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Laub, D. Lee, S. (2003). Thanatos and Massive Psychic Trauma: The Impact of the Death Instinct on Knowing, Remembering and Forgetting. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 51(2):433-463.

(2003). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 51(2):433-463

Thanatos and Massive Psychic Trauma: The Impact of the Death Instinct on Knowing, Remembering and Forgetting

Dori Laub and Susanna Lee

The connection between massive psychic trauma and the concept of the death instinct is explored using the basic assumptions that the death instinct is unleashed through and is in a sense characteristic of traumatic experience, and that the concept of the death instinct is indispensable to the understanding and treatment of trauma. Characteristics of traumatic experience, such as dissolution of the empathic bond, failure to assimilate experience into psychic representation and structure, a tendency to repeat traumatic experience, and a resistance to remembering and knowing, are considered as trauma-induced death instinct derivatives. An initial focus is on the individual, on how death instinct manifestations can be discerned in the survivors of trauma. Next the intergenerational force of trauma is examined; a clinical vignette illustrates how the death instinct acts on and is passed on to the children of survivors. Finally, the cultural or societal aspects of trauma are considered, with an eye to how death instinct derivatives permeate cultural responses (or failures to respond) to trauma. Because trauma causes a profound destructuring and decathexis, it is concluded that the concept of the death instinct is a clinical and theoretical necessity.

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