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Spillius, E.B. (1992). Clinical Experiences of Projective Identification. New Library of Psychoanalysis, 14:59-73.

(1992). New Library of Psychoanalysis, 14:59-73

Clinical Experiences of Projective Identification Book Information Previous Up Next

Elizabeth Bott Spillius

I am grateful to several colleagues, particularly John Steiner, for helpful discussions of this chapter.

In this chapter I describe briefly the way Klein's introduction of the concept of projective identification has led to developments in technique. I focus mainly on work in England and mainly on that of Kleinian analysts, even though the concept has undoubtedly influenced the clinical approach of many other analysts and one cannot say that the concept ‘belongs’ to any particular school. I will concentrate on my own clinical experiences of projective identification and on the way these experiences have led me to abandon fixed expectations and rigid definitions in favour of trying to be prepared to experience whatever forms of projection, introjection, and counter-transference come to life in the session.

Klein introduced the concept of projective identification in 1946 in her paper ‘Notes on some schizoid mechanisms’, which was her first and major attempt to describe conceptually what she called the ‘paranoid-schizoid position’, a constellation of anxieties, defences, and object relations characteristic of early infancy and of the deepest and most primitive layers of the mind. I cannot begin to do justice to the complexity and subtlety of the experiences Klein describes in this most seminal of her papers. Projective identification was by no means the central theme of the paper. Klein describes it as one among several defences against primitive paranoid anxiety, and her discussion of it occupies only a few sentences. She says:

Together with these harmful excrements, expelled in hatred, split-off parts of the ego are also projected onto the mother, or, as I would rather call it, into the mother.

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