parts of the Self; s/he also identifies him/herself with characteristics of the person into which s/he projected these elements. Melanie Klein added projective identification to the first set of defenses – splitting , denial and idealization – that she had sorted out and specially dealt with in her 1946 paper, because she observed that it appeared simultaneously with these in the infant. Projective identification is made of two main psychoanalytic concepts – projection and identification. However, apart from the fact that both are unconscious psychic movements, these two concepts do not have the same level of complexity : - Projection -and-introjection are the basic mechanisms required for a psychic life to exist, in the same way as inspiration-and-expiration are the necessary mechanisms of breathing in biological life. - Identification is a much more complex process , made of a mosaic of relational micromovements, and never completed. Melanie Klein contends that projective identification functions from birth to death, underlying the more articulate and conscious means of relation and communication progressively set in place in the course of development.


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