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Stierlin, H. (1970). The Functions of 'Inner Objects'. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 51:321-329.

(1970). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 51:321-329

The Functions of 'Inner Objects'

Helm Stierlin

This paper introduces the concept of inner object functions. These are conceived to be comparable to, but not identical with, ego functions. The concept 'inner object functions' promises to illuminate several aspects of psychoanalytic object relations theory which have remained unclear or controversial.

The inner objects of psychoanalysis, as described in the following, can be viewed as fulfilling three main functions.

First, they serve as inner referents. In this sense inner objects are best described as object-representations: they represent external objects within the psyche in a manner which emphasizes the former's congruence with these external objects. They thus serve cognitive reality orientation. They presuppose memory and the capacity to symbolize. They resemble Semon's engrams in that they allow us to tie a new percept to a familiar image. They provide a file for mental recall and they make possible an adaptive intelligence which can rely on differentiated inner structures.

Second, inner objects serve as guideposts for interpersonal relationships, both present and future. In this sense they appear best defined as object images. They provide an inner anticipatory set which narrows down the possible selection of outer objects. This applies mainly to potential partners in relationships. Inner objects as anticipatory sets correspond partly to what Boszormenyi-Nagy, among others, has called 'need templates' (1965). Sutherland (1963) speaks of the inner objects as 'a scanning apparatus which seeks a potential object in the outer world' (p.

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