Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Masterson and Rinsley on Rewarding and Withholding Object Relations

"In the case of the borderline, the object relations unit remains split into two separate part-units, each of which comprises as it were a part-self representation, a part-object representation and an affective component which links the former two together. These two part-units are derived from internalization of the two principal themes of interaction with the borderline mother: the mother responds to the child's regressive behaviour by maintaining her libidinal availability, and to the child's efforts toward separation-individuation by its withdrawal. Thus are produced, in effect, the two afore-mentioned part-units, which may be termed the withdrawing part-unit and the rewarding part-unit, each of which has its own component part-self representation, part-object representation and predominantly linking affect; the withdrawing part-unit is cathected predominantly with aggressive energy, the rewarding part unit with libidinal energy, and both remain separated from each other, as it were, through the mechanism of the splitting defence. It will be recalled that this situation comes about through fixation at Kernberg's Stage 3, with ensuing failure of integration of 'good' (positive; libidinal) and 'bad' (negative; aggressive) self and object representations into whole (positive + negative) self representations and object representations, which would otherwise be expected to have occurred during Stage 4....

As already noted, the splitting defence keeps separate the rewarding and the withdrawing object relations part-units, including their associated affects. Although both the rewarding and the withdrawing maternal part-objects are pathological, the borderline experiences the rewarding part-unit as increasingly ego-syntonic, as it relieves the feelings of abandonment associated with the withdrawing part-unit, with the result that the individual 'feels good'. The affective state associated with the rewarding part-unit is that of gratification at being fed, hence 'loved'. The ensuing denial of reality is, in the last analysis, but a small price to pay for this affective state.

An alliance is now seen to develop between the child's rewarding maternal part-image (rewarding part-unit) and his pathological (pleasure) ego, the primary purpose of which is to promote the 'good' feeling and to defend against the feeling of abandonment associated with the withdrawing part-unit. This ultimately powerful alliance as it were further promotes the denial of separateness and potentiates the child's acting out of his reunion fantasies. The alliance has an important secondary function the discharge of aggression, which is both associated with and directed toward the withdrawing part-unit by means of symptoms, inhibitions, and various kinds of destructive acts. The aggression, which gains access to motility through the agency of the pathological (pleasure) ego, remains unneutralized, hence unavailable for the further development of endopsychic structure (Rinsley, 1968).

The withdrawing part-unit (part-self representation, part-object representation and feelings of abandonment) becomes activated by actual experiences of separation (or of loss), as a result of the individual's efforts toward psychosocial growth, and by moves toward separation-individuation within the therapeutic process, all of which inter se alia symbolize earlier life experiences which provoked the mother's withdrawal of supplies.

The alliance between the rewarding part-unit and the pathological (pleasure) ego is in turn activated by the resurgence of the withdrawing part-unit. The purpose of this operation, as it were, is defensive, i.e. to restore the wish for reunion, thereby to relieve the feeling of abandonment. The rewarding part-unit thus becomes the borderline's principal defence against the painful affective state associated with the withdrawing part-unit. In terms of reality, however, both part-units are pathological; it is as if the patient has but two alternatives, i.e. either to feel bad and abandoned (withdrawing part-unit) or to feel good (rewarding part-unit), at the cost of denial of reality and self-destructive acting out.

It is necessary now to consider the impact which this intrapsychic structure exerts upon therapeutic transference and resistance. In brief, the transference which the borderline develops results from the operation of the split object relations unit—the rewarding part-unit and the withdrawing part-unit—each of which the patient proceeds alternatively to project onto the therapist. During those periods in which the patient projects the withdrawing part-unit (with its part-object representation of the withdrawing mother) on to the therapist, he perceives therapy as necessarily leading to feelings of abandonment, denies the reality of therapeutic benefit and activates the rewarding part-unit as a resistance. When projecting the rewarding part-unit (with its reunion fantasy) on to the therapist, the patient 'feels good' but, under the sway of the pathological (pleasure) ego, is usually found to be acting in a self-destructive manner....

The working through of the encapsulated rage and depression associated with the withdrawing part-unit in turn frees its component part-self and part-object representations from their intensely negative, aggressively valent affects. As a result, the new object relations unit (constructive self + 'good' therapist + 'good' affect) linked with the reality ego becomes integrated into an overall 'good' self representation, while the split object relations unit linked with the pathological (pleasure) ego becomes integrated into an overall 'bad' self representation; both are now accessible to the patient's conscious awareness as are their counterparts within the person of the therapist. At this point, the patient has begun in earnest the work of differentiating good and bad self representations from good and bad object representations as prefatory to the next step, in which good and bad self representations coalesce, as do good and bad object representations. The stage is now set for the inception of whole-object relations, which marks the patient's entrance into Stage 4 (Kernberg, 1972).

The de-linking, as it were, of 'raw' instinctual energies from the rewarding and withdrawing part-units renders these energies increasingly available to the synthetic function associated with the patient's expanding reality ego, hence available for progressive neutralization. With this, and concomitant with the progressive coalescence of good-bad self and object representations, splitting becomes replaced by normal repression, with progressive effacement, as it were, of the personified or 'unmetabolized' images associated with the disappearing split object relations unit (Kernberg, 1966). The patient is now able to complete the work of mourning for these 'lost' images, which characterizes his final work of separation from the mother.
" (pp. 168-172)

James Masterson and Donald Rinsley (1975). The Borderline Syndrome: The Role of the Mother in the Genesis and Psychic Structure of the Borderline Personality. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 56, pp. 163-177


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