IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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The resulting situation is defined as “the basic endopsychic situation” – that is, a central ego employing various defence mechanisms in relation to (i) the libidinal ego and the exciting object and (ii) the anti-libidinal ego and the rejecting object (1946: 147). The central ego comprises pre-conscious and conscious, as well as unconscious, elements; whereas the subsidiary egos are ordinarily unconscious. The use of Freudian terms notwithstanding, the tripartite structure of the personality along these lines does not correspond significantly to the structural model of classical psychoanalysis. Unlike Freud, Fairbairn postulates the organization of actual relational events into separate self-object formations, or structures, based upon the repression of internalized objects: central ego/ideal object; libidinal ego/exciting object; and anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object. The inseparability of ego and object is presented on this model in terms of “inherently dynamic structures resulting from the splitting of an original and single dynamic ego-structure present at the beginning” (1946: 148). Furthermore, while the structural ego, in the classical Freudian sense, is seen as a derivative of the unstructured id in the second topography, Fairbairn regards “the libidinal ego (which corresponds to the ‘id’) as a split off portion of the original, dynamic ego” (1946: 148). The difference in fundamental theoretical principles (methodological similarities notwithstanding) renders the theory of endopsychic structure incompatible with Freud’s structural model. 3. For Fairbairn, generally speaking “psychology may be said to resolve itself into a study of the relationships of the individual to his [external] objects, whilst, in similar terms, psychopathology may be said to resolve itself more specifically into a study of the relationships of the ego to its internalized objects” (1943: 60; cf. also 1941). Again, the departure from classical theory is evident in the fact that the object-relations perspective does not proceed along the classically defined trajectory from drive, through fantasy, to conflict and repression; but rather, introduces an alternative sequence and source of conflict. The process of maturation itself constitutes the core conflict, where the developmental tendency towards maturity comes up against a regressive tendency in the attachment to infantile dependence (1941: 38). Whereas the psychopathological model of classical theory is based on the idea of regression to different stages of libidinal development, Fairbairn focuses instead on the various defensive manoeuvres (‘techniques’) deployed during the process of maturation. The theory of psychopathology is set out from early on in terms of two ‘great tragedies’ attendant on the splitting of the ego, concerning (i) individuals who feel their love to be destructive of those they love and (ii) those who become subject to a compulsion to hate and be hated in the process of driving their libidinal objects away (1940: 26). In particular, pathological states and mechanisms of defence are considered in terms of object-relationships at different developmental stages and phases, including, early and late oral fixations: “the emotional conflict which arises in relation to object-relationships during the early oral phase takes the form of the alternative, ‘to suck or not to suck’, i.e. ‘to love or not to love’…the conflict which characterizes the late oral phase resolves itself into the alternative, ‘to suck or to bite’, i.e. ‘to love or to hate’” (1941: 49). The former characterizes the schizoid state; the latter, the depressive state. The defining problem for the individual is how to love without destroying by love or by hate, respectively. The schizoid dilemma is marked by futility; the child feels his love is at fault. By contrast, the depressive is subject to ambivalence and guilt, where it is felt that hate is to blame.

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