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Meissner, W.W. (1990). The Search for the Real Self Unmasking the Personality Disorders of Our Age by James F. Masterson New York: The Free Press, 1988, xi + 244 pp., $22.50. Psa. Books, 1(4):495-497.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Books, 1(4):495-497

The Search for the Real Self Unmasking the Personality Disorders of Our Age by James F. Masterson New York: The Free Press, 1988, xi + 244 pp., $22.50

Review by:
W. W. Meissner, S.J., M.D.

The work of Dr. Masterson is familiar to clinicians who have been faced with the challenge of treating patients in the more primitive range of personality disorders. His previous studies of the treatment of borderline adults and adolescents, along with his various training and consultative activities, have established him as one of the foremost interpreters of these difficult forms of character pathology. His core concepts of the split object relations unit and the role of abandonment depression are familiar ideas around which much of his previous work was articulated.

The present work strikes out in new directions. The same forms of pathology are now viewed from the perspective of the defects in the development of the real self. The core of the pathology resides in the emergence of the false self, which lies at the root of characterological defects and serves multiple purposes. It substitutes a fantasy of protection in love and work for genuine self-assertion. It provides a defense against intimacy in interpersonal relationships by avoiding the twin perils of engulfment and abandonment, substituting fantasied relationships with unavailable objects for real relationships. It provides the vehicle for circumventing the perils, conflicts, and anxieties involved in asserting oneself in the face of the demands of authority figures and the competition of peers by enabling one to keep a low profile and avoid competition and investment. The abandonment depression that played such a major role in previous formulations is still in evidence, but it seems now to have taken a back seat to the vicissitudes of the false self—abandonment depression becomes more or less an aspect of the false-self condition. The familiar split object relations units of the past seem to have lost their favored position in this new theory.

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