Category Archives: psychodynamic

>Repetition complusion

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In pyschodynamic theory, the individual’s drive to obtain mastery over the feelings of distress associated with traumatic material is through repetition-compulsion. Repetition complusion is an instinctual drive that propels inividuals to reneact experiences and is synonymous with the ‘death instinct’. This counter intuitive complusion to repeat the distress goes against the pleasure seeking drive of what Freud termed ‘the pleasure principle’. The death drive describes the drive towards death and inorganic state as in death ultimately all tensions are released.
In “New Introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis” (1933/32), Freud wrote, “And now the instincts we believe in divide themselves into two groups—the erotic instincts, which seek to combine more and more living substance into ever greater unities, and the death instincts, which oppose this effort and lead what is living back into an inorganic state. From the concurrent and opposing action of these two proceed the phenomena of life which are brought to an end by death”. 
To successfully process the material at the point of trauma an individuals has to have a balanced ego defence system with sufficient ego resources to process the traumatic material. Those with maladaptive ego systems, individuals are more likely unable to ameliorate the effects of the trauma and carry on to develop conditions such as PTSD. As such, there is a great possibility that these factors also play a part in a therapist’s predisposition to suffer from vicarious trauma

>Freud’s Seduction theory

>Freud’s seduction theory was a powerful hypothesis for the time. He concluded that a premature sexual contact or a traumatic sexual event must have been experienced by ‘hysterical’ patients he saw who all were displaying the same symptoms. His findings were very much inline with what Charcot, his teacher also saw similar symptoms in his ‘hysterical’ patients. His seduction theory was one of the first real recognition of the possibility of sexual abuse and the traumatic effects following such an experience in childhood. The related papers on the topic were  “Heredity and the Aetiology of the Neuroses, Further Remarks on the Neuro-Psychoses of Defence” and  “The Aetiology of Hysteria “. Freud presented Aetiology to the Vienna Society for Psychiatry and Neurology at the end of April 1896. His theories were met with disbelief and hostility.

Although at the time he believed the patients were telling the truth about actual traumatic events, he later wondered if he had put undue influence on them. Freud abandoned the seduction theory in a letter to William Fleiss in 1897. He concluded that the reported experiences of his patients were remnants of infantile sexual fantasies.Modern commentators such as Herman and Rush argued that he was wrong to abandon this theory and was probably influenced by the cultural pressures of the time. With the abandonment of the seduction theory, the concept fantasy developed into an important aspect of psychoanalytical theory and Freud rejected the direct causal relationship between trauma and its effects.


A parallel development was the concept of Nachträglichkeit  (loosely translated as deferred action), Freud postulated that  the idea that an event in the past could be reactivated in the individual by a later event . For Freud trauma is the interaction between these two events This was psychic trauma: that of the original event which leaves its trace and that of the event’s later revival by an internal factor at a time when deferred understanding and interpretation is possible ( for instance with sexual maturity).. In speaking of the nature of ‘remembering’ and ‘forgetting’, Freud remarked on the unreliability of memories which are influenced by the unconscious meanings attached to the memories.


I am left wondering perhaps if the Nachträglichkeit  concept could also be applied to vicarious traumatisation where the after effect of the client’s material on a counsellor revives some repressed meaning which is attached to a previous trauma? More to be read and discovered later..