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Irritating and Claustrophobic Objects: The Effect on Curiosity. (Anne Alvarez, Ph.D., London)

  • 21 May 2023
  • 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM
  • Virtual


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This program has been supported by a generous contribution from the Sophie L. Lovinger Memorial Fund.


I have been interested for some years in a type of internal object that is not exactly felt to be bad, but rather stupid and useless. In the healthier patients it may even evoke love of an affectionate but careless kind. However, I have seen it in more extreme forms in some children of drug addicts or alcoholics, or in cases of maternal depression. The lack of interest in, and interestingness of, the objects seemed to have led not to devalued but unvalued objects. This can lead to cognitive weakness, as there is no magnet, no mystery, insufficient

awe or excitement to evoke much curiosity (Alvarez, The Thinking Heart, 2012).

In this presentation I will discuss a slightly different kind of internal object, which is felt to be irritating but not cruel; intrusive, because out of sync or even over-synced, but perhaps also still loveable and loving, perhaps smothering. This object, like the stupid object, can lead to reduced curiosity, intolerance of novelty, and a somewhat withdrawn or undrawn response to stimulation, as well as a mild degree of learning difficulty of the uninterested and apathetic type. In more severe cases of objects that never quite feel right, and have always

been experienced as out of sync, the damage to cognition, emotional life, and the sense of being may be more severe. We shall study some infants with very different internal worlds, who are full of curiosity and the desire to explore.

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be able to…

1. Distinguish between states of contempt, withdrawal, terror, or suspicion—on the one hand—and states where there is a lack of interest, undrawnness, boredom, and sometimes a sense of bleakness.

2. Recognize types of mother-infant interaction that seem to facilitate the development of curiosity, anticipation, expectancy and hope.

3. Describe the type of psychoanalytic technique that can facilitate and enable

development and a sense of agency without being intrusive.


Anne Alvarez, Ph.D., M.A.C.P, is a Consultant Child and Adolescent

Psychotherapist, as well as retired Co-Convener of the Autism Service at the Tavistock Clinic in London, where she continues to teach. She is author of Live Company: Psychotherapy with Autistic, Borderline, Deprived and Abused Children and has co-

edited, with Susan Reid, Autism and Personality: Findings from the Tavistock Autism Workshop. A book in her honour, edited by Judith Edwards, entitled Being Alive: Building on the Work of Anne Alvarez was published in 2002. She was Visiting Professor at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Society in November 2005 and is an Honorary Member of the Psychoanalytic Centre of California. Her latest book, The Thinking Heart: Three Levels of Psychoanalytic Therapy with Disturbed Children, was published in April 2012 by Routledge.


Alvarez, A. (2012). The thinking heart: Three levels of psychoanalytic therapy with disturbed children. Routledge.

Alvarez, A. (2019). Future perfect: Some reflections on the sense of anticipation in ordinary infants and in psychoanalytic work. In J. Edwards (Ed.), Psychoanalysis

and other matters (pp. 43-52). Routledge.

Alvarez, A. (2022). Types of sexual transference and countertransference in work with children and adolescents. In M. Brady (Ed.), Braving the erotic field in the  psychoanalytic treatment of children and adolescents (pp. 10-25). Routledge.

Brady, M. T. (2022). The oblivious object. In N. Parada Franch, C. Anzieu-Premmereur, M. Cardenal, & M. W. Salomonsson (Eds.), The infinite infantile and the psychoanalytic task: Psychoanalysts with children, adolescents and their families (pp. 36-48). Routledge.

Grossmark, R. (2012). The unobtrusive relational analyst. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 22(6), 629-646.

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