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Michael Jackson, Projective Identification And Childhood Trauma

projective _identification


Michael Jackson’s Childhood Trauma

It is well documented that Michael Jackson suffered childhood trauma. In interviews he described how his father would beat him when he made mistakes rehearsing with his brothers (together they made up the Jackson Five).

Such was Jackson’s fear of his father that he described how he would sometimes become physically nauseous, and actually regurgitate, when he (Michael) encountered him.

Jackson also stated in interviews how lonely he felt in his childhood, cut off from other children as he was always rehearsing or performing, and, of course, isolated by the stratospheric level of his fame.

We are, of course, all aware of the allegations that were made against Jackson, and of the ensuing public and media hysteria that surrounded them at the time.


Some claim, wrongly in this case, I believe, that there is ‘no smoke without fire.’ However, he was cleared of all charges and, in the time that has passed since, evidence has emerged that this was indeed the correct outcome.

But, people still ask, why did he always wish to be friends with, and in the company of, children? Well, the answer to this may be explained by a psychological defense mechanism known as PROJECTIVE IDENTIFICATION ; I elaborate on this below :

What is meant by the term projective identification?

Projective identification is a complex psychological defense mechanism ( first described by Melanie Klein) but, in simple terms, it involves:

First, being unable to accept an aspect of oneself (and, therefore, unconsciously repressing it)

Second, seeing this part of oneself as actually being a part of another person (unconsciously projecting it onto the other person as a psychological defense mechanism)

Third, feeling an emotional connection, rapport and/or other forms of relatedness to this other person (identifying with him/her) and, unconsciously, seeing that person as a part of oneself


How Does This Three Stage Process Of Projective Identification Apply To Michael Jackson?

First, Jackson may have repressed from consciousness the extent of his need for love, affection and protection in early life, brought on by his abusive childhood, as the intensity of these needs was too emotionally painful to be permitted to fully permeate his consciousness.

Second, he unconsciously projected this repressed emotional neediness as a boy onto boys he met in his adult life (these boys unconsciously represented to Jackson his former, unhappy, childhood self)

 Third, he felt tenderness, affection and protectiveness towards these boys, which his former self was so cruelly denied.

In short, on an unconscious psychological level, he was trying to give his former self (represented by the boys he befriended) the parental love he missed out on as a child, the quality of which was primarily emotional, even spiritual ; not sexual.

emotional abusebrain damage caused by childhood trauma

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


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