Biography of Psychologist Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein is considered as one of the greatest psychoanalyst of her time even though she remains little known to American psychologists. Other women psychoanalysts including Anna Freud, Karen Horney, and Helene Deutsch are well known irrespective of the fact that the contribution of Melanie Klein to the field of psychology was by far greater than theirs (Donaldson, 2010). Melanie Klein major contribution to psychology was her distinct model which led to the development of a new school of psychoanalysis known as object relations theory.

This school of thought places the relation of the mother and the infant at the core of its analysis in explaining personality development. She was born in Vienna Austria in the year 1882 in a middle class Jewish family. Melanie Klein was unable to complete her education due to family financial constrains and was forced to marry at a tender age. She is said to have suffered from depression and ‘nerves’ which was partly attributed to her domineering mother during her childhood.

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Melanie was able to resume her studies in psychoanalysis later in life (Grosskurth, 1986).

This paper shall look at the life and achievements of Melanie Klein in the field of psychology. Early Years: Melanie Klein was born in the year 1882 to Dr. Moriz Reisez ad Libusa Deutsch. Melanie had closer relationship to her mother than her father. The father passed away when Melanie was just eighteen whereas the mother died in 1914 (Donaldson, 2010). In their family, religion was second fiddle though they maintained that they were atheists. Melanie never denied her Jewish roots and it is said that she never held those who denied their religiosity in high regard.

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She is also said to have encouraged parents to impart religious teachings to their children in accordance with their own beliefs (Grosskurth, 1986). Two of her siblings passed away when Melanie was still very young. Sidonie who was her second oldest sister passed away but she was very helpful to the young Melanie as she taught her how to read and write before she died whereas Emanuel, her only brother was also of great help to her. Emanuel was a talented pianist and writer and he taught Melanie in Greek and Latin.

The knowledge she gained from her siblings was very helpful in her education and indeed aided her in passing entrance exams in the various schools that she attended (Segal, 1980). Melanie was engaged at a tender age of nineteen to Arthur Stephen Klein who was a friend to her brother. They were engaged for two years during which time Melanie was taking her studies in art and history at Vienna University. Melanie was not able to enroll for a medical study so as to follow her husband who was always on the move due to his business life.

This meant that she could not graduate with an academic degree. In her career, most of her work was disregarded due to lack of authenticity in medical knowledge. Melanie was forced to keep moving with her husband and this made her lonely missing home very much. However, the birth of her first two children, Melitta in 1904 and Hans in 1907 made her somehow happy (Hergenhahn, 2001). Melanie’s life was greatly transformed in the year 1910 when her family moved to Budapest. In Budapest, she was able to know about the psychoanalytic work of Sigmund Freud on dreams.

This experience changed her lifetime interest as psychoanalysis became her new field of interest. She began a course in psychoanalysis under the mentorship of Sandor Ferenczi. Ferenczi was encouraged by Melanie’s interest in psychoanalysis and urged her to psychoanalyze her children (Hergenhahn, 2001). In the year 1917, she met Freud during the meeting between the Hungarian and Austrian psychoanalysts’ societies. In 1919, she presented her paper entitled ‘The Development of a Child’ to the Hungarian Society and consequently asked to become a member of the Budapest society.

In the same year, Melanie and her three children moved to Slovakia where they stayed with her in-laws as her husband had departed for Sweden. In the year 1922, the couple divorced (Segal, 1980). Melanie was introduced to Karl Abraham who encouraged her analysis of her own children. During this time she was able to join the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society. Karl Abraham on his part was developing the concept of death instincts by Freud in his own ways focusing on oral and anal sadistic impulses. These ideas were to influence Melanie in her work as seen in her in regard to children’s play.

Following the death of Abraham in 1926, Melanie moved her base to London where she joined the British Psychoanalytic Society (Grosskurth, 1986). While in Berlin and after the influence from Karl Abraham, Melanie became dissatisfied with the views held by Ferenczi. However, it is worthy noting that both Ferenczi and Abraham influenced her work. She had received encouragement and learned the significance of the unconscious dynamics from Ferenczi. However, Ferenczi never practiced negative transference and on rare occasions did held neutral positions with his patients. To Melanie, Abraham gave the true picture of psychoanalysis.

Though she borrowed the concept of introjections from Ferenczi, she still considered herself as an ardent follower of Abraham and Freud (Segal, 1980). Following the death of Karl Abraham in the year 1926, Melanie’s work was often criticized. Anna Freud had commenced her studies on children at around the same time and with their methodologies being uniquely different, the Berlin Society regarded Melanie’s work as unorthodoxy (Segal, 1980). Earlier on in 1925 during the presentation of her paper on the technique of child analysis in Salzburg, she had met Ernest Jones, who regarded her analysis as the future of psychoanalysis.

She had been invited in give lectures on the subject in London and spent three weeks giving lectures in the house of Dr. Adrian Stephen. After a difficult time in Berlin, Melanie opted to move to England where she was readily accepted by the British Psychoanalytic Society. In England, she continued with her works on many areas in psychoanalysis which included the death instinct and the Oedipus complex (Hergenhahn, 2001). Melanie’s Contribution to Psychoanalysis: Melanie Klein is considered as the most influential psychoanalyst after Freud following her contributions to the field of psychoanalysis.

She articulated the pre-history of childhood development whereby she outlined the chronology of events during childhood development as integration of the chaotic desiring world of the developing child and the reality of the world. Melanie considered the infant’s world to be threatened right away from the start by unbearable anxieties (Segal, 1980). To her, these anxieties emanated from the death instincts in the infant and were important ion the development of the child.

These anxieties were overwhelming to the infant and the infant resorted to the defenses that would free him/her from these anxieties. The defenses employed by the infant included projection, denial, withdrawal, splitting, and omnipotent control. Through these, the infant is able to expel the threatening objects from inside the body and thereby preserving the good objects (Sayers, 1991). The most basic of these processes were the projection and the introjection which defined the infant’s maiden and primitive attempts to draw a line between him/her and the world among other things.

At first the objects are those whose existence for the infant was determined by their functionality in the child’s view. However, upon maturation, the infant was able to ‘introject’ both the ‘bad’ and the ‘good’ objects (Sayers, 1991). Also it should be noted that through the process of progressive internalization, the fragmentary objects were internalized into the self and consequently became forerunners of the super-ego. According to Melanie, the progressive internalization which involved introjection, projection, and re-introjection was continuous and cyclic.

This led to increasing “synthesis as the infant gradually attained greater degrees of reality testing, differentiation, and control over her own psyche” (Science. jrank. org, 2010, para 4). Melanie divided the pre-oedipal childhood development into ‘paranoid/schizoid’ and ‘depressive’ positions. The paranoid position was during the first months in the child’s life when the child was helpless. According to Melanie, deprivation, the experience of need, and frustration though came from the infant’s own body, were seen to be persecutory at this time and the child had to respond by expelling them outside the body.

Earlier objects such as the breast were categorized as either bad or good depending on how they were perceived [nurturing or destructive]. In this way, the infant is believed to have been taking in (introjecting) or dispelling (projecting) objects in relation to their perceived safety or danger. The infant would take in and preserve the feelings in the external world regarded as ‘good’ while expelling the ‘bad’ ones (Sayers, 1991). The depressive position corresponded to the second 6 months of life and extended the trends that had been established during the first 6 months in life.

Melanie argued that during this period the infant was capable of bridging the gap between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ objects and also between his/her personal experiences of love and hate that created them. During this time the child is competent of ambivalence and that his/her awareness steadily expand to include not only internal feelings but also the external object world and the mother. The infants become aware of their own disparaging desires and attempts to inhibit these impulses due to fear of their destructive nature (Science. jrank. org, 2010,).

The awareness of the aggressive tendencies towards the objects/mother and the efforts to inhibit these impulses makes the infant to be more tolerant for ambivalence which forms the basis for mediation between regarding the needed and loved object and the destructive impulses that would destroy the object. This leads to a relationship between the infant and the mother and other objects. Melanie looked at both the paranoid/schizoid and depressive positions as normal development phases towards achievement of a more mature object relation by the children.

She believed that fixation in these positions was responsible for the future psychopathological development in children (Klein, 1984). Melanie considered the child’s efforts to engage in the binding and modification of the persecutory and depressive anxieties as the core struggle in the developmental process of the infants. This was seen as the chief forerunner to virtually all the mental development of the child. During this progressive process, the anxieties are “modified ‘structuralization’ increased, and the anxieties and impulses that gave rise to them were themselves diminished” (Science.jrank. org, 2010, para 9). To Melanie, all the defenses were directed in opposition to the anxieties and that the earliest defenses such as splitting were the basis of repression. Her theoretical framework of objects relations also identified the oedipal complex and the development of the super-ego during the earlier months in life (Klein, 1984). Her theory was able to attribute to the infants complex emotions much earlier than was acceptable in Freudian analysis.

Her ideas about schizoid defense mechanism in particular brought about a controversial debate within the British Psychoanalytic Society to determine whether ‘Kleinianism’ [referring to her thoughts] was truly psychoanalysis or not. Compromise was arrived at to allow the teaching of the two schools of thoughts as Kleinianism and Freudianism. Melanie Klein was therefore the first ever psychoanalyst to challenge Freud’s take on the psychoanalytic development and still remained in the psychoanalytic society (Donaldson, 2010). Conclusion:

Melanie Klein’s contribution to the field of psychoanalysis can not be ignored. Perhaps she can be considered as the greatest female psychoanalyst of all times considering that she brought in a new dimension to the psychoanalytic studies through the object relations theory. She ventured in a unique study which involved the study of her very own children at a time when no one had conducted such a study. Though she had no medical background in a medical field, her zeal and interest in psychoanalysis were the drive to her achievement in the new field.

She was determined to pursue her unique model of the psychoanalytic study even when many orthodox Freudians would not support her views. Melanie shall remain to be one of the greatest psychoanalytic that ever graced the field of psychoanalysis.


Donaldson, G. , (2010). Melanie Klein, Psychoanalyst (1882-1960). Retrieved on 6th July 2010 from; http://www. psych. yorku. ca/femhop/Melanie%20Klein. htm Grosskurth, P. (1986). Melanie Klein: Her world and her work. New York: Knopf. Hergenhahn, B. R. (2001). An Introduction to the History of Psychology.

California: Wadsworth Klein, M. (1984). The psycho-analysis of children (A. Strachey, Trans. ). R. Money-Kyrle (Ed. ), “The writings of Melanie Klein” (Vol. 2). New York: Free Press Sayers, J. (1991). Mothers of psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Science. jrank. org, (2010). Psychoanalysis – Melanie Klein and Object Relations. Retrieved on 6th July 2010 from; http://science. jrank. org/pages/10906/Psychoanalysis-Melanie-Klein-Object-Relations. html Segal, H. (1980). Melanie Klein. New York: The Viking Press.

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Biography of Psychologist Melanie Klein. (2016, Sep 10). Retrieved from

Biography of Psychologist Melanie Klein

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