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Mitchell, S.A. (1984). Object Relations Theories and the Developmental Tilt. Contemp. Psychoanal., 20:473-499.

(1984). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 20:473-499

Object Relations Theories and the Developmental Tilt

Stephen A. Mitchell, Ph.D.

It is the predicament of the neurotic that he translates everything into the terms of infantile sexuality; but if the doctor does so too, then where do we get?
Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God

THE DESIGNATION "OBJECT RELATIONS THEORY" has been used with reference to a wide range of very different kinds of formulations: from Klein's rich and complex depiction of unconscious fantasy, to Fairbairn's highly abstract, schematic structural model, to Bowlby's ethologically-based theory of attachment, to Winnicott's epigramatic paradoxes and pithy observations about children, to Mahler's powerfully evocative portrayal of the longing for symbiotic fusion, to Jacobson's causuistic emendations of Freud's drive theory.

To employ a common term for such a wide array of disparate points of view runs a risk—the fashionable popularity accruing to "object relations theories" in recent years has blurred important distinctions beneath a hazy aura connoting theory that is new, humanistic, often esoteric, and presumably pertaining to the deepest recesses of the mind and the earliest developmental phases. Is the employment of a common phrase to designate these different groups of theories useful or misleading? What do these heterogeneous theories have in common? What is essential and what is artifactual and political in their formulation? What has been their central role in the development of psychoanalytic ideas?

Since the multiplicity of theories of object relations has been parallelled by a proliferation of different histories and interpretations of what might be regarded as the "object relations movement, " there is no consensus concerning these questions.

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