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



       Vamık D. Volkan and William F. Greer, Jr.

Vamık D. Volkan, M.D., Senior Erik Erikson Scholar, Erikson Institute for Research and Education of the Austen Riggs Center, Stockbridge, MA; Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA; and Training and Supervising Analyst Emeritus, Washington Psychoanalytic Institute, Washington, DC.

William F. Greer, Jr. Ph. D., Assistant Professor, Community Faculty, at the Medical College of Hampton Roads, Norfolk, Virginia. Member of the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis. A clinical associate member of the Virginia Psychoanalytic Society, he also maintains a private practice in Hampton, Virginia. 

(Published in Finnish): Volkan Vamık D., and Greer, William F. (2007.) Sukupolvien Perintö: sukupolvien Psykologiset Taakat. In Vieraiden Aaania: Suomen Nuoripsykiatrisen Yhdistyken 30-vuatisjuhlarkirja. (Eds.), Irja Kantanen, and Veikko Aalverg. Helsinki: Suomen Nuorisopsykiatrinen Yhdistys Ry.


This paper deals with transgenerational transmission of certain self and object images that belong to a mother or other adult caretaker in the developing self-representation of a child. We refer to this type of transgenerational transmission as “depositing.” We will provide two case stories to illustrate the clinical manifestations of “depositing” and its role in identity formation and psychopathology. When adults with psychopathology who have been a reservoir of deposited images during childhood come to analysis, these individuals’ resistance to the analytic process and “getting well” will center, at one time or another, on facing the possibility that they may cease to function as a reservoir, or at least modify this condition, thus changing their existing sense of identity.

There are variations of transgenerational transmissions and all of them depend on the permeability of the psychological boundary between children and their mothers or other important caretakers. A. Freud and Burlingham (1942) were among the earliest to report on the phenomenon of an affect, anxiety, being passed by the mother to the child through this permeable border. They observed, when the German Luftwaffe in World War II was bombing London, that if mothers and caretakers remained calm, the children did not get anxious. Conversely, when the children sensed anxiety in these individuals, they experienced anxiety. Later observations on transferring anxiety from an adult to a child found their way in theory formations. For example, in his work with severely regressed schizophrenic patients, Harry Stack Sullivan (1962) theorized that this mental condition was caused primarily by the anxiety conveyed to them by their mothers in their early developmental years.

It is not only anxiety that travels from the mother or other primary caretaker to a developing child through the permeable boundary. Other psychological “messages,” such as a mother’s unconscious fantasy, also can be given to her child. This may initiate the child’s own unconscious or sometimes conscious fantasy that responds to the mother’s transferred unconscious fantasy. For example, Volkan and Masri (1989) described a female transsexual’s belief that she was a man and that if her skin was unzipped like a garment, there would be a penis between her legs. When these authors also worked with this patient’s mother, they noticed that this female transsexual primarily reflected the mother’s unconscious fantasy that her daughter was a penis, the mother having transferred this unconscious fantasy to her child. When her child was born, the young mother was lonely, anxious and regressed. She would put her baby between her legs and masturbate as if the baby was a penis substitute. Her fantasy of her female baby as a penis was so generalized that when she took her baby out in public, she covered and hid the baby under the blankets as an adult covers and hides a penis while in a public place.

Research also illustrates the permeable border between a mothering person and a child. For example, the direct observational research of Mahler (1968) and her colleagues into mother-child relationship permitted us to better understand the process by which a mother’s, or another caregiver’s, anxiety and other mental contents could be passed into children’s inner worlds. More scientific research conducted later (Stern 1985; Emde 1991; and Greenspan, 1997) continued to demonstrate that the boundary between mother and child is highly permeable and allows for the passage of “messages,” affective and psychological, which may to be experienced by the children as intrinsic to their own mental life (Stern, 1985; Emde, 1991; and Greenspan, 1997). In Finland, a laboratory research project at the Kuopio Medical School (Lehtonen, 2003; Lehtonen, Könönen, Purhonen, Patanen, Saarikoski, and Launiala, 1998; 2002; Purhonen, Paakonen, Ypparila, Lehtonen, and Karhu, 2001), has afforded incontrovertible empirical evidence of transgenerational transmissions and their psychobiological substrate. Taking the permeability of the psychological border between the child and the mother or other caretakers as a solidly established fact, our focus in this paper is on a type of transgenerational transmission we call “depositing.” This refers to a process in which an adult’s self-image or images of others is deposited into the developing self of a child. Before we proceed further, we will define exactly what we mean by this concept.

“Depositing” is closely related to the well-known concept of identification in childhood. In fact, it may even be called a variation of identification. But, it is in some ways significantly different than identification proper. In identification, the child is the primary active partner in taking in and assimilating object images and related ego and superego functions from another person.  In depositing, the “other,” an adult person, more actively pushes his or her specific self- and internalized object images into the developing self-representation of the child. In other words, the “other” uses the child, mostly unconsciously, as a reservoir for certain self- and object images that belong to that adult. The experiences that created these mental images in the adult are not “accessible” to the child, but instead, are deposited or pushed into the child, but without the experiential/contextual framework that created them (Volkan 1987; Volkan and Ast, 1997; and Volkan, Ast and Greer 2001).

One area where the concept of depositing can be illustrated clearly is the so-called replacement child phenomenon (Cain and Cain 1964; Green and Solnit 1964; Poznanski 1972; Legg and Sherick, 1976; Ainslie and Solyom, 1986; and Volkan and Ast 1997). A mother has an internalized formed image of her child who has died. She deposits this image into the developing self-representation of her next-born child, usually born after the first child’s death.

The second child, the replacement child, has no actual experience with or image of the dead sibling. The mother, who has an image of the dead child, treats the second one as the reservoir where the dead child can be kept “alive.” Accordingly, the mother gives the second child certain ego tasks, mostly unconsciously, to protect and maintain what is deposited in this child. Obviously, replacement children also develop personal ego functions to deal with what has been pushed into them. For example, replacement children will be preoccupied with the task of integrating the deposited image with the rest of their self-representation. These children may or may not succeed in doing so. If the task is successful, the replacement child will not exhibit psychopathology. Sometimes the assimilated idealized deposited representation may become a motivation for the individual to excel in certain areas of life experiences. If this task is not successful, replacement children may develop an unintegrated self-representation and therefore a borderline or narcissistic personality organization, or even a psychotic personality organization (Volkan 1987).

The mother or other caretaker who deposits the mental image of a dead child (or other dead relatives), into the developing self of a child is herself or himself suffering from difficulty of mourning. Thus, they are traumatized. In the replacement child phenomenon, there may also be some depositing of the depositor’s injured self image into the child’s self. Some adults may actively, but mostly unconsciously, push their own traumatized self and traumatized object images, whether they are connected with a concrete loss or not, into developing self-representations of their children. Although the child who becomes a reservoir is not completely a passive partner, nevertheless, the child does not initiate this transfer of images; it is the “other” (the adult) who initiates this process. Kestenberg’s term (1982) transgenerational transportation, we believe, refers to “depositing” traumatized images. The actual memories of the trauma belong to adults; children have no experience with the trauma. Memories belonging to one person cannot be transmitted to another person, but an adult can deposit traumatized self- and object images as well as others, such as realistic or imagined object images that are formed in the depositor’s mind as a response to trauma, into a child’s self-representation.

By performing the act of “depositing,” the depositors externalize their troublesome images into another person in order to become “free” of the troublesome images carried within them, or externalize the wished-for images in order to keep them “alive” in someone in the next generation. Through “depositing,” the adult attempts to free himself or herself from the mental conflicts and anxiety associated with deposited images. On the other hand, the children who are a reservoir are given, metapsychologically speaking, a psychological gene that influences their self-representation, and thus their sense of identity. This psychological gene may or may not be a source of pathology depending on how the child handles what had been “deposited” by the traumatized adult into his internal world.

In this paper, we will give two case illustrations of the influence of “deposited” images on the symptomatic and characterlogic expressions of the patients. The first case illustrates a kind of replacement child, viz., one who became a reservoir for a caretaker’s traumatized self-and associated object images from his days as a prisoner of war. The second case is a replacement child as well, but a most unusual one. In this case, the mother deposited her own image associated with her inability to mourn as well as the image of a child by her first husband into her child born during her second marriage. What was most unusual about it is that the woman never had a child by her first husband who was killed in WW II soon after they married. What the woman deposited into the patient was her wished-for image of a child by her first husband to whom she remained secretly “married” in her fantasies. In reporting these two cases, we will first tell the story of the depositor and then those who functioned as reservoirs. It is the latter who were the patients, aspects of whose analyses we will describe in some detail. It is through their analyses that we learned each depositor’s story. Our aim here is to illustrate depositing and its consequences in the lives of the next generation and not to explore the psychoanalytic process itself and the technical maneuvers utilized in the patients’ treatments. Each patient was seen on the couch four times a week.

A legacy of the 1942 Bataan Death March:
Gregory was an American sailor during WW II who worked on a submarine where he was in charge of the submarine’s torpedoes. The Japanese captured him when he was stationed in the Philippines and was in the Bataan Death March in the spring of 1942. The American and Filipino prisoners were forced to march 65 miles in the boiling sun while Japanese soldiers beat them with whips and rifle buts. Thousands died. After that, Gregory was in a Japanese prison camp where he witnessed, and experienced, unbelievable cruelty until the end of the war. He observed the beheadings of fellow prisoners by swords; he buried his dead friends in shallow graves and reburied them when floods brought their corpses to the surface of the earth.

Soon after he returned to the USA, a thin and haggard figure, Gregory became friendly with a woman whose husband had left her when their only child, Peter, was three weeks old.Gregory moved in with her, the woman’s mother, and Peter who then was under the age of two, traumatized, overfed, and obese. During Peter’s early childhood, Gregory stayed at home while the women went to work, thereby assuming the major parenting role for Peter. A few years’ later, Gregory married Peter’s mother and adopted Peter as his son. The newlyweds moved to a new house, leaving behind the boy’s grandmother, who died before Peter reached puberty. Gregory rarely spoke of his horrific experiences during the war and continued to be his stepson’s primary caregiver during the boy’s developmental years.

“Externalization” and “depositing” were Gregory’s main defense mechanisms that made it possible for him live a “normal” life in the USA following the unspeakable traumas he had experienced in the Philippines. After he and his family moved to their new house, Gregory built a multi-storied purple martin birdhouse in the garden. For decades this birdhouse remained as a permanent fixture there. Gregory took infinite pains to paint (and re-paint when the old paint faded) numbers on each of the many “apartments” the bird families occupied. Every year it was full of birds. When their eggs hatched, the birds fed their fledglings and helped them fly to freedom when they were ready. Yearly, Gregory put a band on one leg of every baby bird after it was hatched. Each band was numbered to correspond with the number on its family’s “apartment” in the birdhouse. If a baby bird had an untimely fall from the birdhouse, Gregory would know to which “apartment” it belonged and would then return the baby bird to its proper nest. This was extremely important, because if a baby bird was rescued by a human, but returned to the wrong nest, it would be rejected by the adult birds in that “apartment” and would certainly die.

The purple martin birdhouse symbolically represented Gregory’s Japanese prison camp where he suffered a great deal and was exposed to the deaths of his comrades almost daily. Gregory saw to it that no baby birds would die while occupying his birdhouse. He changed “the function” of the image of his prison camp; he had created a “camp” where occupants, the baby birds that were reservoirs of  Gregory and his comrades’ helpless images, were not allowed to die.

When Peter, Gregory’s stepson, was in his mid-forties, he sought psychoanalytic treatment with a male analyst of Peter’s age for a sadistic narcissistic personality organization and bulimia. Dr. Volkan supervised Peter’s total analytic process once a week. In was only after Peter had been on the analyst’s couch for awhile did we, in fact, learn about his stepfather’s story. When Peter started his analysis, Gregory was in his seventies and still seemed to have a “normal” life.

During his analysis, Peter realized that his stepfather treated him like he treated his baby birds and described how Gregory had been preoccupied with making little Peter strong. To accomplish this, Gregory prescribed certain tasks for him and taught him how to exercise, lose weight, and develop an athletic body. When Peter was in his early teens, Gregory introduced him to guns and taught him how to hunt. Soon, using his contacts, he made sure that Peter enrolled in a military school. After graduation as a military man, Peter served in the war in Vietnam. Later as a civilian, he worked for the military defense industry and became rich. Although adult Peter’s hobby was hunting, he was not a sportsman. Whenever he felt anxious, he would kill many animals. Since he had a great deal of money he could afford to hire a helicopter for his hunting trips, and on many occasions he would heartlessly shoot at a herd of deer below.

Peter and his analyst slowly began to understand that Gregory had deposited his “hunted” self-image, (injured, humiliated and rendered helpless in the Philippines) into the little boy’s developing self-representation. Indeed, there was a nice “fit” between Gregory’s deposited injured image and little Peter’s own obese helpless image in a home dominated by intrusive women. When Gregory gave tasks to his stepson—indeed acting like his “trainer,” he made him (in fact his deposited his own image into little Peter as well) a “hunter” instead of the “hunted” one, reversing his helplessness and making the boy feel omnipotently powerful.

Peter understands of his identification with Gregory and his role as a “reservoir” for his stepfather’s injured image became clear when he and his analyst examined the various meanings of one of Peter’s major preoccupations as an adult. Gregory had been preoccupied with his birdhouse and its occupants and adult Peter became preoccupied with a special room in his house and its occupants. Peter had built a huge room with trophies of his hunts hung on the walls. By the creation of such a room, he unconsciously repeated the “memories” of the prisoner Gregory surrounded by his dead comrades. His hobby also included one of the tasks Gregory had given to him - to resurrect the dead and change the function of the prison camp as Gregory had done when he protected the lives of baby birds. Thus, Peter took pains to make his trophies look “alive” through skillful taxidermy, spending considerable time and money on taxidermists to achieve this illusion.

Throughout his analysis, Peter had a repeating dream in which he saw himself walking on water like Jesus Christ. Only towards the termination phase of his analysis did he have a new version of this repeating dream. In the dream, he was not walking on water but on a submarine that was lying a few inches below the surface of the water. Peter realized that the submarine stood for Gregory who had worked on a submarine just before the Japanese captured him. This new version of his repeating dream gave Peter firm insight that Gregory supported his omnipotent self-image; in fact, he was an extension of Gregory and was the old man’s “reservoir.” Peter was in the termination phase of his analysis when he had still another version of his repeating dream. In this one, the submarine dived, Peter fell in the water, and he had to swim to shore as an “average” individual.

Just when all indications were that Peter would enter into a successful termination phase of his analysis, he presented a very strong resistance to getting well, and his old symptoms such as bulimia and omnipotent fantasies returned. Not understanding why this drastic “turn of events” was taking place, Peter’s analyst was bewildered as was his supervisor. Slowly, we understood that Peter’s resistance was due to his veridical perception that if he got well and stopped being a reservoir for his stepfather’s traumatized self-image; the stepfather would be forced to re-internalize what he had deposited in Peter. This process might literally “kill” his stepfather, Gregory, who was now in his seventies. Peter was facing a major dilemma: to get well and “kill” the old man or remain a reservoir and save his life.

Peter came up with the idea that he would lobby his friends in high places and plan for a special ceremony to honor Gregory (and some other Bataan Death March and Japanese prison camp survivors) during the 50th Anniversary of the Bataan Death March. At first, Peter was pleased that at last Gregory would be recognized for his sacrifices for the country and receives a kind of psychological compensation and, in addition, a medal. Slowly, Peter began to notice his unconscious motivations. Namely, if his stepfather was honored by the presence of dignitaries, it would mean that the older man would have to own and re-internalize his traumatized self-image. Furthermore, outside observers at the ceremony, such as senators, congressmen, and military top brass, would bear witness that Gregory was the injured party. Thus, through an official ritual, Peter would turn over the deposited traumatized image to its rightful owner and would no longer need to be an omnipotent sadistic hunter in order to eclipse his (and Gregory’s) helplessness.

Peter succeeded in honoring his stepfather with this ceremony. But within a week or so, it became evident that besides losing Peter as a decades-long reservoir for his externalized traumatized self-and object images, it weakened the old man’s investment in the birdhouse. As a result of this weakened investment, Gregory dismantled the purple martin“apartment building,” sold his house, and moved to a warmer climate with his wife, Peter’s mother. The week after this move, there was a precipitous and drastic deterioration in Gregory’s physical health, and he became depressed.

When, in analysis, Peter understood that his “giving back” the deposited image of Gregory’s injured self-image was almost killing him, he now fully comprehended the basis of his resistance to analysis in his unconscious guilt that his emotional health would be achieved at the expense of his stepfather’s life. Dr. Volkan encouraged Peter’s analyst to tell him that the dilemma he was facing was a real one, and that only Peter alone could decide what to do with it as his analyst stood by him.

Peter then came up with a solution to his dilemma. He would help his stepfather buy the house next door to his original house and re-erect the purple martin birdhouse in the yard. Once the birdhouse was re-erected and Gregory and his wife settled in this new house, the old man’s physical health improved considerably. However, Peter knew that the newly erected birdhouse was not as strong a reservoir for his stepfather’s externalized injured self- and object images as the original one had been. Nevertheless, the old man did not die, and his helplessness and confusion disappeared to a great degree. This allowed Peter to reach a successful termination of his analysis.

A clash between being Jewish/Einstein and being Christian/“white”:

Margie, the mother of the patient and the youngest of five sisters, was born and raised in the rural area of a southern state in America in a culture steeped in anti-Semitism and Christian religious conservatism. Margie’s mother was a passive, withdrawn woman who appeared depleted of emotional supplies by the time Margie was born. The father, a tobacco farmer, was a tyrannical man who dominated and controlled the family. As a young woman of eighteen, Margie fell in love and married a suave, urbane, handsome Marine officer from a similar religious and cultural background as her. Soon after their marriage, the handsome Marine was sent to the Pacific to participate in the invasion of Iwo Jima during WW II.

Back in the United States, Margie listened to radio broadcasts about the success of the invasion as she anxiously awaited news of her husband’s fate. It came one day when a grim-faced, uniformed Marine with briefcase in hand emerged from a military vehicle that came to a halt in front of her house. As he strode briskly down the sidewalk, her heart sank, as she knew he could have come for no other reason than to inform her that her beloved husband had been killed in action. In shock, she convulsed in sobs of inconsolable grief. Within two weeks, her husband’s body was returned, and he was buried with full military honors in a family cemetery in the small rural town in which both had been raised.

Margie was childless at the time of her husband’s death. Soon, she accepted a clerical position in a nearby city in which she settled as a widow. At her new job, she met a Jewish engineer with whom she started a sexual relationship and became pregnant by him after a four-year courtship. The couple quickly secured a marriage license when they discovered that she was pregnant and rushed to exchange vows before a Justice of the Peace. Margie soon converted to Judaism, a most unusual event for a woman of her cultural and Christian heritage. Seven months later, she gave birth to the couple’s first child, a boy, and three years later to her second child, a girl, whom we call Sophie. Both children were raised as ethnic and religious Jews.

Later, in her analysis, Sophie would describe herself as a painfully shy child who “clung to my mother’s apron strings well into my grammar school years.” For example, as a young girl, she was made so anxious by the prospect of being separated from her mother that she would turn down invitations of girlfriends to attend pajama parties. Meanwhile, Margie almost never smiled or laughed and seemed to derive very little pleasure out of life. Margie, moreover, always seemed preoccupied, even when she interacted with others. Sophie experienced her mother’s self-absorption as a lack of attentive concern for her and her emotional needs. This was born out when she skipped school one day and went to the beach with friends.Upon her return badly sunburned, her mother asked her how school had been that day.

As a latency age girl, it became apparent that Sophie was well coordinated and athletic, much to her father’s pleasure. She was the wished for “boy” that her brother could never be for him and thought of herself as a “tomboy” (We would learn about her mother’s hidden encouragement of her becoming a “tomboy” later.) Her father did not seem to notice or approve her developing femininity. Throughout much of her childhood and pre-adolescence, Sophie felt that her parents had adopted her. She not only knew that this was illogical but also impossible inasmuch as she had seen her birth certificate. Despite this evidence that she was the progeny of her parents, she was so convinced that her mother had previously been married that she screwed up her courage and asked her. Her mother responded in the affirmative and proceeded to tell her that she and her first husband had only been married three months when she received news of his death on Iwo Jima. From her jewelry box, to Sophie’s surprise, her mother retrieved her engagement ring given to her by her first husband and ceremoniously placed it on Sophie’s finger. Sophie wore the ring self-consciously until she received her own engagement ring.  She was astounded that her Jewish father, who must have noticed the “new” ring on his daughter, never mentioned it. To notice the ring, we believe, would have validated his suspicion that his wife was still in love with her first husband. Therefore, he developed a scotoma for it. While Sophie was growing up, there were no family discussions about her mother’s first marriage. Meanwhile, Margie did not teach her daughter how to cook nor did she teach her about the bodily changes that she could expect as she matured. So when her menses started, she was aghast and embarrassed. Moreover, her mother did not help her select attractive clothes, use cosmetics, or otherwise help her to become more feminine. Therefore, Sophie remained as a “tomboy.”  

When Sophie entered college in another part of the state, she felt intensely anxious being so far away from home. She called home frequently, but this proved insufficient to assuage her separation anxieties. Consequently, she withdrew from the college at the end of her freshman year, moved back in with her parents, and enrolled in a local college where she could commute. Encouraged by her mother, she became engaged during her sophomore year and soon married a young Jewish man she had gone steady with in high school. She was aware that she was not yet ready to assume the responsibilities of marriage. After a while, her husband and Sophie took over her father-in-law’s lucrative business.

While she and her husband slowly became rich, Sophie had two children, a daughter and a son. Unhappy in her marriage, she had countless heterosexual affairs. When her son, age eighteen, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he survived, and her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she became involved in a homosexual affair. With her husband’s blessings, her lover, a much younger woman than Sophie, moved in with Sophie and her husband moved out. Sophie and her husband remained legally married, however. Sophie thought she had never felt “more nurtured and sexually satisfied” in all her life than she had achieved in this homosexual relationship.

In her early fifties, Sophie became Dr. Greer’s patient after becoming depressed and unable to make decisions when her homosexual affair ended and her lover “betrayed” her by finding another homosexual partner. During the first year on Dr. Greer’s couch, Sophie constantly spoke of her homosexual lover, her sense of betrayal, and her fear that she could not survive without her. She also referred to a recurrent dream she had had for years before she entered psychoanalysis that intrigued her, but which she could not fathom. In it, Sophie was living in the house in which she and her husband had raised their family. She suddenly felt that she was responsible for somebody’s death for which she would be blamed. She saw the body of an unidentified man in her front yard and dragged it beneath a huge tree. She buried the body in a hastily dug grave but was afraid the authorities would find out and arrest her. In variations of this dream, she would sometimes be caught and the body exhumed for autopsy. Early in the analysis, the analyst was uncertain what this dream meant since Sophie could not give any illuminating associations to it. He thought that this repeating dream, in general, might reflect Sophie’s murderous rage and guilt about her parents who seemed not to provide good enough parenting and not to help her to individuate comfortably as a woman in her own right.

In the second year of Sophie’s analysis, she began to have fantasies of performing fellatio on her analyst; her yearnings to be cuddled and held were transferred onto Dr. Greer. This transference development allowed the analyst and Sophie to examine more closely the meaning of her homosexual relationship where, Dr. Greer suggested, she yearned to create an idealized mother-child relationship that she did not have as a child. Both the analyst and the patient understood that after her son’s and her husband’s illnesses Sophie regressed and attempted to repair her mother (her representation) by libidinalzing (homosexual affair), a task that her mother had passed to her as a child. When she became convinced that she had been involved in this task with her homosexual partner, Sophie wanted to go to a plastic surgeon and have her breasts enlarged. This time she was going to turn herself into a nurturing mother through a surgical procedure. She kept recalling the big breasts of her former sexual partner, which Sophie loved to suck. When the meaning of her wish to seek breast surgery became apparent to Sophie she once more became involved in a hot transference relationship with Dr. Greer where she felt nurtured. This prompted a dream of a sparkling baby coming out of the water, an image of her rebirth from her analyst – “good” mother. Soon she returned to heterosexuality with a married man (partly standing for an oedipal father/analyst). It was around this time, toward the end of the second year of her analysis, that previously unknown aspects of Sophie’s internal world began to come to light that would become the center of her analytic work for the next couple of years.

After her mother’s death while going through her mother’s effects, Sophie made the first of a series of discoveries about her mother’s first marriage. This discovery, and others that followed, began to illustrate that the patient had been used as a “reservoir” into which her mother, Margie, had deposited self- and object images associated with the incompletely mourned death of her first husband, together with certain psychological tasks she was to perform. The first of these pieces of evidence was a newspaper article about her mother’s first husband that she had tucked away in an old book hidden beneath some clothes in a bureau drawer. In the article, he was extolled for the valor he demonstrated when, through a hail of machine gun fire, he helped evacuate the wounded. After the beach had been secured and the battle appeared to be over, at least for the moment, he was shot and killed by a sniper. Sophie wished to find out more about this man so she telephoned her mother’s brother who knew him quite well. Among other things, she learned that Margie’s first husband was a tall, handsome man who was well thought of by all who knew him.

When Sophie told her daughter, now married, about the article she had discovered, she was stupefied when she learned for the first time what her daughter, as an adolescent, had inadvertently discovered when visiting her grandmother. While replacing a school photograph of herself that Sophie’s mother, Margie, proudly displayed on the mantel with a more recent one, Sophie’s daughter was startled to discover a photograph of a strange man concealed behind hers in full dress military uniform. Her curiosity piqued, Sophie’s daughter inquired of the identity of this man in the photograph and was informed by her grandmother that it was her first husband who had been killed in WW II. Although the grandmother never swore her granddaughter to secrecy, the girl never told Sophie or anybody else about the photograph until now. Sophie brought the photograph to an analytic session for Dr. Greer to see. Dr. Greer suggested to Sophie that she consider the possibility that her mother had remained a perennial mourner after the death of her first husband and had been “secretly” married to him all along. 

Sometime after this interchange between the analyst and his patient, Sophie reported a dream in which she was at the White House where a wedding was being held. As she walked down the isle to be seated, she turned around to see her husband knelt down beside a white horse from which a knight had fallen and couldn’t get up. Since her mother’s first husband’s name was “White”, her dream began making sense to Sophie. The fallen knight in the dream brought to Sophie’s mind the “resurrection of Jesus Christ and his second coming.” She also recalled that her brother had played Jesus in the play Jesus Christ Superstar. This meant that Mr.White could also be resurrected, a task that her mother had passed to her as a child to save her from her grief. In the following sessions, Sophie excitedly stated that she could now interpret the recurrent dream that she had for years, which she, at times, was convinced really happened. It was the dream in which she saw a dead body in her yard and frantically tried to dig a makeshift grave under a tree before the authorities saw her and charged her with murder. Sometimes in her dreams the body would be exhumed. She suddenly realized that she had spoken to the authorities in the dream with a Southern accent like Margie’s. She then blurted out “Oh, my God, I was my mother in the dream.” Therefore, the dead man in her yard must have been Mr.White, her mother’s first husband. The task to “kill” the image of her mother’s dead husband along with the guilt that it induced, she now understood, had been passed to her. With conviction, Sophie declared “I now know why my mother sang the Marine hymn all the time and idolized John Wayne after she saw the movie Iwo Jima in which the actor was killed. Analysis of this dream also made it possible for Dr. Greer and Sophie to comprehend why her mother kept her dead husband’s image alive in her fantasies—to separate from him was tantamount to “murder.” Sophie now realized where her mother’s mind had been all those years--lost in a state of reverie with this man’s image. Soon, she would come to understand what inspired her own avid interest in WW II, in particular, the Pacific Campaign.

The patient had her White House dream when her husband, with whom she was no longer living in the same house but with whom she was still friendly, was on a white water rafting trip. She was worried that something might happen to her Jewish husband on white waters. On further reflection of the dream, Sophie realized that a conflict raged in her between her investment in Jewish history and white Christians’ place in America. If Mr. White could be reincarnated like Jesus Christ, her Jewish side would be in jeopardy (“White” waters might injure her Jewish husband.) Her sessions were filled with her preoccupations of tasks given to her by her mother that were diametrically opposed to tasks pertaining to her Jewish heritage. Her mother secretly perceived her to be Mr. White’s child and secretly wished her to have a Christian/“superior” life. This was reflected in Sophie’s conscious fantasies during her developmental years of being adopted. There was now persuasive evidence that Sophie was a carrier of the image of her mother in complicated mourning as well as images of Mr. White and Margie’s wished-for male child by Mr. White. Among other reasons-which are beyond the scope of this paper- Sophie could now sense how her being a “tomboy” as a young girl was an attempt to concretely fulfill her mother’s wish that she was the imagined male child of Mr. White. Her attempt to be the wished-for male child of her mother’s first marriage may have been connected, at least partly, to her envy of so-called “superior” Christians.

During some sessions, in order to oppose being a “reservoir” of a mother in complicated mourning with associated Christian/“white” images, she would indulge herself in her Jewish heritage. One of Sophie’s earliest memories is being told about the Holocaust when she was only six-years-old. Terrified by the story of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, she grew up with the fear that there would be a knock on the door and her parents would be taken off and killed. Whenever torture scenes appeared on television or in the movies, she would close her eyes or get up and leave. As a young mother, she had a dream in which she, like Sophie in William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice, had to decide which of her two children to give up to the SS, her four-year-old daughter or her two-year-old son.

In her sessions, she would bring up the names of great Jewish people such as Einstein and Freud to tell herself and her analyst of the greatness of her Jewish heritage. Slowly, she came to appreciate that her Jewish father might have been humiliated in his marriage and that he himself “knew” he had always played “second fiddle” to his wife’s first Christian husband. This may explain why her father degraded and humiliated his son--in order to feel “superior” to somebody since, at some level, he knew he would never eclipse Mr. White in importance to his wife. It also may explain why her father may have been reluctant to be emotionally close to Sophie, as if she were not his own offspring. One day Sophie visited her aging father, who was now in a nursing home, and whispered in his ear, “Dad, I am your daughter and don’t you ever forget it.” Reassured now that she genuinely cared for him, her father’s face brightened, and for the first time in years, he showed some warmth towards her.

With further therapeutic regression, she experienced and verbalized how her identity had never become integrated into a cohesive structure that was relatively consistent across time. She described herself as a person with different handwritings, thoughts, attitudes, and behavior to the point that she was not sure who she was much of the time. These personalities never crystallized and personified into well-delineated entities such as those seen in dissociative identity disorder as described by Brenner (2004) Since childhood, she had thought of herself as being Sophie White, a decent, moral woman and Sophie Black, a self-indulgent, immoral woman (These terms were Sophie’s). Dr. Greer repeated once more what he and his patient were learning: Sophie’s two “personalities” reflected her sense that her mother wished she had been the daughter/ (son) of her first husband rather than that of her biological father. In fact, she had complained that her mother did not give her a Jewish first name (Sophie is not the patient’s real name.) If she was Jewish, it meant that she was the humiliated daughter of her disgraced father, but if she was the gentile daughter/ (son) of her mother’s deceased husband, she was a fraud. She was also anxious that if she were to become identified with Jews, she would be persecuted and/or killed. She then associated to a time that her mother tried to scrub dirt off her face that turned out to be a freckle, an incident that she now interpreted as evidence that her mother’s image of her as the daughter of a Jewish man was that of a “...piece of shit.”

As Sophie moved out of her therapeutic regression and developed a more integrated Jewish identity, she was freed from the internal struggle over which she would be—the “superior” Christian daughter of Mr. White or the “inferior” daughter of her biological father. As long as she was involved in this conflict between these two identities, she must reverse the task passed to her by her mother to be the wished for daughter/(son) of Mr. White and instead, make humiliated Jews into “superior” Einsteins. Now, for the first time in her life, she felt unabashed pride in her Jewishness and, at the same time, could enjoy her Christian boyfriend. Committed to heterosexuality and being more assertive, she has made plans to divorce her husband who has, for a long time, had his own girlfriend. She was, in essence, a very different woman then she was when she entered analysis with Dr. Greer.

While Sophie had worked through most everything of her mother’s conflicts that this woman deposited into her, their was one final remnant of the idealized Mr. White which she had secretly externalized into the analyst that functioned as a tenacious resistance. She had kept her analyst as the idealized Mr. White so that if her new way of life did not work out she could still keep (secretly) her previous identity as a reservoir of her mother and the carrier of her tasks. Dr. Greer became aware that he still represented the idealized Mr. White by a countertransference dream in which he and Sophie was a couple.  There is an additional reason that she needed to stay as mother’s extension (at least secretly) as well: When her mother was only being kept alive by life support systems and would never survive without them, Sophie granted permission to have them removed. Despite the fact that she did not commit a murder when she chose this course of action, she felt she did. So completely getting well (no reservoir of mother) repeated her feeling guilty for “killing” her mother. To help his patient work through this resistance, Dr. Greer explained to her the difference between concretely killing a person and “killing off” a relationship with their image in order to say goodbye. Unlike Peter’s, the working through of her resistance to give up being a reservoir of her mother’s image with i
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Last modified on: Apr 20, 2016