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Suicidal ideation, object relations, and early experiences: An investigation using structural equation modeling

Jeanine M Vivona, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Deleterious early experiences, wrought by childhood abuse, parental dysfunction, and inconsistent relationships with parents, have been repeatedly associated with suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in adolescence and young adulthood. Both depression and aggression have been correlated with suicidality as well. The precise relationships among these variables remain largely unspecified, however, and contradictory findings portend our imperfect understanding of youth suicide.^ Psychoanalytic object relations theory suggests a mechanism by which early experiences influence later functioning, providing a link between disrupted caretaking in childhood and suicidal ideation in early adulthood. Using structural equation modeling (SEM), this study examined the extent to which experiences of loss, trauma, and deprivation in early life induced an object world that left one vulnerable to suicidal ideation in young adulthood. The dual aim of the study was to obtain confirmation for the mediating role of object relations in the development of suicidal ideation, and to explore the specific relationships among early experiences, object relations, depression, aggression, and suicidal ideation.^ Two hundred and fifty college undergraduates participated in group administrations of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and completed the Adult Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire, Beck Depression Inventory, Hopelessness Scale, Aggression Questionnaire, Early Experiences Questionnaire, and Suicide Attempts Questionnaire. The Social Cognition and Object Relations Scale (Western, 1990a) was used to assess four dimensions of object relations from TAT stories.^ SEM supported the hypothesis that object relations play a crucial role in mediating between deleterious early experiences and suicidal ideation in young adulthood. Traumatic early experiences, particularly physical, sexual, and emotional abuse perpetrated by trusted adults, left an inedible mark on object relations. An object world marked by expectations of unpredictability, rejection, and potential malevolence from others in the context of earnest investment in interpersonal relationships led to elevated levels of both depression and aggression in these college students. Depression, but not aggression, precipitated thoughts of suicide, lending support for the psychoanalytic postulate that depression ensues when aggression is turned toward the self. Some intriguing results and their relation to the literature, limitations of the study, and directions for future research are discussed. ^

Subject Area

Mental health|Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Vivona, Jeanine M, "Suicidal ideation, object relations, and early experiences: An investigation using structural equation modeling" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9639047.