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Feldman, T. (2014). From Container to Claustrum: Projective Identification in Couples. Cpl. Fam. Psychoanal., 4(2):136-154.

(2014). Couple and Family Psychoanalysis, 4(2):136-154

From Container to Claustrum: Projective Identification in Couples

Tamara Feldman, PsyD

This paper is a contribution to the growing literature on the role of projective identification in understanding couples' dynamics. Projective identification as a defence is well suited to couples, as intimate partners provide an ideal location to deposit unwanted parts of the self. This paper illustrates how projective identification functions differently depending on the psychological health of the couple. It elucidates how healthier couples use projective identification more as a form of communication, whereas disturbed couples are inclined to employ it to invade and control the other, as captured by Meltzer's concept of “intrusive identification”. These different uses of projective identification affect couples' capacities to provide what Bion called “containment”. In disturbed couples, partners serve as what Meltzer termed “claustrums” whereby projections are not contained, but imprisoned or entombed in the other. Applying the concept of claustrum helps illuminate common feelings these couples express, such as feeling suffocated, stifled, trapped, held hostage, or feeling as if the relationship is killing them. Finally, this paper presents treatment challenges in working with more disturbed couples.

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