Life within death: Towards a metapsychology of catastrophic psychic trauma


In this paper the author offers a phenomenology and a metapsychology for the effects on the mind of catastrophic psychic trauma, defined as the reaction of the psyche to an utterly external event, which the person is helpless to resist, and against which there is no possible defense. The author affirms that the experience of ‘infinite affliction’ produces a radical break in being which disarticulates the psyche and causes a headlong descent to the most primitive levels of psychic functioning. When there is a complete surrender to the process of disarticulation, it continues until it extinguishes even the most basic level of mental activity, contact with sensation, producing psychic and then psychogenic death. The author then offers a phenomenological and metapsychological analysis of how the process of disarticulation is stopped so that the state of survival is assured, affirming that, faced with this situation of utter emergency, the survival urge instantly mobilizes the organism in furious activity to preserve life and regenerates psychic activity by sensing the ongoing existence of the psychesoma. Then anguish precipitates on to the body and is sensed as psychophysical pain, which diverts conscious attention from the infinite destruction of utter affliction which is thus encapsulated so that, as an experience, it is no longer present to the mind. This assures survival, but it leaves the psyche in a state of non-integration and begins the unending battle for mastery over the deadly inner object, which ceaselessly threatens to become present. This constitutes the precariousness of the state of survival.

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