Advanced Psychopathology

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Winnicott and Fairbairn Challenge Freud: Lucy's reaction

Theoretically, both Fairbairn and Winnicott represent a dramatic shift away from classical Freudian ideas. Winnicott’s divergence from Freud is best seen in his understanding of the mental life of the young infant. For Winnicott, the infant’s psyche is embedded in the environment, leading him to claim that there was “no such thing as a baby,” implying that the baby did not have an elaborate intrapsychic experience that was in some way not regulated or mediated by the presence of mother. Winnicott did not understand the infant to be autistically awash in id impulses (Freud) or internally-derived fantasy (Klein), but thought that the infant experienced and benefited from attuned maternal responding (and other objects in the environment) from a relatively early period. Of course the infant often misinterprets attunement as being under her omnipotent control, but the role of the enviroment in her self and personality development is crucial nonetheless. This is all in opposition to a Freudian position that the environment is an obstacle that requires the toddler/child to develop defenses and comprises in order to function.

Winnicott also opposed the Freudian notion that pre-oedipal traumas did not necessarily lead to psychopathology; in fact, both Fairbairn and Winnicott (like Klein) attributed the greatest importance to pre-oedipal failures and traumas, and argued that these were responsible for the most serious disorders of the self and psychotic illness.

Fairbairn seriously overhauls/replaces Freud’s intrapsychic model. Fairbairn does not believe that object-relatedness is the accident that Freud does, but believes that id-drives and urges are necessarily object-directed. For Fairbairn, there is no such thing as an urge or aim that is not object-seeking. Accordingly, Fairbairn’s conception of the nature of psychopathology entails failures in object-relatedness and the development of the self in relation to others.

Fairbairn, like Winnicott, stressed the importance of pre-oedipal failures in the development of the self and understood much of what we now understand as personality disorder (particularly schizoid types) to be the result of unrecognized, invalidated object love in infancy. Consideration of these issues at this period of development are not really present in Freudian theory.

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