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Development Of Maturing
Object Relationships

A dispassionate review of the development of object relationships in early life is rendered difficult because of confusion between the classic metapsychologic usage of the term psychosexual and customary lay interpretation of sexual in adult coital context. The term sexual as used in this chapter refers to pleasurable (libidinal) investment in various objects and activities and, therefore, has psychoanalytic derivation. Psychosexual development is considered in terms of the typical shifts in pleasurable investment from different body zones to the body as a whole, to objects, and, finally, to a social partner in this reference frame. Whether such activities prove gratifying or aversive is determined, in part, by the developmental experiences mediated by the social environment and, in part, by the intrinsic as well as conditioned reactive apparatus of the individual.

Staff members at The Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University maintain that the psychoanalytic position which infers an intimate and determining interaction between certain aspects of personal function and adjustment, with predominant or exclusive modes or outlets of physical sexual gratification, is scientifically unjustified. These investigators note that a variety of sexual outlets are characteristic of random representatives of the Approaches to Study of Psychosexual Integration 173cultures in historical context.

Crucial investigations of postulated psychosexual integrative relationships derived from an objective and unbiased analysis of human behavior and development remain a work of the future. In the past, scientists such as those at The Institute for Sex Research have focused most intensively on the specifications of sexual behaviors at a particular developmental level, with little concerted or intensive exploration of the total life adjustment or personality organization of the subjects. By contrast, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists have derived their impressions of the fundamental role of sexual behaviors in personality organization from a too restricted observation of psychiatrically disturbed subjects. Because of the distortions implicit in each approach, no convincing conclusions are justified at present. It is to be hoped that conscientious and broad-based investigations into this fundamentally important area will be carried out by competent research workers. For the purposes of this didactic presentation, certain theoretical assumptions concerning psychosexual integration are made which are implicit in the treatment of the material which follows.

The Oral Phases Of Psychosexualdevelopment

The infant's demands for nurturance are met through feeding activities traditionally mediated through the mouth or oral route. The biologic importance of the oral zone is based on the substantial spatial representation of the trigeminal nerve and the relative primacy of oral tissues as highly sensitive receptors. The role played by receptive feeding experiences in the development of the self concept, that is, awareness of self as contrasted with non-self, is held to be of fundamental importance. The magnitude and range of infantile behaviors utilizing the oral route for the sampling or testing of external objects are impressive indeed. Infants during the first six months of life are strongly inclined to put any foreign object and also distal parts of the body, including the fingers and toes, into the mouth during their many exploratory ventures. The mechanism by which the other-thanself notion is generated in the infant during this earliest phase is still a matter for speculation. Individuality in total body experience may be strongly affected by autonomic response patterns, somatic reactions to mouth and other types of stimulation. The latter, although long suspected, have only recently been subjected to critical scrutiny through developmental studies by Julius Richmond and associates of autonomic response patterns in normal infants during the first year of life. The few data available support the hypothesis that the experience of the self as contrasted with the non-self, of the inner as contrasted with the external world, has not only general but also unique characteristics. Very simply then, each individual should have both shared and idiosyncratic notions concerning himself and the world around him.

The earliest phase of the oral period is referred to as the oral-incorporative phase. It is directly related to the various stimulus characteristics of the feeding experience. With later progressive isolation from the mother, possibly intensified by the isolated experiences of weaning, oral-aggressive rather than receptive aspects of oral activity make their appearance in the so called oral-aggressive phase. The close relationship between responses to the experience of weaning and later dependency attitudes and aggressive repertoires already has been mentioned in the context of Sears' studies. One of the major problems facing developmental psychologists involves the translation of the nonsymbolic association of dependency with oral activity as it obtains in the preverbal infant into the complex symbolic representation of dependency needs and their frustrations in later life.

Because the first and most pervasive experiences of gratification involve oral activities, significant residues of irrational oral behavior are retained throughout the entire life of the individual. Such activities in adult life are frequently intensified during periods of stress, particularly where security and relative autonomy are seriously threatened. Thus, one may bite his nails, chew on a pipe stem or pencil, suck a finger, eat excessively, or, on the other hand, lose appetite during periods of emotional agitation. Another may recapitulate a history of previous inconsistently satisfied oral dependency needs through addiction to excessive drinking, smoking, or, on a more complex social level, excessive talking. We are all familiar with the embarrassed and self-conscious "chatterer." It should be mentioned that the classical concept of an oral phase of personality development is both restrictive and inaccurate. It is true that physiologic studies in the newborn reveal mouth-zone stimulation as most potent in eliciting autonomic responses. Nevertheless, an adequate description of the potentials for pleasurable experience in the normal infant during the first six to eight months should portray him not only as an oral creature but also as a thermosensitive, vestibular, auditory, visual, and tactile one. How are the temporally integrated experiences resulting from stimulation of these other modalities fused with orally gratifying ones to fashion the complex conditioned systems within the individual? The answer to this is at present quite as obscure as the answer to the question just proposed concerning the complex process which translates the physiologic experience of dependency through oral gratification into the symbolic representation of dependency in the child with language function.

Additional topics

Human Behavior