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Thomas, G. (1943). Deflection of Energy, as a Result of Birth Trauma, and its Bearing Upon Character Formation: Grace W. Pailthorpe. Psa. Rev., XXVIII, 1941, pp. 305–326.. Psychoanal Q., 12:593-593.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Deflection of Energy, as a Result of Birth Trauma, and its Bearing Upon Character Formation: Grace W. Pailthorpe. Psa. Rev., XXVIII, 1941, pp. 305–326.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:593-593

Deflection of Energy, as a Result of Birth Trauma, and its Bearing Upon Character Formation: Grace W. Pailthorpe. Psa. Rev., XXVIII, 1941, pp. 305–326.

Giles Thomas

Preliminary Study of the Psychic Life of the Foetus and the Primary Germ. J. Sadger. Psa. Rev., XXVIII, 1941, pp. 327–358.

These two papers have, in general, the same point of view and may be considered together.

Pailthorpe reports the case of a young man whose character disturbances and symptoms were 'cured' by an analysis of the traumatic events immediately preceding and during birth and of the first period of infancy. For example the patient suffered from an inability to expend his full strength in physical or mental work or in any aggressive activity. This is explained as a direct consequence of experiences during birth. It is assumed that the ideas of 'punishment', 'attack'. 'exhaustion', etc., had to some degree the same conceptual and psychological significance for the infant (and foetus) that they have for the child and adult.

Sadger reports a wealth of material relating to the feelings and reactions of the embryo and foetus, eventually getting back to the feelings of the spermatozoon and ovum. He describes at length his patients' productions regarding the attitude of the parents during conception, the effect of this on the feelings of the spermatozoon and ovum, and the patients' convictions that these experiences were of decisive importance in determining their childhood and adult character and behavior. He states that when he first began to hear this material, he believed that it must come from childhood fantasies projected backward; but as the material continued and he noted that therapeutic results were often not obtained until this 'very deep' material had appeared, he came to believe more and more in the importance of the embryonal experiences from a psychological point of view.

The comment of one of Sadger's patients, given in a footnote at the end of the paper seems appropriate here.

'That which really causes the illness did not lie at all in that primitive period, or one would never actually free oneself from it by bringing to light anything from there. The real occurrences lie between the second and fourth year and only fantasies are formed then as to the period of spermatozoon and embryo. The affects as well as the later events are, however, attached to these fantasies. The cure does not consist in discovery of the actual experiences but of the fantasies, however or whenever created about them, and above all in revealing the connection between spermatozoon, fantasies, and the actual occurrences.'

Most analysts will agree with Sadger's patient (whose comment applies equally well to Pailthorpe's paper) and probably the majority will deprecate giving so much space to this kind of speculation. They will feel that the point of view taken by Greenacre1 is representative of the careful scientific attitude they wish to see encouraged.

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1 Greenacre, Phyllis: The Predisposition to Anxiety. This QUARTERLY, X, 1941, p. 66.

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Article Citation

Thomas, G. (1943). Deflection of Energy, as a Result of Birth Trauma, and its Bearing Upon Character Formation. Psychoanal. Q., 12:593-593

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