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Straker, G. (2000). Thinking under fire: Psychoanalytic reflections on cognition in the war zone. Free Associations, 7(4):1-12.

(2000). Free Associations, 7(4):1-12


Thinking under fire1: Psychoanalytic reflections on cognition in the war zone

Gill Straker

It is Increasingly Being recognised that immersion in contexts of continuing/repetitive traumatic stress results in radical personality change (Herman, 1992). These personality changes are accompanied by changes in cognition. Thus Horowitz (1996) writing within an information processing model, theorises that symptoms of avoidance and intrusion in PTSD represent the individual's vacillating attempts to cognitively integrate overwhelming experiences. Similarly Janoff-Bulman (1989) speaks of how the individual's basic assumptions and beliefs about the world and one's place in it are shattered by exposure to traumatic stress. McCann & Pearlman (1990), in like vein, describe alterations in the individual's cognitive schema as they pertain to frame of reference, safety, trust/dependence, independence/power, esteem and intimacy. Writing from a psychoanalytic frame, Laub & Auerhahn (1993) write of how the organisation and recall of knowledge is infringed upon following exposure to massive psychic trauma such that the person eventually exists in relation to the trauma in the twilight zone of dual consciousness, “knowing and not knowing”.

The present paper aims to explore further the impact of exposure to trauma on cognition and more specifically the effects of exposure to a context of continuous/repetitive trauma, rather than exposure to single trauma. The paper will focus most particularly on how individuals in this context experience infringements on their general capacity to think per se, rather than focus on transformations in the content of what is thought about, although reference to these will be made.

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