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Ornstein, A. (1994). Chapter 9 Trauma, Memory, and Psychic Continuity. Progress in Self Psychology, 10:131-146.

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(1994). Progress in Self Psychology, 10:131-146

Chapter 9 Trauma, Memory, and Psychic Continuity

Anna Ornstein, M.D. Author Information

Memory is key to redemption

—Old Hasidic saying

I chose the topic for this year's Kohut Memorial Lecture because the clinical significance of the idea of psychic continuity, an aspect of Kohut's definition of the self that had great importance for him, has so far not been sufficiently explored. Kohut (1977) referred to the sense of continuity in various ways, emphasizing that we retain the sense of being the same person throughout lifedespite changes in our body and mind, in our personality make up, in our surrounding in which we live and concluding that even the constituents of the self (ambitions, ideals, skills, and talents) may change without a loss of our abiding sameness, i.e., without the loss of our self (pp. 178-182). However, traumatic memories can threaten the maintenance of the sense of continuity over time. In this chapter, I delineate traumatic memories from episodic, non-traumatic events and describe the therapeutic dialogue that facilitates integration of these memories into the rest of the psyche.

In psychoanalysis we think of memory either as that which is consciously remembered (the narrow way) or as that which is expressed in symbols, repetitive activities, and other symptomatic types of behavior (the broad way). The decoding of memories from symptoms, dreams, and transferences encompasses all of psychoanalysis, and I shall not deal with this vast topic at this time. Nor shall I discuss the pathogenic impact of traumatic experiences and the way they may derail development.

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