Originally published August 2nd, 2016 in the Huffington Post
Donald Trump is the quintessential illustration of the phenomenon known as Splitting that the highly influential child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein identified early in the 20th century. Indeed, he is the poster child for Splitting!
Even though I have written about Klein before in The Huffington Post, her ideas bear repeating since they are indispensable in understanding our current predicament.
By means of play therapy, which she literally invented, Klein was able to get at the earliest, preverbal, unconscious fantasies of children during the first two to three years of their lives. Since young children couldn’t talk cogently about their innermost feelings and emotions, Klein was able to see what was going on by observing how children treated dolls that represented the prime characters in their lives. Thus, if the mommy and daddy dolls were constantly angry and fighting with one another and the child doll, then Klein was able to understand the emotional conflicts the child was struggling to deal with. For this reason, it is said that if Freud discovered the child in the adult, then Klein discovered the infant in the child. Klein thus pushed back even further our understanding of the roots of human behavior.
One of Klein’s earliest discoveries was that the fantasies of very young children revealed that there is an extremely powerful and destructive side to humans during the first years of their lives. The fantasies were basically due to the fact that very young children experienced extreme anger and frustration over the fact that they didn’t have complete control over the primary caretaker who was responsible for feeding them both physically and emotionally. When Klein wrote early in the 20th century, this was primarily the mother.
Klein established that under the age of three, children split the image of the mother into a “good mother” who cared and administered to the child’s every need exactly when the child wanted it and a “ bad mother” who had to discipline the child and couldn’t be there exactly on the child’s schedule. Because the child’s mind was not yet mature enough, it couldn’t comprehend, let alone reconcile, that the “good” and the “bad mother” were one and the same. In other words, to the young child, there were two separate mothers.
This helps to explain why fairytales are so appealing to young children. The “good witch” and “bad witch” help young children cope psychologically with the issues they are struggling to comprehend. Namely, how can young children reconcile that the good and the bad mother are one and the same? Thus, fairytales allow children to “act out” safely the emotional conflicts they are experiencing. That’s why the “bad witch” is always killed—indeed, has to die—and the “good witch” eventually triumphs.
(Notice carefully that when Splitting is not understood for what it is, then the fairytales of young children easily morph into destructive national myths, stories, and fantasies about “dangerous foreigners” who are out to “rape and murder us.”)
One of the critical functions of the parents is to provide a “healthy container” to help the young child literally “contain” the raging emotions that pulse through them uncontrollably. If the parents do not either over or under react to the child’s emotions, verbal outbursts, and fantasies, then the child eventually learns to contain his or her emotions and hence heal the split images between the “good” and the “bad” parents. The child eventually comes to accept emotionally that the “good” and the “bad” aspects of the parents are located in the same person. He or she also eventually comes to accept that there are good and bad sides to everyone, especially themselves. Nonetheless, even under the best of circumstances, Splitting lasts for a lifetime.
Klein termed the earliest stage of human development “the paranoid-schizoid position.” It was “paranoid” because the young child feared that the parent would either hurt or abandon him or her; “schizoid” because of the phenomenon of Splitting.
Most children naturally develop out of this earlier stage, but some form of Splitting stays with us our entire lives. Indeed, in times of extreme stress or threat, we shouldn’t be surprised at all to find people regressing or reverting back to the paranoid-schizoid position.
With Trump’s constant denigration of blacks, Hispanics, women, Muslims, etc., Splitting is constantly on display. In short, it’s a major component of Trump’s character and persona.
One of the worst consequences of Splitting is that those who are under its grip promote and engage in actions that actually further their dangerous views of the world. They become self-fulfilling.
They actually believe that there are “good” versus “bad guys” and that the differences between them are real and clear-cut. Further, since the bad guys are extremely dangerous, if not evil through and through, they must be controlled by any means, if not eliminated altogether. The supreme irony is that through their beliefs and actions, they are responsible for the creation of “bad guys.” But then, one’s inner fears are often projected outwards. For how can the “bad guys” be part of oneself?
In casting Trump as a premier example of Splitting, I am of course engaging in the very phenomenon as well. He is The Supreme Bad Guy!
No one is ever entirely free of Splitting. The only difference is between those who are aware of it and those who are not, but then there I go again!