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Melanie Klein


Disciplines > Psychoanalysis > Theorists > Melanie Klein

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Melanie Klein (1882-1960) started from Freud but developed her own approach. In doing so, she was opposed by Anna Freud, which split the British Psychoanalytical Society into separate camps.

She used observation of children at play with selected toys (her 'play technique') as a substitute for the adult free association.


Lacan's view was that 'unconscious is the discourse of Other' (in that the child views itself as an other), where the subject is inserted into a field of differences. For Klein, the unconscious is a dynamic internal realm, created by projection and introjection.

For Klein, normal development mainly involves managing the opposing inner forces of love and hate, preservation and destruction. She replaces Freud's stages of development with descriptions of positions that are a specific configuration of object relations, anxieties and defenses which persist throughout life.

Klein saw the baby as relating to the world via its physical relationship with the world, with the initial importance of its mother, initially as a set of part-objects.

She dates the super-ego as starting in the oral phase.

Under the sway of phantasy life and of conflicting emotions, the child at every stage of libidinal organization introjects his objects — primarily his parents — and builds up the super-ego from these elements... All the factors which have a bearing on his object relations play a part from the beginning in the build-up of the super-ego.

'The first introjected object, the mother's breast, forms the basis of the super-ego.

She closely linked the external physical and internal worlds, thus explaining much of the later linkages between emotional states and bodily symptoms.

She has been criticized for placing excessive emphasis on inner systems and later object-relations theorists (eg. Winnicott) put more emphasis on the role of the external world in creating a psychologically healthy child.

A summary of some of Klein's key points is as follows:

  • The child's inner world has exaggerated, idealized and persecutory objects are phantasies, not simple representations of experiences with parents.
  • The very young infant's inner world is primarily defensive, protecting the self from the discomfort of pain, frustration, etc.
  • The key defensive psychic state is the paranoid-schizoid position, based on part-object relationship (eg. good and bad object differentiation), splitting, projection and introjection.
  • As the child grows, it realizes that good and bad experiences come from the same person, as well as differences between internal and external objects. This leads to guilty feeling and fear of rejection in the depressive position. This eventually leads to a more integrated person. Projective identification is an essential mechanism in both paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions (note that 'position' is used rather than 'stage' as these are not necessarily completely sequential.

Foreground for Klein was the interaction of unconscious feelings -- which was background for Freud, who used more scientific and metaphoric explanations.

Note that psychoanalysis (in all its schools of thought) has little to say about identity in the sense of being a stable self, considering the matter to be too complex and variable.

The goal of psychoanalysis is to help people live more fully in the present by escaping from the anchors and distortions of the past.

See also

Freud, Oedipus Complex, Narcissism

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