The "Adualistic" Representation of Trauma: On Malignant Internalization

By Meares, Russell | American Journal of Psychotherapy, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

The "Adualistic" Representation of Trauma: On Malignant Internalization


Meares, Russell, American Journal of Psychotherapy


This paper suggests that traumatic memories are represented in a way that is qualitatively different from nontraumatic memories. The argument depends upon a concept of self, derived from Hughlings Jackson and William James, which is double, involving not only mental life but reflection upon it. Trauma is seen as causing an uncoupling, or dedoubling, of consciousness.

The traumatic diminishment of the subject-object distinction in psychic life has several main effects. First, there is a change in the form of consciousness to a state which is focussed on the present and on immediate stimuli. Secondly, the memory system in which the traumatic events are recorded is nonepisodic, lacking the reflective component. In this way, it is unconscious. Thirdly, the traumatized-traumatizer dyad is represented not as two persons in relation but more nearly as a fused monad. This representation is not integrated into the system of self as the stream of consciousness but remains relatively sequestered. This sequestration is "unstable, " determining rapidly oscillating, and opposite, forms of relatedness, termed "reversals." Finally, in an ,uncoupled" state, the interpretation of the "meaning" of the traumatic event is impaired. Its construction is determined by affect.

TRAUMA AND THE BRAIN-MIND SYSTEM

Recent evidence showing that abuse of various kinds is typical of the childhood of those with severe personality and related disorders has created renewed interest in the clinical impact of traumata. As yet, however, little attention has been paid to the way in which these traumata are represented in memory, and how these representations differ from that which are nontraumatic. These subjects provide the main themes of this paper.

The ideas concerning representation of trauma outlined here are based on observations of borderline patients (1,2). The central conceptualization. is based on the theories of the British neurologist Hughlings Jackson (1834-1911) (3) and upon modern memory research. The main argument rests on the notion that trauma results in an "uncoupling" of consciousness.

An understanding of the effects of psychological trauma must begin with a conception of what is being traumatized. This notional entity, which is frequently neglected in discussions of trauma, lies between the event and the resultant symptomatic changes. It can be called the "self."

JACKSON'S CONCEPT OF SELF

The problem of defining self is considerable. However, Hughlings Jackson, who was an early and important influence upon Freud, outlined a view of "self" that helps to guide an exploration of the consequence of noxious environmental circumstances. Although Jackson's fame rests upon his neurological investigations, particularly as they concerned epilepsy and aphasia, he was also a pioneer theorist in the sphere of mental illness. A large and neglected part of his opus concerns this subject. He believed himself to be the first person in the medical literature to use the word "self" (3, 11, p.96).

Jackson conceived self as double, made up of subject and object poles. Like William James, he called the pole of "subject unconsciousness" the "U' James knew and corresponded with Jackson and may have been influenced by him. James added a necessary elaboration of Jackson's double self. The cardinal feature of the self, as he saw it, was an awareness of the stream of consciousness. This other pole of self, "object consciousness, "James called the "me."

Jackson believed that self as double, that is, involving the capacity for introspection (3, 11, p.95), was something that arrived late in evolutionary history. It depended upon brain development. Although Jackson saw mind, or self, as a function of the brain, he warned that the two must not be confused. One should not mistake the psychical for the neural, nor vice versa (3, 11, p.9). They exist in "parallel concomitance" (3, 11, p.42). This doctrine was quoted with approval by Freud (4) in his paper on aphasia. …

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