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Lewin, S. (2011). Parallel Identification: A Shield Against the Assault of Traumatic Jealousy. Psychoanal. Dial., 21(5):551-570.

(2011). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 21(5):551-570

Parallel Identification: A Shield Against the Assault of Traumatic Jealousy

Stephanie Lewin, Ph.D.

This paper draws a connection between the clinical emergence of a primitive form of identification, termed parallel identification, and a temporary stasis in the transference. Parallel identification is defined as a manic defence that blocks the acute suffering brought on by consciously experienced jealousy arising from the loss of a beloved yet sadistic object. It occurs as follows: the identifying subject merges with his object of desire through compulsive imitation. This merger holds the subject in a developmental cocoon of non-being that negates his perception of any rivals for the object's love. Parallel identification, illustrated in two case examples, inhibits conscious jealousy, subsequently blocking the subject's capacity to evolve through empathy and fantasy.

For theoretical context I introduce a framework that classifies established forms of identification dually, as either penetrating or nonpenetrating, with parallel identification offered as one example of the latter. Nonpenetrating identifications are merger fantasies that occur one-sidedly, within the subject only, protecting the subject from the trials of forging a more fully elaborated, three-dimensional internal world based upon spontaneous relatedness and empathy with another. Penetrating identifications occur bilaterally, impacting both self and other, allowing for an internal world of empathy and fantasy to be co-created within a two-person relationship. The paper asserts that nonpenetrating identification, though serving a protective purpose, may temporarily serve to blunt the power the therapist normally finds through internally tracking projective/introjective processes. In the first case example, the discovery and articulation of parallel identification brought a new sense of dynamism to a stalemate in the transference, while in the second case, the stasis-inducing presence of undetected parallel identification temporarily dulled the sharp edge of projective identification within an erotic transference. In both cases, parallel identification was a defensive response to unbearable jealousy that, until made conscious, inhibited relatedness in subtle but extreme ways within each treatment.

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