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.

The body politic

Those who do face the reality of the mechanisms of projective identification are extraordinary, and kind of shamanistic, for this is what they have to combat:


Bion says of the group, ‘My impression is that the group approximates too closely, in the minds of the individuals composing it, to very primitive phantasies about the contents of the mother’s body. The attempt to make a rational investigation of the dynamics of the group is therefore perturbed by fears, and mechanisms for dealing with them, which are characteristic of the paranoid-schizoid position. The investigation cannot be carried out without the stimulation and activation of those levels… the elements of the emotional situation are so closely allied to phantasies of the earliest anxieties that the group is compelled, whenever the pressure of anxiety becomes too great, to take defensive action’ (Bion, 1955, p. 456).

http://www.human-nature.com/rmyoung/papers/paper3h.html

Klein and Althusser

Kleinian theory is of interest because it has a parapsychological resonance to it. Projective identification is of particular interest to me.

In projective identification, you become the aspect (either distortedly elevated, or distortedly sullied) that is the disowned part of another person’s mind. The seemingly paranormal side to this dynamic is that you can start to become, in words or action, just exactly what the other person thinks you are — even though you were never really that in the first place. It seems like a kind of magic (and a way of knowing what is in the other’s mind without him telling you).

In the case of Althusser’s notion of interpellation, the authorities, or an authority within the social system “hail” you. You don’t know that you have a particular role and identity to play until you are thus hailed. Once this happens, you understand that you are exactly that sort of person that the social system thinks you are because of your own reflexive response to being addressed authoritatively. You implicitly accept the right of the authority to give you an identity, and your own reflexes betray you into falling into line with whatever identity is given. In the case of Althusser’s paradigm, you probably didn’t have a sense of self before you were interpellated in this way. In the case of Klein’s theory of projective identification, your actual identity is being distorted by this psychodynamic.