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The psychoanalytic theory of Melanie Klein

The psychoanalytic theory of Melanie Klein

July 12, 2024

Disciple of Sigmund Freud and one of the most important authors of psychoanalysis, Melanie Klein is known for her adjustment of the psychoanalytic model to working with children , being one of the main authors in working with minors.

Melanie Klein's psychoanalytic theory, while continuing in many respects with Freud's work, emphasizes expanding and deepening aspects of development throughout childhood and creating a more focused approach to how the individual relates to objects ( generally understood as such other persons), this being the basis of the theory of object relations.

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Melanie Klein and the theory of object relations

The psychoanalytic theory of Melanie Klein is based primarily on his theory of object relations . In this theory it is established that the subject is related to the medium from the sensations and impulses that he feels and projects on the objects of his impulse. The relationships with these objects generate permanent traces that will mark the future relationship with others, internalizing the lived experiences and originating based on them the psychological structure of the subject.


A) Yes, the psychic configuration of a person it would be based on how it has been related and how it has internalized the interaction with these objects, developing the individual based on it. That is, that past learning is very important for the theory of Melanie Klein, unlike the current biologist of the time, which defended the essence of genes.

The individual and his development

In the psychoanalytic theory of Klein, the human being is from birth in a constant state of conflict between drives of life or love and death or hate . Throughout the development of being, the subject must overcome the stages and conflicts of the life stage that is being lived, forging a balance between the external and the internal through the relations with the different objects and enriching with time your self, personality and character.


During this development the individual will go through different phases, varying the way we capture reality and relate our impulses and desires with it and reaching different milestones and aspects that help us generate an integrated self that allows us to face conflicts between the id's own desires and the censorship of the superego.

The Self in psychoanalysis

While the work of Melanie Klein is largely a follower of Sigmund Freud's, there are some aspects in which divergences can be found.

One of the main ones is that while the father of psychoanalysis considers that at birth the human being is pure, in the psychoanalytic theory of Melanie Klein it is believed that from birth the infant has a primitive self that allows him to bond with the objects and project upon them his own impulses and unconscious conflicts.


Thus, in the beginning, object relations would be based on the projection of impulses and the introjection of external stimuli , to develop a more or less differentiated I in the different stages or positions.

  • Related article: "The id, the self and the superego, according to Sigmund Freud"

The positions of development

In the psychoanalytic theory of Melanie Klein it is established that throughout the development the human being goes through a series of stages in which the ego and relationships with the environment develop. Specifically, it establishes the presence of two concrete positions in childhood in which the object relations and the anxieties derived from them are evolving towards an integration of the ego, the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position.

The author proposes a moment of appearance of each one, but does not deny the possibility that adult subjects suffer some type of regression and / or fixation in any of them. Thus, the schizo-paranoid position would be more linked to the emergence of psychotic disorders and the depressive neurotic.

1. Schizoid-paranoid position

This position appears to be the first type of object relationship, initiated with birth and tending to last until six months of age. In this initial stage of development, the child is still not able to identify what the "I" is and what is not, having a concrete thought and not being able to distinguish holistic elements.

Not being able to distinguish the self from the non-self, the child can not integrate the joint existence of rewarding and aversive aspects in the same object, with which it reacts by identifying the objects in a partial way, making considers the existence of a good one that takes care of him and another bad one that damages or frustrates him (denominated excision to this defense mechanism), projecting in them their impulses and attempts.The most important and most important example to the infant is that of the mother's breast, which sometimes breastfeeds and sometimes frustrates.

Due to the existence of a bad object, persecutory, the infant will develop anxiety and anguish at the idea that he can attack him. In this way, a paranoid fear develops which in turn awakens aggressive and sadistic instincts towards the object. Likewise, confusion and anguish are frequent in the face of ignorance of the object to be found.

If the child manages to introject the good aspect of the objects (essentially the good breast of the mother) through the experience of more or better positive than negative experiences, he will be able to form a healthy self that allows him to move to the next position.

2. Depressive position

As the child matures, he begins to have a greater development of the self and a better capacity for discernment of what is the self than what is not, being now able to observe that the objects are independent of themselves. This stage arises around six months after birth.

The good aspect of the objects is incorporated and introjected specifically from the mother's breast , and the child is able to integrate the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of the objects. Little by little it has happened to be able to see the objects like a single element that sometimes can be good and in others bad.

Decrease aggressive impulses , and when observing that the object is an independent entity, fear and anxiety arise in the face of the possibility of its loss. Thus, in this position or stage there appear distresses of a depressive type, which are added to those of the previous position. Feelings of guilt and gratitude towards objects are born, and defensive mechanisms such as the repression of instincts and displacement begin to be applied.

The Oedipus complex

One of the most controversial concepts of psychoanalytic theory is the Oedipus complex, which according to Freud appears throughout the phallic stage around three years of age. In the psychoanalytic theory of Melanie Klein this complex is quite anterior, appearing next to the integration of the partial objects in 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 alien to him, observing that there is a link between them of which he is not a part. The child projects his wishes in said link , generating envy and provoking ambivalent feelings about it.

Later, the Oedipus complex proposed by Freud will appear, at the moment when the ambivalence is reduced and the choice is made between the desire for one parent and the rivalry and identification with the other.

  • Related article: "The Oedipus Complex: one of the most controversial concepts of Freud's theory"

The symbolic game and the unconscious fantasy

The ability to express oneself verbally and externalize through the word thoughts, emotions, desires and experiences it develops throughout life. This capacity requires a certain level of maturational development 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 drives, desires and anguish. This is one of the main reasons why the method of free association proper to Freudian psychoanalysis could not be originally applied to children.

However, the instinct elements, the desires and fears that are part of each one, are present from birth. For the psychoanalytic theory of Melanie Klein, although in childhood these elements may not be conscious can be symbolized in the generation of fantasies. In this way, unconscious fantasies act as a method of expression of basic instincts and anguish , projecting themselves into the game and leading to a great extent the attitude and behavior of children.

In this aspect, one of the contributions most valued by the psychoanalytic theory of Melanie Klein is the introduction of the symbolic game as a method of evaluation and work with minors. For Klein, the game is a method of communication in which the infant externalizes its primitive concerns and desires indirectly. In this way, analyzing the symbolism enclosed in the game process, it is possible to observe the unconscious fantasies that govern the behavior of the child in a way similar to that used in the methods of free association applied in adults.

When it comes to using the symbolic game, it is very important setting or adjustment of the situation, ie take into account that the need for the sessions, the type of furniture and toys are appropriate for the child so that it does not come taxed as he should play. The child must choose those toys that he wants to use by himself, being able through them to freely express their fears, anxieties and desires.

Bibliographic references:

  • Almond, M.T. (2012). Psychotherapies CEDE Preparation Manual PIR, 06. CEDE: Madrid.
  • Corral, R. (2003).History of Psychology: notes for your study. Editorial Felix Varela. Havana.
  • Klein, M. (1971). Principles of child analysis. Buenos Aires: Paidós.
  • Klein, M. (1988). Envy and gratitude and other jobs. Complete works. Volume 3. Barcelona: Paidós.

PSYCHOTHERAPY - Melanie Klein (July 2024).


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