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Internal Objects Revisited

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The authors show how their ego-psychological object relations theory integrates drive theory and object relations theory and does justice to recent findings regarding the vicissitudes of transference and countertransference interactions in the psychoanalytic situation.'A significant shift has taken place in the last few decades in the way in which psychoanalytic theory has developed and in its application to psychoanalytic technique. This development has, in essence, consisted in the ascendance of object relations theory as an overall integrating frame of reference linking psychoanalytic metapsychology closer to the vicissitudes of the psychoanalytic process. This has facilitated the formulation of unconscious intrapsychic conflict in more clinically helpful ways than has the traditional frame of reference exclusively based on the conflict between drives and defensive operations.'The great interest of the Sandler's approach resides in their careful and systematic elaboration of what might be called the various "building blocks" of a contemporary ego psychological object relations theory, carefully exploring each areas on its own merits before gradually taking them into an overall theoretical approach. Their contemporary ego psychological object relations theory harmoniously integrates drive theory and object relations theory and does justice to recent findings and formulations regarding the vicissitudes of transference and countertransference interactions in the psychoanalytic situation, as well as with regard to what we know about early infant development.'The present volume includes key contributions of Joseph and Anne-Marie Sandler in several of the constituent areas of this new integrating frame. This volume illustrates the impressive creativity of its authors over the years and the seminal nature of their conclusions for the still evolving efforts to consolidate a contemporary psychoanalytic theory geared to cover the understanding and treatment of a broad spectrum of psychopathology. It is a confirmation of psychoanalysis as a basic psychological science.'- Otto Kernberg, from his Foreword

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1. On the psychoanalytic theory of motivation

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Introduction

The topic of motivation is an extraordinarily difficult one to study and has preoccupied psychologists for many years. A major problem has been the fact that neither in the field of general psychology nor in the more specific area of psychoanalysis is there agreement on what a motive really is. Even when we turn to the relatively restricted area of psychoanalytic theory, we find that we cannot be sure whether the term “motive” refers to drives, drive derivatives, affects, feelings, needs, wishes, aims, intentions, reasons, or causes. This chapter approaches the issue of object relationships from the side of the psychoanalytic theory of motivation and is essentially an account of the development of some ideas that led to the views presented in this book.

* * *

Some time ago—in 1959, when working with Anna Freud at what is now The Anna Freud Centre—I had the opportunity to present a paper to the British Psycho-Analytical Society. The first part was a theoretical consideration of feelings of safety, and the second was a short account of some analytic work with a woman I had commenced treating some nine years previously, who had been my first control case. The theoretical part of my paper, later published as “The Background of Safety”,1 presented the view that

 

2. The striving for "identity of perception"

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Introduction

The idea of wish-fulfilment through the attainment of an identity of perception is a key concept in the link between unconscious wishes on the one hand and object relationships on the other. It provides a basis for the notions that follow, of actualization and role-responsiveness, and their relation to countertransference.

In an earlier version, this chapter was given as a Freud Lecture in Vienna in 1975 on the 75th anniversary of The Interpretation of Dreams.1 When one reads Freud’s book today, one can only marvel at the boldness and incisiveness of his thinking. It stands as a monument to him, though it was one of his earliest works. It has provided material for psychoanalytic scholars to work on and to study, a process that will continue for many generations. At the time of its publication, the book put forward the most radical of theoretical formulations, simultaneously raising a multitude of questions, some of which were answered by Freud himself, others by later workers, while many remain unanswered.

 

3. On role-responsiveness

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Introduction

In Chapter 2 Freud’s notion of wish-fulfilment through the attainment of an identity of perception was described and amplified in general terms. In the present chapter it is applied specifically to countertransference and to the way in which pressures are placed upon the analyst to make him conform to an unconsciously wished-for role. The concepts of actualization and role-responsiveness are introduced, together with the idea of the “free-floating responsiveness” of the analyst in the analytic situation.

* * *

The term “countertransference” has many meanings, just as the term “transference” has. Freud first saw countertransference as referring to the analyst’s blind spots that presented an obstacle to the analysis. From the beginning, countertransference was consistently seen as an obstruction to the freedom of the analyst’s understanding of the patient. In this context, Freud regarded the analyst’s mind as an “instrument”, its effective functioning in the analytic situation being impeded by countertransference. Counter-transference in the analyst was equated with the resistance in the patient.1

 

4. On object relations and affects

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Introduction

This chapter is about the development of object relationships, with special reference to the role of affect in that development. The topic is not an easy one to discuss because the psychoanalytic theory of object relationships is far from satisfactory, and our theory of affect is, at best, in a state of healthy and constructive chaos. When we think about object relationships, we have to cope in our minds with such concepts as relationships to part and whole objects, to objects that are need-satisfying as opposed to those that possess object-constancy. We have objects to whom there is an anaclitic relationship, towards whom we are ambivalent, who are narcissistic objects, selfobjects, or simply good or bad objects. There are objects with whom we have sadomasochistic relationships; objects biological and objects psychological; and many others. In the face of all this, we have found it increasingly necessary to ask ourselves how the theory of object relationships can be integrated into our psychoanalytic psychology. The answer lies, we believe, in the application of the ideas put forward in Chapters 2 and 3, and in propositions that follow regarding the role of feeling states in the psychoanalytic theory of mental functioning.

 

5. Character traits and object relations

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Introduction

In the past, psychoanalytic theory has held that character traits should be viewed as “discharge” phenomena and compromise formations. Many traits can be better understood, however, as devices for evoking particular types of response in others in order to actualize the wished-for relationships existing in unconscious phantasy. Moreover, some “evocative” character traits create the unconscious illusion of the presence of the love objects.

* * *

As Hermann Nunberg1 once remarked, “character is an elusive phenomenon.” It is now generally accepted that the term is often used synonymously with “personality”, referring, as a psychiatric dictionary puts it, to “the characteristic … behaviour-response patterns that each person evolves, both consciously and unconsciously, as his style of life”.2 The early writers on character and character traits—beginning with Freud, who in 1908 shocked his readers with his paper, “Character and Anal Erotism”3—were primarily concerned with understanding particular character traits as surface manifestations of instinctual wishes of one sort or another. This view reflects what can be called a “discharge” theory of character. As Freud expressed it in his paper: “the permanent character-traits are either unchanged prolongations of the original instincts, or sublimations of those instincts, or reaction-formations against them”.

 

6. Stranger anxiety and internal objects

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Introduction

The point of departure for the ideas in this chapter is the concept of stranger anxiety (or eight-month anxiety) observed and written about by Rene Spitz, with whose name the concept is indissolubly linked.1 Following this, there is a detailed examination of the function of the self-object dialogue, as well as the role of the dialogue one has with one’s own self in providing affective sustenance—in particular, feelings of reassurance and security. What follows is based on a Spitz Memorial Lecture.

* * *

Following a discussion of some aspects of the phenomenon of stranger anxiety, I present clinical material from an adult psychoanalytic case to demonstrate a striking correspondence between an adult mode of functioning and the “stranger anxiety” of the infant. Perhaps of special interest are the technical implications of viewing a particular type of anxiety in an adult patient as paralleling stranger anxiety.

In his developmental theory Spitz lays much emphasis on what he has called “the dialogue”2—the interaction and mutual responsiveness to cues—which occurs between the infant and his mother. The child’s initial behaviour is seen as based on its biological needs and reactions, to which the mother responds in a way that must leave its mark on the infant. By the age of three months or before, the child shows the well-known smiling response.3 According to Spitz this is a sign of the recognition of the familiar, and the baby’s responsive smile becomes a crucial part of his side of his dialogue with the people around him. All the evidence points to mutual cueing occurring extremely early.4 At its very beginning, the response is not specific to any given person but may be given to a certain perceptual configuration, a gestalt consisting of two eyes, a forehead, a nose, and movement.5 It has an anticipatory character, represents part of an exchange of signals, and testifies to the child’s ongoing psychological dialogue with his surroundings. We know, however, that it is likely that at this stage the psychological boundaries between the baby and his surroundings are fluid and ill-defined, and so the smiling response probably starts as a reflex, based upon innate “givens”, and is increasingly linked with the recognition of the familiar.

 

7. Comments on the psychodynamics of interaction

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Introduction

In this chapter an attempt is made to show how the externaliza-tion of the unconscious phantasy derivatives of internal object relationships by both analyst and patient can interact, making it vital for the analyst to keep in touch with his countertransfer-ence. The need to use both one-person and two-person models in order to understand such interaction is illustrated by a rather graphic clinical example.

* * *

One of the major theoretical issues in considering processes of interaction is the question of whether it is appropriate to use a one-person or two-person frame of reference. This is a complicated issue and one that cannot be answered simply by saying that the psychoanalytic model of the mind is a one-person model on the grounds that all information arising from the outside does so as mental representations of one sort or another. Furthermore, it could be said that the essence of the psychoanalytic point of view is that these representations, and all our feelings, are profoundly affected by what arises from the inside. In a paper some time ago1I suggested that the theoretical models, theories, or schemata used by psychoanalysts are not fully integrated with one another, and that there were significant differences between our private psychoanalytic theories and what I called the “public” or “official” theories of psychoanalysis. I suggested that the complex private preconscious working model of the psychoanalyst—essentially a set of not-very-well-integrated part-theories—had an important advantage over the public or “official” ones in that “such a loosely jointed theory… allows developments in psychoanalytic theory to take place without necessarily causing radical disruptions.”

 

8. A theory of internal object relations

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Introduction

In the previous chapters a number of ideas relating to the development of object relationships were considered, with special reference to the role of feeling states in that development. It was pointed out that the term “object relationship” has a variety of meanings, and that there is a need to face the task of integrating the theory of object relationships into the intrapsychic psychology of psychoanalysis. The notion of an object relationship as the energic investment of an object was criticized, and it was emphasized that the relationship between two people frequently involved an interchange of very subtle and complicated cues. Each partner in the relationship can be regarded as having, at any one time, a particular role for the other, pressures being placed on the other in order to obtain a particular type of response.

This chapter gives an account of our attempt to come to terms with the concept of internal object relations and to find a place for it within acceptable psychoanalytic theory. We have put forward the view that the internal object can be regarded as a structure outside the realm of conscious or unconscious subjective experience, a structure built up during the individual’s development and strongly influenced by the child’s subjective perceptions and phantasies. The internal objects, in turn, influence perception, thought, phantasy, current object relations, transference, and many other aspects of experience and behaviour. In the work of analysis, the concepts of internal object and internal object relation act as useful organizing constructs for both analyst and patient.

 

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