Fairbairn is one of the more difficult-to-understand thinkers we will be tackling in this class. His work is not easy to read, and I'd even say it is impossible to read if you don't already have a good grasp of Freudian concepts. This is because (I think) so much of what Fairbairn is doing is trying to show what he thinks Freud got wrong.
As I prepared for this it became apparent to me that I could talk for several weeks about Fairbairn, but I don't have weeks, so I'm going to do my best to distill Fairbairn's robust thinking into something that might be useful to you.
Freud v. Fairbairn
Both Freud and Fairbairn believe the fundamental source of human motivation originates in the unconscious. However, there are two main areas where Fairbairn's ideas are based on Freud's ideas and radically different from Freud's.
Review: Freud's structural model
Freud saw the structure of the human mind divided up in the following way.
Fairbairn's structural model
In my opinion, your text does not do a great job explaining this, so here is my attempt to share with you how I understand Fairbairn's structural stuff.
For Fairbairn our ego is who and what we are, and how healthy or unhealthy our ego (who and what we are) ends up being is totally contingent on relationships with other people.
It seems to me, in Fairbairn's model either the libidinal or anti-libidinal ego is dominant. The dominant structure is determined by the sort of relational experiences a person has as an infant, child, and adolescent. Generally speaking...
Hopefully, this makes that a little more clear to you because I need to move on to the next topic where Fairbairn was different than Freud.
Review: Drives & Satisfactions | Instincts & Pleasure
Freud saw things this way:
Fairbairn on libido as relationship-seekingOne of Fairbairn’s major theoretical developments [that differed from Freud] was his delineation of a psychological model of the mind, departing from Freud’s biological theory, in which the central assumption was that the libido is fundamentally pleasure-seeking. Fairbairn asserted instead that what is primary in us all is our search for relationships, and that this is more urgent than the desire to gratify [drives or] instincts. [...] the driving force in the human psyche is not in fact the pleasure principle, but a fundamental need to relate to and connect with other objects, i.e. other people. (Source)
In effect, Fairbairn is saying people need relationships. The sorts of relationships we need change over time, but we always need relationships with other people to help us live good lives. A life without relationships would be horrible.
Fairbairn saw that people always try to connect with other people and form meaningful relationships with family members, mentors, friends, romantic partners, etc.
Additionally, Fairbairn noticed a sort of person he called schizoid.
Schizoid Personalities & Splitting1940 saw the completion of Fairbairn’s first paper on this subject, ‘Schizoid Factors in the Personality’, and was the beginning of an immensely innovative and creative period. It was this paper – in which Fairbairn coined the term ‘schizoid’ – that would later inspire Klein to alter her ‘paranoid position’ to ‘paranoid-schizoid position’, and that would similarly have a considerable impact on Donald Winnicott’s thinking about schizoid states. This paper also marked the beginning of Fairbairn’s pioneering thinking about borderline states, and their origins in the ‘splitting’ process, a defence against the pain of being rejected by insufficiently attentive parents. [In the paper, Fairbairn] described the child splitting off the emotionally responsive side of his or her parents from the unresponsive side, thereby creating ‘good’ and ‘bad’ objects, and often also splitting the ego into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, a process often leading to borderline states. (Source)
This has implications for working with individuals who have what we nowadays call "borderline tendencies" (i.e., PBD). Fairbarin noticed that these individuals had been hurt by relational failures (e.g., abuse, neglect).
One thing I want to make clear is that we can't understand what Fairbairn says about schizoid and borderline individuals without understanding something about trauma.
Trauma's role in personality development, splitting, & the formation of the unconscious
Fairbairn suggests that everyone endures traumas, some people experience more intense and longer duration traumas than others, but everyone experiences traumatic experiences during their life.
This leads to an important question: What is trauma?
Of course, there are many ways to define trauma. Still, for the sake of this lecture, I'm going to say that trauma is an experience that can't be integrated into a coherent, understandable narrative that we use to orient ourselves. Traumas are the things we can't "make sense" of. We try to make sense of them, but we can't. Sometimes our attempts to make sense of trauma lead us to re-enact the trauma.Thus the human psyche acquires structure from the split-off traumas that, if they were understood by the child, would destroy his needed dependency relationship with his parent. Thus they must be dissociated and remain unavailable to the individual's conscious central ego. In Fairbairn's model the unconscious is not a biological inheritance of humankind, but rather a conglomeration of memories of parental failures and interpersonal traumas that become internal structures- the building blocks of the human unconscious (see his 1943 paper).
And this brings us back to where we started!
People with truam have more dominant anti-libidinal ego structures, and people with less trauma (and more pleasant experiences in relationships) have a more dominant libidinal ego.