Projective identification

Projective identification is an unconscious phantasy in which aspects of the self or an internal object are split off and attributed to an external object.

The projected aspects may be felt by the projector to be either good or bad. Projective phantasies may or may not be accompanied by evocative behaviour unconsciously intended to induce the recipient of the projection to feel and act in accordance with the projective phantasy.

Phantasies of projective identification are sometimes felt to have ‘acquisitive’ as well as ‘attributive’ properties, meaning that the phantasy involves not only getting rid of aspects of one’s own psyche but also of entering the mind of the other in order to acquire desired aspects of his psyche. In this case projective and introjective phantasies operate together.

Among British Kleinians there is a tacit assumption that ‘projection’ and ‘projective identification’ mean the same thing, and that ‘projective identification’ is an enrichment or extension of Freud’s concept of ‘projection’.

Reproduced from The New Dictionary of Kleinian Thought by Bott Spillius, E., Milton, J., Garvey, P., Couve, C. and Steiner, D. (Routledge, 2011)

See a list of key papers on projective identification