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Melanie Klein was one of the most famous object-relations theorists during the psychoanalytic movement. In order to understand her theory of the unconscious, some background information is necessary. Object-relations theorists are primarily concerned with how an individual’s experiences with significant people in their past are represented as aspects of the self and how those representations affect future relationships. According to this theory, an infant’s innate drives are targeted towards a particular object. The infant’s relationship to an object, such as the mother’s breast, is only partial because the child cannot distinguish that the breast is actually an extension of the mother. This partial relationship is significant, however, because it functions as a prototype for later relations to whole objects, such as the mother in her entirety. Because of this process, Klein explains that infants experience objects in an unrealistic or fantasy-like way that later affects all of the child’s interpersonal relations.
Internal representations of early significant objects play an important role in how individuals relate to others later in life; these objects are unconsciously introjected and later unconsciously projected onto significant others, causing an adulterated view of the other person. In essence, early childhood relationships establish the mental models, or mental representations of others that an individual develops and maintains in their mind. These representations later impact that individual’s experience of new relationships in an unconscious manner.
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