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von Broembsen, F. (1989). Role Identity in Personality Disorders: Validation, Valuation, and Agency in Identity Formation. Am. J. Psychoanal., 49(2):115-125.

(1989). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 49(2):115-125

Role Identity in Personality Disorders: Validation, Valuation, and Agency in Identity Formation

F. von Broembsen, Ph.D., Psy.D.

A common complaint of persons suffering from personality disorders is perplexity about who or what they are, sometimes even uncertainty about whether they really “exist.” Around their existential doubt cluster other typical ways of experiencing themselves and others. These people tend to suffer from a pervasive sense of failure, even in the presence of considerable external success. They tend to present a rigid, repetitive, adaptive, and interpersonal style. They tend to be resentful, and to feel imposed upon, exploited, by even the most casual interpersonal demands. Their dominant affective state tends to be suppressed, or displaced, anger. This anger connects with the fact that they feel that their lives are not their own. Frequently, upon exploration, images of imprisonment, or martyrdom, emerge.

This malaise is sometimes related to an overemphasis on role identity, within the complex balance of the many aspects of identity. This overemphasis obscures the legitimacy of the self in all its modes of being, except its role function. The other aspects of the self are, as it were, disenfranchised. They are impressed into the service of the role. This channeling of all the self's energies into its role function is unconsciously experienced as a usurpation, and underlies the person's feeling that he is exploited.

Role Identity

is a normal aspect of a person's identity. It expresses the role a person plays within his or her environment. In some ways, it is related, perhaps as a precursor, to Erikson's ego identity, with its emphasis on a person's social function as a worker. To grasp the pivotal importance of in the structuring and valuation of the self, it is necessary to identify two distinct factors of role identity, a relational factor, and a functional one.


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