Object relations theorists generally see human personality as a product of the early mother-child relationship. The interaction between mother and infant lays the foundation for future personality development because that early interpersonal experience serves as a prototype for subsequent interpersonal relations. Klein saw the human psyche as "unstable, fluid, constantly fending off psychotic anxieties" (Mitchell & Black, 1995, p. 87). Moreover, "each of us struggles with the deep terrors of annihilation . . . and utter abandonment" (p. 88).
Because they emphasize the mother-child relationship and view these experiences as crucial to later development, object relations theorists rate high on determinism and low on free choice.
For the same reason, these theorists can be either pessimistic or optimistic, depending of the quality of the early mother-infant relationship. If that relationship is healthy, then a child will grow into a psychologically healthy adult; if it is not, the child will acquire a pathological, self-absorbed personality.
On the dimension of causality versus teleology, object relations theory tends to be more causal. Early experiences are the primary shapers of personality. Expectations of the future play a very minor role in object relations theory.
We rate object relations theory high on unconscious determinants of behavior because most of the theorists trace the prime determinants of behavior to very early infancy, a time before verbal language. Thus, people acquire many personal traits and attitudes on a preverbal level and remain unaware of the complete nature of these traits and attitudes. In addition, Klein's acceptance of an innately acquired phylogenetic endowment places her theory even further in the direction of unconscious determinants.
The emphasis that Klein placed on the death instinct and phylogenetic endowment would seem to suggest that she saw biology as more important than environment in shaping personality. However, Klein shifted the emphasis from Freud's biologically based infantile stages to an interpersonal one. Because the intimacy and nurturing that infants receive from their mother are environmental experiences, Klein and other object relations theorists lean more toward social determinants of personality.
On the dimension of uniqueness versus similarities, object relations theorists tend more toward similarities. As clinicians dealing mostly with disturbed patients, Klein, Mahler, Kohut, and Bowlby limited their discussions to the distinction between healthy personalities and pathological ones and were little concerned with differences among psychologically healthy personalities.
• Object relations theories assume that the mother-child relationship during the first 4 or 5 months is the most critical time for personality development.
• Klein believed that an important part of any relationship is the internal psychic representations of early significant objects, such as the mother's breast or the father's penis.
• Infants introject these psychic representations into their own psychic structure and then project them onto an external object, that is, another person. These internal pictures are not accurate representations of the other person but are remnants of earlier interpersonal experiences.
• The ego, which exists at birth, can sense both destructive and loving forces, that is, both a nurturing and a frustrating breast.
• To deal with the nurturing breast and the frustrating breast, infants split these objects mto good and bad while also splitting then own ego, givmg them a dual image of self.
• Klein believed that the superego comes into existence much earlier than
Chapter 5 Klein: Object Relations Theory 159
Freud had speculated and that it grows along with the Oedipal process rather than bemg a product of it.
• During the early female Oedipus complex, the little girl adopts a fem inine position toward both parents. She has a positive feeling both for her mother's breasts and for her father's penis, which she believes will feed her with babies.
• Sometimes the little girl develops hostility toward her mother, who she fears will retaliate agamst her and rob her of her babies.
• With most girls, however, the female Oedipus complex is resolved without any antagonism or jealousy toward then mother.
• The little boy also adopts a feminine position during the early Oedipal years. At that time, he has no fear of bemg castrated as punishment for his sexual feelings for his mother.
• Later, the boy projects his destructive drive onto his father, who he fears will bite or castrate him.
• The male Oedipus complex is resolved when the boy establishes good relations with both parents and feels comfortable about his parents having sexual intercourse with one another.
Feist-Feist: Theories of Personality, Sixth Edition
II. Psychodynamic Theories
6. Horney: Psychoanalytic Social Theory
Homey: Psychoanalytic Social Theory
Overview of Psychoanalytic Social Theory Biography of Karen Horney Introduction to Psychoanalytic Social Theory
Horney and Freud Compared The Impact of Culture The Importance of Childhood Experiences Basic Hostility and Basic Anxiety Compulsive Drives
Neurotic Needs Neurotic Trends
Moving toward People Moving against People Moving Away from People
The Idealized Self-Image
The Neurotic Search for Glory Neurotic Claims Neurotic Pride Self-Hatred
Feminine Psychology Psychotherapy Related Research Critique of Horney Concept of Humanity Key Terms and Concepts
Chapter 6 Horney: Psychoanalytic Social Theory
Was this article helpful?
Parenting is a challenging task. As a single parent, how can you juggle work, parenting, and possibly college studies single handedly and still manage to be an ideal parent for your child? Read the 65-page eBook Single Parenting Becoming The Best Parent For Your Child to find out how. Loaded with tips, it can inspire, empower, and instruct you to successfully face the challenges of parenthood.