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Fairbairn and the Object Relations Tradition

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Ronald Fairbairn developed a thoroughgoing object relations theory that became a foundation for modern clinical thought. This volume is homage to the enduring power of his thinking, and of his importance now and for the future of relational thinking within the social and human sciences. The book gathers an international group of therapists, analysts, psychiatrists, social commentators, and historians, who contend that Fairbairn's work extends powerfully beyond the therapeutic. They suggest that social, cultural, and historical dimensions can all be illuminated by his work.Object relations as a strand within psychoanalysis began with Freud and passed through Ferenczi and Rank, Balint, Suttie, and Klein, to come of age in Fairbairn's papers of the early 1940s. That there is still life in this line of thinking is illustrated by the essays in this collection and by the modern relational turn in psychoanalytic theory, the development of attachment theory, and the increasing recognition that there is 'no such thing as an ego' without context, without relationships, without a social milieu. One of the most fascinating aspects of the papers collected here is that many of them point towards further development of the object relations approach by detailed examination of some of Fairbairn's papers that have so far been less recognised. The writers in this volume evince the hope that the further development of the object relations paradigm will not only benefit clinical work, but will also extend beyond the psychoanalytic clinical realm to psychosocial and cultural issues.

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Chapter One: From instinct to self: the evolution and implications of W. R. D. Fairbairn's theory of object relations

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David E. Scharff and Ellinor Fairbairn Birtles

In 1952 Ernest Jones wrote in his introduction to Fairbairn's Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality:

Instead of starting, as Freud did, from stimulation of the nervous system proceeding from excitation of various erotogenous zones and internal tension arising from gonadic activity, Dr. Fairbairn starts at the centre of the personality, the ego, and depicts its strivings and difficulties in its endeavour to reach an object where it may find support…All this constitutes a fresh approach in psycho-analysis which should lead to much fruitful discussion. (p. v)

W. R. D. Fairbairn brought an original voice and formulation to psychoanalysis. Without general awareness among analysts, his theoretical contributions have guided the revolution in psychoanalysis during the past twenty-five years (Greenberg & Mitchell, 1983; Sutherland, 1989), and his formulations have contributed to the widespread application of analysis to other areas—to the study of trauma and multiple personality, infant development, marriage and the family, religion and pastoral care, to the understanding of groups, institutions, and society, to psychology of the arts, and to an evolution in the philosophical understanding of human experience. Nevertheless, his ideas passed from being little known to being general assumptions without ever being widely and distinctly acknowledged. In this paper we begin by discussing Fairbairn's background and the philosophical and psychoanalytic origins of his thought; we then outline the central tenets of his object relations theory of the personality, and finally we briefly consider its wider implications. It has been suggested that the extent of Fairbairn's contribution has been largely unrecognised because he worked in relative isolation in Edinburgh, Scotland from the 1920s until his death in 1964. Close study of the context in which he developed his innovative ideas shows that the seeds of his mature ideas were present from his first records of his thinking in the middle 1920s, when he was writing and teaching graduate and postgraduate students in philosophy, psychology, and medicine. Despite his distance from London, Fairbairn kept well informed about psychoanalytic developments in London, and especially the new work of Melanie Klein, but it is true that he was unable to respond in person to the issues taken up in the “Controversial Discussions” undertaken in London during the war, although he did submit one brief contribution that was read for him (King & Steiner, 1991). He also had frequent if periodic contact with many of the important British analysts during the 1940s and 1950s. The geographical separation from major analytic societies may even have helped preserve Fairbairn's independence of mind, but it may also have kept his ideas from receiving the understanding and recognition they deserved. For instance, critical commentary written in response to Fairbairn's articles and his book within British psychoanalysis in the 1940s and 1950s failed to appreciate the magnitude of Fairbairn's move from a biological instinct theory to a psychological theory of a self chiefly motivated by the need for relationships throughout life. Although Fairbairn provided a new paradigm for the twentieth century (Sutherland, 1989), one which ultimately organised the ensuing development of psychoanalysis, only a few analysts recognised this at the time he was writing.

 

Chapter Two: From Oedipus to Antigone: Hegelian themes in Fairbairn

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Gal Gerson

Within the history of psychoanalytic theory, the shift from drive to relation is so dramatic that the undercurrents within it might be overlooked. The mid-century British theorists who transformed psychoanalysis are often perceived as a single front, with each of its constituents offering a unique contribution: Suttie initiating the move by openly challenging Freud, Balint and Winnicott providing clinical observations and innovative concepts, Bowlby linking the new theory to broader scientific concerns, and Fairbairn constructing the explanatory model. Second-generation authors like Ainsworth and Khan are seen as further elaborating this complex but distinct approach to psychology (Gomez, 1997; Holmes, 1993; Schwartz, 1999).

Object relations theorists have similarly been described as sharing a single ideology that was aligned with the comprehensive post-war social settlement. This worldview has been described by both admirers and critics as having at its heart a perception of the family typical of mid-century thinking. Continuous parental care was assumed to be the core factor in individual and social health. The conditions for enabling such care within the modular two-generations household and instructing the individuals charged with it were perceived as the basic social entitlements (Gerson, 2004; Mayhew, 2006; Riley, 1983; van der Horst, & van der Veer, 2010).

 

Chapter Three: Making Fairbairn's psychoanalysis thinkable: Henry Drummond's natural laws of the spiritual world

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Gavin Miller

The contribution of W. R. D. Fairbairn to psychoanalytic psychology has received substantial scholarly attention, whether to the merits and ramifications of the theory itself (e.g., Clarke, 2006; Scharff & Scharff, 2005a), or its historical and cultural origins (e.g., Beattie, 2003; Hoffman, 2004; Miller, 2008). In this chapter I consider further the religious culture that was part of Fairbairn's upbringing in the late Victorian and early Edwardian period. The harmony between evolutionary science and religion popularised by the evangelist Henry Drummond (1851–1897) epitomises a culture in which the laws of the living world could be seen as continuous with spiritual laws paradigmatically expressed in scriptural form, but open also to modern scientific investigation. In the worldview of Christianised evolution, Drummond was regarded as having demonstrated the Providential evolution of Christian virtues such as love, tenderness, and altruism in the phylogenesis of mammalia. Knowledge of this late Victorian evangelical context not only emphasises the “thinkability” of Fairbairn's relational psychoanalytic psychology, it also invites further questions about how one should conceive the relationship in his work between psychoanalytic and theological discourse.

 

Chapter Four: Splitting in the history of psychoanalysis: from Janet and Freud to Fairbairn, passing through Ferenczi and Suttie

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Gabriele Cassullo

Since his doctoral thesis in 1929, Ronald Fairbairn's contribution to psychoanalysis developed as an attempt at integrating Janet's and Freud's model of the mind (Davies, 1998). Yet, even today many psychoanalysts keep wondering why should this integrative project be so important.

The return of the dissociated

As far back as 1981, Emanuel Berman—who followed the same path as Fairbairn, dedicating in 1973 his doctoral thesis to multiple personality disorders, and thus anticipating the present renewal of interest in Janet—dealt with the general distrust of the psychoanalytic community towards Janet's concept of dissociation. Berman showed that, even if Freud's “one-sided anti-Janet stand” (Berman, 1981, p. 285) created a detrimental ostracism towards theories based on dissociation, the notion continued to resurface in psychoanalysis—though often in a covert form—so that in time it has been incorporated in most psychoanalytic theories.

Some few years later, Janet became “the forefather” of a new theoretical trend investigating multiple personality and post-traumatic stress disorder, and reasserting the importance of the dissociative processes of the mind (Putnam, 1989; van der Hart & Friedman, 1989). But, this time around, it was psychoanalysis and its contributions to the field that were dismissed (Gullenstad, 2005). In the same year, the psychoanalyst Jules Bemporad admitted: “We may have been a bit hasty in burying Janet, and his ghost continues to reappear in very strange guises” (1989, p. 635).

 

Chapter Five: Fairbairn, Suttie, and Macmurray—an essay

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Neville Symington

I am going to approach these three thinkers from Scotland with a very broad brush. I am not going to consider them in detail but will give the broad outlines of their thinking and show how Fairbairn and Suttie were debating in one theatre whereas Macmurray was radically different from them in his thinking. Fairbairn and Suttie were both clinicians but Macmurray was not and this is where I want to start.

Fairbairn and Suttie were under the banner of Freud whom they both admired but, at the same time, were in debate with him and wanted to show the lacunae in his system of thinking. Therefore the circumference of their perspective was a narrow one, as is a great deal of psychoanalytic thinking. One could put as a sub-title attached to both of them that Freud was their master and, although in general agreement, yet in significantly human ways they wanted to show up what they believed were the deficiencies of their master.

So in what way did Fairbairn bow his head to the master and in what ways did he disagree? Theoretically Fairbairn accepted Freud's view that the principles of action within the human individual were the instincts. The instincts—those drives that served to preserve the lifeblood of the organism and so keep the species homo sapiens in survival from generation to generation. He surrendered totally to Freud's view that the instincts are the core principles of action within the personality but then he defined these not on the basis of efficient causality but of final causality. With the exception of the death instinct Freud defined the instincts according to their organic source and, as Petocz (1999, p. 221) has pointed out, that when Freud, in his later formulation, included the death drive in his catalogue of instincts he had departed from the definition which he had given to the instincts previously. This latter drive was no longer an efficient cause but a final cause. So, an instinct, according to Freud's initial formulation, had been defined as an impulse whose goal was the reduction of tension within the organism. Therefore, the state of tension defined as hunger was reduced by the consumption of food, thirst reduced by the drinking of water, or sexual starvation by sexual satisfaction. This was underpinned by the view that the reduction of tension was subjectively experienced as pleasure. Ferenczi had already pointed out that there was an inconsistency in this theory in that in sexual activity pleasure was associated with an increase and not a decrease in tension (Ferenczi, 1968, pp. 60–72). So, already within Freud's lifetime, the homeostatic principle had been questioned by one of his earliest followers. If reduction of sexual tension was the goal of the act then it made no difference if this was achieved through heterosexual intercourse, homosexual intercourse, paedophilic action, bestiality, or masturbation. So Fairbairn tried to right this by saying that the sexual impulse needed to be defined not by its source—that is, the organic state of sexual tension—but by its goal, therefore defining instincts by their final cause rather than the efficient cause. This also meant that, once the sexual instinct was defined by goal, then the possible objects that satisfied the instincts were differentiated. This, in fact, would have been consistent with Freud's view that there was a hierarchy of sexual functional activity with genital sexual intercourse at its head, with homosexual action lower down the ladder, and masturbation and then the infant sucking the nipple yet further down. So Fairbairn's redefinition of instincts according to a final cause was consistent with Freud's own view of sexual maturation. This highlighted the fact that Freud's metapsychology of the instincts was not consistent with his view of the incremental stages on the ladder leading to sexual maturity.

 

Chapter Six: Religion in the life and work of W. R. D. Fairbairn

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Marie T. Hoffman and Lowell W. Hoffman

Introduction1

Ronald Fairbairn's choice of a vocation in psychoanalysis has often been misconstrued as a deviation from his earlier religious vision and preparation for Christian ministry. The present authors understand Fairbairn's chosen vocation as the fulfilment of his earlier religious vision. For Fairbairn, unlike the psychoanalytic world in which he lived, there was no split between faith and science: his faith informed his vocation and was manifest in his dedication to redeem fractured lives. The Judaic and Christian narratives portraying a pristine, personal beginning, a shattering decline, and hope of redemption through healing love is the cadence that permeates Fairbairn's lifework.

In this chapter, we will examine the centrality of Christian belief in the life and work of W. R. D. Fairbairn. We will review formative religious influences in his culture, family, education, and professional formation. Then, we will review evidence of Fairbairn's lifelong practice of Christian faith. Finally, we will identify and explicate Fairbairn's Christian narrative embedded within his psychoanalytic theory, which together evolved across his career and contributed to the monumental paradigm shift in psychoanalytic theory and practice from instinctual drives to innate relationship-seeking.

 

Chapter Seven: Fairbairn and homosexuality: sex versus conscience

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Hilary J. Beattie

Introduction

Fairbairn's practical and theoretical interest in sexual perversion, in particular male homosexuality, has surprisingly received almost no attention amid otherwise comprehensive discussion of his ideas. Greenberg and Mitchell (1983) do not mention it in their chapter on Fairbairn, and the three scholarly collections devoted to him since then are essentially bare of references to it. Yet he published five papers dealing with it over a thirty-year span, from 1935 to 1964, and from these and the numerous references elsewhere in his work it is evident that the topic was of major concern to him.

My aim here is twofold. First, I shall outline the evolution of Fairbairn's thinking on homosexuality, of interest in part because it forced him to confront the intersection of biology with his theoretical approach, based on early object relations rather than on libidinal drive theory as the major determinants of psychological development. Indeed, it may help us understand why he was able to make this fundamental breakthrough, the precursor to all subsequent work on attachment theory. It also enables us to set him in the context of other psychoanalytic thinking on this highly contentious topic in the mid-twentieth century, especially the growing tendency to see male homosexuality as a reprehensible perversion that could (and should) be “cured” (Abelove, 1993; Lewes, 2009; Robinson, 2001).

 

Chapter Eight: Fairbairn in Argentina: the “Fairbairn Space” in the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association (APA)

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Mercedes Campi, Adrián Besuschio, Luis Oswald, Isabel Sharpin de Basili, and Rubén M. Basili

Introduction

In 1998 Dr Basili proposed to open a “Fairbairn Space” in the APA. Dr Fainstein, the APA president at that time, and other officers asked us, “Why teach Fairbairn?” “How would you do it?” “Why Fairbairn again in the APA?” “Why a Fairbairn Space?”

Our comments on these questions form the objectives of the present chapter, which reports the results of fourteen years of arduous labour.

Why teach Fairbairn? How would you do it?

Pichon-Rivière, one of the pioneers of the APA, brought Fairbairn to Argentina and Latin America. Pichon-Rivière, a continuer of object relations theory and exponent of the psychoanalysis of the link, considered that each subject has multiple internal link structures that come into play specifically in interactions. He also underscored the importance of relations with external objects. He developed the notion of the internal group that constantly interrelates with the external world. He spoke of link models: a good link originated in gratifying experiences and a bad link as the product of frustrating experiences. He highlighted the internalisation of the environment in which the subject's life develops, and the importance of the social environment for the constitution and support of identity.

 

Chapter Nine: Some comments about Ronald Fairbairn's impact today

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Otto F. Kernberg

Our field owes its understanding of developmental stages and characterological organisation of the personality to Fairbairn's theory of the dyadic nature of the internalisation of self and object representations, linked by an affective valence, as the basic building blocks of the psychic apparatus.

From relative isolation in Edinburgh in the 1930s and 1940s, his work nonetheless had a profound impact on the Independent Group (Middle Group) of the British Psychoanalytical Society. Preceding Edith Jacobson's (1964) contributions by many years, and from different clinical and theoretical assumptions, he and she each reached similar conclusions, Jacobson within her own developmental approach to the internalisation of object relations in the formation of psychic structures. It says something about the intensity of the mutual distrust of the British schools, Melanie Klein, Winnicott, and Fairbairn, on the one hand, and the ego psychological approaches of Anna Freud and the corresponding North American ego psychological approach, on the other (Kernberg, 1969, 2004b) that Fairbairn, within the former, and Jacobson, within the latter, never gave any evidence in their writings of acknowledging each other's work.

 

Chapter Ten: Why read Fairbairn?

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Thomas H. Ogden

I have found that Fairbairn develops a model of the mind that incorporates into its very structure a conceptualisation of early psychic development that is not found in the writing of any other major twentieth century analytic theorist.1 Fairbairn replaces Freud's (1923b) structural model/metaphor of the mind with a model/metaphor in which the mind is conceived of as an “inner world” (Fairbairn, 1943a, p. 67) in which split-off and repressed parts of the self enter into stable, yet potentially alterable, object relationships with one another. The “cast of characters” (i.e., sub-organisations of the personality) constituting Fairbairn's internal object world is larger than the triumvirate of Freud's structural model and provides what I find to be a richer set of metaphors with which to understand (1) certain types of human dilemmas, particularly those based on the fear that one's love is destructive; and (2) the central role played by feelings of resentment, contempt, disillusionment and addictive “love” in structuring the unconscious mind.

 

Chapter Eleven: On the origin of internal objects in the works of Fairbairn and Klein and the possible therapeutic consequences

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Bernhard F. Hensel

Introduction

Through our psychological and/or psychoanalytic training we have all been confronted with the notion of the internal object and, like so many other concepts, it has been used quite frequently and stretched to an extent that its meaning and clarity have been compromised. On the other hand object relations theory has become a crucial starting point for psychoanalysis and its practice. The following material will demonstrate how the various understandings of internal objects lead to diverse technical conclusions and therapeutic stances.

Each psychoanalyst and psychotherapist generates his or her own explicit and implicit theory by integrating personal experiences, different theories, and redefining definitions throughout training and a professional career. But in order to properly communicate with each other it is extremely important to clarify these definitions, to carve out the similarities and the differences, especially since this allows us to consciously comprehend our view of the world, our stance, and our implicit manner within treatment.

 

Chapter Twelve: Fairbairn: Oedipus reconfigured by trauma

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Eleanore M. Armstrong-Perlman

Introduction

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Thomas Kuhn emphasises how the prevailing paradigm influences scientific endeavour. Data is structured, processed, and given relevance within the framework of the prevailing model. When the paradigm begins to be faced with new data that confront the model, there is a phase of accommodation. The basic theory is stretched to contain the new data in an attempt to preserve the basic structure by various modifications. At this stage, there is resistance to alternative paradigms. It is safer and more comforting to readjust the existing conceptual edifice. But such readjustments create strains and tensions which can lead to the breakdown of the resistance to new paradigms. The proliferation of the epicycles needed to cope with the data within the Ptolemaic system led to the Copernican revolution in astronomy.

I believe that the recent upsurge of interest in the work of Fairbairn is arising from the current tensions and strains facing the Freudian paradigm to accommodate and adjust to new data. In this chapter I hope to clarify how Fairbairn's concept of our fundamental nature is affected by cumulative trauma arising from too misattuned maternal responsiveness. This gives rise to defensive structures necessary for psychological survival, and these are formed in the state of absolute infantile dependence. This is prior to the resolution of the Oedipus complex in the name of preserving the “affectionate current” (Freud, 1910h), with the mother before the advent of the father.

 

Chapter Thirteen: Sitting with marital tensions: the work of Henry Dicks in applying Fairbairn's ideas to couple relationships

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Molly Ludlam

I should like to dedicate this chapter to the memory of Dr Douglas Haldane (1926–2012), a pioneering child and family psychiatrist and member of the Scottish Institute of Human Relations. It was on his prompting that I first read Marital Tensions; he later encouraged me to become involved in, and to write about couple psychotherapy.

Introduction

In this chapter, I explore the first application of Fairbairn's ideas to understanding couple relationships, as set out by Henry Dicks, in his classic text Marital Tensions (1967). This application was further developed, most notably by Zinner (1976) and by Scharff and Scharff (1987, 1991). I shall attempt my exploration by way of examining the difficulties described by an imaginary couple during a consultation for couple psychotherapy. I shall then summarise Dicks's thinking in relation to Fairbairnian concepts. Finally, the couple's case is further explored, as if seeking consultation from Henry Dicks himself.

Meeting Donald and Deborah

 

Chapter Fourteen: W. R. D. Fairbairn's contribution to the study of personality disorders

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Carlos Rodríguez-Sutil

Futility

Move him into the sun—

Gently its touch awoke him once,

At home, whispering of fields unsown.

Always it woke him, even in France,

Until this morning and this snow.

If anything might rouse him now

The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds,—

Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.

Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,

Full-nerved,—still warm,—too hard to stir?

Was it for this the clay grew tall?

—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil

To break earth's sleep at all?

—Wilfred Owen

Introduction

We must avoid the mistake of believing that “personality” is just another form of diagnosis—as it is suggested in the DSM classification (American Psychiatric Association, 1980, 1987, 1994)—since we all have a character or personality, understanding “personality” as our peculiar way of relating to others, which may be more or less normal or problematic, and more or less similar to the established prototypes. As Winnicott (1965) said, every analysis is at the same time a “character analysis”, because it involves the person as a whole.

 

Chapter Fifteen: Fairbairn: abuse, trauma, and multiplicity

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Valerie Sinason

W. R. D. Fairbairn is crucial theoretically and clinically in the treatment of abused children and adults. His deep pioneering understanding of attachment processes in abusive relationships clarified the psychological need for dissociation as a defence. He understood this both in the ubiquitous dissociation that develops in “ordinary” child abuse and in the extreme situations that lead to dissociative identity disorder, a subject profoundly undeveloped in the international psychoanalytic community—and particularly the UK. Indeed, in his medical dissertation of 1929 he chose to focus on dissociation.

Sadly, I was not taught his work while studying as a child psychotherapist in the 1980s. Indeed, in my being considered one of only a handful of psychoanalytic child psychotherapists who were thought to have worked with child abuse in that period at the Tavistock Clinic in London, it was salutary to later realise that, like Ferenczi, Fairbairn had always been aware of the subject. Indeed, from 1927 to 1935 he was a lecturer in psychology at Edinburgh University, specialising in adolescence, and held a post at the Clinic for Children and Juveniles where he treated the delinquent and sexually abused.

 

Chapter Sixteen: Fairbairn and multiple personality

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Paul Finnegan and Graham S. Clarke

Throughout his career Fairbairn returned to multiple personality as a condition that his “intricate theoretical probing” (Hinshelwood, 1991, p. 307) might illuminate. This started with his MD thesis on “Dissociation and Repression” (1929b) and his essay written in the same year on the superego (1929a), both of which only became available after their publication in the invaluable two-volume From Instinct to Self (Birtles & Scharff, 1994; Scharff & Birtles, 1994). The principal development of Fairbairn's mature theory took place in a series of papers written in the early 1940s and collected in his book Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality (1952). There are explicit references to multiple personality throughout this book and also to the usefulness of the object relations model he developed for the understanding and treatment of multiple personality (1929a, 1929b, 1931, 1944, 1946a, 1952, 1954b). Similar comments also appear in his paper on hysterical states (1954b). In an important statement about his mature theory Fairbairn described it as one “…obviously adapted to explain such extreme manifestations as are found in cases of multiple personality…” (1952, p. 159).

 

Chapter Seventeen: Fairbairn and “emptiness pathology”

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Rubén M. Basili, Isabel Sharpin de Basili, Adrián Besuschio, Mercedes Campi, and Luis Oswald

Objectives

1. To define “emptiness pathology” for the first time based on Fairbairn's model. (Only a psychoanalyst is trained to diagnose borderline and “emptiness pathology” (Basili, Montero, & Sharpin de Basili, 2002).)

2. To postulate—extrapolating from Fairbairn—that “emptiness pathology” is the clinical indicator of a psychological manoeuvre, an unconscious technique inherent to Fairbairn's transitional stage of development, to recover and preserve an object relationship (link) with an object having specific qualities (narcissistic and transitional) of badness or emptiness, for example, a breast, or a mother, or the analyst in transference. Although these objects are bad and empty, they provide the patient with a defence against the experience of object loss, and from systematically increasing separation-abandonment anxieties: a bad object and the relationship with a bad object is better than no object.

 

Chapter Eighteen: Fairbairn's unique contributions to dream interpretation

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Joshua Levy

Purpose

As we study Fairbairn's writings, it becomes abundantly clear that his patients' dreams occupied a special place in his clinical and theoretical work. Understanding and interpreting his patients' dreams assisted him in the working through of their particular psychopathology and contributed to his building his distinctive personality theory. However, a number of distinguished analysts who have studied Fairbairn's writings in depth pointed out with surprise that his contributions to dream analysis had been “underemphasized” (Scharff, 1988, p. 31). Pereira and Scharff (2002, p. 7) commented on the “curious omission” of Fairbairn's important ideas on dreams. However, they have not presented any details of Fairbairn's own dream analysis, which would have allowed a critical discussion as to how he actually analysed his patients' dreams. In this chapter I have selected a sample of Fairbairn's published dream data to demonstrate the assets and shortcomings of his reported dream analysis with the intention of constructively criticising them. I will address the relationship between his psychological model and his processing of his patients' dream and discuss the specific function of the analysis of dreams in facilitating the working through and integration of dissociated endopsychic structures. As Fairbairn did not report the details of his working with his patients' dreams, and Winnicott—who shared with Fairbairn a common theoretical perspective—did, I shall briefly present some of Winnicott's work with dreams as they provide links that are missing in Fairbairn's reports of his analysis of dreams.

 

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