Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Postponing Trauma: The Dangers of Telling

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Postponing Trauma: The Dangers of Telling

Article excerpt

Surviving a major historical trauma has consequences that are difficult to live with. Survivors who remain silent are often condemned to a desiccated existence, a dried-out life, a death in life. Survivors who speak out run an even greater risk. Telling their ghastly tale may trigger somatic consequences, psychotic episodes, or even suicide. As to the psychoanalytic cure, the free association it requires carries its own danger: negative therapeutic reaction in sometimes extreme forms. Avoidance of horror may turn into avoidance of life itself. Awful as it may seem, this avoidance of life may represent a victory over a menacing chaos. Should we as analysts accept the risk of endangering such a victory, no matter how unsatisfactory? The psychoanalytical injunction to speak out may trigger an upsurge of shame and terror. Is subjectivation always possible? This paper is about what happens when denial and splitting strategies are suspended, when 'crypts' are opened. Is there an analytic 'poros' allowing for a controlled return of affects? Is there a therapeutic solution to the problem of telling a wreckage without being caught in it? The dangers of 'telling' will be discussed in regard to new analytic strategies and new interpretive registers. When the 'silent psychic sharing' proves insufficient, some analysts go so far as to take part in the shame, share the grief, 'lend their own psyche', become a 'double' of the analysand, accept the existence of 'sanctuaries'. To what effect?

Keywords: apre`s-coup of extreme trauma, dreams, guilt, nightmares, resistance, shame, subjectivation

The dangers of telling

Surviving a major historical trauma has consequences that are difficult to live with. Among such hardships there is guilt and shame for having survived in circumstances one is not proud to admit and which were sometimes actually degrading. When survivors remain silent, they are often condemned to a desiccated existence, a dried-out life, a death in life. But when they speak out, and in particular when they do so in public, they are running an even greater risk. Telling the 'ghastly tale' may, in some cases, trigger not only serious somatic trouble, psychotic episodes, but suicide. As to the psychoanalytic cure, even though it is in no way public, the free association it requires carries another sort of danger for the survivor: negative therapeutic reaction in various and sometimes extreme forms.

The dangers of 'telling' will be discussed here in regard to strategies for rescue. This rescue can be performed by survivors themselves, such as writers sharing their experience with the public. Writers often choose an indirect approach. Attempting to go through the experience again without allowing it to destroy them, they devise strategies through which they turn the intolerable into something they are able to bear (Rosenblum, 2000, 2002a, 2002b, 2004).

Another form of rescue takes place in the psychoanalytic cure. For the analyst, this means accepting the patient's reticence and practising new interpretative registers. Often the 'silent psychic sharing' proves insufficient. Some analysts go so far as to take part in their analysands' shame, share their grief, 'lend them their own psyche', become their 'double'. These strategies and the results they allow for will be discussed here in regard to cases most of which illustrate how dangerous the telling of the 'ghastly tale' can be.

Some of the most moving narratives of the Shoah are either forgeries (such as Wilkomirski's [1995] book Fragments) or works of fiction misread as testimony (such as Zvi Kolitz's [1998] book Rakover Addresses God). Those best qualified to narrate the traumatic experience often turn out to be people who lived it in imagination only (Rosenblum, 2001b, 2003, 2007). In contrast, texts written by actual witnesses of the Shoah tend to be distanced, devoid of dramatization. Their writing constantly struggles with the nefarious consequences of testimony. …

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