Friday, March 2, 2012

Nathan Schwartz-Salant on the Correspondence Between Carl Jung's 'Participation Mystique' and Melanie Klein's 'Projective Identification'

"In 1946 Melanie Klein published ‘Notes on some schizoid mechanisms’ (19), in which she coined the term projective identification. Klein's paper employed the mother/infant object-relation and outlined a conception of parts of one person being put into and identified with another person. In the same year, 1946, Jung published the ‘The psychology of the transference’ (13), in which he used the arcane symbolism of alchemy to explore the same phenomenology as Klein. Klein's paper, as Donald Meltzer has noted, had an ‘electrifying impact [upon] the analysts who were closely working with her’ Meltzer (22, p. 20). Jung's hardly had such an impact. For most Jungians, let alone analysts of other schools of thought, his alchemical model often seems too abstract for ‘here and now’ clinical practice. Yet inherent in Jung's study of the transference lies an approach to the phenomenology of projective identification which richly elaborates the findings of Klein and other psychoanalysts, as well as deepening our understanding and widening the possibilities for clinical usage. Jung's work also helps delineate the limitations of employing the concept of projective identification.

Klein describes how: "The phantasied onslaughts on the mother follow two main lines: one is the predominantly oral impulse to suck dry, bite up, scoop out and rob the mother's body of its good contents … The other line of attack derives from the anal and urethral impulses and implies expelling dangerous substances (excrements) out of the self and on to the mother or, as I would rather call it, into the mother. These excrements and bad parts of the self are meant not only to injure but also to control and to take possession of the object. In so far as the mother comes to contain the bad parts of the self, she is not felt to be a separate individual but is felt to be the bad self ... Much of the hatred against parts of the self is now directed against the mother. This leads to a particular form of aggression which establishes the prototype of an aggressive object-relation. I suggest for this process the term ‘projective identification’ " (KLEIN 19, p. 8).

Klein further described how both good and bad parts of the self can be projected. When this is excessive, she says, the ego becomes weakened and impoverished (Ibid. p. 9), cannot assimilate internal objects, and feels ruled by them (Ibid. p. 11). In a further elaboration of these principles, James Grotstein has emphasised that projective identification is imagination (GROTSTEIN 10, p. 124). Projective identification, he writes, is a ‘mental mechanism whereby the self experiences the unconscious phantasy of translocating itself, or aspects of itself, into an object for exploratory or defensive purposes’ (Ibid. p. 123).

Rosemary Gordon has observed that Jung's usage of the term unconscious identity, psychic infection, participation mystique, induction, and the process he called feeling-into are synonyms for projective identification (9, p. 128). Jung's definition of feeling-into highlights its imaginal nature. It is a kind of perception process … it conveys, through the agency of feeling, an essential psychic content into the object; whereby the object is introjected. This content, by virtue of its intimate relation with the subject, assimilates the object to the subject, and so links it up with the subject that the latter senses himself … in the object. The subject … does not feel himself into the object, but the object felt into appears rather as though it were animated and expressing itself of its own accord. This peculiarity depends upon the fact that the projection transfers an unconscious content into the object, whence also the feeling-into process is termed transference in analytical psychology (JUNG, 11, p. 290, in the translation by H. G. Baynes (1923), pp. 359-60).

Jung's statement refers to positive aspects of projective identification which lead to aesthetic awareness (JUNG 11, par. 486), empathy, and a deep imaginal searching out of processes in the object. When he says, ‘The subject … does not feel himself into the object,’ he refers to a subject who already has an ego-self differentiation. But in other instances of projective identification the subject, or at least certain ego functions of the subject, as Klein emphasised, do project into the object, and this can lead to a state of confusion and to a weakening of consciousness that allows for emotional flooding by unconscious processes. In extreme instances a relationship dominated by projective identification can trigger psychotic episodes. As a result of the way the image of the self can hide in objects through projective identification, the subject has the unconscious phantasy of being invisible (GROTSTEIN 10, p. 130). This can become extreme, leading to a sense of a ‘loss of soul’ and a terror that the self can never be found.

Negative aspects of projective identification, such as confusion, identity loss or panic often appear dominant. However, projective identification also has the power, as Gordon has explained, to break down inner psychic boundaries, as well as those between a person and the object world (9, p. 145). This breakdown of structures is essential to any qualitative personality change.

Jung often stressed negative features of what Klein called projective identification. His goal in therapy, as stated in his commentary to The Secret of the Golden Flower, is the dissolution of those fusion states between subject and object, states he called participation mystique (JUNG 18, pars. 65-66). But this goal then appears questionable when Jung himself explains that once the self becomes the centre of personality, participation mystique is done away with and ‘results in a personality that suffers only in the lower storeys, as it were, but in its upper storey is singularly detached from painful as well as from joyful happenings’ (Ibid., par. 67). It would appear from this statement that one cannot totally do away with the process of projective identification except to banish it to the body, hardly a desirable state, and one that can lead only to mind-body splitting.

In these remarks Jung was centring upon what he called the ‘compulsion and impossible responsibility’ (Ibid., par. 78) that can accompany interactions dominated by participation mystique. Thus he emphasised the role of the self in breaking the compulsive tie between subject and object, the negative form of projective identification. In his study of the ‘Visions of Zosimos’ Jung struck a different tone and regarded participation mystique as underlying alchemical projections which ‘are a special instance of the mode of thinking typified by the idea of the microcosm’ (JUNG 16, par. 123). Generally, Jung was aware of the potentially creative and destructive aspects of participation mystique, and thus of the phenomenology of projective identification. He was influenced by both possibilities in his analysis of the alchemical imagery of the Rosarium Philosophorum, his Ariadne thread through the complexities of the transference (JUNG 13, par. 401)....

‘The psychology of the transference’, Jung's main statement on the transference, is centrally concerned with the phenomenology of projective identification. There he addressed unconscious processes that ‘have an inductive effect on the unconscious of [the] doctor’ (Ibid., par. 363). This theme repeats itself in variations throughout his study (Ibid., pars. 364, 365, 367). Jung described the phenomenology of projective identification as activating the unconscious and the archetypal transference..."
(pp. 39-42)

Nathan Schwartz-Salant (1988). Archetypal Foundations of Projective Identification. Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol. 33, pp. 39-64

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