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Breaking point (psychology)

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Breaking point (psychology)

In human psychology, the breaking point is a moment of stress in which a person breaks down or a situation becomes critical.[1]

The intensity of environmental stress necessary to bring this about varies from individual to individual.[2]


Getting someone to confess to a crime during an interrogation – whether innocent or guilty - means the suspect has been broken. The key to breaking points in interrogation has been linked to changes in the victim's concept of self[3] - changes which may be precipitated by a sense of helplessness,[4] by lack of preparedness or an underlying sense of guilt,[5] as well (paradoxically) as by an inability to acknowledge one's own vulnerabilities.[6]


Psychoanalysts like Ronald Fairbairn and Neville Symington considered that everybody has a potential breaking point in life, with vulnerability particularly intense at early developmental stages.[7]

Some psychoanalysts say that rigid personalities may be able to endure great stress before suddenly cracking open.[8] Such breakdowns may, however, offer favorable opportunities for therapists to get clients.[9]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ G. A. Kimble, Psychology (1996) p. 1oo
  3. ^ G. H. Gudjonsson, The Psychology of Interrogation and Confession (2003) p. 192
  4. ^ D. Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (1996) p. 204
  5. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 122-5
  6. ^ R. Skynner/J. Cleese, Families and how to survive them (1994) p. 116-7
  7. ^ Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (2000) p. 79
  8. ^ Eric Berne, A Layman's Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis (1976) p. 51
  9. ^ Fenichel, p. 553

External links

  • Dealing with Psychological Crisis
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