Projective Identification and Introjection

A segment of a social network
Image via Wikipedia

Melanie Klein makes a distinction between the introjected objects and the internal objects. The internal objects include the introjected objects as well as the objects of identification and the a priori fantasy images. According to Klein introjection is a defence mechanism against the anxiety and the fear of the horrible inner world of the child. The child assumes itself populated by bad, aggressive, and tormenting objects and attempts to introject the external good objects. In other words the child tries to replace the internal bad object with the external good object. So introjection is a defence mechanism to protect not only the me but also the internal good objects.[1]

For Klein the unconscious fantasy sets the foundation of all psychic processes. But Freud had said fantasizing is a defence mechanism to compensate for the frustrating and unsatisfying reality. Klein thinks that the unconscious fantasmatic production is the manifestation of instinctive processes. In Klein’s hands the unconscious becomes a much more active and productive dynamism in touch with what’s going on in the social reality. The importance of Klein’s discovery is that she shows how intimately related the child is with the social reality from the beginning of life. The child is turned towards the mother and the unconscious moves towards consciousness in and through relating to the objects surrounding him/her. For Klein one of the first external objects the child relates to is the mother’s breast. In the face of hunger the child starts crying for he/she has no other means of communication. The mother understands that the child wants milk. Presented with milk from the mother’s breast the child comes to realize that there is an external good object that is the solution to the problem of hunger. But when the flow of milk is interrupted the child becomes confused, with the effect of hunger. The child considers the breast as a bad object and becomes more aggressive. When the milk comes the child realizes that he/she had been attacking not only the source of bad but also the source of good. So the child understands that every object is good and bad at the same time, and it is the use into which the object is put that determines its particular goodness or badness. It is the way in which one relates to social reality that matters.

In the first year of life introjection and splitting are dominant; the child is governed by the death drive, which is the drive that emerges as a response to the frustration in the face of the impossibility of going back into the enclosed space and time of the womb in which all that the organism needs is supplied without the organism having to make any effort to obtain it.

To be able to cope with the death drive the subject projects some of his/her aggressiveness onto the external world represented by the mother. Resultantly the child recognizes the external world as divided within itself and populated by good and bad objects which are not good and bad in-themselves but become good or bad in relation to the other objects. Projective identification is another defence mechanism the child uses to cope with the difficulties of life. With projective identification, to protect the me and the internal good objects from a possible attack from the external bad object, the child projects the internal bad objects onto the external good object. The child confuses the external good objects, external bad objects, internal good objects, and internal bad objects. Everything is intermingled so the child becomes aggressive towards himself/herself and towards the external world. To cope with this difficult situation the child projects unities onto the external world and makes no distinction between the good and the bad. This means that the child has passed from the state of being governed by the death drive, to the state of being governed by the life drive.

In the third stage of development there is the depressive position. With the depressive position the child feels guilty for attacking not only the good object but also the bad object in the paranoid-schizoid position of introjection and projective identification. The child realizes that the loving and caring mother had been the target of paranoid attacks all this time. To compensate for the damage caused the child strives to make reparations to the relationship with the mother embodying the social reality. For Klein depressive anxiety is a sign of progress.

These psychic processes go on until the end of life. The child identifies his/her image in the mirror as himself/herself. Lacan calls Klein’s depressive position ‘the mirror-stage.’

In the Lacanian sense, too, in which the imaginary, opposed to the symbolic but constantly imbricated with it, designates the basic lure of the ego, the definitive imprint of a stage before the Oedipus complex (which also continues after it), the durable mark of the mirror which alienates man in his own reflection and makes him the double of his double, the subterranean persistence of the exclusive relation to the mother, desire as a pure effect of lack and endless pursuit, the initial core of the unconscious (primal repression). All this is undoubtedly reactivated by the play of that other mirror, the cinema screen, in this respect a veritable psychical substitute, a prosthesis for our primally dislocated limbs.[2]

In the mirror stage, a period of imaginary and narcissistic identifications, the child believes in the illusion which he/she sees in the mirror. He/she sees himself/herself as a totality and believes that that’s what he/she really is. It is a period of conflict between the self as the other’s object of desire and the self as the subject sees it. The reflection in the mirror starts the process of introjection and projective-identification that will go on until death.

[…] the experience of the mirror as described by Lacan is essentially situated on the side of the imaginary (=formation of the ego by identification with a phantom, an image), even if the mirror also makes possible a first access to the symbolic by the mediation of the mother holding the child to the glass whose reflection, functioning here as the capitalized Other, necessarily appears in the field of the mirror alongside that of the child.[3]


The screen is the site of projective identification. I put myself in the place of the character and try to see the film from his perspective. In a way I narcissistically try to situate myself in the context of the film as a whole person. But as soon as the screen gains this mirror-like quality it loses it. With the screen there is a more advanced process at work, and this process is called projective-identification, not merely identification. The subject is aware that he is not the character in the movie, but still takes on this other identity on himself as though he is the one experiencing all those adventures.

When I am watching a movie I become the eye of the camera. Everything happens around me and I am a mere observer of all these things. In a way, as I’m watching a movie I become a semi-god-like creature, seeing not-all hearing not-all from a position not above all; from a position which renders the binary opposition between the transcendental and the immanent irrelevant. I am within and without the events and I am at once here and somewhere else with my body and everything else. They are the words and the eyes of the others that render the words and the eyes of my selves possible, articulable and actual.

Reference Matters

[1] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, trans. Alix Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1975)

[2] Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and Cinema, trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster and Alfred Guzetti (London: Macmillan, 1982), 4

[3]Metz, 6


3 thoughts on “Projective Identification and Introjection

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: