Projective Identification is the unconscious mental process of the mind splitting off parts of itself and locating it in another. In psychoanalysis this is thought of as the patient locating unconscious parts of themselves in the therapist to have the therapist understand what the patient cannot process themselves. Projective Identification is a function in paranoid/schizoid position in development.
Paranoid Schizoid Position
The paranoid-schizoid position is one of the earliest stages of development of the mind.
Imagine a baby that is just born, it’s eyesight undeveloped and blurry, little to no understanding of the sensations in their body, and one of the first experiences they have is feeding at the mother’s breast. In Object Relations we think of the mother’s breast as a “part object”, that is, it is not the whole mother only a part of her. This infant’s primary sensations are feeding at the mother’s breast, and then the absence of the breast. Symbolically, the good breast and the bad breast. The infant is gratified, full, soothed with the “good” breast, but in its absence, when the infant feels the distress and frustration of hunger, the infant fantasizes the breast as bad. This stage is called the paranoid-schizoid position (referred to as a position because it’s not a linear experience: everyone moves in and out of this position all throughout their lives).
Continuing in imagining this infants experience, as the baby grows, and as the mother is adequately meeting the babies needs in conjunction with the physical changes of the baby (eye sight development, recognition of sound coming both from themselves and another, etc.), the baby is not dominate by splitting process in the paranoid-schizoid position. Rather the baby begins to see the mother as a whole person, not just the part object breast. The baby sees the mother can occupy both good and bad qualities at the same time. This is the Depressive Position.
The name can sound confusing, as we commonly associate depression with something negative. But in object relations, the name of the depressive position relates to the mourning quality of realizing the wholeness of another, because in doing so we become aware of our separateness. The baby sees they are separate from the mother, the mother is separate from them.
Throughout all of our lives we can be grappling with the reality that we are separate from others, and yet we deeply need them.