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Chapter 7
Theories of Personality



(Social Psychology)

Most of the psychologists we have discussed up to this point emphasize the role of the id, ego, and superego in personality development, However, object relations theorists study how people develop patterns of living based on their relationships with significant others, particularly their mother.

Below is a list of individuals who can be described as object relations theorists.









From birth onward, object relations theorists suggest that individuals seek to develop human relationships and form attachments that may aid or hinder development.

As you can see, this is a definite change in concept from the emphasizes on id, ego, and superego as proposed by Freud

In object relations psychology, the OBJECT might be primary people, such as primary caretakers and significant others, however, it may also be THINGS, such as pacifiers, teddy bears, and blankets.


Lets look briefly at the contributions each of the above named theorists has made to the object relations concept.





Melanie Klein introduced the concept of Splitting, and emphasized the interaction of unconscious fantasies and real experiences in the development of childrens object relations.




Splitting is a process which allows the child to separate feelings into good or bad aspects; retaining the good feeling about him or herself and getting rid of the bad by projecting them onto others.

Children create their own (internal) mental representation of other people and project this representation onto real people (external).

They (children) then use subsequent experiences with these people to confirm or deny their initial or internal belief regarding people.Feelings of "good-me", stems from nurturing that is seen as acceptance by the mother, and feelings of "bad-me" stems from frustration that is seen as rejection.Often, however, the activity of splitting clouds a childs subjective and objective perception and leads to distorted relations with other people. MARGARET MAHLER

In Mahlers object relations theory, human development is a lifelong process of emerging out of the dependent relationship of infant and mother, and becoming capable of entering into mature adult mutual relationships.

Her findings confirmed that the biological birth of an infant and the psychological birth of an individual are not the same. Biological birth is a distinct event, whereas psychological birth is a gradual unfolding process.By studying and comparing disturbed and normal children, Mahler constructed a sequence of stages through which the ego passes in the process of becoming an individual

She defines the unfolding sequence of stages as the separation-individuation process.


WHAT IS THE SEPARATION-INDIVIDUATION PROCESS?Separation implies physical differentiation and separateness from ones primary caregiver, while individuation suggests psychological growth away from one primary caregiver and toward ones unique identity.

The Separation-individuation process begins about the fourth month and leads to formation of a stable self-concept near the end of the third year.

Mahler identified four Stages a child goes through during the process of separation-individuation.Differentiation (the development of a body image separate from the mother. Occurs around 5 9 months).Practicing (perfecting motor abilities and developing physical independence. Occurs around 10 14 months).Reapproachment (increased awareness of separateness from mother, with an accompanying sensitivity to her absence that expresses a conflict between the urge to separate and the fear of loss, and the recognition that mothers have both good and bad aspects. Occurs around 14 24 months).Consolidation (unification of the good and bad in mother with the image of her as a separate entity in the external world and the beginning of the childs own individuality and separate personhood as seen in the development of a self-concept based on a stable sense of "me". Occurs around 2 3 years).





Kohut emphasized the importance of effectively meeting the early needs of infants. In his "self theory" he maintained that children need to be "mirrored", that is, to have their talk and accomplishments acknowledged, accepted, and praised.

Little children believe that they are omnipotent and they also idealize their parents.

If parents fail to respond appropriately, children may be unable to develop a good sense of worth and may spend the rest of their lives looking without success for such acceptance.NARCISSISM

Kohut focused on narcissism and narcissistic character disorder that occurs when an individual fails to develop an independent sense of self.

The term "Narcissism" comes form the achient Greek myth of Narcissus, who "unwittingly" fell in love with how own reflection in a pool of water. He talked to it and tried to embrace it, but all in vain as it fled at each touch.The narcissistic personality is characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance and self-involvement, behavior that hide a fragile sense of self-worth.

Addiction, for example, is a "functional attempt to repair developmental deficits in the self". Cult membership provides a source of self-cohesion offsetting feelings of isolation, vulnerability, and emptiness.

Kohut pointed out that psychoanalysis cannot be useful unless the therapist deals first with the narcissistic disorder.

He suggested that the therapist should imagine themselves "into the clients skin" believing that the therapist could cultivate feelings of being understood and appreciated in the patient so that the arrested growth of the patients self could begin.

Kohut felt that narcissistic disorders of self arises from a failure in parental empathy and mirroring.



Kernbergs main focus was on what he called "borderline patients". These were patients who are unable to engage in introspection, develop insight and work through problems.They frequently have strong mood swings, and are incline to see significant others in their lives as people that are either all good or all bad.


Nancy Chodorow believes that mothering by women reproduces cyclically, that is, it produces daughters with the desire and capacity to mother but sons whose nurturing abilities are limited and repressed.

This concept is outlined in her initial work "The Reproduction of Mothering".




In the late 1970s, a small group of women, friends and colleagues came together with the stated purpose of "improving and cultivating a better understanding of the psychology of women and eventually all human beings". The group was known as Stone Center Group.The group made a model shift away from the concept of separation and individuation. to the concept of relationship differentiation and relational values.






The Stone Center Group saw the major source of psychological problems as "disconnection", which prevents people from engaging in mutually empathic relationships.

According to the Group, "Connections" are the basic origins of growth. "Empathy", experiencing the feelings and thoughts of another while being aware of ones own different feelings and thoughts, foster connections and lead to growth within relationships.

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