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The shift from object relations to object usage

A necessary adaptation in the movement from dependence to independence from an intersubjective perspective is from object relating, a subjective phenomena, to object usage, a more sophisticated capacity in which the object is realized as being a completely separate part of external reality (Winnicott, 1971: 88). Male separation from the female mother of a different gender is fraught with difficulties that are only compounded by the need to transition from object relations to object usage.

As separation proceeds, the fact that recognition is made up of essentially two parts comes into play; feeling recognized by the other who is recognized as separate and distinct. A necessary part of the process of separation, therefore, is the perception that the mother exists as a person in her own right. Here is encountered the not-me part of the mother, an independent other who responds autonomously and in her different ways. The infantile ego grows with the capacity for a different kind of object love as long as the child recognizes mother as a separate person with separate interests (a prototype for attachment to later, separate objects).

In order to truly receive recognition and feel seen by the other, a boy must recognize the other as a separate human being; in other words, a boy must see his mother as real and external to himself. These two elements are essential; they make for all the difference between object relations, which turns the other into a bundle of projections, and object usage, which allows for the destruction of the other, hence the other’s separate, autonomous existence. The child needs to discover that the real mother is not simply an object for his omnipotent demands; she is another subject whose independent center must be outside his self if she is to be rendered capable of granting the recognition he himself needs from her to become a self. It is in the face of this need for intersubjectivity as separation proceeds, the fact that two subjects require a separate existence, that recognition becomes so crucial as to allow for the assertion and agency of each self. Indeed, as the child increasingly establishes his own independent center of existence, mother’s recognition will be increasingly meaningful only to the extent that it reflects his developing awareness of her own equal separateness.

Differentiation of self and other has all to do with those elements of psychic life that demand a living, responsive other, and is, therefore, difficult to sustain. If one destroys the other, then there is no one to recognize oneself. A condition of our own independent existence is recognizing the other. Heidegger argued the point this way: the relationship between existence and world is not that of contained and container, but the world as it is “cast forth” in the very process of existing itself. In other words, to exist means to cast forth a world, and we are utterly incapable of bringing forth a world alone. There is no such thing as self sufficiency. It is only through the other, through the mother, that one is able to be himself and cast forth a world. Yet the self requires the opportunity to act and have an effect on the other to affirm his own existence. In order to exist for oneself, one has to exist for another. It would seem there is no way out of this dependency. Social stimulation, warmth and affective interchange are indispensable to human survival and growth and humans’ natural state of being. One cannot know without a world, and seeing the world means recognition of the mother.

Object relations, the psychic place where the object remains a bundle of projections, is very different from object usage, in which the externalization of the other is achieved. This occurs, according to Winnicott (1971), only as the subject destroys the object. He explains: from “ ‘subject relates to object’ comes ‘subject destroys object’ (as it becomes external)” (p. 90); destruction must be followed by “object survives destruction by the subject,” by which he means that the other does not retaliate. Projection mechanisms enable the subject to take initial cognizance of the object. This is not the same as claiming that the object exists for the subject because of the operation of the subject’s projection mechanisms. Such activity is particularly active around the male separating from mother through repudiation, the core of “liberation through matricide.”

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