Sunday, 24 November 2013

Object-relations; relating to an object

I always thought that object relations was an odd term for that vast development of psychoanalytic theory that happened after the war. Some time later, I realised that the word “object” is used in the grammatical sense as in subject-verb-object! It developed our understanding of how our internal world is created by taking in, not just experiences but the relationship and above all the other person who was also present. It need not be a complete person but a fragment or an aspect or a distortion or an entity or an archetype that connects to the experience.  These inner people and fragments can then have a life of their own in a dance of dramas which attempt to control the person. Some parts are more conscious, some more benign, some nasty, some work away hidden in the background. All this internal noise keeps the person from developing a solid enough part to keep the rest in order. The process needs to be like turning a mob in to a committee with a strong enough chairperson or facilitator to draw on each member’s skill and point of view, but not to let anyone dominate or take over.

Self-help literature and much of the stuff I see on Facebook as useful quotes in interpersonal matters assumes that there is some sort of internal order and that the committee may need some help but all its members are known and can at least sit down together. What is needed is to strengthen the role of the chairperson or facilitator.

However for some people this is not true and their object relations which get put out on to the world is not one of other people, but of parts of people and sometimes functions and may change chaotically. Every baby and small child needs a secure base to operate from and return to regularly for emotional top-ups. If someone has the secure base projected on to them, they cease to be a person and become a function - a thing, a sort of slot-machine which is supposed to produce the goods when the button is pressed. This really is an object relation and no amount of non-violent communication methods, or dialogue or skilled help will change that in to a human relationship because that implies a sort of symmetry; two people together trying to sort things out.  This symmetry implies the loss of the function and that to the small baby part, is abandonment and death. This is the basis of much personality disorder where the whole issue is the impossibility of real human relating in the face of the demands of the most primitive parts of the psyche for security or admiration rather than real relating with its messy compromises. Self-help and sensible advice need a good-enough self which can at least begin to take in the reality of other people as autonomous beings not things.