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The depressive position was seen by Melanie Klein as an important developmental milestone that continues to mature throughout the life span. The splitting and part object relations that characterize the earlier phase are succeeded by the capacity to perceive that the other who frustrates is also the one who gratifies. Schizoid defenses are still in evidence, but feelings of guilt, grief, and the desire for reparation gain dominance in the developing mind.

In the depressive position, the infant is able to experience others as whole, which radically alters object relationships from the earlier phase.[1]:3 “Before the depressive position, a good object is not in any way the same thing as a bad object. It is only in the depressive position that polar qualities can be seen as different aspects of the same object.”[2]:37 Increasing nearness of good and bad brings a corresponding integration of ego.

In a development which Grotstein terms the "primal split",[2]:39 the infant becomes aware of separateness from the mother. This awareness allows guilt to arise in response to the infant’s previous aggressive phantasies when bad was split from good. The mother’s temporary absences allow for continuous restoration of her “as an image of representation” in the infant mind.[2]:39 Symbolic thought may now arise, and can only emerge once access to the depressive position has been obtained. With the awareness of the primal split, a space is created in which the symbol, the symbolized, and the experiencing subject coexist. History, subjectivity, interiority, and empathy all become possible.[3]:14

The anxieties characteristic of the depressive position shift from a fear of being destroyed to a fear of destroying others. In fact or phantasy, one now realizes the capacity to harm or drive away a person who one ambivalently loves. The defenses characteristic of the depressive position include the manic defenses, repression and reparation. The manic defenses are the same defenses evidenced in the paranoid-schizoid position, but now mobilized to protect the mind from depressive anxiety. As the depressive position brings about an increasing integration in the ego, earlier defenses change in character, becoming less intense and allow increasing awareness of psychic reality.[4]:73

In working through depressive anxiety, projections are withdrawn, allowing the other more autonomy, reality, and a separate existence.[5]:16 The infant, whose destructive phantasies were directed towards the bad mother who frustrated, now begins to realize that bad and good, frustrating and satiating, it is always the same mother. Unconscious guilt for destructive phantasies arises in response to the continuing love and attention provided by caretakers.

[As] fears of losing the loved one become active, a very important step is made in the development. These feelings of guilt and distress now enter as a new element into the emotion of love. They become an inherent part of love, and influence it profoundly both in quality and quantity.[6]:65
From this developmental milestone come a capacity for sympathy, responsibility to and concern for others, and an ability to identify with the subjective experience of people one cares about.[6]:65-66 With the withdrawal of the destructive projections, repression of the aggressive impulses takes place.[4]:72-73. The child allows caretakers a more separate existence, which facilitates increasing differentiation of inner and outer reality. Omnipotence is lessened, which corresponds to a decrease in guilt and the fear of loss.[5]:16

When all goes well, the developing child is able to comprehend that external others are autonomous people with their own needs and subjectivity.

Previously, extended absences of the object (the good breast, the mother) was experienced as persecutory, and, according to the theory of unconscious phantasy, the persecuted infant phantisizes destruction of the bad object. The good object who then arrives is not the object which did not arrive. Likewise, the infant who destroyed the bad object is not the infant who loves the good object.

In phantasy, the good internal mother can be psychically destroyed by the aggressive impulses. It is crucial that the real parental figures are around to demonstrate the continuity of their love. In this way, the child perceives that what happens to good objects in phantasy does not happen to them in reality. Psychic reality is allowed to evolve as a place separate from the literalness of the physical world.

Through repeated experience with good enough parenting, the internal image that the child has of external others, that is the child's internal object, is modified by experience and the image transforms, merging experiences of good and bad which becomes more similar to the real object (e.g. the mother, who can be both good and bad). In Freudian terms, the pleasure principle is modified by the reality principle.

Melanie Klein saw this surfacing from the depressive position as a prerequisite for social life. Moreover, she viewed the establishment of an inside and an outside world as the start of interpersonal relationships.

Klein argued that people who never succeed in working through the depressive position in their childhood will, as a result, continue to struggle with this problem in adult life. For example: the cause that a person may maintain suffering from intense guilt feelings over the death of a loved one, may be found in the unworked- through depressive position. The guilt is there because of a lack of separationTemplate:Disambiguation needed between inside and outside and also as a defense mechanism to defend the self against unbearable feelings of intense sadness and sorrow, and subsequently the internal object against the unbearable rage of the self, which is feared can destroy the (internal) object forever.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Klein_1946
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Grotstein, James S. (1981). Splitting and projective identification, New York, NY: Jason Aronson.
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Ogden_1989
  4. 4.0 4.1 Klein, Mélanie (1952). "Some theoretical conclusions regarding the emotional life of the infant" Envy and gratitude and other works 1946-1963, Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.
  5. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Segal_1981
  6. 6.0 6.1 Klein, Mélanie; Riviere, Joan (1964). "Love, guilt, and reparation" link Love, Hate, and Reparation, New York, NY: Norton.


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