|(1980). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 28:829-860
The British Object Relations Theorists: Bálint, Winnicott, Fairbairn, Guntrip
John D. Sutherland
FROM THE REQUESTS TO GIVE TALKS on the work of these analysts, I assume that the growing interest in it is not simply historical. On the contrary, I believe that the issues that they struggled with have become questions of widespread concern today for the advancement of psychoanalytic theory and practice. The reasons for taking this quartet as a group do not stem from any joint work they did. They did not constitute a group in that sense at all. Guntrip's work is closely derived from, and related to, Fairbairn's; but Balint and Winnicott pursued their paths independently of each other and of the others, and both were rather superficial in their comments on Fairbairn's writings, as were most analysts for many years. What gives point to their being bracketed together is the extent to which their contributions eventually embodied a common development. Even in this respect, however, they preserved their individuality, for while Fairbairn stated clearly that his clinical findings required a recasting of some of Freud's central formulations, Balint and Winnicott did not take this step. Indeed, Winnicott shared with Masud Khan the view of Fairbairn's book (1954) "that if one could escape from Fairbairn's claim that his theory supplants that of Freud we could enjoy the writings of an analyst who challenges everything, and who puts clinical evidence
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before accepted theory." As Guntrip (1961, p. 297) tersely observes, this is no way to advance any science!
The independence with which their work progressed adds, of course, to the weight of their similar conclusions. It is remarkable, too, that all were contemporaries, born approximately in the last decade of last century and all dying in their early 70's. Personally, they liked and respected each other, though disagreeing about their theories. I should add here that in using the adjective "British," I am not prompted by the Scottish Nationalist spirit that has become prominent in recent years. It is true that Fairbairn carried out all his work in his native Scotland, but I have used the more comprehensive adjective to distinguish this group from what has been referred to as The English School, a term commonly denoting Melanie Klein and her co-workers.
While restricting this group to these four contributors, I do not imply in any way that they were the only ones who have developed object relations theories. Many others have done so. However, I think these four have been more fundamentally concerned with this theme and have written more explicitly on it. The most notable of my exclusions is obviously Melanie Klein. There is no doubt that her work was highly influential on all of our quartet, though perhaps least on Balint. Guntrip, possibly because of his position outside the formal analytic groups and his interest in the historical development of psychodynamic thought, never ceased to emphasize that in his view it was Melanie Klein who made the first major challenge to the foundations on which Freud's metapsychology rests. Her work with the inner worlds of young children established the need to postulate the structuring of object relations from a much earlier stage than had been thought. Although a remarkably gifted and courageously dedicated research worker in this field of the earliest stages of development, Melanie Klein lacked the kind of intellectual rigor that enabled her to follow through the theoretical implications of her work. Her views therefore remained largely as brilliant presentations of some of the phenomena
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we have to take into account, phenomena which she failed to systematize convincingly largely through her adherence to the theoretical use of the death instinct. In this way she seems to most analysts to minimize the role of the external object almost to that of confirming the fantasies produced from within by the activity of the instincts. She thus appears at times to create a kind of biological solipsism rather than a conceptual framework for the evolution, from the earliest stages, of structures based on experience with objects.
Winnicott (1958b) certainly acknowledges his debt to Melanie Klein at various points, albeit mainly in relation to specific concepts such as the depressive position. With Fairbairn, however, her influence was more fundamental. It was her use of the concept of multiple internal objects along with her object-related views of the paranoid and depressive positions that led him to break away from the classical position, in which the theory of psychic development was based on the unstructured energies of the id, in order to account for his clinical findings with schizoid patients.
The independent way in which our theorists developed their work allows us the more readily to look at the contribution of Balint and Winnicott separately and then to consider Fairbairn and Guntrip as creating successive phases of the same line of thought.
I shall be relatively brief about Balint and Winnicott, whose work has always been better known since both were prominent members of the analytic movement, locally and internationally. By contrast, Fairbairn worked alone from his isolated position in Scotland and so had few opportunities to discuss his work with a wide range of colleagues. Recognition, especially from international sources, came to him relatively late in life. Guntrip was even more isolated from the analytic scene in that he was not a member of the British Psychoanalytic Society. A much more prolific writer than Fairbairn, his books, however, brought him into a wide range of contacts with analysts and analytical psychotherapists.
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Theoretical preferences and styles are very much influenced by the personalities and backgrounds of the individual. It might therefore be of interest to make a few remarks about each of our subjects. Balint completed his analytic training with Ferenczi in 1926 and along with his first wife, Alice, concentrated entirely on the early development of the ego. Their backgrounds comprised biology, medicine, anthropology, and education, and their work was intensely mutual. Unable to accept the theory of primary narcissism with its implication that the infant only gradually becomes related to objects, they advanced the quite opposite view of the infant's growth as absolutely dependent on an intense relatedness, biologically and libidinally, with its environment. Alice Balint died soon after their emigration to England in 1939 and Michael continued to develop their early theories. From his analytic work with patients who regressed deeply, he was led to describe a condition which he termed The Basic Fault(1968). The patients said they felt a "fault" or "something missing" inside themselves, rather than a feeling of something dammed up and needing to be released; and Balint added "basic" because its effects permeated the whole functioning of the person. He assumed that this fault, which in some measure is universal, is caused by a failure of fit between the needs of the child and the response of the mother; but beyond his description of it as a fault or an "area of the mind," he did not really conceptualize it.
It is from this area that the Oedipus complex develops in response to the increasing experience with parents as maturation occurs. Alongside the oedipal phenomena, however, he postulated an "area of creation" in the mind in which the individual creates objects or artistic products in a private internal way to try to make something more satisfying than the real objects. The basic fault is also a precursor to the emergence of two types of object relations: ocnophilia in which objects are cathected with great intensity and so clung to for security and philobatism
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in which the inner world is cathected to provide a degree of independence from the precariousness of objects. These object relations are thus for Balint a defense against the effects of the failure of the environment.
In the treatment of individuals who manifest the basic fault regression to a marked degree, Balint concluded that the standard analytic method of giving only verbal interpretations was unable to alter the stalemate produced in the regression. The patient's state was not one that could be "analyzed away" so to speak. What the patient needed from the analyst was the opportunity to make good a deficiency. The analyst had therefore to be the kind of object or environment with which the patient could discover his own way in the world of objects. With all basic fault states, the analyst had to convey through his relationship with the patient that he understood his needs and that in doing so he recognized the patient's own inner life and valued his own unique individuality.
What Balint described by way of theory and practice in these regressions is well known, and my purpose in sketching it again is to draw attention to the main position he reached. From his clinical data, Balint suggests that a critical primary developmental phase has to be surmounted for the individual to emerge with a general capacity to relate to objects and to himself in a reasonably effective and satisfying way. Although Balint eschews any attempt at making an adequate theory, it is clear that the individual who escapes major trouble at this basic fault stage must have achieved a very important structural change, a fundamental epigenetic development. As Morse (1972, p. 498) has put it, Balint appears to have refused "to become a psychoanalytic heretic by attempting to formulate the revised structural theory he needs to explain his data," and because he stopped short, he gives us a metaphorical description instead of an explanatory theory. The new structure must function as a very basic organization for all subsequent development if, as Balint says, its influence extends probably "over the whole psychobiological structure of the individual, involving in varying
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degrees both his mind and body." It allows us "to understand not only the various neuroses (perhaps also psychoses), character disorders, psychosomatic illnesses etc., as symptoms of the same etiological entity, but also—as the experiences of our research into general medical practice have shown—a great number of ordinary 'clinical' illnesses as well…" (1968, p. 22).
Balint accepts that analysts have worked out an adequate theory and practice to encompass the oedipal conflicts which arise from the parental triangular situation as opposed to the problems of the basic fault which occur in the earlier dyadic relationship. Nevertheless, he does not attempt to show in what way, for instance, the earlier developments might correlate with the oedipal phenomena. Again, while the basic fault failure leads to either a clinging to objects, which are then introjected for support, or to creative activities, we are not really taken much beyond that for we are not offered any views about the structural changes that must underlie the development of persistent patterns of behavior such as ocnophilia or philobatism. Also, while hate for Balint is located in the struggle to overcome the oppressive dependence on the primary object and the giving up of primitive omnipotent wishes—and it is this struggle that makes for the intense positive and negative feelings in the "new beginning" phase of the analysis when the basic fault is reached—he makes no reference to related structural concepts, e.g., of internal objects.
Benign regression, which leads to a "new beginning," is contrasted with malignant states. Characteristic of the former is the patient's need to feel he is being recognized and responded to as an individual, an outcome that commonly needs some minimal action from the analyst, e.g., touching hands. The patient does not wish for instinctual gratification, and for this reason Balint implies that the need is of a holistic "personal" nature. In contrast to the benign regression, the patient in a malignant condition moves to insatiable demands for orgastic gratification and so drives the analysis to a "tragic or heroic finale." Balint does not suggest that these different outcomes
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arise from different structural features. Instead, he thinks that some malignant regressions may be the result of inadequate experience and skill in the analyst with a re-creation of the lack of fit between the infant in the patient and the mother in the analyst.
D. W. Winnicott
Winnicott's work (1958b), (1965), (1971) is even more familiar than Balint's, so again I shall merely put what would seem to be the essence of his position as he left it. His approach to the earliest stages of development draws on the unusually rich material available to him from the fact that he combined the role of practicing pediatrician with that of psychoanalyst throughout most of his professional life. He was, too, a great individualist who brought a characteristic poetic and imaginative quality to his theoretical and practical work.
His experience with seriously regressed patients and the correlation of his clinical data with his extensive knowledge of mothers and young children led him to the same kind of problems that preoccupied Balint, viz., those around the earliest structuring of the psyche. As did Balint, he concludes that there is a very early split which has profound significance for future development. Balint's basic fault is paralleled by Winnicott in his concept of a true and false self, a split that originates in a failed relationship between mother and infant in the earliest stages. Winnicott believes that the innate growth potential of the infant expressed itself in various spontaneous manifestations. When the ordinary good mother responds naturally to these—and she is especially equipped to do so by a specific development around the time of the baby's birth, what he termed her "primary maternal preoccupation"—the fit between her response and the baby's experience gives to the latter an "omnipotent" creative quality. Repeated experiences of this kind establish in the infant a sense of wholeness, of conviction about the goodness of reality, and a "belief in" the world as a rewarding
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place. This core of feeling gives rise to a "true self" because the full maturational potential, as this emerges in its increasing repertoire of activity, can be actualized in joyful relations. The confidence in the mother also permits the gradual giving up of omnipotence, with the disillusionment this involves and its swings between intense love and hate. For Winnicott this true self brings with its growth a feeling that its core has to be intensely private, "incommunicado" (1965, p. 187), as he put it later. There is an obscurity about this notion in that the core feeling of having a self appears to depend on its being given to the infant by the input from the good mothering, and so the separation of an absolutely private part is difficult to understand. It could relate to the essence of the growing sense of the thrust of autonomy, the sensing of an "I" as apart from the objects, an embryonic affect for the later "I am real, I am going to do my own thing and not someone else's," and a fear of this being interfered with, but Winnicott seems to imply some other factors of a more primary nature.
Frustration beyond a certain level cannot be contained within the affective cohesion of the experiences of the true self, especially when the mother is felt as forcing herself on the infant, of impinging on it, with her own responses out of fit with the spontaneous needs of the child. This kind of negative experience gradually becomes organized to form a "false self," i.e., one that complies with the mother's attributes; and as the mismatch between the latter and the infant's responses increases, so does the distortion or stunting of development, with the true-self potential receding more and more from its inherent capacity for relatedness.
Like Balint, Winnicott concluded that the experiences structured into the true and false selves are not those of instinctual gratification. Good experiences of the latter reinforce the true self, but its structuring is founded on the quality of the relatedness between the infant and its mother. The relationship between these structures and Freud's tripartite division remains ambiguous. It is again as if Winnicott, like Balint, stopped
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short of any radical confrontation between the theories he needed and those so well established. Thus although he refers to this early structuring as very close to the id, he continues to emphasize its complete dependence on the quality of the object relations. Guntrip notes his reverting to ego relatedness as the critical contributing factor instead of continuing with his almost complete adoption of the term self. Guntrip suggests that Winnicott may have introduced the ego to denote the part of the self involved in relations, but concluded that this idea could not be maintained. It is more likely that it represents a certain inconsistency in Winnicott's theorizing; and in this connection there are various examples of that. Thus Winnicott notes (1963, p. 83) that his account of the growth from dependence to independence makes no reference to the libido theory. He then adds that we can take all that for granted and his scheme for these early structural developments does not in any way invalidate any statement he might have made in terms of erotogenic zones. In all his later papers, however, there can be little doubt that he has moved from the classical frame of reference to an approach of a general systems theory type, for it is the self that operates as the organizing principle for all future differentiation. The critical property of the self is the creativity that takes place within it through play. Winnicott doubts whether we can explain this creative process, although we can study the very important processes through which creative living can be lost and hence lead to the feeling of life as unreal or without meaning. With his descriptions of the functions of play and creativity (1971) he gives more specific suggestions on the development of the self.
The concept of the transitional object was his first stressing of an activity that occurred in this creative "area" between the subjective and the objectively perceived. Later he widened this area as the one in which play, artistic creativity, religion, and culture were developed, as also were the contents of psychopathological conditions. Again, too, it is in this area of playing, as in the formation of the core self, that the process is spoiled by
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the intrusion of instinctual excitement, e.g., masturbation. Playing is a form of doing, but of a special kind in which there is an interplay of personal psychic reality and the experience of control of actual objects. The appropriate responsiveness of the mother allows her to become a subjective object and, with further good interaction, an objectively perceived object; and the self differentiates as a result of the essential role of play. The capacity for play is very much dependent on the mother's love or her object-relating, at first on her active input and later on her reliable availability, as he described in his paper on "The Capacity to be Alone" (1958a). It is, in other words, founded on trust. Playing is thus the universal facilitator for growth and social relationships and, indeed, for Winnicott, mutual playing is the essence of the psychotherapeutic relationship. It is only in playing that the individual—child or adult—uses his whole personality in creative activity, and it is only in being creative that he discovers this self. The way in which the self is sensed, i.e., its security or otherwise, has to be mirrored back by the trusted parent. A conviction of one's creativity as "fun" that can be shared is the essence of the self that can enjoy living. It is here that theory must again take the object relatedness of the child into account because the emergence of play and creativity is dependent upon the environmental provision, the quality of the mother's love, from the start.
A further elaboration of his views of the first stage of development consists in what he terms the phase of "being" as a necessary precursor to a phase of "doing" for healthy development (1971). In the phase of "being," the first weeks, the infant acquires from its experience of ordinary good mothering what is apparently a positive affective content to its overall self-feeling. The prototype of this good experience is the relationship with the empathic mother and her breast, and, because the infant is in a relatively passive absorptive state most of the time and because only the mother can give this experience, he terms it, for want of a better, the female element in the self. This phase moves on to one of "doing," which he correspondingly calls the
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male element wherein the object relatedness proceeds to the differentiation of the self and object. Although the terms may not be satisfactory, he has clearly separated two phases in the course of development of the self toward its becoming a subject in relationship with objects.
While Winnicott, like Balint, leaves a great deal of theoretical work to be done, they have both reached a closely similar general position.
I have already referred to Morse's critique (1972) of Balint; he is equally critical of Winnicott, considering his scheme too inconsistent and even contradictory. The importance of both, however, seems to lie in the role they accord to certain basic developmental achievements. If successfully attained, then the individual is established with the capacity to relate effectively to others and himself, whereas failure means restricted or distorted development. A fundamental organizer has been fashioned, not from instinctual satisfactions by themselves, but from these along with the experience of a general fit between the infant's overall psychological needs and the mother's spontaneous acceptance of these. The implications of such a structuring as a template for the future development of the person are profound, and since the same questions arise with our other theorists we shall hold off on answering them until later.
W. R. D. Fairbairn
When we turn to Fairbairn and Guntrip we soon sense a different quality as pervading their thinking. Freud's approach was profoundly rooted in the scientific materialism of the nineteenth century, and though his findings drove him persistently toward the recognition of the psychological level of the organism's activity as an irreducible domain, he never reached the point of feeling it had as much reality as the physiological. Balint and Winnicott also tended to retain this influence, though to a lesser degree. While they could both think of love as a human response at a personal level, not reducible to instinctual
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gratifications, they kept this "area" of their minds largely separated from the area which the classical libido theory had created. Even with Winnicott's increasing preoccupation in his later work with the phenomena for which he used "the self" rather than the less personal terms of Freud's structural theory, he did not pursue the wider theoretical changes his work was inexorably foreshadowing.
The intellectual backgrounds of Fairbairn and Guntrip were very different from the others. Fairbairn's first academic training was in philosophy, from which he went to Hellenic studies and then to theology. He intended to enter the Church until the first World War interrupted this plan, and by the time he finished his four years as a combatant soldier he had decided to take a medical training with a view to becoming a psychotherapist. Freud linked his dislike of philosophers to their speculative Weltanschauungen. Perhaps there was sufficient change in the teachings of philosophy by the time Fairbairn came to it, for certainly to him, and even more so to Guntrip, the importance of this influence was the discipline it imposed upon the theorist to criticize rigorously his concepts. Thus Fairbairn always viewed the libido theory and the pleasure principle with the uneasiness that the philosophical criticisms of any hedonistic theory engendered. Also, from his role as teacher in the Psychology Department in the University of Edinburgh, he was influenced by the views on Instinct in Man which had been published by Drever (1917), the Professor there. Although "armchair" in origin, these views had quite a "dynamic system" nature, e.g., any structured propensity that instinct was based on engendered a specific emotional coloring according to whether its aim was being achieved or not. Another influence was gestalt psychology, which did a great deal to reinforce the need to think of the unique properties of the relevant "wholes" in psychological processes in contrast to the atomistic approach to these fostered by scientific materialism. Guntrip was especially influenced by the philosopher John MacMurray (1961) who expounded the need to conceptualize the personal level and who stressed that
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one of the most pressing problems for philosophy was a satisfactory conceptualization of the self because for him the self was the essential agent in human behavior.
The papers produced by Fairbairn during the first decade of his psychoanalytic work show that he had carefully assimilated Freud's theories. It was from the treatment of a series of markedly schizoid patients after this period that the primary importance of object relationships struck him. Their impact coincided with another powerful influence, viz., Melanie Klein's writings on the inner object relations of children and adults, and especially her 1934 paper, "A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States." Fairbairn's geographical isolation, with its reinforcement of the independence of his thinking, led him to stress, however, the primacy of the phase earlier than Klein's depressive position. Indeed, he came to think that depression had played too great a part in psychoanalytic theory. It was not, after all, a very common clinical condition, and, moreover, much happened in the developmental period that preceded Klein's critical phase.
The clinical manifestations of his schizoid patients convinced Fairbairn that their etiology consisted in the mother's failure to give the infant an adequate experience of "being loved for himself." This condensed phrase is clearly a very complex package, one that essentially connotes the view that the foundation for subsequent healthy development is not laid in the satisfaction of instincts but in the imparting to the infant that he is "a person," valued and enjoyed as such by his mother. When deprived of this experience, the most serious consequences can occur. The individual, despite his innate longing for object relations, becomes too frightened to make them lest his love be rejected, and so he builds up a compensatory inner world of relationships. There thus develops massive structural splitting within the unitary ego, which is present from the start. At the time of writing his new formulations, Fairbairn was clearly reluctant to alienate other analysts by introducing too many new terms and so he retained the word ego for this pristine unity. Just
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as Winnicott and Guntrip found they had to adopt "the self" as a more appropriate term, so Fairbairn found it best to restrict "ego" to the part of the self that is adapted to outer reality, thus leaving the "self" for the more comprehensive "psyche" or "person." He also reverted at times to the entitative "the libido" when, as he later pointed out, it would have been more consistent had he said that it is the individual in his libidinal capacity that seeks objects.
Fairbairn's explicit statement that the development of the person from the very start had to be conceived in terms of dynamic structures based on experience with objects instead of these being derived from unstructured energies was a major challenge to the libido theory. It was one of those changes of standpoint which is simple in principle and yet is soon felt by many as extremely disconcerting. The complexities of psychological phenomena are certainly daunting, and it was Freud's incredible achievement to have provided future investigators with an exploratory instrument. The peculiar feature of the analytic method, however, is that the instrument is the personality of the investigator, informed and supported by his experience, the latter being enlarged through training. Psychoanalytic theory and practice are thus uniquely interdependent, and what Freud's theories had given us were our only anchor points in the uncharted seas that every patient presents. As a result, to challenge Freud's theories has usually been responded to with anxiety, as if a sacrilegious outrage were being perpetuated. Of course we do not change theoretical views lightly, especially when they come from someone of Freud's stature. Nevertheless, his theories, as Freud himself remarked, are the upper stories of the edifice and not the foundations; and Fairbairn certainly had a thorough knowledge of the foundations, which were never in question for him.
The reception accorded to his challenge, which was argued in an impressively compact and tightly logical way, was at first somewhat patronizing, and some of this attitude has persisted. Thus Modell (1968), while acknowledging the value of his clinical
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findings, regrets that "Fairbairn's theory was not intended to supplement Freud's but to supplant it" and so has won very few supporters. Again, "… men like Fairbairn, when faced with these problems, would wish to rip out the entire fabric of psychoanalytic thinking and start anew … It would take a man of Freud's genius to rival Freud, and the history of science shows that such men do not appear to every generation; they scarcely appear in every century" (pp. 4-5, 6).
When he was writing his papers, Fairbairn in fact would often say that as he kept going back to Freud's writings he was repeatedly astounded to find Freud constantly on the brink of taking a step that would have cast his formulations into the more appropriate one of keeping strictly to psychological structure. Anyone with less sense of rivalry or of "sacrilegious intent" than Fairbairn would be hard to find. He was one of the most conservative of men, a man of great dignity and integrity. He was, moreover, very strongly against people attributing a new school to himself. For him, psychoanalysis and its development were what mattered; but he did not shrink from suggesting a theory that he considered did more justice to the facts, nor did he feel apologetic in doing so. To him it was more of a sin against Freud's legacy to cling to any part that might be improved than to recast it in the light of further knowledge; and intellectually he was well equipped to appraise the status of the concepts needed to fit the data. Within the past decade, Fairbairn has become more widely recognized in the United States, particularly through the writings of Kernberg, who has appreciated the value of his contribution though not agreeing with some of its tenets (1976), (1980).
The essentials of Fairbairn's views on psychopathology are briefly given with slight modifications of his original terms—for instance, he accepted Guntrip's use of the "self" as appropriate for the early ego (Fairbairn, 1963).
1. The human infant is obect-seeking from the start.
2. This activity is mediated by a unitary ego or self, and the reality principle is operative from the beginning. Impulses
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cannot exist except through activation of the ego or self, and they cannot be viewed as sources of energy existing apart from structures.
3. Pleasure is an accompaniment of relationships with objects, i.e., it has a guiding and selective function and is not the primary aim of activity.
4. Aggression is a reaction to frustration and is intense in the earliest experiences.
5. The original anxiety is separation from the mother and can readily be experienced as of terrifying intensity, e.g., when a satisfying object is unavailable.
6. To cope with the unsatisfying original object (breast-mother), this object is internalized by a distinct psychological process and established as a structure within the psyche.
7. This unsatisfying object arouses excitement because it is needed, and frustration because it rejects. With the intensification of these experiences, the exciting and rejecting aspects of the object are split off, along with the part of the self related to them, into subselves, each of which contains the object and the part of the self related to it.
8. The main core of the internalized object then becomes an ideal object or ego ideal, and the part of the ego related to it is termed the central ego (self).
9. There are thus three dynamic systems, each of which acts like a partial self: (a) The central self, related to the ego ideal, which represses both (b) the needy libidinal self in relation to the exciting object and (c) the antilibidinal self linked to the rejecting object.
Because the antilibidinal self is attached to the rejecting object, it attacks the libidinal self and so reinforces the repression of the latter.
10. The superego covers the complex of (a) the ego ideal, (b) the antilibidinal self, and (c) the rejecting or antilibidinal object. These structures are interrelated dynamic psychological systems, subselves within the person, and it was important to Fairbairn that psychoanalytic theories should be couched in
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purely psychological terms at the level of personal functioning. To introduce etiological factors at lower levels of the organism's functioning was to abandon the data specific to the analytic situation as well as to depart from the proper level.
In place of the classical developmental scheme of object relations related to erotogenic zones, Fairbairn puts this progression into one governed by the quality of dependence. The infantile dependence at the start is characterized by its incorporative attitudes and by primary identification. The gradual separation from the object throughout childhood and adolescence constitutes a transitional period from which the healthy individual emerges with the capacity for mature dependence in which giving is as important as taking and the differentiation of the object as a separate person with an independent identity characterizes the desired object.
The abandonment of the libido theory as a basis for the development of object relations inevitably means a reconsideration of the nuclear position of the Oedipus complex. For Fairbairn, the origin of psychopathology lies in the extent to which the pristine self is split. By the time oedipal fantasies are being stimulated by psychosexual development, the individual has a divided self, and it is the extent to which these divisions are present, along with the intensity of their activity that determines the outcome of the oedipal conflicts. The three dynamic structures are each modified by later experiences, and indeed Fairbairn states that the unsatisfying relationships have to continue into the later years of childhood for the separate systems to become established with the kind of rigidity that makes for the serious psychopathological disorders. The existence of the needy libidinal self leads, under the pressure of the oedipal conflicts, to one parent being put into the position of the exciting object with the other parent as the attacking, rejecting one. Normally, the parent of the opposite sex becomes the exciting object, but lack of acceptance by either or both parents in the early stages readily leads to pathogenic patterns in the antilibidinal figure and so to the establishment of the various psychosexual
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distortions and inhibitions in both the boy and the girl.
Fairbairn's dynamic structures with their internal objects make good a defect of Balint's and Winnicott's theories in that they give a structural basis for the development of the different psychopathological patterns from the earliest phase. As dynamic systems, they are constantly active. A degree of splitting of the kind he describes is universal, though in ordinary healthy development the central self remains dominant as a learning adaptive system which can integrate in large measure the activity of the other systems into a more or less coherent scheme of motivation for the self. In such development the self is then largely co-terminous with the ego. When the antilibidinal system is overdeveloped, then a wide range of inhibited behavior is the result. Severe splitting initially, with the associated intensely frustrated relationship needs, made aggressive and sadistic by the pressure to satisfy them, give a good explanatory scheme for the schizoid conditions, while the main pathological modes of relating—the hysterical, paranoid, obsessional, and phobic—are also accounted for in terms of the particular pattern of relationship with the internal objects that become dominant at any one time. Not only is each of the main neurotic patterns accounted for, but the scheme also explains the common finding that so many patients can exhibit more than one of the patterns at different times.
The structuring of the relationship systems also makes clear why resistance to therapy can be such a difficult, and even intractable, problem. In his theory of repressed impulses, Freud took resistance to emanate mainly from unconscious guilt, with the lessening of which the impulses could be brought under the influence of the ego and given a different aim or at least made controllable. In Fairbairn's theory, what is repressed is not a forbidden impulse but an attachment of a subself to a forbidden object and of another subself to a rejecting object which can be frighteningly primitive if this system becomes active. This attachment to bad objects seems at first sight puzzling until it is realized that the infant and child has no choice in his attachments. Bowlby1,
1 Although Bowlby's work makes him a major contributor to object relations theory in the British scene, his position in relation to the present group will not be definable until the completion of his current task. What he has published so far (1969), (1973) gives considerable support to the general line of the present group, especially to Fairbairn's views.
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in his use of ethological concepts to give a developmental scheme for relationships, has brought out this feature in the higher mammals as well as in man, i.e., clinging to the mother becomes intensified the less secure the relationship is. In other words, a bad object is infinitely better than no object, the latter state being that of disintegrative anxiety.
For Fairbairn, then, the baby begins with a self system that seeks relationships as its primary need. Within this unitary system there differentiate two subselves in coping with the frustrations of the environment. These two subselves are really not independent in origin since they are both the complementary aspects of the frustrating situation. In other words, the creation of a rejecting inhibiting self goes in parallel with the forbidden relationship needs of the libidinal self. The subselves are maintained as a relatively closed system since in this way the individual seeks to have some control over the objects he needs. The more he remains absorbed in these relationships with inner objects, the less is he involved with the outer world in a mature way. Such relations with external objects as he does try to make in these circumstances are predominantly externalizations of his inner world, i.e., people are not individuals in their own right and valued as such, but are figures to be coerced into the mold of the inner object.
The overall self-system is thus a reactive matrix dominated at different times by one or another of the self divisions. The central self or reality ego ordinarily tries to preserve consistent adaptive relationships with people in the outer world; and when one of the subselves takes over, neurotic patterns appear. The self as a whole thus has what Kohut (1971) has termed "vertical" splits. But it also has horizontal divisions from the fact that experience can be organized in successive layers as well as fused. In
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this way each of the self systems can expose its structure as it was at earlier stages, though alteration in one cannot occur without all being involved. The tendency is for each system to acquire a characteristic pattern by the time adulthood is reached. Thus the libidinal ego may have created as its exciting object a perversion which remains relatively stable. In treatment, however, it is usually not long before the earlier object needs can be discerned; and, as Fairbairn further suggested, seeking gratification of impulse tension through part objects develops from the failure and deterioration of object relations.