Academic journal article The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child

The Internal/External Issue: What Is an Outer Object? Another Person as Object and as Separate Other in Object Relations Models

Academic journal article The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child

The Internal/External Issue: What Is an Outer Object? Another Person as Object and as Separate Other in Object Relations Models

Article excerpt

The question of what we mean by the term outer object has its roots in the epistemological foundation of psychoanalysis. From the very beginning, Freud's view was Kantian, and psychoanalysis has kept that stance, as it seems. The author reviews the internal/external issue in Freud 's thinking and in the central object relations theories (Klein, Winnicott, and Bion). On this background he proposes a simple model to differentiate the concept of object along one central dimension: internal object, external object, and actual person. The main arguments are: (1) there is no direct, unmediated perception of the actual person-the experience of the other is always affected by the perceiver's subjectivity; (2) in intense transference reactions and projections, the perception of the person is dominated by the qualities of an inner object-and the other person "becomes" an external object for the perceiver; (3) when this distortion is less dominating, the other person to a higher degree remains a separate othera person in his or her own right.

Clinical material illustrates these phenomena, and a graphical picture of the model is presented. Finally with the model as background, the author comments on a selection of phenomena and concepts such as unobjectionable transference, "the third position, " mourning and loneliness.

The way that the internal colours and distorts the external is of course a central preoccupation of psychoanalysis generally. (Spillius et al., 2011, p. 326)

The Basic Assumption in Object Relations Theories

IT IS A FUNDAMENTAL ASSUMPTION IN OBJECT RELATIONS MODELS that the self stands in relation to internalized objects. Such objects are representations of important persons in infancy and childhood. When these persons are internalized, they function as objects for the self in the inner world. The relations between self and object representations are called "object relations," and they are charged with specific affects. A feared father can be internalized as a harsh father object standing in a threatening relation to a guilty, an anxious, or a shameful aspect of the self. An alternative formulation is sometimes proposed. We internalize object relations not objects. This variation doesn't change the essential point in object relations models; object-affect-self representations are building stones in the individual personality.

This assumption is based on Sandler's concept of representation and his conceptualization of the representational world (Sandler and Rosenblatt 1962). The difference between the general term inner world and the somewhat more specific representational world is not generally accepted among object relation theorists. When I nevertheless leave these differences of opinion aside, it is because I do not consider them to affect the general argument in this paper.

We have to see the use of the term object in light of the history of the concept and of the dynamics working in the relation between one person (the self) and a second person being object for the first. Freud's "object" was mainly an object for a drive (that is, for the needs and strivings of an individual). The object relations models gradually grew out of these first conceptualizations of psychoanalysis; the term object was kept, but its connotation was changed and became much more complex. The inner object is not a "subject" related to the self, it is an "object." And in the model I'm going to propose, it will be clear that the external object is not a subject related to the self. The recognition of the subjectivity of the other is a result of development. Only to the degree that the other is perceived as a separate person will his subjectivity be recognized and appreciated.

Actually, the latter is a crucial step in the experience of the other, and a central component in the capacity to mentalize. Without this development, the other remains an object. Bollas hints at this quality of experience, naming it "normotic" (1987). …

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