An Object Relations Approach to Understanding Unusual Behaviors and
Feedback by Sam Vaknin Ph.D.
by Kathi Stringer surveys Object relations theory (mainly Mahler's work). I
fully agree with her that this branch of psychodynamics possesses the strongest
explanatory powers as far as childhood development and the emergence of
The main problems with the limited versions
of object relations are the neglect of all early infancy influences, bar the
mother's - and the proliferation of postulated psychic structures, none of them
directly observable. There isn't an agreement even as to basic terminology.
Klein's "bad object" is "out thee" - Winnicott's is
Additionally, the various phases and
transitions - such as Separation-Individuation - are "smooth" and do
not "leave psychological traces". Melanie Klein's work with its
life-long "positions" (paranoid-schizoid and, later, depressive)
partly saw to that - but, even so, some scholars (Daniel Stern) dispute the
entire edifice based on clinical research.
It is not even agreed that the awareness of
separate objects is not an innate, born, ability. Klein - a pillar of Object
Relations Theory - thought that infants are born with an ego and the immediate
ability to split the world into bad and good objects. Kohut suggested that
narcissism and object-love co-exist throughout life and are born - not learned -
qualities. And, as many a mother would attest, most children are aware of
outside object long before they are 30 days old, the end of the Autistic Phase,
according to Mahler.
Classic Object Relations theory also fails to
explain the Rapprochement sub-phase of the Separation-Individuation phase. What
brings about the separation anxiety that drives the child back into his mother's
arms and provokes in it an acute sense of object inconstancy? How does the child
transit from the symbiotic omnipotent dyad, in which the mother is a mere
extension - into a state of quivering hysteria? Where does the realization of
separateness emanate from? The development of language skills reflect this
mysterious process - they do not induce it.
Aware of these weaknesses in Mahler's work,
Object Relations theorists suggested that primary narcissism has numerous roots.
The omnipotence attributed to the mother-extension in the symbiotic phase is
only one of them. More about this in my Primer
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