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Norman, J. (1994). Feelings of annihilation in closeness and to be lost at a distance: Psychoanalysis with a 5-year-old boy and his insoluble dilemma. Scand. Psychoanal. Rev., 17(1):1-26.

(1994). Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 17(1):1-26

Feelings of annihilation in closeness and to be lost at a distance: Psychoanalysis with a 5-year-old boy and his insoluble dilemma

Johan Norman

The feeling of being enclosed and helpless in contradictory emotions and phantasics relating to another person is a tragic aspect of the human condition. A seemingly insoluble dilemma is created as the person alternates between a search for closeness and companionship, with the attendant feeling of being swallowed up, and the consequent withdrawal in order to preserve integrity, with the associated feeling of losing one's bearings.

Here, I shall attempt to examine some of this dilemma's constituents. A useful abstract model (Lesche, 1976) for thinking about this is Bions's elaboration of Klein's theory of projective identification. Bion formulated “as a model the idea of a container into which an object is projected and the object that can be projected into the container: the latter I shall designate by the term contained” (Bion, 1962p. 90). Bion's model started from an observation that “the projective identification was often not simply an omnipotent phantasy, but that the patient took steps to give effect to his phantasy” (Britton, 1992p. 105). Projective identification is a fundamental element in the interaction of mother and child, whereby “the infant discharges unpleasure by splitting off and projecting anxiety-arousing perceptions, sensations, feelings … into the mother for her to contain them in what Bion calls her ‘reverie’” (O'Shaughnessy, 1981p. 179). “Reverie is that state of mind which is open to the reception of any ‘objects’ from the loved object and is therefore capable of reception of the infant's projective identifications whether they are felt by the infant to be good or bad” (Bion, 1962p. 36).

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