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Frankel, J. (2004). Identification with the Aggressor and the ‘Normal Traumas’: Clinical Implications. Int. Forum Psychoanal., 13(1/2):78-83.

(2004). International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 13(1/2):78-83

Identification with the Aggressor and the ‘Normal Traumas’: Clinical Implications

Jay Frankel

Ferenczi's (1933) surprisingly unknown concept of identification with the aggressor - an abuse victim's ‘eliminating’ her own subjectivity and ‘becoming’ precisely what an attacker needs her to be - has radical implications for our understanding of analytic technique. Its very frequent occurrence also forces us to broaden our understanding of what constitutes trauma. Ferenczi saw the experience of ‘traumatic aloneness’ or ‘emotional abandonment’ as the key element of trauma, since this is what enforces the traumatic responses of dissociation and identification with the aggressor. Identification with the aggressor operates in the analytic relationship in both patient and analyst. This has various consequences, including the structuring of the relationship through unconscious collusions - mutually coordinated, defensive identifications designed to help both participants feel secure. This view of the analytic relationship has clinical implications in at least four areas: the understanding of the patient's free associations, which may reflect the patient's compliance with the analyst's wishes rather than the contents of the patient's own unconscious; the need for some kind of mutuality of analysis; the traumatizing potential of the analyst's authority; and the tendency of some patients to take blame and responsibility reflexively, as a way of protecting the analyst.

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