Object Relations
Theories
Dr. Geoff Goodman
I. Introduction to Object
Relations Theories
• A. Obtain home, phone number, e-mail
address
• B. Previous exposure to object relations
theories
• C. Course requirement
• D. Review of syllabus
II. Theoretical and
Historical Overview
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A. Freud
B. Klein
C. Mahler
D. Kernberg
E. Other important theoreticians
Other Important
Theoreticians
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1. Fairbarn
2. Sullivan
3. Winnicott
4. Guntrip
5. Balint
6. Jacobson
7. Green
8. Kohut
III. What is Object
Relations: Definitions
A. “Theories, or aspects of theories,
concerned with exploring the
relationship between real, external
people and internal images and
residues of relations with them, and the
significance of these residues for
psychic functioning” (Greenberg &
Mitchell, 1983, p.12).
Object Relations:
Definitions Continued
B. Three definitions by Kernberg (1976a)
1. Understanding present interpersonal
relations in terms of past ones
2. Construction of mental representations of
dyadic “self” and “object” relationships
a. baby and mother relationship
b. triadic relationships
c. multiple relationships within and outside
of the family
Object Relations:
Definitions Continued
3. Specific approaches or theories
A. Kleinian school
B. British Independent school
C. Integrations of these two schools
IV. Shared Assumptions of Most
Object Relations Theories
A. Severe pathology has preoedipal
origins (ages 0-3)
1. normal autistic phase
2. normal symbiotic phase
3. paranoid-schizoid position
4. depressive position
Shared Assumptions of Most Object
Relations Theories Continued…
• B. Object relations become increasingly
complex over time
• C. Developmental stages are culturally
invariant but can be distorted by
personal experiences
• D. Early object relations repeated and
fixed for life
Continued…
• E. Disturbances in object relations
predict forms of psychopathology
• F. Patient relations with therapists
reflect healthy and pathological aspects
of early relationship patterns
V. Critiques of These
Assumptions
A. Sexual and physical abuse and other types
of trauma can produce severe
psychopathology at later stages of
development
1. early risk factors might still play a role
2. early resilience factors might still play a
role
Critiques Continued…
• B. Different aspects of object relations can
increase in complexity or remain static
• 1. capacity for investment in people
• 2. capacity for investment in values and
morals
• 3. affect tone of relationship paradigms
• 4. complexity of object representations (high
for BPD)
• 5. understanding of social causality
Critiques Continued…
C. Non-Western views of the self
1. Relational and collectivist, not individualistic
2. Emphasis on conformity and fitting in rather
than distinguishing oneself
3. “Psychoanalytic ideas will need to be
broadened considerably in order to encompass
the very different early environments which
infants and children from other cultures
experience” (Fonagy & Target, 2003, p. 13).
Critiques Continued…
D. Effects of later life events on the
development of novel object relations (e.g.,
loss, romantic relationship)
E. Situational stressors can impact the
development of psychopathology
F. Real aspects of therapist can powerfully
affect the interaction structure of the
therapist- patient relationship (see Keiha’s
dissertation)
VI. Dimensions of Variation in
Object Relations Theories
A. The function of object relations
1. need-gratifying (drive theory)
2. object- seeking (systems theory)
3. controversy between perception of object
relations as creation or re-creation of
specific modes of relatedness with others
vs. drive discharge
Continued…
4. Drive Theorists
• A. Freud
• B. Klein
• C. Mahler
5. Interpersonal theorists
A. Sullivan
B. Fairbairn
C. Bowlby
B. Endogenous/exogenous
role in object relations
1.
2.
3.
4.
heavy influence of sexual and aggressive
drives
heavy influence of real external events and
relationships
controversy between perception of object
relations as drive-influenced distortions of real
relationships (funhouse of mirrors) vs.
accommodations to real relationships (reality-based perceptions)
transactional model--interactions of genetics
and environment
C. Developmental models
used
1. stage theory--development along a fixed,
unitary developmental line (fixation and
regression)
2. pathways model--development can take
many forms, both adaptive and
maladaptive, based on a risk/resilience
gradient
3. mixed models
D. Goodness of human
nature
1. “Guilty Man”- conflict produces
psychopathology
2. “Tragic Man”- deficit produces
psychopathology
3. controversy between failures of integration
(conflict because of splitting) vs. failures of
internalization (deficit because of failures in
mirroring)
VII. Specific Theorists that
Illustrate These Variations
A. Melanie Klein
1. paranoid-schizoid position
2. depressive position
3. drive theorists who believe in infant’s
capacity for inherent object-sucking
Melanie Klein Continued…
4. sexual and aggressive drives inevitably
distort the development of object relations
(mother is infant in drag)
5. stage theory used but modified to
accommodate positions that reflect momentto-moment shifts in relating
6. psychopathology arises out of conflicts
derived from good and bad mental
representations
B. John Bowlby
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5.
secure attachment (B)
anxious-avoidant attachment (A)
anxious-resistant attachment (C)
disorganized attachment (D)
systems theorist who believed in
infant’s capacity for inherent objectseeking (attachment)
Bowlby Continued…
6. infants accommodate lapses in caregiver
sensitivity and responsiveness to maximize
experience of felt security (buildup of
expectations based on procedural memories)
7. developmental pathways model used (A-BC-D)
8. psychopathology arises out of deficits in
caregiving and consequent defensive
exclusion, cognitive disconnection, and
segregated systems