Ego development and parental representation as predictors of psychopathology

Melanie Steinert, Pace University


Individuals vary along a continuum of ego development and hold in mind parental representations that influence how they understand and respond to themselves, others, and the world. Ego development is a concept with ancient roots that theorists and clinicians have refined over time. As measured by Jane Loevinger, the ego is the center around which the person develops and has a controversial relationship with psychopathology in the literature. Parental representations, the internalization of the relationship with the parent, grows out of the early attachment relationship and influences self-regulation, later attachment relationships, and also psychopathology. It is likely that men and women represent their fathers and mothers differently due to gender differences in how children are parented, in how men and women develop, and in how they approach individuation. The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between ego development and parental representations of both mother and father, exploring the relationship between these internal phenomena and psychopathology while simultaneously investigating gender differences. One hundred and forty eight individuals seeking psychological services at an outpatient clinic completed questionnaires assessing their interpretation of their relationship with their parents, their level of development, and their psychiatric symptoms of depression, anxiety, anxiety related disorders, borderline features, aggression, suicidal ideation, alcohol and drug use. Questionnaires included the Inventory of Parental Representation (IPR) (Hart, 1992), Sentence Completion Test of Ego Development (SCT) (Hy & Loevinger, 1996), and the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) (Morey, 1991). The majority of participants in the present study were young adult females, college educated, with high levels of ego development. Results were therefore discussed in the developmental context of a second individuation and support the notion that men separate by striking out on their own while women separate in the context of relationships. In the absence of Pre-Conformist ego development levels represented, results showed that ego development is not related to psychopathology however ego development and parental representations were found to be related to each other. This study found that while all negative parental representations are problematic, a Protected/Repaired mother representation and a Narcissistic/Hostile father representation are associated with a greater likelihood of psychopathology.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Steinert, Melanie, "Ego development and parental representation as predictors of psychopathology" (2009). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3358197.



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