Depressive Position

Beginning at about the 5th or 6th month, an infant begms to view external objects as whole and to see that good and bad can exist in the same person. At that time, the infant develops a more realistic picture of the mother and recognizes that she is an independent person who can be both good and bad. Also, the ego is beginning to mature to the point at which it can tolerate some of its own destructive feelings rather than projectmg them outward. However, the infant also realizes that the mother might go away and be lost forever. Fearmg the possible loss of the mother, the infant desires to protect her and keep her from the dangers of its own destructive forces, those cannibalistic impulses that had previously been projected onto her. But the infant's ego is mature enough to realize that it lacks the capacity to protect the mother, and thus the infant experiences guilt for its previous destructive urges toward the mother. The feelings of anxiety over losing a loved object coupled with a sense of guilt for wanting to destroy that object constitute what Klein called the depressive position.

Children in the depressive position recognize that the loved object and the hated object are now one and the same. They reproach themselves for their previous destructive urges toward then mother and desire to make reparation for these attacks. Because children see their mother as whole and also as being endangered, they are able to feel empathy for her, a quality that will be beneficial hi then future interpersonal relations.

The depressive position is resolved when children fantasize that they have made reparation for their previous transgressions and when they recognize that their mother will not go away permanently but will return after each departure. When the depressive position is resolved, children close the split between the good and the bad mother. They are able not only to experience love from then mother, but also to display then own love for her. However, an incomplete resolution of the depressive position can result in lack of trust, morbid mourning at the loss of a loved one, and a variety of other psychic disorders.

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