Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ronald Fairbairn - Object Seeking vs. Drive Discharging

"In a previous article (1941) I attempted to formulate a new version of the libido theory and to outline the general features which a systematic psychopathology based upon this re-formulation would appear to assume. The basic conception which I advanced on that occasion, and to which I still adhere, is to the effect that libido is primarily object-seeking (rather than pleasure-seeking, as in the classic theory), and that it is to disturbances in the object-relationships of the developing ego that we must look for the ultimate origin of all psychopathological conditions. This conception seems to me not only to be closer in accord with psychological facts and clinical data than that embodied in Freud's original theory of the libido, but also to represent a logical outcome of the present stage of psycho-analytical thought and a necessary step in the further development of psycho-analytical theory. In particular, it seems to me to constitute an inevitable implication of the illuminating conception of internalized objects, which has been so fruitfully developed by Melanie Klein, but which traces its scientific origin to Freud's theory of the super-ego (an endopsychic structure which was, of course, conceived by him as originating in the internalization of objects).

Quite apart from the considerations advanced in my previous paper or various other considerations which could be adduced, it may be claimed that the psychological introjection of objects and, in particular, the perpetuation of introjected objects in inner reality are processes which by their very nature imply that libido is essentially object-seeking; for the mere presence of oral impulses is in itself quite insufficient to account for such a pronounced devotion to objects as these phenomena imply. A similar implication would appear to arise out of the mere possibility of an Oedipus situation being perpetuated in the unconscious; for unceasing devotion to an object constitutes the very essence of this situation. Nevertheless the conception of internalized objects has been developed without any significant modification of a libido theory with which there is no small reason to think that it is incompatible. Freud himself never saw fit to undertake any systematic re-formulation of his original theory of libido, even after the introduction of his theory of the super-ego. At the same time there are innumerable passages in his works in which it appears to be taken for granted that libido is specifically object-seeking. Indeed it is possible to find passages in which this implicit view becomes explicit — as, for example, when he states quite simply (1929): 'Love seeks for objects.' This statement occurs in a paragraph in which, referring to his original theory of instincts, he writes as follows: 'Thus first arose the contrast between ego instincts and object instincts. For the energy of the latter instincts and exclusively for them I introduced the term libido; an antithesis was then formed between the ego instincts and the libidinal instincts directed towards objects.' As Freud proceeds to point out, the distinction between these two groups of instincts was abandoned upon his 'introduction of the concept of narcissism, i.e. the idea that libido cathects the ego itself'; but in the light of the passage quoted it would appear no very revolutionary step to claim that libido is primarily object-seeking, especially if, as I have suggested in my previous article, we conceive of narcissism as a state in which the ego is identified with objects.1

Nevertheless the ever increasing concentration of psycho-analytical research upon object-relationships has left unmodified the original theory that libido is primarily pleasure-seeking, and with it the related conception that 'the course of mental processes is automatically regulated by "the pleasure principle"' (Freud, 1920; 1). The persistence of this view has raised various problems which might otherwise have proved easier of solution. Prominent amongst these is the problem for which Freud set out to find a solution in Beyond the Pleasure Principle(1920) itself, viz. how it comes about that neurotics cling to painful experiences so assiduously. It was the difficulty of accounting for this phenomenon in terms of the pleasure principle that led Freud to fall back upon the conception of a 'repetition compulsion'. If, however, libido is regarded as primarily object-seeking, there is no need to resort to this expedient; and in a recent article (1943) I attempted to show how the tendency to cling to painful experiences may be explained in terms of relationships with bad objects. In the same article I also attempted to show how the difficulties involved in the conception of primary 'death instincts' (in contrast to the conception of primary aggressive instincts) may be avoided if all the implications of libidinal relationships with bad objects are taken into account." (pp. 70-71) 

1 Quite apart from this suggestion, there is no necessary incompatibility between the view that libido is primarily object-seeking and the conception of libido cathecting the ego, since there is always the possibility of one part of the ego structure treating another part as an object — a possibility which cannot be ignored in the light of what follows regarding the splitting of the ego.
Ronald Fairbairn (1944). Endopsychic Structure Considered in Terms of Object-Relationships. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 25, pp. 70-92

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