“If I were you”: brief history of projective identification


The concept of Projective Identification, based on “cannibalistic” introjection of the characteristics of the object, appears in the 1920s. It will lead M. Klein to postulate the existence of defense mechanisms prior to removal (splitting-projection) and position schizo-paranoid, as a particular fantasy through which the newborn defends himself from the anguish deriving from the death instinct, splitting himself from intolerable parts to project him into the mother. The innate provenance of such bad objects as well as the reveries of incorporation and expulsion would be the basis of the first object relationship, and the birth of the child constitutionally psychotic. The anguish drained by the mother would then lead to the principle of reality (integrated object bad and good) and the transition to the depressive position. This vision of the newborn and of human birth will be radically denied by Fagioli with the publication of “Death instinct and knowledge”, allowing the understanding of the birth of human thought: radical break between the reality of the fetus (biological) and the newborn (human). With the concept of creativity of the death instinct, Fagioli first attributes to the newborn a healthy psychic activity from the first moment of life, the disappearance fantasy can “imagine the previous situation” that constitutes the first and original form of thought, by placing the projective identification at a moment after birth. Fagioli conceptualizes the projective identification according to 3 criteria:

  1. When: after the first feeding;
  2. How: physically blind newborn fantastics to carry even the physical object itself within himself in addition to the qualities of the object (calm, heat, goodness), as it disappeared outside because bitten, devoured;
  3. Why: the dynamics, similar to that of birth, is profoundly different because the relationship with the breast is also oral relationship, of introjection of the milk substance and the qualities of the mother. At the first separation from the breast he will fantasizes of having placed it within himself, and with such disappearance made black, bad, the relationship with the breast will be on an ambivalent basis: the beloved and desired breast object will also be hated, persecutory. The newborn will then separate the good breast from the bad one, which will always be the other. The introjected physical object will constitute itself as a reverie (delirium) of having the other or parts of it inside of itself, as identification with the object: the infant’s ego will be altered by such a “psychic object” and the identification, realized on an ambivalent basis and projected again will be the matrix of the sadomasochistic relationship, in which it is the other to be the cause of the persecutory anxieties. The result and the severity of the two dynamics are therefore profoundly different:
  • the projection alters the image of the object;
  • the projective identification alters its content.

But Fagioli clarifies that the result of projective identification is not necessarily bad.To be critical is in fact weaning, when the physical object breast will disappear permanently and the newborn will or will not have the possibility, directly connected to the quality of the lived relationship, to “reconstitute” inside the memory-fantasy of this relationship. It is therefore not the breast to be creative (M. Klein) but rather the newborn, as an agent actively searching for the relationship and not a mere container to fill.The basis of Fagioli’s revolutionary theory is therefore the creativity of the death instinct which fuses to the vitality’ of the body, creating the image of the relationship had. The possibility of the child to slit, distinguish himself, identify himself from the object and not with the object.



  • Fagioli M., Istinto di morte e conoscenza (1972), L’Asino d’oro edizioni, Roma 2017.
  • Klein M., Invidia e gratitudine (1957), Giunti Editore, Firenze 2012
  • Segal H., Introduzione all’opera di M. Klein (1964), Martinelli, Firenze 1975.