The internal/external issue. What is an outer object? Another person as object and as separate other in object relations models

The question of what we mean by the term outer object has its roots in the epistemological foundation of psychoanalysis.


From the very beginning, Freud's view was Kantian, and psychoanalysis has kept that stance, as it seems. The author reviews the internal/external issue in Freud 's thinking and in the central object relations theories (Klein, Winnicott, and Bion). On this background he proposes a simple model to differentiate the concept of object along one central dimension: internal object, external object, and actual person. The main arguments are: (1) there is no direct, unmediated perception of the actual person-the experience of the other is always affected by the perceiver's subjectivity; (2) in intense transference reactions and projections, the perception of the person is dominated by the qualities of an inner object-and the other person "becomes" an external object for the perceiver; (3) when this distortion is less dominating, the other person to a higher degree remains a separate othera person in his or her own right.

Clinical material illustrates these phenomena, and a graphical picture of the model is presented. Finally with the model as background, the author comments on a selection of phenomena and concepts such as unobjectionable transference, "the third position, " mourning and loneliness.

Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2013, 67, 249-274

Published Mar. 24, 2014 8:00 AM - Last modified Nov. 19, 2015 1:41 PM