Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Amnemonic Traces: Traumatic After-Effects

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Amnemonic Traces: Traumatic After-Effects

Article excerpt

Introducing the problematic

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud (1920) describes the ego's efforts to moderate excitations, striving to reduce them to zero. The aim is served by repetition compulsion, a process that seeks to control and lessen unpleasant or traumatic experiences.

In his text on Moses and Monotheism, Freud (1939) adds that, if an overwhelming situation occurs in a very early period of life, the immature ego is unable to carry out even repetition processes, thus stressing the negative dimension in his theory of trauma. He states that, when nothing is repeated and nothing is remembered, the ego's organization is conditioned by avoidance processes that may develop into inhibitions and phobias (p. 76).

This understanding of the psychic economy, which relates to the development of the second theory of the drives, modifies Freud's views on the constitution and effects of traumatic experiences. Having already replaced his first model of an external traumatic act of seduction with the notion of an internal operator - i.e. unconscious phantasies that emerge in connection with children's sexual theories - Freud is now less preoccupied by the nature of the trauma (sexual or other) and refers mainly to its impact. He calls attention to the after-effects of trauma, especially when these take the form of quantitative effractions that paralyse the psychic apparatus, leaving it deficient in elaborative possibilities and exposed to overwhelming anxieties.

In Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, Freud (1926) links anxiety with object loss. But Ferenczi's (1933) understanding of the origins of trauma as relating to primary interactions between subject and object influenced Freud's view of early narcissistic injuries; he then stated that such interactions may assume a traumatic quality, hurting the immature ego in a way that it is leftin a state of acute distress and helplessness [Hilflosigkeit].

In current psychoanalytic literature, the term 'traumatic' refers to floods of emotional charges that give rise to feelings of helplessness or agonising despair (Roussillon, 1999). Traumas are measured by the quantity and the quality of the disorganization they generate rather than by the nature of the event that precipitated them (Marty, 1990).

Traumatic after-effects have been discussed at length by psychoanalysts of such different orientations as Bion (1965), Winnicott (1971, 1958), Aulagnier (1975), Green (1983, 1993), Roussillon (1999), Botella and Botella (2001), Fonagy et al. (2010), Bohleber (2010), Levine et al. (2013). Incapacities in representing, symbolizing and mentalizing have been considered. However, I think there are still some specific points that invite further investigation.

One key issue relates to the possibility of describing more accurately the processes and dynamics that contribute to the repudiation of traumatic experiences from the memory network, preventing these experiences from assuming a meaning as part of a patient's historical reality.

One further point concerns somatic events that often accompany or follow phases of traumatic turmoil when patients lose their accustomed frames of reference as diffuse anxieties, fears of breakdown and self-aphanisis dominate the psychic scene. This configuration raises several questions:

1. Given that the orders of the somatic and the psychic are subject to different laws, can somatic disturbances that follow or accompany traumatic upheavals be regarded as their after-effects

2. Can it be argued that somatic events bear some traces of these traumatic experiences

3. If so, how can the situation be understood in terms of the various factors involved

'In the absence of memories'

Since 1900 in Chapter VII of the Interpretation of Dreams and four years earlier in his 'Letter 52 to Fliess' (6.12.1896), Freud referred to inscriptions of all that an individual experiences in different mnemonic systems, according to different modes of classifications. …

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