IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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The emphasis on the instinctual roots of object-relations means that the object is seen as a consequence of the genital organization of the component instincts and erotogenic zones. Object-relations remain a function of drive for Freud, where stimulation is explicable without reference to the object-relational context. Compare the following statement to the previous passage from the Three Essays : “If an erotogenic zone in a person who is not sexually excited (e.g. the skin of a woman’s breast) is stimulated by touch, the contact produces a pleasurable feeling…it is at the same time better calculated than anything to arouse a sexual excitation that demands an increase of pleasure” (1905: 210). Here, as elsewhere, excitation is explicable in the Freudian interpretation without reference to the interpersonal context. The concept of the object, if not the object-relationship, undergoes certain changes in the second topography or structural model. Endogenously arising, biologically determined drives remain the underlying motivational principle for Freud; while at the same time, more emphasis is given to early relationships – that is, within which the multiple demands of drive are organized and realized. The problem of object-relations is now linked to a conceptual series that anticipates the formulation of the structural model: narcissism (1914); the new instinctual dualism introduced in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920); the fusion of instincts; instinctual sublimation; and identification (1921). The capacity of the object to influence the nature of psychic structure is set out, against the background of this conceptual development, in ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ (1917a): “An object-choice…had at one time existed; then, owing to a real slight or disappointment coming from the loved person, the object-relationship was shattered…the free libido was not displaced on to another object; it was withdrawn into the ego…it was not employed in an unspecified way, but served to establish an identification of the ego with the abandoned object. Thus, the shadow of the object fell upon the ego” (1917: 248-49). The process described in ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ – i.e. an alternation of the ego on the basis of an earlier object-relationship following object-loss – is generalized in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921) as a phenomenon of normal psychology. These conceptual developments notwithstanding, the notion of object-relationship is not accorded explanatory value in the second theory of the psychical apparatus any more than it was in the first (topographical) theory. The developmental implications of object-relations are nonetheless elaborated further in The Ego and the Id , with reference to “a setting up of the object inside the ego” (1923: 29). The structuration of the ego and the superego depends on a series of object losses. Freud thus advances the supposition that “the character of the ego is a precipitate of abandoned object- cathexes and that it contains the history of those object-choices” (1923: 29). Structures with a developmental history, relics of object-relationships, are included alongside constitutionally determined drives and their vicissitudes or transformations. The effects of the Oedipus complex on the structuration of the psyche are viewed, accordingly, in terms of identifications in place of abandoned cathexes.

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