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Schumacher, J.F. (1992). Sadomasochism and Complementarity in the Interaction of the Narcissistic and Borderline Personality Type. Psychoanal. Rev., 79(3):361-379.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Review, 79(3):361-379

Sadomasochism and Complementarity in the Interaction of the Narcissistic and Borderline Personality Type

Janet Finell Schumacher, Ph.D.

Borderline and narcissistic disorders are among the most frequently discussed problems in psychoanalytic theory and technique today. Both groups suffer from early trauma, have self-esteem, conflict-based, and developmental problems, and utilize primitive defenses in their interaction with others. I propose here that a special complementarity exists between some borderlines and narcissists, which permits defensive externalization of their difficulties. An important component of narcissistic and borderline personalities is the tendency to form complementary attachments that gratify sadomasochistic needs through defensive identification.

The Borderline and the Narcissist: Enactment and Externalization

While the borderline is described as having poorer self and object boundaries than the narcissist (Kernberg, 1975, 1976; Abend, Porder, and Willick, 1983; Adler, 1985), both have difficulties in the interpersonal sphere and tend to lack empathy. They both function predominantly on the need-gratifying level and see others as part rather than whole objects. Shame is an important emotional reaction, although guilt feelings can be intense and overpowering as well. The psychoanalytic situation is made difficult with these patients because of their tendencies toward enactment and externalization. They discharge rather than contain impulses, often trying to “put feelings into or onto” the analyst (Ogden, 1979, 1982; Finell, 1984, 1985; Adler, 1985). Their tendency to act out rather then remember reflects the early trauma to which they have been subjected (Fenichel, 1945).

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