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Cohen, J. (1980). Structural Consequences of Psychic Trauma: A New Look at 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle'. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 61:421-432.

(1980). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 61:421-432

Structural Consequences of Psychic Trauma: A New Look at 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle'

Jonathan Cohen


Freud's theory of repetition compulsion is complicated by his reliance on a 'death instinct', which has been justly rejected by most subsequent analysts on theoretical grounds. An alternate theory based on traumatic neurosis as a

model is proposed here which does away with the death instinct concept, ordering the data instead in terms of levels of organization of structure. It is argued that repetition compulsion functioning is qualitatively different from wish-fulfillment (pleasure-principle) functioning. The differences are clinically detectable and are explainable theoretically in terms of differences in organization of memory, drive, and affect. Psychic trauma interferes with the satisfactory linking of drive with experience, and thus with the attainment of the organization of mentation we designate as the pleasureunpleasure principle. Under analytic influence the progressive structuration of memory, drive, and affect results in the conversion of repetition compulsion functioning into pleasure principle functioning, a process of importance in a wide variety of psychopathological conditions. These considerations lead to a revised theory of the structure of the id, and of the development of psychic structure in general. Primary process organization develops through experience, rather than being a given. The idea of 'unstructured energy' in the id is replaced by a scheme of levels of organization of drive-representatives.

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