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Ceglie, G.R. (1987). Projective Identification in Mother and Baby Relationship. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(3):239-245.

(1987). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(3):239-245

Infant Observation

Projective Identification in Mother and Baby Relationship

G. R. di Ceglie


Different mental states are communicated by the mother to the baby, and by the baby to the mother. The evidence for this was given to me by the observation of a mother and her baby. How the baby affects the mother's mental state has been extensively described. Bion has described how the infant normally uses projective identification as a way of communicating with the mother. In this way the baby frees himself of unbearable feelings which in normal circumstances will be received and contained by the mother, transformed in her mind and fed back to the baby in a modified, more tolerable form.

The reciprocal process by which the mother through the use of projective identification communicates unbearable feelings to the baby, who is now at the receiving end of the process, has been less described. One can only make tentative hypotheses on how the baby received the projections and the effect that they have on him. Winnicott in his paper ‘Primary Maternal Preoccupation’ (1956) has drawn attention to the mother's mental state in the earliest phase of her relationship with the baby. He talks of a very special psychiatric condition of the mother: ‘a normal illness’ as he puts it, from which the mother will recover. But Winnicott does not mention the psychic mechanisms involved. I think that what he describes is the use by the mother of projective identification through which she gets rid of unacceptable feelings which, as shown in my observations, are communicated to the baby.

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