Introduction to Object Relations Theory

Object relations theory is an offspring of Freud's instinct theory, but it differs from its ancestor in at least tlnee general ways. First, object relations theory places less emphasis on biologically based drives and more importance on consistent patterns of interpersonal relationships. Second, as opposed to Freud's rather paternalistic theory that emphasizes the power and control of the father, object relations theory tends to be more maternal, stressing the hithnacy and nurturing of the mother. Third, object relations theorists generally see human contact and relatedness—not sexual pleasure—as the prime motive of human behavior.

More specifically, however, the concept of object relations has many meanings, just as there are many object relations theorists. This chapter concentrates primarily on Melanie Klein's work, but it also briefly discusses the theories of Margaret S. Mahler, Hehiz Kohut, John Bowlby, and Mary Ahisworth. In general, Mahler's work was concerned with the infant's struggle to gain autonomy and a sense of self; Kohut's, with the formation of the self; Bowlby's, with the stages of separation anxiety; and Ahisworth's, with styles of attachment.

If Klein is the mother of object relations theory, then Freud himself is the father. Recall from Chapter 2 that Freud (1915/1957a) believed instincts or drives have an impetus, a source, an aim, and an object, with the latter two having the greater psychological significance. Although different drives may seem to have separate aims, then underlying ahn is always the same—to reduce tension: that is, to achieve pleasure. In Freudian terms, the object of the drive is any person, part of a person,

Chapter 5 Klein: Object Relations Theory 139

or thing through which the ahn is satisfied. Klein and other object relations theorists begm with this basic assumption of Freud and then speculate on how the infant's real or fantasized early relations with the mother or the breast become a model for all later interpersonal relationships. Adult relationships, therefore, are not always what they seem. An important portion of any relationship is the internal psychic representations of early significant objects, such as the mother's breast or the father's penis, that have been introjected, or taken mto the infant's psychic structure, and then projected onto one's partner. These internal pictures are not accurate representations of the other person but are remnants of each person's earlier experiences.

Although Klein continued to regard herself as a Freudian, she extended psychoanalytic theory beyond the boundaries set by Freud. For his part, Freud chose mostly to ignore Klein. When pressed for an opinion on her work, Freud had little to say. For example, in 1925 when Ernest Jones wrote to him praising Klein's "valuable work" with childhood analysis and play therapy, Freud shnply replied that "Melanie Klein's work has aroused considerable doubt and controversy here in Vienna" (Steiner, 1985, p. 30).

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