First Advisor

Dave Capuzzi

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Education (MSEd)






Children -- Suicidal behavior, Object relations (Psychoanalysis)



Physical Description

Digitized photocopy of typescript. 4, v, 110 leaves ; 28 cm, Includes bibliographical references (leaves 103-110).


This thesis attempts to explicate the manifestation of suicidal behavior in latency age children based on developmental object relations theory. It asserts that the susceptibility to suicidal behavior becomes part of the child's developing ego organization during the first three years of life as the result of deviant or distorted emotional development. These disturbances interfere with the normal internalizing processes of the separation individuation phases, including the development of psychological mechanisms.

To accomplish the purpose of the study, the thesis generally classifies object relations theory within the parameters of developmental psychopathology and specifically classifies it as a component of contemporary psychodynamic theory. Then follows an exposition of the separation individuation process and attendant development of psychological mechanisms in normal and disturbed development. This section concludes by identifying the normally developing child around thirty-six months of age as possessing the capacity to unite disparate self and object images into a single, whole person for appropriate self comfort, self-image formation, and self-esteem regulation through having received primarily gratifying interactions with caregivers. The child with disturbed development lacks this capacity because of the internalization of primarily negative object-images through primarily negative interactions with caregivers. The child lacks trust in itself and in others, tends to perceive itself and others as all-good or all-bad, and experiences hostility and depression.

A definition of latency and a description of this developmental stage follows. Cognitive development marked by secondary thought processes and reliance upon dynamic psychological mechanisms--ego defenses--to sustain a behavioral and emotional equilibrium, rather than a diminution of drives, permit latency to become established. As part of the structure of latency, fantasy serves a defensive and adaptive function by providing an outlet for drive expression and for mastery of situations intrapsychically. Children with disturbances in ego organization have a less established structure of latency than do normal children, that is, they rely to a greater extent on psychological mechanisms characteristic of the separation-individuation phases.

A review of empirical and clinical research of suicidal children encompasses family environment; loss, depression, and hopelessness; cognitive functioning; and defense mechanisms. Suicidal children live in stressful, chaotic families with confused role relationships. Findings regarding the relationships among loss, depression, and hopelessness appear mixed although integrally related. Suicidal children conceive of impersonal death as final while construing personal death as reversible as a defensive maneuver. Suicidal fantasies constitute the precursors to suicidal planning and actions. Suicidal children show impaired ability to devise active coping strategies. They seem to rely excessively on ego defenses considered developmentally appropriate in early stages of development, such as introjection.

A synthesis of theoretical formulations and research findings sets forth the developmental sequence culminating in suicidal behavior. The model depicts a child's developing ego organization predisposed to depression, hostility, and low self-esteem caused by the internalization of a predominance of negative self- and object-images. It portrays susceptibility to suicidal behavior through the incapacity to exercise self-protection under stressful situations because of a reliance upon maladaptive ego defenses. Fantasies to relieve psychic pain as part of latency defenses transform into fantasies of suicide; these presage and allow for planning and, given the failure of ego defenses, suicidal behavior results.


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