Borderline phenomena in children of Holocaust survivors / by Esther Karson.
The present research introduced the concept of borderline phenomena as a unifying principle consistent with both theoretical and empirical literature on children of holocaust survivors. The pathogenic holocaust family depicted in theoretical writings included parents who were emotionally depleted and unavailable, yet paradoxically, overidentified with and overinvested in their children. The empirical literature on the second generation reports a whole array of seemingly unrelated symptomatology including apathy, depression, regulation of aggression, alienation, and problems in separation-individuation. This study attempted to empirically validate the usefulness of the borderline concept to reconcile the anecdotal depictions of survivor families with the divergent empirical findings, and to clarify the nature of the transgenerational transmission of the holocaust trauma. Subjects included 38 children of survivors and 40 children of American-born parents between the ages of 25 and 43. All were American-born and grew up in intact families. Subjects came from predominantly upper middle-class neighborhoods and were highly educated. Borderline phenomena was conceptualized in three complementary ways as reflected in the three instruments administered: the Bell Object Relations and Reality Testing Instrument; the MCMI-II which investigated characterological impairment; and the Parental Relationship Inventory which explored differentiation from family of origin. The basic hypothesis of the research was that children of survivors, when contrasted with children of American-born parents, would exhibit more borderline phenomena, defined as less healthy internal object relations, characterological problems, and difficulties in differentiation from family. Utilizing a static group comparison design, the two groups were compared on various relevant subscales and dimensions of the three instruments. Eleven of the 15 hypotheses were confirmed empirically. Children of survivors emerged unequivocally as having more difficulty than controls in the separation-individuation arena and in differentiating from their families. They also exhibited more primitive object relations and more borderline character features. These holocaust descendants were sensitive to rejection, had trouble tolerating separations and losses, and were vigilant for signs of potential abandonment. They were more socially awkward, adopting avoidant defensive behaviors in response to their experience of relationships as bewildering and unpredictable. Results are discussed in light of developmental psychoanalytic theory.
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