The brilliant writer and psychoanalytic thinker, Christopher Bollas, writes this about trauma: Trauma results in psychic processes that are “conservative, fundamentally aiming to control . . . psychic damage, desensitizing the self to further toxic events . . . and to preserve a constant state by ridding the [person] of excitation. The psychic process here is one of “organizing the material of life in a repetitive way [in order to] denude the [self] of . . . creative play . . . ” (65) The Christopher Bollas Reader, (2011)
But, importantly, Bollas also proposes that there is something which is the opposite of trauma—let us call it generative psychic processes—that results in elaboration and expansion of psychic material and which provides for the continuation of the process of discovery and ultimately provides for the development of new vision or meaning.
I believe from this remarkable thinking, we can understand more deeply the repetitive nature of trauma and some of the reasons for it. We may be familiar with the appeal of repetition: there is something known and certain and therefore seemingly controllable about engaging in repetition. Repetition appears to put the self into a position of autonomy, even if at the expense of authenticity, spontaneity, or creativity. And, this seems to be true even if the repetition, such as anything negative, is harmful or risky for the self.
But Bollas also suggests a far more complex basis for behaviors and thinking that seek to repeat or reinstate negatives. And Bollas looks for explanation to the unconscious psychic work being done as the self repeats or takes in more and more negative experiences, repeats or creates more and more disturbing or unpleasant meanings, even transforming potentially positive ones into negatives.
Bollas points out that a trauma-seeking patient will unconsciously sabotage the analytic work. He explains, however, that in collecting negative experiences into an expanding area of the self, there may be a wish to intensify the presence of the trauma in order to essentially force its conscious emergence or eruption. Bollas refers to this as the full release of the trauma into experiencing, or awareness.
He proposes that when this can occur, or when this can partially occur, the self—once hobbled by the restrictions that trauma imposes on creative, authentic living—becomes able to engage in creativity when it comes to living and experiencing.
Bollas is talking about living in what we might term “a positive and productive way.” He writes that a person engaged in a generative psychic process, is “constantly contributing” to the inner thing which is coming into being, or being created—the new meaning being formed.
We can understand that repetition, even repetition of small traumatic events similar to the original trauma, have meaning in promoting the emergence or eruption of the trauma into awareness. This underscores my own thinking that the self looks to bring about its own healing, even when it appears at first glance that the repetitive act will injure or inflict damage upon the self.