Malevolence, splitting, and parental ratings by borderlines

Laura Baker, Kenneth R. Silk, Drew Westen, Joel T. Nigg, Naomi E. Lohr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Malevolent object relations as well as splitting have long been considered by psychodynamic theorists as central features of borderline personality disorder. We tested the hypotheses that borderlines would a) perceive their parents more negatively than both nonborderline major depressive patients and nonpatient normal controls, and b) split their representations of their parents into opposites more than the comparison subjects. Borderlines (N = 31), who were identified by the Diagnostic Interview for Borderlines, Research Diagnostic Criteria major depressives (N = 15), and nonpatient controls (N = 14) were asked to rate each parent on the Adjective Check List (ACL; Gough and Heilbrun, 1983). Seven ACL scales were studied: Favorable, Unfavorable, Critical Parent, Nurturing Parent, Nurturance, Aggression, and Dominance. Correlations were performed between scores for mother and father on the various scales for each of the three cohorts. Analysis of variance and one-way i-tests with Bonferroni correction were used to test group differences. Borderlines rated their parents, especially their fathers, not only as more unfavorable on negative scales than depressives or normals, but as less favorable on positive scales than the comparison groups. Analysis of covariance revealed that a significant portion of the variance in father scores, but not in mother scores, was related to age of respondent and history of sexual abuse. While borderlines did not appear to split their parents into one good and one bad parent, they did show significantly less correlation between parents on the Favorable scale when compared with either depressives or normal subjects. The results imply that borderlines have a greater tendency to view the world in negative, malevolent ways than to split their object representations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-264
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Nervous and Mental Disease
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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