IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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safely be re-introjected. Bion describes how when the patient was left feeling that the analyst had evacuated the patient’s projections too quickly, that is that the feelings were not modified, the patient responded by attempting to (re)project them into the analyst with increased desperation and violence. Bion links this clinical process to the patient’s experience with his mother who could not tolerate taking in the infant’s projections and who did not contain the infant’s projected fears. Bion suggests that “an understanding mother is able to experience the feeling of dread that this baby was striving to deal with by projective identification and yet retain a balanced outlook” (Bion, 1959, p. 103-104). In 1962, in his publication “Learning from Experience” and in a paper “A Theory of Thinking”, Bion (1962 a,b) develops these ideas further, describing the mother’s receptive state of mind when she can take in and contain the infant’s projected terror as reverie. By adding the idea of maternal reverie to the idea of projective identification, Bion includes how the environment, through primary relations, affects intrapsychic developments. Reverie refers to a receptive mental state where the mother unconsciously identifies and responds to what is projected by the child. Through maternal reverie the mother creates a new understanding of what the child tries to communicate. The mother transforms what Bion calls the beta elements into alpha elements, which can then be communicated back to the child. This becomes the first definition of the model Container-Contained. Specifically, the process involves the following steps: First, the mother, in a state of reverie receives and takes in those unbearable aspects of self, objects, affects and unprocessed sensory experiences (beta elements) of her infant that have been projected into her in phantasy. Second, she must bear the full effects of these projections upon her mind and body as long as need be in order to think about and to understand them, a process Bion refers to as transformation. Next, having thus transformed her baby’s experience in her own mind, she must gradually return them to the infant in detoxified and digestible form and (at such time as these may be of use to him) as demonstrated in her attitude and the way in which she handles him. In analysis, Bion refers to this last segment of the process as publication, what we commonly refer to as interpretation. The ability to ‘contain’ assumes a mother who has boundaries and sufficient internal space to accommodate her own anxieties as well as those acquired in relation to her infant; a mother who has a well-developed capacity to bear pain, to contemplate, to think and to convey what she thinks in a way that is meaningful to her infant. A mother who is herself separate, intact, receptive, capable of reverie and appropriately giving is thus suitable for introjection as a ‘containing’ object and little by little, over time, the infant’s identification with and assimilation of such an object leads to increasing mental space, the development of a capacity to make meaning, and the on-going evolution of a mind that can think for itself. This is what Bion came to call alpha function. In his 1963 “Elements of Psychoanalysis”, Bion considers the dynamic relationship between the Container and Contained, marked by abstract signs of ♂ and ♀, to be the first element of psychoanalysis. The ♂ (Contained) here has a penetrating quality and the ♀ (Container) a receptive/receiving quality. In this context, ♀and ♂ are not restricted to the specific sexual meaning, but are without any specific sexual connotation. They represent variables or unknowns: the ♀ and ♂ functions present in all relationships, independently of gender. The ♂ (Contained) penetrates the ♀ (Container), who receives it and interacts with it, leading to a creation of a new product. The use of the ♂-♀ symbols highlights the biological nature of the mind, and also includes Freud’s and Klein’s concepts on sexuality and oedipal


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