Cleavage meaning: definition, synonyms, examples

George Alvarez 18-10-2023
George Alvarez

Both physically and mentally, we are able to make a division of our structure. We can do this on purpose or not. In general, this separation happens as a result of an inability or need to change a specific being or object. You will better understand this proposition as we show you the meaning of cleavage Its synonyms and examples.

What is cleavage?

In short, cleavage is a specific fragmentation of an object or thought, causing it to change The term is used from several perspectives to study this change, both in size and in the meaning of the element. In this way, the use of the term gains its own identity when used in the:


Psychology states that it is the phenomenon corresponding to the impossibility of thinking of someone's positive and negative parts as parts of a realistic whole.


In the case of politics, the term corresponds to the differentiation of social groups for religious, cultural, ideological, ethnic, or political reasons.


In this context, the concept consists of the means by which minerals are divided according to well-placed parallel planes.

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As far as Linguistics is concerned, cleavage occurs when a single sentence splits in two.


In this case, it is the cell division that takes place in embryos in order to contribute to their development.


Here, cleavage corresponds to genetic engineering in the genome starting with DNA.

In the search for a synonym for cleavage we find separation, estrangement, split, division, split, fragmentation, dismemberment, disaggregation, fractionation, parcelling, etc.

The cleavage in Psychoanalysis

The cleavage, in the original German Spaltung is an internal defense that polarizes beliefs and actions, being selective with regard to its negative or positive attributes. Both Freud and other authors applied the term to speak of the division of man They did this mainly in the study of psychopathologies, such as split personality in patients.

Since there is the alternating unfolding of consciousness, psychoanalysts defended the coexistence of two personalities that ignore each other. So much so that they recognized the symptomatic complex of hysteria as a justification for the cleavage of consciousness forming separate psychic parts.

However, the origin and purpose of this divisive feature in the hysterical set are still unclear. It is worth saying that the the freudian view of the separation of consciousness by means of the recalcitrance is strengthened because of the divergence of appreciation. This conception by Freud is opposed to the perspective of other scholars who pointed out the existence of "weakness of psychological synthesis" or "hypnoid hysteria".

Freud's view

According to Freud, cleavage is the result of a conflict. Although it has descriptive value for the psychoanalyst, it also does not have a relevant explanatory content. However, the existence of this division fuels the question of why and how the conscious subject divides from its representations .

Freud further used the word Spaltung for studies involving intrapsychic division since the discovery of the unconscious, but in his own work he only used this German term episodically to study the systematic separation of the psychic apparatus. In addition to this system, he also included the egoic instances and unfolding in the use of this tool.

Freud vs Bleuler

Paul Eugen Bleuler, Swiss psychiatrist, used the Spaltung to explain the symptoms of disorders of the so-called schizophrenia. The term Spaltung Thus, he conceives the mental cleavage into different associative groups as a disintegrated psychic part because of a primary associative weakness.

Unlike Bleuler, Freud criticizes the application of schizophrenia posited here, not adopting the psychiatrist's idea. Even so, he resumes the notion about psychic division near the end of his life with a new perspective compared to that of his youth.

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Ego cleavage

Freud begins his approach on the cleavage of the ego in his study of the psychoses and fetishism. According to the psychoanalyst, these disorders show with evidence the relationship between external reality and the ego. Through this that Freud defended the existence of a specific mechanism, the Verleugnung where the prototype is the refusal of castration.

According to Freud, in every psychosis there are two psychic attitudes, one that considers reality and one that disconnects the ego from it. However, this kind of cleavage is not exactly an ego defense, but a path to coexistence of two defense processes While one turns to reality and refuses it, the other turns to the drive, being redundant in the creation of neurotic symptoms.

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When we look at the psychoanalytic theory about a person we perceive a subject with opposite and independent psychic attitudes. Thus, Freud tries to work out a new model of refusal using the intra-systemic cleavage of the ego instead of the cleavage between instances. Although this process does not compromise between the opposing attitudes, it simultaneously maintains them without establishing a dialectical relationship .

Object cleavage

Created by Melanie Klein, the idea of ego cleavage identifies it as a primitive defense against distress. An object targeted by destructive and erotic impulses is divided between "good" or "evil", making them have independent fates in projections and introjections In this way, ego cleavage actively participates in the depressive and paranoid-schizoid position, focusing on the total object.

According to the Kleinian school, the cleavage of the object is followed by the correlative egoic cleavage into "good" or "bad", because the ego is formed by the introjection of objects. From this we see that Melanie's ideas point to some of the indications made by Freud about the subject-object relationship.

Examples of cleavage

Regarding the meaning of cleavage in Psychoanalysis and Psychology, in general, we can exemplify it as follows:

  • A very religious individual who thinks that other people are either damned or blessed. Selectively, he sees the extreme of people based on his personal construction.
  • The son of a divorced couple who avoids one parent while ending up idolizing the other.

Final considerations on cleavage

Cleavage determines the process of transformation and division in an object, be it physical or mental In the mental part, we have an opposition in relation to the same item, selectively changing our perspective on it, that is, we can see its negative or positive side according to our psychic construction and need to act.

The defense mechanism of the mind serves as a filter, in order to choose good or bad attributes by polarizing beliefs. Having this clarity about this mechanism collaborates directly to the study of psychopathologies that divide the human mind. Ultimately, we have a tool that designates man's division about himself.

You can better understand the nuances of the mind and behavior by enrolling in our Psychoanalysis course. Through online classes, you will improve your self-knowledge in order to fully understand your essence and your needs. Furthermore, in possession of psychoanalytic knowledge, you can easily deal with changes in your path, including those caused by cleavage .

George Alvarez

George Alvarez is a renowned psychoanalyst who has been practicing for over 20 years and is highly regarded in the field. He is a sought-after speaker and has conducted numerous workshops and training programs on psychoanalysis for professionals in the mental health industry. George is also an accomplished writer and has authored several books on psychoanalysis that have received critical acclaim. George Alvarez is dedicated to sharing his knowledge and expertise with others and has created a popular blog on Online Training Course in Psychoanalysis that is widely followed by mental health professionals and students around the world. His blog provides a comprehensive training course that covers all aspects of psychoanalysis, from theory to practical applications. George is passionate about helping others and is committed to making a positive difference in the lives of his clients and students.