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Unraveling Projective Identification and Enactment

Introduction The concept of projective identification (PI) is one of the most useful, confused, and confusing ideas in the psychoanalytic literature: useful, because it cogently describes a phenomenon that is ubiquitously familiar and troubling to clinicians; confused, because it has been transplanted from its original theoretical context and applied at times as a “catch-phrase for all interpersonal phenomena”(Hinshelwood, 1991, p. 196); confusing, because it is unclear whether it is a uniquely distinguishable clinical phenomenon or merely a whole that is not greater than its parts, which are splitting, projection, and identification (Crisp, 1986; Finell, 1986; Goldstein, 1991; Meissner, 1980, 1987). Nonetheless, its widespread application by clinicians to identify, understand, and manage crucial and important clinical conundrums attests to its conceptual utility and empirical validity in individual (Grotstein, 1981; Ogden, 1979, 1982), couples (Morrison, 1986; Rutan & Smith, 1985; Zinner, 1976; Zinner & Shapiro, 1972), family (Dicks, 1967; Zinner & Shapiro, 1972), and group therapy (Grinberg, 1973; Grinberg, Gear, & Liendo, 1976; Horwitz, 1983; Malcus, 1995; Masler, 1969).