Melanie Klein: biography and thought of this psychoanalyst

Melanie Klein is one of the main representatives of psychoanalysis. Although an admirer of Sigmund Freud, her way of conceiving psychoanalytic therapy led her to bring out her own current within this great discipline: Kleinism.

With an extremely difficult personal life, Melanie Klein knew how to face adversity and become one of the leading figures in psychological therapy for children. Today we are going to find out what your story was, through a biography of Melanie Klein.

    Brief biography of Melanie Klein

    Melanie Klein was an Anglo-Austrian psychoanalyst who he developed his own theory of psychoanalysis, based on the ideas of Sigmund Freud but introducing some concepts of his own authorship. She pioneered the creation of psychological therapies for children.

    She formed her own theoretical school on child psychoanalysis and became the first psychoanalyst from continental Europe to join the British Psychoanalytic Society. She was Anna Freud’s main opponent.


    Born Melanie Reizes, Melanie Klein was born on March 30, 1882 in Vienna, at that time the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her father, Moriz Reizes, came from an Orthodox Jewish family and studied to be a doctor in the face of his family’s religious beliefs. Moriz married Libussa Deutsch, an attractive and intelligent woman from Slovakia twenty years his junior. The couple had four children: Emilie, Emmanuel, Sidonie and Mélanie. Mélanie was brought up without religious impositions.

    According to her biographer, Phyllis Grosskurth, Melanie Klein admitted that she came into the world unexpectedly, but she doesn’t feel like she received less love from her parents. What marked his childhood was the death of his sister Sidonie when Melanie was only four years old. Sidonie died at the age of eight from scrofula, a form of tuberculosis. As a child, Mélanie always felt very attached to her sister, who remembered with great admiration teaching her how to read and count.


      In 1898, at the age of 16, Melanie Reizes passed the entrance exams to medicine, the discipline she had always wanted to study. However, his plans would be truncated with the arrival of love, since the following year, she met her future husband Arthur Stevan Kleina first cousin of a mother who studied chemical engineering in Zurich.

      His father Moriz Reizes died in 1900 at the age of 72. At this time, his sister Emilie married Dr. Leo Pick. The death of her father and the marriage of her sister trigger a crisis for Melanie and the rest of the family.. To all this would be added a tragic event two years later when his brother Emmanuel died of a heart attack in Genoa, at only 25 years old. This death marked Mélanie for the rest of her life because she was very close to Emmanuel.

      It was her brother Emmanuel who encouraged her to study medicine. In fact, he was the one who helped Melanie get into the gymnasium in Vienna. All this caused the death of his brother, Melanie he felt deeply guilty for what had happened. Not because he thought he could have avoided his death by studying medicine or anything like that, but because he knew that his impending marriage to Arthur Klein was something that affected the physical and mental health of his oldest brother.

      According to his biographer, Emmanuel was self-destructing with Melanie’s budding marriage to Arthur. Added to this, Emmanuel suffered from a high fever at the age of twelve, probably caused by previous tuberculosis.

        Difficult marriage and family life

        At 21, Mélanie married Arthur Klein in 1903, taking his last name. The marriage was not satisfying for Melanie and she always remembered it as an unhappy marriage. Despite this, the Klein family had three children: Melitta, Hans and Erich.

        Marriage was nothing but the straw that filled the glass of a life marked by the death of loved ones, numerous depressive episodes, an unsatisfying love life and an increasingly evident anti-Semitic wave in central Europe. .

        Melanie Klein he underwent psychoanalytical treatments on several occasions. But, in an act of overcoming adversity and learning from what was happening to him, it was precisely his health issues that made his calling known. He begins to feel a keen interest in psychoanalysis, having the opportunity to be treated by great figures of his time such as Sandor Ferenczi and Karl Abraham.

        In 1914, when she became interested in psychoanalysis, her husband went to war and her mother Libussa died of cancer. Shortly after, after several attempts at reconciliation, Mélanie and Arthur Klein separate. Mélanie is not known to another stable partner, except for a lover, Cheskel Zwi Klötzel, German journalist and author of children’s books, also married, who would end up fleeing to Palestine because of the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.

        But the biggest blow in her personal life would come from her own eldest daughter, Melitta Schmideberg. Although he initially agreed with the principles of child psychoanalysis that his mother had established, soon she became an ally of Edward Glover, one of her ideological opponents. Melitta and Glover boycotted Melanie Klein’s theories at meetings of the British Psychoanalytic Society. The quarrel was so strong that mother and daughter never reconciled.


        Melanie Klein was diagnosed with anemia in 1960 and, a few months later, with colon cancer. She underwent an operation which, although it appeared to be successful at first, ended up developing a series of complications that would end her life. Melanie Klein died on September 22, 1960, at the age of 78.

          Professional career and development of his theory

          Here are some of the highlights of Melanie Klein’s career and how she developed her particular psychoanalytic theory.

          Beginnings in psychoanalysis

          With the outbreak of the First World War, her husband Arthur Klein was called upon to form ranks. Because of stress, anxiety and everything that was going on in her life, it was in this year that Mélanie Klein he undergoes psychoanalysis with Sándor Ferenczi, a close friend of Freud.

          In 1918, Melanie Klein heard Sigmund Freud read his Lines of Advance in Psychoanalytic Therapy at the 5th Congress of Psychoanalysis at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. A year later, Melanie presents a study done with his own five-year-old son, Erich, at the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society. The society rewards her by becoming a member.

            First analysis in children

            In 1921, Melanie Klein, seeing anti-Semitism spread throughout Hungary, he moved to Berlin. At this point in his life, he began his real career as a child psychoanalyst, treating children, attending international conferences and becoming a member of the Berlin Society for Psychoanalysis.

            Thanks to her friendship with the psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, Melanie Klein was able to evolve professionally abroad. Jones did him a great favor by publishing an article by Melanie Klein entitled “The Development of a Child” in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. With this publication, Klein gained considerable fame, making people like Karl Abraham and Sigmund Freud talk about her.

            Achieve international fame

            In 1926 he moved to London where he began caring for children, including the sons of the Jones family and their own young son Erich. In 1927, his main detractor, Anna Freud, wrote to the Psychoanalytic Society of Berlin about Klein’s techniques for analyzing children. In response, Ernest Jones organized a symposium on British society on the same subject, which Sigmund Freud himself considered a personal attack on him and his daughter.

            On October 2, 1927, Melanie Klein was elected a Fellow of the British Psychoanalytic Society.. A few years later, in 1932, he published his major theoretical work, La child psychoanalysis, published simultaneously in English and German. During this time, Klein attends several conferences in which he presents the development of his theory.

            Klein vs. Freud

            When World War II broke out in 1939, Sigmund and Anna Freud moved to London.

            The first special meeting of the British Psychoanalytic Society took place on February 25, 1942. The enmity between Melanie Klein and Anna Freud reached such proportions that, now, Two sides have been created among British psychoanalysts: the Kleinians and the Freudians. During these years, the Freudian sector led by Anna Freud, with Melanie’s own daughter, Melitta, was engaged in attacking Klein’s theories.

            The differences between the two theories were not resolved until 1946. It was then that a Conciliation Group or Intermediate Group emerged within the British Psychoanalytic Society. This group aims to calm the atmosphere and harmonize the differences between the theory of Anna Freud and that of Melanie Klein. In 1947, John Rickman, a member of this conciliation group, was elected President of the Society.

              The psychoanalysis of Melanie Klein

              Melanie Klein’s contributions to the theory of psychoanalysis are as follows.

              Oedipus complex and superego

              Melanie Klein shares with Sigmund Freud the idea of ​​the Oedipus complexa concept that holds that the boy or girl wants to take the place of the same-sex parent and attempts to establish a sexual-affective relationship with their other parent.

              Freud’s model explains that this phase occurs between the ages of three and five. Instead, Melanie Klien proposes an earlier Oedipus complex, with a first stage in which the child fantasizes about a body in which the sexual attributes of father and mother are united.

              During this stage, the child presents cruel characteristics linked to the bodily orifices, such as the mouth or the anus and this would be a consequence, from the point of view of the psychoanalytic model, a consequence of the projections of his own sexuality. Melanie Klein argued that the frustration of weaned children and the incorporation of foods into their diet played a very important role.

              As for the superego or superego, Freudian theory explains it as that part of our being which it represents the ethical thoughts acquired by the culture once the Oedipus complex is overcome. Melanie Klein makes some modifications to this concept, as she believes that the superego has been present in babies since birth and breastfeeding. Added to this, he specifies that the superego is linked to a feeling of guilt that arises during the Oedipus complex.

              Depressive position and schizo-paranoid position

              According to Melanie Klein, the depressive position is a recurring thought in the mind of the child. It appears for the first time during the first year and a half of life and would be linked to the anxiety that occurs in infants for fear of losing the beloved object, which is generally the mother.

              As for the schizo-paranoid position, it would be a pre-depressive stage. It occurs during the first months of life, although it may reappear during later episodes of the child’s development. The child conceives of the mother as a part centered on her breast, which she perceives as “good breast” when she feeds it and “bad breast” otherwise. At this stage, the infant’s anxiety stems from his desire to surviverather than the fear of losing the mother from the depressed position.

              Works by Melanie Klein

              Among the main works of Melanie Klein we highlight:

              • Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921-1945.
              • The Psychoanalysis of Children.
              • Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963.
              • Narrative of a child analysis.

              Bibliographic references

              • OnlineKlein, M. (1932). Psychoanalysis of children. Epub: digital version
              • OnlineKlein, M. (1959). Our adult world and its roots in childhood. Epub: digital version
              • Barbieri, M. (2017). Melanie Klein. Barcelona, ​​Spain: Editorial Salvat.

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