IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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II. C. Roots in Sándor Ferenczi and Otto Rank Further to the problem of object-relations in classical drive theory, where objects are created by the subject out of the experience of drive satisfaction/frustration, Sándor Ferenczi was one of the first analysts to explicitly acknowledge (i) that object-relations exist from the beginning of life, and (ii) that object-relationships may be found in the deepest structures of the mind (Haynal 1988; Kohon 1986). Together with his seminal contributions to the theory of clinical technique, based on the analysis of regressed patients, Ferenczi’s emphasis on early environmental failure and infantile trauma forms the background to the development of object- relations theory in the British school of Klein, Fairbairn, Balint and Winnicott. (See also entries COUNTERTRANSFERENCE, INTERSUJECTIVITY) Otto Rank’s book Grundzuege einer genetischen Psychologie [General outline of a genetic psychology] (1927) introduced the concept ‘pre-oedipal’ under the chapter headline “Genesis of the object relation”, thus adding significance to the idea that there is a developmental phase before the Oedipus complex, also formed an essential part of the origins of object-relations theory. Rank’s contribution represents one of a series of decisive breaks with the Freudian interpretation of psychosexual development: “The Oedipus saga is certainly a duplicate of the Sphinx episode, which means psychologically that it is the repetition of the primal trauma at the sexual stage (Oedipus complex), whereas the Sphinx represents the primal trauma itself” (Rank 1924, p.144). The identification of the Sphinx – i.e. the ‘strangler’ – as “the nuclear symbol of primary anxiety” posits trauma as a relational phenomenon occurring at the beginning of life, in particular with reference to separation and individuation.


It was possible to advance the idea of object-relationships only so far from the structural point of view of the second topography. Freud continued to view impulse as a derivative of drive tension, and saw impulses as directed towards objects secondarily – that is, when objects present themselves and prove efficacious in reducing tension, experienced as pleasure. The development of object-relations theory required a more or less extensive revision of Freud’s instinct theory. Some authors argue that the term ‘object-relations school’ applies to a specific group of analysts in the Independent tradition – most notably, Fairbairn, Winnicott, and Michael Balint (cf. Kohon 1986; Hinshelwood 1989; Spillius et al. 2011). However, leaving aside the more organized notion of a ‘school’, and further to the problem of object-relations in Freud, the theory of object-relations has developed along two axes within British psychoanalysis: on the one hand, the Independent tradition within the British Society after 1945; on the other hand, the work of Klein and the contemporary Kleinians (Schafer 1997), for whom the importance of unconscious internal object-relations is seen in


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