Adolescent separation-individuation and borderline psychopathology
Greenberg, Beth Mendell
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The relationships between separation-individuation difficulties, the presence of borderline personality disorder, and specific parent and family factors were examined. It was predicted that adolescents with borderline personality disorder would experience greater difficulties in various aspects of the separation-individuation process than adolescents who exhibited no psychiatric disturbance. It was also predicted that specific parent and family factors (e.g., cohesion, adaptability, child-rearing approaches) would be related to separation-individuation difficulties. Eighteen borderline adolescents and their parents as well as twenty non-disturbed adolescents and their parents participated in the study. Adolescents completed five multiple-choice questionnaires. Parents completed two questionnaires. Results confirmed the hypothesis that borderline adolescents experience more difficulty than non-disturbed adolescents in several aspects of the separation-individuation process. Borderline adolescents reported less secure attachments to parents and peers, as well as greater feelings of dependency denial, nurturance-seeking and rejection expectancy. No significant differences were found regarding separation anxiety, engulfment anxiety, or levels of ego identity development. Results also showed that families of borderline adolescents reported lower levels of cohesion and adaptability. Additionally, the results indicated that less autonomy and greater control in parents' child-rearing approaches was related to less secure attachments, as well as greater experiences of engulfment anxiety, separation anxiety, nurturance-seeking and rejection expectancy. Collectively, the findings of the study show support for the idea that the adolescent separation-individuation process is mutually influenced by parents and adolescents. Specifically, the results support the idea that there is a relationship between the presence of borderline personality disorder, specific problems in the separation-individuation process and specific family factors. Limitations of the study are addressed. Suggestions for future research as well as the treatment implications of the results are discussed.