Richard L. Rubens, Ph.D.


The publication of From Instinct to Self: Selected Papers of W. R. D. Fairbairn (1995a&b) represents a major landmark in the burgeoning interest in the works of Ronald Fairbairn. In this two-volume work, Scharff and Birtles provide the student of Fairbairn with incredibly fertile possibilities for understanding the development and significance of Fairbairnís theories - particularly at the two extremes of his career. Volume I provides convenient access to the more fully mature statement of his theory in Fairbairnís later papers, which appeared subsequent to the publication of Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality in 1952. The availability of these monumental papers - heretofore found only in the journals in which they were originally published (all British, and some far from common) - is an enormous advantage to Fairbairn scholarship. These are the works in which he expressed his ideas in their most clearly elaborated form; and it is in these works that the extraneous coloration of his thinking by the ideas of other psychoanalytic theories - and those of Freud and Klein in particular - is progressively less in evidence. At the other end of the temporal spectrum, Volume II presents, essentially for the first time, many heretofore unpublished and otherwise little known early writings that provide a startling insight into the pre-Kleinian origins of Fairbairnís thought, as well as certain more peripheral writings of later date on various subjects. Scharff and Birtles, in their general introduction to the two volumes and the introductions to each of the sections within the volumes, provide an invaluable historical and theoretical overview that places each paper usefully in context. The work is a monument to the genius and insight of Fairbairn, executed in a scholarly and loving fashion - which is hardly surprising, since David Scharff (along with his wife, Jill Savage Scharff) has long been a giant in the forefront of the creative utilization of Fairbairnís theories, and Ellinor Fairbairn Birtles, in addition to being a Fairbairn scholar, is Fairbairnís daughter.


It is only recently that the psychoanalytic world has caught up to Fairbairn. Those tenets of his theory that were too radical in the forties and fifties when he first espoused them (and on into the sixties and seventies - and much of the eighties, too, for that matter), have finally come into vogue with the ascendancy of relational theories of psychoanalysis. Brought into focus by the pivotal works of Greenberg and Mitchell (1983) and Mitchell (1988), relational psychoanalysis has taken root in a way that represents, in my view, at least a partial fulfillment of Fairbairnís vision. (There are ways that even some contemporary relational theories fall short of Fairbairnís radical view, but a discussion of this is beyond the scope of this paper.)




The most exciting aspects of Volume II of From Instinct to Self lie in the insights they provide into the unique origins of Fairbairnís thinking. It has long been accepted (q.v., Sutherland, pp. 37 ff.) that Melanie Kleinís work had a profound effect on Fairbairn in the mid 1930ís. As Sutherland noted,


..her book The Psycho-Analysis of Children had been published in 1932. Kleinís view of the inner world of children being populated by relationships with highly emotional figures derived from their experience made a great impression on Fairbairn. (idem)


But the most powerful impact is acknowledged to have been her paper, "A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States," published in 1935.


It is not possible, unfortunately, to trace exactly the influence of Melanie Kleinís ideas on Fairbairnís thinking - even with the benefit of the papers from this period contained in From Instinct to Self. It is clear that by the mid-1930ís Fairbairn was aware of and open to Kleinís thinking; and it is equally evident that Fairbairn emerged at the end of this period, in 1940 with the publication of "Schizoid Factors in the Personality" (1952, Chapter 1), with a radically re-oriented view. Volume II presents all of the papers Fairbairn wrote during this crucial five year period, but they offer little insight to the actual nature of the process of his integration of these new ideas. Nowhere does he describe the process directly, and there is precious little indirect hint of what was transpiring internally. If anything, his writings of the period become somewhat more classical in flavor. (Scharff and Birtles offer some insight into the personal and political reasons for this retrenchment [1995b, pp. 224 ff.])


The real answer to the question is provided by Scharff and Birtles in a different way. Through a careful reading of Fairbairnís earliest work, one can see those crucial aspects of his later thinking that were already in evidence before the impact of Klein in the mid-thirties. It is then possible to deduce what in his later work is more directly the result of Kleinís influence and what is more uniquely Fairbairnís own. Herein lies the ultimate value of the papers presented in Volume II of From Instinct to Self.


Fairbairnís Medical Dissertation (1929)


It is particularly exciting to see in Fairbairnís earliest theoretical writings the presence, in seminal form, of the principles that are later destined to be the cornerstones of his mature theory. In Chapter One, "Dissociation and Repression" (Fairbairnís M.D. thesis, presented in 1929), the central contention is that repression is a category of dissociation:


Dissociation was defined as: An active mental process, whereby unacceptable mental content or an unacceptable mental function becomes cut off from personal consciousness, without thereby ceasing to be mental - such mental content or mental function being "unacceptable" within the meaning of this definition if it is either irrelevant to, incompatible, or unpleasant in relation to an active interest. Repression has just been defined as: An active mental process whereby certain mental elements, the appearance of which in consciousness would cause unpleasure, are excluded from personal consciousness without thereby ceasing to be mental. It is, therefore, obvious that repression is in its essence just dissociation of the unpleasant. (1995b, p. 69)


More than a decade later, in the mature elaboration of his theory, Fairbairn came to see splits in the self as being the fundamental factors in the nature and shape of the psyche:


In my opinion...some measure of splitting of the ego is invariably present at the deepest mental level -or (to express the same thing in terms borrowed from Melanie Klein) the basic position in the psyche is invariably a schizoid position. (1952,p. 8)


Fairbairn believed that "everybody without exception must be regarded as schizoid" (ibid., p. 7) in this sense. Such a position is clearly related to his early theorizing on the primacy of dissociation. Fairbairnís emphasis on the splitting of the self as the underlying process in psychic structure has its genesis in this early notion that dissociation is the more basic operation, of which repression is a subset.


Scharff and Birtles seem not fully to appreciate the significance of Fairbairnís interest in dissociation. They comment that


the argument Fairbairn makes has probably become outdated. Repression might now be seen as the general or perhaps less pathologized mechanism, while dissociation has come to be more closely associated with more severe splits in the personality and with such concepts as hypnogogic states and multiple personalities. (1995b, p. 6)


Although Fairbairn was emphasizing the primacy of dissociation , he clearly understood it to be what was involved in precisely the kinds of conditions which Scharff and Birtles mention in this passage, in that he referred (1952, p.5) specifically to "somnambulism, the fugue, dual personality, and multiple personality" as "dissociative phenomena." Fairbairn, however, saw dissociation as being relevant to the entire range of phenomena - from the most benign to the most severe; and this clearly foreshadows his mature interest in splitting and his insistence on the universality of schizoid mechanisms inherent in all levels of personality development.


It is most certainly true, as Scharff and Birtles note, that in his mature theory he "abandoned the discussion of the difference between dissociation and repression...[and] his thinking about dissociation had been transformed beyond easy recognition to the processes contained in the universal Ďsplitting of the egoí" (1995b, p.7); but it is crucial to remember that there is precisely a dissociative quality to what he is describing in the Ďego splittingí process, and that the emphasis on the Ďego splittingí process has its precursor in his focus on dissociation. In 1944 Fairbairn wrote, "dissociation phenomena...involve a split of the ego fundamentally identical with that which confers upon the term Ďschizoidí its etymological significance." (1952. p. 92) And, in 1954, Fairbairn returned to the theme of the relationship between dissociation and repression in "On the Nature of Hysterical States" (one of the extremely valuable papers included in Volume I), where he again reasserted the fundamental importance of dissociation, because "it carries with it the implication of a split in the personality, variable in its extent and often multiple." (idem.)


What is subsequently so important about Fairbairn's emphasis on the dissociative nature of these processes is the quality of wholeness and organization it lends to the sub-systems that are thereby created. While it obviously makes sense to use the term repression, as Fairbairn in fact does, to refer to the dynamic operation involved in splitting off into unconsciousness a sub-system of the self from the overall integration of that self, dissociation is far more descriptive of the resulting state of affairs. Fairbairn ultimately was describing an endopsychic situation comprised of functional, and actively functioning, subsidiary selves, operating unconsciously within the self upon which they were modeled (as I have described more fully elsewhere, 1984 & 1994). Dissociation is clearly more suggestive than is repression of the process of the splitting of the self that eventuates in this sort of endopsychic situation. The fact that Fairbairn ultimately viewed the split, "schizoid," nature of the self as standing at the heart of his conception of all psychopathology is consistent with his early emphasis on dissociation as the primary mechanism.


Nevertheless, as Scharff and Birtles quite perceptively note (1995b, p. 6), Fairbairn does in this earliest theoretical piece accord to repression a defining characteristic that is of particular later importance: "In repression, what is dissociated is part of the mental structure which is felt to be unpleasant because of its relation to the organized self." (ibid., p. 74) Fairbairn shows incipient recognition here that the most crucial splitting occurs when a part of the self must be dissociated because it is incompatible with the overall integration of that self, and he defines this form of dissociation as repression.


This understanding of repression not only foreshadows Fairbairnís mature view of the formation of endopsychic structure, it also is a precursor of his radical views on the nature of the self:


..ideas can be related to one another, concepts can be formed, consequences can be envisioned and general principles can be inferred or applied. ..It is only when this level is reached that it is possible for an organism to attain self-consciousness, to appreciate the existence of various tendencies within the self and to recognize incompatibility between its own conflicting tendencies. ..Repression is only now possible because it is only at this level that the conscious expression of a tendency incompatible with that organized body of sentiments and ideals, which constitute the self, can be recognized as such. (idem)


Herein are contained the seeds of Fairbairnís view of the self as an active center of personal integration that is ultimately the precondition for experience, both external and internal. Here, also, is a seminal version of Fairbairnís central tenet that the unconscious structures that exist within the self are created by splits in the self which occur because they are incompatible with the overall integration of the self. The creation of endopsychic structure is always defensive, and, as Fairbairn is already here contending, "the defense is directed against tendencies which form part of the mental structure of the individual himself." (ibid., p. 77)


Another enticing precursor of Fairbairnís mature thinking present in his M.D. thesis is his incipient questioning of the pleasure principle as primary in psychic functioning. Having linked repression to the avoidance of the unpleasant, he still maintains


This conclusion does not require us to follow Freud in adopting a general theory of psychological hedonism. It merely involves our recognizing that repression is essentially a hedonistic process. (ibid., p. 68)


This passage anticipates his mature belief that the avoidance of unpleasure - or the simple seeking of Ďdischargeí - "represents a deterioration of behavior" (1952, p. 139) and not a primary principle of it.


A further hint of things to come is found in the initial statement of his discomfort with Freudís concept of the id. He criticizes Freud because


speaking of affect as if it were a form of floating mental energy which could be attached to this or that part of the mental content is highly misleading, and it obscures the fact that mental content is only significant in relation to an active tendency. (1995b, p. 72)


Although hardly a fully developed theory, one begins to see here Fairbairnís rejection of Freudís whole concept of the id, and the separation of energy and structure that is therein implied. By the end of the thesis, he concludes "The Ďidí is an unnecessary and redundant term for what are familiar to psychologists as the innate instinct-dispositions." (ibid., p. 77) This last idea contains a theme that is to reappear in "The Superego," written in 1929, and even more strongly in "Libido Theory Re-evaluated," written in 1930, to the effect that psychoanalysis had suffered from the lack of cross-fertilization with general psychological thought.


"The Superego" (1929)


Perhaps the single most striking aspect of Fairbairnís "The Superego" is his insistence on the similarity between Freudís superego and id:


Of the five characteristics of the superego...it will be noticed that there is only one that is not shared with the id. Both the superego and the id are primitive and irrational. Loose connection with consciousness and imperfect orientation to reality are common features to both. It is the only one of the five characteristics ascribed to the superego that is not shared with the id - whereas the function of the id is to engender impulse, it is the function of the superego to frustrate the impulses of the id. (1995b, p. 91)


This comparison is not likely to leave the reader overly impressed with Fairbairn as a Freud scholar, since it seems to ignore many of the profound differences on which Fairbairn is so insistently to focus in his mature critique of Freud. Nevertheless, there is clearly something intriguing in his desire to find these similarities between Freudís notion of the superego and the id, inasmuch as what he in effect is accomplishing in the process is the establishment of a template for what will later be his conception of all endopsychic structure. Later in the paper he ascribes most of the similarities to the superegoís


loose connection with consciousness. It is presumably because it is out of relation to the adaptive function of consciousness and thus unable to develop in conformity with the fruits of widening experience that the superego remains primitive and independent. (ibid., p. 101)


The idea that endopsychic structures have a fundamentally primitive, irrational, and fixed quality - and that this quality derives from their being held out of consciousness as "closed systems" and therefore out of free, ongoing contact with the direct experience of the external world - is an important tenet of Fairbairnís fully developed understanding of the crystallized, subsystems of the self that he termed the Libidinal Ego and the Anti-Libidinal Ego.


Fairbairn also noted that "the superego originates in an essentially empathetic relationship towards frustrating figures, who are at the same time the most vital individuals in the environment of the child." (idem.) This statement literally reverberates with what will become one of the central pillars of his explanation for the origin of endopsychic structure: such structures are engendered only in intolerable Ďbadí (which, for Fairbairn, meant Ďunsatisfyingí - of which "frustratingí was one major variety) experiences with absolutely important relationships.


Remembering that Fairbairn is eventually going to insist that it is meaningless to speak of a Ďstructurelessí entity such as Freudís id, it is obvious that there are important implications in the reverse direction of this comparison Fairbairn was making between the superego and the id. The superego, after all, is the structure in Freudís model that most approximates Fairbairnís own notion of endopsychic structure, since it is a full-fledged internal structure based on the residue of an actual external relationship. The implication, far from directly explored at this early stage of Fairbairnís development, is that the Ďlibidinalí energies are eventually going to require a structure less like Freudís id and more like that of his superego to represent them in the inner world.


It is quite significant that Fairbairn chose to write about the superego at this very early stage of his development. Long before the influence of Kleinís thinking, it is clear that Fairbairn was drawn to the superego as the most object-relational part of Freudís structural theory. It is obvious that he felt within the metapsychological underpinnings of the superego a notion of internal structure based on external relationships that would become the cornerstone of his own later theories.


"Libido Theory Re-evaluated" (1930)


"Libido Theory Re-evaluated" marks, in 1930, Fairbairnís first major assault on Freudís drive theory. As mentioned above, it was his familiarity with general psychology - and, at this point, his association with James Drever, in particular - as well as his background in philosophy, as noted by Scharff and Birtles (1995b, pp. 1f), that placed Fairbairn in a position to be more critical of Freudís theory of instincts. Even in these early papers, while still essentially attempting to construct a drive/structural model and years away from developing the aspects of his thinking that would lead Mitchell (1988, p. 18) to describe him as one of the "purest representatives" of the relational/structural model, Fairbairn was calling into question many of the basic tenets of Freudís idea of drives:


The whole development of Freudís theory of instinct, indeed, goes to show that it is not a psychological theory at all. It is a biological theory of instinct, and this fact alone leads us to expect to find it weak on the psychological side. (1995b, p. 122)


He follows up this general criticism with a succinct, but devastating dismissal of the death instinct:


the very conception of a "death-instinct" contains an inner contradiction. All instincts are essentially expressions of life. The instincts with which an individual is endowed are simply the characteristic ways in which life manifests itself in members of the species to which it belongs. Unless the term instinct is interpreted in this sense, it is difficult to attach any meaning to it at all. All instincts are "life-instincts" in the last resort. (idem.)


Now, it is in no way special that he rejected Freudís notion of the death instinct: virtually no significant theorist - with the very notable exception of Melanie Klein - found the death instinct a particularly compelling construct. There is, however, in what Fairbairn raised as his objection, a foreshadowing of his own eventual theory of psychic energy, which he eventually saw as standing behind the basic object-seeking behavior of human beings.


Although he recognized that such energy could not be reduced to the sexual energy of Freudís Ďlibido,í he did agree that, using a definition of libido as Jung (1923, p. 371) did to mean "psychic energy" in general,


it is perfectly reasonable to say that all the instincts are channels of the libido, for libido now simply means the energy which manifests itself in all psychical activity, instinctive or otherwise. The view that all distinguishable forms of instinctive activity are simply differentiations of some ultimate psychical energy ("libido," "élan vital," "life-force") need not be disputed. (1995b., p. 130)


In this paper Fairbairn was primarily concerned with the problem of "determining the simplest analyzable modes of instinctive activity in which such mental energy manifests itself" (idem); and so he turned to the classification advocated by Drever. While his lengthy discussion of Dreverís classification does not ultimately add much to psychoanalytic understanding, there are some aspects of Fairbairnís interest in this theory that are very revealing.


According to Fairbairn (ibid., pp. 133 ff.), Drever divided instincts into two classes of "tendencies," the appetitive and the reactive. Fairbairn saw the notion of "tendency" as more "psychological," since it implied an approach to classification that was founded "according to the observed patterns which behavior actually exhibits and the nature of the experiences which it affords, quite apart from the biological ends which are served." (ibid., p. 132 f.) The appetitive tendencies were characterized by the seeking of pleasure and avoiding of unpleasure, and specifically included hunger and thirst as well as sex. (Fairbairn noted that to these he "would add the excretory functions of urination and defaecation." [ibid., p. 135]) The reactive tendencies included play, experimentation, imitation, and sympathy, specifically manifest as prehension, locomotion, vocalization, etc. Fairbairn saw the reactive tendencies as involving "object-interest" (ibid., p. 137), and could include sexual behavior when expressed in a more object related way. Fairbairn linked the appetitive tendencies to Freudís pleasure principle, while he saw the reactive tendencies as being linked to the reality principle. (ibid., p. 140)


The system of classification is, of course, not compelling in any metapsychological way; and, in fact, Fairbairn totally abandons it in his later writing. It is interesting, however, to observe that one of the features of it that captured Fairbairnís attention was the "liability of the reactive tendencies, when frustrated, to acquire an appetitive colouring." (ibid., p. 141) There is here, again, a hint of his mature belief that the pleasure principle is not the primary form of human activity, but rather a deterioration of activity based on the more naturally primary reality principle. It is also of philosophical significance that he is looking towards a more psychological classification rather than a biological one. It is, in fact, a distinction that will later enable him to deal with psychic energy in a more general way as the underlying drive toward objects, while viewing the specific manifestations of that drive as deriving from a different level.


Perhaps most significantly, though, this system of classification as utilized by Fairbairn is one far more related to the genuine satisfactions of interpersonal relatedness than to the vicissitudes of drive discharge. Unlike Freudís system, it is one that leads to terms like "the joy of satisfied love" (ibid., p. 149) and "the sorrow of unsatisfied hate" (idem). Moreover, it is a system that is rooted in a recognition of the importance of loving relationships; and it was already leading Fairbairn to think about internal structure as being rooted in the actual experience of such relationships:


The parent figures are the most significant figures in the childís life. They are the first objects of his love, but in so far as they deny satisfaction to his longings (as, to some degree, they inevitably do), they also erect the most formidable barriers which his love encounters. It is also from the parent-figures above all that the child seeks to elicit signs of affection, yet the degree of affection meted out to him is all too liable to leave his exorbitant demands unsatisfied. It thus happens that the childís original love-objects are also the original sources of frustration in his life, and that, by stirring the aggressive tendency in him. they become objects of hate without ceasing to be objects of love. (ibid., p. 150)


No one familiar with Fairbairnís mature views of the formation of endopsychic structure can fail to see this as a well-articulated precursor: already present are the elements for the childís desire to love and be loved, the effects of frustration in an absolutely important relationship, and the sense of the powerful internal outcome of such external experience.


The failure to appreciate the role of aggression is the criticism most often leveled against Fairbairnís theory. It derives from his insistence in his mature work that "aggression is a reaction to frustration" (1995a, p. 155), as opposed to being an endogenously pre-existent given. This criticism is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Fairbairnís system. Fairbairn always understood aggression to play a very extensive role in human behavior. It is fascinating, in this regard, to see even in 1930, at this early stage of his thinking, how attached Fairbairn is to the importance of aggression:


Unless, therefore, the conception of instinct is to be abandoned altogether, it seems necessary to recognize the instinct of aggression as one of the best established and one of the most important instinctive tendencies. (1995b, p. 148)


This statement was made as part of his critique of Freudís death instinct. Fairbairn was insisting that it was far superior to retain aggression as the paired instinct with sex in Freudís dualistic classification. Even though he rejected Freudís assumption of dualism on philosophical grounds, he accepted the importance of the concepts of sex and aggression:


The fact remains that, while the operation of many distinguishable instinctive tendencies may be discerned in human behavior, a particular significance appears to attach to the relationship existing between sex and aggression. This fact is borne out by the results of psychoanalytic investigation; and the importance of Freudís observation remains unaffected by the rejection of his dualistic theory of instinct. (idem)


Those who criticize Fairbairnís under-emphasis of aggression would do well to notice his comments in another of his papers from before the major impact Kleinís theory had on his work. In "The Psychopathology of Aggression," an address he gave in 1932, and which is published for the first time as Chapter 11 of Volume II of From Instinct to Self, Fairbairn stated unequivocally, "I have been increasingly impressed by the role of aggression as an aetiological factor in the genesis of psychotic and psychoneurotic disorders." (1995b, p. 254) On the other hand, in this same paper he was already toying with the reactive nature of aggression: "Aggression is the instinctive reaction to frustration; and frustration is particularly bitter when it originates in those whose love and affection are most eagerly sought." (ibid., p. 255) Here, again, is a clear forerunner of Fairbairnís belief that it is intolerable experience with absolutely important objects that is at the heart of what is formative in the psyche.


Fairbairn never underestimated the importance of the deep internal, structural significance of aggression in the personality. The Antilibidinal Ego which Fairbairn ultimately describes in his mature works is an endopsychic structure whose very existence is inextricably defined by aggression. In fact, Fairbairnís mature understanding of the universal endopsychic situation - of the two subsidiary self systems of the Libidinal and Antilibidinal Egos - was developed to allow for the understanding of the forces of sex and aggression operating on a profound and unconscious level within the personality. Fairbairn was eventually to insist that human personality functioned on the basis of the seeking of objects, however; and his particular schema of relationally generated endopsychic structure represents his attempt to incorporate the primitive forces of sex and aggression into the personality conceived in an object relations way.


This early critique of libido theory demonstrated Fairbairnís discomfort with Freudís divorcing of instincts from the study of human interaction and behavior, but it also clearly shows an abiding interest in the deep inner forces that influence and shape experience and behavior. Already there are preliminary hints of a way of conceiving of psychic functioning that is more relational than instinctual - although the actuality of such a view is still well in the future.


One of the most striking facets of "Libido Theory Re-evaluated" is the early occurrence of some characteristic thoughts on the nature of the "object." At this point in his development, five years before the most important influence of Klein and a full ten years before the appearance of the first of what are usually considered his mature, object relations papers, there are some important hints of what is to come.


To begin with, Fairbairn very clearly states a misconception he obviously has of Freudís position:


What Freud (1905c) meant by the Ďobjectí of the libido is plain enough; he means an external object (usually a person) to which libido is attached and in relation to which satisfaction is sought. This being so, it is evident that the relationship of the libido to its object is essentially a phenomenon of reactive behavior; and in this object-relationship we discern above all the reactive tendency of sex. (1995b, p. 145)


While the specific meaning of object is somewhat confused in early Freud, it is quite certain that the meaning is essentially involved with the inner, intra-psychic object. Fairbairnís reading here reflects his own conception of object much more than it describes Freudís. What this citation goes on to state, however, is an exact forerunner of Fairbairnís mature view: remembering that "reactive tendencies" refer (via Drever) to the expression of the self according to the reality principle, what we have here is an early - prior to the influence of Melanie Klein - statement of his belief that the fundamental Ďdriveí is that of the person towards other people in reality.


In an interesting, but convoluted, further foray into the questions of "tendencies," Fairbairn makes the distinction that,


in so far as the libido is directed towards objects [remembering that Fairbairn means by this "people"], it is an expression of the reactive tendency of sex ..


When [Freud] speaks of the Ďlibidoí apart from its relationship to an object, we must therefore understand him to refer to the appetitive sex-tendency. (ibid., pp. 150 f.)


When it is recalled that the "appetitive tendencies" are defined as being the pleasure-seeking, discharge-based phenomena Fairbairn linked to Freudís pleasure principle, this passage suggests that libido conceived of in an object-related way functions in accordance with the reality principle, while it is only non-object related libido that follows the pleasure principle. One has only to anticipate the fact that Fairbairn will ultimately see object related activity as the only meaningful way to understand human activity in general to realize that he has laid the ground work for his theory that the self is fundamentally object-seeking, and that the energy of the psyche is essentially a drive toward relationships with others.


It must be carefully acknowledged that these theories Fairbairn was espousing in his earliest theoretical papers are not the same as his mature theories. Moreover, I do not wish to mislead the reader into believing that the elements that I have been emphasizing represent the general thrust of his theorizing at this time. What these elements do represent, however, are consistent themes that repeatedly appear within his earliest works. It is important to note these early precursors of his later positions, particularly as they existed before the profound influence of Melanie Klein on his work.


Summary of the Unique Elements in Fairbairnís Early Theory


Fairbairnís emphasis on dissociation plainly bespeaks his early interest in the notion of whole subsystems of the self being split off from the organized whole of that self. The idea that the structure of the personality could be based on such a process obviously developed early in his theorizing. Moreover, it represents an early insistence that such structuralization is the result of experience with real people in the external world. There are also strong hints of what will ultimately lead him to insist, in direct contradiction to Melanie Klein, that it is only the intolerably Ďbadí version of such experience that is essential to this structuralization.


His interest in Freudís superego as an internal structure generated by the individualís experience with important external relationships (but with a dynamic life of its own once established in the internal world of the personality) represents the early appearance of his attempt to achieve a balance between intra-psychic structural complexity and direct interpersonal relatedness. He saw it as the only of Freudís three Ďstructuresí that is a true endopsychic structure, in that it has energy as well as form, and a relational paradigm upon which it is based. This early interest in the superego as a subsystem of the self, formed by intolerably bad experience with the most important figures in the individualís external world, stands as the direct precursor of Fairbairnís fully developed notions of endopsychic structure.


Also apparent throughout Fairbairnís earliest writings is his tendency to see object-seeking and truly relational functioning as being the more primary mode of human activity. The groundwork was laid in his earliest works for what ultimately is a view of the self as whole and object-related from the start - with the quintessentially Fairbairnian conclusion that the further structuring of the self (through the splitting process) is always a pathological rather than a healthy occurrence.


A vitally important factor in Fairbairnís early thinking is his obvious dissatisfaction with Freudís drive theory. He was committed to the notion that whatever the forces were that propelled human activity, they would be best explained by a psychological, rather than a biological theory. He was also clearly uncomfortable with Freudís dichotomy between structure and energy, which accounts for his early difficulties with Freudís notion of the id and presages the difficulty he will later have with Freudís notion of the ego. Rejecting Freudís drive theory did not mean ignoring the deep, primitive forces that operate within the personality, but rather creating a more relationally determined structure for understanding their presence in the psyche.


In the earliest stages of his work, Fairbairn was already insisting on the centrality of genuine relatedness and of loving relationships, as opposed to energy discharge and biological predetermination. Nowhere is this emphasis more evident than in his conception of the object. It is clear that for Fairbairn Ďobjectí always was synonymous with Ďperson.í His notion was that Ďobjectí refers to a real person in the external world, but that such an object was capable of subsequently becoming the center of a functioning part of the self in the internal world. Fairbairn misread Freud in order to arrive at this conception, and later he was openly to disagree with Klein to preserve it; but it is distinctively his position from the beginning.




It has been somewhat facilely assumed that Fairbairnís basic object relations orientation has its roots in the influence of Klein. If one examines Fairbairnís first Ďmatureí theoretical paper, the 1940 "Schizoid Factors in the Personality" (1952, Chapter 1), against the background of what has just been elucidated in his earlier writings, it becomes clear what the central features of her influence specifically were.


It is clearly true that Kleinís notion of Ďpositionsí had an enormous effect on Fairbairnís developmental notions, and ultimately even on his willingness to reject Freudís epigenetic developmental schema. While having understandable difficulty with her "paranoid position," rooted as it was in the infantís dealing with the death instinct, Fairbairn developed his own notion of a "schizoid position." At this stage of his thinking, he seems to have accepted more directly Kleinís depressive position as well, although it is my contention that this concept is progressively abandoned in Fairbairnís later thinking. These Ďpositionsí were not part of the Freudian schema of development based on the biologically determined, zonally characterized, stages of instinctual discharge; and this departure certainly resonated powerfully in Fairbairn. The concept of the schizoid position which he developed based on Kleinís departure became viewed by him as the generalized starting point of the effect of experience on the developing person. Borrowing from Klein, Fairbairn was also using the concept of position to move the exploration of psychopathology back into the crucial first year of a personís life. Different from Klein, however, Fairbairn was thinking of the actual, relational experience of the infant at this stage, while she had been focused on the playing out of the forces of the infantís innate, instinctual inheritance.


It also most certainly is true that Kleinís notion of an inner object world freed Fairbairn to elaborate an entirely new notion of psychic structure. He owes a tremendous debt to Klein for the notion of a variety of Ďobjectsí actively having a dynamic life and function within the psyche - Klein, after all, being the one who introduced this notion into psychoanalytic thinking. As Mitchell has noted,


Instead of impulses, the directionless packets of tension Freud depicted in his "id," Klein began to describe protorelationships between impulses and their built-in objects, passionate love and hate experienced in relation to good and bad objects and part objects. (p. 78)


The idea that the forces operating within the personality could be understood in terms of the interactions of such inner Ďobjectsí was a Kleinian notion that clearly appealed enormously to Fairbairn and became pivotal in the development of his thinking. The charged, detailed interrelationships of Kleinís inner structures clearly opened a myriad of theoretical possibilities to Fairbairn. That Klein could describe so much of the inner workings of the psyche in terms of such structures opened the possibility for Fairbairn to go the next step and create an entire theory of the structure of the person based on object relationships.


It should be remembered, however, that it was Freud who was the first to develop the concept of such an internal dynamic structure with his notion of the superego. As Fairbairn himself noted in 1956,


One of the distinctive features of Melanie Kleinís contribution is that, whereas Freud only described a single internalized object (the super-ego), she has recognized the existence of a multiplicity of internal objects, both good and bad.


Although differing from Melanie Kleinís conception...the writer [Fairbairn] has adapted her conception of the multiplicity of internal objects to his threefold conception of ego-structures. (1995a, p. 137)

So it was primarily the multiplicity of such structures and the resulting possibilities of dynamic interaction amongst them that represented the crucial Kleinian contribution in this realm. Freud, after all, remains the ultimate progenitor of the idea of an object related inner dynamic structure.


It has already been noted that even in his earliest writings, Fairbairn always had a concept of object that was at the other end of the spectrum from that of Klein: while she understood objects to be inborn categories, independent of experience, that in effect represented the instincts in the phantasy of the infantís inner world, Fairbairn always understood Ďobjectí to refer to actual people, who could ultimately come to be internally represented in the infantís inner world as the result of certain forms of experience. As Mitchell has pointed out, "The relationships Klein depicted were all in the mind of the child, prior to and largely independent of real experience with others." (loc. cit.) It was Kleinís attempt to explain the workings of the inner world in terms of relations between internal objects that had such a resounding effect on Fairbairn. Furthermore, as Mitchell (idem) has suggested, her theories suggested a relationally-based alternative to the Ďimpulsesí of Freudís drive theory that must have been exciting and freeing to Fairbairn, even though she herself remained so completely attached to and enmeshed in that drive theory. Fairbairn ultimately used this alternative as a way to construct a relational/structural replacement for the drive theory he so early had rejected.


One senses both the profound influence these two aspects of Klein had on Fairbairnís thinking, and the enormity of his fundamental, philosophical differences from her. Fairbairn, from the earliest writings presented by Scharff and Birtles, is obviously coming from a profoundly different direction than was Klein. Whereas Klein always remained the staunchest advocate of Freudís various drive theories, Fairbairn was, from the outset, uncomfortable with the very notion of drive. Whereas his allegiance to the principles of general psychology, so explicitly evident in the early papers, led Fairbairn to be more focused on the formative importance of actual interpersonal history than on that of biological predisposition, Klein was so focused on the inner playing out of innate instincts (albeit in an object-related form) that it may be concluded that the actual external world enters in only as a distant, convoluted afterthought. And these difference, already so clearly present in Fairbairnís earliest writings, ultimately led him to a theory that was totally different in its theoretical emphasis and clinical implications from that of Klein. Only Fairbairn could conclude, as he so frequently did in his mature writing, that


the greatest need of a child is to obtain conclusive assurance (a) that he is genuinely loved by his parents, and (b) that his parents genuinely accept his love. (1952, p. 39)


This is not a statement Klein could have made - or would have wanted to make. It is, when combined with a deeply structural understanding of the inner world of the psyche and of the unconscious forces therein at work, the basis for a theory of human psychology that is precisely Fairbairnís own.




In this regard, a last word must be said about Fairbairnís final major paper in 1958, "On the Nature and Aims of Psycho-analytic Treatment" (1995a, Chapter 4). In this work Fairbairn finally expressed freely and directly the clinical implications of the theories he had developed over the course of his career.


As it has been shown, the foundations of Fairbairnís most important notions not only predate the influence of Melanie Klein, but are diametrically different from her ideas. Fairbairn developed a theory of the inner structure of the psyche based upon the actual relational experience of the person in the external world. In doing so, he totally rejected not only Freudís drive model, but also his tri-partite structural theory. He stood all of psychoanalytic theory on its head in several ways: first, the essential, definitively human drive was seen as the seeking of genuine relationships with others, rather than as the discharge of endogenous energy; second, the reality principle was shown to be the primary mode of human behavior, with the pleasure principle being relegated to the secondary position of being a deteriorated form of functioning; and, third, the Ďstructuralizationí of the psychic was shown to be a pathological rather than progressive developmental occurrence, since it was, by its very nature, a schizoid process.


These ideas led Fairbairn to some incredibly modern views on the nature of the psychoanalytic process. As a starting point, Fairbairn maintained in this 1958 paper (1995a):


In terms of the object-relations theory of the personality, the disabilities from which the patient suffers represent the effects of unsatisfactory and unsatisfying object-relationship experienced in early life and perpetuated in exaggerated form in inner reality; and, if this view is correct, the actual relationship existing between the patient and the analyst as persons must be regarded as in itself constituting a therapeutic factor of prime importance. (p. 79; emphasis added)


Fairbairn is careful to specify that the relationship he is focusing on "is not just the relationship involved in the transference, but the total relationship existing between the patient and the analyst as persons." (ibid., p. 83)


Given the essential thrust of his theory, it should be no surprise that Fairbairn believed the actual relationship between patient and analyst to be so crucial in the psychoanalytic process; but the courage with which he pursued the implications of this belief and the extent to which he carried its implications are impressive even by current standards. For example, he was aware that


the traditional detachment of the analyst...has obviously a very high defensive value for the analyst himself. So have such common features of psycho-analytic practice as the adoption of a standard length of session..


It would thus appear to be an obligation on the part of the analyst to ask himself how far such features of psycho-analytic technique are dictated by his own interests rather than by those of his patients.. (ibid., p. 81)


Fairbairn recognized that many of the sacrosanct tenets of classical technique were primarily expressions of the analystís own needs - and that some of those needs were far from healthy for either party. But, healthy or not, his fundamental concern was that the analyst not deny the role of such needs in the treatment. It was not the existence of the analystís needs, but the denial of their effects on the relationship that Fairbairn believed led to "a defensive exploitation." (idem) Fairbairn was explicit in his insistence that the recognition of the role of the analystís needs in the process


does not mean, however, that the interests of the analyst should be ignored. Indeed, the greater the importance attached to the actual relationship existing between the patient and the analyst as person, the greater the justification for recognizing the personal interests of both parties to the relationship. At the same time, if it is felt necessary to impose restrictions in the interest of the analyst, this fact should be explicitly acknowledged. (1995a, p.81)


By the end of the 1950ís, Fairbairn was not alone in moving in this direction. Certain radical thinkers (e.g., Harold Searles [1959] and Benjamin Wolstein [1959]) were expressing similar views about the importance of the real relationship between patient and analyst, and, more importantly, about the need to deal directly and openly with the analystís personhood in what was progressively seen as a coparticipatory endeavor. Nevertheless, even today most analysts - irrespective of their beliefs in relational models and two-person theories - find the full clinical implications of these theories untenably anxiety provoking. To recognize, as Fairbairn did all those many years ago, that we are essentially fully "co-participants" with our patients in the psychoanalytic process in a way that opens us to being known as profoundly and completely as they are, is frightening to many of us. How much more comforting it appears to hide behind technical positions that promise to insulate and protect us from the directness of the encounter - even when we theoretically disagree with the premises of those theories. Herein lies the ultimate explanation for the reluctance of analysts to embrace the theories of Fairbairn: the clinical implications of his thinking are simply too discomfortingly radical. Instead of being drawn to the freedom of what the theories imply about the immediacy of the psychoanalytic relationship, too many analysts are frightened off by their anxieties about it.


The anxiety-driven attachment to a closed, defensive system in avoidance of living in a more open way is, however, a problem that Fairbairnís theory allows us to understand extremely well.






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