Skip to main content

Lost Object

LOST OBJECT

According to Sigmund Freud, the loss of the object is a two-step process whereby the subject is constituted. First, the earliest partial object, the breast, is lost. Then the primary love object, the mother, is likewise lost.

The earliest sexual object is the breast, and the earliest source of satisfaction for the sexual instinct is the encounter between two partial objects, the infant's mouth and the mother's breast. In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d), Freud explained that the breast becomes a lost object "just at the time, perhaps, when the child is able to form a total idea of the person to whom the organ that is giving him satisfaction belongs" (p. 222). Loss of the object of the oral instinct is thus a precondition of access to the total person as a possible love object. At the same time, however, this loss opens the door to autoeroticism for the infant as the infant assumes a complete body image. The infant, though in a passive position, is active with regard to a part of its own body, and this enables the infant to find a source of satisfaction that is the first substitute for the breast.

Later the lost object becomes the "whole person" in the context of the "Fort!/Da!" game described by Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g). Here separation from the object is addressed in two ways: either the child expresses an impulse to master the object by breaking it, casting it aside, or incorporating it in fantasy (and so working it over in the psyche), or the child bypasses the need for the object by regarding it as a lost object beyond the reach of the self. With the recognition of the absence of the object, therefore, the child makes a transition, as a result of working over in the psyche, to a capacity to do without the object.

When the subject does not recognize the object as lost, as in melancholia, the object is incorporated in fantasy, where it maintains a silent existence within the subject. Freud described this process in "Mourning and Melancholia" (1916-1917g [1915]). Object loss can also provoke anxiety, mourning, or pain, as Freud outlined in Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety (1926d [1925]).

After Freud, a number of psychoanalysts took up the lost object and developed it in their theories. Melanie Klein described internal objects in "Mourning and Its Relation to Manic-Depressive States" (1935). Jacques Lacan theorized that object a is substituted for the lost object. And Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok related mourning and melancholia to the lost object.

Jacques SÉdat

See also: Object.

Bibliography

Abraham, Nicolas, and Torok, Maria. (1994). The shell and the kernel: Renewals of psychoanalysis (Nicholas T. Rand, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1978)

Freud, Sigmund. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.

. (1916-1917g [1915]). Mourning and melancholia. SE, 14: 237-258.

. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.

. (1926d [1925]). Inhibitions, symptoms, and anxiety. SE, 20: 75-172.

Klein, Melanie. (1935). Mourning and its relation to manic-depressive states. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 21, 125-153.

Lacan, Jacques. (1966).Écrits. Paris: Seuil.

Further Reading

Frankiel, Rita V. (Ed.). (1994). Essential papers on object loss. New York: New York University Press.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Lost Object." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Mar. 2019 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Lost Object." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/lost-object

"Lost Object." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved March 15, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/lost-object

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.