Stolorow, Robert - The Contextuality and Existentiality of Emotional Trauma

Stolorow, Robert - The Contextuality and Existentiality of Emotional Trauma

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(2008) Psychoanalytic Dialogues , 18: 113-123. The   Contextuality   and   Existentiality   of   Emotional   Trauma Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D.           In this article I chronicle the emergence of two interrelated themes           that crystallized in my investigations of emotional trauma during           the more than 16 years that followed my own experience of           traumatic loss. One pertains to the context-embeddedness of           emotional trauma and the other to the claim that the possibility           of emotional trauma is built into our existential constitution. I find           a reconciliation and synthesis of these two themes—trauma’s           contextuality and its existentiality—in the recognition of the bonds           of deep emotional attunement we can form with one another in           virtue of our common finitude. Everybody’s changing, and I don’t feel the same. –Keane I’ll be with you when the deal goes down. –Bob Dylan      During the more than 16 years since I had the experience of a  devastating traumatic loss, I have, in a series of articles culminating in a  book (Stolorow, 2007a), been attempting to grasp and conceptualize the  essence of emotional trauma. Two interweaving central themes have  crystallized in the course of this work. One pertains to the context- embeddedness of emotional life in general and of the experience of  emotional trauma in particular. The other pertains to the recognition that the possibility of emotional trauma is built into the basic constitution of human  existence. Here I briefly explicate these two themes—trauma’s contextuality and it’s existentiality—and seek a synthesis of them from a perspective that  can encompass them both.      It is a central tenet of intersubjective-systems theory—the  psychoanalytic framework that my collaborators and I have been  developing over the course of more than three decades (Stolorow, Atwood,  and Orange, 2002)—that a shift in psychoanalytic thinking from the primacy of drive to the primacy of affectivity moves psychoanalysis toward a  phenomenological contextualism and a central focus on dynamic  intersubjective fields. Unlike drives, which originate deep within the interior  1 1
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of a Cartesian isolated mind, affect—that is, subjective emotional  experience—is something that from birth onward is regulated, or  misregulated, within ongoing relational systems. Therefore, locating affect  at its center automatically entails a radical contextualization of virtually all  aspects of human psychological life.
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