The ability of those with severe personality disorders to experience in the transitional mode (in which external objects are personally consoling and meaningful) was investigated. Subjects consisted of 19 sailors and marines; comparison groups consisted of 22 "good" sailors. Transitional relatedness, past and present, was assessed through semistructured interviews and, for individuals with personality disorders, interviews of the mother or closest relative.
None of the subject group showed ability for present transitional relatedness; 84% gave no evidence of childhood transitional object usage. In contrast, 93% of the comparison group evidenced considerable ability for such relatedness. The criterion, transitional relatedness, cut across the behavioral heterogeneity encompassed by DSM II, "personality disorder"; a common developmental-phenomenonological root is suggested. Inability to experience transitionally appears to underpin the special difficulties such individuals demonstrate in attempting to use insight-oriented psychotherapy.