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Dr. Jay Frankel about Sándor Ferenczi’s concept of identification with the aggressor

IWA provides the basis for a new, more mutual conception of the analytic relationship. Presented by: Dr. Aleksandar Dimitrijevic (IPU)

Ferenczi's conception of identification with the aggressor (IWA)—different from Anna Freud’s later use of the term, and at the heart of Ferenczi’s trauma theory—starts with his revolutionary reconceptualization of the traumatic situation. Ferenczi included subtle assaults as traumatic. And he stressed the role of "hypocrisy"—when adults deny the abuse or blame the child—as leaving the child unbearably isolated, and as the most damaging element.
 
The IWA response involves finely tuned submission/compliance with the aggressor's demands, in behavior and also in inner experience. Compliance is both a survival tactic in reality, and a way for the child to continue to feel a sense of belonging in the family. The inner "mental" (dissociation; and "creation" of needed feelings, thoughts, perceptions) and "moral" (blaming oneself for the abuse) accommodations of IWA help insure that the child plays her role effectively. Indeed, IWA is closely intercoordinated with dissociation and introjection.
 
IWA often turns into a persisting tendency to accommodate and to blame oneself. And the internal distortions it engenders undermine the child's capacity to think independently and to psychologically separate, and lead her to lose a feeling of goodness and wholeness, a sense of inner authenticity, and a sense of agency. These losses are compensated in some people by an overinflated narcissistic response that may, ironically, facilitate submission.
 
Consistent with a broader understanding of the traumatic situation, IWA seems to be a widespread tendency under certain circumstances--not limited to people who have been grossly abused. This observation makes IWA a valuable tool for understanding large-scale social phenomena involving submission and compliance. As Ferenczi first observed (and experienced), IWA also often plays a central role in structuring the analytic relationship, for both patient and therapist, and is key in understanding and working through clinical impasses. Ultimately, IWA provides the basis for a new, more mutual conception of the analytic relationship.​

The venue takes place on Monday, May 9th, 8 p.m., at the IPU Berlin, Stromstr. 2, Lecture Hall 1, 10555 Berlin. Admission is free.