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Apprey, M. (1987). Projective Identification and Maternal Misconception in Disturbed Mothers. Brit. J. Psychother., 4(1):5-22.

(1987). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 4(1):5-22


Projective Identification and Maternal Misconception in Disturbed Mothers

Maurice Apprey

The term projective identification has been used in many ways since Melanie Klein introduced it in 1946. I use it here to study intolerance of separation and motives such as envy, mistrust of dependency and persecutory anxiety. In terms of motives we can differentiate it from other forms of delegation like projection and externalisation; it is a defence set in motion after regression in the third trimester of pregnancy, especially during therapeutic regression, and after the physical separation of delivery. It entails the mother's retrieval of delegations when her child begins to move away, and can be transmuted by intervention into exploratory and empathic modes useful for the child's development.

This paper reports a longitudinal study of women from the third trimester of pregnancy to four years after delivery. Our interviews were designed to tap the subject's preoccupations and projects for her child that she developed preconsciously, unconsciously or consciously.

I suggest that destructive projective identification is used to deal with excessive persecutory anxiety, envy, or intolerance of separation by disturbed or vulnerable mothers militating against the child's progress toward autonomy. Relatively normal mothers use reaction formation and other ways of turning instinctual wishes around to bind anxiety and reverse negative attitudes about their children. Thus maternal misperception can be seen clinically in the context of projective identifications; it may be reversed proactively when the clinician can use projective tests or clinical interviews to gather and classify projective identifications in order to help the mother retrieve them and keep her from impeding her child's development.

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