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Tustin, F. (1980). Autistic Objects. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 7:27-39.

(1980). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 7:27-39

Autistic Objects

Frances Tustin


In this paper, the nature, origin and function of both normal and pathological autistic objects have been discussed. Both types of autistic object would seem to arise from genetically determined predispositions which have been relatively unmodified by experience from the outside world. It has been suggested that pathological autistic objects arise from auto-sensuality which becomes excessive and takes a deviant and perverse course. The psychotic child has developed under-cover activities with bodily parts and substances. These are developed to enable him to avoid the pains of frustration and disillusionment which for him have been unutterable. The muscular hypertension associated with these stressful situations means that hard objects in the outside world have seemed appropriate to enable the child to feel protected from further experience of painful impingements. These hard objects are felt to be part of his body. They are usually felt to be inanimate since the unintegrated type of psychotic child does not make a distinction between animate and inanimate, and the disintegrated child only makes it in a confused and bizarre way. Since the mother is experienced as an inanimate object which is part of the child's body and as such can be taken for granted, there is no space for psychological change and growth. Nor does such a child experience an authentic maternal object. Such a child's undifferentiated mode of apprehension also has significant effects upon the nature and development of pathological autistic objects. The impeding effects of these objects on the child's mental development has been discussed.

It has been suggested that recognition of them has important implications both for education and psychoanalytic therapy. The need for circumspection and sensitivity in the use of these insights concerning autistic objects has been stressed. Their significance for further understanding of the perversions and fetishism has been indicated. They also promise to throw light on the beginnings of obsessional neurosis.

Finally, it has seemed important to avoid importing concepts which have been evolved for the description of later levels of development which would distort the descriptions of these much earlier levels.

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