“The resistance thrown up by the self-care system in the treatment of trauma victims is legendary. As early as 1920, Freud was shaken by the extent to which a ‘daimonic’ force in some patients resisted change and made the usual work of analysis impossible. So pessimistic was he about this ‘repetition compulsion’ that he attributed its origin to an instinctive aim in all life towards death. . . . Most contemporary analytic writers are inclined to see this attacking figure as an internalized version of the actual perpetrator of the trauma, who has ‘possessed’ the inner world of the trauma victim. But this popularized view is only half correct. The diabolical inner figure is often far more sadistic and brutal than any outer perpetrator, indicating that we are dealing here with a psychological factor set loose in the inner world by trauma—an archetypal traumatogenic agency within the psyche itself. [T]he traumatized psyche is self-traumatizing.”
—Donald Kalsched, The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defenses of the Personal Spirit
In 2010, after reading Norman O. Brown’s Life Against Death, I threw together a bunch of notes to try and sum up Brown’s insights. Brown’s work reinterprets certain of Freud’s ideas and places them in a larger, more metaphysical context. I have certain reservations about drawing on Freud’s psychological models at all, partially because of Freud’s dismissal of child sexual abuse as harmless. On the other hand, I consider Freud’s work to be invaluable (however out of fashion), and no one is without their blind spots (a fact that this present exploration is about). There is compelling evidence (see Sigmund Freud’s Christian Unconscious by Paul C. Vitz) that Freud was himself a victim of sexual interference as a child (that he was seduced by his nanny).
In Life Against Death, Brown describes culture as the collective product of repression, negation, and sublimation, a kind of external matrix created and maintained by infantile drives to recover the lost object of the mother’s body. According to Brown, both culture and the ego-identity that arises from it (or in tandem with it) are empty of substance, because both belong to a fantasy-generated reality and are images of the past, superimposed onto the present. Brown writes of how death anxiety “is relative to the repression of the human body; the horror of death is the horror of dying with what Rilke called unlived lines in our bodies.” He presents the “construction of a human consciousness strong enough to accept death [as] a task in which philosophy and psychoanalysis can join hands—and also art. . . Only if Eros—the life instinct—can affirm the life of the body can the death instinct affirm death, and in affirming death magnify life” (p. 109).
When a child’s life force or libido desires the love-object of the mother and is separated from it, the child withdraws into fantasy by identifying with the love-object and having a fantasy relationship with an internally generated image (like Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho, inspired by real-life “mother’s boy” and prototypical serial killer, Ed Gein). The life force is hijacked by the still-forming ego and used as an energy source to create a fantasy-based relationship with reality, and with the body. Eventually, this develops into both sublimation and desexualization, intellectual, abstract beliefs through which to interact with reality—or rather, not to interact with reality. “The transformation of object-libido into narcissistic libido [i.e., through creating an internal image of the love-object] obviously implies an abandonment of sexual aims, [hence it is] a process of desexualization.”
For Brown, the religious idea of “soul” (i.e., life force separate from the body) is “the shadowy substitute for a bodily relation to other bodies.” Narcissistic fantasy caused by traumatic separation creates a “spiritualized ego,” via the idea of a self separate from the body, i.e., a “soul-self,” though personally, I prefer the term “mind-self,” albeit a mind with a religious bent to it. When the original sensual-sensory experiences prove too painful for the infant’s psyche, the child’s senses close down. One result of this closing down is what Freud called “genital organization,” when the life force becomes trapped inside, and limited to, the genitals. In a larger sense, the erotic, sensual, bodily awareness is imprisoned in a matrix made up of early patterns of trauma and loss, patterns which have been woven together into a de-eroticized ego identity. “Primal fantasies” occur during this formative stage when the life force is being redirected away from the body; being primal, these fantasies occur in a qualitatively different state of awareness to our present state, hence they cannot be remembered, only reenacted, consciously or unconsciously. Mostly, they are reenacted unconsciously, throughout our lives, as neurotic, delusional behavior. They exist only as “hallucinations in the present which serve to negate the present.”
While this psychoanalytical model can (and if true must) be applied to everyone, to one degree or another, it seems especially relevant when trying to understand more mystical or otherworldly experiences, such as those reported by Strieber (and interpreted by Kripal). Strieber, with his seemingly endless re-enactments of trauma at the hands of apparent “aliens,” and his countless “screen memories.” In the final section of his article dealing with alien abduction, Kripal quotes near-death-experience (NDE) author Kenneth Ring, who contends that “a history of child abuse and trauma plays a central etiological role in promoting sensitivity to UFOEs and NDEs.” Ring agrees that “such conditions tends to stimulate the development of a dissociative response style as a means of psychological defense,” and links this dissociative response to an ability to “‘tune into’ other realities where by virtue of his dissociated state, he can temporarily feel safe regardless of what is happening to his body. In this way . . . dissociation would directly foster relatively easy access to alternate, non-ordinary realities.”
Ring is careful to suggest that such “attunement” is “not a gift of dissociation itself, which only makes it possible, but of a correlated capacity, that for what is called psychological absorption.”
Hence “it is the ability to dissociate that governs access to alternate realities,” but these alternate realities cannot be explained by the psychological mechanism of dissociation. And there is more. Such “encounter-prone personalities” and “psychological sensitives” come to develop “an extended range of human perception beyond normally recognized limits.” . . . . Ring concludes, in a bold but extremely common move in the alien abduction literature, that such traumatically transformed individuals may well represent “the next stage in evolution.” [Emphases added]
After he began to remember his “abduction” experiences in late 1985, Strieber underwent intense physical and psychological symptoms. In Communion, he writes:
I had a feeling of being separated from myself, as if either I was unreal or the world around me was unreal. . . . In the ensuing days, I experienced more bouts of fatigue. I would be working and suddenly would get cold and start to shake. Then I would feel so exhausted that I could not go on, and crawl into bed quivering and miserable, sure that I was coming down with the flu. . . . Nights I would sleep, but wake up in the morning feeling as if I had been tossing and turning the whole time. . . . My disposition got worse. I became mercurial, frantic with excitement about some idea one moment, in despair the next.
What Strieber describes here overlaps with symptoms I’ve suffered throughout my adult life. On top of these physical and psychological ailments, I also had night terrors as a child, usually precipitated by illness and fever and accompanied by extreme despair. On many occasions, I would wake from a profound dream, possessed by the visceral and overwhelming certainty that something terrible had happened, either to me or to reality itself. Something had been altered in some fundamental way, and everything was now terribly and irrevocably wrong. The change I perceived was tiny, infinitesimal, yet it had left me adrift on a dark, indescribably vast sea of confusion and despair. Whatever had happened, my reaction to this incomprehensible awareness, like Strieber’s, was primal: I literally fled the scene of the “violation,” desperate to get as far away from my bed, room, and house, as possible. On more than one occasion I ended up in the street in my pajamas before coming to my senses. Whatever I was fleeing followed me.
To read full essay, order Prisoner of Infinity: UFOs, Social Engineering, and the Psychology of Fragmentation