Disciple of Sigmund Freud and one of the most important authors of psychoanalysis, Melanie Klein is known for her fit with the psychoanalytic model at work with children, Being one of the main perpetrators in working with minors.
Melanie Klein’s psychoanalytic theory, while continuing in many ways with Freud’s work, is distinguished by the expansion and deepening of aspects of development throughout childhood and the creation of a more focused approach. of how the individual relates to objects (generally understood as other people), this being the basis of the theory of object relations.
Melanie Klein and the theory of object relations
Melanie Klein’s psychoanalytic theory it is mainly based on his theory of object relations. In this theory, it is established that the subject relates to the environment from the sensations and impulses he feels and projects onto the objects of his impulse. Relations with these objects generate permanent traces that will mark the future relationship with others, internalizing lived experiences and starting at their base the psychological structure of the subject.
like that, the psychic configuration of a person it would be based on how he linked and internalized the interaction with these objects, developing the individual on this basis. In other words, past learning is of great importance for Melanie Klein’s theory, unlike the biological current of the time, which advocated the essence of genes.
The individual and his development
In Klein’s psychoanalytic theory, the human being is in a constant from birth state of conflict between impulses for life or love and death or hatred. Throughout the development of the being, the subject must go beyond the stages and conflicts of the vital stage he is living, forge a balance between the exterior and the interior through the relationships with the different objects and enrich over time his self, his personality and his personality. character.
During development, the individual will go through different phases, varying the way we capture reality and relate our impulses and desires to it and achieving different goals and aspects that help us generate an integrated self that allows us to deal with conflict. between the desires proper to that. and the censorship of the superego.
The Self in Psychoanalysis
While the work of Melanie Klein largely follows that of Sigmund Freud, there are certain aspects in which divergences can be found.
One of the main ones is that if the father of psychoanalysis considers that at birth the human being is pure, in the psychoanalytic theory of Melanie Klein we think that from birth, the child has a primitive ego which allows him to bind to objects and to project on them his own impulses and unconscious conflicts.
Thus, initially, the object relations would be based on the projection of impulses and introjection of external stimuli, Develop a more or less differentiated self in the different stages or positions.
In Melanie Klein’s psychoanalytic theory, it is said that throughout development, humans go through a series of stages in which he develops the ego and the relations with the environment. More precisely, it establishes the presence of two specific positions in childhood in which the object relations and the anxieties which result from it evolve towards an integration of the ego, the schizo-paranoid position and the depressive position.
The author proposes a time of onset for each, but does not deny the possibility that adult subjects suffer from some type of regression and / or fixation in some of them. Thus, the schizo-paranoid position would be more closely linked to the appearance of psychotic disorders and depression in neurotics.
1. Schizo-paranoid position
This position appears to be the first type of object relationship, initiated at birth and tending to last up to six months. At this early stage of development, the child is not yet able to identify what the self is and what is not, to think concretely and not to be able to distinguish the holistic elements.
By not being able to distinguish the self from the non-self, the child cannot integrate the joint existence of the gratifying and aversive aspects into a single object, so he reacts by partially identifying the objects by making them. he considers the existence of a good one who takes care of him and another bad one who hurts or frustrates him (Calling this cleavage defense mechanism), projecting its impulses and attempts. The most important and most vivid example of a child is the mother’s breast, which sometimes gives the breast and sometimes frustrates her.
Due to the existence of a bad persecuting object, the child will develop anxiety and distress in front of the idea that this one could attack him. In this way, a paranoid fear develops which in turn will arouse aggressive and sadistic instincts towards the object. In addition, confusion and anxiety are common over not knowing what object is.
If the child manages to introject the beauty of objects (mainly the mother’s breastplate) through the experience of more or better positive rather than negative experiences, he will be able to form a healthy self which will allow him to move on to the next one. . position.
2. Depressive position
As the child matures, he begins to have greater self-development and a better ability to discern what the self is than what is not, now being able to observe that objects are independent of themselves. This stage occurs about six months after birth.
It incorporates and injects the beauty of objects, specifically from the mother’s breast, And the child is able to integrate the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of objects. Gradually it became possible to see objects as a single element that can sometimes be good and sometimes bad.
Aggressive impulses decrease, And by observing that the object is an independent being, fear and anguish arise in the face of the possibility of its loss. Thus, in this position or stage appear depressive anxieties, which are added to those of the previous position. Feelings of guilt and gratitude for objects arise and defense mechanisms such as repression of instincts and displacement begin to be applied.
The Oedipus complex
One of the most controversial concepts in psychoanalytic theory is the Oedipus complex which, according to Freud, appears throughout the phallic phase around the age of three. In Melanie Klein’s psychoanalytic theory, this complex is much older, appearing alongside the integration of partial objects into a total object during the depressive position.
In other words, Klein considers that there is an Oedipus complex from the moment the child is able to discern that his parents are individuals who are foreign to him, noting that there is a link between them. which it is not part of. The child projects his desires on this link, Generating envy and causing mixed feelings about it.
Later, the Oedipus complex proposed by Freud will appear, when the ambivalence is reduced and the choice is made between the desire of a parent and the rivalry and identification with the other.
Symbolic play and unconscious fantasy
The ability to express oneself verbally and externalize through the word thoughts, emotions, desires and experiences it develops throughout life. This ability requires a certain level of development, maturation and learning, as well as a certain capacity for introspection.
Thus, for a child who has not completed his development, it is extremely complex to be able to express his impulses, desires and anxieties. This is one of the main reasons why the Freudian method of free association specific to psychoanalysis could not originally be applied to children.
However, the instincts, desires and fears that are part of each, are present from birth. For the psychoanalytic theory of Melanie Klein, although in childhood these elements may not be conscious, they can be found symbolized in the generation of fantasies. This way the unconscious fantasies act as a method of expressing basic instincts and anxieties, By projecting them into the game and largely controlling the attitude and behavior of children.
In this regard, one of the most valued contributions of Melanie Klein’s psychoanalytic theory is the introduction of symbolic play as a method of assessment and working with minors. For Klein, play is a means of communication in which the child indirectly externalizes his original preoccupations and desires. Thus, by analyzing the closed symbolism in the play process, it is possible to observe the unconscious fantasies that govern the behavior of the child in a manner analogous to that of the employee in the methods of free association applied in the adult.
When using symbolic play, it is very important to define or adjust the situation, that is, to keep in mind that the need for the sessions, the type of furniture and toys are suitable to the child, which dictates how to play. The child must choose the toys he wants to use for himself, being able to freely express his fears, anxieties and desires.
- Ametller, MT (2012). Psychotherapies. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 06. CEDE: Madrid.
- Corral, R. (2003). History of psychology: notes for its study. Editorial Félix Varela. Havana.
- Klein, M. (1971). Principles of analysis of children. Buenos Aires: Paidós.
- Klein, M. (1988). Envy and gratitude and other work. Complete Works. Volume 3. Barcelona: Paidós.