IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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Herbert Rosenfeld (1971/1988) wrote extensively about projective identification and his now classic definition deserves to be quoted in full: “‘Projective identification’” relates first of all to a splitting process of the early ego, where either good or bad parts of the self are split off from the ego and are as a further step projected in love or in hatred into external objects, which leads to fusion and identification of the projected parts of the self with the external objects. There are important paranoid anxieties related to these processes as the objects filled with aggressive parts of the self become persecuting and are experienced by the patient as threatening to retaliate by forcing themselves and the bad parts of the self which they contain back again into the ego”. (1988; p.134) Greatly influenced by Bion’s ideas, Betty Joseph made additional contributions as she directed our attention to the nature and function of projetive identification in the analytic setting. Joseph (1998) came to realise that, in the session, the patient unconsciously induces or “nudges” the analyst into participating in various enactments, which sometimes takes the form of the analyst making him or herself too comfortable with the patient or sometimes becoming unnecessarily harsh. These pressures take the form of small projective identifications of aspects of the patient, or the patient’s objects, into the analyst through the use of verbal language, tone, tempo and ineffable prompts. In other words, she thought that an atmosphere was created by the patient that had an actual effect on the analyst. This is in keeping with Bion’s notion of “realistic projective identifiction”. Thus, Joseph underscored the link between projective identification and the transference. Spillius (2007) points to three central ideas in current use concerning projective identification. First that it is an unconscious phantasy that can be actualized by evocative activity – but that the latter is not a necessary part of the definition. Secondly how any attempt to distinguish between “projection” and “projective identification” is probably not useful. And thirdly that countertransference is to a considerable extent a response to the patient’s projective identifications. D. Meltzer may be considered as the psychoanalyst who passed on to new generations a synthesis of Freud’s, Klein’s and Bion’s discoveries in clinical practice and metapsychology (Meltzer, 1978). Amongst many others, Salomon Resnik (1999, 2006, 2011), Mireille Fognini (2014), José Juis Goyena (2020, 2012), Florence Guignard (2017-2020, 2021), François Lévy (2014) in France; and Mauro Mancia (1981, 2004, 2006), Claudio Neri (2006, 2013), Fernando Riolo (2019), Antonino Ferro (2017), and Giuseppe Civitarese (2017) in Italy, utilized Bion’s psychoanalytic developments in their everyday clinical work and keep on teaching them in their respective psychoanalytical societies and in their circles of influence. In Sweden, Johan Norman (2001), Björn Salomonsson and Majlis Winberg- Salomonsson developed also new ways of application on Bion’s ideas. (2014, 2016). (See below: “Projective identification in the analytic work”).


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