The relationship among parental representations, separation-individuation and depression in adolescence

Roseangela Cannizzaro Lemma, Pace University


The literature indicates that a strong, positive parental bond facilitates individuation (Bowlby, 1973), and that the success of the adolescent separation-individuation process impacts the health of the adult personality, particularly in relation to depression. Depression during adolescence has been associated with a failure of individuation (Blos, 1968), insecure attachments (Armsden et al., 1990), and negative parental representations (Blatt et al., 1979). This study investigated the relationship among psychological separation, depression, and parental representations. More specifically, this study assessed the relationship between adolescents' responses to developmental challenges linked to the process of individuation and psychological separation, using the Pace Profile of Adolescent Depression and Individuation, (PADI) and the Psychological Separation Inventory (PSI-Maternal). This study also evaluated the associations between parental representations and psychological separation, utilizing the Inventory of Parental Representations (IPR-Maternal & Paternal Subscales) and the Psychological Separation Inventory (PSI-Maternal). Since the literature generally supports attachment to the mother as playing a more important role, the relationship between maternal representations and separation was specifically addressed. In addition, since research suggests that separation-individuation assumes different developmental pathways for males and females (Chodorow, 1989; Gilligan, 1982), gender differences were explored. A correlational analysis between the subscales of the PSI and PADI found that 14 out of 32 correlations hypothesized were significant, indicating that an empirical relationship exists between psychological separation and depression. A correlational analysis between the subscales of the PSI and the IPR found that 29 out of 56 correlations (21 out of 28 maternal subscales) were statistically significant, indicating an empirical relationship between psychological separation and parental representation. Upon further evaluations, it was determined that the set of PSI subscales was able to significantly predict 7 out of 8 of the PADI subscales, all 7 of the IPR-Maternal subscales, and 3 of the 7 IPR-Paternal subscales, indicating that how one scores on a test of psychological separation from one's mother can be used to predict how one will score on a scale assessing adolescents' reactions (i.e., depressive) to developmental challenges, on a scale assessing their maternal representations, and on a scale assessing paternal representations. Gender effects showed that boys tended to score higher than girls on functional independence, emotional independence, and attitudinal independence; on positive identity and inflated self-worth; in their perception of mother as passive and avoidant, disappointed in them while at the same time demanding perfection; and as jealous, angry, competitive, and self-centered. Girls scored higher than boys in the extent to which they felt the need to care for and protect mother.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Cognitive therapy|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Lemma, Roseangela Cannizzaro, "The relationship among parental representations, separation-individuation and depression in adolescence" (2003). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3100072.



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