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Projective Identification


Disciplines > Psychoanalysis > Concepts > Projective Identification

Description | Discussion | See also



When a person expels a bad object, it may well be onto another person. Projective identification is used to project the bad object into (not onto) another person so it becomes a part of that person.

The person then identifies with that other person, and hence has means to control them.

The person projected into may consequently be pressured to behave congruently with the projective phantasy, believing and accepting their role. The projecting person may also seek to be physically close to the person into whom the phantasy is projected.

Projective identification may also be used to externalize confusing or uncertain aspects of the self so they can be studied more objectively and then re-internalized in a more acceptable form.

Another form of projective identification that is associated with the depressive position is a way of expressing unconscious hope for internal change.

Projective identification may even be used to put good parts of the self into other people in order to keep them safe, perhaps whilst internal struggles occur.

It may again be used to 'put yourself in another's shoes', doing this in order to connect with and hence understand other people.


Projective identification is an important part of Klein's paranoid-schizoid position and depressive position.

Thus the infant projects 'excrements' into the mother such that the dangerous parts of the ego are safely removed but will not be lost. This can also leads to confusion of the self around the identity connection with the external person.

Projective identification is a departure from Freudian views as it assumes an interpersonal rather than intrapersonal model. For example, the dependent person subtly asks for help, even though they do not need it, and the recipient complies and so is drawn into the control of the 'dependent' person.

Asbach and Sharmer (1987) described how projective identification not only was used as an intrapsychic defense, but also as a way of relating to others.

Cashdan (1988) identified four patterns of projective identification, arising from four underlying issues of dependency, power, sexuality and ingratiation. 

In therapy, projective identification provides the therapist with a rich source of material to work with, although there is also always the risk of transference.

See also

Projection, Identification, The paranoid-schizoid position, The depressive position

Klein, M. (1946), 'Notes on some schizoid mechanisms.' in The Writings of Melanie Klein, Volume III, Hogarth, 1-24

Asbach, C. and Sharmer, Y. (1987). 'Interaction and group dimensions of Kleinian theory'. Journal of the Melanie Klein Society, 5: 43-68

Cashdan, S. (1988). Object relations therapy: Using the relationship. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.


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