The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma
This article by Bessel van der Kolk, MD, examines the rationale behind victims of trauma seeking out similar situations that reinforce the trauma stress of past situations.
During the formative years of contemporary psychiatry much attention was paid to the continuing role of past traumatic experiences on the current lives of people. Charcot, Janet, and Freud all noted that fragmented memories of traumatic events dominated the mental life of many of their patient and built their theories about the nature and treatment of psychopathology on this recognition. Janet75 thought that traumatic memories of traumatic events persist as unassimilated fixed ideas that act as foci for the development of alternate states of consciousness, including dissociative phenomena, such as fugue states, amnesias, and chronic states of helplessness and depression. Unbidden memories of the trauma may return as physical sensations, horrific images or nightmares, behavioral reenactments, or a combination of these. Janet showed how traumatized individuals become fixated on the trauma: difficulties in assimilating subsequent experiences as well. It is "as if their personality development has stopped at a certain point and cannot expand anymore by the addition or assimilation of new elements."76 Freud independently came to similar conclusions.43,45 Initially, he thought all hysterical symptoms were caused by childhood sexual "seduction" of which unconscious memories were activated, when during adolescence, a person was exposed to situations reminiscent of the original trauma. The trauma permanently disturbed the capacity to deal with other challenges, and the victim who did not integrate the trauma was doomed to "repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience in instead or . . . remembering it as something belonging to the past."44 In this article, I will show how the trauma is repeated on behavioral, emotional, physiologic, and neuroendocrinologic levels, whose confluence explains the diversity of repetition phenomena. (Authors)
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