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Fleming, J. (1972). Early Object Deprivation and Transference Phenomena: The Working Alliance. Psychoanal Q., 41:23-49.

(1972). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 41:23-49

Early Object Deprivation and Transference Phenomena: The Working Alliance

Joan Fleming, M.D.


Two forms of transference resistance which operate against development of a working alliance in the analyses of adults who lost a parent in childhood are described. These resistances reflect the patient's ways of coping with the loss of external 'coördinates' before his childhood ego is able to organize object images and to individuate a confident self-image. Such internal organization of early symbiotic experiences provides resources to protect against later stresses of developmental separations and encounters with painful reality.

Object deprivation in childhood tends to perpetuate an intense and immature ego-object-need which distorts the reality of later object relations in the service of trying to restore a sense of the presence of the object needed for development. The parent-loss patient requires special responses from the analyst in tune with the level of object need to aid in the functioning of an observing ego and to interrupt the transference defenses against grief and mourning. The analyst's empathically symbiotic responses provide a temporary substitute for the 'coördinates', necessary for 'refueling' throughout childhood and adolescence, a diatrophic alliance for continuing growth that was prematurely interrupted by early parental loss.

The analyst's knowledge of the effect of separation experiences, with their potential for trauma but also for normal development, will enable him to recognize the problem of interrupted mourning work and facilitate its continuance to completion. On the basis of such an empathically symbiotic working alliance and a break-through of resistances against mourning work, the psychoanalytic process can proceed and patients suffering from childhood object deprivation can be helped.

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