Object relations theory
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Object relations theory is a psychodynamic theory within psychoanalytic psychology. The theory explicates the dynamic process of developing a mind as one grows in relation to real others in the environment. The "objects" being referred to in the title of the theory are both real others in one's world, and one's internalized images of others. Object relationships are initially formed during early interactions with the primary care givers. These early patterns can be altered with experience, but often continue to exert a strong influence throughout life. The term "object relations theory" was formally coined by Ronald Fairbairn in 1952, but the line of thought being referred to was active in shaping psychoanalysis from 1917 onwards. Object relations theory was actively pioneered throughout the 1940s and 50s by British psychologists Ronald Fairbairn, Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott, Harry Guntrip, and others.
Objects are initially comprehended in the infant mind by their functions and are termed "part objects." The breast that feeds the hungry infant is the "good breast." The hungry infant that finds no breast is in relation to the "bad breast." Through repeated experience, internal objects are formed by the patterns emerging in one's subjective experience of the care taking environment. These internalized images may or may not be accurate representations of the actual, external others. With a "good enough" "facilitating environment" part object functions eventually transform into a comprehension of whole objects, which corresponds with the ability to tolerate ambiguity and to see that both the "good" and the "bad" breast are a part of the same "mummy."