Paranoid Schizoid Position

During the earliest months of life, an infant comes into contact with both the good breast and the bad breast. These alternating experiences of gratification and frustration threaten the very existence of the infant's vulnerable ego. The infant desires to control the breast by devouring and harboring it. At the same thne, the infant's innate destructive urges create fantasies of damaging the breast by biting, tearhig, or annihilating it. hi order to tolerate both these feelings toward the same object at the same time, the ego splits itself, retaining parts of its life and death instincts while deflecting parts of both instincts onto the breast. Now, rather than fearing its own death in-

Chapter 5 Klein: Object Relations Theory 141

stinct, the infant fears the persecutory breast. But the infant also has a relationship with the ideal breast, which provides love, comfort, and gratification. The infant desires to keep the ideal breast mside itself as a protection agamst annihilation by persecutors. To control the good breast and to fight off its persecutors, the infant adopts what Klein (1946) called the paranoid-schizoid position, a way of organizing experiences that includes both paranoid feelings of being persecuted and a splitting of internal and external objects mto the good and the bad.

Accordmg to Klein, infants develop the paranoid-schizoid position during the first 3 or 4 months of life, during which thne the egos perception of the external world is subjective and fantastic rather than objective and real. Thus, the persecutory feelings are considered to be paranoid; that is, they are not based on any real or immediate danger from the outside world. The child must keep the good breast and bad breast separate, because to confuse them would be to risk annihilating the good breast and losing it as a safe harbor. In the young child's schizoid world rage and destructive feelings are directed toward the bad breast, while feelings of love and comfort are associated with the good breast.

Infants, of course, do not use language to identify the good and bad breast. Rather, they have a biological predisposition to attach a positive value to nourishment and the life instinct and to assign a negative value to hunger and the death instinct. This preverbal splitting of the world into good and bad serves as a prototype for the subsequent development of ambivalent feelings toward a single person. For example, Klein (1946) compared the infantile paranoid-schizoid position to transference feelings that therapy patients often develop toward then therapist.

Under pressure of ambivalence, conflict and guilt, the patient often splits the figure of the analyst, then the analyst may at certain moments be loved, at other moments hated. Or the analyst may be split in such a way that he remains the good (or bad) figure while someone else becomes the opposite figure, (p. 19)

Ambivalent feelings, of course, are not lhnited to therapy situations. Most people have both positive and negative feelings toward their loved ones. Conscious ambivalence, however, does not capture the essence of the paranoid-schizoid position. When adults adopt the paranoid-schizoid position, they do so in a primitive, unconscious fashion. As Ogden (1990) pomted out, they may experience themselves as a passive object rather than an active subject. They are likely to say "He's dangerous" instead of saying "I am aware that he is dangerous to me." Other people may project their unconscious paranoid feelings onto others as a means of avoiding their own destruction by the malevolent breast. Still others may project their unconscious positive feelings onto another person and see that person as bemg perfect while viewing themselves as empty or worthless.

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