IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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Projective identification is a hybrid and dynamic concept that applies to intrapsychic life as well as to interpersonal dynamics and economy (Guignard, 2017-2020). It enhances the importance of a first object fit for the newborn to have good enough relations: the helplessness and pre-maturity of the human baby make it necessary for him/her to get from the outside (from the mother) a fundamental means of communication, in order to have a grip on a ruthless reality. The newborn needs to meet the caring and thinking capacities in the mother in order to welcome and try to soothe those projected parts of him/her. Projective identification cannot be understood separately from “introjective identification”, a concept rarely made explicit in clinical descriptions. Together, they constitute the feeling of identity of a person, a feeling always in motion and never achieved.


Projective identification developed as a combination of Freud’s (1915 – “Instincts and their vicissitudes ” ) concept of projection – which he viewed as a means for the ego to rid itself of painful, threatening mental contents – and of his concept of identification. In his papers on metapsychology (e g 1917, 1923) Freud wrote that identification is the first form of object relation to appear at birth. It could be said that his 1914 essay on narcissism resulted in such an insight about a common psychic movement that installs simultaneously object relation and identification. In 1938, shortly before his death, Freud clarified the primitive defense mechanisms of splitting, denial and idealization . In particular, he stressed the difference between the violence of the primal defenses compared to the secondary ones – linked to the secondary repression. By studying these defenses in relation to perversions, he focused on their pathology, not on their structure. Melanie Klein’s concept of projective identification might be considered as having its roots in Freud’s considerations mentioned above. However, one should add to it Klein’s discoveries of the role of splitting in the world of objects – not only of the Ego, as Freud described it – that gave rise to the rich and complex universe of part-objects relations and identifications. Projective identification addresses psychic objects projected – transferred – onto various people, the first of which is obviously the mother in the beginning of life, or her substitute, first as a part-object – “the breast” – then, as a total object – the person of the mother. In 1946, Melanie Klein viewed projective identification as an intrapsychic means by which the infant relieves itself of unwanted affects, objects and parts of the self and a mechanism by which it takes control of the mother in [unconscious] phantasy. She also made clear that these projected aspects could be either good or bad. She introduced the notion that projective


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