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Other Explanations of Personality Disorders: Structural Analysis of Social Behavior (SASB)

Simone Hoermann, Ph.D., Corinne E. Zupanick, Psy.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

As mentioned, theories of personality disorder are simply tools we can use to evaluate, study, and understand personality disorders.  But, there are some other useful tools for understanding personality disorders that cannot be considered theories of personality disorder per se. Nonetheless, they offer compelling explanations of human behavior and may prove to be useful tools for understanding the causes of personality disorders. The Structural Analysis of Social Behavior (SASB) is a tool that is used for evaluating social interactions, but it can be successfully applied in the analysis of personality disorders.  This is because interpersonal difficulties are the predominant feature of all personality disorders. In addition, there are some promising areas of research emerging from the neurobehavioral field that offer alternative, biological explanations for human behavior and thus, for personality disorders. 

Structural Analysis of Social Behavior (SASB)

group talkingThe Structural Analysis of Social Behavior (SASB) is a method of analyzing and studying many different types of social interactions.  Originally, it was not conceived as a theory of personality disorders. However, it happens to be a truly excellent tool for studying and understanding personality disorders (Benjamin 2002, 2004).  SASB was developed by the psychologist Lorna Smith Benjamin, Ph.D. It draws upon object relations theory and attachment theory which have already been reviewed. SASB shares several common assumptions with those two theories: 1) People have an inborn need to form attachments with one another, 2) Early attachments between children and caregivers are represented internally in people's minds, and 3) The shape and emotional tone of these early interactions (and subsequent representations) have a significant consequence. It is believed these representations of early interactions influence the way people will behave in future relationships.   However, SASB differentiates itself from other theories by providing a method for actually measuring, with a high degree of precision, the shape and tone of those internalized relationship expectations.

In addition to the influence of attachment and object relations theories, SASB draws heavily from the works of the psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan, M.D. Dr. Sullivan emphasized the social environment's influence upon people's psychological development and well-being across the lifespan. One of Sullivan's most important theoretical contributions was the concept of introjection, a process through which a social interaction between two people becomes internalized and represented within a person's mind. Specifically, when you are interacting with another person, through the process of introjection, you form a model or representation of the other person's perspective as it applies to you. For instance, if that other person judges you, the introject you create to represent that interaction takes the form of a self-judgment. In other words, you begin to see yourself  as though you were looking through the eyes of that other person. It is through the process of introjection that we learn to see ourselves as others see us; i.e., as social objects. It is also through the development of introjects that people become capable of experiencing complex social emotions such as shame.

SASB uses two dimensions of behavior to describe the tone or theme of a person's internalized, social interaction representations. The first behavioral dimension is called, "need for affiliation," ranging from high to low. A high need for affiliation takes the form of love, while a low need for affiliation takes the form of attack. The second behavioral dimension can be described as the "need for interdependence." This dimension ranges from controlling behaviors which limit freedom (low need for interdependence), to emancipating behaviors which promote freedom (high need for interdependence). These two dimensions are plotted along two lines at right angles to one another (i.e., orthogonally) thereby producing a graph divided into four quadrants (created by the intersecting lines representing these two dimensions).

As we have discussed throughout this article healthy personalities are indicated by a flexible range of behaviors that are appropriate to each circumstance.  In contracst, unhealthy personalities are characterized by inflexible behaviors that tend toward the extremes. Thus, a healthy personality would be plotted along the X axis as a moderately high desire to affiliate with others (to love) but not to such an extreme degree that one's own needs are completely subjugated and self-respect is lost. Similarly, along the Y axis we would expect a balanced need for interpersonal control that varies between moderate control and emancipation tendencies. A healthy personality could be represented by the green shaded area diagram below:

SASB Diagram D