Traumatization Through Human Agency: “Embodied Witnessing” is Essential in the Treatment of Survivors*

Abstract

The importance of human relations in understanding and treating trauma is evident not only from the severity of traumatization inflicted by human agency and the dissociation that ensues from traumatic interpersonal relations, but also from the analyst’s affective participation which is essential to the reparation of the serious psychopathologies that originate in traumatization. Developing Ferenczi’s theorizations, on the identification with the aggressor, I propose that after the abuse the traumatized subject identifies partly with the persecutor and partly with the victim, which sometimes is represented by the body itself, becoming the object of the destructiveness. Such unconscious identifications are accompanied by the dynamics of experiencing complex feelings of guilt and shame (the victim side) and the aggressiveness and anger, (the persecutor/persecuting side). It was Ferenczi who first described the potential for a therapist, acting benevolently and supportively as sole witness, to create the preconditions for the patient to re-contact long-dissociated parts, thanks to the implicit non-verbal and corporal exchange, a concept which is here explained as embodied testimony/witnessing and enactment, and unconscious communication of the right hemispheres of therapist and patient.

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Acknowledgements

This article is dedicated to the memory of Giovanni Liotti.

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Correspondence to Clara Mucci.

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Clara Mucci, Ph.D., Full Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Chieti, Italy; Supervisor and Training Analyst of the Italian SIPeP-SF (Italian Society of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis- Sandor Ferenczi), Member of SIPP, Italian Society of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy.

Address correspondence to: Clara Mucci, Ph.D., Corso San Gottardo 15, 20136 Milano, Italy.

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Mucci, C. Traumatization Through Human Agency: “Embodied Witnessing” is Essential in the Treatment of Survivors*. Am J Psychoanal 79, 540–554 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s11231-019-09225-y

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Keywords

  • dissociation
  • embodyment
  • witnessing
  • identification with the aggressor
  • survivor/s