Identity development depends on the ability to say ‘no.’ Setting limits enables a relationship between two separate individuals to develop. Early trauma can leave the individual so vigilant to others’ demands that internal prohibitions against intrusion remain silenced, which we conceptualize as a ‘no’ that could not be sufficiently articulated to keep the person safe. For those who have not been able to assert this fundamental limit, the consulting room provides a potential anchoring point to formulate and work through unconscious meanings. Being able to articulate and register the legitimacy of one’s own no becomes an important challenge, as tensions regarding power and powerlessness, trust and distrust, are acted out within the consulting room. Case material illustrates how psychoanalytic ideas regarding transference, countertransference, and enactment help the clinician tolerate the intrusion of past into present, inviting the type of mentalization that moves towards repair rather than merely reenacting the trauma.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Atlas, G., & Aron, L. (2017). Dramatic dialogue: Contemporary clinical practice. London: Routledge.
Atwood, G. (2017). There must be blood. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 77, 399–405.
Bass, A. (2003). “E” enactments in psychoanalysis: Another medium, another message. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 13, 657–675.
Benjamin, J. (2004). Beyond doer and done to: An intersubjective view of thirdness. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 73, 5–46.
Benjamin, J. (2017). Beyond doer and done to: Recognition theory, intersubjectivity and the third. London: Routledge.
Berntsen, D., Rubin, D. C., & Siegler, I. C. (2011). Two versions of life: Negative and positive life events have different roles in the organization of life story and identity. Emotion-Washington-11, 5, 1190–1201.
Berntsen, D., Willert, M., & Rubin, D. C. (2003). Splintered memories or vivid landmarks? Qualities and organization of traumatic memories with and without PTSD. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 17, 675–693.
Bion, W. R. (1970). Attention and interpretation: A scientific approach to insight in psycho-analysis and groups. London: Tavistock.
Bion, W. R. (1990). Brazilian lectures: 1973, São Paulo; 1974, Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo. London: Karnac.
Charles, M. (2001). Stealing beauty: An exploration of maternal narcissism. Psychoanalytic Review, 88, 549–570.
Charles, M. (2012). Working with trauma: Lessons from Bion and Lacan. New York: Jason Aronson.
Ferenczi, S. (1932). The analyst as undertaker. In Clinical Diary of Sándor Ferenczi. J. Dupont (Ed.), M. Balint & N.Z. Jackson (Trans.) (pp. 51–53). Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard University Press. 1988.
Ferro, A. (2006). Clinical implications of Bion’s thought. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 87, 989–1003.
Fonagy, P., & Alison, E. (2014). The role of mentalizing and epistemic trust in the therapeutic relationship. Psychotherapy, 51, 372–380.
Fonagy, P., Gergely, G., Jurist, E. L., & Target, M. (2002). Affect regulation, mentalization, and the development of the self. New York: Other Press.
Gallese, V. (2009). Mirror neurons, embodied simulation, and the neural basis of social identification. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 19, 519–536.
Gergely, G., & Watson, J. S. (1996). The social biofeedback theory of parental affect-mirroring: The development of emotional self-awareness and self-control in infancy. International Journal of Psycho-analysis, 77, 1181–1212.
Gurevich, H. (2014). The return of dissociation as absence within absence. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 74, 313–321.
Hesse, E., & Main, M. (1999). Second-generation effects of unresolved mourning in nonmal-treating parents: Dissociated, frightened, and threatening parental behavior. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 19, 481–540.
Klein, M. (1930). The importance of symbol-formation in the development of the ego. International Journal of Psycho-analysis, 11, 24–39.
Knox, J. (2013). The mind in fragments: The neuroscientific, developmental, and traumatic roots of dissociation and their implications for clinical practice. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 33, 449–466.
Lanius, R. A., Vermettern, E., & Pain, C. (2010). The impact of early life trauma on health and disease: The hidden epidemic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Liotti, G. (1999). Disorganization of attachment as a model for understanding dissociative psychopathology. In J. Solomon & C. George (Eds.), Attachment disorganization (pp. 291–317). New York: Guilford Press.
Lyons-Ruth, K. (2008). Contributions of the mother–infant relationship to dissociative, borderline, and conduct symptoms in young adulthood. Infant Mental Health Journal, 29, 203–218.
Lysaker, P. H., Gumley, A., & Dimaggio, G. (2011). Metacognitive disturbances in persons with severe mental illness: Theory, correlates with psychopathology and models of psychotherapy. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 84, 1–8.
Main, M., & Hesse, E. (1990). Parents’ unresolved traumatic experiences are related to infant disorganized attachment status: Is frightened/frightening parental behavior the linking mechanism? In E. M. Greenberg, D. Cicchetti, & M. T. Cummings (Eds.), Attachment in the preschool years (pp. 161–182). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Malatesta, C. Z., & Haviland, J. M. (1985). Signs, symbols, and socialization. In M. Lewis & C. Saarni (Eds.), The socialization of emotions (pp. 89–115). New York: Plenum Press.
Mitrani, J. L. (2001). ‘Taking the transference’: Some technical implications in three papers by Bion. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 82, 1085–1104.
Mucci, C. (2014). Trauma, healing and the reconstruction of the truth. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 74, 31–47.
Porges, S. W. (1997). Emotion: An evolutionary by-product of the neural regulation of the autonomic nervous system. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 807, 62–77.
Segal, H. (1957). Notes on symbol formation. International Journal of Psycho-analysis, 38, 391–397.
Stern, D. B. (2015). Unformulated experience: From dissociation to imagination in psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge.
Tomkins, S. S. (1978). Script theory: Differential magnification of affects. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 26, 201–236.
Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Playing and reality. New York: Basic Books.
Winnicott, D. W. (1974). Fear of breakdown. International Review of Psycho-analysis, 1, 103–107.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Marilyn Charles, Ph. D., Psychologist and psychoanalyst, Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, MA; affiliated with Harvard University, University of Monterrey (UDEM), Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, and Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis.
Zane Dodd, Ph. D., Past president, Dallas Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology; Past co-chair, Graduate Student Committee, American Psychological Association Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychology.
Gregory J. Stevens, Ph. D., Associate Director of Clinical Services for the Kennesaw State University Counseling and Psychological Services in Kennesaw, Georgia; Co-chair, American Psychological Association Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychology Early Career Committee.
Address Correspondence to Marilyn Charles, Ph.D., Austen Riggs Center, 25 Main Street, P.O. Box 962, Stockbridge, MA 01262, USA.
About this article
Cite this article
Charles, M., Dodd, Z. & Stevens, G.J. AGGRESSIVE ENACTMENTS: CONTAINING THE “NO” IN CLINICAL WORK WITH SURVIVORS OF ABUSE. Am J Psychoanal 79, 69–93 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s11231-019-09173-7
- identity development