Vamık D. Volkan, M.D., DLFAPA, FACPsa.


Vamık D. Volkan
Presented at the Austen Riggs Center, Stockbridge, MA, “Lost in Transmission: A Study of Trauma Across Generations” October 16, 2004.


This chapter examines the influence of traumatizing world events such as wars, war-like situations, and drastic political changes on the psyche of the individual and raises the controversial question of whether or not to focus on such external events and their mental representations during psychoanalytic treatment. The analysand’s reactions to current or chronic traumatizing world events may severely interfere with the routine analysis of mental conflicts stemming from realistic and/or fantasized experiences of childhood. Sometimes analysts themselves do not allow the impact of certain external events to be examined during the psychoanalytic treatment process because they unconsciously wish to protect themselves from their own anxiety and fear should the emotion of such events enter their offices. In this paper I also investigate the role historical processes play in the lives of ancestors in shaping our analysand’s symptoms and character formations.
Ignoring traumatizing external world events:
During the mid 1960s when I was a candidate at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute,“ego psychology” was the dominant theory in all psychoanalytic institutes under the sponsorship of the American Psychoanalytic Association. We were taught to understand our patients’ internal worlds by applying Freud’s structural theory that divides the mind into the id, the ego, and the superego. In the clinical setting, the focus was on exploring psychic reality only: an analysand’s inner mental conflicts, resistances, development of a transference neurosis and its resolution. Primarily, while conducting psychoanalysis, we did not focus on dangers from the outside world or on the influence of external world events on our internal worlds. We followed the psychoanalytic tradition that originated with Sigmund Freud’s giving up, in his early efforts to develop psychoanalytic theories, the idea of the sexual seduction of children coming from the external world in favor of the stimuli that come from the child’s own wishes and fantasies for formation of psychopathology. Thus, less emphasis by classical psychoanalysis on actual seduction coming from the external world on a developing child’s psyche was generalized to include de-emphasis on external event, including international events, in general as they impact the psychopathology of individuals affected by dramatic historical actions.
In those days there were multiple psychoanalytic schools, but some were perceived to be more firmly established than others. For example, the followers of Melanie Klein had established themselves as a formidable group competing with ego psychologists. Kleinians, too—even perhaps more than the ego psychologists—bypassed the influence of traumatizing external historical events while treating their patients. After all, Melanie Klein herself provided a well-known example of ignoring influences of a war while treating one of her patients. In 1961, she reported the analysis of a ten-year-old boy named Richard, which had taken place during World War II. During Richard’s analysis, the terror of the Blitz under which Richard lived had not been examined. Was Melanie Klein’s ignoring of the dangerous external circumstances simply due to her theoretical stance? By not paying attention to it while treating little Richard, was she denying her own fear of the external danger?  We will, of course, never know for sure why Melanie Klein did not focus on the influence of a fear-inducing war situation and why she did not explore the intertwining of an external war with an internal one while analyzing Richard.
There are other occasions, however, when analysts’ failure to pay attention to dangerous current or chronic historical events, (also to past dangerous external world events), was clearly connected with their own resistance to recalling and/or re-experiencing troublesome affects. An analyst’s own resistance may dovetail with the analysand’s resistance and the examination of the dangerous external world, past or present, is ignored. In the United States, Harold Blum’s (1985) description of a Jewish patient who came to him for re-analysis illustrates the extent to which mutual resistances may prevail when both analyst and the analysand belong to the same large group which was massively traumatized by an external historical event. Blum’s patient’s first analyst, who was also Jewish, failed to “hear” their large group’s shared trauma at the hands of the Nazis in his analysand’s material; as a consequence, mutually sanctioned silence and denial pervaded the entire analytic experience, leaving unanalyzed residues of the Holocaust in the analysand’s symptoms. Blum writes,
                            "Although the patient and his last analyst were both born in Europe and were both Jewish, neither one discussed the experience of debasing bigotry, the war, emigration, being a refugee, social-cultural upheaval, separation from family and friends, and cultural shock. For years, they spoke to each other without mention of each other’s accent or why they were meeting in an American rather than a European office" (p.898).
Blum continues to state that there was:
                           "A double standard in analysis. Freedom of thought and expression were compromised by tacit cues that some areas were off limits and should remain shrouded in silence. This repetition of the ‘conspiracy of silence’ (and the suffering in silence of the family) was maintained by depriving memory of emotional meaning, and skillful displacement of discussion" (p.899).
We can only wonder how many Jewish analysts in the USA after World War II were like Blum’s patient’s former analyst and how many of them, without being aware of it, influenced the application of the psychoanalytic treatment in a way that ignored the Holocaust-related external reality. We can only imagine that some of them exaggerated their bias toward a theoretical position called “classical psychoanalysis” that is focused only on the patient’s internal world during the analytic treatment.
We now know clearly that in post-World War II Germany as well, there has been both German and German-Jewish analyst-supported resistance to exploring the intertwining of the internal and external wars and the influence of the Nazi era traumas on analysands’ psyches. In the early 1960s, while treating an ethnic German analysand and a Jewish analysand, German Jewish analyst Anna Maria Jokl left for Israel without completing the two patients’ analytic work, and it was not until the mid-1990s that she was able to piece together and report the complex influences of their large-group identities on the scene of analysis (Jokl, 1997).
German speaking psychoanalysts, such as Ilse Grubrich-Simitis (1979), Anita Eckstaedt (1989), and Annette Streeck-Fischer (1999) have explored the difficulties of “hearing” and having empathy with Nazi-related influences in their German and Jewish patients. Eckstaedt, indeed, has brought overdue attention to the trauma that ethnic Germans themselves experienced during the Third Reich and to the influence of that trauma on the self-conception of contemporary Germans. In 1997 and 1998 I was asked to work with a small group of ethnic German and Jewish-German analysts and therapists when they formed an organization to end “the silence” about the Holocaust-related issues that come up during clinical practice. I realized that such a “silence” was real and that it was difficult to deal with. (For details see: Volkan, Ast and Greer, 2002, chapter 9.)
Beginning in the early 1950s, well-known psychoanalysts, both in the USA and Europe (A. Freud, 1954, Jacobson, 1954, Stone, 1954, Weigert, 1954) began to explore and write papers on a topic that became known as “the widening scope of psychoanalysis.” John Frosch (1954) summarized Anna Freud’s concerns on this subject: “In the discussion (Arden House Conference, Harrison, and May, 1954) Anna Freud referred to analytic situations which evoked variations in technique. She regretted, however, what she felt was the enormous expenditure of time and energy involved in the treatment of borderline and psychotic cases in view of the small ultimate results. In her opinion it would be more rewarding to devote such efforts to less severe cases with greater therapeutic promise” (p.565).
We all know that a couple of decades later borderline patients and individuals with other personality disorders filled psychoanalysts’ offices and psychoanalysts began writing about various new theories explaining borderline and other personally disorders and the technique for their treatment (Kohut, 1971, Kernberg, 1975, Volkan, 1976). Outside of new considerations about counter transference and other technical concepts, the widening scope of psychoanalysis was followed by studies on two movements in psychoanalytic practice:
1-  There were efforts to come up with new psychoanalytic theories to understand the internal worlds of individuals whose superegos were not fully formed and integrated. Thus, there appeared a need to go beyond the application of the structural theory in order to explore the internal worlds of certain patients who were not simply “neurotics,” and who were now referred to as “borderline” or “narcissistic” individuals. This led to the evolution of the type of object relations theory that primarily was systematized by Otto Kernberg (Kernberg, 1975), and I (Volkan, 1981) wrote about continuing to rely on the structural theory when analyzing individuals with an integrated self-representation and utilizing the object-relations theory when treating persons with un-integrated self-representation.
2-   It was noticed more and more how patients’ internal and external worlds in general are intertwined. This, of course, was already known. Since “borderline” or “narcissistic” patients strongly and more openly react to their environments and often try to change them or at least perceive them according to their internal demands, the intertwining of external and internal worlds in general began to receive more attention.
A primary reason to focus on these psychoanalytic movements following discussions on the widening scope of psychoanalysis seemed to be the fact that individuals with personality disorders, such as those with borderline or narcissistic personality organization, had began to attract psychoanalysts’ attention. I think that there was also another reason. In the USA, in Europe, and in Israel analysts’ resistances against recalling and re-experiencing the fearful external world of the Nazi-period to a great extent had begun fading away by the 1970s, and more and more studies of the influence of the Third Reich on the psyche of the survivors (victims and perpetrators) had begun to surface. (For a review of the literature see: Kestenberg and Brenner, 1996 and Volkan, Ast and Greer, 2002.)
Psychoanalysts with a “classical” orientation began to realize that the specific nature of any given historical event is important when it symbolically becomes a mirror of our pre-oedipal or oedipal conflicts and our defenses against them. In 1986, Sander Abend wrote that “the impact of daily events, inner as well as outer (italics added) plays upon our psychic integration and produces those fluctuations of mood, thought, and behavior which are part of our so-called normal personalities” (p.565). He added that the analyst is constantly affected by shifting internal and external events. He suggested that the analyst cannot simply remain as a pure and non-changing “analyzing instrument.”
In 1991, Jacob Arlow, another well-known American psychoanalyst, who was a key figure among the architects of the ego psychology that dominated the American psychoanalytic scene in the 1960s and 1970s, wrote, I think it is a fair statement that psychoanalysts today consider many more factors that contribute to the shaping of the individual – dynamic, biological, adaptive, developmental, experiential, and cultural factors. Where they differ is in the relative emphasis they give to one or another of these elements” (p.60).  
It is beyond the scope of this paper to review the many studies on the reciprocal relationship between external reality and internal wishes, conflicts, defenses and unconscious fantasies, some of which, in spite of psychoanalysts’ resistance to notice them or focus on them, indeed go back to Freud’s own writings (e.g., see Freud 1917). What I am referring to here is the degree of “relative emphasis” that was given during psychoanalytic treatment to the intertwining of our analysands’ experiences in wars, war-like conditions, and drastic political changes—and we will soon see, even of mental representations of our analysands’ ancestors’ historical  events—that occurred in their internal worlds. World events following the collapse of the Soviet Empire, such as what happened in the former Yugoslavia, in Africa, and elsewhere in the 1990s, and now in the post-September 11, 2001, world, have brought about an abundance of trauma studies and psychological studies of wars or war-like conditions. Such studies have also influenced psychoanalysts to a great extent. For example, the theme of the 44th Annual Meeting of the International Psychoanalytic Association in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2005 is “trauma,” including trauma due to historical events. Psychoanalysts have begun paying more and more attention to events in the external world. There are, of course, many types of massive traumas in the external world, some of them due to natural causes such as tsunami. Keeping in mind the topic of this paper, I am focusing on traumas related to wars, war-like conditions, drastic political changes and terrorism.
Meanwhile, beginning in the 1980s and spreading into the 1990s and 2000s, a new phenomenon occurred in psychoanalysis that became known as the new “pluralistic landscape of psychoanalysis” (see, for example, Samberg, 2004, p.243). In other words, many new “schools” were put under the umbrella of “democracy in the field” and each one of them claimed to be psychoanalytic. Under this “democratic” approach, even some crucial classical concepts of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic technique, including the concept of a dynamic unconscious, were questioned by some “schools.” In certain circles, as far as I can see, the new “psychoanalytic technique” seemed to have a sole focus on the patient’s relationship with the external world in general—not necessarily the external world related to wars, war-like conditions or political change—and the psychoanalyst’s “managing” the patient’s life instead of trying to achieve an internal structural change in the patient. Some “psychoanalysts,” in my view, have now begun exhibiting resistance against examining the analysand’s unconscious dynamics at the expense of focusing on the patient’s relationships to their external world, bypassing the examination of the intertwining of the two—internal and external worlds—in a sophisticated fashion.
Even those clinicians who continue with the tradition that what counts in a proper psychoanalytic practice is the analysis of the analysand’s dynamic unconscious, sometimes still resist dealing with the influences current wars or chronic war-like situations have on patients’ internal worlds and on the analytic practice in general. Of course, there is also recognition of such problems. For example, in 2004, Mitch Elliott, Kenneth Bishop and Paul Stokes from the Irish Institute of Psycho-Social Studies, referred, among other things, to the troubles in Northern Ireland and stated that, “In the world of psychoanalysis there has been a tendency, in addressing societal questions, to abandon the rigor of the consulting room, and to resort to a long-distance speculation” (p.1). Interestingly, they assert that social diversity “seriously affects what is considered ‘normal’ and what is deemed "pathological." Failure to address it may, moreover, contribute by counter-transference to the formation of psychoanalytic ‘schools’ antipathetic toward each other” (p.14).
After September 11 the International Psychoanalytic Association established a Terror and Terrorism Working Group, and Sverre Varvin of Norway and I edited a volume of collected papers for this group (Varvin and Volkan, 2004). The writings in this volume by colleagues with Jewish and Arab backgrounds, I think reflect my Irish colleagues’ concerns. They, in my mind, include references to counter-transference issues as well as blind spots concerning the situation in the Middle East and its effects on the internal worlds of people from different groups.
The influence of an ongoing dangerous external situation related to wars or war-like situations concerning the psychoanalytic practice has recently been described by the Israeli psychoanalyst Ilany Kogan (2004). With two detailed case reports Kogan illustrated the role of the psychoanalyst in the analytic cure during times of chronic crises in Israel. In her first case, Kogan is able to stay with fears evoked in her patient by the traumatic external war-like situation. But, in her second case, for a long time she was like Melanie Klein treating Richard in World War II England. The psychoanalyst’s blind focus on her patient’s internal reality was an attempt to counteract her own sense of passivity and helplessness, as she, like her patient, was surrounded by a chronic life-threatening external world. The psychoanalysis was being conducted when a chemical or biological attack on Israel was perceived to be imminent. Kogan made psychoanalytic interpretations of internal events, ignoring her own and her patient’s fears. A turning point occurred when another important external event occurred. The psychoanalyst had a granddaughter. At that time, in Israel, babies were discharged from the hospital with little plastic bag. This, it was thought, would keep them safe in case of a chemical or biological attack. Kogan envisioned what could happen during such an attack: young parents, her son and her daughter-in-law, wearing gas masks while frantically attempting to put the screaming baby into this devise and not being able to touch and calm her. This image made Kogan aware that she was not coping with the existing situation and broke her denial of the external danger and in turn, she could deal with her patient’s fears.
Examples from my own experiences:
From the late 1970s until the mid-1980s, along with other psychoanalysts such as Rafael Moses and Rena Moses-Hrushovski of Israel and John Mack of Boston, I was involved with a team, sponsored by the American Psychiatric Association that brought influential Israelis and Arabs together for a series of unofficial diplomatic meetings (Volkan1987, 1988). From the mid-1980s until early 2000s, I also attended a series of unofficial diplomacy meetings between influential representatives of opposing large groups such as the USA and the Soviet Union, Russia and Estonia, Serbia and Croatia, Turkey and Greece, Georgia and South Ossetia. When representatives of one side in such meetings felt attacked by the representatives of the opposing group, they usually reactivated a shared mental representation of their ancestors’ history. For example, if the Russian delegates felt attacked by the Estonians, Russians spontaneously would start speaking of the Tatar invasion of Russia centuries earlier. I called such reactivated shared mental representations of history during which the ancestors felt victimized, “chosen traumas” (Volkan, 1991, 2004a).
“Chosen trauma” refers to the shared mental representation of an event that has caused a large group’s ancestors to face drastic losses, to feel helpless, and to experience shame and humiliation at the hand of enemies. Although some colleagues have taken exception to my term chosen trauma, because a large group, such as an ethnic group, does not willingly choose to be victimized or suffer humiliation, I believe that, like an individual, a large group can be said to make unconscious “choices.” Thus the term chosen trauma accurately reflects a large group’s unconscious “choice” to add a past generation’s mental representation of a shared event to its own large-group identity. Although large groups may have experienced any number of massive traumas in their history, only certain of these become special and their shared mental representations remain with them over decades or centuries. The chosen trauma causes thousands and millions of people who are designated as “chosen” to be linked together through their shared mental representation of that past trauma. By reactivating their chosen traumas, the members of a large group connect themselves with one another and try to patch up the injury they felt was inflicted upon their large-group identity during current times or as they face current “enemy” representatives.
What I observed in the international relations arena and what I thought about large-group psychology made a big impact on my clinical practice and my expanding understanding of individual psychology. When I was in my clinical office I began “hearing” more clearly my analysands’ descriptions of political, social and military events in the external world and the influence of such events on their large-group identities, and in turn on their internal worlds. Furthermore, I began noticing the influence of history, including one’s ancestors’ history, on analysands’ wishes, defenses, conscious fantasies, separation-individuation and oedipal issues.
Now, like Ilany Kogan who presented material from her own life, I will also present data from my life (from my personal analysis) with the idea that to do so may help contribute to our understanding of how external and internal wars intertwine. My personal psychoanalysis had taken place before my exposure to unofficial diplomatic dialogues and before I visited many locations such as refugee camps, places where the effect of wars or war-like conditions on the internal worlds of the victims cannot be easily denied. After a successful personal analysis is completed, the analysand represses most aspects of its memory as he or she typically represses childhood events. Thus, when I speak about my own analysis we need to keep this fact in mind. Nevertheless, I am aware that the influence of two external historical war-related events entered my analysis.
The first story from my own analysis refers to my childhood in Cyprus, a Mediterranean island 40 sea-miles south of Turkey, which then was a British colony. During World War II, Germans occupied Crete, another Mediterranean island which belonged to Greece, and it was supposed that they would occupy Cyprus next. Accordingly, my father moved his family—my mother, my two older sisters and me (then an oedipal age boy)—to a village about 20 miles from the capital city of  Nicosia where we lived. The idea was that the German aircraft would bomb Nicosia, and that living in this village away from the capital city would keep us safe. My father, a headmaster of an elementary school, however, remained in Nicosia, as his job required him to do so. On the weekends, he would take a bus and visit us in the village, only to return to Nicosia again during the week.
I recall German planes flying very low over the village. I recall even seeing the faces of the pilots. Of course, I do not know if my recalling their faces is real or fantasized. In reality, they would bomb Nicosia. From a hilltop I, along with other children from the village, could watch them dropping their bombs and we could hear the noise. I would wait with anxiety until I saw my father the next weekend. Today I believe that this historical event, the bombing of Nicosia by the Nazi German airplanes, was intertwined with my oedipal issues. Such bombing could kill my oedipal rival, my father in Nicosia, while I could be safe with my mother and sisters in the village. I could remain as their little “prince” and have an oedipal triumph, as well as guilt, of course. I think that this historical event played a role in my not feeling comfortable when I was physically close to my father during my youth. I was more appreciative of my father as a kind and a brave man after my personal analysis ended.
I am sure that I spoke of the German bombing of  Cyprus during my personal analysis, although I do not recall my analyst making any remarks about it. On the other hand, knowing my analyst through his writings, I am sure that he appreciated the internal oedipal reflections of my watching German planes dropping bombs on “my father.” Most likely he used this understanding along with understanding other data in interpreting my oedipal issues, and helping me to work through them.
The second external war-related event actually took place while I was in analysis. Between 1963 and 1968 there was terrorism on the island and Cypriot Turks were terrorized. While I was safely in the USA, Cypriot Turks who previously inhabited 37% of the island were forced by Cypriot Greeks to live in 3% of the island in various enclaves surrounded by their enemies and in subhuman conditions. I knew that 16 families had come to live in our house in Nicosia, literally on top of each other. I could not have direct communication with my parents, sisters or friends. Sometimes I would not hear from them for three months or so. I did not know if they were dead or alive. I knew that my long-time roommate from our days in medical school in Turkey had been shot to death by Greek Cypriot terrorists. Obviously, I spoke about what was happening to my people in Cyprus while I was lying on my analyst’s couch. I do not recall that my analyst and I openly discussed my concerns about the external events that were happening thousands of miles away and my survivor guilt.
My psychoanalyst was Jewish. Much later, after I finished my analysis, I wondered if his own history connected him directly with the Holocaust and if he had his own survivor guilt. I wondered if he felt that atrocities committed against the Cypriot Turks between 1963 and 1968 were, in a sense, insignificant compared to the enormity of the Holocaust. I also wondered if the opposite were true. Did my telling the story of Cypriot Turks living in ghettos for five years induce bad affects in my Jewish analyst, and that he wanted to deny them by not focusing on them during his work with me?
My psychoanalyst and I did not see one another after the late 1960s when I terminated my analysis, except occasionally when we ran into each other at some professional meetings and greeted one another. I always felt that I was lucky to have had him as my analyst. I read many of his papers as I developed professionally and always felt that he was a very gifted clinician and very good psychoanalyst for me. Some years after my analysis finished I wrote a book on the ethnic conflict in Cyprus (Volkan, 1979). Was it, at least partly, my attempt at a kind of self-analysis of this ethnic conflict’s influence on my internal world that was not examined on the couch?
Thirty plus years after I finished my psychoanalysis, my psychoanalyst died when I was out of the USA. After returning home, I attended an American Psychoanalytic Meeting. Unexpectedly I saw a notice on a board and learned of his death. I soon found out how it is to mourn the loss of one’s psychoanalyst. I felt very close to his mental representation, reviewed some of my experiences on the couch in analysis with him and experienced sadness. I had an urge to visit his gravesite if he were buried and to say goodbye. In order to find out where he was buried, I wrote to one of his friends—another psychoanalyst—and inquired about my psychoanalyst’s death. It turned out that this psychoanalyst had given the eulogy during the funeral. Without my asking him, he sent me a copy of what he had said at the ceremony. It was a moving eulogy. In it, he referred to his perception that there was an area in my psychoanalyst’s mind that was very personal and that, in a sense, my analyst kept this part of himself“secret” from others. This increased my fantasy that this “private area”—which I thought had something to do with his Jewish history—kept him from paying much attention to the dangerous external world my family lived in at the time of my analysis.
Ancestors history:
My references to external historical events in this paper until now have related to situations that directly affected the analysand as well as the psychoanalyst. I will go one step further: I will try to illustrate that historical event through which our ancestors lived, events that took place a century or so ago, can be factors that structure our psychic lives. I will turn my attention to a third historical event in my life that illustrates how large-group events in our ancestors’ lives influence us. (I did not discuss this historical event with my psychoanalyst because I became preoccupied with it after I finished my analysis.)
My mother died in 1979, over ten years after my personal analysis ended. Soon after this, during a trip to Cyprus, my older sister, in passing, referred to an odd behavior on my mother’s part. She would never wash clothes! She would always find someone else to do this chore for her. I grew up with a mother who was above washing clothes. Obviously, as a child I perceived her “character trait” as a normal phenomenon. I do not recall ever wondering about her not washing clothes. As an adult, mostly living in the USA, I had forgotten it until my sister brought it up again.
This conversation with my sister was one of the reasons for my beginning to collect data about my ancestors on my mother’s side. My mother was born when Cyprus was an Ottoman island. The Ottomans had conquered the island in 1570-71, and taken it away from the Venetian Empire. My mother’s paternal grandfather was a “kadı” (meaning something like a religious Supreme Court judge) and her maternal grandfather was the minister of vineyards (meaning something like the minister of agriculture.)
In 1878, a drastic historical event took place. The Ottomans “rented” the island to the British. Great Britain took Cyprus “on trust” by treaty with the Ottoman Sultan, who was assured of protection against Russia in return. Cyprus would remain an Ottoman island, but the British would run it administratively. In 1914, at the start of  World War I, in which the Ottomans allied themselves with Imperial Germany, the British formally annexed Cyprus. There was no war on the island, no bloodshed. Overnight the Ottomans lost it. Modern Turkey, the heir of the Ottoman Empire, recognized British rule in Cyprus under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, and Cyprus became a crown colony the following year.
Soon after the British took over the administration of the island in 1878, they transferred my mother’s religious judge (kadı) grandfather from the capital city to a new, but rural, location. The kadı’s wife, the daughter of the “minister of vineyards,” refused to leave the capital city. He and his family were humiliated. Without going into detail, I should report that this historical event led to drastic family problems and to the collapse of the family fortunes.
After my mother’s death, with the help of my niece and others, I began to further investigate my ancestors’ history. Since they had high positions, there were historical Ottoman and British documents on record about them. Some of the older people in the family knew their history, but I do not recall my having any cohesive knowledge about family history when I was growing up. I came to the conclusion that my mother’s“character trait” of not washing clothes was related to her attempt to keep a psychological link to the glorified times of the family. She could still pretend that she was the spoiled daughter of the Ottoman elite. My older sister, I learned, had come to this conclusion a long time ago. What is interesting is my becoming aware that I had a similar character trait—a stubborn and narcissistic streak. Under certain circumstances, I would rather die than “lower” my standards and perform certain tasks.
My journey (briefly described above) into my ancestors’ lives and  my involvement in international relations made me clearly aware that it would be better, and even essential, that during clinical analysis the analyst pay attention to the role of the analysand’s ancestors’ history and transgenerational transmission. One result of this awareness has been my study with Gabriele Ast and William Greer of how “transgenerational transmissions” occur and how Holocaust-related historical mental representations were involved in transgenerational transmission in certain—Jewish, German, and one Gypsy— patients (Volkan, Ast, Greer, 2002). Writing the forward to this book, Ira Brenner (2002) refers to the still-existing controversy over including mental images of history in “classical” psychoanalysis.
Brenner reports how certain children “enter a psychological time tunnel” and “weave their parents’ past into their own developmental experience” (p. xiii). When he was presenting a case to illustrate this to a group of analysts who met regularly, some talented “outsider” colleagues argued that “since analysis deals with the realm of psychic reality only, we were introducing an unnecessary element that only ‘muddied the waters’ and was unnecessary for successful treatment. As persuasive as many of these arguments were, we nevertheless felt that much would have remained unanalyzed without this extra step, which required an understanding of historical reality” (p.xiii). The “extra step” that Brenner speaks about is usually first taken by the analysand. All the analyst needs to do is to pay attention to it.
Ancestors’ history during a psychoanalytic process:
A man named Hamilton came to psychoanalysis in his late fifties (Volkan, 2004 b). His primary symptom was an “addiction” to women. He kept a book that included the names of 100 women whom he could call. If he did not have a woman in his bed during the nighttime, he would have “paranoid” symptoms. By the time little Hamilton was only four years old, his mother had delivered two daughters. After each delivery she suffered from post-partum depression, and Hamilton was taken care of by a black nanny. After his second younger sister was born, the nanny was fired. Thus Hamilton had lost his idealized mother when she became pregnant with Hamilton’s next sibling as well as his “second mother,” the black nanny. The rest of his life he kept searching for a perfect woman. Furthermore, he was also physically abused by his mother and his father. When he was an oedipal age and later, his father would beat him regularly with a razor strap in a bathroom that Hamilton nicknamed “a torture chamber” in order to make him develop a “good” character. 
During Hamilton’s developmental years, his paternal grandmother, Dolly—who would regularly visit the family—was a prominent figure. Hamilton knew that Dolly was the mastermind behind the creation of the “torture chamber” and his receiving other physical punishments “for his own good.” It was Dolly who would preach to her son and daughter-in-law advocating a method of child-raising to develop “good character.” Dolly was a follower of a “German doctor” who knew best how to raise children. During Hamilton’s analysis, my analysand and I learned that the German doctor was Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber. The memoirs of Schreber’s son, Daniel Paul, (Schreber, 1903), were examined by Freud (1911). Freud’s historical accuracy and his understanding concerning Dr. Schreber’s child-rearing ideas have their critics (Israels, 1989, Lothane, 1992), and I will not focus on this controversy here. What is important was Dolly’s own interpretation of Schreber’s harsh treatment of children for “character building.”
From the beginning of Hamilton’s analysis, I knew that his ancestors in Virginia, who are in fact relatives of the British Royalty, were neighbors of Robert E. Lee. During the American Civil War, they fought for the Confederacy against the Yankees. When Robert E. Lee surrendered, they lost wealth, prestige and influence. (You may hear an echo of my ancestors’ fate). I worked with Hamilton four times a week for five years and he successfully finished his psychoanalytic work with me. In the fifth year, both of us began thinking of a successful termination of his analysis. But soon it became clear that following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, America would go to war in the Gulf region. At this time, Hamilton took a spontaneous “extra step” and began to fill his psychoanalytic hours with curiosity about the American Civil War and its influence on his ancestors and, in turn, on himself. He had an opportunity for a “second look” (Novey, 1968) at his childhood.
Both Saddam Hussein and President Bush were perceived as the punishing fathers. He recalled how he used to think of me as a “terrible Turk” with a scimitar. He said that it amused him to realize that my scary image was very mild in comparison to his image of President Bush with an IRM missile performing “surgical strikes” when the Gulf War began. As he watched the air assaults on television, he had an urgency to look at the important people in his past, even people he never met because he was born after they had died. Once more, he remembered how the image of the Civil War was present in his grandmother Dolly’s mind. He recalled a trunk in Dolly’s house filled with American Civil War pictures. As a child, stories about these pictures were told and retold in the family. He related the following dream:
                                                                  "Iraqi soldiers were shooting at me. Bullets were coming through a wooden board. I was shot and I died. I was put in a tomb. Although I was dead, I could see people around the tomb. They were all dressed up. My mother was there next to a woman who was wearing a beautiful fur coat. Then a strange thing happened. I had a rebirth. I got out of the tomb and began walking around. All the people began to become like mannequins, some of them black people. I wanted to put these mannequins into the tomb that I had just vacated."
The wooden board in the dream stood for the wooden board at the end of Hamilton’s parents’ bed. Earlier he had spent a great deal of time associating to this wooden board. As a little boy, whenever he had an ailment, his parents would put a crib next to the wooden footboard of their bed and allow little Hamilton to sleep in their bedroom. Throughout the initial years of his analysis, Hamilton had many associations to this wooden board image: his isolation from his parents, their rejection of him, his wish to remove the board and join them, his oedipal struggles and his rage. Iraqi soldiers’ bullets going through the wooden board connected the war in Iraq with his childhood conflicts and emotions and then with the image of the American Civil War.
The woman next to his mother in the dream in fact was a wealthy Iranian woman whom Hamilton had met hours before at a dinner party. They spoke about Iran, Iraq, Israel and the war. She insisted that Iranian children were well-behaved because if they were not, they would be punished by their parents. This reminded Hamilton of his own childhood and childhood rage. He “misbehaved” at the dinner party and shouted at the Iranian woman, who represented his punishing parents and Dolly. This incident in fact was his dream’s “day residue.”
By associating to the mannequins in the dream, Hamilton spent a month on the couch examining them. He was also active outside my office and collected data about “them.” The mannequins represented his ancestors and their black slaves. The most important aspect of this review was his finding out why Dolly became a disciple of Dr. Schreber and how this, in turn, played a most significant role in his having an abusive childhood and later developing his personality structure and symptoms. Here is Dolly’s story:
She was the youngest of seven siblings. She was six years old when the South was defeated and the American Civil War ended. During the war Dolly’s father had gone to fight and the family, on a large farm, lived in fear of hunger, rape and death. One aging slave on Dolly’s family’s farm, named King, had worked for Dolly’s father and was considered trustworthy. When Dolly’s father went to war, King was appointed her “protector.” Hamilton recalled his grandmother saying on many occasions: “I loved King!”
When Dolly’s traumatized father returned to his farm, King, without giving notice, escaped to the North. Realizing this, Hamilton understood that Dolly, like himself, was “loved and abandoned.” A similar story would repeat itself when his beloved black nanny suddenly left little Hamilton. Now, Hamilton came to the conclusion that Dolly played a role in urging her son and daughter-in-law—Hamilton’s parents—to “fire” their son’s “second mother,” the black nanny assigned to look after little Hamilton while Hamilton’s mother was busy with her new babies and while she suffered post-partum depression. Dolly had never forgiven King, even though she continued to “love” him, as Hamilton continued to love his black nanny, by having an inner obligation to seduce every attractive woman with dark complexion and dark hair. He even had to seduce women who wore black stockings!
After the Civil War, when all the siblings left the farm, the youngest child, Dolly, remained as an “old maid” to look after her war-traumatized parents. One male sibling went to Germany, studied medicine and became a follower of Dr. Schreber’s ideas. In fact, Dr. Schreber had died in 1861, the year the American Civil War began. When Dolly’s brother returned to the USA, he made his then-unmarried sister, Dolly, his “nigger” in an attempt to have an illusion of the old family tradition, to have black slaves. He would literally say, “Nigger, bring me water!” “...Nigger, bring me a chair!” Hamilton recalled Dolly saying that she “willingly” became her brother’s slave. Hamilton and I thought that by “willingly” creating a “nigger-master” pair, Dolly was masochistically re-establishing her lost relationship with King, in a reverse fashion. This time she was the black slave taking care of her white brother.
Dolly married late in life and left her masochism behind, replacing it with sadism. She was sadistic towards Hamilton’s father. Identifying with her doctor brother, she became her own version of  Dr. Schreber and later saw that little Hamilton was physically abused in order to develop his “character.”
After examining the “mannequins” in his dream, Hamilton was ready to bury them for good in “the tomb” he had created. During this time, he and I took what Ira Brenner called “the extra step,” and brought the ancestors’ drama and its influence on Hamilton to his analysis, and I believe that this allowed Hamilton to have a more comprehensive analysis. In turn, he became interested in his grandchildren even more and wanted to break any influence of their ancestors’ problems starting with the American Civil War.
Would Hamilton have successfully finished his analysis had he not examined his internal intertwining of his ancestors’ reactions to historical events with his own personal traumas during his developmental years? Perhaps the answer is, “yes.” But his understanding of himself as a “reservoir” of the mental images of individuals who were humiliated and hurt by a war and left with masochistic and sadistic character traits, I believe, allowed Hamilton to obtain a better internal freedom in dealing with himself and his environment.
Last words:
The controversy about bringing the danger, resulting from wars, war-like conditions and political change into the psychoanalytic process still continues. I am in favor of paying attention to wars, war-like conditions and drastic political changes in the external world and acute or chronic historical crises that may enter our physical environments.
Furthermore, I tried to illustrate how the mental representation of our ancestors’ historical events sometimes plays a crucial role in our psychological make-up. I am suggesting that the analyst should take into consideration the various types of transgenerational transmissions. I also wish to repeat that paying attention to history should only be done in a way that illustrates how past actual trauma, war, war-like conditions and political changes—their mental representations—intertwine with our internal developmental issues, wishes, defenses, conflicts and fantasies. When, within the analytic setting, our analysands experience that some of their symptoms or character traits originally belonged to their ancestors or were initiated by past historical events, they have a better chance of freeing themselves from the troubling influences of such symptoms or character traits. They will also have a better chance of working through the transference manifestations associated with ancestors and people who lived before their birth when they face wars, war-like conditions or political change. 
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