Archives for : April2015

The trauma of whistleblowers: stuck in static time

DSC00212slim“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” The story reveals the meaning of what otherwise would remain an unbearable sequence of sheer happenings. –Hannah Arendt, “Isak Dinesen”

If psychic trauma is understood as an inability to stop reliving the same set of experiences, that is, an inability to leave the past behind, then whistleblowers are among the most traumatized people I have ever met. Most don’t experience flashbacks, and other dramatic symptoms. Instead, they remain stuck in static time, “the turbulence of stagnant motion,” as one whistleblower put it.

I was introduced to whistleblowing through my observation of a whistleblowers support group organized by the Government Accountability Project in Washington, D. C. Over a period just short of a year I spent almost one hundred hours with the support group. At first I assumed that the whistleblowers, mostly middle-aged men and women, were talking about recent experiences: blowing the whistle, experiencing retaliation, getting fired. Only after a couple of months did I realize that most were talking about events five, ten, fifteen, or even twenty years ago. Their narratives seemed so fresh, their pain still so sharp, it was hard to believe they were talking about ancient history, or at least so it seemed to me.

Continue Reading >>


Projective identification is the cure for trauma. And it hardly ever works.

IMG_0319_edited-2Projective identification plays several different roles in trauma. It is the way trauma is transmitted, particularly from parents to child. It is the way in which trauma is cured, though this belongs to the realm of theory, not practice. I will explain.

Projective identification is most closely associated with the work of Melanie Klein, though there remains considerable debate over whether projective identification always involves an actual relationship, or whether it can take place entirely within a person’s imagination, between a self and its ideas of others (internal objects as they are called). Kleinians hold the latter view (Spillius and O’Shaughnessy, 2011). I am going to follow Thomas Ogden and argue that projective identification always involves interpersonal pressure. Projective identification has three steps:

Continue Reading >>


Cathy Caruth drives me crazy, thoughts while reading Caruth’s Listening to Trauma, conversations with leading trauma theorists.

IMG_2110,superliquidCathy Caruth drives me crazy because she glorifies the person who listens to the traumatized, making it seem as if though the listener to trauma is playing a heroic role: willingly becoming traumatized so that the truly traumatized person can testify. Dori Laub, child survivor, psychiatrist, and co-founder of the Fortunoff Archive for Holocaust Testimony at Yale University, is her co-conspirator.

Cathy Caruth is a big deal in trauma theory, probably the single most important person working at the intersection of literary theory and trauma theory, though Shoshana Felman should receive honorable mention. They share a lot, as the conversation between them published in Caruth’s recent Listening to Trauma: Conversations with Leaders in the Theory and Treatment of Catastrophic Experience, reveals. Together, along with people such as Geoffrey Hartman, also a co-founder of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimony at Yale (and also interviewed by Caruth), they have helped transform testimony into an important literary genre.

Where Caruth goes wrong

Consider Caruth’s conversation with Robert Jay Lifton in Listening to Trauma: Conversations. Trying to summarize Lifton, Caruth says “there’s a double survivor situation, but a survivor and a proxy survivor, and it’s the meeting of those two that constitutes the witness.” (p. 18)

No! There is only one witness, and one listener. Together they do not make a witness. They make a team, one who tells the story and one who listens.

Continue Reading >>