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Robbins, M.D. (1976). Borderline Personality Organization: The Need for a New Theory. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 24:831-853.

(1976). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 24:831-853

Borderline Personality Organization: The Need for a New Theory

Michael D. Robbins, M.D.


I have attempted to show that no existing theory of borderline personality organization is both comprehensive enough to explain most borderline phenomena and consistent with current observations and major theories about early development. Kernberg's

theory of borderline personality organization is by far the most detailed and comprehensive. While it is of great value, and the concepts of splitting and projective identification are especially helpful in accounting for the aggressive, controlling behavior of the borderline and for the volatility of his perceptions, behavior, and relationships, it is based on a concept of splitting that is confusing and inconsistent, and that does not take sufficient account of the early development of adaptational functions of the ego. Kernberg's concept of splitting is insufficiently differentiated from untenable Kleinian concepts of innate fantasy, internal objects, and split life and death instincts in the newborn, on the one hand, and represents a confusing amalgam of drive and affect, introjective mechanism, and "internal object relationship" in a phase before objects have become differentiated, on the other hand. Kernberg's theory also fails to account adequately for compliant, "false-self" behavior of the borderline and for phenomena suggestive of a primitive repression-like process. However, theories that are strong where Kernberg's is weakest lack Kernberg's comprehensiveness. Modell's description of the transitional object relations of the borderline is excellent as far as it goes, but it does not account for borderline ego functioning or borderline volatility. Theories of cyclothymia advanced by Kleinians, Rado, and Jacobson offer various explanations of volatility in relationships and affects, but not for splitting or dissociation. Deutsch, Winnicott, Lichtenstein, Heimann, and others describe the compliant as-if or false-self quality of borderlines and suggest the importance of an introjective process, but they take little account of the borderline's aggressive, controlling behavior.

I suggest that a new theory might better account for some of the borderline phenomena of volatility or cyclothymia, splitting, aggressive control and submissive compliance, and psychotic transformation, and at the same time be more consistent with current theories and observations of early infant development.

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