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Diamond, N. (1992). Sexual abuse: the bodily aftermath. Free Associations, 3(1):71-83.

(1992). Free Associations, 3(1):71-83

Clinical Paper

Sexual abuse: the bodily aftermath

Nicola Diamond

Sexual abuse is an attack on the body, not only a physical assault, for it also leaves emotional and symbolic bodily scars. Whereas the physical injury is linked to the sexual act as such, and is liable to heal over time, the symbolic wounding can live on as a bodily experience, well after the event, often appearing later, after a period of delay. Our case example, derived from individual work I undertook with a sexually abused boy, will illustrate how the body enacts symbolic meanings (and disturbances therein) — via the formation of somatic symptoms.

In order to think about the bodily form the symptom takes and the body's specific relationship to symbolization, the explanatory framework employed will extend beyond a psychoanalytic account, to embrace the work of the philosopher and phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty. For Merleau-Ponty is the philosopher who challenges the traditional dualistic distinction between the mind and the body. Merleau-Ponty's arguments will be used to question the dualistic division between mind and body which has been carried over into psychoanalytic thinking, which continues to be hindered by the unhappy marriage between Freud's neurophysiological, medical background and his discovery of psychic life.

When Freud writes of the ‘mysterious leap’ (1916-17, p.

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