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Sandler, J. (2003). On Attachment to Internal Objects. Psychoanal. Inq., 23(1):12-26.

(2003). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 23(1):12-26

On Attachment to Internal Objects

Joseph Sandler, M.D.

This paper considers some clinical implications of attachment theory from the perspective of the theory of internal object relationships and the unconscious phantasies that derive from such relationships. The paper focuses on the contributions of Bowlby and his followers, particularly Mary Main, who has developed a language-based methodology to study representational processes in adults and children, bridging the gap between the systematic study of human behavior and clinical psychoanalysis. The theory of inherent role responsiveness in the internal object world—mental representations of self and other in interaction and externalized in complementary role relationships through exchanges of unconscious and conscious messages—is presented as the psychoanalytic complement of Bowlby's theory of internal working models of attachment. Role responsiveness occurs internally as well as externally, so that one can speak of attachment to phantasy objects as well as external objects. Clinical examples illustrate how the therapist, through maintaining a free-floating responsiveness to the patient's enactments, may reconstruct the internal working models of attachment and their origins in the transference. The paper thus illustrates the way in which the origins of phantasy derive from the wished for and feared states related to early experiences of felt security, or lack of it, in relation to the attachment objects, thereby integrating the psychoanalytic theory of phantasy with attachment theory.

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