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The paranoid-schizoid position was conceived of by Melanie Klein as the state of mind existing in babies of three or four to six months of age, but one that is constantly returned to throughout life to greater or lesser degrees. As an Object Relations Theorist, Klein sees emotions as always existing in relation to other people or "objects" of emotions or feelings. Relations at this time are with part objects, such as the breast, the mother's hands, her face etc. In the paranoid schizoid position, relations are also characterised by being all "good" or all "bad". People in the child's world are thus split into two objects, hence the "schizoid" in paranoid schizoid.
Paranoid schizoid position
When things are going well, the mother is related to as a totally benign figure, in other words idealised. However, when needs or desires are not immediately met by the breast or mother, the absence of the good breast is experienced as the presence of the bad breast. The bad breast is then hated and in fantasy it is attacked. However, the hated frustrating object quickly becomes persecutory as it is imagined to retaliate in a similar way to how it is being treated, and this leads the baby to feel persecuted, hence the "paranoid" in paranoid schizoid.
Klein emphasises that the good and bad parts of the self are projected onto or into the object. This represents the operation of the life and death instincts, of love and hate.
Paranoid schizoid mechanisms
As the child matures and as a result of predominantly good experiences being taken in, the baby gradually begins to be able to bring together the good and bad objects into a single object, and moves towards Klein's Depressive position. This raises all kinds of new anxieties and set-backs, but it is essential to more realistic and satisfying relationships.
Klein uses the terms "positions" instead of stages, because the movement back and forth between positions continues throughout life, as we go in and out of more or less primitive states of mind, more or less idealised, denigrating or realistic forms of relationships.
- Hanna Segal, Introduction to the work of Melanie Klein, 1964 Hogarth Press
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