The four key themes of Melanie Klein and Object Relations Theory

This week’s lecture was on the second part of the ideas of Melanie Klein and the four key themes and Object Relations Theory.

In Kleinian therapy the analyst would link your present behaviour to childhood to determine what age you were then.  The link to memories and stories is very important.  The therapist would seek to offer the client reparative experiences.

Envy: Someone else has got something you want.  This can be seen as an attack on the breast.  The unconscious phantasy relates to intolerance and frustration and the child’s need for instant gratification.  The first hurdle for a child is to develop a healthy ego.  If un-negotiated then powerful feelings get stirred.

Jealousy: This is the same principle as envy but two or more people need to be involved.  Jealousy is wanting a person in particular rather than just wanting a relationship, for instance. There is a deep terror that the good breast is not available.  This has links to the Adlerian birth order. It relates to a triangular (oedipal) relationship – it is whole-object oriented

Greed: Impetuous and insatiable craving in excess of what is needed and what can be realistically given.  Greed is manifested when one desires to possess all of the good that is available regardless of the consequences.  Greed can be caught up with introjection, while envy with projection. Indiscriminate idealization can be fuelled by greed, since the need to get the best from everywhere interferes with the capacity for selection and discrimination.

Guilt: This arises from feeling too much of a burden and from realising that bad object that has been broken could have been the good object all along.  This can manifest in
therapy as negative transference. A client wasn’t rejected so kept attacking the therapist.  The therapist becomes a very important person in the client’s world and needs to absorb the attacks.

Gratitude allows the love object to be assimilated.  What is split becomes whole.  The ego becomes strong enough to contain and manage the conflicted feelings.  The destructive forces of envy are overcome by love. Reparation is the healing of the paranoid schizoid split. For Klein it was all about forming a healthy ego, just like for Jung, it was all about the integration of the shadow.      The  constancy of therapy can mirror the good parent.     

Qualities to be observed

persecution, frustration, guilt, self pity, idealization, acting out, ambition, disapproving, aggression, manic defences, intolerance, hatred, destructiveness, self-destructiveness, sabotaging, discounting, etc.

rivalry, rejection, suspicion, exclusivity, possessiveness, tense relationships, immaturity, grievance, hostility, etc.

craving, selfishness, insensitivity, poor discrimination, self-denial, dissatisfaction, demanding, insistent, (or, as a defence: emptiness, low self-confidence, over-adaptation, etc.)

acceptance of limitation, generosity, sharing, healthy relationships, grace, tolerance, creativeness, repressed guilt, etc.


Developments in Kleinian thought
Klein revisited
Melanie Klein – a history
Melanie Klein – Beyond Freud

About Noel Bell

Psychotherapist in London. Check out my blog posts and more at
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