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Meltzer, D. (1981). The Relation of Splitting of Attention to Splitting of Self and Objects. Contemp. Psychoanal., 17:232-238.

(1981). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 17:232-238

The Relation of Splitting of Attention to Splitting of Self and Objects

Donald Meltzer, M.D.

ALTHOUGH THE DELINEATION OF splitting-and-idealization as an essential step in early development found its place in Melanie Klein's theories of development quite soon in her researches, it was only with the 1946 paper "A Note on Some Schizoid Mechanisms" that the wide variety of splitting processes, normal and pathological, came under systematic scrutiny. The use of splitting processes in the sense of constructive differentiation as against their use for breaking links in the service of defense found repeated expression in the literature of the 50's and 60's. But Wilfred Bion's description of processes of attention and their relation to thinking in "Attention and Interpretation" marked the beginning of a new dimension of investigation of the modes of operation of splitting processes. Those who had followed Mrs. Klein's way of thinking, her implicit model of the mind, that is, assumed that splitting processes operated by unconscious phantasy, implemented by omnipotence, effecting concrete alterations in the structure of self and objects in psychic reality. Bion's extension of Kleinian mechanisms to an arena of operation on mental functions as well as mental structures revealed a new level of phenomenology in the consulting room.

This paper is intended merely as an illustration of how these two levels of splitting processes can operate in parallel and potentiate one another's impact on mental states. The exposition will be confined to a single piece of rather intricate clinical material for which a considerable amount of background in the psychoanalytical process is required to consolidate the credibility of the interpretation being put forward.


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