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Chapter 1


Introduction. *

Preliminary draft. Not to be quoted.


In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas Kuhn emphasises how a prevailing paradigm or v weltanschaung influences scientific endeavour. Data is structured, processed and given relevance within the framework of the prevailing model. When the paradigm begins to be faced with new data that confront the model, there is a phase of accommodation. The basic theory is stretched to contain the new data in an attempt to preserve the basic structure by various modifications.

At this stage, there is resistance to alternative paradigms. It is safer and more comforting to re-adjust the existing conceptual edifice. But such re-adjustments create strains and tensions which can lead to the breakdown of the resistance to new paradigms. The proliferation of the epicycles needed to cope with the data within a Ptolemaic system led to the Copernican revolu­tion in astronomy.

Such a process has occurred in psychoanalysis, though the epicycles that had to be created were of course different. I believe that the recent upsurge in awareness, interest and re­appraisal of Fairbairn's work after a long period when it was relatively ignored is due to the current tensions facing the Freudian paradigm and the strains arising from the attempts to re­adjust it to cope with new data.

In this book, I hope to clarify Fairbairn's Object Relations theory and to illustrate its clinical usefulness. My main purpose will be to relate Fairbairn's theory to clinical practice and so I shall as far as is possible avoid metapsychological debates.

No-one committed to the value of a psychodynamic perspective would dispute that the essential tenet of this approach is that a developmental perspective gives valuable insight into the understanding of human behaviour. The child, nay indeed the infant, is the father and just as often the mother of the adult. This perspective stresses that complex and elaborate forms of human behaviour and motivation can be interpreted as the elaboration of infantile, or primitive drives, needs and conflicts.

But this general agreement about a developmental perspective hides a whole range of fundamental disagreements. There are major differences in the degree to which we understand

psycho-pathology in terms of fixations due to instinctual conflict, or to developmental arrests due to an environmental deficit. Some consider a developmental perspective as the develop­ment of the psychic fantasies caused by drives, instincts or innate energies. The environment then becomes the place where these processes are worked out, but it is not the cause of these processes. There are differences about the drives attributed to the neonate. For example, in our views whether the death instinct, or the Oedipus complex, or envy are primary or secondary phenomena. There are differences in the significance we attribute to the role of the relationship with the primary caretaker and how this relationship affects the intrapsychic development of the individual. So, for example, the role of the mother, as a container, in affecting the trans­formation of primitive infantile fantasy may be stressed. But does the mother also stimulate these fantasies? Can features of the actual relationship with the mother actually arouse and exaacerbate these fantasies? Are the infant's, drives, his needs, and his innate potentialities affected or structured by the environment that they meet, or fail to meet?

Differences in our theoretical account of the role of the actual relationship will affect our view of the nature of the relationship between fantasy and reality, the relationship between the inter-personal and the intra-personal. Moreover, our view of the nature of the infant and to what degree it is structured or affected by the environment will colour our theoretical understanding of the analytical process and therefore what we consider to be the appropriate response. This may and often should lead to differences in technique. Our conception of the aetiological role of the environment will affect and colour our response to the patient in the


analytic situation. For example, is the achievement of insight through interpretation of the transference adequate for therapeutic transformation, or does the analyst's empathic mirroring and responsive attunement constitute a corrective experience necessary for the transformation of some narcissistic configurations? An answer to such a question will very much depend on one's view about the importance of the real environment in the aetiology of the psychopathology being considered.


Of course psycho-analytic theory has always from its beginning contained some notion of the role of nature and nurture in the genesis of psychopathology. Freud, who uses the terms "constitutional" and "accidental" wrote,

"No other influences on the course of sexual development can compare in importance with releases of sexuality, waves of repression and sublimation - the two latter being processes of which the inner causes are quite unknown to us. It might be possible to include repressions and sublimations as a part of the constitutional disposition, by regard­ing them as manifestations of it in life; and anyone who does so is justified in asserting that the final shape taken by sexual life is principally the outcome of the innate constitu­tion. No one with perception will, however, dispute that an interplay of factors such as this also leaves room for the modifying affects of accidental events experienced in child­hood and later. "(1915. pp.239-240.)

Before the abandonment of the seduction theory the model of therapy with its emphasis on trauma concentrated on the recovery of the repressed memories with their accompanying affects. The hysteric suffered from intolerable reminiscences. Reconstruction, recollection, and catharsis were a significant part of the therapeutic process. In this phase in the development of psychoanalysis Freud did write of the experience of actual seductiveness at the hands of the mother affecting the intrapsychic development of the child.

Appreciation of the role of the eroticised transference with Anna O. inaugurated a theoretical shift. The seduction stories, previously assumed to underlie hysterical symptomatology, were now seen as stories manifesting a denied internal reality, of fantasy emanating as the disguised derivatives of repressed infantile sexual wishes.

The abandonment of the seduction theory 1906 led to the development of the theory of infantile sexuality. The initial model of hysteria based on traumatic seduction was abandoned for a model based on the vicissitudes of infantile sexuality. From this point classical psychoanalysis offered a drive oriented intra-psychic theory stressing the importance of infantile sexuality.

There was a developmental model but it was based on an unfolding sequence of erogenous zones. Primary bisexuality and polymorphous sexuality became part of our phylogenetic inheritance. When Freud abandoned the seduction theory as the main factor in the

aetiology of hysteria, to emphasise the role of unconscious fantasy and infantile sexuality, did he direct our attention away from external reality?

Freud developed his theory from the experience of the adult lying on the couch. The Freudian paradigm was developed and refined in the context of the therapeutic dyad. The con­sistency of the transferential response may have led him to think that the underlying psychic structure as made manifest in the transference had little to do with external reality. These phenomena were presumed to be manifestations of unconscious processes. He gave us a model of a never-ending internal conflict between the excited body-based demands of the id and the powerful strictures exercised by the punitive super-ego. That beleaguered structure the ego has to maintain the delicate task of functional survival in terms of psychic necessity internal and external.

By a process of genetic reconstruction, the analyst inferred the history of the individual from the material produced in the analytic session. With the possible exception of little Hans, Freud's classical theory of psycho-sexual libidinal development through the oral, anal, phallic, Oedipal and genital stages, was developed from the case material of adults. This was also true of Freud's account of psychic structure. The id, ego and superego were held to differentiate from an original undifferentiated primary matrix.

Freud's account of the separation individuation process, of auto-erotism, primary narcis­sism, anaclitic object choice and secondary narcissism, as stages in ego-development and object choice was also derived from clinical data and not from observation of children. Jung and Adler developed alternative constructions of the emergent phenomena and thus

different theories of the aetiology and nature of psychopathology.


Quite early Ferenczi re-emphasised the notion of trauma, but a trauma at the hands of the real external parents. He emphasised that the immature ego can only cope with the trauma by disassociation and identification with the aggressor. By emphasising the role of the actual external parents, he altered the theory of the aetiology of psychopathology. Ferenczi stressed the need of the child for loving acceptance. He challenged the Freudian paradigm in his paper, "On the Confusion of Tongues". However, this innovative endeavour lead to his effective rejection by Freud and the official Psycho-analytic community. His originality was treated as a heresy. After his death, this seminal paper had to wait for years until it was published in an English translation by his analysand, Michael Balint. Interest in Ferenczi's contribution is only now becoming openly manifest.

The differing theories being promulgated led to differing forms of therapy. This resulted in the fragmentation of the psycho-analytic enterprise on the basis of schools with adherence to a seminal thinker. There was little open acknowledgement of cross-fertilisation. Later with the work of theorists, such as Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, Margaret Mahler and John Bowlby, more emphasis was put on material derived either from direct contact with children or from observational data on the interaction of mothers and infants. This led to increasing emphasis on the importance of the pre-Oedipal phase in the development of psychic structure. The psychological development of the infant was considered increasingly significant in terms of the genesis of psychopathology and practice.

The British Object Relations School stressed that the infant was object relating from birth. The object was of primary importance to the infant, rather than being merely a necessary adjunct to the satisfaction of the aim of the instinct. The doctrine of primary narcissism was effectively abandoned. But even here one must be extremely careful if one is to avoid conflat­ing fundamentally different theories together because they use similar words. The "object" to which the child is assumed to relate can be internal and therefore still part of the fantasy ele­ment, or external and therefore environment dependent. Melanie Klein, for example, empha­sised the significance of primitive internal objects in the structuring of the inner world of the infant long before the development of the superego proper. But her emphasis on primary envy and the death instinct reduces the role of the actual caretakers to the confirmation or modifica­tion of primitive fantasy, a product of the instincts or drives per se. Some, like Balint, Fairbair n, Winnicott, or Kohut, may regard these drives as secondary, arising from, and exacerbated by, an environmental situation where the fit between the child and his significant others was not good enough.

The above theorists inaugurated various theoretical shifts concerning the role of the environmental contribution to the aetiology of psychopathology. This changed view of aetiol­ogy lead to modifications in technique on grounds of therapeutic efficacy. Their innovations, however, with the exception of Fairbairn have been largely cloaked and assimilated as exten­sions of the Freudian paradigm.

This period of reformulation exemplifies the phase of accommodation to an existing paradigm. The basic theory and indeed the language of the classical Freudian model was stretched to accommodate the new data but at the cost of increasing complexity and conceptual obfuscation. An increasing gap opened up between the language of the theorist and the lan­guage of the clinician.


In as much as a psycho-analytic theory implies a developmental theory, it is open to competition from alternative constructions. However, the presumed infant or child emerging from the therapeutic dyad is a product of reconstruction in the present. The Freudian Oedipal child and the Kleinian infant is reconstructed on the couch, an emergent product in relation to the interpretations of the therapist. The reconstructed infant varies with the theoretical orienta­tion of the therapist. Mutual corroboration of clinical material from therapists of the same school operates as confirmation not of the underlying theory but to the power of the therapeutic language.

Freudian patients develop Freudian stories and confirm that they were Freudian children, Kleinian patients develop Kleinian stories and confirm that they were Kleinian infants. The fact that patients confirm our stories and improve does not "confirm" our story. It merely highlights the power of the transference and illustrates the problem that Freud was aware of, the possibility of suggestion. This problem is emphasised by the critique of psycho-analysis of Adolf Grunbaum.

However, there are now competing alternative constructions based on empirical research. They cannot be dismissed or ignored as the "couch-based" accounts of erring or misguided clinicians. There is a wealth of new data from research on infant development and family attachment patterns that the varying psycho-analytic schools have to accommodate to, or face the charge of being "flat earthers" as far as infants are concerned. Empirically established find­ings on the capacities of infants constrain the range of possible theories.

The current phase of preservation is increasingly strained by the accommodation and adaptation of the Freudian paradigm to cope with the increasing body of new data derived from empirical studies on neonates and children. The implications of this work in terms of the emergent subjectivity of the child has been highlighted by the work of Stern. This work is cur­rently modifying the varying psychoanalytic theories of early development.

There is a growing body of research on attachment patterns stimulated by the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Mary Main has pioneered research on the inter-generational transmission of attachment patterns. These patterns of secure, insecure-ambivalent and insecure-avoidant attachment vary with the empathic attunement of the mother and the father to the emergent self of the child. These attachment patterns tend to persist through time.

The cumulative effect of all these findings of the significance of the actual relationship with the parent on the child's development is imposing strains on both psychoanalytic theory and technique.

It is clear that infant observation itself cannot resolve the differences of the various psychoanalytic schools. We can only infer what is going on in the baby's head. There is the danger of projection. We can, however, observe the interaction with the primary caretakers and follow these interactions over time to find out their psychological sequelae. Observation of the relationship between the mother and the infant may provide information about the environ­mental precipitants of later psychopathological behaviour. But if we do accept the develop­mental perspective the psycho-analytic narrative needs to pay account to research on neonates. It also needs to pay attention to the processes of inter-generational transmission and its con­tribution to the construction of identity.

The psycho-analytic model has also been challenged by the current awareness of the actual incidence and the deleterious consequences of the sexual abuse of children not by strangers but by individuals in positions of trust. The re-discovery of the traumatogenic nature of actual sexual abuse and its relationship to consequent psychopathology has led to the need for a reassessment of the complex interplay between fantasy and reality. Moreover, it has also highlighted the problem of trauma at the hands of a needed and trusted figure.

The general social "Weltanschauung' is becoming increasingly conscious of the sig­nificance of the actual relationship with the parents to the developing personality of the child. This heightened awareness backed by research affects adherence to the Freudian model with its relative disregard of actual relationships. Conversely the false memory syndrome highlights the power of suggestion and identification by the power of the transference. This also highlights the power of the therapist in loco parentis to influence the phenomena emanating from the patient. The developmental stories derived from the couch are becoming more suspect.


Though Fairbairn was writing before much of the research on infant development, his Object Relations theory emphasises the significance of inter-personal factors on the develop­ment of psychic structure and the genesis of psycho-pathology. This represents a major break with the Freudian paradigm which minimised the role of such factors in the genesis of repres­sion and defense, and with other object relations theories in which the relevant objects are con­structed by drives or instincts. For Fairbairn this stress on the inter-personal is central. There is a Copernican shift in the paradigm. The primary need is relational. The psyche of man is determined, by his need for nurturant, loving acceptance. He needs warmth. That nurturant warmth constitutes the necessary ground of his being. Deprivation beyond his capacity to endure threatens an isolation which is akin to a psychic death. The conditions of safety and tolerable individuation are regulated by the need to maintain tolerable relatedness.

A theory which takes account of the particularity of crucial environmental deficits differs from a theory of internal conflict based on warring dualities. Eros and Thanatos are not impersonal forces. They are derivatives of the frustrated need for loving acceptance. They reflect the vicissitudes of love and hate between the self and the other who was the erstwhile ground of one's being and the source of meaning. The aetiology of psychopathology can be related to early patterns of relationship with the primary caretaker. This forces attention on the contribution of external reality to the genesis of psychopathology and psychic structure. It can give some access to that which later can only be known through a glass darkly.

If this argument is valid, the role of acceptance by a benign parental object becomes rele­vant to the theory of the aetiology of psychopathology. This constitutes a paradigmatic shift from a solipsistic model of warring instinctual forces to an interactional model. The inter­personal is given a genetic role. The adaptation of the parent to the child's emergent needs enter the foreground of theory construction. The need for acceptance becomes a major struc­turing variable of the constitution of the acceptable self. Such a theoretical shift inaugurates object relations theory.


The validity or usefulness of a theory can, and I believe should be judged independently of the psychological or other explanations of how the theory came to be formulated. Even so understanding a theorist's intellectual, cultural and psychological background can often help to understand the language they use and, possibly more important, it can help us understand the problems with which they were struggling when formulating their theories.

For a sympathetic and open account of Fairbairn's personal life and difficulties, I recom­mend John D. Sutherland's Fairbairn's Journey Into The Interior. Sutherland was first Fair­bairn's pupil, then his analysand and later his colleague and friend. His account of Fairbairn, devoid of idealisation and sometimes painful to read, is that of a troubled man trying to make sense of and come to terms with himself. The relationship between his understanding of his personal conflicts and his theory is considered. The connection between Fairbairn's inner life and theory is manifest. Such connections, in the current state of psycho-analytic theory, have to be taken seriously.

Sutherland locates Fairbairn's intellectual development in the context of his relationship with his parents and in the wider cultural context of Edinburgh where he worked in relative isolation. At that time Edinburgh would have been considered a psycho-analytic wilderness. However, even though in this area it may have been considered an intellectual wilderness it

was the centre of the proud tradition of Scottish Protestantism. This tradition colours all aspects of Fairbairn's work.

Universal literacy was advocated in Scotland to render the individual relatively immune to the influence of clerics claiming to be the official interpreters of the holy texts. The Calvinistic culture of John Knox laid stress on literacy so that the individual could question secular and religious authority. The culture of appointed secular divinities was suspect. James 1 of Scotland and Vl'th of England could claim the divine right of Kings in England, but in Scot­land he was "God's silly vassal".

Neither the King nor the Pope, supposedly God's official representatives on earth were beyond the scope of criticism by human reason. Just as these divine authorities were con­sidered subject to evaluation by human reason so a fortiori were systems of philosophy and psychology. No authority was immune from criticism by reason. Faith in texts, whether holy or secular was replaced by faith in reason. The Scottish tradition with its emphasis on common sense philosophy lead to the enlightened scepticism of Hume tempered by experience of ordinary life.

Fairbairn was a scion of that tradition. He was a serious Freudian scholar, but a scholar

in the Scottish tradition. A text was to be read with judgement not faith. Reasoned disagree-

ment was considered a legitimate activity of a scholar, unreasoned acceptance was not.

Coming from such a tradition it is not surprising that when Fairbairn did disagree with Freud he did not try to obscure difference by a process of semantic slippage in terminological discourse, or by subtle shifts of meaning. Nor did he follow the scholastic tradition of selective quotation of the authorised text to establish that he had inherited the true mantle of the prophet. He treated Freud with respect but as a respected 'seminal' figure in the development of psycho-analytic theory, not as a respected final authority. He exercised his critical autonomy and offered alternative hypotheses.

Around this time contending theorists, within the English tradition, were writing their adaptation of Freud within the constraints of the text but with conceptual shifts of meaning.

Fairbairn clearly stated where he disagreed with Freud. He made a serious attempt to elaborate an object relations theory clearly differentiated from the drive based instinctual Freudian theory.

His struggle for intellectual consistency led him to go against the main stream of accepted "truth". He risked ignominy and isolation within both the psycho-analytic estab­lishment and the academic Psychology Department at Edinburgh University.

His book (title ) was given a hostile review by Masud Khan and Winnicott, though Winnicott later made an apologia for that review in the post-humous papers Human Nature.


Fairbairn was acutely aware of the relationship between an individual's psychological makeup and his attitudes to theory construction and even possibly theory choice.

"Where scientific pursuits are concerned, the attraction would appear to depend upon the schizoid individual's attitude of detachment no less upon his over-valuation of the thought processes; for these are both characteristics which lend themselves to capi­talisation within the field of science ".(p. 6). Schizoid factors in the Personality (1940)

He argues that

"Contrary to common belief, schizoid individuals who have not regressed too far are capable of greater psychological insight than any other class of person, normal or abnormal - a fact due, in part at least to their being so introverted (i.e.preoccupied with inner reality) and so familiar with their own deeper psychological processes (processes which although not absent in individuals who would ordinarily be classified as simply spsycho-neurotic', are never-the-less excluded from the consciousness of such individu­als by the most obstinate defences and stubborn resistances).(p.3.)

Awareness of the relationship between the structure of a personality and the type of theories found amenable is pertinent to the practice of psycho-analytic psychotherapy.

Consideration of the conscious and unconscious determinants of theory construction may enhance our awareness of why we espouse certain theories to the neglect of others. This is part and parcel of psycho-analytic awareness of the choices we make.

Theories provide us with a map in the form of a narrative. This narrative can be highly meaningful in terms of our own psychopathology, or in terms of the stories provided by our psychoanalytic "fathers". However; psychoanalytic theories make wider claims. They attempt to provide us with a map not only of the aetiology and modification of human psychopathol­ogy, but also a map of human development which overlaps with psychology, the social sciences, physiology and biology.

Scientific corroboration of psycho-analytic theories does not as yet enable us to dif­ferentiate between theories. Moreover, current outcome research increasingly demonstrates psychotherapy to be an effective form of treatment but does not discriminate between the vari­ous approaches, though it does discriminate between therapists. Therefore awareness of the possibility of the theory being an elaborate metaphorical map of the psyche of the writer, or the adherent is important. Given that the predicament of no proponent of a theory is unique, all theories will reflect some aspects of the human condition. This need not elevate them to the status of being cultural universals.

Quasi-rational adherence can be based on the resonance of the theory with the particular psychopathological constellation of the believer. The story offers coherence and therefore con­tainment in the form of intellectual understanding that integrates and make sense of the sub­ject's sense of self and others. It rings with the conviction of the "truth" of inner reality. It also enables the believer to find a shared world. It can satisfy relational needs by providing a community of believers. The danger is that the theory is elevated from a partial to a general theory with a degree of conviction which is more commonly found in the area of religious belief. The touch-stone of "truth" can be that of "inner reality", a Keirkegardian "passionate subjectivity", a narrative that provides meaning. A threat to the theory is dangerously equi­valent to a threat to the self. But does it provide a representational map of the world that can be assessed independently in terms of empirical evidence?

Fairbairn, like Freud, considered psycho-analysis to be a scientific enterprise. For Fair­bairn, Psycho-analysis attempts to provide

"a picture of reality —an intellectual construct representing the fruits of an attempt to describe the various phenomena of the universe, in as coherent and systematic a manner as the limitations of human intelligence permit, by means of the formulation of general laws established by inductive inference under conditions of maximum emotional detach­ment and objectivity on the part of the scientific observer".( ).

wever, the problem of psycho-analysis as a science is that the -

"subjective aspects of the phenomena studied are as much part of the phenomena studied as the objective aspects, and are actually more important".().

Unfortunately it is true that, "The subjective aspects can only be understood in terms of the subjective experience of the psychologist himself", the analyst can only read in terms of his own experience or by analogy. The evidence of the clinical situation can be prejudiced by the effect of reciprocal interaction process on both parties. The resistance of the analyst to the patient's material is as relevant as the resistance of the patient to the analyst's interpretations, to the clinical data that might emerge. Such is the power of the transference.

Different psychoanalytic theories may or may not have subjective resonance. They may actively threaten cherished beliefs that provide a cultural myth fostering group identity and cohesion. It is paradoxical that psychoanalytic theories, an explanatory vehicle for assessing the power, the appeal and the need of the patient's myth is at risk of becoming a substitute myth. The myth seemingly secular carries the force of religion.

This is of special significance to the practitioner. Psycho-analysis is concerned by its nature with that which does not make sense to the subject. "Normal" socio-cultural stories fail. The individual is at odds with himself or at odds with his culture. There is inconsistency or incoherence either within the individual or between the individual and his culture. The individ­ual needs a new story to make sense of himself or the culture need a story to make sense of him.

The psycho-analytic practitioner assumes that there is an underlying story of internal conflict that gives coherence to the disjointed narrative of the patient. The patient's thinking, behaviour and feelings are not reduced to mere epiphenomena of organic malfunctioning or genetic predisposition.

Psycho-analysis then enters the realm of hermeneutics; the elaboration of possible inter­pretations. But given the central tenets of repression and transference, it is concerned with how the disjointed subjectivity of the patient is affected by the therapeutic interaction in the present.

It is concerned with how an interpretation in the present may clarify and modify the inferred unconscious structures, wishes and assumptions that lie behind current narratives.

Psycho-analysis in as much as it purports to be to be a scientific endeavour has to pro­vide more than feasible interpretations. We also need a theory of why interpretations might induce psychological change. What are the factors in the therapeutic encounter that lead to transformation? The theories and hypotheses elaborated in the text must give an adequate account of the emergent phenomena that we encounter in the analytic relationship.

Therefore how do we choose among the various psycho-analytic narratives currently on offer? This is an important problem for the clinician. Theory can be utilised by the clinician defensively to escape from the confusion of their patients. This can have serious import for the patient. The therapist can relate to the patient on a basis of a projective identification, a read­ing rooted in his theoretical constructs. The patient is made to fit the narrative which fits the therapist. Resistance to the therapist can be interpreted as resistance to psychic truth.

But given the power of the transference and the need for a story, Oedipal therapists will find Oedipal patients; Jungian therapists will find dreams resonant with archetypal material; for Kleinians the paranoid schizoid position is ubiquitous, while the Fairbairnian will find an underlying schizoid dilemma.

For Fairbairn, the aetiology and transformation of psycho-pathology is the province of psycho-analytic theory. Normal development belongs to the realm of psychology. Obviously this is a contested issue. There are competing models of so-called "normal" development. There are competing models as to the nature of man. There are also competing models as to the aetiology of psycho-pathology. Choosing among the competing theories requires evaluative judgment, these judgments can become confused with moral judgments, and like all competing theories concerning the nature of man they arouse passion.


This book too may arouse some passions and challenge others. I merely ask the reader to suspend temporarily the evaluative passions and join me in an attempt to consider whether Fairbairn's theory has anything to offer in its account of the complexity of the interplay of human need and external realities that affect the structuring of human subjectivity.

Chapter 2*.

Object Relations Theory - An Interpersonal Encounter.

* Preliminary draft. Not to be quoted without author's permission.


"It is impossible to gain any adequate conception of the nature of an indi- vidual organism if it is considered apart from its relationships to its natural ~ , objects; for it is only in its relationships to these objects that its true nature 01 IteU" is displayed."(p. 139.1946). <| i4ltC

What then are the natural objects of that organism we call human, which starts off as a helpless infant? What objects will it naturally seek, fear and strive to attain? How will it respond if it fails in these aims? It would not be an exaggaration to say that Fairbairn breaks with Freud by asking these questions and that his psychoanalytic theory is an attempt to answer them.

In this chapter I shall conside^jomejDf Fairbairn's basic premises about the nature of a human being that differ from those of Freud and some other object rela­tions theorists and on which much of his psychoanalytical theory is developed. Before doing so it will be useful to clarify the meaning of the term "object" in psychoanalytic discourse.

"Object" does not refer to an inanimate thing. When used to refer to an actual person it is not meant to treat them in a callous fashion. An object in psychoanalytic theory is that which an individual, or some aspect or part of an individual strives to attain or get attached to for the satisfaction of a need, a drive, or an instinct. The object might be an external real other. It may also be a representational, symbolic aspect of an other which has been created, not necessarily consciously with intent, by an individual or part of an individual for some purpose or other. 1 The need to relate.

The Fairbairnian infant needs to love and be loved initially by his mother. The infant is in a state of absolute unconditional dependance on the mother for the satis­faction of his physical and emotional needs. She constitutes not only his world but also his self, in as much as he is not as yet completely differentiated from her. More­over, and just as important she also constitutes the conditions of personal survival.

Human infants, however, differ from other animals. To survive it is not suffi­cient to be fed, kept warm and be protected from those that hunt them. The develop­ment and maintenance of a relationship with an object is part of the inherent need of human beings. Object love and object need does not develop from the accidental asso­ciation of the other with a good feed;

"The real libidinal aim is the establishment of satisfactory relationships with objects; and it is, accordingly, the object that constitutes the true libidinal goal."(p. 138.1946).

To avoid any possibility of confusion with other theories let me stress again that the

"object" here is an actual real other.

This basic need of the child for a satisfactory relationship with the object is cru­cial. It is a need to relate as a whole person to a whole person. The object is a person, therefore an "other". For Fairbairn, there is a primary embodied self trying to relate as a whole to another embodied whole person. In the case of the infant, primarily the mother, or a surrogate mother; then secondarily the father. Fairbairn's infant is not a Robinson Crusoe. As we shall see becoming a Robinson Crusoe without Friday is something to be avoided.

It is intrinsic to humans that they form emotional bonds with others. The satis­faction of this need, or instinct, if one wishes, begins long before the development of language. After all a smile, a cry or a beam in the eye can be just as effective. The infant, the child and the later adult is an emotional being driven initially by the need to make a satisfactory relationship with others. The satisfaction of this primary need constitutes the condition of emotional survival.

As with all species the human infant is adapted to survival. But in the very early stages of development survival means adapting to the mother and getting her to adapt in the right way. The actual responsiveness of the mother is of crucial importance. To survive the infant must develope an ability to register responses and a repetoire to cope with disappointing or frustrating responses. The infant is a sentient being from \ the start assimilating and registering his or her perceptions of the outside world, in particular that aspect of the outside world on which its survival depends. There is an embryonic awareness of reality and a developing capacity for recognition. The infant is reality oriented from the start and therefore reality constrained from the start. It is reactive and proactive ab initio. In this respect Fairbairn's position is therefore akin to that of Winnicott who claims that a person's story and the potential hazards for a per­son begin before birth.

"The point of view that I am putting forward here is that at full term, there is already a human being in the womb, one that is capable of having experiences and of accumulating body memories and even of organising defensive measures to deal with traumata (such as the interruption of con­tinuity of being by reaction to the impingements from the environment in so far as it fails to adapt).(p. 143.)

For Fairbairn this was an hypothesis on which he based his theory. Empirical research over the past decade or so has confirmed that experience of external reality can have an effect even in utero, an effect that later shapes responsiveness in a postive or negative fashion.(Stern.)

The Fairbairnian infant develops a repertoire to cope with reality when it is too harsh. If that mighty tool, the scream is not responded to, too often, he or she can experience primitive agony that can lead to futility. But the infant is not only reactive, he or she is proactive. He or she can alter the subjective construction of his world to construct alternatives that disguise the predicament of an environment that is too har­shly rejective.

Fairbairn's theory represents a fundamental shift from a psychology that empha­sises the gratification of sexual or aggressive impulses to one that stresses the need for relationship. The self develops and is structured in the context of the relationship with the parents and the everwidening circle of others, if the child is still amenable to

influence, and is affected by the actual vicissitudes of these relationships. Because the

human infant is inherently orientated to outer reality from the start.

"Impulse tension in the ego must be regarded as inherently orientated towards objects in outer reality, and thus determined by the reality princi­ple from the first".(p. 168.1951).

Fairbairn's psychoanalytic theory explores and analyses the vicissitudes of attachment and the often unconcious strategies adopted to cope with the traumas resulting from an environment not sufficiently attuned to the child's emerging needs for a tolerable attachment. It is then that the child begins to retreat from a relationship with whole persons, and possibly more destructively he can also retreat from the pos­sibility of a holistic relationship with himself. But the need for a whole relationship of the self with the other persists, it is summarised in

"the protesting cry of a patient-N You're always talking about my wanting this or that desire satisfied; but what I really want is a father, '"(p. 137.1946). '

It is a view of a child who not only wants a father but who needs a loved and accept­ing father to say "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased". There is a relational need for the father, and prior to that the mother.

As we shall see Fairbairn's psychoanalytic theory, like all psychoanalytic theories deals with internal structures, psychic constructs, and psychic struggles. Where he differs from the Freudian tradition, and from some other object relations theorists is in his views that the subjective constructs the individual creates is a proac-tive response to an inappropriately reactive environment. They are created and shaped to deal with intolerable experience.

The reality principle which in the Freudian framework appears much later' -t

becomes primary in Fairbairn's framework. The child is adapted and adapting to >. i&*uJs^ < reality from the start though that reality sense is initially immature, due to lack of experience, but "under conditions favourable to adaptation it matures as experience

expands"( ). The child's tendency to be more emotional and impulsive and thus more prone to "tension relieving sidetracks" in the face of frustration, implies that he is none the less actuated by awareness of reality. 2 The rejection of the Freudian structure.

Fairbairn's two interrelated moves of placing the reality principle at the earliest stage of development, and postulating the need for a relationship with another as a primary need leads him inexorably to reject some of the basic Freudian structures.

Freud developed a tri-partite model of the self based on psychic conflict; inaugurated by the structural theory. The German terms were the ves', the Men' and the Nuber-ich\

1) The repressed, the Nid' or the Nit', is known by its drive derivatives. It is an instinctual cauldron of unstructured energy, characterised by primary processes, time-lessness and the absence of negation. The wishes which the acceptable self could not afford to own were manifestations of the drives. The assumed nature of the drives or instincts varied; from object libido to ego libido, and later to eros and thanatos. However, the repressed is assumed to be an unvarying anti-social cauldron of sexu­ality and rage. Much that is contained in thg'id' is hereditary, instinctual and inate. Reality may intrude but does not have a generic role.

2) The repressive agency, the uber-ich, or "over I", translated as the super-ego, is at war with the drives. This is an internalised dynamic structure, set above the ego. This structure requires compliance, either as an acceptable, benign object in the form of the ego-ideal or as submission in its role as a malign, punitive, persecutor, a "bad" object. The super-ego therefore has a duality of aspects, benign in the form of the ego-ideal, persecutory as the malign implacably rejective super-ego.

3) The ego, or the "I" has to preserve the functional adaptation of the self. It has a managerial role as the beleagured mediator between these warring forces of the id and super-ego and the demands of the external world. The "I" has to be aware of danger both internal or external. The "I" has both to register and to take defensive action to avoid danger. To manage its delicate task, it has to see but at the same time distort the process of conscious registration. The "I" may only see through a glass darkly. It is cognitively impaired in the defensive process of functional survival. The T is also emotionally impaired by its repudiation(and disowningjand distortion of the instinctual drives due to the vicissitudes of repression undertaken at the behest of the super-ego.

For the Freudian, defences are devices or sets of mechanisms utilised by the ego to regulate tension arising from internal conflict. Ideas are split from their con­comitant affects. The repressed ideas and their affects are made manifest in some form of derivative, compromise formation in neurotic symptoms, dreams, and parapraxes.

"Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety. "(1926) ushered in a third phase of Freudian theory. Inhibitions are undertaken by the ego to avoid conflict with the id or the superego. The ego is the seat of anxiety. It has the task of warding off internal and external dangers. It wards off instinctual process and its concomitant psychical representatives.

But if the ego succeeds in protecting itself from the dangerous erotic or aggres­sive instinctual impulses, by the process of repression, it inhibits and damages part of the id and gives it some degree of independance. The id becomes increasingly a sepa­rate dynamic entity or force. The ego by renouncing sovereignty is depleted. To avoid trauma, the ego surrenders its integrative capacities. The ego and the id become increasingly differentiated with the id subject to repression.

Fairbairn argues that the concept of dynamic structure is incompatible with this Freudian conception of

"a) the id as a reservoir of instinctive impulses, and b) the ego as a struc­ture which develops on the surface of the id for the regulation of id-impulses in relation to outer reality; for the principle of dynamic structure can only be maintained if the ego is regarded as an original structure which is itself the source of impulse tension."(p. )

Regarding the ego, the home of the reality principle as part of the original structure

and as a source of impulse tension brings reality into the picture from the beginning.

A window to the outside world is opened from the start through which either warmth

or a chill can enter. What does enter determines whether and what type of tensions

will occur, and what psychic antibodies are created and repressed.

Fairbairn's stress on the fundemantal need for relationships also lead him to reject the Freudian theory of libidinal development via the erotogenic zones, oral, anal, phallic and genital as well as the theory of polymorphous infantile perversity. Instead he develops a theory of the vicissitudes of dependance. Development is not characterised by the maturation of psychosexual zones but rather by the maturation of different ways of relating to others. Erotogenic zones are not the primary determinant and sources of libidinal aims but rather they constitute a route or channnel to the other. There is an assumption of a natural biological progression from the mouth to the genitals as part of our evolutionary, unfolding biological endowment, but the channel may not be psychologically available due to various experiential factors.

Thus, for example, in the oral stage the mouth is emphasised as one of the pri­mary modes of relating to the other in early infancy. It is the organ of breast seeking that is part of our instinctual endowment.

"The mouth is the chief organ of desire, the chief instrument of activity, the chief medium of satisfaction and frustration, the chief channel of love and hate, and most important of all, the first means of social con­tact", (p. 10, my emphasis).

He rejects the anal and phallic stages, while his concept of mature dependance is only

akin to that of Freud in that he emphasises a capacity to establish differentiated

relationships with differentiated others, one of which should be genital.

Fairbairn too posits a developmental continuum of infantile to mature depend­ance. But this developmental continuum is structured and affected by outer reality from the beginning. A distinction is made between the natural object appropriate to a phase of development and the incorporated object that is substituted for it in psychopathological cases.

This theory has affinity with the work of Balint who argues that

"If it (the child) gets something, it becomes as it were molded, by the gratifications received — anal-sadistic, phallic and finally genital object relations have not a biological but a cultural basis ".(Balint, 1936 p. 80.)

3 The pleasure principle.

Consistent with and arising from his general structure Fairbairn also rejects, or rather has a different interpretation of the pleasure principle so funde?mental in Freudian theory. For Freud pleasure seeking, the striving for a release of the tensions arising from internal psychic apparatus connected with sexuality in its broadest sense, is an instinctual goal.

For Fairbairn the ultimate goal of the instinctual drives or impulses is not dis­charge, or the reduction of bodily tension experienced as pleasure. The disposal of impulses is essentially a problem of object relationships, which cannot be considered apart from ego-structures, since it is only ego-structures that can seek relationships with objects. Libido, for Fairbairn, is inherently object-seeking rather than pleasure seeking. But libido is not some hypothetical construct providing a pseudo-reified explanation of the motivation inferred to determine human behaviour.

"it is the individual in his libidinal capacity (and not libido) that is object-seeking." (in Guntrip.1961p.305. Personality Structure and Human Inter­action; the Developing Synthesis of Psychodynamic Theory. New York: Basic Books.)

He, therefore, discards Freud's hedonistic account of human behaviour with the stress on the primacy of the pleasure principle.

The reality principle, object-seeking and the aim of object relationships have primacy. But the achievement of these aims can be frustrated by environmental haz- ards. He obviously backs the old adage that we can only cope with as much reality as we can bear. It is only when we become confronted by that which we can bear no longer that the pleasure principle is invoked ^ _

"Explicit pleasure-seeking represents a deterioration of behaviour. I speak ^T/^f&^/h^L here of a Ndeterioration', rather than of a degression', of behaviour " c*w-ov%£'

because if object-seeking is primary, pleasure seeking can hardly be £iv/pax\. -) described as degressive', but is more appropriately described as partaking nlu,pie,

of the nature of deterioration." (p. 140.1946).

He does not deny that straight pleasure seeking can provide relief from libidinal ten- i^^5^^2"

sion but this tension arises from failure and frustration in object-relationships. ^ocrvveX.

"Simple tension- relieving is really a safety-valve process. It is thus, not a j J ^^j^ ^.-eeM^

means of achieving libidinal aims, but a means of mitigating the failure of _ ^^zM\ these aims."(p. 140.1946). \ n 7? Ja. . * ?rKSW-

and therefore

"the pleasure principle [is] a secondary and deteriorative (not regressive) principle of behaviour calculated to relieve tension and provide com­pensatory satisfactions, "(p. 157.1949).

^. Given, Fairbairn's view of development, the theory of infantile sexuality and

polymorphous perversity is compensatory to relational failure. Premature eroticisation

is a pathological, deteriorative development arising from the blocking of the normal

channels in establishing satisfactory contact with the other.

Phenomena, viewed as evidence of polymorophous perversity, such as exhib­itionism, sadism and masochism are understood as compensatory attempts to salvage natural emotional relationships which have broken down and "The strength of these needs varies in inverse proportion to the satisfaction of his emotional needs".(p. 175.1951).

This contrasts sharply with Freud's view that "a disposition to perversion is an original and universal disposition of the human sexual instinct" (S.E., 7, p231). In as

much as there is failure indie empajrucj^^ to her^child, the

child turns to other forms of substitutive satisfactions. Pleasure seeking, such as com­pulsive masturbation, has a compensatory function. It reduces the tensions accentuated and associated with relational failure.

In this area Fairbairn's theory, therefore, has similarities with those of Kohut and Stoller who regard sexually perverse behaviour as being consequent to failure in relationships and as being compensatory fragmentation products to regulate self-esteem.

As we shall see in more detail later Fairbairn's approach leads him to a different view of repression, perhaps the core concept of the psychoanalytic e nterprise. For him repression represents a defensive reaction on the part of the ego, not primarily against intolerably unpleasant memories (as in Freud's earlier view), or against j^^Jf^gj^ intolerably guilty impulses (as in Freud's later view), but against internalised_obj§cls^ whichappear intolerably bad to the ego.

For Fairbairn, the victim of incest resists the revival of the traumatic memory because it represents the record of a relationship with a bad object, with whom he is identified. He resists the memory not because he is guilty but because it is simply U^i^/^jz?^ bad.

"It is intolerable in the main, not because it gratifies repressed impulses, but for the same reason that a child often flies from a stranger who enters the house. It is intolerable because a bad object is always intolerable, and a relationship with a bad object can never be contemplated with equanim ity". (p. 63.1941).

For Fairbairn, the content of the repressed and the strength of the need to maintain

repression will vary in inverse proportion to the frustrations experienced in real rela- '

tionships. The difference between this view and Freud's statement that children "are

compelled to recapitulate from the history of mankind the repression of an incestuous cua^)

object-choice" (S.E., 17, p. 188) is apparent. W(^M^ (i^ll^ "^L^

4 Summary.

Let me now briefly summarise the main elements of the Fairbairnian frame­work. In a human the need for relationships with others is primary. It is not derived from an association with the process of satisfying other needs, bodily or sexual, or other impulses. This need for relationships is there from the beginning of one's exist­ence and the process of attempting to satisfy it starts from the beginning. But it takes two to make a relationship whether among adults or between the infant and his pri­mary caretaker. The process is hazardous. It can fail. But that does not eliminate the need. For Fairbairn therefore the aetiology of psychological problems, whether it is neurosis, or perversions; the Oedipus complex or arrested sexual development, is to be found in some failure in the attempt at satisfying the primary need for relationships and the defensive techniques utilised by the individual to compensate for the failure.

Chapter 3. Stages of Development.

Not to be quoted without author's permission.

For Fairbairm dependance on a relationship with others is part of our psycho-biological endowment, but there is a maturational continuum in the development of interpersonal rela­tionships, or object relations. This involves phase-appropriate concepts both in terms of the nature of the natural object and in the way we relate to these objects at each stage of develop­ment. In this chapter, I will concentrate on Fairbairn's account of human dependance.

Human dependance has three phases, which roughly overlap chronologically with some of Abrahams' maturational stages of classical object relations theory. The first stage is infantile dependance. This corresponds to Abraham's 'oral phases' of classical theory. This is divided into two phases, the first characterised by sucking, in the second biting emerges. The infant's repertoire is extended. The second stage is transitional. It is characterised by the increasing tendency to abandon the attitude of infantile dependance and an increasing tendency to adopt the attitude of mature dependance. This stage subsumes the anal phase and the early genital, so called phallic phase, of Abrahams. Finally there is mature or adult dependance which cor­responds to Abrahams 'genital phase' (p. 163.1951). During the process of healthy maturation "Infantile dependance upon the object gradually gives place to mature dependance upon the object".(p.34.1941). 1 Infantile dependence.

As Fairbairn roots the origins of psychopathology in early childhood it is essential to clarify his account of infantile dependance in some depth.

The outstanding feature of infantile dependance is its unconditional character. Because of the primary helplessness of the human infant he is dependant upon his object not only for the satisfaction of his physical needs but also his psychological ones. The infant has no choice. The mother or her substitute is the life-line. He can only accept or reject her; a choice which could present itself as a choice between life or death. 9^^€

The imperative need for the body-breast-mother is natural for the infant. It is inappropriate at this point to talk of selfishness, ruthlessness or greed. Such descriptions impose concepts that may be applicable to later stages of development, onto a stage where they have no meaning. At this stage the need for the mother is simply a matter of survival.

The infant needs not only the breast of the mother but her actual physically embodied | responsive warmth. Sucking, though a significant channel, is not the only modality by which , ' [ the infant establishes a connection with her. Like Harlow's monkeys, the human infant seeks


the comfort of the warm "terry towel" mother not the cold, metallic milk provider. The expe- \ rience of nurturant warmth is more significant than the provision of basic nutrients. The emo­tional attitude of the mother as mediated by her physical care is of primary import. Its value is not derived from her association with the pleasure provided by gratification of hunger. The / mother is more than a metaphorical good breast. The sgood' breast is a reductive metaphor for the total nurturant loving response of the mother with breast as conveyed to the infant.

The child rearing practises of Truby King with their controlled feeding and handling schedules are anathema to the Fairbairnian infant. They are not attuned to the primary needs of the infant for responsive loving contact, food or comfort.

The characteristic feature of early infantile dependance is primary identification. This is , an assumed stage when the foetus and later neonate is as yet undifferentiated from the mother. \ Self and other experience are as yet inextricably intertwined. The boundaries between self and ' the world are not yet clarified.

"In so far as identification persists after birth, the individual's object con- /

stitutes not only his world, but also himself."(p.47.) Primary identification thus represents the persistence into extra-uterine life of a relationship existing before birth. It is an attempt to conceptualise that stage where the human subject is as yet part of "an interpenetrating mix-up ".(Balint). Primary identification is therefore defined as the characteristic feature of early infantile or oral dependance. In this state there is not other, the only object is the "self" in, or as part of the other. This assumption may need reassessment in the the light of findings derived from the increasing body of research on neonates. (Stern). This reasearch seems to indicate that the self-other distinction occurs extremely early.

The Kohutian concept of a "self-object", delineating the functional role of the parent as separate but necessary for the formation and maintenance of personal embodied identity and the regulation of self-esteem might be more consistent with the empirical data. This would put more emphasis on the role of secondary identification as a crucial feature which perpetuates and blocks the transition to mature dependance. I shall return to this problem later.

From this initial undifferentiated state there is a process of a developing awareness of the other, the beginning of awareness of a boundary between a self, however yet immature and unformed and the out-there which initially is the mother.

Through the mother's attuned responsiveness and sensitive adaptation, the child grad­ually builds up an object representation that she is there and later in a more advanced stage that she is potentially there.

At this stage the Fairbairnian infant seeks unconditional loving acceptance. It must be unconditional because as yet the infant knows not how to satisfy any conditions, though as we shall see later the infant may too early and at a great cost learn the conditions of the contract.

Such sentiments are given metaphorical expression in the idealisation of the mutually adoring mother-child dyad of the Virgin with the infant Jesus. Joseph, a potential intruder to this dyadic bliss, is ideally either absent or given a minimal role. Another example of this idealisation of primary love or mutual adulation and oneness at an adult stage can be inferred fom Rodin's lyrical sculpture of two lovers. The man is supporting the woman in mid-air and gazing into her eyes. The title is "Je suis belle." Presumably the sculpture, characterises him­self and Camille Claudel. The termination of this love affair had tragic consequences for Camille, who ended her days as a paranoid derelict. She was not able to survive the abrupt termination and loss of this idyll as a separate other. 2 The transitional stage.

In the process of moving from primary identification to a relationship with a separate other the greatest need of a child is to obtain

"conclusive assurance (a) that he is genuinely loved as a person by his

parents, and (b) that his parents genuinely accept his love." (p.39, 1941)

Fairbairn always stresses both of these. The infant is not just a hungry demander of love and attention. He is also and as important a giver. The acceptance of what he gives is as important to his development and maturation as is the giving.

"It is only in so far as such assurance is forthcoming in a form sufficiently convincing to enable him to depend safely upon his real objects that he is able gradually to renounce infantile dependance without misgiving. In the absence of such assurance his relationships with his objects is fraught by too much anxiety over separation to enable him to renounce... infantile dependance; for such a renunciation would be equivalent in his eyes to forfeiting all hope of ever obtaining the satisfaction of his unsatisfied emo­tional needs. Frustration of his desire to be loved as a person and to have his love accepted is the greatest trauma that a child can experi­ence, "(p.39.1941, my emphasis). Bowlby, in discussion, once said that it was intolerable for a child under nine to accept that his parents do not love him. If we take the Fairbairnian line we could add that it may be just as intolerable to discover that one's love is not accepted, and possibly even more traumatic to dis­cover that it is not even recognised.

But to abandon infantile dependence is not easy, it " involves an abandonment of relationships based upon primary identifica­tion in favour of relationships with differentiated objects". ( ) But for the infant abandonment is death. Being sent to Coventry, difficult for any adult, is intolerable for the infant because


This constitutes the core dilemma of the transitional phase, when the child is attempti

(7 Id

to establish his separateness and autonomy as a person, a separate source of volition, l^&^y^4.

The nature of the need changes as the infant matures and becomes increasingly aware. The infant who has had a good enough experience of a physically and emotionally responsive



"psychologically speaking, identification with the object and infantile fr/dffl^pru^ dependance are but two aspects of the same phenomenon." ( ) <J^X

mother slowly begins to tolerate increasing periods of her physical absence without collapsing into either a flat lifelessness or hysterical screaming. This slow process of tolerance of physical separation of self and mother is rendered possible not only by normal maturation but by the secure base provided by a positive experience of an actually responsive mother. On the basis of establishment of the expectation of a co-operative loving mother, the infant can tolerate waiting with increasing confidence. He is beginning a successful journey to individuation. 3 Mature dependence.

For Fairbairn, mature dependance, unlike primary dependence is conditional. The mature adult though dependant on his objects, can desert them.

"If a mature individual loses an object, however important, he still has

some objects remaining. His eggs are not all in one basket. Further he has

a choice of objects and can desert one for another, "(p.47). For mature individuals, natural objects are plural. Mature relatedness implies the capacity to relate to differentiated others with the capacity to relate to at least one individual with the geni­tal organs.

For Fairbairn,

"The real significance of the genital stage lies in a maturity of object rela­tionships, and that a genital attitude is but an element in that maturity. "(p32). "The real point about the mature individual is not that the libidinal attitude is essentially genital, but that the genital attitude is essen­tially libidinal." ( )

The emotionally mature adult seeks the object through a number of channels, among which the genital channel plays an essential, but by no means exclusive, part. Therefore the acheivement of mature adult genitality is dependant on the relative resolution of the problems and vicis­situdes of infantile dependance.

Mature adult love is therefore a transformation of infantile love, not a replica.

' a

The mature adult can relinquish the relationship with an unsatisfactory object. They can let the other go. The alternative is not being sent into an intolerable wilderness. However, there are limits. Being sent to Coventry still presents a hazard.

The implication of this thesis is that for the route to mature dependance to be open, the maintenance of personal identity must no longer rest exclusively or predominantly upon a ^ " single other as in the early infant-mother dyad. 4 The separation-individuation process.

The process of development from infantile dependence with primary identification to mature adult genital dependence is a separation-individuation process involving a necessary transition from unconditional to conditional dependance. This process for the human subject entails the capacity to differentiate between self and others. An alternative other is required for the feasiblity of well grounded tolerable differentiation of self and other to occur. Others exist in external reality. The individual has to come to terms with them as separate cores of initia­tive, who may or may not respond to his needs.

But at each stage of the developmental process the path to separation and individuation can be blocked and distorted. The possibility of a choice of objects is a pre-requisite for the possibility of choosing an object.

There are two requirements for a successful separation and individuation process. First, J / the ability to slowly give up the dependence on the objects of the infantile and transitional^' , j stages of development. Second, the permission to give them up, to break the dyadic relation- J J ship established in the early stages. Permission is required at this stage because the need is still' / powerful, the fear of loss and abandonment still there, the self yet unformed and unprepared to J stand alone.

However, because of the absolute dependance of the human infant in reality, separation ^ anxiety or fear of loss of the representation of the mother as a good object constitutes intolerable trauma. The extent of the degree of the encapsulating identification is a reflection of a compulsive need. Compulsion is the hallmark of the persistent unmet, unrelinquished


J) <J^

underlying infantile, addictive need. This toxic dependance needs to be abandoned for "the gradual adoption of an object relationship based upon differentiation of the object, "(p.34.)

Emergent separateness as a differentiated person can be based on the purely rejective, reactive basis of the "No", the core of self assertion by differentiation. But this emergent indi­viduated voice can be jeopardised by fear of rejection. Self assertion then can become permeated by fears of abandonment. This toxic dependance can also be strengthened by the vulnerability of the actual other. The child sometimes needs to protect and preserve the mother to preserve himself.

Identification for Fairbairn, "essentially represents a failure to differentiate the object ".(p. 42) but perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as a failure to differentiate the self. Such a failure can lead to feelings of intolerable impotence, rage, need and futility. Individuation, which entails the owning of experience in relation to the other can also be denied and repressed by a process of secondary identification. The conscious self submits to the presumed tolerance and values of the other. This solution masks the intolerable impotence and destructive rage in a situation where there is no-one to turn to.

The child attempting to repudiate infantile submissive dependance on the temporarily unco-operative and therefore Nbad' mother can sometimes turn to the father, or a surrogate i$^~benign aunt or uncle. He can afford to see his mother as frustrating and vbad'. He can reject her for at least a period of time. The chosen, emotionally available other functions as a safe object mitigating the dyadic relationship with the mother when she seems too malign and unyielding. He is no longer in a position of monopoly dependance. On the basis of this experi­ence, he or she can defy her proscriptions and risk the expression of a differentiated separate self outside her confines.

Emotionally the child is establishing bridges to others. But this requires receptive avail­able others. In the course of normal development, there are other worlds. Other alternatives slowly emerge, for example beloved school teachers enable developmental pathways which lead to increasing separation and individuation. The constaining circle of parental acceptance is gradually mitigated and expanded.

But the closest other substitute for the child may not be available. The father may be too absent or too rejective to provide an alternative for the child. Moreover, this process of finding others can be jeopardised by the mother who cannot tolerate her child loving another. The mother cannot tolerate the loss of the dyadic relationship. She may withhold the necessary permission for separation. The child's capacity to establish and find others can be jeopardised by his awareness of her need to stay centre stage. The mother's incapacity to mourn the sepa­ration entailed by the dawning independance of her child blocks the separateness of the child. This is evidenced by some mothers who cannot accept the child's relationship with the father, and later take the child's developing outwardly directed sexuality as rejection. This is often found with male patients who had been aware of their mother's jealous undermining of their early interest in girls. Again fear of rejective abandonment permeated their emergent sexuality but unfortunately this fear of abandonment merely intensifies the need for the mother.

Due aknowledgement of the limits of the parents may mean recognition of such failures in empathy that there is little possibility for mutually rewarding shared experience. But for the infant, given his primary need for responsive loving contact, such a recognition creates an intolerable annihilatory anguish. Such a recognition must be prevented and avoided for sur­vival. Defensive structures must be erected. And we move into the world of pathology. 5 Summary.

Fairbairn's developmental theory represents a journey from primary identification to mature separation and individuation. At each stage of this process there is a phase-appropriate natural object, and a phase appropriate relationship to this object. Moving from one phase to another involves the abandoning of an object, or a particular way of relating to the object and substituting for it the next appropriate object or relationship.

Each stage of this process from primary identification to a mature object relationship can be rendered traumatic by frustration leading to an inability to negotiate the next steps in the process. Defensive structures are developed to cope with any such traumas.



Chapter 4.

Defence: the reconstruction of the inner world*.

Eleanore Armstrong-Perlman

Not to be quoted without author's permission.

In the last chapter I outlined Fairbairn's view of the developmental process. The emergent self, sensual, sentient and reality oriented moves from primary identification to mature dependence. This journey, if successfully completed will achieve separation and individuation, the becoming of a mature self. But this process can be blocked, distorted and stunted. Then pathology develops. It is at the earliest stages of the developmental process that we must seek the roots of pathology. Moreover, according to Fairbairn it is at these early stages that the psychic structures, that play such a crucial role in his theories develop, or possibly more appropriately are constructed.

In this chapter I will elaborate Fairbairn's account of how the primacy of the need to maintain a satisfactory relationship with the mother combined with the need to sepa­rate from the mother affects the development of psychic structures, how these structures are constructed, the purpose they serve and their effects on later development.

1 The need to relate and separate.

Like Freud, Fairbairn traces back ."all (the) preconditions for loving" to infancy. The earliest contact with the mother is sensual, an erotic embodied relationship. This sensual conjunction of two bodies can alternate between passionate excitement, raging frustration, withdrawal from intrusion, taking for granted and the beatitude of the con­tented sleepy suckling. Being held by her can assuage distress. She is the primary object of comfort and solace. But as important she is the primary object of his love. She is the gateway through which the infant enters the world.

The role of this early physical responsiveness at the earliest stages is emphasised by


"The most basic physical language of love is both performed and learned by the fourth and fifth month of life."( ).

This love is not simply beatific and tranquil. Passion, in the sense of excitement is also

there. Contours are being established. Stern writes of the excitation envelopes that will

one day be filled with sensual (sexual) content.

There are two requirements for a successful transition from the state of primary identification, a state of a merged self-other, to mature dependence, a state of a separate self-other. The first, is the possibility to slowly explore the world that lies outside the initial primary other to whom one has been attached: The second is the slow acquisition of confidence in one's ability to be effective in one's encounters.

Fairbairn assumes that there is an innate developmental tendency, part of our

biological inheritance, to be able to tolerate increasing separation without undue anxiety

if the infant's needs for closeness with the body of the mother are met.

"In a state of nature it would be rare for the infant to be deprived of the shelter of his mother's arms and of ready access to her breast until, in the ordinary course of development, he himself became increasingly disposed to dispense with them".(p.110.1944.)

Satisfaction of this primary need for embodied contact enables increasingly confi­dent exploration of the external world. Security provides the basis for toleration of actual physical separation. But this security needs to be grounded on the well-founded expecta­tion of the continuous acceptant responsiveness of the mother or her substitute when called upon. Such attuned responsiveness to the needs of the infant is the necessary matrix for the emergence of a confident, spontaneous, vigorous embodied self.

For the infant to confidently explore the frightening maze which is the world out there, the mother, like Ariadne must provide the appropriate thread. Loose enough to give scope for exploration, strong enough to be secure that one can return to safety.

Such a potential haven provides the basis of hope. The world is not an alien place, nor is he alienated from the world. In states of tension the infant can conjure up the image of the responsive mother. He has someone to turn to. This expectation preserves hope. The other, though not there is available, though not yet. Absence is not equivalent to the loss of the mother's love. He is not abandoned. Waiting is finite. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Continuous breaches of the primary need for the responsive acceptance of the mother can stifle the infant's ability to explore, to wander and thus begin the necessary process of separation. Continuous breaches if too traumatic can stunt the the emergent self.

If the mother is not there for the infant, he is deserted. But as she initially con­stitutes the infant's world, he is in a desert without sight or hope for an oasis. This con­stitutes the conditions of trauma. The cohesion and even the very existence of the self is jeopardised by cumulative trauma, an experience that by definition cannot be assimilated.

The controlled feeding regime, lauded by Truby King is anathema to the Fair-bairnian infant. Being reality adapted, if the timing schedules are strictly applied, the infant will comply. The screaming is pointless. The cry becomes stifled by exhaustion. This can lead to a loss of an expectation of the responsive mother. The light at the end of the tunnel is lost. Waiting may then constitute a black hole of despair and desolation with no hope of a responsive other to relieve the intolerable tension. The infant loses the image of a loving mother that can be conjured up, or hallucinated to relieve the distress caused by severe frustration and the resulting fear of the out-there.

If the infant has experienced multiple separations or excessive frustration, his tolerance of separation is merely controlled and inhibited rather than slowly modified. The current of fraught unmet infantile dependance continues to persist, a persistent sub­strata that has the capacity to undermine later development. However far they move in the journey of self-discovery they are still clinging and afraid of separation.

To Bowlby the physical absence of the mother means the loss of the love of the mother. This is equivalent to the loss of the mother which constitutes psychic annihilatiion. This can be experienced as death of the other. But this contact can also be broken for the infant who feels unheld. The present mother is absent. She is not available to the child. For the child she has died.

2 Separation anxiety in case work.

Separation anxiety can reappear in therapy particularly when a strong transference has been established. The therapist acquires the image of the mother who was not there, who did not provide the safe base for a confident exploration of the world into which one must enter.

A patient's mother had stopped a Truby King regime when the patient was three months old. She had not enjoyed breast feeding. The patient's chronic afternoon crying stopped. She was told that her grandmother who had come to visit had remarked that she had seen little of the infant. She remembered that when she was about three she had been running to greet her mother after a holiday with the grandmother. Instead of being greeted with a smile or a loving embrace, she had experienced her mother's response as cross and non responsive. She resolved never to express her love again.

This patient experienced my weekend breaks as agony, she thought of an image in a war film when a body lying on the ground was turned over; his guts were spilling out but it was not a death but a divorce. She was tormented by fantasies of me lyrically gazing into the eyes of my putative son. She had phoned in a state of need. My husband had answered the phone that week end but the line had gone dead. It was hopeless and she had not phoned back. I had said she could ring me as she was very afraid of losing the connection. Earlier she had left a distressed message on my ansaphone. I had left a response on her ansaphone just saying I was making connection and she could ring me back. She had stopped crying with her actual mother who had stopped loving her and had loved the preferred, idealised sister. She had cut off from her mother but she had gone on to love a female school teacher. Losing and finding and relosing me in the trans­ference was too painful.

To this patient, the loss of connection with me was akin to a death blow. The sig­nificance of other people in her life had dwindled, emotional reality was in the therapy. Only the "mother" could provide the secure base. Separation meant the death of the mother and with it all hope for a secure base. I interpreted that at the present regressed phase, friends were temporarily as significant as faces seen from the confines of the pram. I was the rejective mother who did not want her. There was a wish to kill me so that the continuous agony of finding only to lose again could end. Separation was a severing, a non comprehensible divorce. She was picked up only to be put down. This was before a vacation.

3 The developing self: giving and accepting.

Though many psychoanalytic theories stress the importance of the mother's response to the infant's needs and wants, for Fairbairn this represents only one aspect of the intricate relationship between mother and infant. The infant is not just a greedy taker, a receiver of comfort. Just as important the developing infant is also a giver and one of the important needs is to have the giving recognised and accepted.

Fairbairn emphasises the destructive effects of the failed response to the child's

early attempts at giving.

"It also becomes a dangerous procedure for the child to express his libidinal need, i.e. his nascent love, of his mother in face of rejection at her hands: for it is equi­valent to discharging his love into an emotional vacuum. Such a discharge is accompanied by an affective experience which is singularly devastating. In the older child this experience is one of intense humiliation over the depreciation of his love, which seems to be involved. At a somewhat deeper level (or at an earlier stage) the experience is one of shame over the display of needs that are disregarded or belittled. In virtue of these experiences of humiliation and shame he feels reduced to a state of worthlessness, destitution or beggardom. His sense of his own value is threatened; and he feels bad in the sense of "inferior'. The intensity of these experiences is, of course, proportionate to the intensity of his need; and intensity of need itself increases his sense of badness by contributing to it the qual­ity of "demanding too much'. At the same time his sense of badness is further complicated by the sense of utter impotence which he also experiences. At a still deeper level (or at a still earlier stage) the child's experience is one of, so to speak, exploding ineffectively and being completely emptied of libido. It is thus an expe­rience of disintegration and of imminent psychical death, "(p. 113.1944).

The child's expression of his emotional needs is affected by the maladaptive

response. If the response is too severely out of tune with the infant, embodied,

spontaneous expression is fraught with hazard. The emergence of impotence and shame

at the conscious level are given significance as later factors that compromise and inhibit

spontaneous expression. By controlling the embodied expression of his emotional and

physical needs, the infant limits the risk of further exposure to the futility of his efforts.

Dawning futility and hopelessness can render him desperate and despairing.

Experience during this crucial period affects the capacity to love. To love is to give. One is only secure in attempting to give if one has experience of the gift being accepted.

Given the absolute dependance on the mother for the satisfaction of emotional need, the infant is exposed to impotent helplessness. But there is no one else to turn to. So the infant does not desist but keeps trying to engage the mother, but if she fails to respond too often, the infant has also failed. He has become impotent. The love of the other has failed to nourish and reaffirm the potency of the nascent self. His sense of his own value is diminished rather than enriched. This can lead to a sense of worthlessness and inferiority. If repeated too often, the rejective response can engender futility, and the annihilation of the expressive self.

Also by controlling the embodied expression of his emotional and physical needs, the infant limits the risk of further experience of disappointment and rejection.

The afore-mentioned female patient entered therapy feeling body dead. Later she said she felt I could cope with her despair and her rage but could I cope with the intensity of her love. She wanted to lie naked with me, skin to skin or or to get back inside me. She spontaneously realised that was wanting to be enveloped by me. There was another fantasy of wearing a dildo but that was experienced as aggressive. She was afraid I would dismiss her love as idealisation. This would be equivalent to the chorus of three hundred singers in Mozart's requiem standing up to sing but I would walk out of the room. I would not be able to tolerate her symphony only her tremolo. I said how my silence was like exploding into a void. The session moved to her experience of herself as disgusting. This was associated with mess and disgusting body fluids. She wondered if this was related to her problems with orgasm, orgasm was an explosion into nothingness. She needed to look at me, to continuously check whether I was embarassed or disgusted.

To summarise: For Fairbairn frustration of the infant's desire

"to be loved as a person and to have his love accepted is the greatest trauma that a child can experience, "(p.39.1941).

Being subject to such trauma is intolerable. Moreover, any expression by the infant of the unmet need heralds the danger of the repetition of trauma, but the trauma has already happened. The trauma is a situation of primitive agony that we can perhaps only access by metaphor with the adult patient. Some patients produce images of intolerable howling in the desert, or of volcanoes of feeling sweeping away everything in its path; but then the predicament is that of an adult, capable of symbolic representation.

How is the infant to cope with the danger? His mother is his lifeline. Given his unconditional need he cannot reject her, yet she seems to be rejecting him. How is the infant to cope with the threat of being subjected to such potential trauma? Flight from the mother in external reality is impossible, so the flight is internal; a flight from a holistic integrated impression of the mother and a holistic integrated experience of the self. Fair­bairn concentrates on the techniques utilised by the infant to render the intolerable tolerable. His thesis is that the roots of all later psychopathology are to be found in the strategies adopted to render an intolerable situation tolerable.

4 Defensive techniques and the creation of psychic structures.

Fairbairn considers three stages in the process of building a defensive structure to protect the infant from the intolerable threat of trauma: internalisation, splitting and repression. Before considering these in detail it is necessary to have a good grasp of the concept of an internal object derived from a process of internalisation.

An internal object is a representation of an outside object, or some aspect of the

outside object. However, unlike the kind of representation involved in a thought, a

memory, or an image the representation produced by the process of internalisation is

much more substantial and significant. The internal object is a structure

"with which the ego ... has a relationship comparable to a relationship with a per­son in external life." (1994, p. 112)

Moreover, this relationship can and often to succeed must be able to overwhelm the rela­tionship in external life. As we shall see it is a substitute created by the psyche exactly for this purpose. I now turn to the development of the defensive structures.

1 Internalisation.

The first step taken to avoid the intolerable situation of being confronted by the ambivalent response (or the lack of an appropriate response from the mother is inter­nalisation.

"With a view to controlling the unsatisfying object, he employs the defensive process of internalisation to remove it from outer reality, where it eludes his con­trol, to the sphere of inner reality, where it offers prospects of being more amenable to control in the role of internal object, "(p. 172.1951).

The child internalises the pre-ambivalent object which is in some measure both satisfying and unsatisfying, (p. 178.) It is clear from Fairbairn that what is internalised at this stage is thef relationship with the whole object, in this case the mother with all her con­tradictory and confusing features.

Fairbairn stresses the defensive use of internalisation. A defence always has a pro­tective function. The protective function of internalisation in this case is to preserve the external image of his mother as a safe person that the infant can safely turn to in external

reality. The relationship with^bas/mternai object constitutes a separate constellation in the mind) a~r^la&Qnslwp~be^eei^fee=eg^^ But the inter-

infinitely frustrating,' (his gives rise to rage and hatred, ifc^aeee^alejd. But as

nalised mother is still desired and still frustrates. She tantalises and is thus exciting but in as much as she frustrates she is rejecting. If the mother is too frustrating, given his absolute need of her, she becomes infinitely desirable but at the same time she is

;s rise to rejective anger. Not onl is desire rejective d. But as the mother constitutes the conditions of hope, an acceptable representation of an accepting mother is essential for the maintenance of theself. So this first method of protection does not solve the problem, boeame the main body of the object is internalised, and

"both the over-exciting and the over-frustrating elements in the internal (ambivalent) object are unacceptable to the original ego."(p. 135.1944).

The ego is confronted with the internalised ambivalent object, still the alluring all bounti­ful source of goodness and the depriving punitive witholder. This duality of aspects

"constitutes as great a difficulty in the inner world as that formerly constituted by the ambivalence of objects in the outer world".(p. ).

The danger of loss has merely been transferred to an internal theatre.

2 Splitting.

The next step in the process of developing a defensive structure is to cope with the internalised object. This is done by the process of splitting.

The internalised whole object is split into a good and a bad object and the latter is split into the two parts which when combined produce the condition for trauma, the exciting and rejective aspects. The over-exciting and over frustrating elements of the internal object are split off, leaving the nucleus of the original object shorn of its xbad' features as a desexualised, idealised object with which the ego may be able to cope more easily as a substitute for the external object.

But this poses yet another problem. For Fairbairn as for Freud the ego is the mediator between the inner psychic world and the world of outer reality. The whole pur- pose of the defensive structure now being constructed by the infant is exactly to cope with an outside world that has become intolerable. If the ego heeemes attached to all the internal objects constructed by the process of splitting it would still be confronted by all the dilemmas and frustrations encountered when confronting the whole unsplit inter- nalised object. The inner world would fita^/still JISTmirror the outer and could not affect the relationships there. ,

To resolve this problem Fairbairn argues that besides the splitting of the inter­nalised object there is also a splitting of the ego into three parts, corresponding to the three aspects of the split object. He calls these the central ego, the libidinal ego and the anti-libidinal ego. Each of these becomes libidinally attached to one of the internal objects. The central ego, which is also that aspect of the ego which mediates between the inner and outer world, becomes libidinally/ attached to the idealised object which has been shorn of all its bad elements. The libidinal ego becomes attached to the exciting object and the antilibidinal ego to the rejective object. These sub-selves with their respec­tive objects then constitute separate dynamic structures of volition. They are constella­tions characterised by differing affects. They are dynamic structures of a self that has split in relation to the splitting of the internalised object.

Now that the central ego is attached to the idealised object it can externalise this idealised object onto the original object in outer reality converting it also into a good object. If this process could be maintained the defensive structure would be complete and successful. The infant's relationship with the outside object could also be maintained as good via the mediation of the central ego's attachment to the internal good object. But this structure is constantly under threat. For it to function successfully the central ego must be protected from being polluted and innundated by those elements that have been split off.

3 Repression.

For Fairbairn repression is the mechanism used by the central ego to maintain its

libidinal attachment to the ideal object and thus maintain the external object as good. To

avoid the remerging of the split off objects with the good object, the central ego

represses the split parts of itself, the libidinal and antilibidinal egos,which are attached to

the exciting and rejecting objects.

"Repression is primarily exercised, not against impulses which have come to appear painful or "bad'(as in Freud's final view) or even against painful memories (as in Freud's earlier view), but against internalised objects which have come to be treated as bad. — but also as against parts of the "ego' which seek relation­ships with these internal objects, "(p.89).

By repressing those parts of the ego that have been split off and have become attached to

the split off bad objects, the central ego is repressing the objects themselves. Repression

is a defence against relationships with bad object. This is necessary because only by this

means can the central ego maintain its link between the internal good object, created by

splitting^and the external object,and thus facilitate an acceptable, or at least survivable

relationship with the external object.

5 A diagrammatic representation.

Some readers might find a diagrammatic representation of the processes involved helpful. This is done in figure 1. The steps (a)-(e) show the process from primary identi­fication to the creation of the repressed endopsychic structure.

Step (a) represents a non-differentiated state of self-other. The self experience is as yet permeated and suffused by the other. In step (b) the self and the other separate. The ego emerges and a relationship with the other is not only possible but, given the state of the infant's helplessness, necessary and vital for survival. It is at this stage that the rela­tionship with the other can become traumatic. If this threatens, the defence structures begin to develop. In step (c) internalisation occurs. The external object is internalised and an internal object is created. But a libidinal attachment with this internal object does not resolve the problem. The internal object is just a representation of the external object with all its frustrating and exciting features. The next step (d) is to split the internal object into a good object and a bad object. In step (e) the splitting process is completed. The bad object, split off from the good object is in turn split into its exciting element (EO) and its rejecting element (RO). At the same time the ego is also split into three parts; the central ego (CE), the libidinal ego (LE) and the antilibidinal ego (ALE). Each of these becomes libidinally attached to one of the internal objects. The central ego attaches to the good or idealised object. It is through this attachment that the central ego can relate to the external object and maintain it as acceptable by externalising its attach­ment to the internal good object.

The arrows in step (e) show the necessary process of repression to maintain the defensive structure. The central ego represses the two split off elements of the ego and in this way represses the relationships with the bad objects.1 This ensures that only the rela­tionship with the good object is externalised onto the external object.

1 Fairbairn also argues that the antilibidinal ego also represses the libidinal ego, that is why there is a "repression" arrow here. This is not however crucial for the analysis.

One final point must be stressed. The process of internalisation, splitting and repression is continuous. These processes may serve as a defensive structure for the infant but they do not change the reality of the continuing relationship with the prob­lematic external other. As new potentially traumatic interactions occur the process of internalisation, splitting and repression must be and is repeated to maintain the libidinal attachment of the central ego to the continuously created idealised object. This permits the central ego to maintain the outside other as good in spite of the actual interaction.

If the repression is successful the interaction can be maintained in a dynamic equi­librium. But this is a fragile situation. The dynamic equilibrium can be easily disturbed either by a failure of repression or by an increase in the traumatic input that must be repressed.

Figure 1



Primary identification






Internalization Repression

Libidinal attachment External ization

^ rCil r






6 °e<lipal 7w

^4 ^ jfft y»

at* - ^sW",

"It is in the setting of the child's relationship to his mother that the basic endopsychic situation is established, that the differentiation of endopsychic structure is accomplished and that repression is originated; and it is only after these developments have occurred that the child is called upon to meet the particular difficulties which attend the Oedipus situation. So far from furnishingyun explanatory concept, therefore, the Oedipus situa­tion is rather a phenomenon to be explained in terms of an endopsychic situation which has already developed, "(p. 121, my emphasis).

The stressed sentence reveals the fundamental difference between Freud's and Fair­bairn's theories of the Oedipal situation.

In this chapter, I will elaborate the implication of Fairbairn's account of repres­sion for his analysis of the Oedipal situation. To understand the major break with Freud in this analysis it will be useful to first briefly remind the reader of Freud's use of Oedipus. 1 Freud's Oedipus.

Freud postulated the Oedipus Complex as an universal phenomenon rooted in our ancestry and transmitted via a Lamarckian evolutionary structure. "Every new arrival on this planet is faced with the task of mastering the Oedipus complex" (1920 S.E., 7, 226 n.l.). According to Freudjchildren

"are compelled to recapitulate from the history of mankind the repression of an incestuous object-choice". (1919e S.E., 17:188)

The Freudian Oedipal mise-en-scene presents us with the mother as the exciting object

of infantile sexuality and the father as the rejective-rejected castrating persecutor.

More crucially, the reason why the mother is the exciting object of infantile sexuality

is itself rooted in our ancestry. We are born condemned to carry incestuous wishes

and confront the consequences.

For the purpose of explanation of psychic phenomena the Oedipus complex is a

primary cause. It is itself not a subject for psychoanalytic explanation. Rather it is

something to be used for explaining other psychic phenomena. Freud used the

Oedipus complex to explain the most basic concept in all psychoanalytic theories, namely repression.

According to Freud repression originates as a means of suppressing the express­ion of libidinal incestuous wishes for one parent and aggressive parenticidal impulses towards the parent of the same sex in the triangular situation. The fear of castration is a projection of the child's rivalrous hostility onto the father. In the case of Little Hans, Hans has to repress his overexcited fantasies of his mother and his aggression towards his father seen as a vengeful terrifying castrator, a persecutor. Repression is necessary to preserve the affectionate relationship with the father. 2 Fairbairn's Oedipus.

For Fairbairn the Oedipal phenomenon arises after repression has already occurred. It i^, the result of, rather than the cause of repression. As we saw in the last -chapter repression is rooted in the beginning of our individual story, the need for the body of the mother. It originates in the maternal dyad, alienating the central ego from both the strength of the desire and the overwhelming need for the body of the mother and the strerr^t~ef the fear of her as a potential annihilator if that need is expressed. Repression reduces the expression of both the libidinal and aggressive impulses of the infant to the mother, when she is the principle source of emotional life, succour and solace.

Before the emergence of the castrating father there is the primitive terror of the annihilatory mother, which eradicates her as a tangible source of loving comfort. The tri-partite division of the self is already established before the infant encounters the father as an object of emotional significance.

The Oedipal situation is thus no longer the explanatory variable for the origin of repression. It itself needs explanation. It is no longer the primary cause, the axiom from which other theorems are developed.

Let me now turn to the father. What is his role in that struggle for separation and individuation? As we saw before, in Fairbairnian theory the infant is object seek­ing from the start. The father is potentially a relational object. The Oedipal relation­ship is to be found and explained in the development of this potential.

The father is initially the person who lacks. He has a handicap. He is the parent

without breasts. Fairbairn argues that it is doubtful that the infant appreciates the

genital difference. The infant does not recognise the presence of the penis, but can be

affected by the lack of breast. It is after all via the breast that he is initially introduced

to objects. Therefore, in the early stages, the relationship with the father

"has to be made upon an almost exclusively emotional plane — feeding at the breast is necessarily precluded from his relationship with his father. Indeed it is chiefly as a parent without breasts that the child would appear to regard his father in the first instance."(p. 174.1951).

The lack of breast limits the father when it comes to comfort sucking.

By arguing that the relationship with the father is experienced primarily at the

emotional level, rather than also the tactile and bodily level Fairbairn is perhaps in

danger of underestimating the alive .physical ity possible in the child's relationship with the father. Perhaps hiis desenptioft4s a generalisation based on the extrapolation from his own somewhat distant Scottish father who took a mkiimal role in child care, (see Sutherland), and a possible generalization from a .not uncommon British type of

father- child relationship. J-t isT-^er^liT-j^4jneommon-^or piir psychoanalytic theories ti> be affected by our own experiences and the culture in which they are


Be that as it may, as the child develops, the father has more to offer. Or as the Oedipal triangular situation develops in outer reality, the child's repertoire for related-ness expands. The child is confronted with two distinct parental objects. In the course of development, the father's initial handicap of being breastless diminishes. He offers

an alternative source of parental emotional responsiveness, and a separate relational opportunity. The child can establish a separate pattern of relationship with his father.

The attachment literature generated by the work of Bowlby and M. Main provides empirical evidence for separate patterns of attachment to the father and the mother. For example, the child can be anxious-avoidant with the mother and ambivalently attached to the father, or vice-versa. But the pattern established with the mother tends to dominate the future relatedness of the child to both the mother and the father. This gives some empirical corroboration for the aetiological significance of the initial relationship with the mother affecting the child's later capacity for establishing secure attachments.

With increasing awareness, the child becomes confronted by the marital rela­tionship of the parental couple. The situation becomes even more complex when /the' child becomes aware of the father's access to the body and attention of the mother.

T — 5 V '

> She is no longer his or her posession. Dyads become triads. Joseph is intruding upon the-dyad. The infant has a rival for the mother's favours. The infant has to cope with sharing. He now faces a world where his significance which is dependant on the other is diminished. The child becomes aware that there is a rival for the mother's affec­tions. This can threaten the child's image of the mother as a loving other. She is no longer his or her exclusive possession. Jealousy emerges. The presence of the other can signify loss of the mother.

Moreover, the mother is also a rival for his father's affection. The infant has a minimal place in the marital bed. The child has to cope with exclusion and with envy of the marital couple. This can lead to sadistic conceptions of the primal scene. But for Fairbairn, such envy and jealousy are determined

"not only by the biological sex of the child, but also by the state of his emotional relationships with his respective parents, "(p. 175.1951).

Jealousy and envy are not primary instinctual phenomena. They are related to, exaccerbated and intensified by the intensity of the child's need and his fear of rejection. Separation anxiety exaccerbates both the need and the hostility.

The corollary is that jealousy and envy and the Oedipal dilemma are modified by the child's sense of being loved for himself and having his love accepted by both parents. The child needs reassurance of his value. He needs a secure place in relation to the marital couple to enable him to tolerate and integrate the loss of the dyad, otherwise repressed ambivalence persists. Oedipus after all was abandoned., but not ^ everyone is abandoneaVso the position from which they are able to leave the dyad and join the trinity is very different. Fairnbairn assumes a natural tendency to separate and to tolerate increasing separation. Therefore, given optimal conditions the child slowly weans himself from the imperative need for the maternal body. 3 The creation of the Oedipal triangle.

What happens if the relationship with the father is too frustrating and echos the previous relationship with the mother? The child again encounters the same vicis­situdes of need, frustration and rejection. The original situation is reinstated with a fresh object. There are similar problems of adjustment so he uses the same techniques as before, internalisation and splitting.

There is a new separaB internalisation of the father, with the problems of the need for a loving father to be safely loved, the over-excited intensified need and the rejective hatred of the rejecting frustrating father. The tri-partite splitting of the object neatly solves the relational problem by the compartmentalisation of these relationships yet again. Underneath the cover of the conscious acceptable relationship of the central self relating to the ideal object, the over excited libidinal ego is now attached to the father as an exciting object, while the anti-1 ibidinal ego becomes the rejected castrator. The child now has to adjust to two ambivalent relationships at the same time, neither offering the possibility of a secure attachment.

However, being insecurely attached to both parents, puts further strains on the


"The child finds it intolerable enough to be called upon to deal with a single ambivalent object; but when he is called upon to deal with two, he finds it still more intolerable."

This confrontation with two exciting and rejecting objects is simplified by

"converting it into one in which he will only be confronted with a single exciting object and a single rejecting object; and he acheives this aim, with of course, a varying measure of success; by concentrating upon the exciting aspect of one parent and the rejecting aspect of the other. He thus, for all practical purposes, comes to equate one parental object with the exciting object, and the other with the rejecting object; and by so doing the child constitutes the Oedipus situation for himself, (p. 124, my emphasis).

For Freud, the father whose love the child craves is the primary object of the child's ambivalence. Although he aknowledges the existence of the child's tender and sadistic feelings for his mother, the role of ambivalence to the mother is not given structural significance. The need to maintain a loving relationship with the father is enabled by the construction of the superego, an internalised object affecting psychic structure. The child represses his sexual feelings for his mother on the basis of identi­fication with the construction of the rejective father. This castrating relationship is also repressed to maintain the conditions of safety with the father.

In the Freudian version, the mother is the exciting object, the father the rejective persecutor. For Fairbairn, the too unresponsive mother has a ^j^f aspects both exciting and rejective. l^v^iu ca i~t ^jj^jf^' ''

The Oedipal situation of the polarised construction of one parent as the exciting figure and the other as the rejected terrifying castrator is an internal construct. It arises from the layering and fusion of separate representations of frustration with the parents. This dichotomous polarisation of one parent as exciting and the other as rejective is a psychic simplification that

"would appear to be partly superimposed upon, and partly fused with the corresponding figures of his mother".(p. 174.1951).

However, such a polarization does not eliminate ambivalence

"Ambivalence to both parents persists, however, in the background; and at rock bottom both the exciting object and the rejecting object remain what they originally were, viz.figures of his mother ".(p. 125).

Moreover, even in fusion the maternal components predominate over the paternal

components of these structures because

"the nuclei of both the internal objects are derivatives of the original ambivalent mother and her ambivalent breasts."

The core nuclei are established in the early dyadic relationship.

According to Fairbairn, the clinical phenomena that seem to confirm the Oedipus Complex are epi-phenomena, the product of a complex process of layering and fusion, that disguise a deeper and earlier dilemma concerning the need for the body of the mother.

This aetiological thesis of the Oedipal triangle applies to both sexes.

"The biological sex of the child plays a role, but is obviously not the sole determining factor as is evidenced by inverted and mixed Oedipal situa- ^___ tions.*( )

The inverted and mix id Oedjpalsituations are determined by how the child constructs the exciting and the ^e^jrj^^bjectT^rhis will vary with the child. The same con­siderations are relevant to the cimstructigifof the positive Oedipal situation. Thus the primary need for acceptable contact can outweigh biological tendencies.

This internal situation may then be transferred to the actual external situation. The father becomes the feared persecutor while the mother is the exciting object. But the Oedipus complex is then a simplified re-allocation and simplification of underly­ing ambivalence to both parents.

Hamlet has to face exclusion when confronted with his mother's excited coup­ling with Claudius. But for Fairbairn, the Queen is the real villain of the piece. She is the exciting, fickle mother who has betrayed him by sharing her bed with Claudius.

Hamlet has no love for Claudius, who has ousted not only his father but himself from the throne of Denmark^H^fleit is so wracked by sadistic and destructive fantasies about their coupline^^t His own heterosexual coupling loses significance. The sad Ophelia, the potemial object of his genital love is urged to get herself off to a nun­nery. Poor Ophelia becomes a repudiated devalued incident, in an ambivalent life or death struggle over his obsession with the sexual activity of his mother.

Clinically, one often finds the roots of pathological jealousy in early childhood. The man is jealously guarding his insecure possession of the other-(mother); con­tinuously waiting for evidence of the fickleness of his partner to abandon him for the more exciting other. For such patients the fall from the dyad was too abrupt. They are emotionally locked into a triadic infantile insecurity.

Some female patients continuously pursue married men, again the perpetuation of a triad. Such patients often have a history of an impoverished relationship with their mother and an ambiguous but more exciting relationship with their father. The man is the exciting object of incestuous desire, the wife, the rejected rival, whose envied coupling is to be triumphed over. Repressed relationships originating in rela­tion to their own parents are continuously replayed to the detriment of their own coupling.

4 Clinical implications and case study.

Following his theory of the Oedipal situation Fairbairn argues that clinically

"The deep analysis of a positive Oedipus situation may be regarded as taking place at three main levels. At the first level the picture is dominated by the Oedipus situation itself. At the next level the picture is dominated by ambivalence towards the heterosexual parent: and at the deepest level it is dominated by ambivalence towards the mother, "(p. 124).

This is

"because the child does have the experience of a physical relationship with his mother's breast while also experiencing a varying degree of frustration in this relationship that his need for his mother persists so obstinately beneath his need for his father and all subsequent genital needs ".(p. 122).


"The nuclei of both the internal objects are derivatives of the original ambivalent mother and her ambivalent breasts. In conformity with this fact, a sufficiently deep analysis of the Oedipus situation invariably reveals that this situation is built up around the figures of an internal excit­ing mother and an internal rejecting mother, "(p. 124).

This view of the multilayered structure of the Oedipal situation has important implications for clinical practice.

On the Freudian view when one reaches the Oedipal situation in an analysis one has hit the bedrock. One can go no further. The objective is then to somehow achieve a resolution of this problem. On the Fairbairnian view when the Oedipal situation is reached one has only reached the topmost level of a complex structure. To stop there would be to miss the underlying causes and the underlying problems that have created the Oedipal structure.

A patient in his late sixties^ needed a second analysis after rejection by his fian­cee. His first analysis in the late fifties had been with a classical Freudian male psycho-analyst. The analysis of twelve year duration, ceased abruptly with the sudden death of the analyst.

He began his first analysis to seek treatment for his sexual problems. Though physically attractive, and very conscious since childhood of the bodies of the female sex, he was paralysed by fear. He could not make an overture even when there were indications of interest. His sexuality since early adolescence had been restricted to compulsive, secret masturbation in his mother's clothes. The compulsive masturbation had been intensely exciting. It had been a triumphant affirmation of his potency. However, though it both released and relieved intolerable tension, it was always fol­lowed by shame, guilt and despair. He was only too aware it was a surrogate for gen­uine intercourse. An enacted activity with a hallucinatory object, it failed to satisfy. He had risked exposure but had never been challenged. He had experienced his

Edwardian father at the conscious level as the man who had said you'll die if you play with yourself.

He and his elder brother had been unable to separate from their mother. Though middle-aged, they still lived in the maternal home.

The first analysis conducted at the Oedipal level, had enabled him to leave the maternal home. He was enabled to give up the fetishistic use of his mother's clothes during masturbation. This echoed a previous situation, he had been able to desist from the cross-dressing while in the navy during the war. He had a good war record, but on demob though offered a commission he had retreated to his mother. He had one attempt at intercourse during the analysis which neither party wished to repeat. His virtual near incapacity to reach orgasm had shamed him. However after the abrupt termination of the analysis by death, he was able to refrain from the cross dressing but the danger still lurked in conscious fantasy.

This analysis, presumably on the basis of the resolution of his ambivalence towards the castrating father, enabled him to establish a male identity strong enough

to separate from his mother. Though he had not been as fortunate as little Hans with / his actual father^he had been consciously afraid of his ragesj he was more fortunate

with his analyst. He was able to come to terms with his ambivalence for his father and build on a positive identification. Unfortunately, history repeated itself with!his\ analyst's death.

The seeming resolution of the Oedipal problem had provided symptomatic relief. He found a new life and a new profession which gave him genuine satisfaction. He developed interests and valued social contacts in a predominantly masculine milieu. This milieu was related to the elaboration and development of good experi­ence with his father. He was capable of affectionate durable friendships with men. Later, after the end of his analysis, when his mother became again dependant, he left


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her screaming in a psychiatric hospital. He knew that taking actual responsibility for her might have led to murder, psychically he was still entangled. Though his first analysis had enabled him to function at one level it had not enabled him to function at the genital level. He was aware that something was not being addressed.

He was referred to me by a male psycho-analyst who deemed him to be defend­ing against passive homosexuality. He had become aware of this assessment and denied it. He was genuinely grateful to his first analyst.

The later therapy with me was rendered necessary by a much later experience. His fiancee, a recently bereaved widow, ended a short engagement when he post­poned the marriage. He had refrained from consummating the relationship. He felt murderous fury at her offer of a platonic friendship. His potential rage must have been palpable, she had ended the relationship in the presence of her adult children.

He felt that his sexuality had been perverted from its natural course, and that underneath his instincts were normal. In the early days of the therapy, he was con­vinced that if he could only conquer his impotence, and achieve adult hetero-sexual intercourse, he would be liberated.

Initially, he presented with Oedipal elements. He consciously viewed his father's remembered admonitions on the evils of masturbation as killing. His father, an explosive man, who could brook no challenge to his authority, was experienced as the castrator. He had witnessed the early demolition of his rebellious older brother. He had been given the task of looking after his elder brother. His brother became a crusty seemingly asexual old batchelor. His mother's attempts to protect him from his father had been ineffectual. His father died of a heart attack in his bath, when the patient was a teenager. This was traumatic. He remembered the sight of his father's flaccid penis in the water. He was left ensuring the survival of his disintegrating mother without help. He felt that if his father, and later his analyst, had not died he might have been able to maintain a semblance of masculinity but the underlying prob­lem would have persisted sotto-voce.

For Fairbairn, behind the projection of the castrating father there lurks the spectre of the castrating or biting mother, a veritable vagina dentata. This man spontaneously produced images of the vagina dentata. He felt horror and disgust of female genitalia. It became clear that his sexuality was stuck at the infantile level. The path to adult genitality had been blocked by his underlying over-excited but rejective ambivalent attitude to his mother's body.

In the therapy, his mother emerged as the figure behind the killing father. She had not been able to respond to his excitement. She had been ashamed of her sexu­ality, and had hidden her pregnancy. He could only envisage his father as a rapist. He had memories of his mother's beauty as she would leave for social occasions with his father. She not his father was experienced as the person who blocked access to the mar^fil/bedroom. He had been excited by the beauty of women but he had always been denied access.

Access to her body had always been barred by her shame. His relationship with his mother was characterised by a gross lack of attunement on her part. A perfect baby who never cried, and later a perfect child, he had become attuned to her fragility. A sad woman orphaned early, from a violent background, he had born the burden of preserving her, not only from her unsupportive husband but also from him­self. As a child he knew he would never have babies as he would murder them. Dur­ing the therapy, his fantasies were captivated by the allure of unavailable women, women who out of their own complexity were closed to any man. But her actual flesh was remembered and repudiated as flaccid and flabby.

His unresolved ambivalence to the body of his mother, which had marred his relationships with women became the core issue. His tension induced by his frustra­tion with the limits of therapy became a core issue.

The level of his excitement rendered relationships with women impossible. He was aware that women actively recoiled from him. He was afraid that if he fantasised about sexuality, he would grab. His excitement had always been too strong. It was death to express and death to inhibit. He had been unable to love. The aggression and hatred of women was manifest throughout the therapy. The strength of the rejective rage was too strong. He was quite rightly afraid of murder. However, the excitement was much harder to deal with. He knew he could not let himself experience me as real, because if he risked being real everything would be destroyed. He later realised this had preserved his functioning in reality. It had prevented psychosis. I became the object in his path that had to be eliminaM^I^was acutely aware of his guilt free wish to kill me. What held him back was such an act would ruin his carreer. He was involved in the punctilious administration of the law. But he also became aware of the level of the bitterly resented infantile dependance?j/ killing me would be equivalent to killing himself.

In that session, I re-introduced the male element, by saying I took his violence seriously. I told him, I had taken the precaution of ensuring that my husband was pre­sent in the house. Later, we had to explore whether this response on my part con­firmed the transference of the ineffectual mother whom he had to protect but he aknowledged that the risk of violence had been real.

Metaphorically he experienced his mind as a tangled mess but he could not cut or find the Gordian knot. Letting his mother go internally was equivalent to killing both her and himself. He was in a state of primary identification with his hopelessly depressed^too fragile, needy mother. Seeing her as irretrievably damaged meant that he too was irretrievably damaged.

He began to feel that he was only a hysteric at heart, a screaming infant whose cry had been suppressed. He had built a wall and had never been able to occupy the

empty space behind that wall. He did not wish to encounter the distorted ghosts that

resided there.

He was at base aJiysteric.yThe conflictual ambivalent, infantile tie to the mother had merely been repressed but not dissolved. The traces of this undissolved incestuous murderous hatred to the internalised mother erupted when his fiancee was quite firm that a sexual relationship was out of the question. The affectionate current was totally lost.

Freud writes of the tender and sadistic feelings little Hans had for his mother^*

jhis man had not achieved such tenderness. He was incapable of meaningful affec­tionate contact with women.

This failure in adequate splitting and repression had blocked his access to geni­tal functioning. In external reality, before his first analysis, he fled from women. Afterwards he could demonstrate interest but with too much intensity, his overtures had aroused fear. They fled his advances^an4-ia=ene-eas^had called in a Personnel Officer. The perversion had masked an intolerable ambivalence to women as exciting but barred rejective frustrators.

The analysis with me was essentially pre-Oedipal focussed on both his absolute unconditional need and his murderous rage. His capacity for separation and individu-ation had been confined with the malign circle of the internalised mother.

His capacity for repression and splitting had not been securely established. He had not been able to establish an affectionate infantile current for his mother. She was just not acceptable to him, she had not been good enough. He was incapable even of friendship with a woman. He knew he could not love. He was stuck in the malign cir­cle.

Hamlet's regressive predicament with Gertrude was set in motion by the sudden loss of his father. This man had lost both his father and his analyst. But unlike Hamlet he inherited a mother who wished to form a couple with him. During his first analysis he had a date, for him a real achievement. His mother had thrown a hysterical fit. It became clear to him that the mother son relationship was wrong. She had told him she had never envisaged him growing up. She could not let go.

Though he left the maternal home the vice-like maternal hold was not dissolved. His genitality was totally blocked. He thought that if his father had survived he might have been able to venture forth, not just geographically but also sexually. A father might have relieved him from being the sexual male in his mother's life.

This patient and others like him, are unable to establish a sexual rapport with women. But before that they had been unable to establish a sensual, or an emotional rapport with their sexually troubled frigid mothers. Like his too needy mother, he was frigid and unable to love. He had been repelled by her need, it had been unacceptable to him. Equally, he thought he was repellant to any woman. This gave me the prob­lem of coping with my counter-transference.

For the Freudian, the eroticised need of the hysteric has a seeming genitality. h \xjh Fairbairn, conversely has a different account of the eroticisation of the frustrated per- ^^V^f ^ sistence of unmet but despairing infantile need^whierrl will attend to in the-nex-fc-- ^j^pj^M

For Freud the Oedipal situation is basic. It is part of the human condition. We C^Jy^M are born with it and must cope with it. Because of the angst it induces repress^ arises. For Fairbairn on the contrary the Oedipal situation arises after repression already occurred. It is a continuation of the process which had begun with internalisa- tion and splitting arising from the earliest encounter with the mother. The internalised Q_o splitting is externalised onto the parents. Just as the internalised good object had been ^^^/^ split into the exciting and rejecting object, when this is externalised onto the real J^tvre^ parental couple one becomes the exciting, the other the rejecting threatening object. ^J^jW/L*?.

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