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White, P. (2002). What I Heard in the Silence: Role Reversal, Trauma, and Creativity in the Lives of Women: Maria V Bergmann Madison, CT International Universities Press, 2000, 238 pp. Canadian J. Psychoanal., 10(1):161-162.
(2002). Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis, 10(1):161-162
What I Heard in the Silence: Role Reversal, Trauma, and Creativity in the Lives of Women: Maria V Bergmann Madison, CT International Universities Press, 2000, 238 pp
Review by: Patricia White
Most chapters in this book are revisions of earlier papers published or presented by Maria Bergmann over the past 20 years, still, the material has a cohesiveness and contemporaneousness about it that makes it a rewarding read
Almost all the clinical material recounted here is from Bergmann's analyses of women She tells us, in her introduction, of her”growing awareness of female development as different in many respects from Freud's original assumptions regarding this‘dark continent’” She also comments on the significant changes in women's roles and self-awareness over the past century In part 1, “Women's Struggle to Experience Love, Sexuality, and Maternity,” she describes her clinical experience with women who had postponed marriage and motherhood in favour of professional opportunities and sexual freedom
Bergmann's work with children of Holocaust survivors sensitized her to the effects of disturbed parent-child relationships and role reversal in myriad family constellations She describes role reversal as not just a defence mechanism but an early defensive characterological stance “It starts as a survival mechanism vis-à-vis the mother, but develops into traits within the characterstructureNarcissistic rage is defended against by a masochistic and self-deprecating self-image” (31) And with attention to clinical detail, Bergmann demonstrates that this character formation reappears in the transference neurosis She describes how the female patient in the transference relationship with her female analyst will alternately idealize and devalue her as she searches for the mother she never had in childhood While reading her clinical descriptions, one is reminded of—and indeed Bergmann draws attention to—the similarity with André Green's patients described in The Dead Mother
In part 2, chapter 4, Bergmann offers a review of female sexuality and femininity from a traditional perspective This section constitutes an excellent review of the evolution of psychoanalytic ideas within ego psychology The first analysis of Maureen (chapter 5) with her fear of separation and independence, and the description of phallic-level phobia formation, reads like an old-fashioned traditional drive-defence piece of analyzing, demonstrating how all the pieces fit together In Bergmann's second analysis of Maureen (chapter 6), she describes how changes in analytic thought contributed to a difference in her technique; this led to her patient's deepened awareness and to a protracted negative therapeutic reaction A very complex analysis is outlined in this chapter, with attention to interpretative detail
Part 3, “Trauma and Re-traumatization in Clinical Work,”derives from Bergmann's extensive study of, and work with, Holocaust victims and their children She describes here the nature of trauma and the challenge it imposes on the treatment situation Superegostructure of traumatized victims and superego functioning after external traumatizing has ceased is discussed, as well as the transmission of parental superego pathology to the second generation Bergmann helpfully reviews “what we know for normal development” (from the perspective of classical theory) and sets her remarks about pathological development (of the superego in Holocaust survivors and their children) in that context I found her formulation of survivor guilt as an obstacle to integrating the patient's pre-Holocaust past especially useful
Bergmann's discussion of re-traumatization anxiety during psychoanalysis (chapter 9), along with her description of the crisis in analysis that comes about when a negative therapeutic reaction erupts, is excellent She has worked with many difficult patients and generously writes about her experiences, including her problem interventions
The final section deals with therapeutic work with creatively inhibited patients Bergmann offers three clinical examples in which work inhibition reproduced conflictual relationships with internal objects As all three patients had been put in the position early in life of being caregivers to their mothers, the theoretical discussion in this section resonates with that of the beginning part of the book
While remaining true to her roots in classical theory, Bergmann reveals her therapeutic “activity” with hercomplexly organized or“difficult”patients In this way, the reader is able to appreciate the author's own analytic development in the context of diverse ongoing developments within psychoanalysis generally That in itself makes this book, as I have said, a rewarding read
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