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Object relations theory in psychoanalytic psychology is the process of developing a psyche in relation to others in the environment during childhood. The first “object” in someone is usually an internalized image of one’s mother. Internal objects are formed by the patterns in one’s experience of being taken care of as a baby, which may or may not be accurate representations of the actual, external caretakers. The initial line of thought emerged in 1917 with Ferenczi and, later in the 1920s, Rank, coiner of the term “pre-Oedipal,”.
Freud originally identified people in a subject’s environment with the term “object” to identify people as the object of drives. Fairbairn took a radical departure from Freud by positing that humans were not seeking satisfaction of the drive, but actually seek the satisfaction that comes in being in relation to real others. In America, Anna Freud heavily influenced American psychoanalysis in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Fairbairn revised much of Freud’s model of the mind. He identified how people who were abused as children internalize that experience. Fairbairn’s “moral defense” is the tendency seen in survivors of abuse to take all the bad upon themselves, each believing he is morally bad so his caretaker object can be regarded as good.