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Kavaler-Adler, S. (1993). Object Relations Issues in the Treatment of the Preoedipal Character. Am. J. Psychoanal., 53(1):19-34.

(1993). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 53(1):19-34

Object Relations Issues in the Treatment of the Preoedipal Character

Susan Kavaler-Adler, Ph.D.

Object Survival and the Transitional Object

The analyst's role as a transitional object (Winnicott, 1971) becomes particularly critical with patients whose parental objects have failed to survive as “good enough” during the stages of development when the self structure is formed through object internalization. To fulfill the functions of a transitional object, the analyst must survive the patient's infantile rage, containing the aggressive attacks. Eventually, he/she must interpret the compulsion behind the aggressive assaults in terms of reenactments of pathological transactions with the parents that prohibited an affectively alive mode of object contact.

In his paper, “The Survival of the Object and Interrelating in Terms of Cross Identifications” (1968), D. W. Winnicott interprets object survival as tolerating infantile rage without retaliation or abandonment. The terms of object survival can be broadened beyond such a definition, however, as the psychoanalyst is seen as a transitional object who can be used for developmental purposes. Similar to an attuned parent, the analyst as transitional object must translate the patient's needs and fears implicit behind his/her patient's rage into an understandable form. The analyst must also continue to be available for responsive emotional contact at any juncture when rage is resolved into a state of vulnerability and self-observing reflection. Sometimes this involves active modes of engagement on the part of the analyst, and sometimes this involves a more receptive attunement. The analyst's survival also implies confronting and interpreting object relations reenactments so that a compulsion to act out a perpetual battle with the “bad object” (Fairbairn, 1952)1 can be converted into alive affect, and thus into penetrating contact in relationships in the present.

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