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von Broembsen, F. (1986). Separation Crisis in a Family with a Borderline Adolescent. Am. J. Psychoanal., 46(1):62-75.

(1986). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 46(1):62-75

Separation Crisis in a Family with a Borderline Adolescent

F. von Broembsen, Ph.D., PSYD

Since clinical and theoretical perspectives on the treatment of severe psychopathology have shifted from the monadic to the dyadic focus, the nonbiological influence of parental pathology on the child has come increasingly to the fore. Following Melanie Klein's introduction of the concept of projective identification (6), attention has focused on the interplay of specific defense mechanisms, dynamic issues, and interactional patterns in the genesis and maintenance of pathological states.

One key concept in this analysis is delineation (14). This term describes the activities by which one person unconsciously attempts to induce another to take on the first person's ego-dystonic elements. Directed from parents toward their offsprings, such delineations can result in the child's inability to satisfy his or her age-appropriate autonomy strivings, or to develop a sense of individual identity. The rage the child feels against the parents contributes to one of the typical double binds of adolescents and their families: the child strives to separate, is unable to, and hates the parents for it, feels guilt, anticipates punishment, and projects rejection (12, 13). The parents, in turn, act out the adolescent's projection, proclaim their disappointment in the child's immaturity, and use it as the justification for their resisting the child's autonomy strivings.

The unconscious emotional states underlying these interactions (which are typical of borderline pathology) are reinforced within the family in its functioning as a group (2) and seriously undermine its capacity to accomplish the developmental task of adolescence: separation (14). This task represents a critical threat to borderline individuals, whether parents or children. The parents' reaction to the bid for autonomy of the adolescent is likely to be overly narcissistic and negating, attempting to rebind the straining child to the parental orbit. The child, on his or her part, is likely to experience further damage to his or her self-image as a differentiated being capable of nondestructive autonomy and to suffer severe existential aloneness that will induce further regression (1).

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