Skip to main content

Combined Parent Figure


The combined parent figure is an early and primitive version of Freud's concept of the primal scene. Those phantasies however were believed to supervene at a later stage of development.

In the powerful phantasies of the early Oedipus complex the infant has terrifying experiences of the parents engaged in a particularly violent and dangerous kind of intercourse (Klein, 1928/1975).

Melanie Klein discovered in the panics and night terrors of childhood the persisting of the infant's phantasies of the parents in intercourse. These have a violent tone that matches the violence the infant feels towards the parents at the sense of exclusion.

These phantasies are of pre-genital kinds. For instance the parents may be experienced as mutually feeding each other, which then, in response to the child's hatred, come to be phantasies of the parents devouring each other (Klein, 1929). The imagined mutual destruction is usually extremely worrying for the child, and exclusion may be replaced by a helplessness.

Later in development the infant experiences the parents in more realistic ways, and gains reassurance from the evidence of their survival. At the same time the infant may internalize one or other parent (or perhaps both) to keep them safe. Another primitive response is to mobilize genital feelings of a loving kind, in order to mitigate the violence in himself and perceived in the parental figure. The latter, eroticizing defense may result later in precocious and perverse sexuality.

With the onset of the depressive position, the parents are more realistically appreciated and their relationship can slowly be tolerated as a creative one in its own right. Internalization of a creative parental couple is an important basis of new developments. Tolerating the parents internally in intercourse is an achievement that allows creativity and intellectual curiosity to develop freely.

In Klein's view those later phantasies and investigations which Freud described are emotionally colored by the preceding phantasies of the combined parent figure.

Doubt has been shed on the capacity for infants to have such detailed phantasies and, it is argued, they are to be regarded as subsequent elaborations at a later stage of development when three-person situations can be conceived.

Robert D. Hinshelwood

See also: Breast, good/bad object; Imago; Object, change of/choice of; Oedipus complex, early; Phallic mother; Primal scene.


Britton, Ron, Feldman, Michael, and O'Shaughnessy, Edna. (1989). The Oedipus complex today. London: Karnac Books.

Klein, Melanie. (1975). Early stages of the Oedipus conflict. In The writings of Melanie Klein (Vol. 1, 186-198). (Reprinted from International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 9 (1928), 167-180.)

. (1929). Infantile anxiety situations reflected in a work of art and in the creative impulse. In The writings of Melanie Klein (Vol.1, p. 210-218). London: Hogarth. (Reprinted from International Journal of Psycho-Analysis,10 (1929), 436-443.)

. (1975). The psycho-analysis of children. In The writings of Melanie Klein (Vol. 2). London: Hogarth. (Original work published 1932)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Combined Parent Figure." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . 16 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Combined Parent Figure." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . (February 16, 2019).

"Combined Parent Figure." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved February 16, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.