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Lafarge, L. (1989). Emptiness as Defense in Severe Regressive States. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 37:965-995.

(1989). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 37:965-995

Emptiness as Defense in Severe Regressive States

Lucy Lafarge, M.D.


This paper examines the empty states experienced by severely ill borderline patients. At times of stressful regression, these patients use complaints of emptiness to describe profound disturbances of affect, cognition, object relations, and bodily experience. Empty states may be seen as complex defensive configurations which protect a borderline level of psychic structure from the impact of aggressively charged object relations, and ward off further regression to states of fragmentation or fusion. Severely ill borderline patients consolidate an empty screen by means of a characteristic repertoire of primitive defenses consisting of various forms of projective identification, including bitriangulation and projective identification of psychic agencies, somatization, acting out, and specific alterations in cognition. The author describes the highly deviant organizations of the object world seen in empty states, and the complex and disturbing countertransferences which these states evoke.

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