Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Personality disorder and the mental representation of early social experience

  • Matthew Patrick (a1), R. Peter Hobson (a1), David Castle (a2), Robert Howard (a2) and Barbara Maughan (a2)...

Controversy surrounds the role of early social experience in the development of personality disorder. In particular, little is known of the means by which continuities from infancy through adulthood might be mediated. One suggestion is that a person's mental representations of relations between him- or herself and other people, either in the form of “internal working models” or “internal object relations,” provide the essential link. We report on an investigation of this issue in which we focused on the formal qualities of accounts of childhood offered by adults who were drawn from two contrasting clinical groups; borderline personality disorder and dysthymia. The results lend support to the claims made by attachment theory and the object relations school of psychoanalysis, that at least in certain groups of individuals, adults' modes of representing early experience are intimately related to styles of interpersonal functioning. More specifically, the form of interpersonal Psychopathology characteristic of borderline personality disorder may be associated with enmeshed and unresolved patterns of responding to the Adult Attachment Interview of George, Kaplan, and Main (1985) and with reports of low maternal care and high maternal overprotection on the Parental Bonding Instrument of Parker, Tupling, and Brown (1979).

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Dr. Matthew Patrick and Professor R. Peter Hobson, DPRU, Tavistock Clinic, 120 Belsize Lane, London NW3 5BA, England.
Hide All
Ainsworth M., Blehar M., Waters E., & Wall S. (1978). Patterns of attachment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Ainsworth M., & Wittig B. (1969). Attachment and exploratory behaviour of one-year-olds in a Strange Situation. In Foss B. (Ed.), Determinants of infant behaviour (Vol. 4, pp. 111136). London: Methuen.
American Psychiatric Association. (1987). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed., rev.). Washington, DC: Author.
Beck A. (1984). The Beck Depression Inventory. In Williams M. (Ed.), The psychological treatment of depression: A guide to the theory and practice of cognitive behavioral therapy. New York: Free Press.
Bell M., Billington R., & Cicchetti D. (1988). Do object relations deficits distinguish BPD from other diagnostic groups? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 44, 511516.
Bemporad J., Smith H., Hanson C., & Cicchetti D. (1982). Borderline syndromes in childhood: Criteria for diagnosis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 139, 596602.
Bion W. (1962). Learning from experience. In Seven servants: Four works by Wilfred R. Bion (pp. 1111). New York: Jason Aronson.
Bion W. (1967). A theory of thinking. In Second thoughts (pp. 110119). London: Heinemann.
Bowlby J. (1969/1982). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger. New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby J. (1980). Attachment and loss: Vol. 3. Loss: Sadness and depression. New York: Basic Books.
Bradley S. (1979). The relationship of early maternal separation to borderline personality in children and adolescents. American Journal of Psychiatry, 136, 424426.
Bretherton I. (1985). Attachment theory: Retrospect and prospect. In Bretherton I. & Waters E. (Eds.), Growing points in attachment theory and research. Monograph of the Society for Research in Child Development, Serial No. 209, 50(1–2), 3–35.
Bretherton I. (1987). New perspectives on attachment relations: Security, communication, and internal working models. In Osofsky J. (Ed.), Handbook of infant development (2nd ed., pp. 10611100). New York: Wiley.
Bretherton I. (1992, 10). Internal working models: Cognitive and affective aspects of attachment representations. Paper presented at the Rochester Symposium on Developmental Psychopathology: Emotion, Cognition and Representation,Rochester, NY.
Brown G., & Harris T. (1978). Social origins of depression. A study of psychiatric disorder in women. London: Tavistock Publications.
Brown G., Harris T., & Bifulco A. (1986). Long-term effects of early loss of parent. In Rutter M., Izard C., & Read P. (Eds.), Depression in young people: Developmental and clinical perspectives (pp. 251296). New York: Guilford Press.
Bryer J., Nelson B., Miller J., & Krol P. (1987). Childhood sexual and physical abuse as factors in adult psychiatric illness. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 14261436.
Carlson V., Cicchetti D., Barnett D., & Braunwald K. (1989). Finding order in disorganization: Lessons from research on maltreated infants' attachments to their caregivers. In Cicchetti D. & Carlson V. (Eds.), Child maltreatment: Theory and research on the causes and consequences of child abuse and neglect (pp. 494528). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Cicchetti D. (1990). Perspectives on the interface between normal and a typical development. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 329333.
Cicchetti D. (in press). Developmental theory: Lessons from the study of risk and psychopathology. In Matthysse S., Levy D., Kagan J., & Benes F. (Eds.), Psychopathology: The evolving science of mental disorder. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Cicchetti D., Cummings M., Greenberg M., & Marvin R. (1990). An organizational perspective on attachment theory beyond infancy: Implications for theory, measurement, and research. In Greenberg M., Cicchetti D., & Cummings M. (Eds.), Attachment in the preschool years (pp. 349). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cicchetti D., & Olsen K. (1990). Borderline disorders of childhood. In Lewis M. & Miller S. (Eds.), Handbook of developmental psychopathology (pp. 355370). New York: Plenum Press.
Clarkin J., Widiger T., Frances A., Hunt S., & Gilmore M. (1983). Prototypic typology and the borderline personality disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 92, 263275.
Craik K. (1943). The nature of explanation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crowell J., & Feldman S. (1988). Mothers' internal models of relationships and children's behavioral and developmental status: A study of mother-child interaction. Child Development, 59, 12731285.
Dodge K., Bates J., & Pettit G. (1990). Mechanisms in the cycle of violence. Science, 250, 16781683.
Feldmann R., & Guttman H. (1984). Families of borderline patients: Literal-minded parents, borderline parents, and parental protectiveness. American Journal of Psychiatry, 141, 13921396.
Fonagy P., Steele M., Moran G., Steele H., & Higgitt A. (1991). The capacity for understanding mental states: The reflective self in parent and child and its significance for security of attachment. Infant Mental Health Journal, 13, 200216.
Fonagy P., Steele H., & Steele M. (1991). Maternal representations of attachment during pregnancy predict the organisation of infant-mother attachment at one year of age. Child Development, 62, 891905.
George C., Kaplan N., & Main M. (1985). The Attachment Interview for Adults. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.
Goldberg D. (1983). Personality disorders in adults predisposing to minor depressive disorders. In Russel G. & Hersov L. (Eds.), Handbook of psychiatry (Vol. 4, pp. 194198). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Greenberg J., & Mitchell S. (1983). Object relations in psychoanalytic theory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Grossmann K., Fremmer-Bombik E., Rudolph J., & Grossmann K. (1987, 01). Maternal attachment representations as related to patterns of infant-mother-attachment and maternal care during the first year. Paper presented at the Conference on Intra-familial Relationships,Cambridge.
Herman J., Perry J., & Van Der Kolk B. (1989). Childhood trauma in borderline personality disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 490495.
Kahn J., & Wright S. (1980). Human growth and the development of personality (3rd ed.). London: Pergamon Press.
Kernberg O. (1976). Object relations theory and clinical psychoanalysis. New York: Jason Aronson.
Kobak R., & Sceery A. (1988). Attachment in late adolescence: Working models, affect regulation, and representations of self and others. Child Development, 59, 135146.
Loranger A., Oldham J., & Tulis E. (1982). Familial transmission of DSM-III borderline personality disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 39, 795799.
Lynch M., & Cicchetti D. (1991). Patterns of relatedness in maltreated and nonmaltreated children: Connections among multiple representational models. Development and Psychopathology, 3, 207226.
Mackinnon A., Henderson A., & Andrews G. (1991). The Parental Bonding Instrument: A measure of perceived or actual parental behaviour? Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 83, 153159.
Main M. (1991). Metacognitive knowledge, metacognitive monitoring, and singular (coherent) vs. multiple (incoherent) models of attachment: Findings and directions for future research. In Marris P., Stevenson-Hinde J., & Parkes C. (Eds.), Attachment across the life cycle (pp. 127159). New York: Routledge.
Main M., & Goldwyn R. (1984). Predicting rejection of her infant from mother's representation of her own experience: Implications for the abuses-abusing intergenerational cycle. Child Abuse and Neglect, 8, 203217.
Main M., & Goldwyn R. (1991). Adult attachment rating and classification system. Unpublished scoring manual. Version 5.0. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.
Main M., & Hesse E. (1990). Parents' unresolved traumatic experiences are related to infant disorganized attachment status: Is frightened and/or frightening parental behaviour the linking mechanism? In Greenberg M., Cicchetti D., & Cummings M. (Eds.), Attachment in the preschool years (pp. 161182). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Main M., Kaplan N., & Cassidy J. (1985). Security in infancy, childhood and adulthood: A move to the level of representation. In Bretherton I. & Waters E. (Eds.), Growing points in attachment theory and research. Monograph of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50(1–2), 66–104.
McCrae R., & Costa P. (1988). Recalled parent-child relations and adult personality. Journal of Personality, 56, 417434.
Melges F., & Swartz M. (1989). Oscillations of attachment in borderline personality disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 11151120.
Nigg J., Silk K., Westen D., Lohr N., Gold L., Goodrich S., & Ogata S. (1991). Object representations in the early memories of sexually abused borderline patients. American Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 864869.
Ogden T. (1990). The matrix of the mind. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.
Parker G. (1981). Parental reports of depressives. Journal of Affective Disorders, 3, 131140.
Parker G. (1983). Parental overprotection: A risk factor in psycho-social development. New York: Grune and Stratton.
Parker G. (1986). Validating an experiential measure of parental style: The use of a twin sample. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 73, 202208.
Parker G., Kiloh L., & Hayward L. (1987). Parental representations of neurotic and endogenous depressives. Journal of Affective Disorders, 13, 7582.
Parker G., Tupling H., & Brown L. (1979). A Parental Bonding Instrument. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 52, 110.
Registrar General. (1965). Classification of occupations. London: H.M.S.O.
Rutter M. (1987). Temperament, personality and personality disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry, 150, 443458.
Rutter M. (1989). Intergenerational continuities and discontinuities in serious parenting difficulties. In Cicchetti D. & Carlson V. (Eds.), Child maltreatment: Theory and research on the causes and con-sequences of child abuse and neglect (pp. 317348). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Schulz P., Schulz S., Goldberg S., Prakesh E., Resnick R., & Friedel R. (1986). Diagnoses of the relatives of schizotypal outpatients. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders, 174, 457463.
Schulz P., Soloff P., Kelly T., Morgenstern M., Di-Franco R., & Schulz S. (1989). A family history of borderline subtypes. Journal of Personality Disorders, 3, 217229.
Silverman J., Pinkham L., Horvath T., Coccara E., Klar H., Schear S., Apter S., Davidson M., Mohs R., & Siever L. (1991). Affective and impulsive personality disorder traits in the relatives of patients with borderline personality disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 13781385.
Sroufe L. (1986). Appraisal: Bowlby's contribution to psychoanalytic theory and developmental psychology; attachment: Separation: Loss. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 27, 841849.
Steele H. (1991). Adult personality characteristics and family relationships: The development and validation of an interview-based assessment. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of London, London.
Stuart J., Westen D., Lohr N., Benjamin J., Becker S., Vorus N., & Silk K. (1990). Object relations in borderlines, major depressives and normals: Analysis of Rorschach human figure responses. Journal of Personality Assessment, 55, 296314.
Westen D., Lohr N., Silk K., Gold L., & Kerber K. (1990). Object relations and social cognition in borderlines, depressives and normals: A TAT analysis. Psychological Assessment, 2, 355364.
World Health Organization. (1978). International classification of diseases. Manual of the international statistical classification of diseases (ICD-9). Geneva: Author.
Zanarini M., Gunderson J., Marino M., Schwartz E., & Frankenburg F. (1989). Childhood experiences of borderline patients. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 30, 1825.
Zweig-Frank H., & Paris J. (1991). Parents' emotional neglect and overprotection according to recollections of patients with borderline personality disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 648651.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 43 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 594 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.