Paranoid Position

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Young children are frequently afflicted by paroxysms of anger and fear. Underlying these panics and night terrors is a vicious circle, an unconscious fantasy, involving fear of, and attacks upon, a malign "bad" object.

The term is first used in Melanie Klein (1932), however the descriptions of aggression and paranoia go back to her earliest writings, but notably Klein (1927b, 1928, 1929a and b).

Klein found that children's symptoms were often based in an extreme anxiety about the child's own desired aggression towards important and loved people. This conflict represents the infant's version of the super-ego conflict described by Freud. As the symptoms that Klein analyzed had arisen in infancybefore the age of oneshe assumed the super-ego arose at that early age.

Klein described these "anxiety-situations" as she called them, following Freud (1926), and found that she could analyze them with her "technique of early analysis." It appeared that the aggression the child exhibited towards the object that frustrated it, gave rise to a belief that the object would retaliate, with equal violence towards the child (Klein, 1927b, 1929a, 1930, 1932). This fear arising from the child's own aggression often resulted in even greater attacks, in fantasy, on the feared object in order to finally dispose of it. That increase in aggression then led to an increased fear that the now dead object would rise from the dead, and retaliate with even greater force. These crescendos of aggression led to children having paroxysms of fear, such as pavor nocturnus, panic attacks, or other symptoms.

At first Klein called this state of aggression and retaliation the "paranoid position." However, the term did not survive her introduction of the depressive position (Klein, 1935). Later, the nature of this kind of experience became clearer as she described the paranoid-schizoid position (Klein, 1946).

Freud's view of paranoia was that it hid an underlying homosexuality, such that an underlying love turned to hate (Freud, 1911). This contrasts with the Kleinian "anxiety-situation" that hate overwhelms love. In Rosenfeld's view, homosexuality covers an underlying unconscious paranoia (Rosenfeld, Herbert,1949).

With the introduction of the theory of the depressive position, it was understood that the crises of terror in children (Isaacs, Susan,1939) and adults (Heimann, Paula, 1942) were about internal objects. Later, descriptions of the paranoid-schizoid position presented these internal states of persecution in more thorough detail.

Robert D. Hinshelwood

See also: Paranoid-schizoid position; Privation; Stammering; Thought-thinking apparatus.


Heimann, Paula. (1942). Sublimation and its relation to processes of internalization. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 23, 8-17.

Klein, Melanie. (1926). Les principes psychologiques de l'analyse des jeunes enfants. Essais de psychanalyse (1921-1945). Paris : Presses Universitaires de France.

. (1927). Symposium on child analysis. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 8, 339-370.

. (1928). Early stages of the oedipus conflict. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 9, 167-180.

. (1929a). Infantile anxiety situations reflected in a work of art and in the creative impulse. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 10, 436-443.

. (1929b). Personification in the play of children. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 10, 171-182.

. (1932). The psycho-analysis of children. London: Hogarth.

. (1935). A contribution to the psychogenesis of manic-depressive states. International Journal of PsychoAnalysis, 16, 145-174.

. (1946). Notes on some schizoid mechanisms. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 27, 99-110.

Rosenfeld, Herbert. (1949). Remarks on the relation of male homosexuality to paranoia, paranoid anxiety and narcissism. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 30, 36-47.