email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
A Basic Theory of NeuropsychoanalysisA Cursing Brain?A Dream of Undying FameA Map of the MindAfter LacanAgainst AdaptationAgainst FreudAn Anatomy of AddictionAnalytic FreudAndré Green at the Squiggle FoundationAnger, Madness, and the DaimonicAnna FreudAnna Freud: A BiographyApproaching PsychoanalysisAttachment and PsychoanalysisBadiouBecoming a SubjectBefore ForgivingBerlin PsychoanalyticBetween Emotion and CognitionBeyond GenderBeyond SexualityBeyond the Pleasure PrincipleBiology of FreedomBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBuilding on BionCare of the PsycheCarl JungCassandra's DaughterCherishmentConfusion of TonguesContemporary Psychoanalysis and the Legacy of the Third ReichCrucial Choices, Crucial ChangesCulture and Conflict in Child and Adolescent Mental HealthDarwin's WormsDesert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974)Dispatches from the Freud WarsDoes the Woman Exist?Doing Psychoanalysis in TehranDreaming and Other Involuntary MentationDreaming by the BookEnergy Psychology InteractiveEqualsErrant SelvesEthics and the Discovery of the UnconsciousEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationFairbairn's Object Relations Theory in the Clinical SettingFed with Tears -- Poisoned with MilkFeminism and Its DiscontentsForms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Reasearch and Adult TreatmentFour Lessons of PsychoanalysisFratricide in the Holy LandFreudFreudFreudFreudFreudFreudFreud and the Question of PseudoscienceFreud As PhilosopherFreud at 150Freud's AnswerFreud's WizardFreud, the Reluctant PhilosopherFrom Classical to Contemporary PsychoanalysisFundamentals of Psychoanalytic TechniqueGenes on the CouchGoing SaneHans BellmerHappiness, Death, and the Remainder of LifeHate and Love in Psychoanalytical InstitutionsHatred and ForgivenessHealing the Soul in the Age of the BrainHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHidden MindsHistory of ShitHope and Dread in PsychoanalysisImagination and Its PathologiesImagine There's No WomanIn Freud's TracksIn SessionIn the Floyd ArchivesIntimaciesIntimate RevoltIrrationalityIs Oedipus Online?Jacques LacanJacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of PsychoanalysisJung and the Making of Modern PsychologyJung Stripped BareKilling FreudLacanLacanLacanLacan and Contemporary FilmLacan at the SceneLacan For BeginnersLacan in AmericaLacan TodayLacan's Seminar on AnxietyLawLearning from Our MistakesLove's ExecutionerMad Men and MedusasMale Female EmailMelanie KleinMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMental SlaveryMind to MindMixing MindsMoral StealthMourning and ModernityMovies and the MindMurder in ByzantiumNew Studies of Old VillainsNocturnesNoir AnxietyOn Being Normal and Other DisordersOn BeliefOn IncestOn Not Being Able to SleepOn the Freud WatchOn the Way HomeOpen MindedOpera's Second DeathOvercoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and BehaviorsPhenomology & Lacan on Schizophrenia, After the Decade of the BrainPhilosophical Counselling and the UnconsciousPractical Psychoanalysis for Therapists and PatientsPsychiatry, Psychoanalysis, And The New Biology Of MindPsychoanalysisPsychoanalysisPsychoanalysis and Narrative MedicinePsychoanalysis and NeurosciencePsychoanalysis and the Philosophy of SciencePsychoanalysis as Biological SciencePsychoanalysis at the MarginsPsychoanalysis at the MarginsPsychoanalysis in a New LightPsychoanalysis in FocusPsychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human RelationshipsPsychotherapy As PraxisPutnam CampQuestions for FreudRe-Inventing the SymptomReading Seminar XXReinventing the SoulRelational Theory and the Practice of PsychotherapyRelationalityRepressed SpacesRevolt, She SaidSecrets of the SoulSerious ShoppingSex on the CouchSexuationSigmund FreudSoul Murder RevisitedSpectral EvidenceSpirit, Mind, and BrainStrangers to OurselvesSubjective Experience and the Logic of the OtherSubjectivity and OthernessSubstance Abuse As SymptomSurrealist Painters and PoetsTaboo SubjectsTalk is Not EnoughThe Arabic FreudThe Art of the SubjectThe Brain and the Inner WorldThe Brain, the Mind and the SelfThe Cambridge Companion to LacanThe Challenge for Psychoanalysis and PsychotherapyThe Clinical LacanThe Colonization Of Psychic SpaceThe Condition of MadnessThe Couch and the TreeThe Cruelty of DepressionThe Dissociative Mind in PsychoanalysisThe Dreams of InterpretationThe Examined LifeThe Fall Of An IconThe Freud EncyclopediaThe Freud FilesThe Freud WarsThe Fright of Real TearsThe Future of PsychoanalysisThe Gift of TherapyThe Heart & Soul of ChangeThe Knotted SubjectThe Last Good FreudianThe Late Sigmund FreudThe Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto RankThe Mind According to ShakespeareThe Mystery of PersonalityThe Mythological UnconsciousThe Neuropsychology of the UnconsciousThe New PsychoanalysisThe Power of FeelingsThe Psychoanalytic MovementThe Psychoanalytic MysticThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Puppet and the DwarfThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Revolt of the PrimitiveThe Seminar of Moustafa SafouanThe Sense and Non-Sense of RevoltThe Shortest ShadowThe Social History of the UnconsciousThe Surface EffectThe Symmetry of GodThe Tragedy of the SelfThe Trainings of the PsychoanalystThe UnsayableThe World of PerversionTherapeutic ActionTherapy's DelusionsThis Incredible Need to BelieveThoughts Without A ThinkerTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTrauma and Human ExistenceTraumatizing TheoryUmbr(a)Unconscious knowing and other essays in psycho-philosophical analysisUnderstanding Dissidence and Controversy in the History of PsychoanalysisUnderstanding PsychoanalysisUnfree AssociationsWalking HeadsWay Beyond FreudWhat Does a Woman Want?What Freud Really MeantWhen the Body SpeaksWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Whose Freud?Why Psychoanalysis?Wilhelm ReichWinnicottWinnicott On the ChildWisdom Won from IllnessWittgenstein on Freud and FrazerWittgenstein Reads FreudWorld, Affectivity, TraumaZizek
In Trauma and human existence, Stolorow presents a 'contextualized' reading of the emotions, which situates trauma as central to the understanding of human existence. Although a 'short' book, Stolorow presents a detailed theoretical and personal account of mood, unconscious, temporality and therapeutic change which draws upon the thought of Gadamer, intersubjective theory, and primarily the philosophical work of Heidegger. As such, Trauma and human existence would be of interest to both practicing psychotherapists seeking to integrate philosophical insights into their work, and philosophers interested in the 'lived experience' of existentialist thought.
For Stolorow, the 'possibility of emotional trauma is built into the basic constitution of human existence' (p. xi) and the way in which it is permitted to emerge is largely governed by the relational context in which we find ourselves.
It is this necessary, contextualization of the human emotions which Stolorow attempts to emphasize, a position which stands in contrast to the prevailing myth of the 'isolated mind'. Early Freudian theory was characterized by the hydraulic metaphor, which posited the psyche as a species of container, struggling to regulate instinctual energies arising from within itself. Thus, In Freud's psychoanalytic theory, we see the threads of the Cartesian mind, the 'thinking thing' which observes an external world from which it is inherently estranged. We see this notion reflected in drive theory, in which psychical conflicts necessarily arise in the psyche's attempt to satisfy and manage its inherent requirements. Thus for Freud, defense mechanisms such as repression and projection are seen as an attempt to stop this 'container' being flooded with an excess of instinctual energy. Important in challenging this theory was Heidegger's account of being-in-the world, which spoke of Dasein (literally 'being there') rather than a self-determining 'I'. Thus, what was previously spoken of as the 'self' was recontextualized as always already embedded in the world, and in relationship with others. The term 'being-in-the-world' therefore describes the way in which we are necessarily engaged in a meaningful world, rather than as an isolated entity which comes to know the external world after first being aware of 'itself.' This view suggests a new perspective upon human emotions. Rather than a private response to external stimuli, an emotion is conceived of as both 'how feels and the situation within which one is feeling' (p. 2 emphasis mine.) Drawing upon Heidegger, Stolorow regards emotion as necessarily embedded in a situational context. It follows then, that a consideration of one's emotions without reference to the context in which they arise is unlikely to be therapeutic (if indeed we can conceive of such a move as possible or meaningful at all) for our emotions and cognitions are necessarily constituted by our being-in-the-world. How then, is it possible that our emotions can seem so private, and essentially at odds with the environment in which they arise? How are we to understand the insolating effect of painful emotions, if we do not conceive of some kind of container which fails to 'hold' them? Through an analysis of his own trauma, Stolorow attempts to answer these questions.
Stolorow recounts the deeply traumatic and painful experience of waking one morning to find his wife, Dede, lying dead across their bed, four weeks after she was diagnosed with cancer. At a conference eighteen months later, he describes looking round the room for his wife only to find her absent. Consumed by grief, it seemed to him that an 'unbridgeable gulf' (p. 14) had opened up, separating him from the rest of the world. Friends and colleagues at the conference, so vitalized and engaged with the world and each other, seemed to him like 'strange and alien beings.' On one hand, this experience of isolation, of finding ourselves and our emotions unshared by others seems to draw us towards the idea of ourselves as enclosed entities, who either choose to venture into the world of others, or to withdraw away from it. In this sense, trauma can reveals our own isolation from the world of others. However, this withdrawal at the same time reveals to us the fact of our everyday embeddedness in and with others. More importantly for Stolorow, it is not quite right to say that trauma occurs when the psyche becomes 'flooded' with an affect-state that it cannot inwardly regulate, but that trauma occurs when the we cannot find a relational home for such an affect. The feelings experienced by Stolorow at the conference were almost unendurable, because no one else could share them. Thus Stolorow:
Trauma is constituted in an intersubjective context in which severe emotional pain cannot find a relational home in which it can be held. In such a context, painful affect states become unendurable- that is, traumatic.
For Stolorow, the context in which an emotion is held is indivisibly linked with the way in which we experience it. In terms of developmental theory, a child met with misattuned responses to their pain may have a propensity to dissociate from or disavow affective reactions. Note here the contrast with the Freudian view of an ego not sufficiently strong to accommodate painful affect or instinctual frustrations, unable to be internally process such feelings. The therapeutic response to this view would be to assist the individual in 'making sense of' or 'decoding' their own behaviors in order to release tensions and reduce influence of defensive mechanisms. Since for Stolorow, trauma is defined as affect without a relational home, the implications for therapy are somewhat different. The therapeutic endeavor involves examining and 'staying with' affect in a way that allows it to be reintegrated into being-in-the-world. However, this both more subtle and profound than simply 'normalising' the affect, or finding new ways in which it might be expressed (although this, indeed, may form part of the therapy.) There is more than a reconciliation, since one's being-in-the-world following a traumatic event or loss is profoundly altered. Drawing on Heidegger's account of being-towards-death and the possibility for authenticity, Stolorow suggests that trauma opens up a space for us to be-in-the-world in a different way.
Stolorow's exploration of trauma and the context of human emotions is extremely thorough, detailed and at times deeply touching. Its relatively short length (51 pages) belies its complexity. For the reader more familiar with psychotherapeutic theory than philosophy, it may present a challenge. However, in my view, it is a challenge well worth taking up.
© 2008 Laura Cook
Laura Cook is a research student at the University of East Anglia, and a trainee Integrative Psychotherapeutic Counselor. Her research interests include philosophy of psychopathology, modernist literature and psychoanalysis. She is the editor of Applying Wittgenstein by Rupert Read, forthcoming with Continuum Books.