Melanie Klein and "splitting" versus "soul loss": psychoanalysis versus shamanism

It may be unwise for me to evoke Klein’s name as the originator of a true understanding of psychological splitting. It seems that her views may be too limited and limiting in terms of giving us any real understanding of the depths and breadths of this phenomenon. In attributing psychological splitting to “unconscious envy” Klein performs a typical Freudian term in blaming the victim for bearing the consequences of whatever crime had been afflicted on them. Judith Herman’s view of this phenomenon presents a far more reasonable hypothesis that splitting occurs in order to protect a part of consciousness that wants to remain innocent of the violation of the whole. Her view is that splitting facilitates survival in situations where psychological survival comes under extreme threat (as in the case of torture, prisons etc.)

Other writers like Sandra Ingerman suggest that even in the case where survival is not threatened, the survival of previous lifestyles may be threatened by sudden change — thus leading to the ego defence that is psychological splitting. Thus a separate part of consciousness comes to deal with the new, more nefarious circumstances, whilst a part of oneself is preserved in the previous state of innocence, unsullied by the pressure of change.

Splitting as so represented may be less “unconscious envy of others” and more related to the unconscious envy of one’s previous life (before it came under threat) — the envy of a life that one had, that one is no longer able to live. That change itself could represent a very great threat to self-consciousness and its survival is something to contemplate.

It is hard to see how the unconscious envy of others can be intense enough to produce an internal splitting of the psyche, in any case, unless the circumstances causing it were life-threatening. If we are to consider Kleinian psychology for what is actually is: the relationship of the very young infant to the maternal parent, then we can see that denial of milk, of comfort, and of maternal communication might seem to hold life-threatening implications for the child — that is, if they are denied. So in this sense, we might be able to interpret or perceive some kind of “envy” that the child has for what it has been denied. But Klein seems to confuse, in terms of this scenario, the quality of something seeming life-threatening to the child’s undeveloped consciousness with the more adult sensibility of “envy”. The practical issues of life and death are really what preoccupies the child, whose infantile consciousness knows neither envy (conscious or unconscious) nor the capacity to measure right from wrong.

Mary Daly also makes the picture clearer for us, in showing that split consciousness is the result of justice and fulfillment withheld:

Consciousness split against itself suffers from an inability to reach beyond externals. Thus patriarchally controlled consciousness is broken-hearted. It’s impotence to reach beyond ap-pearances (sic) expresses itself in reduction and fragmentation of be-ing (sic). (Gyn/Ecology, p 386)

Whilst it may seem flattering for the perpetrators of crimes such as rape, torture and other forms of injustice to believe that their victims “unconsciously” envy them (and what victim is in any postion to argue otherwise?), it is extremely perverse.

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