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The language of absence

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Abstract

This paper will focus on the concept of ‘absence’, which describes a continuum of non-responsiveness and misattunement of the environment in the stage of absolute dependence; it refers to concepts like lack, failure, non-recognition, impingement, neglect, tantalizing, ranging to mental, physical and sexual abuse. An extreme external absence causes shock and fear. The automatic survival response is an inner absence, an intrapsychic absence, a dissociation of parts of the self. The external and the inner absence are the negative image of each other. The concept of absence points to the synchronicity of outer and inner reality and portrays the non-responded-to needs of the self. This point of view of the development of psychopathology of the self on the basis of massive dissociation is inherently an intersubjective-field-theory. As the inner absence is created as a reaction to an absence of the other, in analysis – the analyst has an active role in reviving it. This paper will explore the language of absence, that is, the derivatives and consequences of these situations in the inner realm, and in the relations with the analyst. It is the author’s contention that understanding and speaking this language has important clinical and technical implications. Understanding the language of absence enables the analyst to recognize its intersubjective and its intrapsychic presence, to provide an environment that allows for its revival, and to facilitate and regulate the annihilation anxiety that awakens when dissociated self-states are experienced. When the absence is present, i.e. when the traumatic experience and the dissociated reactions to it are experienced in an attuned relationship, it is rendered with meaning, symbolization, and validation, and enables the survival mode of dissociation to be relinquished.

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