Dissociation and Repression in Trauma: Initial Reflection


The relatively brief entry below contains the first time in my philosophical journal that I reflect on the relationship between dissociation and repression in trauma.  That is a topic to which I will be returning in later entries to be posted here eventually.

The following entry also continues the discussion in my journal of the essays contained in the collection Trauma:  Exploration in Memory, edited by the highly influential literary and trauma theorist Cathy Caruth (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).  My discussion of that anthology began with the entry in my immediately preceding post, for January 19, 2009.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bessel A. van der Kolk (psychiatrist) and Onno van der Hart (psychologist),”The Intrusive Past:  The Flexibility of Memory  and the Engraving of Trauma,” in Caruth’s Trauma collection, p. 169:  “. . . traumatic memories cannot be both dissociated and repressed.”

Why not?  What gets repressed is the affective dimensions of the trauma, which repression makes the dissociation possible.  Indeed, the repression equals or is the dissociation–and the  latter is the former, in that dissociation from a traumatic event is the mechanism, as it were, of the repression, the mechanism that accomplishes it, that represses.

P. 174:  “Under ordinary circumstances, an animal will choose the most pleasant of two alternatives.  When hyperaroused, it  will seek the familiar regardless of the intrinsic rewards (Mitchell et. al., 1985 [i.e., D. Mitchell, E. W. Osborne, and M. W. O’Boyle, “Habituation under Stress:  Shocked Mice Show Non-Associative Learning in a T-Maze,” Behavioral Neural Biology 43:212-17]).  Thus, shocked animals returned to the box in which they were originally shocked in preference to less familiar locations not associated with punishment.  Punished animals actually increased their exposure to shock as the trials continued (Mitchell et. al., 1984 [i.e., D. Mitchell, A. S. Kolezar, and R. A. Scopatz, “Arousal and T-Maze Behavior in Mice:  Convergent Paradigm for Neophobia Constructs and Optimal Arousal Theory,” Learning and Motivation 15:287-301]).”

Applicable to addiction?  The italics–which are mine–suggest so.


Georges Bataille, “Residents of Hiroshima” (orig. 1947), in Caruth, p. 229:  “The need to make life secure wins out over the will to live.”


Pp. 263-4 in Caruth, conversation with three AIDS Activists at end of book:  the construction of the “phantom” of “the general public”:  marginalizes people actually undergoing the trauma of AIDS by directing empathy to the general public instead, and thereby deepening the division and marginalization:  “It’s no[t] allowed to happen to the people that it’s happening to,and it’s allowed to happen phantasmatically to the people that it’s allegedly not happening to [the “general public”].”

Certainly applies to the construction of the “general public” of “America” as the traumatized victim of 9/11 at many points.

Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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