In his recent journal article, published in Transactional Analysis Journal (TAJ), Ales Zivkovic discusses Parasitic Personality Organisation and Parasitic Relatedness (Zivkovic, 2020) (original article).
Parasitic Personality Organisation is a particular type of personality structure and personality functioning that is characterised by individual’s inability to attain own expectations, direction, meaning, ambition, and a sense of narrative in life, but that is, at the same time, not characterised by states of excessive depression, despair, or intense sense of subjective experience of emptiness. Such individuals may be seen as wondering through life, trying to find some direction and expectations of themselves, but finding themselves fail continuously.
Their attempt to gain some purpose and self-expectations in life will usually be one where they resort to others to set them—either their intimate relationships, their career, or social milieu. At the same time, they will usually find themselves failing at it and experience themselves continuously going around in circles. They will look for others’ affirmation, however, regardless of whether such affirmation is attained or not, the mere attempt to attain it will render it meaningless, leaving them in search for other sources of approval.
Parasitic personality organisation is characterised by disruptions in development of individual’s subjectivity. These disruptions often start at the earliest stages of child development, however, because they occur as general deficiencies of caregiving, they are usually carried out also into later stages of child development. This means that both the core self, as well as the concept of identity and relating to others will be affected. Such individuals will attempt to gain their subjectivity through so-called parasitic relatedness, which will usually result in denial of subjectivity of others. As they engage in relationships, they will attempt to gain meaning in life by having others set expectations and life direction for them.
In their childhood, these individuals were usually subject to excessively ambivalent parenting, but such that was not restrictive, abusive, violating, or overtly traumatic for the child. As such, the child may have grown up in an excepting environment, however, an environment that lacked a sense of expectations and direction-setting for the child. Rather than the source of lack of caregivers’ boundaries being one of disregard, it was one of ambivalence.
There are two predominant caregiving patterns that we can see when we look at developmental experience of individuals with parasitic personality organisation. One of such caregiving patterns is whereby a caregiver may have also been lacking a sense of their own meaning in life and, therefore, had no expectations of their child. Such caregivers will seem vague, as though they are lacking in full sense of personality and will lack in their own opinions and goals.
The other caregiving developmental experience that may be evident with parasitic individuals is one where caregivers have themselves attained everything they felt was meaningful in live, securing the child’s future in the process, and found themselves left in either a state of meaninglessness, or attempting to attain more of what they find meaningful. Such caregiving may be evident with parents who grew up with a sense of lacking and deprivation and see the meaning of life in attainment of either social or material standard. As they attain it, the child is left in a state of “not needing to attain anything else” and is propelled into the world without internal sense of expectations and direction.
As such, caregivers of individuals with parasitic personality organisation usually relate a message of “be whatever you wish, but you don’t have to be anything in particular”. The child, as such, grows up more of a by-standing object, rather than an actively related-to subjective being. And this is what she or he will also internalise and carry as her or his own subjective experience in adulthood.
Such individuals will live their life according to expectations of others or the world and expect others to have expectations of them. Their general existential guidance will come from their partners, peers, society. They are often experienced as someone whose lives seem as though they are something transient.
Zivkovic, A. (2020). Parasitic Personality Organization and Parasitic Relatedness. Transactional Analysis Journal, 50(2), 130-142. DOI: 10.1080/03621537.2020.1726659