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Glover, E. (1929). The 'Screening' Function of Traumatic Memories. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 10:90-93.

(1929). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 10:90-93

The 'Screening' Function of Traumatic Memories

Edward Glover

Commenting recently on the technical aspect of screen-memories, I had occasion to point out that actual memories of traumatic events happening in childhood should be carefully scrutinized, on the ground that they are well adapted to the defensive purpose of covering repressed material. The ordinary screen-memory can scarcely avoid arousing analytical suspicion because the nature of the memory image does not account for its persistence over a number of years or for its frequent repetition during the earlier stages of analysis. When, however, the memory image is in itself of a sufficiently traumatic nature there is some possibility that its credentials may be too easily accepted at their face value. The following example illustrates with some precision this screening function of infantile traumatic memories.

The case was one of severe and protracted impotence. The early stages of analysis were characterized by profound amnesia covering the events of early childhood and extending well into the latency period. As is to be expected, the great majority of memories which had persisted from these periods were typical screen-memories: they referred to seemingly insignificant events and unimportant places, but it was possible in most instances to uncover a more elaborate and emotional substratum. A few emotionally tinged events were recalled, mainly scenes of domestic conflict and correction, e.g. quarrels with a sister, correction by his mother, etc., but they were very few and far between. Some details of illnesses in boyhood were remembered, but there was no special affect during their recital. One of these seemed to be a little more significant from the analytic point of view in that it had occurred in earlier childhood. It was a memory of having his hand burned on a domestic stove.

At the time, however, the patient paid no special attention to this 'burn' memory, and his analysis continued its ordinary course. It was marked by phases of intense resistance. He gave a somewhat grudging intellectual assent to any explanation of the infantile nature and exciting cause of these resistances and his progress was extremely slow. Gradually some infantile phobias were uncovered and this led inevitably to the interpretation of his castration-anxiety. Several months had passed before it transpired that he had been circumcised in childhood.

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