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In-depth analysis of Winnicott’s psychoanalytic theorization was conducted by Jan Abrams in her work The Language of Winnicott. You can access it directly by clicking here.

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Stein, A. (2001). Murder and Memory. Contemp. Psychoanal., 37(3):443-451.

(2001). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 37(3):443-451

Murder and Memory

Abby Stein, Ph.D.

Consider the symbiotic nature of narrative and historical truths. The mind encounters a traumatic moment or a singular emotion, but lacking appropriate cubbyholes in which to place it, instead exiles the event and its attendant anxieties to a separate psychic location. The perception is an outlier, a psychological anomaly, a calculation that does not conform to the rest of the data set. According to a number of quite divergent theories, the banished percept elaborates its own narrative truth, unfettered by associations. Yet this subnarrative is not really independent. It is built on the trace memories of the very moment that Sullivan (1956) would claim was not actually experienced, simply because it was unprecedented (p. 69), or that Pierre Janet (1888) would insist constituted the seed of an autonomous consciousness. Clearly, the two truths, historical and invented, are coextensive and mutually reinforcing: they offer a kind of consensual validation of events. The fanciful is created to edit, negotiate, or rectify the historical; the historical record gives the created storyline an ongoing purpose, infusing it with a most lifelike quality. Here I consider the relative contributions of the two kinds of “truth” to a story about murder.

However different theorists have described the process of dissociating disturbing material, all have agreed that trauma maintains its power to warp succeeding mentation. Dissociation invites distortion and confabulation more than most defenses, because its starting point is amnesia rather than repression. The more amnesiac the patient, the more the analyst must infer reality and fantasy in the absence of a cohesive narrative.

In my work with incarcerated juveniles and adults, I have been continually struck by this absence of narrative, particularly in the most violent offenders. Their stories often seem scripted and yet oddly without detail: it is as if the tales are being told by an uninvolved third party.

Histories of nightmarish maltreatment are blandly recited and absurdly interpreted, if indeed the abusive events of childhood are remembered at all.

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