Kleinian psychoanalysis

Authored by: Edna O’Shaughnessy

The Routledge Handbook of Psychoanalysis in the Social Sciences and Humanities

Print publication date:  April  2016
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415626927
eBook ISBN: 9781315650821
Adobe ISBN: 9781317308201




Melanie Klein’s hypothesis that psychic life occurs in two elemental constellations, a paranoid-schizoid position and a depressive position, introduced into psychoanalysis a new and far-seeing vision. These two constellations offered a new way of understanding an infant’s earliest object relations, which Klein saw as the foundation for subsequent further psychic development in the course of life. Moreover, Klein also proposed the hypothesis that in these early paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions will be found the fixation points for neurosis and for psychosis.

 Add to shortlist  Cite

Kleinian psychoanalysis

Melanie Klein’s hypothesis that psychic life occurs in two elemental constellations, a paranoid-schizoid position and a depressive position, introduced into psychoanalysis a new and far-seeing vision. These two constellations offered a new way of understanding an infant’s earliest object relations, which Klein saw as the foundation for subsequent further psychic development in the course of life. Moreover, Klein also proposed the hypothesis that in these early paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions will be found the fixation points for neurosis and for psychosis.

The many constituents of both positions are the same, but in different manifestations and connections: love and hate, relations to external objects, relations to internal objects, phantasies (unconscious and conscious), perceptions, introjections and projections, emotions, gratifications, frustrations – all experienced or not with characteristic anxieties and characteristic defenses.

The nature of each position, and the nature of the connections between the two positions, came piecemeal to Melanie Klein in the course of 15 years of work that began in the twenties with the psychoanalysis of small children; older and adult patients were included in her practice a little later. It was this psychoanalytic work that enabled Klein to make a number of psychological observations that kindled new conceptions (Frank, 2009).

Several things are of interest in Klein’s conception of the two psychic positions. First, it presupposes a particular view of the link between instincts and objects – a moving away from an instinct theory in which the object had mostly only a secondary role as the means of gratifying the instinct (i.e., instincts seen as essential pleasure seeking) to a general object relations theory in which the relation to the object is as fundamental to the structure and state of the ego as the nature of the instinct itself. It is interesting that both theories – instincts are primarily pleasure seeking through gratification, and instincts are of their nature object seeking – are to be found in Freud’s writings. For an excellent discussion of Freud’s views see Laplanche and Pontalis (1973, p. 273) in their entry on the “Object.” During the 1920s a shift to the overall view of instincts as object seeking was being made not only by Klein but also by others also like Fairbairn, Winnicott and Balint.

Klein’s conception of two positions also involves a new and extended view of the nature and role of phantasy in mental life. Klein saw phantasy as an ego activity present from birth – a primal activity of the mind that accompanies and expresses in bodily feelings or (at first) primitive images, and later uses also words, all our mental experience, so contributing to both the structure and state of the inner world as well as the way the outer world is perceived. This accorded to phantasy a different and much enlarged role in mental life that at first was highly controversial. Freud, while positing the existence of some primal phantasies, had conceived of the significance of phantasy life as being mainly the fulfilment of a wish. 1

Also much expanded in Klein’s new thinking was Freud’s notion of an inner world. In Klein’s view the inner world, by means of projections and introjections, is in continual interaction with external reality, so affecting both the experience of external reality and also installing within the mind a whole world of internalized figures.

But overall, what was most original in Klein’s theories was the grouping together of the inner world, external object relations, instincts, phantasies, feelings, anxieties and defenses as elements of a position. “Position” was a new concept that Klein was concerned to distinguish from the older psychoanalytic notions of “phase” or “stage.” She writes:

The term “position” was chosen because though the phenomena involved occur in the first place during early stages of development – they are not confined to these stages but represent specific groupings of anxieties and defences which appear and reappear during the first years of childhood.

(Klein, 1948, p. 45) She is writing here in her preface to the 3rd edition of The Psychoanalysis of Children; later she made it clear that in her view these anxieties and defenses appear and reappear throughout life. Moreover, and importantly, the need for psychic working through again and again also recurs throughout life – under pressure and anxiety the depressive position will give way to a more paranoid-schizoid constellation of hostile objects and will need once more to be regained. These two positions take the place of Freud’s psychosexual stages, and in this way, the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions become, in Kleinian theory, the primary modules of development, while psychosexual stages – oral, anal and genital – find a new place as aspects of the two different positions.

We must remember that Freud was alive during this time – and still writing. From his marvelously innovative late phase two new ideas in particular influenced Klein: one was Freud’s revised view of anxiety; the other was his final theory of the instincts as a duality of life and death instincts.

For many years Freud maintained the view that anxiety arose from an accumulation of sexual excitation in the absence of “psychical working over,” which transformed libido into anxiety. Then in 1926, in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, Freud revised this view. He unyoked anxiety from sexual excitation and instead saw anxiety as a danger signal to the ego, as “signal anxiety” relating to “anxiety situations” met within the course of life.

A few years later, in Civilization and its Discontents (1930), Freud recorded an even more momentous change in his thinking – his final theory of the instincts as a duality of Life and Death Instincts. He wrote,

I drew the conclusion that besides the instinct to preserve living substance and to join it into ever larger units, there must exist another contrary instinct seeking to dissolve those units and to bring them back to their primeval, inorganic state. That is to say, as well as Eros there was an instinct of death. The phenomena of life could be explained from the concurrent or mutually opposing action of these two instincts.

(1930, p. 118) Freud’s new view of anxiety as a signal of danger to the ego, and Freud’s revised duality of the instincts as eros and thanatos both enter in to Melanie Klein’s account of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions.

The paranoid-schizoid position

This first position is the foundation of all later development. Here in Klein’s own words is a description from her paper (1952) “The Emotional Life of the Infant.”

At the beginning of post-natal life the infant experiences anxiety from internal and external sources… the working of the death instinct within gives rise to the fear of annihilation…. The first external source of anxiety can be found in the experience of birth…. It would appear that the pain and discomfort he has suffered, as well as the loss of the intra-uterine state, are felt by him as an attack by hostile forces, i.e. as persecution. Persecutory anxiety, therefore, enters from the beginning into his relation to objects in so far as he is exposed to privations.

(1952, p. 62) She goes on to say:

That the infant’s first experiences of feeding and of his mother’s presence initiate an object relation to her… the breast, in as much as it is gratifying, is loved and felt to be “good”; in so far as it is a source of frustration, it is hated and felt to be “bad”… The various factors which enter into the infant’s feelings of being gratified such as the alleviation of hunger, the pleasure of sucking, the freedom from discomfort and tension, i.e. from privations, and the experience of being loved – all these are attributed to the bad (persecuting) breast… It is characteristic of the emotions of the very young infant that they are of an extreme and powerful nature. The frustrating (bad) object is felt to be a terrifying persecutor, the good breast tends to turn into the “ideal” breast which should fulfill the greedy desire for unlimited, immediate and everlasting gratification.

(1952, pp. 62–64)
Klein gives a vivid picture of complex first months after birth – of life and death instincts active in the infant, of projections and introjections, of persecutory anxieties, but also deep gratifications experienced in relation to split and polarized objects, which in this first period are part-objects – the foremost part-object being the feeding breast:

the infant’s first experience of feeding and of his mother’s presence initiate an object relation to her… This relation is at first a relation to a part-object, for both oral-libidinal and oral-destructive impulses from the beginning of life are directed towards the mother’s breast.

(1952, p. 64)
There is also the face of the mother, her eyes, her arms and lap, and just as the baby has a mouth, there is mother’s mouth, too. These part-objects are experienced in a polarized way – ideal at one extreme, as persecutors at the other extreme – that induce fear and distress, and may arouse anxieties of annihilation. “The breast, in as much as it is gratifying is loved and felt to be ‘good’; in so far as it is the source of frustration, it is hated and felt to be ‘bad’” (Klein, 1933, p. 32). All these events, whether arising from within (e.g., feelings of hunger) or coming to the baby from outside (e.g., being picked up, kept waiting, being fed), are experienced by the newborn in phantasies. 2

In all of this Klein emphasizes two things. One is the importance of the introjection of the good object and its establishment in the inner world as the core of the ego. This gives an internal orientation around which the ego can cohere and is the foundation of development. The other is the need for the ego when anxieties become unmanageable to protect itself and employ defenses.

In an important paper, “Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms” (1946), Klein gave an account of various schizoid defense mechanisms. She also introduced a new one, which in a later version of the paper (1952) she called “projective identification.” In her view, projective is the main defense against anxiety in the paranoid-schizoid position. In unconscious phantasy, unwanted parts of the self and frightening internal figures are split off and projected into objects, in this way constructing the characteristic narcissistic relations of this period where objects are equated with split off parts of the self.

Klein’s notion of projective identification has aroused wide interest. Heimann (1950) was among the first to link it with psychoanalysis and see the analyst’s countertransference as coming from the patient’s projective identifications – a view now widely accepted and much written about as illuminating the clinical situation. Bion (1959) in a seminal paper extended the concept further. He recognized projective identification, while it can be used in defensive ways, was also a primal and universal mode of communication between human beings.

Clinical illustration: Molly

Here is a clinical illustration from the analysis of a 12-year-old girl. Molly is responding to the coming reality of the absence of her analyst. Before an impending summer break she made a calendar for the month of August, illustrating it with a drawing of a large tea-garden that she said was hers. Most of the picture is filled by a table in the foreground on which were two tall glasses with huge, highly colored round ice-creams. Molly was denying the coming separation, felt as a separation from her mother, by making herself the owner of the tea-garden – that is, by in phantasy projecting herself into her mother and taking over her possessions, notably the ice-creams, her breasts.

In her first session after the August break, she told me that she had had a dream a few days before returning. In the dream she was standing on the edge of a beach. She had been advised to go out into the sea for a bathe. As she looked at the sea, it seemed cold, and already dark, and was uninviting. So she decided not to try it. Then came a change of scene in the dream. She was in a hip bath, together with another girl, a school friend. Her tummy was very big, she was pregnant. There was a big knob sticking out at one place in her tummy, which she thought must be the baby’s head.

I think as the August break was coming to its end and Molly was near to returning to her analysis she could allow reality to intrude into her omnipotent phantasy of being the owner of the tea-garden. The dream shows how Molly is beginning to have some insight into the omnipotence of her phantasies and to understand their purpose: how they save her from the uninviting sea of what she feels to be a cold and dark reality. In the second part of the dream, however, she is a pregnant mother, making a couple with a school friend in a hip bath. While this in some ways is an early fast-forward phantasy of the future – Molly, after all, is a 12-year-old nearing puberty, she is again in a state of projective identification, this time with fertile parents. She has once more in phantasy taken over and become the “owner” – of the parental couple and pregnant mother. However, she understands that her analysis is, as it were, “advising” her to bathe in the reality of who she is and where she is. And indeed, this holiday dream proved to be something of a turning point, a nodal moment in which her anxieties about being small, and young, and by herself feeling excluded in the dark and the cold could be recognized along with her ways of trying to deny reality, internal and external.


Molly’s psychic life is, as yet, taking place at the boundary of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. Her drawing and her words communicate her phantasies of the presence of her object, which are still part-objects, a table with two oversize ice-creams on it, while the absence of her analyst is seen in her dream as a frightening and uninviting (she has not been included) sea. In contrast to the uninviting sea, which is dark and cold, the tea-garden is idyllic, bright and warm and at first protects herself from the persecution of the object that abandons her to coldness and darkness by means of a phantasy of projective identification into the object, so that she is the possessor of the tea-garden with its ice-creams.

However, she doesn’t maintain this phantasy through the entire break. Near the time of her return to analysis Molly is able to regain and know the reality of what threatens her: the object’s absence, being left, being excluded.

Clinical illustration: John

Here is a contrasting illustration from the analysis of another 12-year-old. John had broken down at his boarding school and left, suffering terrifying experiences. In this emergency he began coming to see me four times a week. So that there would be a little time left to us to try to work about a sudden, too-soon break in treatment, in his 11th session I had to tell him that we would be stopping for a fortnight at Easter.

John had been standing by the window, looking out. When I made this announcement, he swung round to stare at me for a long time, his face wide and disbelieving. The next day he brought with him an exercise book. Nearly filling the first page was a large drawing. He sat down and continued it. It was a drawing of concentric circles. At the center was a small inner circle. Around this small central circle were four surrounding circles that I thought represented his feeling of having his four sessions around him. However, at the top John had drawn a shaft that seemed to have pushed through the circles down into the center, so damaging the smooth alignment of the circles and making a gap in the first ring and shoving each successive ring into the one below it.

I asked John about his drawing. In his customary expressionless speech he told me, “It’s of England and France who were once joined. Then a volcano came, and they got separated. The middle bit got sunk, and now they’re like this,” and he showed me with his pencil how each of the four rings was mismatched at the sunken bit. I spoke to him about how he was making a picture of how we were. He felt he and I, like England and France, were once joined; he had his four sessions around him. But when I told him we would be stopping for 2 weeks at Easter, my words were like a volcano. They went into him and sunk him like a shaft down into his middle.

John was continuing his drawing. I spoke to him saying something along the following lines. I reminded him how he had stared at me, shocked. He could not believe I was this bad going-away-breast, and he tried to volcano it away, out of sight, out of him, but somehow it had got into him. I said he now feels we are not like before: we don’t fit round each other anymore.

He was shading the small central circle. He said “There’s a fire burning in the middle because it mustn’t get out the other side.” Yet, in fact, things were getting out: he was farting and making smells, and he turned his drawing over and closely inspected the reverse side of the page to check if anything was coming through. The drawing for John rather than being a representation in Segal’s sense was a symbolic equivalent to his inner state. He felt he should hold in the mess and fear inside him, yet he could not – which added to his distress.

As the session went on he made more drawings. Among these was a circle he said was the moon. He drew four rockets round it, saying, “The rockets are dropping darts of air into the moon, then there will be enough air to live.” I understood this circle as a picture of the distant, dead-moon-breast that I had become for him, and that he felt he needed to breathe life into me so then there would be enough air for him to live too. I interpreted to him that his words and his drawings, both of which tell things to me, are the darts of air that bring life again into the analysis. Looking very worried, John again turned his page of drawings over and inspected it to see if the drawings were coming through on the other side, making smells as he touched the marks that showed. I spoke to him about how worried he was that his smells continue to come out and attack me for my Easter going away and spoil his revival of the atmosphere between us that he is trying to do with his talk and drawings.

He began another small drawing. First he drew the earth, then a big moon. He put in the four rockets – not around the moon as before, but near to the earth – saying in a despondent voice, “They’re going back now.” He drew some irregular shapes, saying, “They’re what you see in the evening, if you look up at the moon.” I asked him what these things on the moon were. After a long hesitation he answered, “I know what they are now. They’re called craters.” He was uneasy – the whole atmosphere in the room was different: it had changed from the strange and distant cooperativeness that we had before to discomfort and fear. In a rather long interpretation I spoke about his despair that a cratered breast – as he felt I was now – could not help him or keep him feeling alive.


My language and my technique, I think, both require some preliminary comment. John was among my first patients in the ’50s when I was inexperienced in how to talk to patients and in how to write up sessions to record and to convey what happened between analyst and patient. The previous account is a shortened version of an account written long ago in 1964. At that time, many Kleinian analysts interpreted in part-object body language, readily using words like breast, penis and so forth. This was done on the assumption of the nearness to awareness, most especially in children, of a basic unconscious symbolism, an assumption later found to be mistaken and simplistic, and so the practice stopped. However, I think that there was a to and fro of communication and understanding going on between my patient and myself, even though I was somewhat clumsy and in some ways mistaken.


Molly and John are in profound ways different. As I remarked earlier, Molly is on the boundary of the paranoid-schizoid position, edging forward toward a depressive position. John, as I shall discuss, is in an abnormal form of the paranoid-schizoid position, distressed and ill. The contrasts between them are painful. While both experience anxieties that are persecutory, Molly’s situation is one of privation: she feels the threat of losing the presence of the tea-garden with its big ice-creams, and of being instead in an uninviting, cold, dark sea. For John, however, it is a matter of survival, of life and death: either he or his object will be annihilated. Molly’s ideal object has to do with food and an everyday place like a tea-garden. There is no sign of feeding in John’s world. In his phantasy his ideal object stays wrapped around him wherever he is, at distances smaller and larger. My announcement of the break comes at him like a destructive volcano and smashes his feeling of staying joined with me; he feels sunk and burning in his middle, invaded by a mismatch that he cannot contain, and the mess and debris seep out from the hole of his anus and lodge in his object – the craters he sees in the moon. Molly uses phantasies of projective identification as a defense against the experience of privation and the emotional pains that might be stirred by absence – she is the owner of the tea-garden! Yet she is able, as the time nears for returning to her analyst, she is able to dream of, and in this way come in contact with, both her awareness of the uninviting dark cold sea of absence, and also to recognize that her “tea-garden” analyst advises she experience it. I think Molly, from gratifying experiences of feeding and other good early experiences, has installed ideal objects, at this stage pictured as two overlarge ice-creams on a table in a tea-garden, in her inner world. John has no such installation or core to his ego.

With distress and guilt his parents told me his early history. It was not one of gratification. John was a baby who was almost continually crying. Also there was one period when his hunger was not recognized for a while when failing breast-feeding was too long prolonged. A mismatch, we might say. John’s world is bleak, a flat place, like his voice that is empty of emotion and far away – there are planetary distances between him and a moon-dead object that he sees has craters in it. About the origin of the craters John was deeply uneasy – did he make the craters? Or was the distant moon of an object like that in itself? This is his uncertainty about where the mismatch between him and his objects starts – is it him? Or is it them?

In the session reported we see him bring and express his need to be wrapped round by the object, ultimately to feel he is inside it, warm, safe and held together. When this feeling is interfered with he is catastrophically persecuted, penetrated by bad, sinking, burning sensations that go all the way through his body and come out the other end as feces and smells. In the session in which I tell him about the Easter interruption he tries to volcano this bad news, this terribly changed object that is not fitting round him, out of himself. He institutes violent psychotic mechanisms – volcanoing the bad object out along with unwanted parts of his mind – especially awareness and feelings. Yet some awareness of his predicament remains in his mind, and he is able to bring this to communicate to me in his next session. During this first period of his analysis he often experienced the room as being full of small hovering fragments; sometimes he felt he was being watched by an expelled eye sitting on the window latch. John’s world of an abnormal paranoid-schizoid position of safety inside his object on the one hand and invasive persecutory terrors and on the other is utterly different from Molly’s idealized tea-garden and uninviting, cold, dark sea.

The depressive position

Here is an account, again in Klein’s own words, from Some Theoretical Conclusions Regarding the Emotional Life of the Infant (1952).

During the second quarter of the first year certain changes in the infant’s intellectual and emotional development become marked… The various aspects – loved and hated, good and bad – of the objects come closer together, and these objects are now whole persons… All these processes of integration and synthesis cause the conflict between love and hatred to come out in full force. The ensuing depressive anxiety and feeling of guilt alter not only in quantity but also in quality. Ambivalence is now experienced predominantly towards a complete object. Love and hatred have come much closer together and the “good” and “bad” breast, “good” and “bad” mother, cannot be kept as widely separated as in the earlier stage. Although the power of the destructive impulses diminishes, these impulses are felt to be a great danger to the loved object, now perceived as a person.

These steps in integration and synthesis result in a greater capacity of the ego to acknowledge the increasingly poignant psychic reality. The anxiety relating to the internalized mother who is felt to be injured, suffering, in danger of being annihilated or already annihilated and lost forever leads to a stronger identification with the injured object. The identification reinforces both the drive to make reparation and the ego’s attempts to inhibit aggressive impulses. The ego again and again makes use of the manic defense (Klein, 1952, p. 71 et seq.).

In Klein’s view it is also at this time of the infantile depressive position that the Oedipus complex begins – Klein places it early. The baby, as his perceptions mature and widen, sees that his mother has relations not only with himself, but also with others, especially the father. He senses that the link between mother and father is of a different kind from the link between himself and his mother – Klein presupposes the existence of innate ideas of the genitals of both sexes and of a pleasurable and fertile sexual intercourse. The infant’s notions will be imbued with his own desires, phantasies and projections, including primitive forerunners from his first 3 months of life of part-object combinations (e.g., mother’s body and psychic receptivity; breast and milk-giving nipple; mother with thinking) – all of which he may equate to “mother with internal penis” at a wordless level of phantasies with images and feelings.

Of particular importance are Oedipal phantasies of parents continually combined in a gratifying intercourse. This combined parental figure arouses painful feelings of jealous exclusion and envious deprivation that impel the infant to attack. In his mind he feels he has injured them with resulting guilt and depressive concern, while the fear that the parents are combined in hostility to him may push him back to a more paranoid position.

In all of this the infant will need the help of his external objects in his struggle with his conflicts of love and hatred, his anxieties and his guilt. Crucial too, will be his own wish to make reparation, which arises from the ego’s love for and empathy with its damaged objects. Reparation was another new Kleinian concept with a key place in the resolution of the depressive position – a way of overcoming guilt and despair – and a concept with a general significance for psychoanalysis. In Civilization and its Discontents (1930), Freud described humankind’s psychic journey from its infantile state to “civilization.” He showed how it ends with discontents, unhappiness and suffering under a punishing superego. Klein saw that the psychic journey need not end there: it could continue. If some working through of the depressive position with reparation is achieved, the superego will become less cruel, more of a humanistic conscience, and guilt and depression will significantly lesson. If this development goes well, reparative phantasies will also become part of evolving sexuality.

Intercourse that gives sexual pleasure with a fertile potential to create a child in identification with a parental couple will become an aspiration, a part of the ego ideal, realizable to different degrees in various outcomes of the Oedipal situation – the complexities of which lie outside the reach of this chapter.

Development from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive position

As we have seen, this transition brings big changes. Splitting of the object and the self gives way to an increasing integration of both the object and the self. Object relations are no longer to part-objects, but more to whole persons who are both good and bad, from a self that is also less schizoid and so is then confronted with conflicting feelings of love and hate for the object, which ushers in new feelings of guilt and anxiety about damage done to the object on which the self depends. This is depressive anxiety, which arises from the identification with, and a new feeling of empathy for, the object. Is the object alive and well? Is it injured and in danger from his hatred? Feelings of remorse and love for the object impel him to make what Klein came to call reparation to the object, and as time went on reparation took a key place in her conception of the working through of the anxiety and guilt of the depressive position. However, if the guilt and depression of this situation are unmanageable, the ego resorts instead to manic defenses to protect itself from the emotional pain of the state of the object and the self, and also from the harshness of its own superego.

The two patients

I return now to Molly and John to consider the depressive position in relation to them both. What are the particular problems of each?

Both children in the sessions reported are in the paranoid-schizoid position, yet it is evident that their worlds, external and internal, are vastly different. Both children relate to part-objects. Molly draws two big ice-creams (rather more linkable to Mother’s two feeding breasts) on a table in a tea-garden so bringing in ideas of feeding, eating, drinking, and growing – the garden. It is a human, sustaining place. In contrast, John’s circles and rockets depict a flat, bleak world of spaces, arrangements in spaces, and distances, vast distances. The one thing having to do with life is air – this makes it possible to survive. All that gets into, or comes out, of John is dangerous and bad: volcanoes, sinking shafts, burning, smells, wind, craters.

Molly’s world is split between two: a warm ideal tea-garden with ice-creams and a cold, dark, uninviting sea. John has had to resort to the minute fragmentation and dispersal of hostile, dangerous objects. While Molly has persecutory anxieties about the impending absence of her tea-garden, her fears are of coldness, being in the dark and excluded – the uninviting sea. Against these threats she uses phantasies of projective identification into the tea-garden to make herself the owner of it. For John, however, the impending absence of his object is a catastrophe, a matter of life and death, a question of the survival of his object and himself. This thrusts guilt and a confused sense of responsibility prematurely on him. When he says, “The rockets are dropping darts of air into the moon, then there will be enough air to live,” it is not, I think, clear to John, who has to save whom. Do I save him with the four sessions or does he come to them to restore life to me?

There is also the question of psychic movement. Molly leaves for the break with defensive phantasies of possession: the tea-garden is hers; she has no loss of it. Near the time of her return, however, she is able to relinquish her defense of projective identification and be in touch with the absence of the object and also discover from her dream that she experiences absence as an uninviting, cold, dark sea. This is a small bit of important psychic work. John, however, in unmanageable distress has cut himself off emotionally from his psychic situation, which is then experienced as only a somatic one. And he was not able, as he felt he should, to keep the burning mess inside himself; it came out through his anus into his surroundings as wind and smells. In this way his predicament is lost to him.

Bearing in mind what has already been noted, how might we think about Molly and John making the transition from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position?

This crucial developmental movement is founded on an integration of formerly split parts of the object and the self. This brings contact with both the love and the hate in the self, and brings also new causes for love and hatred of the object, as well as the experience of a new type of anxiety: depressive anxiety. New feelings of pain and guilt arise from the identification with and empathy for the object, along with a wish to make reparation to the object.

Molly’s ice-creams of the tea-garden represent a good feeding part-object that she has internalized and can keep. Molly remembers what she is returning to: it stays as the core of her ego. John’s good object that wraps around him and keeps him safe is not installed as the core of his ego, nor is it retained. Under privation and the anxiety of annihilation, John’s experience of it changes; his object becomes a monstrous mismatch that is a terrifying persecutor. All he is left with internally are persecutors from which he must protect himself by fragmenting and expelling them. John also feels a violent hatred that makes shit of his objects. I think his own hatred, which he can’t control and keep in, also alarms him enormously. In the end his objects, along with unwanted parts of his self, especially awareness and feelings, are smashed and evacuated either in eye volcanoes or as wind and feces, which leaves him empty and bleak. The retrieval and integration of these fragments and dispersed particles of objects and self would be extraordinarily difficult for John, perhaps achievable only to a minimum extent in some aberrant way.

Molly is more fortunate. She has only the two splits to deal with, and we see already just the beginnings of an integration when she returns to the analysis. We see Molly do some psychic work. She has a significant dream in which she becomes aware that her tea-garden analyst is also an “adviser” telling her to bathe in the cold dark sea and get to know the reality of being “uninvited.”

Her problems with herself and her objects are also quite different. There seems a certain over-heatedness in her relations to the ice-creams of the tea-garden, which look overlarge and luscious, and she herself is very possessive. She tends to evade the reality of exclusion and separation from her object by an omnipotent phantasy of projecting herself into the object to make herself the owner of the tea-garden, and we also see a defensive Oedipal phantasy in her dream picture, she is the couple with the girl in the hip bath and already has the pregnancy of a fertile intercourse, in these ways escaping from the conflicts, pains and uncertainties of her Oedipal situation – but it is there, unlike with John where no humans are in sight.

Psychic work comes from the life instinct and John I think is doubly unfortunate. His personality is heavily weighted with death instincts, and furthermore, in external reality his objects have found it difficult to do their psychic work with him, to be in touch with John’s physical and emotional state and receive, without being overwhelmed or becoming hostile to him, his transmissions of need, hunger, desperation, hate and love. As he looks at his drawing of the moon breast, as I called it, he was troubled and uneasy about the dark marks he had drawn on it that he called craters. He believes he has marked his objects, and I think he is right. His parents were in reality depressed, anxious and guilty, damaged – though in reality not only by him – they had other serious troubles as well as the troubles of their own personalities. But in John’s mind the craters accuse him, and he is made to feel guilty prematurely, long before his ego can manage it.

Molly, we can imagine, will manage the transition to a depressive position. She will be able to find in herself empathy for her objects, based on an identification with them that will become the spur for making reparation to them. I do not think that guilt – for her possessiveness, bossiness, the reversal of roles, which here are her defenses against loss, for her emerging jealousy and envy – will be too persecuting. There would seem to be problems in the area of her sexuality – her relations to her object, and perhaps her objects to her, are a little over-close, too hectic, highly colored, somewhat sexualized, perhaps – and we see her own sexual phantasies with her girlfriend in the hip bath. But these are some of the rather usual troubles of growing up. Molly will need to become more able to bear painful feelings of distance, difference and exclusion and their difficult consequences. Such things are never easy or worked through completely and, as Melanie Klein emphasizes, nor are they ever obtained finally, but won and lost and need to be regained again.

John, however, will need to take a different path. He will not move into the depressive position, but with analytic help will function in an ameliorated though still aberrant paranoid-schizoid position. Along with many schizoid mechanisms and paranoid anxieties that will remain, he will tend to suffer a persecuting guilt about his damaged primary objects and feel he must revitalize them, even that he should be absent and spare them the impact of his presence.

The role of analysis

Though there are generalizations to be made, one psychoanalysis differs from another, both because analysts are different, but more importantly because by its very nature an analysis offers a place in which the individuality of each patient can emerge. Molly can be helped in an analysis to change and develop further into the depressive position so that she will have more contact with herself and be identified with her objects in a warm and empathic rather than a hectic, possessive way; she will come to be able to know something of the pain of exclusion and difference, rather than use schizoid mechanisms to disown cold, dark experiences of being uninvited. As Klein emphasizes, the depressive position is never achieved finally or fully, but may be lost under pressure to a reversion to a more paranoid-schizoid mode of functioning. But even if not permanent, a working through in analysis lays the foundations when the need arises for working through again.

For John, though analysis will have a different role, it is of no less importance. If this is true – and in practice it turned out that way – that he cannot go along an ordinary trajectory, what is the role of analysis for him? John feels alone; he knows he is paranoid and violent and wrapped up in his objects. His cruel superego passes a judgment on him: alien to the human race. Above all, what mattered to John in treatment was to be known, and known by the analyst without judgment.

To be known by another may seem minimal, yet it is fundamental. And as time went on and John felt more sure that I survived and had a willing place for him he could allow me to see more. There were crises, of course. And also, as in every analysis, there was sometimes the unexpected, such as a sudden shrewd and truthful observation by John about himself – and indeed, about me and my ways, too.


Melanie Klein’s new constellations, the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, her new concepts of projective identification and reparation, her work on psychosis and in child analysis, have all bequeathed to psychoanalysis a legacy that has led to further psychoanalytic explorations. Some of these developments of her theories and practice are in papers by various authors collected in the two volumes of Melanie Klein To-day (Spillius, 1988). There is also a valuable bibliography of Kleinian publications from the period 1920–1989 in The New Dictionary of Klein-ian Thought (Spillius 2011), and there are many other more recent and contemporary Kleinian publications.

In this chapter I have tried to give some account of Klein’s contributions to psychoanalysis, and also to provide some idea of a Kleinian way of thinking about patients and psychoanalysis. The interested reader could do no better than turn to the four volumes of Melanie Klein’s own writings (1975).


A good discussion of the differences between Freud’s conception and Klein’s can be found in Elizabeth Spillius’s “Freud and Klein on the Concept of Phantasy” (2001).

For an excellent discussion of all this, consult Catalina Bronstein (2001), Melanie Klein: Beginnings in Klein-ian Theory.


Bion, W 1959, ‘Attacks on linking’, in Second thoughts, Heinemann, London.
Bronstein, C 2001, Melanie Klein: Beginnings in Kleinian theory ( C Bronstein , ed), Whurr, London.
Frank, C 2009, Melanie Klein in Berlin: Her first psychoanalyses of children, Routledge, London.
Freud, S 1926, Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety, Hogarth, London.
Freud, S 1930, Civilization and its discontents, Hogarth, London.
Heimann, P 1950, ‘On counter-transference’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 31, pp. 81–84.
Klein, M 1933, ‘The early development of conscience in the child’, in S Lorand (ed), Psychoanalysis today, Convici-Friede, New York.
Klein, M 1946, Notes on some schizoid mechanisms in the writings of Melanie Klein, vol. 3, Hogarth, London.
Klein, M 1948, Contributions to psychoanalysis, 1921–1945, Hogarth, Honolulu, HI.
Klein, M 1952, Some theoretical conclusions regarding the emotional life of the infant in the writings of Melanie Klein, vol. 3, Hogarth, London.
Klein, M 1975, The writings of Melanie Klein, vols. 1–4, Hogarth, London.
Laplanche, J & Pontalis, J-B 1973, The language of psycho-analysis, Hogarth, London.
Spillius, E 1988, Melanie Klein to-day, vols. 1–2, Routledge, London.
Spillius, E 2001, ‘Freud and Klein on the concept of phantasy’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 82, pp. 361–373.
Spillius, E 2011, The new dictionary of Kleinian thought, Routledge, London.
Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.