Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Vicissitudes in Adult Life Resulting from Traumatic Experiences in Adolescence1

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Vicissitudes in Adult Life Resulting from Traumatic Experiences in Adolescence1

Article excerpt

The author deals with the difficulties in combining the concepts of trauma and phantasy. He evaluates Freudian observations relating to chance and trauma. He considers traumatic effects of chance in relation to the rupture of a narcissistic phantasy of invulnerability. The narrating of traumatic events may awaken in the analyst tendencies to repeat the aggression of these traumatic events towards the subject. The accusatory interpretation can be one of the means by which this repetition is established. The author explores a type of trauma which is essentially related to the disturbance of the structure which contains the ideals of the subject. This disturbance is a consequence of disillusionment resulting from the loss of an object who was the depository of these ideals. Trauma generates a state of mourning for lost ideals. The author describes traumatic events which occurred in a patient's life at puberty; paradoxical behaviours in the patient's parents caused the patient to have new traumas. The reluctance to explore the derivatives of the unconscious, and to investigate possible meaning in symbols, was a central problem in this patient's analysis. The author discusses disturbances in symbolization, and he examines the subject of projective identifications that were received by patients from their primary objects.

Keywords: ambiguity, disturbances in symbolization, iatrogenic, ideals, impasse, paradox, play with symbols, projective identification of the analyst, symbolic communication, trauma and phantasy

Over past decades, a divide has opened up in certain psychoanalytic groups between those who value the 'real' world of experience on the one hand and the virtual world of phantasy on the other. What has resulted from the coexistence of these two notions is polarization in their use and consequent mutual exclusion between them, giving rise to neglect of the principle of the complementarity of psychic determinants. As a consequence, the opposing positions of trauma (or the seduction scene with traumatic connotations)2 and of phantasy seen in Freud's work (1897) have been partially re-established. Research into this subject has consequently tended not to deal with the sequelae an experience may have when it is traumatic.

Obstacles in the recognition of the simultaneous pathogenic value of phantasy and of events led to the difficulty in accepting both theoretical complementarity (Freud, 1916-7) and the coexistence of contrasting notions in the conceptual field (Bernardi, 1992; Ferrari et al., 2003; Martins, 1993; Moreno, 2002). This gulf between trauma and phantasy loses validity when the link between both factors, which constitute a 'network of causality' (Rousillon, 1995), can be appreciated in the clinical setting.

The obstacles which prevent the integration of historicity with other concepts bring another dimension of difficulty, which lies in the subjectivity of the analyst. Problems of loyalty towards a theory equated in our unconscious with our primary objects can make us more resistant to assimilating new concepts (Gálvez and Maldonado, 2002). Our own analytical identity may operate as an obstacle in the comprehension of trauma when this identity is inextricably bound up with theories in which the notion of trauma in its primordial form is not included.

Theoretical factors which may lead to the undervaluing of traumatic events

Freud described how magic thought, in its defensive function, tends to attribute omnipotent and supernatural powers to chance. This marked a radical turning point in the comprehension of traumatic events. Freud (1901, 1910) questioned the defensive attribution of human actions to chance, but he did not deny the existence of chance in the universe in which human actions take place. He (1910) circumscribed the absence of chance solely in the area of wishes and illusion. Nevertheless, he highlights the integral role that chance plays in human nature:

At the same time we are all too ready to forget that in fact everything to do with our life is chance, from our origin out of the meeting of spermatozoon and ovum onwards-chance which nevertheless has a share in the law and necessity of nature, and which merely lacks any connection with our wishes and illusions. …

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