An Object Relations Approach to Understanding Unusual Behaviors and Disturbances

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Released June 28, 2003
Revision A April 20, 2006 (SMP to SLP)


To my good friend, Sam Vaknin.
No matter the obstacles, he's got heart. Sam is a true survivor.


To explain pathology disturbances and their manifestations entrenched early in child development. These disturbances may manifest as personality disorders (Axis II) such as borderline personality disorder, narcissist personality disorder or, pathology disturbances may manifest as obsessive, chronic and unusual behaviors such as transvestitism, infantilism, autism and pathological passiveness, or reactive attachment disorder. We will see how the variables the child brings to the table, i.e.… his temperament, intelligence and etc, combined with his journey, assimilation and resolution though these critical milestones embedded in child development will shape the child’s sense of self.

We will explore how integration of the self is developed though oscillation of frustration and satisfaction. We will see how the good-enough mother regulates and modulates the infant’s anxiety to promote growth or on the flipside, maladaptive defensives. We will examine the difficult questions that appear elusive and grounded into the unknown. We will address the haunting questions of ‘why’ and offer components to build structures so the equation may be articulated in terms that provide understanding and relief. We will attempt to connect to the “ahhhhhh….” The ‘ah’ can provide a sense of identity, of awareness and diminish guilt. The ‘ah’ can provide a beginning point for growth that was lost in the abyss of the unconsciousness.


This paper has applied widely accepted models grounded in object relations. The main source of this material was lifted from the observations, conclusions and scholarly work of Margaret Mahler and her dedicated collages. Mahler had secured grants that funded a major project that setup a natural framework to observe mothers interactions with their children as they moved through their developmental phases. Mahler’s carefully arranged setting for observations (one-way glass) included an infant’s room and a transitional hallway that led into the toddler’s room. “Thus, we had an observational situation that provided many opportunities for the observation of mother-infant separations and reunions." [4] Mahler arranged experiments to measure the infants and toddlers frustration toleration when separated from mother at different time intervals. Data was collected based on the degree of attunement in which mother and infant were able to communicate. Mahler and her collages observed passive separations as well as deliberate separations, i.e. when mother would leave the room for an interview with staff.


Through observations Mahler et al hypothesize that satisfactory relationships (object relations) with the primary caretaker are parliament to (above the need for) food, clothing and shelter. Object relations is a powerful language. Since I will be using this language, I will review its basic foundation.

Object Relations – An internal object is a piece of psychic structure within the personality whereas external objects are those we relate to externally. Object relations theorists explain that an internal object that is affected by an external object will modify perception within the structure of the self (Interactions with our environment alters our perception of reality through validation—strengthens our perception – or – modification—alters our perception). There is a mix of object relating with the mind and environment. The manner external objects (family, cousins, friends, dog, cat, tree..etc) are organized in the environment affects the internal objects (psychic structures) through the modification of perception within the self. For example and to simplify,

The instructor (object) disciplined two of his students (objects). One student came from a military home and one from a street gang. The military student thanked his instructor for the discipline, whereas the street gang student clinched his fist.

Through investigation we may discover that the military student viewed discipline as ‘being noticed’ and the discipline validated his family relationship with his idolized father. We could say that the military student had a strict father-son relationship (strict object relations) that modified his perception of his teacher, as the ‘good’ teacher (the good object). Or we could say in more abstract object relation terms “Because of his strict object relations the student was able to identify with the ridged and demanding object without overwhelming frustration.” It is extremely helpful to work with objects when observing, constructing, deconstructing, analyzing and understanding the network of the mind.

Let's briefly talk about the ‘splitting’. As we have learned, an internal object is a piece of psyche structure. Therefore it makes sense that these objects can split-off or clump together to form complex objects or mechanisms (defense mechanisms). The formation of complex objects form how an individual relates, or reacts to self or the environment. Let's view how a toddler ‘splits’ his internal objects as a defense to save his relationship with mother.

Mother disciplines her child by placing him in ‘time-out.’ The child is brewing with anger and begins screaming. A different adult enters the time-out to investigate and soothe the child. The child’s mood escalates into a lock-in rage. This appears as a mystery. However, through object relations it is reasonable to hypothesize that the toddler viewed mother as the ‘all good object’ and in order to preserve the all good relationship with mother, the child ‘split’ the investigating adult as ‘all bad’ instead of mother. In other words, the toddler took out his rage on someone else other then the all-good maternal love object.

Object relations’ theorists often times debate the ‘exact’ formula that applies to a word or complex. In some cases a theorist’s will debate as to whether an object is introjected ‘onto’ or ‘into’ the target. Theorists can have slightly different views. For example: “selfobject, internal object, and introject” (Kohut, Winnicott, Mahler, Kernberg, Bion & Fairbairn) to name a few, can be used loosely or with tight restriction depending on the author. However, for this paper, the differences are slight and we will not delve into the different arguments that beg for further clarification. To do so would be beyond the scope of this work.

Lets clarify another word. Libido. We are not talking so much about sex drive here as we are talking about the force of life (Vaknin). When we are talking about “libidinal separations from mother,” we are talking about the child’s separation from mother’s essence of love, or perhaps the child’s feelings of abandonment due to being libidinally separated.

Topographical Model

Object relations are a supplement to psychodynamic theory to understand current behaviors and relationships deriving from the mother-infant dyad. The emphasis of this work is framed in Margaret Mahler’s et al developmental phases, primarily the emerging Separation –Individuation phase out of the powerful regressive force of the Symbiotic phase. Settlage states “Separation-individuation theory places the primary love object, the mother, in the central position in human development.” [1] We will see how the separation-individuation dynamic acts as the ‘training wheels’ for the infant to move beyond the delusional and blissful state of ‘oneness with creation,’ (fantasy-regressive) into an independent ‘oneness with self’ (reality-mature).


I. Nature vs. Nurture

II. Overview of Mahler’s Developmental Stages

III. In Depth on Rapprochement Behaviors and Complexes

IV. Separation-Individuation Disturbances

V. Symbiotic Magnetic Pull (SMP) and Manifestations

VI. Conclusion

I Nature vs. Nurture

The objective of this material is not to project absolute responsibility on the parent or the child.  Each contributes to the evolving development of the self.  Settlage states, “The child’s contribution includes the innate givens, such as temperament, tendency toward activity or passivity, affective intensity, anxiety tolerance, and the intelligence and fantasy potential [1]. Rather, this material is offered to bring a sense of ‘awareness’ to explain with reasonable, and accepted models how the product of child pathology is derived from the reverberation of nature vs. nurture.  Many individuals are in constant bewilderment as to why they are different, or chronically neurotic, or lacking identity, or defective because they are seeking maternal equilibrium, or self-destructive, or vacillating with confusion without any ‘center’ or ‘point of reference.’ 

The question of nature vs. nurture is important because with good road maps we can analyze and reconstruct psychopathology with objectively rather then projecting inappropriate blame. For instance, insight would be helpful for these questions: “I had the perfect childhood, what’s wrong with me?” or “I know that I was abused, but why can’t I get over it?” or “My brothers and sisters turned out okay, why do I feel so different?

These questions and more will be addressed as we reconstruct the dynamics of nature vs. nurture as observed in infants and toddlers by Margaret Mahler and her collogues. We will also investigate attachment, bonding, trauma and object phenomena as explain by object relations theorists and psychodynamic theorists.

II. Overview of Mahler’s Developmental Stages

The two forerunners of Mahler’s 4-part Separation-Individualization phase are the normal autistic phase quickly followed by the powerful symbiotic phase. The autistic phase is more or less a 30-day period in which the mother’s duties lend more toward the physical care of her infant. Think of the autistic phase as sort of waiting period until the infant gains a slight perception of the environment. During the autistic phase the infant’s perception is one-with-self, a sort of closed psychological membrane (less mother – therefore autistic). Then, though an accumulation of experiences with mother, there is a shift out of one-with-self into one-with-mother, the symbiotic phase. Now materializes another confusing word, narcissism. Narcissism at this stage of development is a sense that one is more powerful then one really is. This is natural because mother is perceived as a more powerful extension of the infant. It may be helpful to view the symbiotic phase as infant-mother = infant-powerful = narcissistic infant (healthy narcissism). As you can see, viewed from the infant’s perspective, this is a natural progression, and healthy toward a normal development.

Normal Autistic Phase – 4 Weeks

At birth the physiological event was dramatic and witnessed. However, the newborn’s psychological awareness outside his autistic orbit, his awareness of ‘other’ as separate being does not exist at this point. The primary nature of his inborn instincts are his discharge of tension from thirst, hunger, elimination, temperature regulation and other physiological requirements that are maintained through reflexive modes of sucking, grasping and crying. The task of the normal autistic phase is to establish homeostatic equilibrium (base line) from physiological tension. Mahler et al quotes Ribble “As Ribble (1943) has pointed out, it is by way of mothering that the young infant is gradually brought out of an inborn tendency toward vegetative, splanchnic regression into increased sensory awareness of, contact with, the environment. [4] In other words, through interaction with mother and the growing awareness that mother relives tension, the infant slowly becomes conscious that relief comes from a partnership, which the infant and mother are joined in together, the dual-unit operating as self (delusional). This dim awareness is the beginning of the symbiosis phase (or the dual-unit delusional phase).

Symbiosis Phase

Symbiosis in the real sense is a mutual beneficial relationship between two different organisms. Mahler’s symbiosis is a metaphor to explain the infant’s innate perception that he resides within the nuclear orbit with mother, and that their mutual beneficial relationship is omnipotent, from which he is the center. We now see a new and powerful (delusional and onset of narcissist perception) dual-unit of infant-mother. The autistic shift into symbiosis granted the infant upgrades! The infant now perceives mother as a powerful extension of self. Mahler explains the symbiotic relationship between mother and infant in this way “The infant behaves and functions as though he and his mother were an omnipotent system – a dual unity within a common boundary" [4]. The infant’s delusional concept suggests that he is much greater and grandiose then really he is. In other words, the infant cannot conceptualize mine from not mine, and I from not-I. It is as though there is a fusion that reverberates between mother and infant. For example: The infant’s feels tension and cries. The cry is routed though the symbiotic system (mother-infant dyad) from which he is the center, and the tension is relieved by his ‘wish’ (mother is an extension of himself) and this validates, was it called, his primary narcissism (Ferencizi’s stage of absolute or unconditional hallucinatory omnipotence.” [4]). Narcissism is facilitated though the delusion that mother is an extension of self, which of course would appear that his is greater and more powerful then he really is. However, during the symbiosis stage, primary narcissism (healthy) is a phenomenon that helps relive the infant of anxiety until he has the psychological structures to activate more sophisticated defense mechanisms. In the meantime, the dual unit of infant-mother would be much like an analogy of a dream in which one ‘wishes’ the pencil to rise, and magically, it rises.

(Note: it is this nexuses dream like state, this blissful belief of tranquility that imprints a powerful "symbiotic libidinal pull" (SLP) in the newly formed structures within the infant’s pathology. Gradually this pathology is repressed into the unconscious, but remains a force, a regressive pull to return to oneness-with-mother, a libidinal (a libidinal - force of love, a pull to be one-with-creation).

Separation – Individuation

Separation – individuation consists of four subphases that begin about 4 to 5 months through 30 to 36 months. During this complex phase the infant ‘hatches’ out of the symbiotic orbit of the mother-infant dyad. This is achieved through progressions and regressions, frustrations and satisfactions, conflicts and resolutions between the infant and the “good-enough” (Winnicott) mother. In other words, until now, the infant’s primitive cogitation and limited experiences allowed the infant to reside within the all-nurturing membrane. However, though the accumulation of experiences and the increasing sophistication of internal structures (cogitation), the membrane can on longer contain the infant, and the infant ‘hatches’ out into the world of separation individualization.

(1) Differentiation

Onset at 4 to 5 months. In the holding environment (Winicott) of mother’s arms, the infant softly becomes aware of self. This is observed when the infant stiffens and pushes away from mother as if to see mother (as other) and the environment from a different perspective. This is the launch of the distancing process with the increasing awareness of his autonomy. Mahler et al states “As soon as the infant’s apparatuses mature sufficiently, he may slide down from mother’s lap, thence he crawls, paddles, and sill later walks away from mother" [4].

(2) Practicing 10-12 / 16-18

At this point there is a shift into the beginning of a partnership between the infant being secure in the remnants of the symbiotic orbit with mother AND the infant practicing exploration into his exciting new world. It is a marvelous combination! It is as though the toddler projects a magnificent aural of “I am invincible! (Primary narcissism is at its peak!) Not only do I have these new autonomy skills and the onset of upright locomotion (like the teen that gets a new set of wheels) but I also have mother’s essence to keep me safe!” Mahler points out that “During the practicing subphase mother continues to be needed as a stable point – a “home base” to fulfill the need for refueling through physical contact. We see seven to ten-month-olds crawling or rapidly paddling to mother, righting themselves on her leg. The phenomenon was termed by Furer “emotional refueling.”

As practicing subphase evolves, the toddler gets caught up in the excitement of his investigations and discoveries. This distraction gives the impression that he is more resistant to frustration. For example, if a toy is taken away, no problem, there is a huge reservoir of other adventures waiting. In addition, the toddler is not as concerned with mother’s whereabouts for longer durations of time. But of course, as in our analogy with the teen, any new set of wheels requires fuel from time to time. The toddler, like the teen, will “emotionally refuel” by tagging home base (mother) until his reservoirs are temporally replenished for another excursion. For now, the toddler is much to busy to realize that his physical distancing from mother is also creating an emotional separation from her as well. In other words, the symbiotic orbit is losing ground to his cognitive awareness that the delusional dual unit of ‘we’ does not exist, but rather a “me” and “not me.” Yet for now, the toddler is much like a pendulum with the upswing into the clouds, that is, until the accumulation of gravity (reality) forces the pendulum into a different direction.

(3) Rapprochement (16-18 / 22-24 months)

This is perhaps the most critical stage of the separation individuation process. Settlage states “The relative lack of separation anxiety and obliviousness to the mother’s presence characteristic of the practicing phase is, in the rapprochement phase, replaced by an acutely heightened separation anxiety and active approaches to the mother, along with a seemingly constant concern with her whereabouts." [2] The toddler is becoming acutely aware of his separation from mother; compared to his early delusion that mother was an omnipotent extension of himself. As the symbiotic safety net diminishes, his separation anxiety gains momentum. The toddler is more concerned with mother’s whereabouts and demonstrates his anxiety through active approach behavior (rapprochement). To make things for difficult for the toddler, he is not able avail himself as easily to his ‘contact supplies’ in mother as he was in the past. There is a mutual realization between mother and toddler that he can do more and more for himself. Consequently, mother’s response to the toddler’s anxiety and frustrations are at greater and greater intervals, and the toddler’s defense to this crisis is an active approach. We call this rapprochement.

Separation is more pronounced due to the onset of verbal progress. Separation becomes further apparent due to nouns “mine” and “me” and especially ‘no.’ Of course the pervasive and intrinsic component of ‘no’ is ‘my way and not your way, which establishes a continual awareness ‘self’ that is splitting away from the symbiotic orbit of ‘us’, the dual unit. In other words, repetition of “no” is a way of practicing the individuality of “I am.” What seems negativistic may actually be positive process toward developmental growth.

Often theorists suggest that rapprochement is specifically vulnerable in the separation individualization sequence because of possible unaligned growth spurts. For example, if the toddler’s gains access (growth spurt) to his upright locomotion (individualization through new experiences) before he is developmentally ready to emotionally separate from mother (separation) then the toddler is at risk for overwhelming anxiety. Because mother is not as available to metabolize and modulate the toddler’s intolerable affect (mood, feelings), he is subject to the perils of abnormal pathology. This observation suggests that is helpful and a benefit to the toddler when individualization is aligned with separation from mother. A considerable acceleration or lag in either environment can manifest as disturbances throughout the life cycle.

(4) Object Constancy

As the child ushers into this phase of object constancy, his intervals through the rapprochement crises began to wax and wane. Through the repeated comings and goings of mother (establishing consistency), AND through the toddler’s genetic ability to adapt (ego endowment), a new image begins to shape internally. The toddler’s capacity to internalize mother through memory traces serves as a source of comfort and security when she is not available. The essence of the nurturing and soothing mother is gaining ground and is internalized as a constant object. We call this object constancy.

New tools are quickly becoming available to aid the senior toddler to cope with anxiety. His verbal communication skills are rapidly expanding. He has a growing sense of time and the meaning of “now” and “later” to aid with frustration delay. Time is not as narrowed or pressured through the relief of the internalized constant object.

III. In Depth on Rapprochement Behaviors and Complexes

Shadowing and Darting Away.

This dynamic operates like a push-pull behavior. In essence, the child runs away from mother and expects to be swooped up in the safety of her arms. Ambivalence is striking and evident since the child wishes for dependence on mother (shadowing) and then independence (darting away). It becomes a flirtatious game of play, of testing new capacities toward independence. It can also become an ambivalent nightmare. However, there are times the junior toddler may not wish to be swooped up and may react with rage on contact. Other times the child is permitted greater expansions that may lead to the engulfment of the void, and this emptiness may also cause rage. To the observer it appears as a no-win situation. During this period the child is in an emotional crises and cannot tolerate ambivalence.


When a child becomes separated from mother before he is emotionally ready, his libido reserves may not be sufficiently in place to overcome separation anxiety. This anxiety engenders insecurity and neediness.

The rapprochement toddler is peculiarly vulnerable due to his increasing autonomy along with his elevated cognation. He can no longer contain the illusion of the symbiotic orbit that he and mother operate as one. As the rapprochement toddler separates, his individualization is more apparent because reality is gaining ground. There is a growing realization that mother will not share in his quest for new discoveries at his beck-and-call. We now have a clash. The elated ‘superman’ qualities from the practicing phase (NPD) are now head-on with the depressive and anxiety rapprochement phase (BPD). The toddler has gone from a ‘high’ to a ‘low’ in a short time during the shift from one phase to the next. Some theorists speculate that resolution of the rapprochement phase sets toddler’s ‘base mood’ for life. This model suggests that is it prudent that good-enough mother establishes attunement with her toddler to survive the rapprochement crisis.

A child that is deprived from being emotionally refueled can be haunted with pervasive emptiness and a lack of identify, or a loss of self. This is how one fixated adult put it:

It’s hard to be a child in a grown up world. It’s a feeling of being lost. It’s sad sometimes because when I see other children they dont look lost. They have parents, structure and guidelines. This helped them grow and form into an adult. They went through the maze and arrived at the other end. It was a maze I have never had the opportunity to enter. What is structure? I remember at 6 being on the other side of town in the blackness of the night. No one cared where I was. What are parents? I can’t ever remember being loved, rocked, cuddled or held. I have no memory traces of this. What are guidelines? I had none and made them up as I went along in life. I’m afraid my guidelines are not very stable since I didn’t have a measuring stick that was constant in my life. Is it any wonder that I am still a lost child that is pretending to be an adult?


On the flip side, a mother that projects her insecurities (i.e. obsession with perfection, fear) onto her infant through constant handling can prevent the infant’s satisfaction through exploration. With mother’s incessant patterns of containment, the infant may resent her encroachment of his expanding world. The infant may learn to scan the restricted environment for opportunities to experience his independence. As the child progresses, engulfment may looked as though it were a glass bubble. Freedom is imposed and deferred to inappropriate responsibilities that gives the impression the child is a ‘little adult.’ This encroaches on his developing identity since to ‘mother himself’ takes on a distorted view of individually in the formation of the false-self. In other words, the child is being taken intellectually advantage of with no regard for his developmental and emotional lag. Kramer validates “Cut off from the needed relationship and parental regulatory help, the child is at the mercy of the inner impulses and feelings…the child does not experience the usual parental pleasure in the child’s growth. Instead, the child feels used in the service of the parent’s anxieties and needs [1]. In a clear sense, this can be seen when the older child assumes the adult role of caretaker without sufficient provision for libidinous nurturing and affection. A child that is saddled with added responsibilities without appropriate developmental nurturing is at risk for developmental fixation.

The Rapprochement Crisis

As the child becomes psychically and cognitively aware of his new budding world, he becomes increasingly conscious that he can no longer maintain his delusional symbiotic orbit with mother. Mahler states that “While individuation proceeds very rapidly and the child exercises it to the limit, he also becomes more and more aware of his separateness from mother.” The crisis of the rapprochement subphase heightens as the child realizes mother is not an extension of himself, but he is rather a small, helpless diminutive individual. In contrast to the practicing phase when the child’s narcissism was at its peak and the world was his oyster sort of speak, the child is now overwhelmed with narcissist injury on a daily basis. The world that seemed as a treasure trove for new opportunities to conquer with his new ambulatory locomotion during the practicing phase is now being delineated by the harsher psychical boundaries of reality. He cannot do as he anticipated. It begins to dawn on him that he is not as grandiose or powerful as his first imagined.

Transitional Object

Winnicott who coined the term transitional object suggested that the child intimately cathected (energized) the object (diaper, blanket, etc) with the libidinal investment of mother. “Transitional objects tend to be soft and are capable of being cuddly; they help evoke primitive memories of being held, comforted, fed and, importantly, played with. Eventually, probably 70 percent of children in separately bedded situations (Ekecranz and Ruhde 1971) have transitional objects (blankets, diapers, stuffed animals)" [8]. The cathexis of the transitional object usually begins during the preverbal period and depending on the resolution of the separation – individualization phase, the transitional object may take on a more pervasive function to ease anxiety. It is important to note that the transitional object is within the complete control of the child and yielding unlike the individually of mother. This serves the purpose to help the child separate from mother because the transitional object is available when needed or can be discarded during periods of exploration.

Once the child displays his limited independent abilities, his mother may resent or refuse to partake in his regressive dependencies and the child may feel emotionally abandoned. Other times the when child may be libidinally (love, nurturing, essence) separated from mother via a phone call, or more physically, out of the room for long periods of time. Since the child’s increasing awareness of separation embarks on the transitional period, the transitional object takes on a greater significance if mother is not emotionally available to supply the child with object libido. To help ease libidinal separations the child cathexed an object with representation of mother. Bergman summarizes “The transitional object (Winnicott 1953) of the early months is a object found by the baby which stands between the self- and the object world and provides a safe intermediary area of experience which allows both separateness and fusion.” [2]

Resolution vs. Progression of the Transitional Object

As the child progress through the separation-individualization stages, there is a shift toward object constancy. Maternal supplies bridged with the transitional object can help a child to transition from the powerful influence of the infant-mother dyadic position (symbiotic dual unit), to the “first meaningful triangulation of the infant-mother dyad, the transitional object [8].” The temporary transitional object (aid/support –temporary maternal supply) paves the way to a consistent internalized representation of maternal nurturing and soothing (object constancy) when mother is not available. Grolnick explains, “Transitional objects and phenomena are only the first steps toward the development of, hopefully, an equally treasured symbolic and cultural world.” [8]

Disturbance in the Transitional Period

Yet on occasion because of the child’s genetic endowment and inability to internalize the maternal object into a satisfactory holding environment, the transitional object remains. It is not uncommon for an individual to puzzle over the idea what went wrong? They may reason, “I had a great childhood and etc.” However, since developmental phases are largely repressed and unconscious, preverbal disturbances are elusive. Perhaps through professional deconstruction, confrontation, examination and the realignment genetic endowment, the unconscious may be brought into the conscious. What may appear as a ‘normal’ rapprochement crisis for one child may completely, and chronically overwhelm another child to create an almost psychotic cathected transitional object. In other words, there is a fixation of libido energy during the transitional period that did not get recathected. To hold and resonate with the transitional object, is to hold and resonate with maternal handling. What remains is the artifact, the libidinally cathected transitional object. Bergman suggests, “It would seem that that the transitional object serves the illusion of oneness…” [2]

IV. Separation Individuation Disturbances

The failure to reach a resolution during the developmental phase can have far reaching implications. “As old, partially unresolved sense of self-identity and of body boundaries, or old conflicts over separation and separateness, can be reactivated (or remain peripherally or even centrally active) at any and all stages of life…”


Mahler suggests that in some cases the infant will not hatch out of his autistic orbit if an attunement with mother is too painful. In other words, the infant retreats into his own internal world. The communication between mother and infant are out of sync. The task to resolve the miscommunication may frustrate and prevent the joint path into the symbolic dual unit. The miscommunication may be grounded in the infant’s ego endowment and advancement is too painful, therefore the infant retreats into the autistic realm where mother’s smile is not mirrored back to her.

Symbiotic Libidinal Pull (SLP)

Matterson found that treating certain patients was difficult because there “is still a strong internal regressive pull to maintain the old familiar rewarding object relations unit[11]. The Symbiotic Libidinal Pull (SLP) derives from the unconscious attraction to the symbiotic orbit of the mother-infant dyad that was experienced when mother was conceptualize as an extension of the self (symbiotic phase), as a container that resolved and metabolized anxiety through her affect modulation. The strength of the SLP is a regressive force, an energy, a ‘pull”. SLP is conceptualized as a nexuses, a oneness with creation, a completeness. For example, this force to return, to regress is exemplified with the rival of baby into the family unit in the face of an older child.

Here we see “another form of attempted adaptation was identification with the rival baby. Matthew showed signs of wanting to be a baby himself; like this baby brother, of instance, he would climb into the playpen" [4]. Mother was intolerant of his regressive behavior and Matthew; the happy radiant child began to adapt aggressive conduct by throwing objects out of frustration. It was observed that Matthew had lost his spark for life in service of the mother, the influence of the false-self, “all of which on superficial observation seemed to be in compliance with mother’s wishes that he be independent and remain her happy little “big” boy" [4].

The influence of the SLP will vary depending on the progress on the separation – individualization phase. The greater the symbolic pull, the more likely the individual is developmentally conflicted with unsatisfactory object constancy. If the individual’s development is static and held in abeyance because insufficient maternal reserves are absent or not fully integrated, the individual may become fixated and employ primitive defensive mechanisms (regressions, splitting and etc.) to relieve anxiety.

SLP, Anxiety and Defense Mechanisms

To simplify, anxiety derives from three sources (pressures) of conflict. To simplify, they are (1) pleasure seeking (impulsive) and the aspects needed to survive, (2) morals and perfection, formed out of punishment and rewards, and (3) the external world (reality). Depending on the source of conflict, defense mechanisms are automatically activated to prevent the individual from the harshness of reality. Defense mechanisms distort or distract an individual from the full impact of reality. If the defense mechanism(s) is successful, a compromise has been reached between the opposing forces toward a decision that enables the discharge or displacement of anxiety. However, when defensives are primitive or ridged, and the personality is rendered with inflexibility, then there is likely a disturbance in the Separation – Individualization phase that is yielding to the SLP. In other words, the inability to defuse anxiety renders the individual prey to the regressive, symbiotic magnetic pull of oneness with creation. Primitive defenses closely orbit the SLP due to its greater gravitational pull, then the more distant orbits of sophisticated defenses.

Brief Discussion on Defense Mechanisms.

At birth, the infant has no need for defense mechanisms because the ego has not evolved out of the autistic orbit into an awareness that requires a defense. Defense mechanisms protect the ego (self) from anxiety by distorting reality. Defense mechanisms are largely unconscious. Lets run through several of them.

Primitive Defenses (Close orbit to the SLP)

Regression: Return to an earlier developmental level of functioning prompt by anxiety. For example, an individual overtaken with losses collapsed into a fetal position. An adult clutches a stuffed bunny (transitional object) to ease anxiety. A child temporarily reverts to dependence as a relief from the new responsibilities of independence.

Splitting: Separation of internal objects that create anxiety. For example individuals that cannot tolerate ambivalence (shades of gray) will split a person as ‘all-good’ or ‘all-bad.’ It creates less anxiety to completely hate a person that is ‘all bad.’

Projection: Decrease anxiety by deferring responsibility onto others. It is easier to tolerate ‘You made me do it’ rather then ‘I did it.”

Projection Identification: Projection with intense pressure. There is a decrease in anxiety when pushing an individual into a role to preserve perception. Altering perception would create a mass upheaval within the mind. It is easier to tolerate “He is a liar” by massive projection. This defense creates a target to deposit the hate that resides within the self. In other words, “If I treat you like the bad object long enough, you will become the bad object, and then I have a ‘right’ to hate you.” We could say the treater became the bad object through projective identification.

Denial: Stops anxiety dead in its tracks. “How can I be upset if it didn’t happen?”

Sophisticated Defenses (Distant orbit to the SLP)

Rationalization: Excusing the behavior through an internal debate. “So what? I would have happened sooner or later anyway.” Rationalization defends against internalized moral and cultural conflicts.

Intellectualization: The use of abstract thought to advert or minimize troublesome emotions (anxiety). For example, a man avoids the emotional grief from the loss of his wife by intellectualizing she had a long life in spite of her illness.

Repression: Evading unwanted anxiety through avoidance. Usually repression is the source from which other defense mechanisms operate. For example the repression of early trauma protects the psych from anxiety.

Sublimation: The release of anxiety through more appropriate and ‘acceptable’ channels. For example, an individual may release his rage in a sport such as boxing.

Reaction Formation: Behaving the complete opposite of one’s true desires to avoid anxiety. For example, a pedophile becomes a priest to advert unacceptable impulses. An employee is extra nice to her boss whom she hates to save her job.

Identification: Identification with a role model, parent, teacher etc to avoid anxiety within the self. For example, identification with a committee, a wining team, or organization can deflect anxiety through absorption and participation.

Maturity vs. Fixation and Object Constancy

After separation – individualization has been sufficiently resolved; a more mature defense against the SLP has evolved. The child is able to internalize a consistent, available image and the essence of mother though repeated satisfactory (good enough) interactions with her. The child’s integrated conceptualization of mother satisfies the demands of the SLP and helps regulate anxiety. We call this object constancy.

As the child matures and the SLP is adequately satisfied with the constant internalized mother object, a new dynamic begins to take shape reaching into youth and adulthood. The constant object within the youth/adult reverberates with the SLP to form a more integrated sense of self, a new dual unit. The self becomes integrated within the self, no longer seeking the maternal nurturing though the original symbolic mother - infant dyad. What has emerged is an individual that has separated from the unconscious nexuses of mother. The individual is now ready to enter into a more mature libidinous relationship with ‘other’, a life partner.

In the absence of the more mature (integrated) sense of self due to disturbance in the separation individualization phase, manifestations to recreate and replay a failed situation in hopes of a better outcome can become chronically and compulsively intrinsic with the individual’s pathology. Treaters find this especially difficulty according to Matterson and Chathan “They bring nothing into the treatment that will disrupt the symbiotic fantasized relationship with the therapist and thus activate depression" [11]

V. Symbiotic Libidinal Pull (SLP) and Manifestations

Because SLP is a regressive force, its vicissitudes may become apparent though the manifestation of unusual behaviors. These behaviors are the result of mechanisms that were created to satisfy the unconscious demands for emotional equilibrium.

Transitional Object Revisited

The transitional object is a defense against the demands of the SLP. The cathected object may enable functioning and impede regression. The transitional object represents a compromise for the unconscious need of maternal supply. In this vignette temporary relief was intermediately attained though contact with the transitional object. An example:

A forty-year-old patient reported that in times of anxiety or insecurity her ‘center’ would ‘pull.’ At times the patient would appear crunched over with her hands pressing on her stomach to hold her ‘insides in’ because the pull was so pervasive. To access relief she would carry a transitional object to establish emotional equilibrium (homeostasis). This worked quite well for her most of the time. Other times her transitional object failed when her ‘center’ pulled with an enormous tension. At those times she would regress and not be able to function.

In preceding vignette the transitional object was the first line of defense against regression. Another example of a transitional object is medication. The patient emotionally refueled when taking her pills that represented the nurturing care of her idealized doctor. Perhaps the placebo effect can be explained in the transitional phenomena. In other words, the (fake) pill worked because it was cathected as transitional object.

We can also see the comforting influence of the transitional object in this case:

“Blanck and Blanck (1979,pp. 156-157) have discussed the use of the transitional objects when the therapist cannot meet with the patients. For example, when they went on vacation, they have one severely disturbed woman their phone number on a piece of paper so that she could have it as a transitional object. The woman never telephoned them, but she felt secure just having the number [11].

The author makes the point clear that the transitional object can help maintain the object image of the treater to soothe anxiety.

Transvestite Manifestation

Disturbance during the rapprochement crisis though sudden, unexpected and prolonged separations with mother can affect the structure building process of the internalized constant object representing mother (The forth subphase). Because there is a disturbance with the libidinous internalized representation of mother, the symbiotic libidinal pull (SLP) manifests in child’s behavior in an unconscious attempt to preserve the relationship. In this example the child does not understand ‘why’ he behaves the why he does, only that is satisfies the demand of the SLP through manifestation of symbiotic representation.

Settlage Case [1]

A 3-year-old boy became preoccupied with girlish activities and insisted on dressing up in mother’s clothes, wearing her jewelry, putting on her perfume and cosmetics, and carrying a purse. At the same time, he showed little or no interest in boyish activities and pursuits.

Beginning at age 18 months, the boy experienced repeated disruptions of his relationship with his mother. She reported that she felt compelled to leave the house. Having made arrangements for a caregiver, she did so, sometimes several times a day. His attempting to become like or identical with mother severed to nullify the threat of separation.

Here we see the genesis of pathology in transvestitism. I suggest that transvestitism occurs more often in the male gender because it is mother who gave birth and the separation individualization process is more difficult based on alignment of gender identity differences the cultural demands on males (big boys don’t cry, etc…).

Infantilism Manifestation

In true infantilism the individual’s pathology is centered on the transitional object. Depending upon the strength of the SLP from disturbances in the separation individualization phase, an individual may have a neurotic compulsion to regress because the individual is seeking a component of maternal satisfaction from the cathected transitional object rather then in ‘other.’ Usually in infantilism there is object fragmentation (splitting) and the internalized representation of the maternal object is not integrated into a continuing sense of self. During these times ‘significant other’ is not seen as a whole cohesive individual to in their own right, but rather as maternal supply for fusion to satisfy the primitive symbiotic orbit of oneness with creation – mother.

In relationships, coping with fragmentation may be problematic since the fragmented individual oscillates between the need to emotionally refuel with maternal supplies (symbiotic orbit) AND the need to express intimacy in age appropriate manner. The spouse however, is usually an integrated individual that has developmentally matured and cannot understand the significance of the transitional object. For example the significant other may reason, “I should be able to libidinally satisfy all your needs. Toss the transitional object.” However, because the individual is fragmented, and the split-off infantile object (part-self) is developmentally fixated, the resonating transitional object and its concomitants remain as a source for maternal supplies. It is almost as though there is a dual personality (fragmented) in which the individual seeks ‘balance.’


This is a difficult decision and can open up a can of worms. Reparenting if not done correctly can come off as a reintroduction to the SLP abyss. The formation of a malignant regression can be dangerous when it shifts into a realm of impossibility. However, a benign regression can be most helpful and therapeutic.

The benign regressions are carried out as goals focused through excises to progress through developmental fixation. For example, a patient is regressed when old unresolved hurts (transferences / distortions) resurface and are directed toward the treater. For the more fragmented individual, integration takes place through the taking in of (introjection) positive interactions with the treater. Lets say old wounds are resurrected, amplified (unresolved rage) and projected onto the treater, (the treater is the target of transferences), it is the treater’s function to empathetically acknowledged the rage (projected object in the transference), and handle resurrected dynamics of the rage by taking it in, detoxifying the rage, and offer it back in a less threatening form. In other words, the patients close core structures are modified when the treater acknowledges the rage first, and then helps defuse the situation as a new role model (identification). For example the regressed patient may say, “I HATE you! You are just like my mother! You always twist things around!” The treater responds, “I can see you are angry, really mad. I would be mad too if my mother twisted everything around. I bet being misunderstood would be crazy making. So if things appear as twisted around, lets figure out what happened because I wouldn’t be doing my part to let you go on thinking that.” Here we see the treater has accepted the rage, contained it, and is now aligning a positive and corrective stance with the patient, (the patient has split off the bad object in the transference, projected into the treater, and the treater as contained, detoxified the bad object, now modified, and offered it back in a more harmless form to the patient). What the treater has done in effect, has reparented the patient and built a stronger trust, with means, strengthen the therapeutic alliance. Once this alliance has become stronger, and the bad objects in the patient has been modified through repeated interactions with the treater, which after a time, will bring us to the next step.

Be forewarned, this usually works only for the more integrated individual. Through clarification, confrontation and interpretation, the regression in transference promotes growth through insight and self-awareness and especially through the cathartic release, (great pain released in tears).

The malignant and dangerous regressions into reparenting would be the sinking of self, fused with the powerful SLP. Rule of thumb, regressions are benign and helpful when they promote growth to a period of moving on. Regressions are malignant when they become the object of fusion and static with the symbiotic magnetic pull, and there is no relief, but more of a demand for unreasonable entitlement. The task of reparenting should take place in the framework of structured holding environment because it can act as the safety net from the abyss of the SLP.

Borderline Personality Manifestation

The hallmark traits of borderline personality disorder (BPD) are a lack of identity, pervasive emptiness, excessive anger and the inability to regulate emotion. The sources of these symptoms were caused by the dynamic, ambivalent and powerful struggle between the SLP vs. individualization during the rapprochement subphase. “The rapprochement subphase is where the fixation becomes apparent, with the point of origin in the symbiotic phase." [11]. Here we see dependence vs. independence.

Emptiness – lack of a maternal constant object

Since the subphase of object constancy has not developed within the borderline individual, he resides predominately within the rapprochement subphase. There is a constant reverberation of the push-pull behavior. A sort of “I hate you, don’t leave me’ or ‘I run away, come rescue me’ dynamic. We see this because a borderline individual has not internalized the ‘all-good nurturing maternal object’ (emptiness) and when his fleeting maternal supplies diminish, there is a run-away behavior to prompt the chase. We can sum it up in this way, “If you catch me, you love me, if you don’t catch me, you hate me.” When ‘captured’ the borderline individual’s maternal supplies are replenished for a time. We can see this clearly when the borderline patient tries to woo and extract maternal attention from the treater. If the treater fails, like the toddler, the borderline patient will up-the-stakes, sort of speak. Note this observation in the toddler. “It is quite impressive to observe the extent to which the normal infant-toddler is intent upon extracting, and in usually able to extract, contact supplies and participation from the mother, sometimes against considerable odds; how he tries to incorporate every bit of these supplies into libidinal channels for progressive personality organization. [9]. Here we see that the borderline individual is behaving as the normal toddler through rapprochement with his treater. The problem a treater faces is that active approaching (rapprochement) and the ‘catch’ appears as chronic, and therefore draining on the reserves of the therapeutic relationship. Sooner or later the therapeutic relationship with the borderline individual will take the normal course into a rapprochement crisis that is age appropriate with the toddler. What may appear to a treater as ‘regression’ is actually a resuming course of development that was fixated in childhood.


The hallmark of the borderline individual is rage. Rage from the separation of the maternal symbiotic orbit without the compensation of the internalized maternal constant object because the resolution of the rapprochement subphase has failed. Rage derived from the repeated failure of environment’s attunement with the infant’s inborn ego endowment. In other words, the child has failed to get what he needs because of problems from attunement with the primary love object or from abuse. The oscillation of rage is directly in sync with the borderline’s fluctuation of maternal supplies from his environment. Since a constant object does not exist within the borderline individual, then the constant modulation to defuse rage does not exist either. The containment of rage is much like the containment of maternal effect. Neither are subject to containment without external attention. To say it another way, the borderline individual is able to contain his rage as well as he is able to contain the constant object, which is to say, not very well. Note this observation. “Rage tends to wipe out positive experience in relationships and maintain a predominance of angry over loving feelings. Good experience fails to “stick to the ribs” of psychic structure” [1]. This is why in borderline individuals we see the rollercoaster affect. Their moods are fluid and can begin or end abruptly in direct relation to the success of the rapprochement catch.


The goal of the treater is to experiment and develop an attunement with the borderline individual. Through validation and positive mirroring a strong therapeutic alliance can be constructed. One of the signs of a strong alliance is the resumption of the rapprochement subphase that will move forward into the rapprochement crisis. Here we see the flare up of rage, which seems puzzling because things were going so well as the alliance developed. We use the analogy in which rage is like nuclear fusion and if not contained can be a bomb. However, nuclear fusion can be contained in specially built nuclear power plants (holding environment) and the energy (rage) can be modified. It is important to note that without fusion (rage-heat) there is nothing to modify (structural change). The negative affects that were repressed due to failed attunement or abuse are resurrected in the holding environment. If the treater is successful, rage from the negative affects is modified into the formation of the internalized constant object.

Treaters face problems when they ‘are afraid to upset the patient’ and employ all sorts of tactics to maintain a positive affect in the patient. The holding environment that was constructed for fusion is not utilized. Sessions are uneventful, boring and dead. Some treaters take the low road to pass the time in chitchat. This would be much like a blacksmith attempting to shape a cold chuck of metal without heat. However, with the application of heat, and the skillful use of development tools, the blacksmith is able to modify the metal.

Working with the borderline individual is an art and similar to the navigation of a vehicle because there must be balance of acceleration and breaking to get someplace. Breaking (speed regulation in dangerous areas) is akin to the establishment and promotion of positive affects (positive transferences) to maintain the holding environment that is needed for treatment compliance. In other words, the strength of the alliance and the ability to get something done is based on the positive emotion toward the treater. Acceleration (working through – going somewhere) is the application of negative affects (negative transferences) that generate anger and rage. The treater’s employment of developmental skills can reshape the psychic structures while contained within the holding environment. However, the treater must be prudent not to pervasively overwhelm the patient with negative affect since to do so would equate to a car going over a cliff (the therapeutic alliance has severally deteriorated and cannot be repaired). During these times breaking (use of positive affects), and backing off on acceleration (shelving negative affects) can preserve the alliance. This will give the client a chance to fall back and regroup. This attunement carries the rapprochement crisis forward through regressions – progressions, unavailability – availability, and rage – soothing. It is the successful reverberation of comings and goings with the treater that produces useful derivatives in the formation of the constant object.

The Holding Environment

This term, coined by Winnicott suggested the treater create a holding space, which can provide a safe place for experimentation and change with the patient. Winnicott emphasized that the critical element of the holding environment was its framework, or operating boundaries. To help prevent unnecessary treatment failures Winnicott suggested explaining to the patient at the onset of treatment an agreement between the therapist and patient. For example, lateness is handled this way, or missed sessions in this way, or dangerous behaviors in this way. Be consistent! How can the patient internalize a constant object if the treater does not model one?! Action should take place as matter-of-factly without irritation (countertransference reaction). This is especially important with personalities that are prone to feel slighted without perfect mirroring. In other words, a treater that changes the rules as he goes can have a deadly effect. It may come off as the ‘rejecting mirror’ and validate beliefs, and destroy months carefully constructed introjects that modified the patients poor objects relations. The treater that changes the rules as he goes may come off as a cheater, weak, passive, aggressive or a whole range of affects. And, the patient with a ridged and unforgiving personality (rightly so in many cases) will walk or act out dangerously and then, treatment has failed. It is important to discuss with the patient the difference between ‘acting out’ (physical aggression, missed or late appointments, dangerous behaviors) and ‘working through.’ Working though is the verbalization of feelings, emotions and affect. Acting out on the other hand must confronted using a preset framework of consequences. For example, consequences (other then the execution boundary) can strengthen the therapeutic alliance. In some cases consequences will validate the rapprochement-patient that he as been ‘caught’ in the unconscious compulsion to ‘shadow and dart away.’ Much in the same way as the rapprochement-toddler, object constancy will progress for the patient through testing, the comings and goings of the treater.

Transitional Space

Once the holding environment is constructed it can provide a safe place for transition. Winnicott viewed the transitional space (the transitional phenomena) as an intermediate space to invite experimentation and exploration. It was modeled from the mother-infant transitional space during the separation-individualization phase. It is sort of a playground, a place to assign roles that are resurrected from the past (transferences) and played out. As these roles take shape, a distorted reverberation based in the past (transferences – countertransferences) will take place between the treater and the patient. For example a treater may kindle an exaggerated rage in the patient from slight rejections. In other words the joint assigned roles between the treater and the patient has stirred emotions of the over critical and rejecting parent. Once the roles are in motion in a safe place (activated transferences of the bad object in the transitional space) the treater guides the treatment course with skillful tools. The skillful treater may apply more ‘heat’ to ambiguous transitions to bring clarity, to help the situation become more obvious. Usually, during a return to baseline there is a cathartic release within the patient from repressed emotions. Guidance from the treater in the form of clarification, confrontation and interpretation can crystallize the flooding of emotions into a meaningful experience. This is similar to our analogy of the blacksmith that quenches the carefully shaped metal in the water. The modified metal is crystallized as the steam escapes, much as the patient is modified as the repressed emotions escape the cold labyrinths of confusion…. all while in Winnicott’s transitional space within the framework of the holding environment.

Narcissist Personality Manifestation

Unlike the borderline individual fixated in the rapprochement subphase, the narcissist individual is fixated in the earlier practicing subphase. Narcissistic manifestation originates from the infant’s inability to separate from the grandiose delusional derivatives of the symbiotic orbit. This poses as a curiosity (Masterson) because the infant ‘develops’ through the rapprochement crisis consisting of successes and failures. I say curious because in order for the infant to separate from mother, the infant would have to had actually experienced the successful resolution of environmental difficulties based in reality, and of course since the resolutions are reality based, one would expect the infant to have realized through such experiences that he is NOT as powerful or grandiose as he perceived he was at the height of the practicing phase. In other words, the dilemma can be postulated in this analogy "How does an individual acquire financial credit, if the individual does not have the required credit history?" For instance a banker may say, "I’m sorry, you do not have a credit history. We cannot give you the money." The response is, "How can I get a credit history if I cannot get a loan to began with?!" Of course to circumvent the banker’s requirement, the individual can provide phony credit documents. Basically, that is to lie. So, we now see the infant was manipulated to lie (use defense mechanisms [denial et al] to 'bypass' the rapprochement crisis.)

Back to our narcissistic model, the infant distorts (lies) on an unconscious level though the primitive defenses of denial, projection and splitting to maintain the illusion that he is STILL powerful and grandiose. But why would the infant feel pressured into distorting though denial?

Lets say mother is projecting her needs and insecurities into the infant. The infant feels obligated to engage and to expend his energy to satisfy mother else he may risk losing her love. In the infant’s engagement to satisfy mother, his development is arrested as he constructs psychological structures to please her needs. The infant’s psychological structures shaped from the projection of mother’s needs are called the false self. One of the major components of this model of the false self is the grandiose and omnipotence distortions. In other words the infant is busy clinging onto his delusion of power, because without it he would not be able to meet mothers needs, and lets face it, how many of us would lie, cheat and steal to save the life of a loved one? The infant is busy clinging onto his distortions (lying) because without them he would be small, helpless, and powerless to save mother and himself. Hence we see the infant’s chronic adaptation of denial (one of many) as a defense to survive and maintain mother’s love.

In this model the infant was not able to relinquish the narcissistic component so he could save mother, and therefore he could not fully benefit from the rapprochement crisis. Most of the infant’s successes and failures during the rapprochement crisis were grounded in distortions (lies) and now, the result is the end product of the false self. In service of the mother, the infant gave up himself. In the military, when an individual gives up himself for his country, he is considered a hero and decorated with honors and metals. However, in contrast to the military hero, the narcissistic infant is unfairly despised for his sacrifice of self later in life.

The narcissist adult is in a very sad place. One prominent narcissistic individual (Vaknin) said, "I HATE it when a women tells me that she loves me!" On the surface this would appear confusing since love is to be desired. However, with the narcissist, love equates to obligation (mother-infant dyad), which equates to psychological death. On the unconscious level, the narcissist must HATE love in order to survive, in order to have the HOPE of finding the true self. Love to the narcissist is a force that discarded the true self into a coffin and buried it alive. Love is not to breath, but to suffocate. To reverberate with love means to throw oneself away. Of instance, the woman says, "I’m falling in love with you" translates to the narcissist on an unconscious level to "I’m beginning to obsess with the idea of murdering you."


Treating the narcissist patient is challenging. Because the narcissist patient’s development was subphase arrested, the treater must construct an environment in which to promote and encourage developmental growth. Growth for the patient occurs in the resumption of empathy based mirroring and/or safely idealizing the treater (mirror and/or idealizing transferences). Lets look at each of these transferences:


To get past the argument of defense mechanisms, conflicts and etc, Kohut looked at the ‘self’ as the essence, the core personality. Working with the concept of the ‘total-self’ enabled the role of the treater to provide mirroring and empathy that was transcendent of resistant barriers in the patient. We could say that since the narcissist personality is subphase fixated, it is therefore fragmented.

Attention is focused toward perfect mirroring, a system of reverie (mother validating the infant’s true-self) that failed in the original developmental practicing subphase. What we are talking about is this: the patient will act-out old wounds from the past, (I will prove to you I am worthy – invalidated infant), amplify those wounds toward the treater, (I will impress you with my worthiness – invalidated infant is now the amplified invalidated adult). The treaters role is to take the, “empathic-introspective stand, which allows him or her to be responsive to the patient’s total-self” [11]. We see though the technique of perfect mirroring; a gradual consistently is taking place.

However, what is perfect mirroring? The narcissist will be the first to argue there is no such thing as perfection when it comes to mirroring. They should know. As infants they have unconsciously strived over and over again to win mother over though the development of the false-self as an attempt to perfectly mirror mother! And, nothing work! Interesting, for the narcissist adult to acknowledge the perfect mirror would equate to acknowledging the destruction of the self. In other words, to face perfection would be to face destruction. Because quite frankly, the narcissist has already PROVED that as infants, the perfect mirror destroyed them. It was a double loss. (1) The true self was lost at the formation of the false-self in service of the mother, and (2) Mother was also lost in the process.

What the treater can hope to achieve is dialectal mirroring. In other words, through the process of working through, the treater is able to dialectally reverie with the patient toward a common ground. In other words, the not-good-enough mirroring becomes good-enough built on sincerity, empathy, and constancy toward a vector of perfection. Dialectal because the patient is in need of perfect mirroring, and the treater mirrors imperfectly. The process repeats (dialectally) again, except this time a synthesis has occurred and the treater is positioned closer to the patient’s unconscious appeal for perfect mirroring. So as you can see, the narcissist patient is unconsciously fragmented (splitting) into perfect mirroring vs. failed mirroring. However, through the dialectal empathic mirror, integration may be able to take place.

VI. Conclusion

We have learned that objectifying the psych into object relations can provide powerful tools to deconstruct (reverse engineer) the end product of pathology that originated in childhood. In other words, the end product of present day behaviors (i.e. neurotic, ridged, obsessive, object attachment or failure to attach) that originated in childhood can be reexamined and identified to provide insight into that which was unknown (unconscious). We have learned that fixation or arrest in a critical phase(s) during the first three years of life can have lasting implications. In some cases we have learned that ‘knowing’ and ‘insight’ is at times not enough. Treatment is necessary when a disturbed individual’s quality of life is severely undermined by their pathology. “The process of structural change involves the undoing of pathology and the resumption of development.” [1] Sometimes relief can only come from working-through with a skilled professional that has a solid foundation in developmental knowledge. There are times the professional can assist with validation (a supportive stance of benign behaviors that provide relief), or a system of working through. Working through tackles developmental obstacles with a balance of treatment stances. Some stances are educational, supportive, confronting, or a delicate mixture of complex stances that lead (they own it) the patient to self-discovery. A treater must know when to guide, when to carry, when to support and when to intermittently let go.
We have learned about defense mechanisms. The closer their orbit to the symbiotic magnetic pull, the more primitive they are.

We have learned that change is intrinsic of the life cycle, either through re-validation (i.e. strengthen self-esteem or strengthen “I am bad”) or modification (a corrective, harmful, or educative experience). We have seen how disturbances in the rapprochement subphase manifests into borderline personality organization or fixation in the practicing subphase can manifest into narcissist personality organization. Depending on the period of arrestment, developmental manifestations are amplified at the point of fixation. In other words, the infant will to proceed at the drop-off-point, much like a seed that fell out of the planter’s pouch. Rather then grow at the planter’s destination in rich soil; the seed took root where it fell. Perhaps the soil was bare (abandonment), or perhaps it was saturated (engulfment). The end result may be a stunted or distorted tree. However, the knowledgeable nurturing caretaker (treater) can prune the limbs to encourage redirection and enrich the ground with the necessary ingredients to correct and promote growth.

Test Yourself:

  1. What are the two fore runners of the Separation – Individuation phase?
  2. What is the dual unit of the mother – infant termed?
  3. What would a security blanket for an adult or child be called?
  4. What does Rapprochement mean?
  5. What does Reaction Formation mean?
  6. What protects the ego from anxiety (self)?
  7. What term did Winnicott coin to describe the framework for treatment?
  8. Which subphase may determine mood baseline for life?
  9. What is the SLP?
  10. What do we mean by “object?” as in object relations?
  11. What are we talking about when we say, “Nature vs. Nurture?”


  1. MAHLER AND KOHUT – Perspective on Development, Psychopathology, and Technique – Selma Kramer M.D., and Salman Akhtar M.D. p. – 10, 13, 20-21, 31, 28, 204-205, 50, 72
  2. Rapprochement – The Critical Subphase of Separation – Individuation – Mahler et al. p. – 83
  3. The Internal Mother – Conceptual and Technical Aspects of Object Constancy. Mahler, Akhtar, Kramer, Parens.
  4. The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant – Symbiosis and Individuation. Mahler, Pine and Bergman p. – 24, 42, 44, 87
  5. Infantile Psychosis and Early Contributions. Mahler
  6. Building the Bonds of Attachment. Daniel A. Hughes
  7. Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited, Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
  8. The Narcissistic and Borderline Disorders – An Integrated Developmental Approach – James F. Masterson, M.D. p. – 12
  9. The Work and Play of Winnicott – Simon Grolnick, M.D. p. – 75, 84, 104
  10. Separation Individuation – Margaret Mahler M.D. p. – 57, 124
  11. Theories of Psychotherapy & Counseling – Concepts and Cases – Richard S. Sharf
  12. The Treatment of the Borderline Personality – Patricia M. Chatham. P. – 265, 277, 281, 387