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Padel, J. (1987). Narcissism - A Fairbairnian View. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(3):256-264.

(1987). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(3):256-264

Theoretical Concepts: Narcissism III

Narcissism - A Fairbairnian View

John Padel

Fairbairn's writings are coming to be more widely appreciated and used, particularly for the way in which they show schizoid (splitting) processes to be of central importance in human development and psychopathology. Already in 1940 he had maintained that ‘some measure of splitting of the ego is invariably present at the deepest mental level’ (splitting of the ego is, of course, the primary postulate of narcissism) and that ‘the basic position in the psyche is invariably a schizoid position’ (his italics). Four years later he arrived at a statement of ‘endopsychic structure considered in terms of object-relationships’, in which the schizoid processes he had described before (and had found at work much earlier, according to his clinical papers of 1927, 1931 and 1936) were shown to lead to, and to account for, the structured development of the psyche, both normal and pathological.

Fairbairn's paper of 1944, according to Phyllis Grosskurth's biography of Melanie Klein, ‘initiated what was to be the last major creative period of Klein's life. [It] forced her to trace life from its very first moments rather than select later critical events in infantile development’ (1986, p. 371). So Fairbairn is with reason regarded in the USA as the founder of an object-relations theory of the personality, which was the title chosen for the publication of his book there (p. 325 n.). In the second publication of her paper on schizoid mechanisms (1946) Klein acknowledged some debt to Fairbairn and, ‘combining his term with hers’ in developing her theory of the earliest weeks and months of life, adumbrated a ‘paranoid -schizoidposition more basic than the depressive one which she had hitherto regarded as central.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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