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Klein, M. Tribich, D. (1981). Kernberg's Object-Relations Theory: A Critical Evaluation. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 62:27-43.

(1981). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 62:27-43

Kernberg's Object-Relations Theory: A Critical Evaluation

Milton Klein and David Tribich


Kernberg's rapprochement between Freudian instinct theory and object-relations theory obscures the differences between these two competing theories without taking any recognition of their differences. Rather, Kernberg uses the language of Freudian metapsychology while at the same time purging it of its well-defined meaning, and he fills the resulting theoretical vaccum with ideas taken from the British school of object relations. In so doing Kernberg avoids any serious discussion of the differing concept of the innate postulated by object-relation theorists as opposed to Freudian theory, and the concomitant difference in the importance these two theories ascribe to the mother-infant dyad. His dismissal of the work of Bowlby, Fairbairn, Guntrip and Winnicott is not based on any scientific discussion of their theories but on the fact that these theories reject Freudian motivational theory. Similarly Kernberg ignores the fact that Freud too had an object-relations theory, but implies instead that Freud never fully worked out this aspect of his theory. Kernberg remains unclear as to what he considers to be the importance of the mother-infant dyad. He presupposes the existence of 'internalized object relations', and so he never bothers to explain the origins and motives of how this internalization occurs. Thus his 'theory' avoids theorizing about what is the crux of the matter—what is it about the external world that is so important to the infant's nature that it becomes transformed into the psyche and perpetuated for a lifetime so that it influences subsequent object interactions and feelings about oneself.

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