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Klein's Theory Of The Paranoid Schizoid Position

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1614 words Published: 16th May 2017

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Through this essay, I am going to discuss Melanie Klein’s theory of the Paranoid-Schizoid position, referring to some of the defence mechanisms which the infant uses. I will also illustrate how parts of the Paranoid-Schizoid position are conveyed through Ridley Scott’s film, Alien (1979).

Melanie Klein believed the first object which the infant relates to in the external world is its mother. During the Paranoid-Schizoid position, the infant sees objects around it as either good or bad, according to its experiences with them. The objects are felt to be loving and good when the infant’s wishes are gratified, leaving them feeling happy and satisfied. Conversely, objects are seen as bad when the infant’s wishes are not met adequately and thus frustration prevails.

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At the beginning of life, the infant does not have a perceptual image of its mother, but sees her in part-objects; the most important part-object being the breast. Klein referred to the ‘good breast’, which represents the good mother who feeds the infant on demand and gives them attention, and the ‘bad breast’, representing the bad mother who says ‘no’ or who is absent when the infant wants something. The infant therefore believes they have two different mothers because they cannot yet tolerate the idea of loving and hating the same object; Klein termed this process ‘splitting’. The infant’s ego splits due to the anxiety it experiences caused by its paranoid fear of annihilation by the bad breast. The splitting process also prevents the bad breast from destroying the good breast because the infant keeps them separated from one another. Thus, the mother must be either good or bad and the feeling directed towards her must be either love or hate; the two cannot yet coincide.

The film, Alien, clearly portrays this ‘splitting’ progress. At the beginning of the film, the alien attaches itself, breast-like, onto Kane’s face, and breathes for him in order to keep him alive. In Klein’s theory, aggression is directed towards the bad breast due to persecutory fears; they believe the bad breast wants to destroy them. Similarly, in Alien, the creature is seen as frightening and harmful, representing the bad breast which the infant has a desire to destroy. However, the creature also represents the good breast, because it is keeping Kane alive.

The infant’s anxious fears of annihilation cause the ego to develop defence mechanisms, which aim to protect the infant from the bad breast, yet also give them control over the good and bad breast, making sure they are kept separate from one another. The schizoid response to this anxiety is to project and introject the good and bad breast. Projection allows the infant to project their bad qualities outwards, into the bad breast, such as feelings of aggression, hate and envy. An example of projection in Alien can be seen at the end of the film when Ellen blasts the alien out into space; she is ridding herself of the bad object and thus destroying it through projection.

The infant also uses introjection to bring the good objects from the good breast inside them. They can then control the good objects through phantasising that the good objects are inside them. The infant thus wants to introject the good breast and project the bad breast, allowing them to make a clear distinction between the ‘good objects’, which are now inside them, and the ‘bad objects’, which have been split from them.

Anal aggression is a further defence mechanism used by the infant to gain a sense of control. Since their anxiety is caused by the threatening bad breast, the infant believes they need to defend themselves using destruction and aggression. The infant does this by entering inside their mother through phantasy to see what harmful objects are within her. They believe there to be faeces, their father’s penis, and other babies inside her and consequently want to rid the mother of these bad objects. They also have the desire to put their own faeces inside their mother, since this gives them a feeling of control. The infant succeeds in this process through unconscious phantasy; they take control by “sucking dry, biting up, scooping out, and robbing the mother’s body of all its content…particularly her babies…and expel dangerous substances out of the self and into the mother”. The infant thus reduces their feelings of anxiety through aggression, projection and introjection.

However, since the infant wants to destroy these objects inside the mother and rob her of them, they automatically feel anxiety that their mother will equally want to retaliate and attack them too. Klein writes, “In his destructive phantasies he bites and tears up the breast, devours it, annihilates it; and he feels that the breast will attack him in the same way”.Thus, by projecting their bad qualities onto their mother, and through anal aggression, the defence mechanisms rebound, since anxiety and fears of persecution are experienced again. These phantasies of attacking the mother can be seen through Alien when the crew are trying to destroy the creature, which they hate and fear. They project their aggression and hatred onto the creature, which inevitably leaves them believing that the creature is determined to destroy them, along with the disloyal ‘Mother’ (the spaceships computer). The crew thus want to destroy the creature, whilst at the same time they are being pursued by it.

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Hanna Segal also notes that there are times when the good object is projected, so it can be kept safe from an overpowering badness which is felt inside. Similarly, bad objects can be introjected and identified with in an attempt to gain control over them. This is because during feelings of anxiety, projection and introjection are used to keep persecutory and ideal objects as distant from each other as possible, whilst still maintaining control of them both. In Alien, during the scene when the crew are all eating around the table, and the creature has appeared to release itself from Kane, he is then literally destroyed from within as the alien rips through his chest. In relating this scene to the Paranoid-Schizoid position, Kane introjected the bad persecutory object, with the unconscious phantasy of gaining control over it. The bad object (the creature) is then re-projected when it rips through Kane’s chest. Thus, the creature is again the source of persecutory anxiety because it escapes. It thus becomes evident that although defence mechanisms initially protect the individual from harm and anxiety, they often rebound, creating further feelings of fear and anxiety.

I am now going to discuss the force which is behind the feeling of aggression. Klein is often claiming that the infant has an innate drive to destroy everything that is good. However, David Hiles suggests that “this is simply a misunderstanding of the mechanism of envy”. Thus, envy is the force which leads to such hatred of an external object, inevitably causing aggression. This envy is a result of the infant’s ego experiencing a denial of something they want or need. For example, the mother may be possessing yet withholding something which the infant desires, such as the infant wanting to be fed, or to be given attention. Envy is therefore “the feeling of conflict that what one desires, and would normally be forthcoming, but is being withheld”. The envious impulse within the infant encourages them to attack the very source which they originally relied upon for what was desired. Melanie Klein believed the breast to be the first object envied by the infant. Thus, withholding the breast, which the infant trusts to contain ‘goodness’, causes the infant to respond aggressively, often biting the mother physically, or attacking her through phantasy.

However, if a nurturing and loving environment is provided by the mother, and if the Paranoid-Schizoid stage is tolerated and worked through, then normal development will often follow. Excessive envy can lead to a weakened ego, also triggering an intense feeling of guilt. The infant realises that they are destroying the primary good object which is providing them with goodness through their envious attacks. Thus, they are gradually enter the Depressive Position, and slowly begin to realise that the mother is a whole object, and that they love and hate the same object.

To conclude, the conflict between love and hate, and experiencing envy, is necessary for the personality to develop, along with the strengthening of the ego. The way in which the infant is brought up and cared for also contributes to the infant’s happiness and development, helping to reduce their feelings of anxiety and fears of persecution. Klein says that “Persecutory anxiety is to some extent counteracted by the infant’s relation to the good breast…the gratification and love which the infant experiences help to counteract persecutory anxiety”. Thus, the relationship which the infant has with the good breast eventually reduces anxiety and the fear of persecution. Trust is also established with the good object as the infant gradually realises that the mother is a whole object. The nature of the relationship between the mother and the infant has a great influence upon the infant’s future relationships with others and upon their social attitude in general.

Word count- 1,540


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