Identification. [from: Laplanche & Pontalis, 1973, 205 - 208]
Psychological process whereby the subject assimilates an aspect, property or attribute of the other and is transformed, wholly or partially, after the model the other provides. It is by means of a series of identifications that the personality is constituted and specified.
a. Since the term 'identification' also has a place in both common and philosophical usage, it may be helpful from the semantic point of view if we begin by delimiting its application in psycho-analytic language.
The substantive 'identification' can be understood in two ways: transitively, in a sense corresponding to the verbal 'to identify', and reflexively, in a sense corresponding to 'to identify (oneself) with'. This is true for both the meanings of the term distinguished by Lalande as follows:
(i) 'Action of identifying, that is, of recognising as identical; either numerically, e.g. "identification of a criminal", or by kind, as for example when an object is recognised as belonging to a certain class [...] or again, when one class of facts is seen to be assimilable to another.'
(ii) 'Act whereby an individual becomes identical with another or two beings become identical with each other (whether in thought or in fact, completely or secundum quid)' (1).
Freud uses the word in both these senses. Identification in the sense of the procedure whereby the relationship of similitudethe 'just-as-if' relationshipis expressed through a substitution of one image for another, is described by him as characteristic of the dream-work (2a). This is undoubtedly an instance of Lalande's meaning (i), although identification does not here entail cognition: it is an active procedure which replaces a partial identity or a latent resemblance by a total identity.
Psycho-analysis uses the term above all, however, in the sense of identifcation of oneself with. /206/
b. In everyday usage, identification in this last sense overlaps a whole group of psychological conceptse.g. imitation, Einfühlung (empathy), sympathy, mental contagion, projection, etc.
It has been suggested for the sake of clarity that a distinction be drawn within this field, according to the direction in which the identification operates, between an identification that is heteropathic (Scheler) and centripetal (Wallon), where the subject identifies his own self with the other, and an idiopathic and centrifugal variety in which the subject identifies the other with himself. Finally, in cases where both these tendencies are present at once, we are said to be dealing with a more complex form of identification, one which is sometimes invoked to account for the constitution of a 'we'.
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In Freud's work the concept of identification comes little by little to have the central importance which makes it, not simply one psychical mechanism among others, but the operation itself whereby the human subject is constituted. This evolution is correlated chiefly, in the first place, with the coming to the fore of the Oedipus complex viewed in the light of its structural consequences, and secondly, with the revision effected by the second theory of the psychical apparatus, according to which those agencies that become differentiated from the id are given their specific characters by the identifications of which they are the outcome.
Identification was nevertheless evoked by Freud in very early days, principally apropos of hysterical symptoms. The phenomenon known as imitation or mental contagion had, of course, long been recognised, but Freud went further when he explained such phenomena by positing the existence of an unconscious factor common to the individuals involved: '. . . identification is not simple imitation but assimilation on the basis of a similar aetiological pretension; it expresses a resemblance and is derived from a common element which remains in the unconscious' (2b). This common element is a phantasy: the agoraphobic identifies unconsciously with a 'streetwalker', and her symptom is a defence against this identification and against the sexual wish that it presupposes (3a). Lastly, Freud notes at a very early date that several different identifications can exist side by side: 'Multiplicity of Psychical Personalities. The fact of identification perhaps allows us to take the phrase literally' (3b).
The notion of identification is subsequently refined thanks to a number of theoretical innovations:
a. The idea of oral incorporation emerges in the years 1912-15 (Totem and Taboo [1912-13]; 'Mourning and Melancholia' [1917e]). In particular, Freud brings out the role of incorporation in melancholia, where the subject identifies in the oral mode with the lost object by regressing to the type of object-relationship characteristic of the oral stage (see 'Incorporation', 'Cannibalistic').
b. The idea of narcissism is evolved. In 'On Narcissism: An Introduction' (1914c), Freud introduces the dialectic which links the narcissistic object choice (where the object is chosen on the model of the subject's own self) with identification (where the subject, or one or other of his psychical agencies, is constituted on the model of earlier objects, such as his parents or people around him). /207/
c. The effects of the Oedipus complex on the structuring of the subject are described in terms of identification: cathexes of the parents are abandoned and identifications take their place (4).
Once the Oedipus complex has been expressed as a general formula, Freud shows that these identifications form a complicated structure inasmuch as father and mother are each both love-object and object of rivalry. It is probable, moreover, that an ambivalence of this kind with respect to the object is a precondition of the institution of any identification.
d. The development of the second theory of the psychical apparatus testifies to the new depth and growing significance of the idea of identification. The individual's mental agencies are no longer described in terms of systems in which images, memories and psychical 'contents' are inscribed, but rather as the relics (in different modes) of object-relationships.
This elaboration of the notion is not carried so far, either in Freud or in psycho-analytic theory as a whole, as a systematisation of the various modes of identification. In fact Freud admits to dissatisfaction with his own formulations on the subject (5a). The most thorough exposition of the matter that he did attempt will be found in Chapter VII of Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c). In this text Freud eventually distinguishes between three modes of identification:
(i) The primal form of the
emotional tie with the object.
(ii) The regressive replacement for an abandoned object-choice.
(iii) In the absence of any sexual cathexis of the other person the subject may still identify with him to the extent that they have some trait in common (e.g. the wish to be loved): owing to displacement, identification in such a case will occur in regard to some other trait (hysterical identification).
Freud also indicates here that in certain cases identification does not affect the object as a whole but merely a 'single trait' from it (6).
Finally, the study of hypnosis, of being in love and of the psychology of groups leads Freud to contrast that identification which constitutes or enriches an agency of the personality with the opposite trend, where it is the object which is 'put in the place' of a psychical agencyas for example in the case of the leader who replaces the ego-ideals of the members of his group. It is noteworthy that in such instances there is also a mutual identification between the individuals in the group, but this requires as a precondition that a 'replacement' of the kind just described has occurred. The distinctions we took note of above (centripetal, centrifugal and reciprocal identifications) can thus be recognised in this context, which views them from a structural standpoint.
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The term 'identification' should be distinguished from other, kindred terms like 'incorporation', 'introjection' and 'internalisation'.
Incorporation and introjection are prototypes of identificationor at any rate of certain modes of identification where the mental process is experienced and symbolised as a bodily one (ingesting, devouring, keeping something inside oneself, etc.).
The distinction between identification and internalisation is a more complex one, since it brings into play theoretical assumptions concerning the nature of /208/ what it is that the subject assimilates himself to. From a purely conceptual point of view we may say that he identifies with objectsi.e. with a person ('the assimilation of one ego to another one' (5b) ), with a charactenstic of a person, or with a part-objectwhereas he internalises intersubjective relations. The question which of these two processes is the primary one, however, remains unanswered. We may note that the identification of a subject A with a subject B is not generally total but secundum quida fact which sends us back to some particular aspect of A's relationship to B: I do not identify with my boss but with some trait of his which has to do with my sado-masochistic relationship to him. But at the same time the identification always preserves the stamp of its earliest prototypes: incorporation affects things, with the relationship in question being indistinguishable from the object which embodies it; the object with which the child entertains an aggressive relationship becomes in effect the 'bad object' which is then introjected. A further pointand an essential oneis that a subject's identifications viewed as a whole are in no way a coherent relational system. Demands coexist within an agency like the super-ego, for instance, which are diverse, conflicting and disorderly. Similarly, the ego-ideal is composed of identifications with cultural ideals that are not necessarily harmonious.
(1)LALANDE,A. Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie (Paris: P.U.F., 1951).
(2) FREUD,S. The Interpretation of Dreams (19OOa): a) Cf. G.W., Il-III, 324-25; S.E., IV, 319-20. b) G.W., II-III, 155-56; S.E., IV, 150.
(3) FREUD,S.: a) Anf:, 193-94; Origins, 181-82. b) A'lf, 211; S.E., 1, 249.
(4) Cf. notably FREUD,S. 'The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex' (1924d), G.W., XIII, 395-402; S.E., XIX, 171-79.
(5) FREUD,S.PLeW Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1933a ): a) Cf. G.W., XV, 70; S.E., XXII, 63. b) Cf. G.W., XV, 69; S.E., XXII, 63.
(6) Cf. FREUD,S., G.W., XIII, 117; S.E., XVIII, 107.