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BPD, Object Relations Theory And Splitting.

 

object relations theory

The OBJECTS RELATIONS THEORY of borderline personality disorder was proposed by Kohut at the beginning of the 1970s and is a modern psychoanalytic theory.

Object Relations Theory states that BPD can be traced back to an individual’s early (from the age of approximately 18 months to 36 months) dysfunctional relationship with his/her mother.

What Is The Nature Of This Dysfunctional Relationship Between The Infant And The Mother?

According to Kohut, the problem lies in how the mother relates to the infant :

  • she reinforces the infant’s ‘clingy’, ‘dependent’ and ‘regressive’ behaviour

BUT

  • withdraws love and affection when the child attempts to assert his/her individuality and separate personality

The result of this dysfunctional interaction between the mother and child is that the child develops a confusion about where the psychological boundary lies between him/herself and his/her mother.

This confusion, in turn, leads to yet more confusion in that the child goes on to have problems identifying the psychological boundaries that lie between him/her and others in general.

Abandonment Depression :

The mother’s tendency to withdraw her love from the child when s/he attempts to assert his/her separate personality and individuality causes the child to experience ABANDONMENT DEPRESSION and s/he is likely to be plagued by this depression throughout his/her life (Masterson, 1981).

SPLITTING :

Such early experiences contribute towards the individual developing a perception of other people as being either ALL GOOD or ALL BAD (Kernberg); in other words, s/he sees others in terms of black and white – there are no shades of grey.

‘GOOD’ people are seen as people who will keep the individual ‘safe’, whereas ‘BAD’ people are seen as ones who will re-trigger his/her early experience of ABANDONMENT DEPRESSION.

THIS PHENOMENON IS KNOWN AS ‘SPLITTING’ AND OPERATES ON AN UNCONSCIOUS LEVEL.

However, whether s/he perceives another as ‘ALL GOOD’ or ‘ALL BAD’ does not stay constant; his/her perception of others FLUCTUATES FROM ONE POLAR OPPOSITE TO THE OTHER (this is technically known as lacking ‘object constancy’).

Thus, an individual suffering from BPD may, at times, behave as if s/he ‘loves and adores’ another but, then, suddenly and dramatically, switch to behaving as if s/he ‘hates and despises’ this same individual, without objective reason.

Needless to say, this can be highly confusing and bewildering from the perspective of the person on the receiving end of such wildly and unpredictably vacillating emotions.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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BPD And Objects Relations Theory

 childhood_trauma-bpd
What Is Meant By Objects Relations Theory?
In broad terms, it is the theory of how people interact and relate to others, especially within the family and, more especially still, how the child and mother relate to one another. 
The theory stresses how dysfunctional relationships, especially in early life, can lead to the development of psychological disorders in later life.
Kohout’s Theory:
Kohout (1971), theorised that Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) had its primary origin in the way the mother related to, and interacted with, her baby/toddler between the ages of approximately 18 months and 3 years of age.
In particular, Kohout proposed, the baby/toddler is put at high risk of developing BPD in later life if s/he is brought up by a mother who does not allow him/her to psychologically separate from her, thus depriving him/her of the opportunity to develop and assert his own unique individuality.
For example, a child brought up by a mother with BPD may develop a high risk of developing the same psychiatric condition himself in later life. This is because such mothers tend to view their child as an extension of themselves, whose purpose is to fulfil her emotional needs, rather than allowing the child to psychologically differentiate him/herself from her, develop his/her own individuality and unique identity, and to learn to tend effectively to his/her own emotional needs. It is as if the mother sucks the life out of her child for her own emotional nourishment.
BPD,_objects_relations_theory
Such mothers, Kohout suggests, can interact adequately with their baby/toddler when s/he (the baby/toddler) is in a state of neediness, but will become cold and rejecting when the child attempts to psychologically separate from her to try to develop independence and a proper, clearly defined, sense of self.
Kohout goes on to describe his theory that such a dysfunctional early upbringing leads to the child, in later life, developing a psychological defense mechanism known as ‘splitting’. I will describe what is meant by psychologists when they use the term ‘splitting’ in my next post.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery
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