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Krystal, H. (1978). Trauma and Affects. Psychoanal. St. Child, 33:81-116.

(1978). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 33:81-116

Trauma and Affects

Henry Krystal, M.D.


Psychic trauma occurs in two basic patterns: (1) the infantile form, which is an unbearable state of distress involving affect precursors and mass stimulation; (2) the adult form which is initiated by surrender to inevitable danger and consists of a progression from anxiety to catatonoid state, aphanesis, and potentially to psychogenic death. The psychic experience of what I called "catastrophic trauma" consists of a numbing of self-reflective functions, followed by a paralysis of all cognitive and self-preserving mental functions. The full-blown picture of the adult traumatic state is a rare occurrence. For the most part, what we call trauma refers to near-trauma, in which the threat is handled by defenses and symptom formation.

The direct aftereffects of infantile and adult catastrophic trauma have certain features in common: a dread expectation of the return of the traumatic state, and an anhedonia; a disturbance in affectivity; an arrest in the genetic development of affect in the infantile form, compared to regression (dedifferentiation, deverbalization, and resomatization) after the adult trauma. There is also an impairment in affect tolerance. In addition, in the adult form, there is often a sporadic continuation of the constriction in cognitive function, which may become a part of a characterological pattern of submission.

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