Splintered Reflections: Images of the Body in Trauma

By Jean Goodwin; Reina Attias | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
Metamorphosis
The Self Assumes Animal Form

Jean Goodwin and Reina Attias

One of the most extreme and devastating alterations of body image is the complete loss of human form that occurs in individuals who episodically experience themselves as animals. This type of pathological metamorphosis involves interferences with thinking, behavior, sensation and emotions that include preoccupations with the animal and intense experiences during which the individual behaves or feels like an animal and believes at times that he or she has in fact become the animal.

This kind of pathological animal identification must be distinguished from numerous other metaphoric, ritual and mythologic uses of animal transformations ( Massey 1976). Such instances include animal transformations used to depict sexual and aggressive drives. Freud was conceptualizing in this way when he said of "Rat-Man": "He could truly be said to find a living likeness of himself in the rat" ( Freud 1909/ 1955, 216). It is this intense drive experience that is being depicted when Zeus takes animal form in order to rape his young victims. Half-human, half-animal figures like the centaur and Pan imply the incorporation of extraordinary sexual or aggressive powers. Animal transformation can appear as punishment when drive behaviors become immoral or inhuman. This is the fate that befalls Lucius in "The Golden Ass."

Images of metamorphosis may be used as well to describe the desire to communicate or merge with nature in an empathic mode. Thus, an animal identity may be used to convey the natural spontaneous or childlike side of

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