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Person, E.S. Klar, H. (1994). Establishing Trauma: The Difficulty Distinguishing Between Memories and Fantasies. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 42:1055-1081.

(1994). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 42:1055-1081

Establishing Trauma: The Difficulty Distinguishing Between Memories and Fantasies

Ethel Spector Person, M.D. and Howard Klar, M.D.


This paper is intended as a contribution to understanding why, up until recently, there have been so few case reports of actual abuse and its sequelae in the psychoanalytic literature. We suggest that psychoanalytic insights into the nature of psychic reality, while indispensable to the evolution of psychoanalytic thinking, have nonetheless had the adverse effect of collapsing any distinction between unconscious fantasies and repressed memories. Moreover, the idea that knowledge of external reality is itself mentally constructed also has diminished interest in uncovering trauma and "real" history. We present a report of an adult analysis that illustrates the recovery of a dissociated memory of sexual abuse that occurred during adolescence, as a springboard to discuss problems analysts have had in dealing with trauma theoretically. We hypothesize that repressed memories and conscious fantasies can often be distinguished insofar as they may be "stored" or encoded differently, and that consequently the sequelae of trauma and fantasy often, but not always, can be disentangled. We describe some different modes of encoding trauma and some different ways of remembering, reexperiencing, and reenacting it. And, finally, we suggest why traumatic memories are increasingly accessible to patients today.

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