PTypes - Personality Types
PTypes A Correspondence of Psychiatric, Keirsey, and Enneagram Typologies Noteworthy Examples


Splitting and projective identification (research)


I think that the regulatory mechanisms of splitting and projective identification were adaptive as basic factors in group formation and group maintainance.

While sublimation seems to be the essential regulatory mechanism of the Schizothymic temperament, the essential regulatory mechanisms of the Cyclothymic temperament look to be splitting and projective identification, with the attendent mechanisms of incorporation, introjection, identification, internalization, and assimilation.


Splitting (DSM-IV, pg. 757). The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by compartmentalizing opposite affect states and failing to integrate the positive and negative qualities of the self or others into cohesive images. Because ambivalent affects cannot be experienced simultaneously, more balanced views and expectations of self or others are excluded from emotional awareness. Self and object images tend to alternate between polar opposites: exclusively loving, powerful, worthy, nurturant, and kind--or exclusively bad, hateful, angry, destructive, rejecting, or worthless.

Projective identification (DSM-IV, pg. 756). The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by falsely attributing to another his or her own unacceptable feelings, impulses, or thoughts. Unlike simple projecion, the individual does not fully disavow what is projected. Instead, the individual remains aware of his or her own affects or impulses but misattributes them as justifiable reactions to the other person. Not infrequently, the individual induces the very feelings in others that were first mistakenly believed to be there, making it difficult to clarify who did what to whom first.

Religion has been generous in offering pacifying answers to people's anxiety. Melanie Klein(2) maintained that the fear of annihilation is a primary factor for anxiety in babies. In adults, the fear of the unknown, of what has not yet happened, seems to be closely linked to existential anxiety. All knowledge happens only in the present. Man can know nothing about the future. This seems to generate a basic anxiety in which the human being, fearing the unknown, frequently tends to deny it and to replace it by rationalisation, understanding and explanations.

From my point of view, religion established that which in the Kleinian theory occurs in the person as a paranoid-schizoid position(3) . Religion causes sharp splitting between love and hatred, good and evil, the righteous and the sinners, the saints and the damned. The extremes are always apart and in opposition. A moral system of principles and rules is organised upon these splitting and it is expressed in terms of "what should and what should not be". Observations become repetitive, rigid, tedious, and flat (without a way through). Paranoid anxiety prevails because gods have been demanding, critical, cruel, and often vengeful and sanguinary. They reward the righteous and punish the sinners.

The "use" of the projective identification seems to be the essential condition to preserve the state described in the above paragraph. Authority and personal responsibility are submitted to religious authority.

An opposition among order, group authority and the individual sets in. Group hatred makes the individual sacrifice his narcissism. Submission is rewarded with promises of immortality and of endless "love" from the group. As religious ideas expand, they limit the freedom of the individual "to be" . Consequently, the individual's relation with reality is jeopardised.

Proselytism is an existing aspect in the religious states of mind. It seems to originate in the necessity to divulge and promote doctrine. Frequently it is backed up by fantasies of superiority that propitiate the desires to recreate the world and life.

In a group, projective identification is dramatised. Its objective manifestation appears in rituals. I think that the "truths" experienced and proclaimed by the group can be expressed by means of dramatisation. Dramatisation seems to have a wider use: in the maintenance of faith and of belief in mystery and magic. "The Bacchants" by Euripides is an example. In this play, the ritual comes up imposed by Dionysus. First to worship him and then to initiate most participants in the mysteries of faith and to divulge the new religion.


Splitting and Projective Identification

"The earliest mechanisms of defence are splitting and projective identification."



Splitting, projective identification, scapegoating, stereotyping - all in particular cultures at particular points in history, leading to particular profiles of racism with particular anxieties to be patiently unpicked in a context of the sanctions of morality, civility, law and order. The harder the times, the harder this is to contemplate, much less undertake, much less change.




Selection from Chapter 7 of Mental Space

The social defence system of the nursing service has been described as a historical development through collusive interaction between individuals to project and reify relevant elements of their psychic defence systems. However, from the viewpoint of the new entrant to the nursing service, the social defence system at the time of entry is a datum, an aspect of external reality to which she must react and adapt. Fenichel makes a similar point (1946). He states that social institutions arise through the efforts of human beings to satisfy their needs, but that social institutions then become external realities comparatively independent of individuals which affect the structure of the individual' (pp. 73-4). The student nurse has to adapt her defences to those of the institution. The latter are relatively immutable, so she shapes hers until they are congruent with the institution's. The primitive psychic defences from infancy are brought by the individual to the fraught and literally life-threatening setting of the hospital. 'These defences are oriented to the violent, terrifying situations of infancy, and rely heavily on violent splitting [and, I would add, projective identification - R. M. Y.] which dissipates the anxiety. They avoid the experience of anxiety and effectively prevent the individual from confronting it. Thus, the individual cannot bring the content of the phantasy anxiety situations into effective contact with reality. Unrealistic or pathological anxiety cannot be differentiated from realistic anxiety arising from real dangers. Therefore, anxiety tends to remain permanently at a level determined more by the phantasies than by the reality. The forced introjection of the hospital defence system, therefore, perpetuates in the individual a considerable degree of pathological anxiety.

'The enforced introjection and use of such defences also interferes with the capacity for symbol formation... The defences inhibit the capacity for creative, symbolic thought, for abstract thought, and for conceptualization [Cf. detachment by Sublimation]. They inhibit the full development of the individual's understanding, knowledge and skills that enable reality to be handled effectively and pathological anxiety mastered' (pp. 74-5).

I have quoted this passage - one which will be familiar to many - to invite you to reflect on the appropriateness of this description for understanding how a person comes to think and feel not only like a nurse but also like a racist or a virulent nationalist or a member of a street gang or a religious or psychoanalytic sect. I believe that the mechanisms are the same and that the process of taking in the values as 'a given', adapting one's own primitive anxieties to that group's particular version of splitting, projection, stereotyping and scapegoating, leads to the same kind of impoverishment that nurses experience - of the ability to think and feel with moderation and to deal with reality and anxiety.


Dead End Kids: Projective Identification and Sacrifice in Orphans by Donald L. Carveth

        The concept of projective identification (Klein, 1986; Sandler, 1988) is notorious for having many conflicting, vague and overlapping meanings, so let me clearly define the sense in which I wish to use it here. By projective identification I mean the unconscious process in which split off and/or repressed feelings, self-states and self- and object-images are projected by a subject on to an object who not only comes to be seen by the subject as containing the projected elements of the self, but who actually is unconsciously manoeuvred into having and even enacting the feelings, states and characteristics that have been projected. Having thus subtly influenced the object into actually feeling or enacting the projected part (i.e. introjectively identifying with it), the subject now seeks to control it actively or passively. In this way, the subject comes to feel a spurious sense of mastery over unacceptable, denied or disowned parts of the self: through a peculiar sort of "empathy" or identification with the object that now contains them, the subject feels relief, for now the disturbing contents are no longer felt to be in the self but in the other whom he has unconsciously (but not necessarily "intentionally") manoeuvred into embodying them.


Projective processes and groups

"Identification: Psychological process whereby the subject assimilates an aspect, property or attribute of the other and is transformed, wholly or partially, after the model the other provides. It is by means of a series of identifications that the personality is constituted and specified." (Jean Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis. The Language of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York and London: Norton, 1973.)

Early theories of identification included forms such as:

Incorporation - corresponding to the "oral phase" of sexual development in which (in fantasy) the subject takes the object into its own body - ingests it. This implicates this form of identification with the aggressive phase of object-relations of the infant. Incorporation has three phantasmatic functions:

  • to obtain pleasure from the object by having it penetrate oneself
  • to destroy the object
  • to appropriate the object, keeping the object within itself
(Laplanche and Pontalis LP, 211-212)
Consumers guide to conspicuous consumption


swallowing the world


Attachment and Detachment -

Desire for the fruit of ones actions is responsible for man's bondage to the cycle of birth and death. Man's right is to work only, not to the fruit of his actions (2.47). Therefore abandoning all attachment, he should perform his work (2.48). As the ignorant act with attachment so do the wise without attachment (3.25). Attachment and aversion to the sense objects are situated in the senses. A man should therefore not come under their influence (3.34).


Borderline Personality Disorder: Splitting Countertransference

In this context, splitting refers to a primitive mechanism of defense characterized by a polarization of good feelings and bad feelings, of love and hate, of attachment and rejection. Splitting, archetypally imbedded in a patient's psychic structure, acts as a powerful unconscious force to protect against the ego's perception of dangerous anxiety and intense affects. Rather than providing real protection, splitting leads to destructive behavior and turmoil in patients' lives, and the often confused reactions manifested by those who try to help.

Some degree of splitting is an expectable part of early psychic development. We see it in young children who, early on, press us to tell them "Is it good?" or "Is it bad?" We hear their frustration when we answer, "Situations are not black or white; life is more complicated!" "Yes, I know all that," they say, "now tell me, is it good or is it bad?"

Subsequent developmental advances foster the ego's ability to accept paradoxical affects, and to synthesize and integrate good and bad, love and hate along with the associated affects. The need for a definite "yes" or "no" decreases, and multiple possibilities and variations on a theme become tolerable.


Defense mechanisms

A number of phenomena are used to aid in the maintenance of repression. These are termed Ego Defense Mechanisms (the terms “Mental Mechanisms” and “Defense Mechanisms” are essentially synonymous with this).

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