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Schimmenti, A. (2017). Traumatic Identification. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 11(2):154-171.

(2017). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 11(2):154-171

Traumatic Identification

Adriano Schimmenti, Ph.D., DClinPsy

In this article, I present the concept of traumatic identification by discussing three major forms of psychological response to relational trauma in childhood attachment relationships. Traumatic identification is conceived here as an unconscious psychological process by which the child internalises a complex configuration of mental and behavioural states of an abusive and/or neglectful caregiver. These traumatogenic states remain encapsulated in the self-structure and internal working models of the child, and are dissociatively re-enacted later in life, causing disturbing behaviours and psychological and somatic afflictions. In the first type of traumatic identification, a dissociative part of the individual is identified with the victimised child that he or she was in the relationship with the attachment figure. The second type of traumatic identification involves the identification with the perpetrator of the abuse, so a dissociative part of the individual thinks and behaves like the caregiver who abused him or her during childhood. In the third type of traumatic identification, a dissociative part of the individual is identified with caregivers’ mental states concerning foreclosed or unprocessed trauma in the child's family. Notably, these forms of traumatic identifications may appear in combination and may generate severe psychopathology. Clinical vignettes concerning each type of traumatic identification are presented, and implications of the concept of traumatic identification for clinical practice are discussed.

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