Many clients present good impulse control in all areas but one, a counterpart of the psyche, with severe pathology and constant switching. Switching between a severe fear of sexual activity to impulse-ridden sexual inhibition, for instance, alternating without consciousness or experience of either part. One acting act is the impulse, and the contradictory counter phobia against the impulse. Many are aware of the contradiction but cannot stop alternating between opposite strivings, with a blank denial of contradictions and lack of concern for their compartmentalized psyche—two completely separate complex psyche manifestations involving affect, subjectivity and behaviour, alternating ego states. A willingness to accept reality on one side and the other, living in a world of fantasy and omnipotence.
The highest level of a depersonalised superego structure and autonomous ego structures are missing in the borderline patient. Early object relations (conflict-laden ) are activated within the therapeutic transference as split-off ego states reconnect and play out. It is like having two equally strong selves split apart from their experience and emotions with no memory of each other. Impersonal relationships can be stable and socially acceptable and show no signs of ego weakness and lack of impulse control.
The splitting mechanism is a very effective ego defence, allowing one part to sustain the idealisation of the good object ( positive image of mother ) and the projection and hostility towards the bad object ( withdrawing /rejecting mother ). In intimate relationships, there are two self-images relating to two object images.
- The rejecting, devaluing and attacking part ( harsh mother )
- longing, guilt-ridden weak part in compliance with the good mother
This rage and guilt could not merge or modify each other as long as their affect was completely separate and anxiety was absent. Such a split involves the division of the whole pristine ego, each of which contains ;
- Part of the ego
- An object that characterises the related relationship
- Affects of the object relationship
Introjection, identification and ego identity development become distorted and disturbed, where healthy ego structures are not formulated or internalised. All these three stages of development contain three basic components: reproduction and fixation of interaction within the immediate environment.
- Object image or representation
- Self-image or representation
- Drive derivatives or disposition to a specific affective state.
The organisation takes place at a basic level of ego functioning where splitting is a crucial defence mechanism.
At a higher level, regression replaces splitting as a control mechanism. The degree of ego and superego integration and development depends on how much regression has replaced splitting. Melaine Klein (1932) relates splitting to the paranoid/ schizoid position, the earliest level of ego development. All these patients (neurotic, borderline or character disorders) contain a type of unit, an internalised object characterised by a certain affect.
Introjection depends on perception and memory and transcends by linking external perceptions with perceptions of primitive affect states. In the earliest form of introjection, self and self objects have no differentiation from each other. Higher levels of introjections require successive differentiation, refusion and redifferentiation, crystalised with clearly delimited components.
- Introjection developed under positive valances of libidinal instinctual gratification, as in loving mother/child contact, tend to fuse and become the “good object.
- Valances laden with negative forms of aggression tend to fuse with the “bad object”.
Identification is a higher form of introjection, where the child’s cognitive abilities have increased and can recognise the role aspects of interpersonal interaction. These roles imply the presence of socially recognised functions of each participant within the interpersonal interaction. For instance, a mother helping the child get dressed becomes a socially accepted role of the mother ( protecting, teasing and clothing dynamics). The internalisation of roles defines images of self and object, assigned affect, and behaviours manifest in the individual.
Ego identity is the highest form of internalisation with the consolidation of ego structures, concerned with a sense of continuity of the self. A consistent, overall conception of the “world of objects”, consistency in one’s behaviour within interactions. One can then recognise their individual characteristics and involvement within the interactions. As a structural characteristic, this part of the ego controls drive derivatives which determine a modified matrix of affect disposition available to the ego.
The organisation of object images takes place within the depersonified sector and developing ego identity. Thus object images remain unmodified within the repressed unconscious, one less affected by structure, one very primitive and distorted object image. The normal development of identity formation of primitive identification is gradually replaced by selective, partial sublimatory identification. Depersonifaiction of objects enables the reshaping of objects with more realistic perceptions. The persistence of “non-metabolism” results from the pathological fixation of severely disturbed early object relations.
Pathological splitting threatens the integrity of the ego, as positive/negative drive derivatives and associated images have not fused and differentiated, leaving the ego fragile and vulnerable. Normal structure development of tensions between contradictory images and affects, the appearance of guilt and concern manifest. The child can acknowledge their aggression of the self towards the object, which first appeared to be bad, is now part of the whole. Guilt, concern and mourning of the good object, partially lost within the new integration and partially endangered with new affect disposition and perception. Mutual penetration of libidinal and aggressive drives help fastens a broader spectrum of affects. This also triggers the development of an ideal self—a representation striving to reparate guilt and establish an ideal, positive relationship with the idealised object.
Guilt feelings brought on by identification with opposite valances and the real self/ideal self tensions become the typical motive of defences prompted by superego demands. The superego uses the ego’s capacity for experiencing guilt for its own purposes of manipulation and coercion. As more ego boundaries are delimited, and the ego expands its contextualised control over perception and reality, the ego can access more psychic energy to move independently. The continued process allows and permits the internalisation of previously feared, dangerous and frustrating objects. (prohibitive parental images) . Fusion occurs between prohibitive images and guilt-determined ideal objects and constitutes a forerunner of the superego.
Fusion between the ideal self and objects forms the ego ideal. Intense guilt feelings, derived from tensions between self and ideal self from prohibitive pressures on the ego, are projected onto the outside world or introjected into the superego. Guilt is projected as accusations and threats attributed to parental figures, reinforcing parental images in the superego.
Anna Freud (1946) states, “repression consists of the withholding or expression of an idea or affect from the conscious ego.”
Repression is a control defence mechanism that rejects the impulse with its idealised representation. Reinforced by isolation, displacement and blocking of discharge. Any attempt to bridge the conflicting ego impulse and drive derivative will manifest severe anxiety, mobilise ego defences and trigger intrapsychic conflict. i.e. a patient who engages in episodes of perverted sexual promiscuity presents a rigid, inhibited, puritanical sexual and social life. Undue borderline conditions and thought processes remain rigid identification systems, abstraction, and generalisation interfere with pure affective states. This stops thought process autonomy, inhibits the development of the ego core and weakens the capacity for repression and higher ego development. The infantile perception and experience manifest as
Primary process thinking is expressed in affect-determined images under the sway of pleasure/unpleasure tensions without regard to reality.
The first stage of autism is with a primary undifferentiated state, incapable of forming a normal symbiosis relationship with the mother. The next stage is a symbiosis with the rewarding /pleasurable good object. This stage ends when the self-image and object image have been differentiated stably with a good representation. This will evolve into more specific areas of pleasure, like oral excitation or within the erogenous zones, into interpersonal experiences. This differentiation generates a good/bad self and good/bad object image, establishing object constancy. The further development of cognitive processes and establishment of stable ego boundaries. Recognition of the mother as a separate entity marks the delimitation of self and non-self.
Fluctuating and fragile ego boundaries can lead to the refusion of self/object representations for security and cohesion. They cannot understand people in-depth and generate a diffuse and fragile identity without integrating libidinal and aggressive invested object representations. Full integration of object relations leads to the development of the ego, superego and id—pathogenic conflicts between the ego and a punitive superego manifest as disorders.
- Consolidation of the real self, ideal self and ideal object
- Regression and disassociation of “bad” self-representation.
- Generalised devaluation of bad object representation
- The blurring of normal ego/superego boundaries
The development of the grandiose self (Kohut) is embedded in a defensive organism similar to the borderline structure. Tensions between the real self and ideal object set in motion more realistic traits. The child realises that the “badness” is expressed towards the same object they love and need to survive. They establish a depressive affect linked with guilt and concern for the loving object.
The integration of the superego is initially internalised with fantastic and unrealistic object images, reflecting expelled projected bad object representations. The ego ideal, consolidating magical /ideal self-object representations, denies the superego`s influence. Only when these primitive images are toned down, neutralised, and differentiated can more realistic demands and ambitions be met and established.
Consolidation of superego and ego integration, reshaping of experiences with external objects. Internal resources in the face of conflict and failure are more mature and solid, with a greater capacity to maintain a cohesive self. Emotional maturity is reflected in the capacity for more discernment and discrimination regarding subtle aspects of oneself and other people: an increased sensitivity, combined love, aggression with independence, and emotional objectivity.
Predominant characteristics in the transference of the borderline client are overwhelming chaos of meaninglessness and emptiness, experienced as a conscious suppression or distorted primitive affect. The intensity of the aggressive determining self versus the defensive idealised all-good object makes integration impossible. Bringing together extremely loving and hateful images would trigger unbearable anxiety and guilt. Primitive disassociation and splitting become major defensive mechanisms.
- Reconstruction of the native primitive parts object relations that become activated within the transference. Interpretation transforms the prevalent meaningless and futility within the transference.
- The therapist may represent one aspect of the client`s disassociation or one aspect of their primitive object representation. Re-enacting the past self/object relationship.
- Part objects need to be integrated with the other, the related opposite image the therapist represents.
Promiscuous behaviour is women with hysterical and strong masochistic traits, usually reflecting unconscious guilt over establishing a mature, stable, gratifying relationship with a man, representing forbidden oedipal fulfilment. Sexual intimacy may trigger unconscious resentment over submission to men and unconscious guilt over forbidden sexuality.
If everyone were like the idealised object, there would be no problem.
In contrast, the sexual promiscuity of the narcissistic personality is linked with excitement from bodily contact that withholds itself. A person considered attractive or valuable by other people is to be consumed and devalued. Such a body or person stirs up unconscious envy and greed, where they need to take possession of and spoil that which generates envy. Freedom is simply an escape from the devouring mother, a desperate need to escape responsibility and engulfment. When the object either finally leaves, the narc is left with rage and vindictiveness, without longing, mourning, or guilt. One cannot have an intimate relationship with a man who cannot generate guilt and a feeling of concern. Activation of the genital zones and promiscuous modes of interaction serves to escape from frightening and frustrating experiences relating to oral needs and dependency.
Identity diffusion due to splitting affects superego integration and distortion, which interferes with processes leading to normal repression of infantile polymorphous perversions and direct expression of oedipal wishes. They cannot enjoy their erogenous zones and be happy with their genitals, which they believe are ugly, mutilated or distorted—the importance of resolving sexual inhibitions to resolve oedipal conflicts to achieve mature love relations. Sexual promiscuity at a structural level may suggest the rigid breakdown of primitive idealisation and the desperate search for another object to re-establish idealisation. We need to transform this bodily eroticism into tenderness and the need for a gratifying object into object constancy. With the capacity for mourning, guilt and concern, and deeper awareness of self and others, we can have mature love relationships.
Freud, A (1946). The psychoanalytic treatment of children, London: imago
Kernberg, O.(1995 ) Object Relations Theory and Clinical Psychoanalysis, Jason Aronson, Inc.; Revised ed. edition
Klein, M (1932).The Psycho-Analysis of Children, Volume 2, Vintage; New Ed edition
Kohut, H (2009 ), The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders, University of Chicago Press; Reprint edition