Object relations is a theoretical approach in psychology that focuses on how people's relationships with others, particularly in early childhood, shape their sense of self and their ongoing relationships. Object relations theorists emphasize the importance of early experiences in forming our internal "objects," which are mental representations of important people in our lives, and how these objects shape our relationships and psychological functioning throughout our lives.
Here are a few examples of how object relations theory might apply in different situations:
- A person who has a difficult relationship with their mother might develop negative internal objects related to their mother, such as feelings of anger or rejection. These negative internal objects might then affect their ability to form healthy relationships with other people in the future.
- A person who experienced early childhood trauma might struggle with a pervasive sense of mistrust or fear that is rooted in their early experiences. These early experiences might have created negative internal objects that continue to affect their sense of self and their relationships with others.
- In therapy, a therapist might explore a client's early relationships with caregivers to better understand their current struggles with relationships. By helping the client identify and work through negative internal objects, the therapist can help the client form healthier relationships in the future.
Object relations theory is an influential approach in psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychology, and it has been applied in a variety of contexts, including clinical psychology, developmental psychology, and family therapy.