Melanie Klein is the founder of Object Relations theory. According to this theory, every child has an inborn drive to seek out an object. This can be a physical object as well as representation of child’s relationship with significant others (mainly parents/caregivers).
An object relation involves mental representations of:
- The object as perceived by the self
- The self in relation to the object
- The relationship between self and object
Introjects are the child’s internalized representations of external ideas or individuals. Introjection helps the child deal with anxiety felt from within.
From repeated exposures to primary caregivers, a child subjectively constructs internal objects during infancy. A healthy personality development entails that these representations are evolving with time. If they remain at the same immature level, it would be considered unhealthy for the child’s development. The child also begins to split. Splitting is the tendency for the child to categorize objects into good or bad. For an infant, a caregiver is good if child’s needs are being satisfied and bad if they’re not. Similarly, the child also perceives part of self as good or bad. If developed properly, the child incorporates the self and object into an integrated whole.
The child may repress the anxiety-provoking bad aspects of the object. This unconsciously directs future relationships.
Mahler emphasizes the concept of Separation-Indivudation that occurs at 4 months of age where the child begins to explore the environment and begins to develop a separate identity.
Maladaptive Behavior is due to problems in childhood object relations. For example, Borderline Personality Disorder is theorized by Object Relations theorists as lack of integration of good and bad as a child. Therefore, the adult continues to shift between the good and the bad.
Therapy and Goals
The therapist’s job is to provide acceptance for the client and their ability to relate to others in a healthy manner. Therapists will help uncover dysfunctional internalized object representations from childhood and how these play a role in development of unhealthy relationship dynamics. The goal would be to replace these with appropriate ones.