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melanie klein trust

Melanie Klein Trust

Furthering the psychoanalytic theory
and technique of Melanie Klein

Paranoid-schizoid position


The term 'paranoid-schizoid position' refers to a constellation of anxieties, defences and internal and external object relations that Klein considers to be characteristic of the earliest months of an infant's life and to continue to a greater or lesser extent into childhood and adulthood. Contemporary understanding is that paranoid-schizoid mental states play an important part throughout life. The chief characteristic of the paranoid-schizoid position is the splitting of both self and object into good and bad, with at first little or no integration between them.

Klein has the view that infants suffer a great deal of anxiety and that this is caused by the death instinct within, by the trauma experienced at birth and by experiences of hunger and frustration. She assumes the very young infant to have a rudimentary although unintegrated ego, that attempts to deal with experiences, particularly anxiety, by using phantasies of splitting, projection and introjection.

The infant splits both his ego and his object and projects out separately his loving and hating feelings (life and death instincts) into separate parts of the mother (or breast), with the result that the maternal object is divided into a 'bad' breast (mother that is felt to be frustrating, persecutory and is hated) and a 'good' breast (mother that is loved and felt to be loving and gratifying). Both the 'good' and the 'bad' objects are then introjected and a cycle of re-projection and re-introjection ensues. Omnipotence and idealisation are important aspects of this activity; bad experiences are omnipotently denied whenever possible and good experiences are idealised and exaggerated as a protection against the fear of the persecuting breast.

This 'binary splitting' is essential for healthy development as it enables the infant to take in and hold on to sufficient good experience to provide a central core around which to begin to integrate the contrasting aspects of the self. The establishment of a good internal object is thought by Klein to be a prerequisite for the later working through of the 'depressive position'.

A different kind of splitting, 'fragmentation', in which the object and/or the self are split into many and smaller pieces is also a feature of the paranoid-schizoid position. Persistent or enduring use of fragmentation and dispersal of the self weakens the fragile unintegrated ego and causes severe disturbance.

Klein considers that both constitutional and environmental factors affect the course of the paranoid-schizoid position. The central constitutional factor is the balance of life and death instincts in the infant. The central environmental factor is the mothering that the infant receives. If development proceeds normally, extreme paranoid anxieties and schizoid defences are largely given up during the early infantile paranoid-schizoid position and during the working through of the depressive position.

Klein holds that schizoid ways of relating are never given up completely and her writing gives the impression that the positions can be conceptualised as transient states of mind. The paranoid-schizoid position can be thought of as the phase of development preceding the depressive position as a defence against it and also as a regression from it.

Key papers

For full references for Melanie Klein's works visit the 'Melanie Klein's publications' section.

The early period

1921 Klein, M. 'The development of a child'. Suggestion that the child protectively splits off an unwanted part of the mother.

1926 Klein, M. 'The psychological principles of early analysis'. This paper and the one above describe the child's oral and anal sadistic attacks on the mother as resulting in a persecutory superego (internal mother imago).

1929 Klein, M. 'Personification in the play of children.'

1930 Klein, M. 'The importance of symbol formation in the development of the ego'. This paper and the one above explore the child's use of splitting into good and bad and the use of projection as a defence and as a means of working through internal conflicts and anxieties.

1932 Klein, M. The Psychoanalysis of Children. Klein adopts Freud's concepts of the life and death instincts, the deflection of the death instinct and introduces the idea of splitting the id.

1933 Klein, M. 'The early development of conscience in the child'. The splitting of the id is elaborated (later to become splitting of the ego).

The middle period

1935 Klein, M. 'A contribution to the psychogenesis of manic-depressive states'. The framework of 'positions' is introduced, the depressive position is contrasted with the earlier paranoic phase and a differentiation made between part- and whole-object relating.

1940 Klein, M. 'Mourning and its relation to manic-depressive states.' Manic defences of idealisation and denial are elaborated.

The later period

1946 Klein, M. 'Notes on some schizoid mechanisms'. The definitive paper in which the 'paranoid-schizoid' position is introduced and its anxieties and the defences against them are set out.

1952 Klein, M. 'Some theoretical conclusions regarding the emotional life of the infant'. Good summary of both paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. Increasing emphasis on importance of securely established good object.

1955 Klein, M. 'On identification'. Continued emphasis placed on the importance of a securely established good object. Projective identification is illustrated.

1957 Klein, M. 'Envy and gratitude'. An expanded description of both the depressive and the paranoid-schizoid positions; envy is introduced as the expression of the death instinct.

1963 Bion, W. Elements of Psychoanalysis. Heinemann. Ch. 8. Fluctuation between paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, symbolised as Ps<–>D.

1987 Steiner, J. 'The interplay between pathological organisations and the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions', International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 68: 69-80; republished in E. Spillius (ed.) Melanie Klein Today, Vol. 1. Routledge (1988). Movement between the two positions explored.

1998 Britton, R. 'Before and after the depressive position; Ps(n)–>D(n)–>Ps(n+1)'. Belief and Imagination: Explorations in Psychoanalysis. Routledge. Importance of capacity to fluctuate between the two positions is emphasised.