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Bonomi, C. (2004). Trauma and the Symbolic Function of the Mind. Int. Forum Psychoanal., 13(1/2):45-50.

(2004). International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 13(1/2):45-50

Trauma and the Symbolic Function of the Mind

Carlo Bonomi, M.D.

The relationship between trauma and the symbolic function of the mind is discussed in three parts. First, a short outline is given of the long-lasting split within the field of trauma: it consists in a dichotomy between the symbolic and anti-symbolic reading of the traumatic experience - as I have called it in a previous paper. In the second part, it is maintained that the work of Ferenczi represents an attempt at overcoming this split. In the third and last part, the notion of symbolic adaptation is introduced. The process of adaptation has to ensure the survival of the individual along lines capable to foster the hope that the lost equilibrium between the individual and his environment will one day be restored. This function is performed by symbols: by linking together the lost satisfaction and the hoped-for wish-fulfillment, by creating bridges between past and future, symbols enable us to adjust to the new environment without renouncing hope. Symbols are mediators between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. When a person is struck by trauma it is precisely this unifying function which is broken. A typical consequence of this situation is described by Ferenczi as a rupture between feeling and intelligence.

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