Archives for : Bion

Psychoanalysis is itself a defense against trauma: Wilfred Bion, post 2

This is my second post on Wilfred Bion and trauma. It makes sense on its own, but it will make the most sense if you read the previous post, “Bion’s Trauma and Trauma Theory” (

Wilfred Bion is not well known among trauma theorists, and is not generally considered a trauma theorist. I think he should be. Taking Bion seriously leads to the conclusion that psychoanalysis has focused too much on the internal sources of distress; it should pay more attention to trauma, the experience of obliteration. This post has been inspired by James Grotstein’s A Beam of Intense Darkness: Wilfred Bion’s Legacy to Psychoanalysis. The conclusions are my own.IMG_1140,colorcurve,autocolor,crop2

Pariah of “O”

For many years, Bion was considered the intellectual successor to Melanie Klein, the founder of object relations theory. His elaboration of projective identification as a means of communication, and his theory of container and contained, became fundamental to Kleinian theory, “basic components of the ‘post-Kleinian’ episteme in London.” (Grotstein, p. 20) Then Bion developed the concept of O, which represents the absolute. The absolute of what is the question. I think O represents the absolute of trauma. However, most of what Bion wrote about O is more recondite, and Zen-like. In any case, Bion’s elevation of O resulted in his fall from grace in London psychoanalytic circles. He became a “pariah of O,” in Grotstein’s phrase. The pariah moved to California, where he received a warm welcome. I’ll let you decide if that’s ironic.

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Bion’s Trauma and Trauma Theory

Bion's TraumaWhen one thinks of trauma theorists, not only does the name of Wilfred Bion rarely spring to mind. One almost never thinks of him. Yet, Bion, who along with Melanie Klein and D. W. Winnicott remade psychoanalysis, is the analyst most concerned with trauma. Klein created object relations theory. Winnicott and Bion developed it in its most distinctive variations.

Bion presents his encounter with trauma in a series of autobiographies. We must make the connection to his theory. Throughout his adult life, from a diary written for his parents, to several volumes of autobiography, to a memoir written forty years after the event, Bion refers to his experience as a teenage tank commander in World War I. By the age of 20 he had already been nominated for the Victoria Cross (Britain’s highest military honor), and awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

As Kay Souter (p. 796) puts it,

His autobiographies have the quality of survivor testimony, with the associated emotional numbness, low self-esteem, grief and guilt. Editing the fragment ‘Amiens’ after his death, Francesca Bion [his widow], gave the title ‘Fugue’ to this account of 8 August, explaining it as ‘‘meaning ‘loss of one’s identity.’’’ Although she does not further explain, it is clear that she understood it to be an account of psychic flight and catastrophe.

Portions of Amiens are written in the third person, as in “Captain Bion had felt extremely frightened.”

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