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Feldman, M. (1994). Projective Identification In Phantasy and Enactment. Psychoanal. Inq., 14(2):423-440.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 14(2):423-440

Projective Identification In Phantasy and Enactment

Michael Feldman, F.R.C.Psych.

Klein's concept of projective identification, which she introduced in 1946, refers to the use of a particular omnipotent phantasy as a defense against primitive anxieties. The most important aspects of this defense mechanism involve those internal elements, or “parts of the self” that are experienced as threatening and “bad,” being split off from the rest of the self and projected in phantasy into an object. The object (prototypically the breast, and subsequently the mother) becomes transformed by the projection, and is experienced as possessing these bad elements as its own. I wish to stress that this view of projective identification involves an unconscious, omnipotent phantasy, which by definition does not depend on the participation of the object.

However, it has become apparent that patients often attempt to use the object for the projection of unbearable mental contents by inducing feelings or thoughts in the object, or by drawing the object into forms of enactment that serve in complex ways to protect the patients from pain (Rosenfeld, 1971; Sandler and Sandler, 1978; Ogden, 1982; Joseph, 1985, 1987). Bion (1959, 1962a, b), in his studies of the process of containment, and the mother's responses to normal or pathological varieties of projective identification, emphasized the mother's crucial function of taking in and allowing herself to be affected by the infant's projection of severe anxiety or distress. Bion


Michael Feldman, F.R.C.Psych. is a Consultant Psychotherapist at the Maudsley Hospital, London, and is a Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst of the British Psycho-Analytical Society.

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