Quiz 5: Klein: Object Relations Theory


In contrast to Freud's emphasis on the first 4 to 6 years of life, object relations theory stresses the first 4 to 6 months. Klein believed that an infant's drives are directed to an object such as a breast, penis, or vagina.These early childhood drives give an infant's experiences an unrealistic, fantasy-like quality that affects later interpersonal relations. Compared with Freud, Klein placed more emphasis on interpersonal relations and less emphasis on biology. Whereas Freud's theory emphasized the importance of the father during the male Oedipus complex, Klein's theory is built on the importance of the mother. Object relations theory holds that human contact and relatedness-not sexual pleasure-are the principal motivators of human behavior.

During the first few months of life, an infant experiences both a good breast (one that offers nourishment and contentment) and a bad breast (one that frustrates the infant). When these opposing experiences threaten the existence of the infant's vulnerable ego, the infant tries to gain control of the breast by harboring the breast and destroying it. To tolerate these opposing feelings, the ego splits itself and deflecting parts of both the life and death instincts onto the breast. The infant wishes to retain and control the good breast as a defense against annihilation by persecutors. This paranoid-schizoid position allows the infant to organize experiences into both good and bad experiences.

According to Klein, infants adopt several psychic defense mechanisms to protect their ego against anxiety aroused by their own destructive fantasies. Introjection refers to the infants' fantasizing about incorporating external objects (such as their mother's breast) into their own body. Projection is the fantasy that one's own impulses are within another person rather than within one's own body.By projecting destructive urges onto external objects or other people, infants protect themselves from unpleasant anxiety. Splitting allows infants to keep apart the good and bad aspects of themselves or of external objects. Projective identification is a means of reducing anxiety by splitting off unacceptable parts of one's self and projecting them onto another object, and then introjecting them back into the self in a disguised form.