Antilibidinal Ego/Internal Saboteur

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Fairbairn's thinking on psychic structure began in 1929, with a critical study of Freud's ideas about the superego (Fairbairn, 1929/1994b), and developed into his mature object-relations theory (1954), modifying the Freudian model. In Fairbairn's revision (1952/1994a) of Freud's concepts of endopsychic structure (1923), the term "antilibidinal ego" refers to the split-off and repressed ego-structure related to the rejecting object. In his earlier work it developed from his ideas about the superego and was termed the "internal saboteur."

According to Fairbairn, the early unitary ego, rather than seeking pleasure, seeks relationships (intimacy) with the external object. Actual environmental failure (which in ideal circumstances maintains integration of the ego) leads to compensatory internalization of the object. The object is then defensively split into three objects. The unrepressed (central) ego, partly conscious and attached to the ideal object, represses the other two objects, the exciting (libidinal) object and rejecting (antilibidinal) object, together with the aspects of the ego related to them (the libidinal ego and antilibidinal ego, known as subsidiary egos). These repressed objects are termed "bad objects" and are unavailable for real object relations.

Fairbairn named the resulting situation the "basic schizoid position," a term later taken up by Melanie Klein (1946/1952). The antilibidinal ego, attached to the rejecting object and unrelentingly hostile to the libidinal ego, reinforces the central ego in its repression of the libidinal ego. The degree of psychopathology depends on these splits, the amount and strength of central ego remaining, and the many possible patterns of internal relationships. Fairbairn saw disturbance as being due to the return of repressed bad-object experience to consciousness. Fairbairn's dynamic structure, which differs from that of Freud, is wholly object-related. The concept of the schizoid position is fundamental to his thinking about the many possible variants of psychopathology. The elaboration of the antilibidinal ego as differing from the superego, together with the theory of a psychic structure made up of many conflicted ego-object relationships, allows a flexibile technical approach.

This thinking has been influential in Britain, most notably on the Independent Group, and on self-psychologists and intersubjective theorists in the United States.

Jennifer Johns

See also: Fairbairn, William Ronald Dodds; Quasi-independence/transitional stage.


Fairbairn, Ronald. (1954). An object-relations theory of the personality. New York: Basic Books.

. (1994a). Endopsychic structure considered in terms of object relationships. In his Psychoanalytic studies of the personality. London: Tavistock Publications with Routledge and Kegan Paul. (Original work published 1952)

. (1994b). What is the superego? In David E. Scharff and Ellinor Fairbairn Birtles (Eds.), From instinct to self: selected papers of W. R. D. Fairbairn, Vol. 2, Applications and early contributions. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. (Original work published 1929)

Freud, Sigmund. (1923). The ego and the id. SE : 19: 19-27.

Grotstein, James, and Rinsley, Donald (Eds.). (1994). Fair-bairn and the origins of object relations. London: Free Association Books.

Klein, Melanie. (1952). Notes on some schizoid mechanisms. In Joan Riviere (Ed.), Developments in psycho-analysis. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis. (Original work published 1946)