Pioneers in Object Relations Clinical Thinking:
Wilfred Ruprecht Bion (1897-1979)

On September 8th, we celebrate birthday of Wilfred Bion, one of the influential British Object Relations
theorists and psychoanalytic thinkers. Here are some of his thoughts:

“Psycho-analysts must be able to tolerate the differences or the difficulties of the analysand long enough to
 recognize what they are. If psycho-analysts are able to interpret what the analysand says, they must have
 a great capacity for tolerating their analysands' statements without rushing to the conclusion that they know
 the interpretations. This is what I think Keats meant when he said Shakespeare must have been able to tolerate
 negative capability.” “...Beta-elements are not amenable to use in dream thoughts but are suited for use in
 projective identification. They are influential in producing acting out. These are objects that can be evacuated
 or used for a kind of thinking that depends on manipulation of what are felt to be things in themselves as if to
 substitute such manipulations for words or ideas. . . . Alpha-function transforms sense impressions into
 alpha-elements which resemble, and may in fact be identical with, the visual images with which we are
 familiar in dreams, namely, the elements that Freud regards as yielding their latent content when the analyst
 has interpreted them. Failure of alpha-function means the patient cannot dream and therefore cannot sleep.
 As alpha-function makes the sense impressions of the emotional experience available for conscious and dream
 –thought the patient who cannot dream cannot go to sleep and cannot wake up.”

 “I shall state the theory first in terms of a model, as follows: The infant suffering pangs of hunger and fear
 that it is dying, wracked by guilt and anxiety, and impelled by greed, messes itself and cries. The mother picks
 it up, feeds it and comforts it, and eventually the infant sleeps. Reforming the model to represent the feelings
 of the infant we have the following version: the infant, filled with painful lumps of faeces, guilt, fears of impending
 death, chunks of greed, meanness and urine, evacuates these bad objects into the breast that is not there. As it
 does so the good object turns the no-breast (mouth) into a breast, the faeces and urine into milk, the fears of
 impending death and anxiety into vitality and confidence, the greed and meanness into feelings of love and
 generosity and the infant sucks its bad property, now translated into goodness, back again.”





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