Back to the Future with W.R.D Fairbairn : A Very Modern Psychotherapist by Sandy Wotton

We come complete. Give us some food and drink and shelter, sing us a song, tell us a story, give us people to talk to and care for and fall in love with and there you go. A LIFE. (Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet, p291)

I think Fairbairn would have approved of this quote. He would agree that we are born complete, equipped to survive and thrive provided we are given a few, but essential, ingredients. We start life in a state of what Fairbairn called ‘Infantile Dependence’, dependent on others for sustenance and shelter, the physical ingredients required for our physical bodies to grow and develop, but also to provide us with opportunities to interact with people who care for us, who sing us songs, talk to us, tell us stories and play with us so that our minds and personalities can grow and develop. From the beginning, we are able to give and respond as well as take and demand and through interaction with others, we learn about ourselves as separate individuals and, if all goes well, we learn to trust others and ourselves. As we grow towards adulthood and what Fairbairn referred to as ‘Mature Dependency’, we discover that we still need, desire and seek the company of others, people who we can care for, fall in love with, have fun, live and grow old with and … there we go. OUR LIVES.

The importance of healthy relationships and creative interactions especially in early life is reflected in Fairbairn’s theories of individual personality development and the dynamic nature of human relations and interdependence. The ingredients for a human life sound simple but, of course, the recipe is more complicated. As Fairbairn (1940, p8) noted, the ideal environment for growth and development does not
exist: ‘… there is really nobody who enjoys such a happy lot’, and the ‘perfect person’ can only be a theoretical possibility. Any life, encounters all manner of difficulties and dilemmas, physical, cognitive and emotional, all of which have to be learned about, resolved, adapted to or defended against from the moment of birth. Fairbairn wasn’t suggesting that no one is ‘normal’. He postulated that we all have a place on a scale of normality that ranges from the impossibly perfect through to the possibly psychotic and that much depends on the quality of our earliest relationships and life experiences. His is a dynamic theory in which emotional and personality development continues throughout life, offering the hope that later relationships and experiences can counteract some of the ill effects of earlier less favourable life
circumstances. This also has important implications for therapy and Fairbairn believed that

… the really decisive factor is the relationship of the patient to the analyst, and it is upon this rela