Projection, Identification, Projective Identification

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A collection of papers focussing on all aspects of projection and identification. Contributors include: Otto Kernberg, Betty Joseph, W.W.Meissner, and Rafael Moses.

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1. Internalization and Externalization

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JOSEPH SANDLER AND MEIR PERLOW

In the early years of psychoanalysis, particularly because of the influence of Karl Abraham, there was a tendency to consider processes of internalization and externalization in concrete terms such as “taking in” or “putting into the other person.” This tendency has continued in certain groups of psychoanalysts, especially those influenced by the work of Melanie Klein and Wilfred Bion. While many may disagree with such concrete formulations of psychological processes, it should be borne in mind that such reification may be extremely useful from the point of view of description. We are throughout dealing with concepts, with theoretical constructs whose value should be considered primarily in terms of their clinical utility.

A specific direction of development pertinent to the ideas we are considering is that taken by ego psychology, greatly influenced by the postwar work of Heinz Hartmann, Ernst Kris, Rudolph Loewenstein, Edith Jacobson, and others. On the basis of their work a major distinction is now regularly made between the ego as a “structure” or “apparatus,” on the one hand, and the “self-representation,” i.e., the mental representation of oneself, on the other. In this context “self” is analogous to “object,” and “self-representation” parallels the mental representation of the object (Sandler and Rosenblatt, 1962; Sandler, 1986).

 

2. The Concept of Projective Identification

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JOSEPH SANDLER

The introduction of the concept of projective identification by Melanie Klein in 1946 was set against a rather confused and confusing background of literature on various forms of internalization and external-ization—imitation, identification, fantasies of incorporation, and many varieties of projection. Projective identification is a broad concept, as the following description by Hanna Segal (1973) indicates:

In projective identification parts of the self and internal objects are split off and projected into the external object, which then becomes possessed by, controlled and identified with the projected parts.

Projective identification has manifold aims: it may be directed towards the ideal object to avoid separation, or it may be directed towards the bad object to gain control of the source of danger. Various parts of the self may be projected, with various aims: bad parts of the self may be projected in order to get rid of them as well as to attack and destroy the object, good parts may be projected to avoid separation or to keep them safe from bad things inside or to improve the external object through a kind of primitive projective reparation. Projective identification starts when the paranoid-schizoid position is first established in relation to the breast, but it persists and very often becomes intensified when the mother is perceived as a whole object and the whole of her body is entered by projective identification, [pp. 27-28]

 

3. Projection and Projective Identification

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W. W. MEISSNER

PROJECTION/INTROJECnON

We can do no better in providing ourselves a starting point and a point of orientation for the ensuing discussion than by returning to the original notion of projection provided by Freud himself. Freud’s discussion of the Schreber case (1911) focuses on Schreber’s paranoid delusions and the role of projection in his symptom formation. Freud is obviously more secure in his grasp of the formalities and functions of projection than of the nature of the mechanism itself. He regards projection as a mechanism of symptom formation, but his comments lead us only to the threshold of an understanding of projection and little further. He comments as follows:

The most striking characteristic of symptom-formation in paranoia is the process which deserves the name of projection. An internal perception is suppressed, and, instead, its content, after undergoing a certain kind of distortion, enters consciousness in the form of an external perception. In delusions of persecution the distortion consists in a transformation of affect; what should have been felt internally as love is perceived externally as hate. We should feel tempted to regard this remarkable process as the most important element in paranoia and as being absolutely pathognomonic for it, if we were not opportunely reminded of two things. In the first place, projection does not play the same part in all forms of paranoia; and, in the second place, it makes its appearance not only in paranoia but under other psychological conditions as well, and in fact it has a regular share assigned to it in our attitude towards the external world. For when we refer the causes of certain sensations to the external world, instead of looking for them (as we do in the case of others) inside ourselves, this normal proceeding, too, deserves to be called projection, [p. 66]

 

4. Discussion of W. W. Meissner's Paper

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Joseph Sandler Dr. Meissner has given us a most interesting paper with much food for thought. He has emphasized the role of projective and introjective mechanisms in psychic development, and the parts they play in establishing the difference between inner and outer, between self and object. Throughout he has stressed the developmental point of view, and has considered a number of important topics, including the role of intro-jection in superego formation. It is of particular interest that throughout his presentation it is demanded of us that we take into account the idea of an interaction between self and object. Such interaction can be intrapsychic or interpersonal and is aimed at establishing some sort of inner balance. It is not considered simply an expression of drive impulses, in the way in which self-object interactions were viewed in the past. Dr. Meissner has made a distinction between the early developmental role of projection and the defensive projection that can occur only when the boundary between self and object has been established. In the latter, the boundary is a necessary condition for the projection to be effective.

 

5. Projective Identification: Clinical Aspects

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BETTYJOSEPH

The concept of projective identification was introduced into analytic thinking by Melanie Klein in 1946. Since then it has been welcomed, argued about, the name disputed, the links with projection pointed out, and so on; but one aspect seems to stand out above the firing line, and that is its considerable clinical value. It is this aspect that I shall concentrate on today, mainly in relation to the more neurotic patient.

Melanie Klein became aware of projective identification when exploring what she called the paranoid-schizoid position, that is, a constellation of a particular type of object relations, anxieties, and defenses against them, typical for the earliest period of the individual’s life and, in certain disturbed people, continuing throughout life. This particular position she saw as dominated by the infant’s need to ward off anxieties and impulses by splitting both the object, originally the mother, and the self and projecting these split-off parts into an object, which will then be felt to be like, or identified with, these split-off parts, so coloring the infant’s perception of the object and its subsequent introjection.

 

6. Discussion of Betty Joseph's Paper

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Joseph Sandler, Betty Joseph has shown us that in her work there is certainly an appropriate place for the concept of projective identification. She has also shown us that it can have different meanings, that it is not one thing, but rather a constellation of processes in which we see different aspects at different times.

This paper has presented us some very interesting clinical material, and its relevance for us is for our understanding of processes of internaliza-tion and externalization, projective identification in particular. I think we are all aware that projective identification is a concept that has had different meanings for different people, or even different meanings for the same person at different times. So we have to ask ourselves where we stand in relation to the different usages to be found in Betty Joseph’s paper. In England just after the Second World War, a law was enacted to prevent shopkeepers from refusing to sell a scarce article unless the purchaser bought something else along with it. It became illegal to make a package deal, as it was called. I will not say it is illegal to buy Betty Joseph’s whole package, and everyone is free to do so; but everyone also has the right to concentrate on projective identification only, without having to buy the other aspects of the paper as well. I say this to make it clear that although the concept was introduced by Melanie Klein, one does not, by accepting it and finding it useful, automatically become a Kleinian. This is important, because there are many of us who are not Kleinians and yet have found the notion to be important.

 

7. Projection and Projective Identification: Developmental and Clinical Aspects

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OTTO R KERNBERG

DEFINITIONS

The term projective identification, introduced by Melanie Klein (1946, 1955) and elaborated by Rosenfeld (1965) and Bion (1967), has suffered the fate of other psychoanalytic concepts in that its meaning has become blurred; it has been used to mean too many different things by too many different people under too many differing circumstances. A recent example is that of Ogden (1979), who, in an attempt to define the mechanism within a strictly clinical context and to dissociate it from any implications of obligatory linkage with Kleinian theory, has stressed its interpersonal in addition to its intrapsychic aspects. I find his contribution helpful, but, unfortunately, in proposing to include under projective identification the therapist’s intrapsychic elaboration of what the patient has projected and the therapist’s returning to the patient, in the form of an interpretation, a modified or elaborated version of what has been projected, Ogden has broadened the definition of the concept to an extent I think unwarranted. A second disability afflicting the term is its having acquired secondary ideological implications: it has become inextricably linked with the Kleinian theory and is hence viewed with distaste by those who reject that approach.

 

8. Discussion of Otto F. Kernberg's Paper

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Joseph Sandler. We have been treated to an extremely clear presentation by Dr. Kernberg, one which links theory to the clinical situation in a remarkable way. The paper raises a number of questions, some of which have been touched on in the previous discussions. One of these relates to the problem of whether we should conceive of only bad or unwanted aspects of the self being projected in projective identification. But what I am thinking of in particular are the idealized qualities that one normally strives for. One could hardly call these “unwanted” aspects of the self, yet it is very common indeed that one lives through another person the self as one would like it to be. This is what Anna Freud referred to when she discussed altruistic surrender in The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense in 1936, and I think it is a very important aspect of our relationships in general. It certainly comes into the analytic situation when the “ideal” wished-for aspects of oneself are not only projected onto the analyst, but the analyst is in fact nudged into fulfilling that role—of course some analysts are more ready to do this than others.

 

9. Projection, Identification, and Projective Identification: Their Relation to Political Process

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RAFAEL MOSES

While projection and identification are psychological defense mechanisms with which all of us are by now well acquainted—even though we may differ about their definition or about how frequently they are used or found—projective identification is, as you will have gathered, a different kettle of fish. This is so because some of us have been nurtured on projective identification, so to speak, with our psychoanalytic mother’s milk, whereas others among us have not. This creates a situation where those of us who have imbibed projective identification from early on tend to see this mechanism as ubiquitous and therefore highly important, and consequently believe that those who do not appreciate its importance lack a dimension of knowledge and a skill which add greatly to the capabilities of the analyst. They are therefore seen as greatly limited in the scope of their analytic work. On the other side are those who tend to hold to the opposite belief, namely, that projective identification perhaps does not exist at all as a special mechanism, or else is immensely overrated in its importance. The fuss made about it is regarded as blinding us to other phenomena, and perhaps as distorting the patient’s material. When talking to analysts in different parts of the world, we can hear both these views expressed. Certainly we have all heard a lot about this mechanism in these past few days.

 

10. Discussion of Rafael Moses' Paper

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Joseph Sandler. We have heard an extremely stimulating paper, one which may be rather disturbing for some of us. I think we have been shown how ubiquitous the mechanism of projective identification is. We tend to think that something which is irrational is abnormal, but of course this is not the case. Something can be both irrational and normal, and it seems clear that we have to regard the processes we have been discussing as part of the normal irrational interaction between the group we belong to and other groups. It leads one to think that there may be an important function for projective identification, both for the individual and the group. I am reminded here of the Jewish story, which 1 am sure many of you know, of the man who was shipwrecked, and lived for many years on his own on a desert island. He was a religious Jew who proceeded to do the best he could on the island, building himself a house and some other buildings. Finally a ship came along and saw the man’s distress signal. An officer and some crew members arrived and wanted to take the shipwrecked man off. He was pleased about this, but asked them first to see what he had done. So he took them on a tour. He showed them his house and they were very impressed, and then he took them to a very fine hut he had constructed. He said, “This is my synagogue where I go to pray.” They were equally impressed with this and then he said, “But I want to show you something else which is very important,” and he took them to another building he had constructed and said, “And this is the synagogue I wouldn’t set foot in if my life depended on it.” It does seem that we need this sort of thing. I remember Anna Freud saying, on one of those occasions when she was being encouraged by some colleagues to withdraw from the British Psycho-Analytical Society, that she didn’t think it was a good idea, because while we were in the British Society we remained a coherent group, and would certainly split into two or three groups if we separated from the other analysts in the Society. I am sure that she was quite right about this. I think that a lot of what we call sadomasochistic behavior occurring between two people, or between groups, can be understood also as a provoking of the other to be the “bad” one, using the process of projective identification we have been discussing. If we can make the others bad we can be the good ones, just as Rafael Moses has described.

 

11. Dybbuk Possession and Mechanisms of Internalization and Externalization: A Case Study

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YORAMBILU-

As indicated by other contributors to this volume, psychoanalysts differ markedly in the importance they ascribe to projective identification as a special psychic mechanism. While some of them have welcomed the introduction of this concept by Melanie Klein (1946) as a major contribution to post-Freudian psychoanalysis, others tend to devalue its clinical significance or to consider it altogether redundant to its antecedents, projection and identification. The fact that projective identification is a controversial concept in clinical practice, its own natural habitat so to speak, may lead to the conclusion that efforts to apply it to other nonclinical spheres should be discouraged altogether. Yet in some realms such remote applications may lend us valuable insights as to processes underlying phenomena far removed from the analytic couch. An example in case is Rafael Moses’s discussion of the political process in this volume.

The focus of the work presented here is the interface between psychology and anthropology. It discusses the peculiar career of a Jewish woman in a nineteentlvcentury Eastern European Hasidic community, a career ended by an episode of dybbuk possession. Although the details of this episode were not specified in the account that is drawn on, the case was selected for presentation because, unlike most other reports of this Jewish variant of spirit possession, it contains significant information concerning the social matrix in which it evolved, as well as the biographies of its main protagonists. On the basis of this information an attempt will be made to render the possession episode intelligible in terms of the psychodynamic and sociocultural factors underlying it. Although various concepts of internalization and externalization are employed in this work (without being accorded a ubiquitous status), it is particularly projective identification which seems intriguingly related to spirit possession. This relationship will be specified after a brief review of the historical, theoso-phical, and sociocultural aspects of the dybbuk. Later, in the concluding section, the case under study will be discussed in terms of internalization and externalization.

 

12. Concluding Discussion

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Joseph Sandler. We are certainly all very indebted to Dr. Bilu for his fascinating presentation. Of course, among psychoanalysts we also have many female rabbis, some of whom are possessed by the spirits of Sigmund Freud, Karl Abraham, Sandor Ferenczi, Melanie Klein, and others. We also have a form of exorcism, which is perhaps not quite as effective as the rabbinical one. And certainly, if we take the manifestations of xenoglossia, the use of strange and foreign languages, there is much evidence for demoniacal possession among some of our colleagues. However, on a more serious note, I think we have been shown very nicely how the projection of idealized, wished-for qualities can occur, and how these qualities can be forced into a receptacle that wants to have them. The question of the acceptance, by what we can call the projectee, of what the projector sends across is a crucial one in regard to the mechanisms we have been discussing.

Judith Issroff (Israel). We have all enjoyed the many attempts at clarifying the concepts of projective identification and projection. Unfortunately we have also heard how everyone uses a different kind of stance in conceptualizing, and this may lead to complete misunderstanding. I should like to look at the material we have just heard from another point of view. If we take the concept of learned helplessness, then the poor lady we have heard about, in her particular social context, could be said to have lapsed into a kind of protective silence. I think the concept of learned helplessness could be a very useful one.

 



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