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Bromberg, P.M. (2001). The Gorilla Did It: Some Thoughts on Dissociation, the Real, and the Really Real. Psychoanal. Dial., 11(3):385-404.

(2001). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 11(3):385-404

The Gorilla Did It: Some Thoughts on Dissociation, the Real, and the Really Real

Philip M. Bromberg, Ph.D.

This is about a small boy and his “imaginary” friend, who happens to be a gorilla—a friend the boy considers very real indeed. It is also about the fact that no part of the self, including every child's relationship to his own “gorilla,” is ever “reasoned” out of existence. It becomes, instead, “not really real,” because it has had to be relegated to “not really me” in order for the child to preserve his attachment bond with significant others. However, it will continue to make its presence known through being relationally enacted, dissociatively, in ways that eventually become repetitious enough and painful enough to bring the child (now an adult) into our office years later. As analysts, our job at that point becomes one of trying to restore the connection between the little boy and his gorilla in the face of intense pressure by the now “grown-up” patient to keep them apart and to discourage the therapist from trying to bring these old friends back from dissociation into the “really real.” The source of therapeutic action that allows this reunion to take place is discussed conceptually and described in clinical vignettes.

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