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Feldman, M. (1992). Splitting and Projective Identification. New Library of Psychoanalysis, 14:74-88.

(1992). New Library of Psychoanalysis, 14:74-88

Splitting and Projective Identification Book Information Previous Up Next

Michael Feldman

The way in which the concepts of splitting and projective identification have evolved in Melanie Klein's work illustrates very well, I think, the creative interaction between theory and clinical observation, which runs through psychoanalysis. The concepts were developed to help understand some of the clinical phenomena with which she was confronted, and, once incorporated into a more general theoretical framework by Klein and her co-workers, these ideas have significantly expanded the range of clinical material with which we are able to work.

I propose to give a fairly brief outline of the concept of splitting and projective identification, and then to describe three clinical fragments in which I think it is possible to see some of the ways in which they operate, and their consequences for the patient and for the analytic situation.

Klein saw splitting as one of the earliest defensive operations called into play by the immature ego in an attempt to cope with intense anxieties to which it was at times subjected. She believed that, from very early on, the infant was capable of some form of phantasy, and that one of the characteristics of these phantasies was that they were related to objects. Thus the infant's early experiences of pleasure were essentially linked to a notion of an object that was the source of pleasure, and conversely the experience of distress was linked to a notion of an object causing the distress.

The primary function of splitting is to segregate the objects associated with good experience from those associated with bad, in order to protect and preserve the good objects on which the survival of the self depended. This involved both segregating off everything perceived as harmful and dangerous internally, and/or projecting it into the outside world.

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