Definition extracted with permission from Simon, Fritz, et al, Family Process, Inc.: Language of Family Therapy: A Systemic Vocabulary and Source Book (Family Process Press Series)
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object relations theory
( object theory )
This psychoanalytic theory of human relationships, developed by Fairbairn (1952), has influenced various concepts of family therapy. Fairbairn posits that every individual has a fundamental need for satisfactory object relationships, and that this need will shape future behavior. He regards the development of personality as largely equivalent to the establishment of a system of inner objects. The manner in which these objects are internally represented and self/object differentiation is structured, largely determines how an individual feels, thinks, and relates to others. The functions of these inner objects can be understood as an aspect of ego functions (ego psychology), which are important in the development of individual autonomy.