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
- 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).
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).