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February 2, 2006

The Love Hate Flip-Flop

One of Freud’s early disciples, Melanie Klein, took up the task of applying the techniques of psychoanalysis to children. She considered her work a natural extension of Freud’s theories, rather than any sort of innovation in psychoanalysis; still, she met considerable criticism from her psychoanalytic colleagues. And rightly so, for her work is characterized by speculative and fantastic explanations of, well, infant fantasy.

Nevertheless, Klein did bring to light the “ugly” side of infant development, for she saw in infants a mass of angry and hostile impulses toward the mother when the infant did not get its needs met. In essence, the infant constantly flip-flops between love and hate: love when its needs are met, and hate when its needs are ignored or frustrated. In her work, Klein tried to explain the process by which the infant seeks to repair the damage of its hostility to its mother. In fact, the titles of two of her most significant collections of works, Envy and Gratitude and Love, Guilt, and Reparation, tell the story almost as well as the writings themselves.

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