Date of Degree

10-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor

Diana Diamond

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology

Abstract

Sexuality has been theorized as a particular human experience that is driven, unmirrored in development, and enigmatic, not reaching what Fonagy describes as "second order representation." Yet, as a social being, one is expected to declare and publically live out a sexual identity. This study is situated within this point of contact between the visceral and the sociolinguistic, with particular attention paid to the experiences of bisexual women, whose potential challenges in articulating a sexual identity are considered. The study sample was comprised of forty bisexual women participating in the Dually Attracted Women's Narratives study (Levy-Warren, 2013) returning for the second phase of this longitudinal study (Caflisch, 2013).

This work examined how the level of participants' internal object representations was related to language use as they spoke about their sexual identities. The first concept was operationalized by applying the Differentiation and Relatedness (DR) scale to the Object Relations Inventory. The language measures applied were those of Wilma Bucci's Discourse Attributes Analysis Program, which measures several linguistic characteristics, including the degrees of both emotional immersion (Referential Activity) and reflection in language.

The results showed that a less integrated object representational world was associated with more vivid and immersive language. Higher levels of reflective language were found to be associated with more complex object representations. Explanations drawn from theory and empirical work are offered, focusing on the cognitive and regulatory role of more complex object representations. An analysis of interviews selected based on patterns of these empirical measures confirmed different language styles between those with relatively high and low object relational levels. These results could indicate different defensive processes being employed at different levels of object representation when discussing sexual identity.

A qualitative examination of all forty interviews revealed a theme that was examined in depth, namely, how women represented gender, and how these representations might be related to the degree of integration of their object representations. The study provided some confirmation of psychoanalytic understandings of the role of internal object representations and the unique qualities of sexuality as a force. Clinical and theoretical implications regarding bisexual women are also discussed based on the quantitative and qualitative findings.

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