Projective identification is a psychological term first introduced by the British psychoanalist Melanie Klein, to describe the psychological process by which a person projects a thought or belief that they have onto a second person. The concept of projective identification can be described as a type of defense mechanism or strategy employed by the unconscious mind, that allows an individual to deny or distort reality in order to maintain a socially acceptable self-image. Projective identification differs from projection, though, in that the behaviour of the person being projected onto may actually become altered as to make the projected belief true. In this case projective identification validates one’s projection by making the projection real. This takes place during an interpersonal interaction in which the projector pressures the projected into thinking, feeling, and acting in accordance with the projection. The process is often experienced by the person being projected onto as a subtle pressure to behave or believe in a particular way (1). For example, if someone believes that they are being persecuted, they may alter their behaviour in such a way as to look suspicious in the presence of others. Others’ suspicious looks would only act to further strengthen the person’s belief that they were being persecuted.
(1) Ogden, T. H. (1982). “Projective Identification and Psychotherapeutic Technique“. New York: J. Aronson.