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projective identification (family psychotherapy glossary)

This term was introduced into psychoanalysis by Melanie Klein in 1946 to describe specific intrapsychic and interpersonal processes. It characterizes the way in which the individual projects undesired or highly desired aspects of the self onto others, and consequently identifies with these others.. Klein considered this to be a defense process or mechanism. She observed how children attempted to control threatening instinctual drives by "recruiting" the mother to be the "container" of highly ambivalent needs, while at the same time identifying with the "container" at a relatively safe distance from their own ego. In further elaborations of this concept, it was seen as an important element of normal ego and personality development, as well as a form of "transpersonal defense" in interpersonal contexts. The latter aspect of projective identification is particularly important in psychoanalytically oriented family therapy and theory.


Definition extracted with permission from Simon, Fritz, et al, Family Process, Inc.: Language of Family Therapy: A Systemic Vocabulary and Source Book (Family Process Press Series)