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Olarte, S.W. (1994). Discussion of “Incest and the Idealized Self: Adaptations to Childhood Sexual Abuse”. Am. J. Psychoanal., 54(1):37-39.

(1994). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 54(1):37-39

Discussion of “Incest and the Idealized Self: Adaptations to Childhood Sexual Abuse”

Silvia W. Olarte, M.D.

Michelle Price in her scholarly paper starts by reminding us of the vicissitudes that as human beings and in the best of circumstances we encounter when developing our sense of identity through time. Echoing most of the research done on incest victims, she alerts us to the specific paradox faced by the incest victim who endures abuse by those whom she has to depend on for the most basic psychological and physical care. As Dr. Herman poignantly describes it, “The child trapped in an abusive environment is faced with a formidable task of adaptation. She must find a way to preserve a sense of trust in people who are untrustworthy, safety in a situation that is unsafe, control in a situation that is terrifyingly unpredictable, power in a situation of helplessness. Unable to care for or protect herself, she must compensate for the failures of adult care and protection with the only means at her disposal, an immature system of psychological defenses” (Herman, 1992, p. 96). Of this host of immature defenses, Ms. Price has chosen to elaborate on the mechanisms of idealization and grandiosity. As she states, these are not the only mechanisms available to abused individuals, but they can be disguised in the treatment situation by their presentation as a compelling sense of victimization and suffering.

The recognition of incest as a powerful traumatic experience that correlates with subsequent severe character pathology is currently undisputed but along different time periods and with oscillating eagerness its etiological impact has been denied or minimized by professional communities and/or society at large (Herman, 1981, chap 7). I believe we are now facing one of such periods as expressed by current articles in the main media with titles such as “Beware the Incest-Survivor Machine” (Tavris, 1993). Here courageous personal accounts by survivors and important scientific research can be made to read as a caricature of an existing problem when presented out of context. Ms.

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