More than most other personality theorists presented in this course, object relations theorists have speculated on how humans gradually come to acquire a sense of identity. Klein, along with other psychoanalysis, has built their theories on careful observations of the mother-child relationship. Klein continues to struggle to exert a strong influence on psychoanalysts and psychiatrists in the United St...
ates as it had in the Europe; however, the influence of object relations is growing in the mental health field. Objective relations theorists are the most useful to clinicians in organizing and formulating roots of dysfunctional behaviors.
It is useful in identifying communication and relational patterns between individuals and family members. It is useful to helping professionals in the treatment planning and facilitation of positive interaction to stimulate a healthy well-being of an individual and a family unit (Feist & Feist, 2008, p. 164). Klein’s theoretical contributions were based on the work of Sigmund Freud but went further and challenged many of his ideas. “Object relations” was undoubtedly, one of the major developments in psychoanalysis since Freud.
The emergence of “object relations” theories and related approaches to personality psychology refers to patterns of interpersonal functioning in intimate relationships and the cognitive
and emotional processes that mediate those patterns (John, Robins & Pervin, 2008, p. 68). Theory Object relations theory was an offspring of Freud’s instinct theory. Object relations theory places less emphasis on biologically based drives and more importance on consistent patterns of interpersonal relationships. For instance, it goes up against Freud’s paternalistic theory that emphasizes the power and control of the father.
Moreover, the object relations theory tends to be more maternal, stressing the intimacy and nurturing of the mother. In addition, the object relations theorists generally see human contact and relatedness, not sexual pleasure, as the prime motive of human behavior as in Freud’s (Feist & Feist, 2008, p. 145). Klein sought to elaborate on and extend Freud’s original theory through her observations and clinical work with children. Indeed, Klein's work as a whole is an extension of Freud’s work, but also a transformation of Freud’s original insights through her unique interpretive perspectives.
Klein’s theoretical contributions were based on the work of Freud, but went further and challenged many of his ideas. The influence of Sandor Ferenczi as well as of Karl Abraham who were member of Freud’s inner circle (Feist ; Feist, 2008, p. 144) was also important. Many other analysts have contributed aspects of what is today considered to be ‘Kleinian theory. Theorist such Margaret S. Mahler, Heinz Kohut, John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth were influence by Klein’s work with children, her concern with infant’s struggling to gain autonomy and a sense of self (John, Robins ; Pervin, 2008, p. 8).
Freud’s Objective Theory Freud believed instincts or drives have an impetus, a source, an aim, and an object, with the latter two having the
greater psychological significance. In Freud’s drive theory, underlying aim is to reduce tension: that is, to achieve pleasure. Freud believed, the object of the drive is any person, part of a person, or thing through which the aim is satisfied. Freud offered a developmental schema to account for an elemental force, sexual energy, and its transformations from earliest infancy to puberty.
This model, termed libido theory, made several important assertions about the nature of the infant’s relationship to the external world. Freud believed that the libido progresses through various stages; each involves sensual pleasures and is experienced in association with sensitive parts of the body, such as the skin, the mouth, the anus, and the genitals. Freud believed that these bodily organs, which he termed the erogenous zones, are cathected, or charged with libidinal or sexual drive energy according to a specific developmental sequence.
Freud believed that infantile emotional life begins in a state of primary narcissism, in which self is not differentiated from object and investment in libidinal objects does not occur. However, they are most usefully thought of as substitutes for the love object (mother) or the part object (maternal breast), which are not always attainable and hence are unreliable. Mature object relations, in which libido becomes available for deployment in the interpersonal realm, is in Freud’s view achieved only through autoerotism and in consequence of the progression of the libido to the oedipal phase of development.
The “object” in this model of development, it is emphasized, is originally “created by the individual,” a result of experiences of satisfaction and frustration of the expression of libidinal desire. In Freud’s libido theory, it is the object’s suitability
to the impulse that is paramount. A related assumption is that of the individual as a discrete entity, a “closed” system whose psychosexual development proceeds largely irrespective of any interpersonal context. Such a model seems to suggest that parents exercise relatively little influence over what is fundamentally an endogenously arising and sequentially unfolding developmental process.
Within such a framework, the concept of attachment as an organizing principle for infant development would be radical indeed (Brandell, 2007). Klein Influence on Psychology Klein’s influence on the course of contemporary psychoanalysis, which some have suggested, may be second only to that of Freud’s psychoanalysis. As she extended her work it gradually became clear to her that children relate to the whole world through their unconscious fantasies. With the insights of Freud’s work on dreams, Klein had found that infants saw their mothers and others through “fantasies.
Klein believed that children’s childhood fantasies were constructed from external reality modified by their own feelings, beliefs and knowledge. For instance, a child’s perception of their mother was influenced by his/her own emotional state (Segal, 2004, p. 34). Klein used the term “fantasy” for unconscious fantasies to distinguish them from conscious “phantasies” (Feist ;Feist, 2008, p. 142). Klein believed that parents’ real behaviors were important; that repressions of the child’s sexual feelings or thoughts could be caused by the child’s own sense of guilt or anxiety as well as by threats made by the parents.
She found too that a fear of thinking something could contribute to the child’s anxiety and to the child’s motivation to hide them. One of the ways of dealing with such terrifying fear was to attribute it towards a parent
figure. Klein believed that an infant’s drives (hunger, and so forth) were directed towards an object such as the mother’s breast. According to Klein, a child’s relation to their mother’s breast serves as a prototype for later relations. In contrast to Freud, who emphasized the first 4 to 6 years of life, Klein stressed that the most important years of life were the first 4 to 6 months after birth.
Klein believed that the early tendency of infants to relate to partial objects gives their experiences an unrealistic or fantasy-like quality such as those of the caregiver, which later affects interpersonal relations in childhood, adolescent and adulthood. Thus, Klein’s psychoanalytic theory of early childhood development, the role of early fantasy in infants and early formation of interpersonal relationships have speculated on the importance of a child’s early experiences with the mother (Feist ; Feist, 2008, p. 142).
Instead of thinking, ‘I mustn’t think those thoughts’ the child was convinced that the parent was saying ‘Do not think those thoughts. ’ Freud’s ideas were turned upside-down. Rather than the parents creating guilt about sexual thoughts in children who otherwise would not fear them, Klein thought this guilt could arise from the child’s own phantasies, in which the child attributed to parents thoughts, which did not necessarily belong to them at all.
Klein thought that the importance of parents’ actual behavior lay in the way it was taken by the child as confirmation or disproof of existing hantasies. Parents added new elements to children’s phantasy worlds but generally, these tended to reduce the terrifying aspect of the child’s phantasies: however well or badly parents behaved, reality was less monstrous than
the child’s phantasies (Segal, 2004). Klein, through her study of early childhood behavior, today helping professionals recognize certain difficulties in clients that might have a constitutional root, and that most disturbed clients had areas of sanity, which could be reached by analysis and could be brought into a therapeutic alliance.
Some people who had been subjected to considerable difficulties as children at a young age, through therapy could be helped and develop a healthy well-being. Yet, clients whose backgrounds are less disturbance, found this harder. Clinicians today still do not fully understand what it is that children need to enable them to develop a healthy well-being with the fewest possible emotional difficulties. Even less do we know whether parents can provide it or not.
Principles Common to Object Relations Theories
- Early interactions between infant and caretaker are the foundation of attitudes toward self and others. The infant develops characteristic interactional patterns and a repertoire of defenses and strengths.
- Problems with early object relations produce troubled adult relationships and a wide range of maladaptive personality characteristics. These early problems typically include early object loss as well as experiences with caretakers who are neglectful, intrusive, unempathic, and/or abusive.
- Clinical patients bring their characteristic patterns of interaction into therapy, where they are predictably activated in the transference.
Therapeutic change in individuals with disturbed object relations results from reparative experiences within the psychotherapy as well as clarifying interpretations. Aggression and Phantasy Since children could not give words to the abstractions underlying their behavior, Klein was forced to speculate about their meaning. The theories she devised, rich in imagery and passion, added new depth particularly to considerations of fantasy and aggression. For Sigmund
Freud drives existed by themselves; the entities to which they attached themselves became objects by definition. Klein could not accept this model nd held that drives are inherently object-directed.
Even an infant cannot experience libido without a libidinal object. She soon came to find aggression to be a more influential force than libido in childhood development. Both aggression and libido, in her view, are bound to specific objects. Further, emotions are not neurotic manifestations of drive impulses; they are inherent features of the drives themselves: libido is loving; aggression is hateful. Aggression for Klein was manifest in the child’s dominant aim to possess and control, and to destroy the objects in his or her environment.
Where Freud had formulated the Oedipal conflict as one of libidinal desire for a prohibited object, Klein saw it as a struggle for power, possession, and destruction. As in the Freudian version, a result of the struggle is the fear of retaliation. For Freud, it was jealous reprisal for possession of the mother for Klein, angry retribution by the assaulted father. Even further, since Klein saw object-directed aggression at work from birth on, she postulated the existence of a primitive Oedipal complex even in infancy. Klein’s Contribution
Klein’s most substantial contribution may have been her new formulation of fantasy. In drive psychology, fantasy was an adaptive substitute for something undesirable in the real environment. In ego psychology, it was a modality for organizing perceptions. Klein instead, viewed it as the singular substrate of all mental processes. She defined an inborn, unconscious function, whose content and images are phylogenetically inherited. Fantasy could be seen as the mental representation of drive instinct. Fantasy, Klein maintained,
was primary, and the infant was born with a densely populated object world.
- Perceptions of real persons were distorted to fit the templates of this inner world (Feist ; Feist, 2008, 194). Klein outlined the stages of development into what she called “positions,” defining Constellations of phantasy and emotion.
- The paranoid position (later called the paranoid-schizoid position) occupies the first three months of life. The infant organizes phantasies and experiences into good and bad objects. The homogeneity of these objects leaves the child vulnerable to abandonment or destruction, hence the paranoia.
- By the second quarter of the first year, the child enters he depressive position.
Klein posits that the child at this stage begins to realize that the good and bad mother are the same person, but still believes in the destructive power of his/ her own aggressive impulses. As a result, the child is fearful of the effects of his or her hostile wishes on the object of libidinal attachment. MS. GRAY directed aggressive impulses toward her mother for failing to resist and deflect her father’s cruelty. Worried that this aggression hurt her mother and the internalized representation of her mother, she is left with a predisposition to depressed feelings.
Unable to tolerate the internal consequences of this hostility, she directs it at multiple external objects, which play symbolic roles in her phantasy world. The depressive position is never fully resolved, and psychological life is a continuing pursuit of reparation for the harm done. The entire Oedipal complex is now a vehicle for undoing the effects of depressive anxiety. In less fortunate individuals, the picture is even more complicated as unresolved remnants of the paranoid position
restrict the available range of mental operations.
Since Klein’s link between drives and objects was so fundamental, it required a reformulation of the mental structures that housed them. Ego was no longer a developmental outgrowth of the conflict between aggression and libido within the id. Instead, ego was a medium for love and connection; id, for hate and destruction. Both, therefore, had to be present from birth. For Freud, the central conflict was between drive and reality. For Klein it was a war between love and hate.
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