I want to continue to talk about trauma here, and to try to get to a bit about how trauma affects the self. I wrote in my recent post that trauma is often (but not always) compounded by the problem of its having occurred outside of language—either because the victim was too young to have been able to narrate the trauma event(s), or because the event(s) took place at a level beneath conscious awareness, and thus escaped the organizing and consolidating effects of the narrative. Or, lastly, trauma can remain unnarrated if the trauma was not reported, depriving the victim of some of the potentially generative aspects to the traumatic recollections.
In any of these instances, there is a sort of compounding of the trauma. There is the trauma, an event (or events) that originates outside of the self. However, trauma also enters the psyche and becomes internally organized there. It becomes part of the self, insinuating into development. It reasserting itself, imposing onto the developing psyche waves of emotional or affective disturbance and onto the psychic processes a mode of being in which the self looks to avoid further toxic events by deadening itself and by controlling or nullifying the dangerous provocations of affective aliveness.
We can understand that the aim is to prevent further trauma, even at the expense of self. If affective or emotional aliveness calls forth the trauma and its painful affect, then we can see that binding and deadening the self seeks to guard against that. It’s important to understand that the painful emotional accompaniment of trauma reverberates throughout the self in a continuing and widening loop of despair, helplessness, aloneness, confusion, isolation and more. And each reassertion of the trauma—now fully embedded in the psyche and internalized as a part of self—is in itself a re-trauma that echoes the original event.
As treatment unfolds, this dilemma or conflict intensifies, since one of the main consequences of therapy or psychoanalytic treatment is that it brings about psychic aliveness. Therapy invites relatedness! The psyche—once flattened by the defensive attempt to ward off traumatic repetition—is both pulled toward connection and repelled by the dread of repeating traumatic events.
Some practitioners or clinicians call this push and pull “resistance” to the therapy. The patient might be subtly blamed for “not being forthcoming.” Or, the conflict might be overlooked altogether, particularly when the patient is skilled at hiding it and the analyst is skilled at helping to hide it with a mutual emphasis on being careful, overly polite, and remaining ‘aligned’ in the treatment. We all look to stay away from pain and discomfort, and both patient and analyst are no different. We can understand, therefore, how the dark underbelly of dread and trauma can be inadvertently ‘kept out of the treatment.’
This is not to say that good therapy ignores the wish and the very real need to keep pain away from conscious awareness. I’m getting at something more subtle here. I’m looking to make a point about blind spots in the treatment, and how inadvertently, a treatment blind to the presence of trauma can ironically perpetuate the trauma by silencing it.