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Bollas, C. (2006). Perceptive Identification. Psychoanal. Rev., 93(5):713-717.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Review, 93(5):713-717

Perceptive Identification

Christopher Bollas

Psychoanalysts are familiar by now with the theory of projective identification even if they do not agree with it. The aim of this brief paper is to propose another concept—perceptive identification—to make a distinction in object relations theory.

The term “projective identification” is often used to describe the projection of unwanted (not necessarily bad) parts of a personality either into an internal object or into an actual other, or both. It may be a way of evacuating and storing parts of a self— which serves many functions. The self may be denuded by offloading such parts, but they can be contacted through forms of psychic remote-control.

The concept of projective identification is often used to explain how the self can identify empathically with the other. Think of Hamlet. We can become Hamlet mentally because— oedipal creatures that we are—we project ourselves into his character.

A problem with this singular concept of identification, however, is that it runs the risk of assuming that Hamlet exists because we have created him through our projections. First Hamlet has to exist before we can project ourselves into him.

Another problem is that although projective identification will always play some role in our relation to Hamlet, working exclusively from this theory of perception, identification, empathy, and critical appraisal risks destroying the integrity of the objectitself. It is hard to escape the ironic realization that a theory meant to identify how we perceive the other by mental entry may result in the replacement of the other by the self.

Some time ago I proposed a developmental stage after the so-called “depressive position,”1 a period in the child's life when

Psychoanalytic Review, 93(5), October 2006 © 2006 N.P.A.P.

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