The Mastersonian Approach to the Schizoid Dilemma
I AM A ROCK
… I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
Its laughter and its loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island…
… I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.
Simon and Garfunkel
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, EMI Music Publishing
An insight into how Masterson’s schizoid triad arose from Fairbairn and Guntrip’s work on the schizoid condition, and Ralph Klein’s clinical application of their thought.
Ontological Insecurity and the search for a safe connection.
Harry Guntrip, a pioneer psychoanalyst of the schizoid condition, poignantly argued throughout his work that ontological security is not something one is born with but is acquired in a safe relationship with another: “The one thing that the child cannot do for himself is to give himself a basic sense of security, since that is a function of object relationship” (Guntrip, 1969:193). Having a sense of connectedness in relation to a trusted other serves as the psychological grounding that enables the continual unfolding of a healthy and vibrant sense of self. As with the previous debates on the narcissistic and borderline disorders of self (Daws 2011, 2013), it is an unfortunate reality that connection with another frequently entails expectation that may effectively thwart real self-development, ie one may be met with an exclusively rewarding or withdrawing other (the borderline dilemma) or be expected to mirror another’s grandiosity (narcissistic dilemma). It is quite another reality when the very connection itself remains compromised or is intensely feared. It is the aim of the current paper to synoptically introduce the reader to the work of Ronald Fairbairn (1952) and his successor Harry Guntrip (1969), as well as the clinical application of their thought by the Mastersonian theorist and clinician Ralph Klein (1995). Given the complexity of the schizoid condition only nodal developmental and therapeutic realities will be addressed.
The Other as appropriator
The work of W.R.D. Fairbairn (1952) maps the development of a de-emotionalized, if not depersonalized personhood, in an environment characterised by possessiveness, indifference and the smothering of a vibrant self. Marginalized and appropriated, the future schizoid grows up hypersensitive to all perceived threats to self-preservation, desperately relying on various techniques to keep the other at bay. These techniques can be viewed on a continuum, the most severe being similar to the contemporary schizoid DSM nomenclature characterised by emotional coldness, detachment, reduced affect, a seemingly limited capacity to express either positive or negative emotions towards others, a consistent preference for solitary activities, indifference to either praise or criticism, a lack of desire for sexual experiences and finally, a preoccupation with fantasy and introspection. It was initially Fairbairn who also introduced the notion that this characterisation of the schizoid is limited, as many schizoids (called “secret schizoids” by Ralph Klein) actually seem socially available, interested, and engaged (Fairbairn’s schizoid exhibitionism), yet remain emotionally withdrawn and sequestered within the safety of their internal worlds. Fairbairn added that techniques such as role playing and exhibitionism may be used by schizoid individuals as ways to reveal, while still not giving of, themselves, thereby protecting the self from appropriation.
Building on Fairbairn’s clinical observations, Guntrip furthered the schizoid description by organizing the schizoid picture into the following traits: (a) Introversion in which all libidinal strivings remain principally directed toward internal object relations; this is often, but not necessarily, accompanied by a rich and varied phantasy/imaginative life as, for the schizoid, an inner life is experienced as a sanctuary to outer relations; (b) Withdrawnness or a basic detachment, overt or covert, which is mainly experienced by others as a reluctance to or avoidance of entering into the interpersonal domain from an emotional point of view; (c) Narcissism and self-sufficiency as cooperation or ‘doing- with-others’ evokes fears of dependency and appropriation; (d) a sense of Superiority or standing apart and above others; (e) Loss of Affect, which is the by-product of defensive inwardness and is behaviourally observed in the form of a basic attitude of cynicism, general aloofness and lack of interpersonal empathy. Simply put, for the schizoid to feel is to connect, and to connect is to be appropriated;(f) Extreme Loneliness due to excessive self-sufficiency and superiority (as safety mechanisms) resulting in a deep longing which paradoxically brings their central fear of appropriation back into focus; (g) Depersonalisation as a dissociative defence reflecting an experience of loss of a sense of individuality and identity – an unbearable anxiety for most schizoid individuals; (h) Regression as a dual track defence and need – that of moving ‘inward’ and ‘backward’. The continual search for enclosures, enclaves and other womb-like experiences are central to the schizoid’s adaptation and feeling of safety. A client of Masterson’s described it as follows:
“I always had difficulty with getting up and going to school. I would play a game of ‘womb space’ and I didn’t want to come out. I was warm and separate from everyone else. Bed was warm and I was alone and resting, not on call to serve their needs. I love to be alone. I feel it so deeply. I feel it in my chest and just want to cry. I listen to others at parties just to be social and I am putting up with their conversations, being attentive to others when I’m too exhausted to pay attention” (Masterson, 2000:114).
The split internal world of the Schizoid client
Based on the work of Fairbairn and Guntrip, Ralph Klein, relying on a developmental, self and object relations approach, conceptualized a split intra-psychic paradigm as characteristic of the schizoid conflict. In his model he describes two separate but inter-related ‘units’ – each with its own unique self-representation, object representation and linking affect (see figure below). The units are described as the master/slave (attachment) and the sadistic object/self-in-exile (nonattachment) units. In the master/slave unit the object representation is one of a maternal part-object that is experienced and internalized as manipulative and coercive, that is, a master that only wants to ‘use’ the person. The part self-representation is one of a dependent slave who provides a function for the enslaving object and is, as such, a subordinate. The central affect linking the part representations is one of being jailed but connected, and the relief of not being totally alienated.
A classic case of such is described by Klein: “(Like) a puppet on a ventriloquist’s knee… I was trapped… unable to move or act except as she commanded me to do. I had a mind of my own, but it made no difference. No one cared and no one asked. I simply mouthed the words that she wanted and expected to hear. And if I didn’t submit, I felt I would be discarded. Put aside. I would be away from her control, but I would be alone, exiled. To stay connected I had to be her slave.” (Klein, 1995:62).
Schizoids frequently describe themselves as being ‘too much’ (the ‘death’ of mother/others), an irritant, unseen but needed, and ‘just there’.
Printed with Permission of Zeig Tucker 2012
By contrast, for the sadistic object/self-in-exile unit, the object representation is of a maternal part-object which is sadistic, dangerous, devaluing, depriving, and even abandoning in relationship to a part-self representation of being alienated, in exile, isolated although self-contained and self-reliant. The central affect is the abandonment depression that is characterized by despair, rage, loneliness, and fear of cosmic aloneness (void):
“I think she hated me, she could not get herself to say it but her behavior towards me betrayed it. If I had an opinion, if I disagreed, even at times just be myself she would transform in front of me, she became monstrous, angry – sometimes it was explosive, at times a frozen stare – I was the reason for all her misery…at those times I went into myself, away, observed only, I was untouched by her hate of me. I would recite poetry in my head, even at times sing inside. I was everywhere except with her. That is what kept me sane. I had to learn to totally separate myself from her and just do if she commanded it (slave), and when I did wrong, which was always, I went into myself as a way to keep her at bay (exile)…. I live very orbital still…”
According to Klein and Masterson, and in agreement with Fairbairn and Guntrip, the schizoid client may also take on various behavioral patterns. Pearson summarizes these in terms of clusters and as follows:
“1. The pure schizoid cluster, consisting of withdrawal, introversion, and lack of affect.
2. The narcissistic cluster, consisting of narcissism, superiority, and self-reliance
3. The borderline cluster, consisting of depersonalization, regression and loneliness.” (Pearson, 2004:45)
Irrespective of the latter, the schizoid patient essentially experiences a very specific, stable and entrenched internal split. It is this very split that needs to be understood and therapeutically addressed. The complexity thereof, given the use of various defenses as described above, means that a tremendous amount of therapeutic work and patience is needed to access this schizoid structure.
Psychoanalytic psychotherapy of the schizoid dilemma and the Goldilocks principle
The therapeutic attitude needed to sustain meaningful contact with the schizoid client/individual without being either intrusive-controlling or distant-disinterested can prove challenging. By definition the duration of the therapy (shorter-term and longer-term) will also influence the choice of intervention. Nonetheless, whereas the borderline dilemmas respond to clarification and confrontation and narcissistic clients respond well to the interpretation of narcissistic vulnerability (pain, self-defense)(Daws, 2013), the schizoid client seems to respond optimally when invited to partake in the conversation through the use of consensus matching within which the interpretation of the schizoid dilemma and compromise can be addressed. Transitional language and what I refer to as the Goldilocks principle is relied upon to ensure a natural measure of interpersonal safety through affective and cognitive approximation. Thoughts from the therapist thus ultimately serve as possibilities to be contemplated without demand (‘I was thinking’, ‘I wonder about x and let me know if I got it right’, etc) supporting the schizoid to find the ‘just right’ measure of interpersonal distance, thought and feeling as experienced and found by them.
To reiterate, the interpretation of the schizoid dilemma remains the primary intervention and is described by Klein as follows: “The schizoid dilemma is that the patient can be neither too close nor too far in emotional distance from another person without experiencing conflict and anxiety.” (Klein, 1995:44). A clinical example from the Mastersonian Jerry Katz illustrates the use of transitional language, the Goldilocks principle and the schizoid dilemma:
“I had a thought about how you might experience being in the room with me. I would be curious to know if this makes sense to you. It seems to me that being too close or too far from me may pose a dilemma for you. Acting on a wish to have connection with me might leave you open to feeling rejected or coerced or manipulated by me – sort of like a slave who has to do what I want or else have nothing – yet, on the other hand, keeping yourself at too great a distance might leave you feeling profoundly isolated and cut off.” (Katz, 2004:102)
Klein also introduced a second critical intervention – that of the schizoid compromise. After the long work of establishing a therapeutic alliance, the patient faces the painful challenge of the abandonment depression: “Here the therapist must look for all signs of defense and resistance and interpret the patient’s willingness to ‘settle’ or ‘compromise’ on a relatively safe and comfortable distance without working through the abandonment depression” (Klein, 1995:44). It can be said that the compromise may be a behavior, thought pattern, or relational approach (Katz, 2004). By interpreting the various compromises the client may come to see how they actively, although certainly at times unconsciously, create distance and to see also that interpersonal negotiation and closeness may be an option (without its various projected fears). Certainly the more higher functioning the schizoid client the more comfortably one can address relational difficulties directly. It is also of importance to keep in mind that the schizoid may easily comply (slave position) or have highly intellectual debates making them seem very involved but without much affective change. The latter remains a problematic area and needs sensitive clinical judgment and intervention.
Finally, to support the listening process and interpretation strategies of the schizoid dilemma and compromise, Masterson’s unique algorithm (referred to as the schizoid triad) may also orientate the clinician within the session. Whereas the borderline triad can be summarized as self-activation (separation-individuation) leads to anxiety that leads to defense, and the narcissistic triad as imperfection leads to anxiety that leads to defense, the schizoid triad can be summarized as closeness/contact leads to anxiety that leads to defense. An example:
” John, as you were relating this conflict with your wife I became aware of the difficulty you are facing. Let me know your thoughts on it. I notice that when you have a good day with your wife you mention you start to feel closed in, suffocated, her wanting too much and then you retreating into a silence that she grows angry with. I wonder if a good day with her does not create anxiety about being close, maybe too close, and by retreating into silence and your office you try to create a safer distance from her, your anxiety and the growing intimacy between the two of you.”
It was the aim of the paper to explore the psychoanalytic theorizing of Fairbairn, Guntrip and the Mastersonian Ralph Klein in the treatment of the schizoid disorder of the self. It is held that the basic relational dilemma of the schizoid client is one of being appropriated and not being allowed a viable self. Intrapsychically the schizoid relates from a split internal reality characterized by master/slave and sadistic object/self–in-exile units. Through the interpretation of the schizoid dilemma and compromise greater relational and intrapsychic freedom may become possible.
Loray Daws is a registered clinical psychologist in South Africa and a registered clinical counsellor and psychotherapist with the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCACC) and the Canadian College of Professional Counselling and Psychotherapy (CCPCP). He has more than 15 years’ experience of working with various psychiatric disorders. Loray has also completed the New York based Masterson Institute’s three-year post graduate training program in psychoanalytic psychotherapy for the treatment of personality disorders. Loray serves on various directorates and faculties and has lectured and published internationally in the areas of personality, eating and psychosomatic disorders.
References and Bibliography
Daws, L. (2011). Grandiosity and Perfection; The Mastersonian Approach to the Narcissistic Disorders of the Self. Contemporary Psychotherapy, 3(2).
Daws, L. (2013). Living between rewarding and withdrawing paradigms of experience- The Mastersonian approach to the Borderline disorder of self. Contemporary Psychotherapy,4(2)
Fairbairn, W.R.D. (1952). Psychoanalytic studies of the personality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Guntrip, H. (1969/2011). Schizoid Phenomena, Object Relations and the Self. London: Karnac.
Katz, J. (2004). The schizoid personality disorder. In J.F.Masterson & A.R. Liberman (Ed). A therapist’s guide to the personality disorders. The Masterson Approach. A handbook and workbook (pp. 91-110). Phoenix, Arizona: Zeig, Tucker & Thiesen, Inc.
Klein, R. (1995a). The self in exile: a developmental, self and object relations approach to the schizoid disorder of the self. Evolution. In J.F. Masterson & R. Klein (Ed.) Disorders of the self. New therapeutic horizons. The Masterson Approach (pp. 3-12). New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Klein, R. (1995b). The self in exile: a developmental, self and object relations approach to the schizoid disorder of the self. Description. In J.F. Masterson & R. Klein (Ed.) Disorders of the self. New therapeutic horizons. The Masterson Approach (pp. 13-32). New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Klein, R. (1995c). The self in exile: a developmental, self and object relations approach to the schizoid disorder of the self. Developmental theory. In J.F. Masterson & R. Klein (Ed.) Disorders of the self. New therapeutic horizons. The Masterson Approach (pp. 33-44). New York: Brunner/Mazel.
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Image: Egotrip by Airín