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Kavaler-Adler, S. (1993). The Conflict and Process Theory of Melanie Klein. Am. J. Psychoanal., 53(3):187-204.

(1993). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 53(3):187-204

The Conflict and Process Theory of Melanie Klein

Susan Kavaler-Adler, Ph.D.

Melanie Klein's theory provides an integrative link between the conflict theory of Freud and the process theory of the British school of object relations, with its emphasis on relational yearnings as the primary motivational force that dominates our psyches. Klein's theory provides an integrative framework for both the conflict and process aspects of the human psyche, which makes it fundamental and unique.


Drive truly becomes passion as the churning confusion of love and hate comes to dominate the texture of human psychic experience (see Greenberg and Mitchell. 1983). The primary desire for loving, featured as the major characteristic of human strivings within the theory of all the British object relations theories—being called a drive toward connection by Fairbairn, and “primary love” by Balint—resonates through Klein's theory as the craving for reparative reunion with our primary love in the face of poignantly tormenting thrusts toward hostile aggression that emanate from within us. We fear both that our aggression will annihilate the maternal giver who is the very center of our longings for nurturing and deep modes of sensual care, and that our aggression will meet with retaliation from the mother who can be imagined to be as murderous as our own destructive and combative impulses.

In fantasy, her body is the source of all our deepest wishes for comfort, love, and sexual satiation, yet her power to give from within this body, or from within the rich resources of her breast, can stir such envy within us that anguish and despair must be tolerated in the face of our helplessness to consciously control that which threatens like a tiger within to lunge forth and spoil the source of all goodness.

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