On Traumatically Skewed Intersubjectivity


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On Traumatically Skewed Intersubjectivity
Psychoanalytic Inquiry
Schechter Daniel S
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Beginning with his Interpersonal World of the Infant (1985), Daniel Stern
suggested that the infant is driven from birth to connect intersubjectively
with his caregivers. By the final three months of the first year of life, as the
infant begins to use protodeclarative pointing and jointly attends to the
outer world, he also begins to jointly attend with his caregiver to their
respective intrapsychic worlds, the mental states of his caregiver and himself. Clinically, analysts observe at this crucial point of development of
secondary intersubjectivity mothers who, more often than not, respond
only selectively and often unpredictably to their infants. In many instances,
this may be motivated out of a mother’s own need for regulation of
emotion and arousal as we have shown in our empirical research. This
article elaborates on clinical observations that, for the infant or young
child to feel his traumatized mother’s affective presence, he must try to
enter mother’s state of mind, while simultaneously, mother is seeking to
self-regulate in the wake or the revival of trauma-associated memory traces,
this at the expense of mutual regulation of emotion and arousal. We call
this phenomenon traumatically skewed intersubjectivity. We find that children coconstruct with their traumatized mothers a new, shared traumatic
experience by virtue of the toddler’s efforts to share an intersubjective
experience with a mother who is acting in response to posttraumatic
reexperiencing. The problem is that the infant or young child has no
point of reference to decipher the traumatized mother’s social communication. And so, what is enacted leads to a new, shared traumatic event. Both
the child’s anxiety and aggression can, in this setting, easily become dysregulated, further triggering mother’s anxiety and avoidance, leading thus to
a vicious cycle that contributes to intergenerational transmission of trauma.
Clinical examples and implications for psychoanalytically-oriented parentinfant psychotherapy will be discussed.
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