Peering into the void : an exploration into the fate of the self under extreme trauma / by Catherine Louise Ferreira.
This qualitative dissertation examines the psychological impact of imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps on three subjects (Primo Levi, Bruno Bettelheim, and Elie Wiesel). Clinical material has been examined using an extensive trauma theory framework, focusing on the role of relationships during the trauma event as well as post-trauma. Relationships are viewed as essential components of the development and maintenance of a healthy sense of self, and interpersonal trauma is viewed as damaging both the sense of self and the capacity to form healing relationships afterward. The theoretical views of Winnicott and Kohut were used to further examine the nature of the self, and the essential elements within relationships that support it.The three research subjects wrote that many years after liberation, there remained an internal experience of emptiness which seems to have become a permanent part of their intrapsychical landscape. Various descriptive terms have been used for it, including "a void", "a silence", "something that remains unspeakable", and "a problem for which there is no solution". This internal experience is essentially what is being examined in this body of work, using trauma theory and aspects of Winnicott and Kohut's self theories to deepen the analysis of the data. The concept of "naming as mastery" of trauma has been examined and found to be an important clinical tool, but one which can not be assumed to be universally applicable.The theoretical perspective guiding this investigation was intended to inform particular aspects of work with trauma survivors in general. Given that it has been established that trauma damages the "sense of self" and that this can be restored in a healing relationship post-trauma, the purpose herein is to further understand that ways in which failing to provide a clinical relationship, attuned to the specific self-needs of survivors, can re-enact the trauma. The issue of vicarious traumatization is viewed as an inevitable obstacle to providing the healing attunement to self-experience needed by survivors, potentially leading to "clinical abandonment". This dissertation sheds further light on relational issues raised by working with trauma survivors, helping clinicians remain vigilant to moments of disengagement with clinical material.
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