Allergic Object Relationship

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The expression allergic object relationship appeared as the title of a talk given by Pierre Marty in 1957, published in the Revue française de psychanalyse. Influenced by the work of Maurice Bouvet, it extends the psychosomatic approach found in his work, which remains key for the question of allergies, and entails an asymptotic model for psychosomatic functioning.

The relationship is characterized by a confusion between the personality of the patient and that of the analyst. A striking, if not total, identification sustains this confusion from the outset. This "communion" (in the sense almost of a transubstantiation) implies both identification and projection. The subject inhabits the object and is inhabited by it. The nature of the objecthuman, animal, plant, thingmatters little, for it is quickly invested as both host and guest. These patients give the impression and have the feeling of being sponges, possibly endowed with clairvoyance. (Zelig, the hero of Woody Allen's film, is a striking example.) For Marty, the overlapping of identification and projection implies that such projection must be understood primarily as an extension of the limits of the ego as understood by Paul Federn.

This first step is followed by a lengthier and more nuanced attempt to modify the object, through which the subject tries to obliterate the limits between self and object, always by means of the same two mechanisms: cloaking the object in its own qualities through an act of "projection" and taking on the qualities of the object through identification. However, the qualities of the object must stay close to a certain ideal of the object. So one sees a capacity for object-choice, but the subject can only detach itself from an object by identifying with a new object, which leads to the loss of the previously invested object, but without any pain of loss or consequent work of mourning.

The very idea of a conflict between identifications is avoided in the allergic relation. The oedipal situation is thereby avoided and, when this is impossible, the risk of triggering a somatic crisis becomes manifest. Each of the objects individually can be an object of identification, but conflict (for example, oedipal) results in an interior rift that is avoided by the somatic allergic crisis.

This account, under the heading of "the allergic character," would lead to a more comprehensive conception of psychosomatics, founded on the work of Pierre Marty, and enabling him to reveal its role in different forms of character splitting. Léon Kreisler (1980) continued this work in his notion of precocious appearance. The role played by the parents in the development of this relationship is more prominent in his conception than in Marty's, for whom it is almost a given. Michel Fain compared the family dynamics typical of allergics with the constitutional defect discussed in the work of René Spitz: anxiety in the presence of the stranger.

Robert AssÉo

See also: Allergy; Asthma.


Fain, Michael. (1969). Réflexions sur la structure allergique. Revue française de psychanalyse, 33 (2).

Kreisler, Léon. (1981), L'enfant du désordre psychosomatique. Toulouse: Privat.

Marty, Pierre. (1958). The allergic object relationship. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 39, 98-103.

Szwec, Gérard. (1989). Figure de l'étranger, langage et régression formelle. Revue française de psychanalyse, 53, 6: 1977-1987.

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Allergic Object Relationship

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