Fairbairn’s theory is a radical departure from Freud’s drive/structural model. First, for Fairbairn, all meaningful human activity from infancy onward is relational with the ultimate goal of self-expression in relationship. The infant seeks not indiscriminant discharge and a return to homeostasis rather the primary goal is relationship with the object. In this way, Fairbairn inverts Freud’s conceptualization by positioning pleasure as secondary to object relations. Second, Fairbairn views endopsychic structure as inherently schizoid and pathological. Fairbairn’s infant (here, not unlike Stern) is born whole and hardwired for experiencing itself in relation to others. Endopsychic structure forms as a result of “bad”/intolerably unsatisfying experiences of self with other. At the risk of losing the life sustaining object, the infant splits - internalizing an aspect of the self, an aspect of the object, and the affective, purposive relationship between them. This internalization forms a subsystem that comprises the endopsychic structure: Libidinal Self and Antilibidinal Self. Hence, for Fairbairn the endopsychic structure is pathologic because it is formed by splitting the self in relation to other and maintained via repression. Third, drive/structural theorists allow for the internalization of both good and bad objects, all of which dictate levels of internal structure. For Fairbairn only “bad” objects are internalized to form endopsychic structure. Good objects are subsumed by the Central Self and constitute certain conscious endowments such as learning and memory. Structure, though inevitable, is not necessary for healthy development.
Winnicott plays the middle-man and maintains an allegiance with the drive/structural model although his concepts are fundamentally relational. He works hard to cast his work as a continuation of Freud and Klein while snubbing any association with Fairbairn. Winnicott stresses the developmental importance of object relatedness, specifically the mother-child dyad. For Winnicott, to view the newborn infant as an entity outside the maternal dyad is useless. The infant and his mother are inextricably linked in a developmental dance of holding, containing, object-relating and object usage. Winnicott stresses object relations not as a derivative of drive gratification or defense (Freud) but rather as an autonomous developmental need.
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.