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Normalizing Depression and Paranoid-Schizoid Behavior: Notes on Melanie Klein's Theory of Childhood Development

This note is about a "psychobabble" term which is used in everyday language on the street i.e. mainstream use. This term is "paranoid-schizoid".

"Psychobabble" is slang used to describe jargon used by the medical profession to describe behavior and mental conditions, according to a committee-approved manual called DSM-IV.

Within context of this note, first mainstream use of "paranoid-schizoid" will be briefly discussed. It will then be followed by introduction of the term in M. Klein's theory of child development.

Paranoid-Schizoid in Everyday Language

"Paranoid-schizoid" is rarely used in everyday language in its positive sense. Instead it is used to label other people for their eccentricities.

Usually, the term is used when people run out of emotionally charged words such as "crazy" and "weird" to separate people into "good" and "bad" categories, according to social norms.

While most people may be able to define "paranoid" accurately, as paranoia and suspicion out of proportion to a given situation, the term "schizoid" is equated to "crazy" and/or "weird", and falsely associated with schizophrenia.

It is not the purpose of this note to define schizophrenia. However, the term "paranoid-schizoid" is used as a description of a particular form of schizophrenia. Within context of this form of schizophrenia, paranoia and a tendency to be alone appear to be two common traits.

Overall, the term "paranoid-schizoid" is used to describe abnormal behavior with the context of mental health.

Paranoid-Schizoid in Child Development

M Klein uses two terms in her description of early childhood development, "paranoid-schizoid" and "depressive" within context of the term "position", which is defined as "a set of psychic functions that correspond to a given phase of development, always appearing during the first year of life, but which are present at all times thereafter and can be reactivated at any time."

Within context of Klein's description, the word "development" is a generalized term consisting of infantile psychic life i.e. development of the mind of a child during the first year of life.

During the first year of life, a child first begins and completes the paranoid-schizoid position of development. If her environment and up-bringing meet her requirements, then she passes through the depressive position.

Within context of the state of mind of children, the paranoid-schizoid position develops from birth to 4-6 months of age. Between 4-6 months of age, the child develops the depressive position. However, it is normal to move between the two positions though most children's minds will operate in the paranoid-schizoid position.

Klein developed the Object Relations Theory to hypothesize how children view objects in relationship to themselves, mainly as part objects in early childhood.

Within context of childhood development, paranoid refers to the central paranoid anxiety which is defined as "the fear of invasive malevolence". Schizoid refers to the central defense mechanism, splitting, "the vigilant separation of the good object from the bad object."

In healthy childhood development, the child splits its external world, its objects and itself into two categories: good and bad". By doing so, he incorporates attitudes or ideas learned about these two categories into his personality unconsciously, and identifies with the good.

Good consists of love, loving and gratification; bad consists of hate, persecution and frustration.

In this way, splitting is used by the child to protect the good from being destroyed by the bad.

With growing maturity, the child will experience her mother as pleasant and beneficial.

Through maturation, the paranoid-schizoid position is replaced by the depressive position in the child's mind as he becomes more able to tolerate frustration and hold onto the good object for increasing periods.

Thus enabled to accept his bad impulses without fear that these impulses will destroy it, a more reasonable view of the self and object as possessing both good and bad attributes, leads to the greater integration and maturity of the depressive position.

"Depressive and paranoid-schizoid modes of experience continue to intermingle throughout the first few years of childhood."

Commentary on the Term Paranoid-Schizoid Within The Medical Context

With respect to children, these two positions of child development are not psychiatric conditions. Both "paranoid-schizoid" and "depressive" refer to states of mind in normal childhood development. Thus, they are not medical conditions in need of fixing.

Even when paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions may be used by the child in later years in reaction to stress both within the family (i.e. sibling rivalry, misbehavior, etc) and outside the family, they are mind tools being used by the child to defend her psyche.

Rather than using medication to treat fears and anxieties, it would be more beneficial for parents to model adaptive coping strategies for the child to give her more ways of dealing with anxiety and fear.

References: Analysis of Kelly Jacobson's The Origin of Mouthstones:

1 comment:

Steve said...

Depression and paranoid-schizoid behavior represent mental (depressive) and behavioral (paranoid-schizoid) negativities.