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p. 1 “Projective identification is not a metapsychological concept. The phenomena it describes exist in the realm of thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, not in the realm of abstract beliefs about the workings of the mind. Whether or not one uses the term or is cognizant of the concept of projective identification, clinically one continually bumps up against the phenomena to which it refers – unconscious projective fantasies, in association with the evocation of congruent feelings in others. Resistance on the part of therapists and analysts to thinking about these phenomena is understandable: it is unsettling to imagine experiencing feelings and thinking thoughts that are in an important sense not entirely one’s own. And yet, the lack of a vocabulary with which to think about this class of phenomena seriously interferes with the therapist’s capacity to understand, manage, and interpret the transference. Projective identification is a concept that addresses the way in which feeling-states corresponding to the unconscious fantasies of one person (the projector) are engendered in and processed by another person (the recipient), that is, the way in which one person makes use of another person to experience and contain an aspect of himself. The projector has the primarily unconscious fantasy of getting rid of an unwanted or endangered part of himself (including internal objects) and of deposing that part in another person in a powerfully controlling way. The projected part of the self is felt to be partially lost and to be inhabiting the other person. In association with this unconscious projective fantasy there is an interpersonal interaction by means of which the recipient is pressured to think, feel, and behave in a manner congruent with the ejected feelings and the self- and object-representations embodied in the projective fantasy. In other words, the recipient is pressured to engage in an identification with a specific, disowned aspect of the projector.
The recipient may be able to live with such induced feelings and manage them within the context of his own larger personality system, for example, by mastery through understanding or integration with more reality-based self-representations. In such a case, the projector many constructively reinternalize by introjection and identification aspects of the recipient’s handling of the induced feelings. On the other hand, the recipient may be unable to live with the induced feelings and may handle such feelings by means of denial, projection, omnipotent idealization, further projective identification, or actions aimed at tension relief, such as violence, sexual activity, or distancing behaviour. In these cases the projector would be confirmed in his/her belief that his/her feelings and fantasies were indeed dangerous and unbearable. Through identification with the recipient’s pathological handling of the feelings involved, the original pathology of the projector would be further consolidated or expanded.
The concept of projective identification by no means constitutes an entire theory of therapy, nor does it involve a departure from the main body of psychoanalytic theory and technique. It does go significantly beyond what is ordinarily referred to as transference, wherein the patient distorts his view of the therapist while directing toward the therapist the same feelings that he held toward an earlier person in his life (Freud 1912, 1914, 1915). In projective identification, not only does the patient view the therapist in a distorted way that is determined by the patient’s past object relations; in addition, pressure is exerted on the therapist to experience himself in a way that is congruent with the patient’s unconsious fantasy.”