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O'Shaughnessy, E. (1964). The Absent Object. J. Child Psychother., 1(2):34-43.

(1964). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 1(2):34-43

The Absent Object

Edna O'Shaughnessy

The subject of this paper is the absent sustaining object. This first intrudes on the life of the baby in the form of the absent breast. The absent breast is an essential part of the breast relationship, since it is of the logical essence of a relationship that there be times when the one person is with the other and times when he is apart from that other. The unborn infant—being permanently in union with his mother—does not yet have a relationship to her, or to her parts: he enters on the condition for a relationship at birth. A relationship, moreover, needs to be distinguished from a simple association, which ends as the partners part. The feeding infant does not have a feeding association with the breast, like a strictly business association. He has a relationship to it, which spans presence and absence, which goes beyond the physical presence of the breast to the breast in its absence.

The first point of interest is that the character of the absent object is opposite to the character of the object when there. The object when present is prima facie a good object. Whatever the difficulties, the feeding breast sustains life. As against this, the absent breast is first experienced in hunger, when it is needed and is not there; that is, the absent object is a bad object which is leaving the baby to starve and die. Nevertheless, the absent object is an integral part of his life, and in the course of his development the baby must come to terms with it. It will be a

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