Comparing a narcissistic and an autistic retreat: ‘Looking through or at the window’



In this paper I discuss two different forms of psychic retreats that I encountered in the treatment of a patient who suffered from two traumatic experiences: the loss of his mother when he was 2 years old and his ‘near-death’ experience when he was five. In the parasitic narcissistic retreat, using intensive projective identification enabled him to create an impasse in the form of a ‘high tide – low tide’ scenario in which alternating hope and disappointment kept the process going, yet paralyzed development. The autistic retreat, for its part, led to the collapse of projective identification mechanisms, dismantling and disrupting the transference/countertransference negotiations. The emerging state of non-communication and ‘near death’ seemed to act as a protection against the unbearable pain of abandonment and desolation.