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Alexithymia and the Defense of Primal Repression

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 04:03 AM
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Primal Repression “may well account for the psychic structural defect and many of the clinical features associated with the alexithymia construct.” [James D. A. Parker and Graeme J. Taylor in ‘Disorders of Affect Regulation’ p.89]





“Repression proper is a defensive process that evolves out of primal repression, and involves a rejection from the conscious mind of already formed instinctual wishes and other representations. Primal repression, on the other hand, is akin to [an] idea of Freud’s viz., his concept of foreclosure in which aspects of experience have been repudiated and never represented psychically.



Cohen and Kinston (1984) relate primal repression to the experience of traumatic events, especially parental failure to meet the infant’s emotional needs during the preverbal period of development, that were never comprehended cognitively, but encoded as ‘pre-representational experiential elements including sensory impressions, stereotyped actions, physiological reactions, and isolated images and affects’. Even in adult life severe trauma can overwhelm the ego and evoke primal repression and an associated regression in affective functioning. Dorpat (1985) considers primal repression a form of primitive denial and believes it involves an arrest in cognitive functions that ordinarily serve to represent, integrate, and regulate experience.” [P.43-44]



“More recently, Kuchenhoff (1993) has linked alexithymia with the defense of ‘primitive denial’… and is identified by Kuchenhoff as ‘a radical exclusion of unbearable thoughts and affects from the intrapsychic experience’. As Kuchenhoff explains, ‘Such an exclusion of psychic representation brings about psychic stress that cannot be symbolized’.



According to Dorpat (1985), primitive denial also corresponds to the defense of ‘primal repression’ which, as outlined in chapter 2, was conceptualized initially by Freud (1915a) as a stage in the...

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