Fairbairn describes his psychology as differing from the freudian in that it is conceived of in terms of object relations rather than impulses. The pristine personality of the child consists of a unitary dynamic ego. The first defense adopted by the ego to deal with an unsatisfying personal relationship is introjection of the unsatisfying object. This unsatisfying object has two parts, an exciting aspect and a rejecting aspect, and the second defense adopted by the ego is to reject and split off from the internalized object two elements, one representing each of these aspects. The internalized object is thus split into three objects, the 'exciting object', the 'rejecting object', and the nucleus which remains, called the 'ideal object'. Since the exciting and rejecting objects remain cathected while in process of being repressed, their repression involves the splitting off from the ego of two portions, the 'libidinal ego' cathecting the exciting off from the ego of two portions, the 'libidinal ego' cathecting the exciting object and the 'antilibidinal ego' cathecting the rejecting object. These processes and the resulting structures are established at an early age and contain all the potentialities for normal development and for psychopathology.
In hysteria the exciting object is excessively exciting and the rejecting object excessively rejecting. Hence the libidinal ego is excessively libidinal, the antilibidinal ego excessively prosecutory. These features account for the intensity of the hysteric's repressed sexuality and the extent of his compulsive sacrifice of sexuality. Fairbairn illustrates these formulations with cases of hysterics in which one or both parents were seductive and rejecting. In the Oedipal situation the child identifies the parent of the same sex as the rejecting object, and the parent of the opposite sex as the exciting object. This pattern, according to Fairbairn, is not inevitable. The same parent can, for instance, represent both the exciting and the rejecting objects.
Fairbairn believes that the theory of erotogenic zones should not be used in explaining hysterical phenomena but rather that these zones are the result of hysterical conversion. When, because of the unsatisfactory object relations, libido (or aggression) is dammed up in an organic system which provides some outlet for expression, this organic system may itself become cathected and treated by the individual as an object. Such a process appears, according to Fairbairn, to be involved in the establishment of erotogenic zones.
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(1956). British Journal of Medical Psychology. XXVII, 1954. Psychoanal. Q., 25:124