Shadowed Reality or the “Prometheus- Complex”: Analytical Psychotherapy after Political Imprisonment and Persecution

Reinhild Hölter
Berlin, Germany
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Analytische Psychologie

The collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe has opened new opportunities for individual and social development. At the same time we are able to see more clearly how life under dictatorial circumstances has shaped people, especially those who – because of their political nonconformity – have been subject to repressive measures of the state. According to official estimations, in East Germany from 1945 until 1989 more than 300,000 people were imprisoned because of political motives. In addition to these, there is the multitude of people who were subject to spying and tracking methods because they got into the sights of the Staatssicherheit (GDR State Security, also known as Stasi) on flimsy grounds. Especially for these cases, the Staatssicherheit developed the so-called “Operative Psychology”, in which know-how from psychiatry, personality diagnosis, developmental psychology, psychotherapy and neighbouring sciences were gathered to generate directly applicable subtle methods of manipulation and disintegration of the individual.

The “Operative Psychology” was also used in the recruitment of state security personnel, but it particularly aimed at undermining the activities of dissidents and was kept strictly confidential. Action plans were developed for groups and individuals with the aim of creating distrust between the group members and to systematically discredit the reputation and public renown of the individual, to bring about professional and social failure, to attack the self-confidence of the targeted person. The main goal was to trigger panic and consternation and in the end to destroy the personality of the individual. Also during political imprisonment, the know-how of “operative psychology” became the basis for the subtle and highly effective treatment of the detainee. It is not hard to imagine that the consequences for the individual can be painfully felt up to the present time.

During my activity as a private analyst as well as in my work for a counseling center for the politically traumatized of the GDR dictatorship in Berlin, I was able to gather much knowledge about the methods and long-term effects of psychological terror. Traumatic experiences of violence, often dating back twenty or thirty years, are still present as if they happened yesterday, and continue to be a severe handicap in the individual’s everyday life.

I would now like to give you some concrete insights into the situation of the political detainees in the GDR and give an outline of the psychological torture methods und their consequences, before I go into the psychodynamic processes involved from a Jungian point of view.

If in the years following World War II, brutal physical abuse of the prisoners was common in the territory that was under Soviet military control and in the early GDR. This treatment was abandoned in the following years in favor of the silent methods of the MFS (State Security Office), which expressed themselves in continually refined psychological measures of disintegration.

Particularly during the initial period of detention awaiting trial, the bringing about of insecurity and disorientation caused severe psychic breakdowns. Not only were the prisoners left in the dark about the duration of imprisonment, but the sophisticated interrogations going on for hours and hours were also interlarded with false rumors about relatives and friends, as well as with false witnesses and extortion to destroy confidence in existing relationships. Children of the imprisoned were put in state institutions or given to adoptive parents loyal to the party. The methods of deprivation used, like total isolation in a bare cell, lasting for days or weeks, as well as alternating destimulation and overstimulation (i.e. deprivation of sleep caused by burning neon lights during day – and nighttime and checks every ten minutes by the prison guard opening the peephole), left prisoners with a feeling of total despair.

Following this isolation prisoners were grouped together with other detainees, often with strategically positioned cell-informers. These people were mostly fellow prisoners who were forced to spy on their cellmates, taking advantage of their desire to communicate. A wide range of behaviour was found here, from almost amicable inquiry and confidential exchange to menace and violence. Thus over a period of weeks, months, and sometimes years, prisoners were kept in an uttermost uncertain, terrifying situation, without a chance of verifying reality, which led a substantial number of the people involved into a state of continual confusion.

To illustrate this I would like to present to you the following case study:

The patient, at the age of nineteen, was arrested in the winter of 1979 in Czechoslovakia after an unsuccesfull attempt to flee to the West. Patient: “I had to lie down on my belly in the snow, blindfolded with handcuffs on my back. After that, I was put in prison without a chance to wash myself or eat. My hands were cuffed at the head of the bed; additionally guards with machine guns watched over me. The cell had no heating and I felt miserably cold.” After almost three weeks of detention he was taken to Leipzig on an approximately eight-hour journey in an especially constructed van. Patient: “The interior of the van was divided into several single cells. The cell, dark and airless, was just big enough to sit in. I could not move. Besides that, I was handcuffed. We had a longer stay in Dresden, where I wasn’t allowed out. At arrival in Leipzig, I was immediately subjected to an interrogation by the Staatssicherheit, that was to last all night”.

The patient was sentenced to two years and ten months in prison. He had to serve one year and four months of this sentence. Following the trial he was transfered to the penal institution and detained together with common criminals. “I landed in the homosexual wing. One cell with twenty-eight inmates, twenty-six of them were gay. Bunk on bunk, all very close, and every night the corresponding noises”.

When the patient refuses to do his assigned job because of appalling working conditions (working without protective clothes or other protection with toxic substances like lead or asbestos) he is put in solitary confinement: “I had to undress and was put into a tiny, damp dungeon. The floor was wet, I was not allowed to sit and had to stand upright all the time. From 11 pm till 9 am the next morning I had to stand upright in the dark, cold dungeon. The backaches became unbearable. After that I was taken to a solitary cell. I was ordered to work but I refused and was put back to the dungeon for hours. I was dead tired, to keep me awake I was beaten in the kidney with a club by the guard. After that it was prison again. This was repeated several times”. The solitary detention continues for three weeks. Several months later the patient is bought free by the West German authorities.

The sole supporting figure during political custody was the interrogator, who perfidiously took advantage of the hunger for communication that is described by many a prisoner, deliberately invoked and intensified by methods of deprivation. Some carefully calculated favours done by the interrogator made him seem sympathetic and nurtured hopes with the detainee, but their exclusive aim was to promote his readiness to testify. The behavior of the interrogator could abruptly change, arbitrarily and unfathomably for the prisoner. All of a sudden the “good” could turn to “bad”. Abandoned by everyone, left alone in agony and dispair, the intimidator (in this case the interrogator) turns into the representative of the early omnipotent and existence-securing “other”. These regressive processes produce an early image of object-relationship, connected with total dependency, so that “also the adult victim tragically experiences in the perpetrator the sole source of narcissistic supply”. (Hirsch, 1997, p. 105)

Forced by the loss of interior and exterior, temporal and environmental orientation, the ego of the traumatized person continuously loses the power to resist the unfathomable, unnameable, overwhelming. “The vital, libidinal, sensuous cathexis, that is coming from the outside, the narcissistic gratification by others, breaks down: The human being, feebled in his ego and severely threathened, experiences feelings of depersonalisation and derealisation, he ceases to sense himself, begins to dissolve and to become groundless”, as Jochen Peichl describes. (Peichl, 2001, p. 4)

Another patient, who was released into the GDR after being imprisoned on charges of preparing an attempt to escape at the age of sixteen, describes his then-stigmatized existence: “My life was meaningless. No one wanted to be seen with me. I had no friends, my parents dissociated from me. A suicide attempt failed. I had to arrange with life. My dream to become a doctor fell to pieces. I was marked as an antisocial, hostile person and was avoided by everyone. I quit my education. I was a third-class human being. I tried to keep my history a secret, even much later, until after I married, I never spoke about it. I was afraid my wife would leave me if I did.”

The Consequences of Severe Traumatization

But what is it that happens to the memories of things suffered, asks Werner Seifert, and remarks:“the sudden and compelling penetrations of the past in reality creates gaps in the biography of the affected person, small deaths before the final end of his life. Continuity is experiencing a leap. In isolation life impoverishes, dries out and becomes desolate.” (Seifert, 1998, p. 258) In every day life nothing is taken for granted anymore. It’s the very personal small gestures of everyday experience that are deranged. The writer Jürgen Fuchs writes in his Daily Notes:

The terrible thing is not doing time in a cell
and being interrogated
it’s after that
when you are standing before a tree again
or drinking a bottle of beer
and you want to feel happy
really happy
like before
then it is. (Fuchs 1979, p. 10)

Usually after the release from prison there is a period free of symptoms. The relief over the freedom regained is immense and often just as intense is the attempt to suppress the things that happened and to lead a “normal” life. Disorders caused by trauma can occur after years of latency, the posttraumatic disease then emerging in connection with events that reactivate the original trauma.

The effects of severe traumatization can be divided into three phases: the acute situation of distress; the chronic response to the traumatic event; and the individual adaptation to the chronicly symptomatic state of PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder). (van der Kolk, p. 143) I don’t want to go into further diagnostic classifications here, but I would like to expose the typical symptoms after extreme traumatizations: intruding and irritating thoughts and memories about the trauma (intrusions, nightmares, flashbacks) and the avoidance of trauma-associated stimuli; a lack of or loss of self-regulation, i.e. long-term difficulties when it comes to regulating aggression, fear and sexual impulses or uncontrolled sadness. In addition, difficulties at processing stimuli, anhedonia, dissociation, self-destructive behaviour as an attempt at selfregulation, drug abuse, somatic disorders and chronic changes of personality with changes of self-perception, a significant distrust against others, chronic feelings of guilt and shame, as well as a tendency to revictimise and to victimise others. Krystal (1979) has coined the term, “affect regression”. As an after-effect of traumatization, the overwhelming affects evade inner control; they become global and therefore undifferentiated. They evade symbolisation and thus become deverbalised. They are perceived as if the were of a physical nature, i.e. they are resomatised. The ability to recognize specific emotions that could serve as a reference for action goes astray. As another effect of traumatization, Krystal describes the incapability of creating semantic constructs to identify somatic states.

The inability to verbally express experience has a neurobiological equivalent. It has been verified that, due to the overwhelming arousal upon traumatization, the encoding of experience is limited in a special way. The use of linguistic neuronal pathways is reduced, that of sensomotoric neuronal pathways increased. (The Broca region as the center of speech does not function during extreme arousal). The isolated traumatic reality cannot be processed symbolically, but is conserved as an accumulation of sensory fragments, as videos, slides or inner tapes. From these originate the non-symbolised, inflexible activation stimuli that are beyond wilfull control and are automatically activated by triggers (flashback). Van der Kolk (1987/1991) speaks about a distinctive “trauma-memory”. The inner core of a traumatic experience can almost always be precisely remembered, allthough it can bring distortions in detail. The psyche acts dissociable, in accordance with the modern perception of a network structure of the brain. C.G. Jung already brought up the issue that unconscious processes do not necessarily need a subject (a steering ego): “I recall to the mind all those absurdities caused by complexes, which one can observe with all desirable accuracy during the association experiment”. (GW 8 p. 200f; vgl. Huber, 1998)

The Idea of Complex Theory and its Development

To approach a psychodynamic understanding of severe traumatizations I would like to use the complex theory of C.G. Jung. This is one of the possible constructs (I am also thinking of object relations theory) which enable us to discuss psychodynamics. In the field of dissociative disorders, to which the severe traumatizations belong, this in my opinion is the most convincing theory.

I would like to make some introductory remarks about the complex theory first:

C.G. Jung defines complexes as “splintered psychic parts of the personality, groups of psychic contents, which have separated themselves from consciousness, functioning uncontrolled and autonomous, leading a special life in the dark sphere of the unconscious, from where they are able to hinder and promote conscious operations at any time.”(Jacobi, 45) Jung emphasizes that complexes are caused by emotions. The nucleus of the complex is archetypal and has a constellating power. Accordingly, typical of the complex are the lack of corrigibility, the automatism and the self-enhancement through mythological-archaic amplifications (Dieckmann, 1991). Within an appropriate interior or exterior situation, a virulent complex functions like a alien object in the sphere of consciousness and withdraws energy from it. Complexes are not necessarily caused by trauma, they only bear witness to the existence of something irreconcilable and controversal. These are psychic contents, that are not yet connected with the Ego-complex. Depending on their energetic charge, complexes are important nodal points of the inner life and accordingly not necessarily negative. “The stronger the emotions and their connected field of associated meaning, the stronger the complex, the more other psychic parts, in particular the Ego-complex are driven back.” (Kast, 1998, p. 299)

In recent years the complex theory has undergone systematic development. The developmental psychological perspective, according to which the child already organizes and internalizes earliest patterns of experience with his supporting figures, thereby forming complexes, has to be emphasized. In his structural description of the complexes, Dieckmann already refers to the fact that next to archetypal elements, very early personal experiences also are included in the core of the complex. Kast and Jacoby emphasize the great affinity of the idea of the complex with Stern’s idea of the RIGs (representations of interactions that have been generalized). According to Stern these RIGS emerge out of all interactions of the infant with its mother and they depict an anticipation of behaviour and a preverbal representation. “RIGS arise from the immediate impression of manifold authentic experiences, and they integrate the different attributes of action, awareness and feeling of the core-self to an entity.” (Stern 1992, p. 144) By RIGs, Stern means “flexible structures, which represent a median of several authentic episodes and form a prototype, which represents them all.” (Jacoby 1998, p. 86) Depending on the tone of feeling these are integrated into the dynamic of the complexes.

Jean Knox has similar thoughts, primarily in connection to Bowlbys attachment theory. Bowlby emphasizes the universal human need to create close emotional attachments. Thus stable attachment patterns emerge which have the function of feeling regulation. They represent intrapsychic working models as mental schemes. These working models contain early interpersonal experiences of the infant; they are image schemes that a human being creates of his attachment figures and contain the bundled expectations regarding the behaviour of a certain individual with regard to the self. (Bowlby 1991, p. 78; Bovensiepen, 2004, p. 34) Like the RIGs, the working models intrapsychically organise the perception of the experiences in relationships and store them in the implicit memory. Knox points to the practicability of these ideas for the understanding of Jungian complex theory and stresses: “If archetypes can be described in information-processing terms as image schemas, complexes would seem to have many of the information-processing features of internal working models.” (Knox, 2003, p. 102)

Nowadays it is assumed that these complexes are linked together between themselves, in a manner that one can speak of a matrix, of networks or landscapes of complexes. According to recent research, those emotions seem to play an important part as a linking dynamic that organise the inner representations of relational experiences along innate patterns of organisation or archetypal designs.

The Constellation of the “Prometheus Complex” as a Consequence of Severe Traumatization

As we try to grasp, from a Jungian point of view, the psychodynamics of severe traumatization, we can speak of a powerful pathogenous complex, which I would like to call “Prometheus-complex.” By naming the pathogenous trauma-complex “Prometheus-complex,” I would like to expose the multilayered dramatic occurence of relationships, which is expressed in the myth. The archetypal theme constellates the complex and furthermore shows the force of the emotions that are involved in severe traumatization. Not only the threat of death is of crucial importance to the development of the trauma-complex, but the complete story of the myth. The myth sketches the end of the “golden era” in which gods, human beings and animals still lived in harmony, as Zeus dethrones his father Chronos and seizes absolute power on Olympus. Zeus demands to be worshipped by the humans, which causes Prometheus to take their side and to revolt against the tyranny. As Zeus withholds fire, thus preventing humans from cooking their meals, Prometheus secretly steals fire from the sun and takes it to the humans. However, the punishment of Zeus is dreadful. He sends the maiden Pandora to the humans, with a box containing every evil of mankind. Prometheus is bound with unbreakable chains to the rocks of the Caucasus Mountains, over a horrible abyss. According to Aeschylus he is then thrown into a deep abyss and has to persist there for ten thousand years. After that Prometheus is allowed to reemerge and, still bound to a stone, is delivered to an eagle which assaults him every day and pecks at his bleeding liver. Zeus wants to force a testimony from Prometheus, since he knows in what way the rule of Zeus will end. Yet Prometheus persistently keeps silent, despite endless agony. The torment of the prisoner has to last forever or at least for a period of thirty thousand years. After many years Hercules has mercy on the prisoner, bends his bow and kills the eagle with his arrow. He takes Prometheus with him and leaves the centaur Chiron in his place. A deal has been made with Zeus, that the hitherto immortal Chiron dies instead of Prometheus. But Prometheus henceforth has to wear an iron ring, with a rock of the Caucasus attached to it, allowing Zeus to boast that his enemy is still casted to the Caucasian Mountains.

The myth also implies the further consequence of the complex: Prometheus does not get rid of the caucasian stone, he remains chained to the ring.

In my interpretation I would like to join the dynamic understanding of the complex, as postulated by Gustav Bovensiepen. Bovensiepen speaks about the complex as a sub-network, a limited fragment of the matrix of all internalized experiences, consisting of interior working models, feelings and patterns of anticipation which interact mutually. “Viewed like that, perhaps it is reasonable not to look at complexes as mental images, but as dynamic, dissociated splinter psyches, that contain conscious and unconscious images and fantasies about certain modes of relationship and are characterised by a series of similar experienced feeling-tones,” (Bovensiepen, 2004, p. 43)

Let us return to the “Prometheus-complex.” Prometheus, the “fore-thinker,” revolts against suppression. He steals the fire. In many explanations, the fire stands for the sparkle of the mind that is just as unabdicatable for human culture as is the spirit of contradiction. Punishment, imprisonment and torture follow as a consequence. The parallel to the political prisoners is obvious. Prometheus refuses to cooperate, he does not reveal his knowledge. Because of that he is chained to the caucasian rock, over a yawning abyss. Bound in complete isolation he has to suffer horrible torture. In his interpretation of the Prometheus myth, Jörg Rasche refers to Aeschylus, where Prometheus is thrust to the bottom of the earth together with the rock. It is a “gloomy grave made of stone,” which keeps him imprisoned for ten thousand years. It is the archetypal image of petrifaction, of turning to stone, which describes the defences of dissociation and total isolation of feeling. Everything emotional or alive is cut off and has to move for inner rigidity and coldness. “Living-dead” is the poignant name Ferenczi (1933) gave to this state. The experience of subjective helplessness in the face of inescapable and inevitable danger and the surrender to it, changes the state of affect to that of a catatonoid reaction, a sort of trance-state, anaesthetizing the physical and psychic agony to a sort of blind obedience and increasing dissociative phenomena.

Until Prometheus is allowed to emerge from his state of being buried alive, ten thousand endless years pass. In a Jungian or more specifically “Fordhamian” sense, this illustrates the attack on the primary self and the breaking into pieces of temporal continuity. The experiencing of time as a fundamental condition of mankind is archetypally determined. Time cannot be experienced in a state of cozy satisfaction, but only in the anticipation, the urge for satisfaction through the reliability of a good object. The confidence in the presence and the reliability of good objects and the anticipation of interpersonal empathy is profoundly shaken by the trauma. Not only has the primordial trust been severely undermined, the experiencing of continuity is also affected, the otherwise ubiquitous current of past, present and future breaks off. The “hole” in the experiencing of time reflects the forced emptiness, the hole in the ego-structure. During the traumatic situation time is running in slow-motion. The subjective experiencing of time is distorted and solidified. The behaviour of the individual in extreme traumatizations caused by political imprisonment, persecution and applied psychological methods of disintegration is characterised by basic self-preservation – in the end, the most elementary needs are the ruling principles of life, i.e. of survival. The ego of the tortured person is attacked from two sides: by uncontrollable stimuli from the outside that threaten to flood him, from the inside because of the reactivation of infantile fears, which the ego cannot reliably distinguish from reality. Torture measures of deprivation that disable the sense of temporal and spacial orientation considerably aggravate the situation.

Consequently, regressive processes take place, which are destructively dissolving the ego in this context; the intrapsychic communication between the self and the good inner objects breaks down, the inner good object remains silent, which causes agonizing loneliness and utter despair. As a protection against narcissistic discharge, the powerful persecutor is introjected, taken into the interior world of the psyche, where it continues to act destructively as an alien object in the self, strengthening the experience of worthlessness. Or to put it another way: the internal working models, the anticipation and imagination patterns of the early experience of relationships, are distorted and damaged. Accordingly, also, the reflective function (Dennett, 1978, 1987), which develops on the basis of early experiences of interaction, “the ability, to recognise behaviour as meaningful and to shape it actively on this basis” (Fonagy, 2003, p. 33) is also impaired. The development of the reflective self-function, which enables the individual to plan its own behaviour and actions and thus implies a vision of the future, promotes the ability to differentiate between interior and exterior reality and forms the basis for interpersonal communication”. (Fonagy, 2003, p. 17) How lasting the effects of a damaged reflective self-function are, can be seen in the utterances of the traumatized, who even after decades still suffer from feelings of meaninglessness and seem to be confronted with a shadowed future. The ability “to be aware of the conscious and unconscious behaviour of one’s own and of the others” is called mentalisation. (Fonagy, 2003, p. 205) Dissociative mechanisms, that fragment unbearable situations into parts to relieve the horror, just as well attack the mentalisation and detach mental contents, which normally are combined to a whole and strengthen self-coherence. “The individual has feelings and thoughts, but isn’t able to classify them as feelings or thoughts. Without the ability of reflection the normal meaning of experience becomes lost. Experiences of the self exist in no man’s land, apart from other aspects of mental functioning”. (Fonagy, 2003, p. 181)

If the matrix of the earliest relational experiences falls apart, it is evident that no operation of symbolisation can take place. From a Jungian point of view it shows that the transcendent function is damaged, for this is the psychological function that is responsible for the creation of symbols. Thus it is not possible to create a functioning psychological interior space, which would allow the construction of structured contexts of meaning. In the therapeutic process, to which I will return in detail later, this loss is mirrored in the attack on the reasoning of the analyst, who has problems preserving his space for his own thought. It is difficult for the analyst to take up a third position in order to develop symbolic action. In his book, The Inner World of Trauma, Donald Kalsched (1996) emphasizes the important role of the self-care system, formed by dissociative defences. According to Kalsched the trauma causes a division of consciousness, one part of the personality regressing to an infantile, vulnerable state, while the other part progresses to a false omnipotent adaptation to the outside world. According to Kalsched this is an archetypal proces, in which the omnipotent persecutory part attacks and encapsulates the vulnerable part, silencing it with the aim of keeping it safe from further attacks from the outside and thus protecting it. This total defense of the self, on the one hand, is rescue; on the other hand, after the end of the acute traumatization, it turns into a principal defense against any spontaneous expression of the self in the world.

In the myth of Prometheus the archaic defense also finds its expression. Prometheus does not stay petrified, but emerges again, although he is chained to the rock and exposed to the repeated attacks by the eagle. The physical pain saves him from petrification – pain as an expression of being alive. So there appears another – perversely structured – defense pattern in the behaviour of Prometheus: he endures the torture that the eagle, as a henchman of power, inflicts upon him. However, the liver grows again and again at night. In this way he is able to omnipotently withstand the attacks, apparently undoing them in the night. But after his liberation he still has to wear an iron ring to which a caucasian rock is connected.

Kalsched emphasizes another important function of the archetypal trauma-defense, in that he doesn’t solely see it as avoidance behaviour, but also as active construction in the form of narrative. Therefore a form of narrative is created in phantasy with the purpose of creating a positive idea of identity and personal worth in a situation of total dependency. Jean Knox understands this as a proces of image construction, functioning like an internal working model.

A Clinical Case

Imprisoned in the 1980s, Mr B was able to withstand the interrogations by the Staatssicherheit for a long time. The psychological breakdown appeared as a delusional decompensation, in which he succeeded, by creating a “double reality,” to hide his delusion from others. During imprisonment he behaved adaptively and quietly; secretly he imagined himself as chosen by God to fullfill a secret mission in prison, that made it necessary to talk to others on a nonverbal level, to communicate from soul to soul. Thus, he heard what he was told, but he was convinced that people wanted to tell him something completely different on the level of thoughts; he just had to try to interpret the signs in the right way to understand. The whole thing developed to a significant system of delusion.

Colours, numbers and letters got a twofold meaning. Mr. B was extraordinarily proud to be the only person entrusted with this secret mission. Simultaneously, he completely retreated because he feared to be called a lunatic, if other people would notice his strange behaviour. His immense worry was that as a “bearer of secrets” he wouldn’t be transferred to the West anymore. This delusional system stayed after he was bought out by the Federal Republic of Germany. His marriage broke into pieces, he failed professionally. At the time he first visited the counseling center, he suffered from social isolation; the delusional symptoms had already dissolved. Nevertheless, today he is barely capable of reading a book, because the real content is blurring, and he still catches himself in the attempt to read the meaning between the lines.

During the therapeutic treatment, lasting for five years (once a week), Mr. B has regained much freedom and is a working professional again. But he still sketches very precisely, how even today, he sometimes attempts to slide into the other sphere, which is very much a concern for him: I am afraid of success. If I become aware that the other has less knowledge then I have, then to not hurt him I go to the other sphere, because everyone is equal there. Or, if I hurt someone, I try to balance it in the other sphere, from soul to soul so to speak. He states further: Whenever I notic, that I am sliding into this sphere, I immediately withdraw myself from the other, because I fear that it might show on my face.” Mr. B. is able to speak about this very precisely, but he is unperceivable for me on the affective level, I am not able to emotionally sense him but sense the fascination of this sphere, when I bounce off from the omnipotent idea that guards his emotional life. This sphere saves him from his own aggressive impulses or when he fears the persecutory vengeance of the other. It offers him compensation, without getting dangerously near to the other. In his breaking off contact, his isolation and delusional decompensation, the damage but also the creative act of salvation of Mr. B become evident. His tragic dilemma experiencing brute violence during imprisonment, comes down to a paradox: to survive, I have to partly destroy myself.

Consequences for Treatment

Due to the dissociative processes during traumatization and afterwards, in time multiple internal working models develop, which can unexpectedly be activated and alternated (Knox, 2003), and thus cause the unsteadiness of the personality. Triggering stimuli (sounds, smells) activate flashbacks with their corresponding defenses. The multilayered functioning of the complex reveals itself primarily in the forming of relationships. It is a characteristic feature of the treatment of severely traumatized people that they tend to break off contact in the therapeutic process. The fear that everything good could be destroyed again, has dug itself deep into their consciousness and leads to an attitude of distrust, often in connection with social withdrawal and isolation. The inner reality has experienced a “before” and an “after” and nothing will be like it was before. Traumatized people live a shadowed life overcast by a powerfully charged complex, which swalows everything that comes near with tremendous gravitational force. There is no temporal coherence and continuity, and even worse, no coherent meaning and no future. The intrusive recurrence of the traumatic experience cannot be relieved by meaning. On the level of emotional discharge and its overwhelming, in other words, of the primary feeling (Chiozza, 1999; cf. Varvin, 2000), the persecuted and traumatized person still lives in the world of the trauma, in the detention cell, in the interrogating room. The patients feel as if they were immured in an inner prison, condemned to live a life in the cold and in isolation, separated from all things alive. Chained at the edge of an abyss in a Promethean manner, time seems to stand still. Although the former detainees are able to talk about many details of their experiences during imprisonment, the therapist has the feeling that something is being kept back. Kept back for instance are humiliating feelings of shame and guilt that are deeply concealed, that are too intimidating to be verbalized. That which cannot be verbalised, is presented through action.

Often the pathological perpetrator-victim-relationship is staged in the beginning of the therapeutic process. The unconscious pattern of anticipation (the internal working model) can be described as follows: if I confide in someone, I will be deceived and betrayed. I am at the mercy of the other and in the end I am alone. The defense processes that are at work during traumatization remain in effect in therapy. Although the patient appears to be cooperative, the therapeutic process stagnates. In these dead-end situations the patient has long since withdrawn from communication. Often the narcissistic and therefore salvational gain from this withdrawal can only be sensed in countertransference when the therapist pokes against this unpenetrable fortress, which, like a mighty triumphant victor, prevents any penetration. In this inner prison the salvational omnipotent image can survive, the omnipotence can continue to exist beyond verification. Anything is allowed that preserves the patient from having to feel the extremely shameful impotence of being at the mercy of others. According to Kalsched this is typical of the archaic trauma-defense, in which the vulnerable part capable of engaging in relationships is being encapsulated and silenced by the omnipotent part to protect it from renewed attacks.

So the persistence of this “psychic retreat” (Steiner, 1993) is by no means a passive event. By way of a scenic representation, the analyst is “fitted” into this retreat, he is locked up in chains and impeded in his freedom of movement. Related to the concrete process of the therapy this means: The patient tries hard, he comes regularly and on time and he speaks about his experiences in prison. He causes the analyst to completely take his side, the side of the good victim. In this process the analyst doesn’t notice for a long time that no change is taking place and that the therapeutic process is stagnating. Unconsciously this suits the analyst, who participates in the act, thus spared from the violent attacks of the patient’s anger, and also from his agonizing, dreadful feelings. This is where the attack on the reasoning of the analyst becomes apparent, who isn’t able to preserve his space for thought nor to develop symbolic action, much like the traumatized person, whose symbolic function is impaired. To the patient, the analyst is someone he values and would like to keep, but over whom he triumphs as well and whom he tries to destroy.

A change for the better can only happen on the condition that the therapist analyses the therapy and his countertransference feelings and regains his symbolic attitude through the restoration of his own interior space. The countertransference feelings of meaninglessness provide an impression of the torn relational and explanatory connections of the severely traumatized individual. In the active and empathic exchange between analyst and patient and in the framework of transference/countertransference processes, a matrix existing of relational experiences develops in the sense of a supporting container/ contained-relationship, which allows the transcedent function to develop (Bovensiepen, 2002). Symbols are the processing places of the complexes. Therefore it is necessary during the therapeutic sessions to confront the often overwhelming emotions, and to examine which conscious and unconscious activities, fantasies and images are related to them. Made available to consciousness through its symbolic processing, the patient’s experience is extricated from trauma-conditioned speechlessness and put into words, so that it becomes possible to work trough those experiences.

In the therapeutic process, the stagnation also mirrors the inner drama of paralysis. The absence of movement in the retreat embodies this timeless situation, flashbacks demonstrate that time does not pass. Also the future isn’t really imaginable or at best it is imaginable in an overshadowed form, as an imminent catastrophe, that is bound to happen some day. The saving, omnipotent gain of this loss of temporal reference lies in the overcoming of mortality.

In the myth Prometheus is saved because Chiron is prepared to die in his place. Chiron, being equipped with a non-healing wound, personifies sorrow, death and compassion. He is considered to be the creator of the medical art because of his attempts at soothing pain. For the therapy of the traumatized, we can say that liberation from the trauma, from prison, can only be attained through the acceptance of the finiteness, through the mourning over things suffered, over the time that is lost, over lost chances.

Complexes do not work in an isolated way, but they are mutually interconnected. If an extremely charged, powerful complex is generated because of a severe traumatization, it has strong consequences for pre-existing complexes. Thus the positive mother complex changes itself because of the distortion or even rupture of earliest relational experiences by the overwhelming catastrophe, insofar as the bearing moment of maternity cannot be experienced anymore. Very often severely traumatized persons develop a strong authority complex, which even years after leads them to leave employments, because the situation of professional subordination recalls old, unbearable feelings of being at the mercy of others. Suffered injustice, combined with massive humiliations and “cut-off” future prospects, often lead to a distinct envy complex accompanied by strong feelings of grudge and resentment. The understandably intense wish to take revenge on the person that has hurt oneself, often cannot be expressed, either because these excessive impulses arouse the fear of retaliation, or because fantasies concerning the realization of the wishes lead to intense feelings of guilt. The fear of their own destructive hate leads to a situation in which revenge can be neither openly put into action nor given up completely – a vicious circle, in which open violence is prevented, but in which also the inner grudge, that saturates everything, leads to an endless revenge. In the therapeutic process the defensive dynamic of the complexes appears in the form of a collusive division (Kast 1998) – due to projective processes, the analyst is seen as perpetrator, who is incapable of reconciliation. The only thing the therapist can do is to understand this manipulative transference and endure it – and survive these attacks (i.e. the shutdown of the analyst) – until the patient – if therapy is succesful – starts to question this transference, until he, besides admitting his own perpetratory parts, is able to give up omnipotent control. Becoming aware of his hatred and of his “guilt” and the corresponding emergence of the wish for destruction of the object is a prerequisite for the reconciliational impulses to be sensed, and the grief over things lost and painful suffering be permitted.


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