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Rubinfine, D.L. (1962). Maternal Stimulation, Psychic Structure, and Early Object Relations—With Special Reference to Aggression and Denial. Psychoanal. St. Child, 17:265-282.

(1962). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 17:265-282

Maternal Stimulation, Psychic Structure, and Early Object Relations—With Special Reference to Aggression and Denial

David L. Rubinfine, M.D.


In this paper I have endeavored to demonstrate that certain chronically prolonged, intense inner experiences which are registered and finally structuralized in the psyche as the "bad" or "frustrating" object result in structural, dynamic, and economic consequences for development. Chief among these are:

1. Structural

a. Distinction of the self from nonself occurs prematurely

b. Denial becomes prominent as a compensatory mechanism

2. Economic

a. There is premature differentiation of aggression out of the undifferentiated energic reservoir

b. There results a primary cathexis of the object with aggression

3. Dynamic

Object relations originate, in these instances, in an atmosphere of conflict rather than in one of need satisfaction and tension discharge,

producing a disturbance in object relations which is difficult to overcome at that time and in the future.

These events are assumed to occur during the first half of the first year of life, thus preceding the ordinary or normal sequence of differentiation of self from mother and mother from others (five- to eight-month anxiety).

I am in agreement with those observers who believe that the relationship with the mother begins at birth, but expresses itself in different ways as the sensory-cognitive-motor ego apparatus mature, differentiate, and mediate between instinct (drive) tension systems and external reality in ever more complex ways. This refers especially to the maturation and development of the capacity for symbol formation, anticipation, delay, and defense, leading among other results to the progressive refinement and differentiation of affects. I have attempted to underscore the adaptive significance of denial as well as its defensive aspects. A possible inference here is that defenses are not just special cognitive tools invoked only by experiences of conflict.

I also want to emphasize that I am not suggesting that object relations generally or normally arise primarily out of conflict, but only that the pathology of object relations is so linked. I am aware that object relations arise as an expression of drive patterns, and that their forms vary with the type and quality of the objects available in the environment. In this connection Lorenz's concept of imprinting (1935) and Harlow's monkeys are relevant.

Yet, in the course of normal development there is a drive-need-environment conflict. The environment does indeed inhibit and frustrate impulse. But it also offers objects to the drives, and opportunities (Erikson) for the unfolding of object attachments.

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