Object Relations Theory

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Object relations theory 


  • Object relations theory is a psychodynamic theory.
  • Ronald Fairbairn coined the term "object relations and Melanie Klein is most commonly identified with the term "object relations theory"
  • It describes the process of developing a mind as one grows in relation to others in the environment.
  • The theory may be defined as “a system of psychological explanation based on the premise that the mind comprises elements taken in from outside, primarily aspects of the functioning of other persons."
  • The theory emphasizes interpersonal relations, primarily in the family and especially between mother and child.
  • Major proponents are
    • Melanie Klein
    • D.W. Winnicott
    • Margaret Mahler

Major Concepts

  • Theory guides inner world exploration and recognizes the introjected persons of the past living within the patient’s mind, comprising the person’s psychic structure (Mohl PC, 2008).
  • Introjects refers to the internalized images of others within the patient.
  • Focus of attention of the theory.
  • The "objects" of the theory are both real others in one's world, and one's internalized image of others.
  • Objects are usually persons, parts of persons, or symbols of one of these.
Object relations
  • “object relations” refers to interpersonal relations or specific intrapsychic structures.
  • refers to the way the person has or possesses an object.

Psychological Positions

  • Klein explains two two psychological “positions” during the first year of life.
    • paranoid–schizoid position - during the first 6 months of life
    • depressive position - during the second 6 months.
  • Paranoid–schizoid position is characterized by the defenses of projection, introjection, projective identifi cation, splitting, idealization, omnipotence, and denial.
  • Depressive position is characterized by d epressive anxiety.

Implications to Nursing

  • The object relations theory helps understanding of children's behaviour and guides nursing practice.
  • The theory provides conceptual model for practicing psychodynamic family.


Psychiatry, Third Edition. Edrs. Allan Tasman, Jerald Kay, Jeffrey A. Lieberman, Michael B. First and Mario Maj.John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2008.

This page was last updated on: 03/12/2020