As if Personality

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In 1934, and again in 1942, Helene Deutsch described what she called the "as if" (als ob ) personality type. She was referring to individuals who leave other people with an impression of inauthenticity, even though they seem to enjoy "normal" relations with those around them and even though they complain of no disorder. They appear perfectly well adjusted, and are even capable of a certain warmth, but in a number of circumstances they betray a lack of emotional depth.

This phenomenon does not correspond to a type of repression but rather to a "real loss of object cathexis. The apparently normal relationship to the world corresponds to a child's imitativeness and is the expression of identification with the environment, a mimicry which results in an ostensibly good adaptation to the world of reality despite the absence of object cathexis" (1942, p. 304).Their creations are, on observation, "a spasmodic, if skilled, repetition of a prototype without the slightest trace of originality" (p. 303). "Another characteristic of the 'as if' personality is that aggressive tendencies are almost completely masked by passivity, lending an air of negative goodness, of mild amiability which, however, is readily convertible to evil" (p. 305).

In the course of psychoanalytic treatment their behavior may seem to indicate excellent cooperation and a certain progress, until the analyst realizes that nothing is actually happening, that the patients have changed nothing in their lives. Although "a strong identification with the analyst can be used as an active and constructive influence" (ibid.), these patients often develop a "vocation" to become psychoanalysts themselves.

Deutsch classified such personalities as "depersonalized" and associated them with schizoid-type behavior, insisting that there was a schizoid psychotic core behind their pseudo-normality. They were later classed as "borderline states" presenting "narcissistic disorders" or, according to Heinz Kohut, "disorders of the Self." Links have also been established between "as if" personalities and the notion of a "false Self" developed by Donald W. Winnicott (1962/1965), or Phyllis Greenacre's studies of "the imposter" (1958). Masud Khan related the etiology of "as if" personalities to the failure of the superego or the absence of a personal ideal ego, suggesting that although these subjects give the impression of being psychopathic or immoral "they have a very highly organized ego-ideal and all their attempts are to approximate to its demands" (1960, p. 435).

In any event, Deutsch's initial description corresponds to a reality that continues to be confirmed in clinical experience as in everyday life.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Autistic capsule/nucleus; Blank/nondelusional psychoses; Depersonalization; Deutsch-Rosenbach, Helene; Imposter; Lie; Normality.


Deutsch, Helene. (1934).Über einen Typus der Pseudoaffektivität ("Als ob"). Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, 20.

. (1942). Some forms of emotional disturbance and their relationship to schizophrenia. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 11.

Greenacre, Phyllis. (1958). The impostor. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 27 (3), 359-382.

Khan, Masud. (1960). Clinical aspects of the schizoid personality: Affects and technique. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 41, 430-437.

Winnicott, Donald W. (1965). Ego distortion in terms of true and false Self. In The maturational processes and the facilitating environment (pp. 140-152). London: Hogarth and the Institute for Psycho-Analysis. (Original work published 1962)

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As if Personality

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