“…If you ask how I’m doing,
You’d know it
If they only dropped two bombs on you…“
“A letter to a friend“, song by Kemal Monteno
…On this day in 1993, 3777 shells were fired at Sarajevo.
In conversations with patients who have no experience or knowledge of psychotherapy, I share with them an old story about six blind men and an elephant. The story is very old and has undergone numerous interpretations. It is a parable that describes the meeting of six blind men with an elephant that they had never met before, so they tried to understand in their own way what the elephant could be. So, in the only way they could, they touched the elephant each from their side in order to understand it as well as possible. One of the blind men thus reached the elephant’s tusk and concluded that the elephant was similar to some kind of solid trunk. Another touched the tusk and concluded that the elephant was just like some kind of spear. The third touched the elephant’s ear and concluded that the elephant is actually like some kind of fan, the fourth caught the elephant’s tail with his hand and concluded that the elephant is just like a rope. The fifth touched the side of the elephant’s trunk and concluded that the elephant was actually a wall, while the one who touched the trunk concluded that the elephant was actually a snake.
In the story about the war, I am blind and I am on a concrete level. War and trauma go hand in hand. It is not possible to talk about the war and not mention the trauma! In therapy, patients talk about the trauma, and very little about the war, even if the trauma is only a part and consequence of the war. On the path to the creation of this text, analysts were the guide.
Some analysts are present: physically and mentally. They are empathetic, capable of doing the holding, creating conditions in which you feel safe, so you can remember, feel pain, speak, associate freely. We get into reverie together and mentalize.
Other analysts are very important, unconscious in their trauma. They are close to us with their traumatized side. By listening and watching them, you can see yourself more clearly. They project their unwanted parts into us, stir up emotions. They really want to “teach” us. The strength of the desire tells how personal the matter is. To protect themselves they say they are not interested in war and trauma as a topic, they don’t want to talk about them, they don’t want to hear about them, and yet they are there and experience everything intensely emotionally. They tell us to be silent. They say that a traumatized therapist cannot work with a traumatized patient if they share the same trauma. They tell us to be silent. When they listen to what you say, they say that you are not competent with your experience of the traumatic event and tell you to keep quiet. With their emotion, attitude, content, the unconscious – they tell you to keep quiet. Everything reminds of trauma because silence is encouraged.
And then there are the analysts who are there through their books, texts and theories. When Kohut gives examples from World War II, he illuminates the common unconscious of people who go through war experiences in the forties all over the world, in the nineties in the area of the former Yugoslavia, in the 2020s in Ukraine.
Vignette: At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Emir emotionally resembled a deceived and disappointed child: “Everyone was talking about a new way of war using drones, a virtual way, without blood, and now look at this. Same as here.” Emir is a big fan of games. He was 3 years old at the beginning of the aggression against BiH. The father was absent because he was an adviser to the wartime president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the mother was pregnant with his younger sister. At the age of three, he found himself in besieged Sarajevo and grew up inside the enemy ring for a full 1425 days, without water, without electricity in the ruins. I’m thinking that his early fantasy was to keep the war at game level because he needed it to feel safe. He dreamed that if you make a mistake, you can start over, if you die, you can have a chance to live again. In his associations, one feels the need for warmth, security, and children’s hopes and fantasies are very clearly seen. Is that possible? I thought without blood, flesh and screams it’s not a war, it’s a game! War is a return to the concrete, there is no room for the virtual. Raw and cruel urges are unleashed without any control of the ego and superego. I look at his comment with a sneer, just as an older and bigger child looks at a younger and smaller one.
Without blood, flesh and screams it’s not a war, it’s a game! – a sentence that indicates that I am subjective when I write about the war. Kohut corrects me and gives a new angle to the “blind man”; in the book „Between guilt and tragedy“, he says: “Human aggression is most dangerous when it is related to:
The most gruesome human aggressiveness is not found in the form of wild, regressive and primitive behaviour, but in orderly and organized activity where destruction is mixed with belief in the greatness of the perpetrator and with loyalty to archaic almighty figures.
It is a historical fact that along with Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels were responsible for the direct death of 600 million people. The Third Reich was a huge machine that destroyed, spread death and misery. From idea to realization, it took a lot of planning, organizing, working with deep dedication and discipline. They believed in the idea of their own uniqueness and greatness, for which the lofty goal justified the means.
Kohut warns: “As analysts, we must not trivialize aggression by interpreting it as a return to animal instincts.” We need to be aware of aggression, try to curb it and take responsibility.”
HOW A BLIND MAN SEES THE CREATION, BIRTH AND DEVELOPMENT OF WAR
Over time, it is increasingly clear that every nation has its own trauma, be it personal, collective, transgenerational, regardless of whether they are the aggressors or the attacked. New generations are growing up with traumatized parents. Kohut says: “The absence of fathers due to the war and their return exacerbates their Oedipal complex. This increases the willingness to experience anxiety due to their mothers’ anxiety during their fathers’ absence. Their superego is unstable, as is their identity. The child retains the image of the all-powerful father because he could not really meet him due to his absence. With the return of his father, the boy is no longer in charge. The grandiose self splits off and remains unidentified until self-esteem receives nourishment from the depths of the personality.” The environmental mother is broken and weak while on the other hand she is devouring in her corruption. There are many children whose fathers never returned and whose spirit of omnipotence and heroism remains with them throughout their lives, leaving a deep mark. These are just some psychological factors that affect the childhood of an entire generation.
Aggression in Bosnia and Herzegovina left a significant mark on the lives of all my patients, either directly or indirectly.
Vignette: Lucija was born in Srebrenica after the aggression in BiH. Her father was in the Serbian army, and the uncle is a convicted war criminal. A good friend of hers had a child as a result of war-time rape.
Lucija: “I don’t wonder if my father killed, I fear if he raped?”
Lucija was raped on three occasions, and only became aware of it in therapy after many years. She was emotionally distant while occasionally talking about these events in passing. In my head were Berlin women who were raped by the Allies after the Second World War. Berlin girls and Lucia have in common a feeling of reconciliation with fate, because they take on the responsibility of “their fathers”. Working with Lucia brought me closer to the position of the aggressor. Would she be able to accept the sentence that my child has to “serve”? How to take this responsibility? The ego is defended at all costs. The environmental superego attacks. A vicious circle has been created and the solution is to create an isolated parallel world in which we tell our stories that slowly turn into myths, and on the basis of myths, large groups can easily be moved to realize the ideas of ideologues.
Kohut says: “Ideology executors are very often peripheral and superficial selves who easily achieve adaptation and comfortable consistency. Immersed in the body of the “powerful nation”, they come to relief because shame disappears and the group provides a feeling of extraordinary strength. All this is transformed into an “almighty” leader. The old fantasies of omnipotence suddenly become reality.” The “executors of the ideology…” are in an active, paranoid schizoid position, and they do not mentalize.
In the early 1990s, some republics decided to secede from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Serbs experienced this as the secession of a disobedient part of the extended self over which they thought they had the right and control. The Serbs are starting to “defend” Yugoslavia, because they are the most populous nation within the “mother country”. They appropriate the Yugoslav People’s Army, because Yugoslavia is theirs, everyone else is apostate, and they use it as a weapon for punishment. For decades, the YNA was financed, formed and served by all the peoples of the former Yugoslavia with the aim of defending against the external enemy, so that in the end these same funds were used for their destruction, the destruction of the “bad parts”. Overwhelmed by narcissistic rage, they show a lack of empathy. In order to attack, the attacker must be in a paranoid schizoid position and then the object of destruction is an impersonal object. In war, the victim is dehumanized so that they can be killed more easily. Instead of dying, the victim disappears without a trace. In a paranoid schizoid position, one cannot take responsibility for one’s emotions because the self does not exist. A narcissistically hurt person cannot calm down. All persons possessed by narcissistic rage show a lack of empathy towards the opponent.
In 1990, the bones of Emperor Lazar, who had died 600 years ago during the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 on the Kosovo field in the fight against the Turks, were excavated. For the Serbian people, the Kosovo battle is a great collective trauma that has been made into a myth. Upon entering the Srebrenica enclave, the convicted war criminal General Mladić declares: “Here we are on July 11, 1995, in Serbian Srebrenica, on the eve of another Serbian holiday, we present this city to the Serbian people, because the moment has finally come to revolt against the Dahi, to take revenge on the Turks in this part of the world”. That’s how the genocide begins. People are dehumanized, demonized. They are the Turks, not their Muslim neighbours. Authority gives murderers the role of avengers.
Even on the side of the aggressor, not everyone is the same. Some use time and resources to realize their grandiose plans, and some are resources in realizing their plans. Those who are at the end of the chain and the executors are expendable goods themselves, dehumanized by their leaders because they are invisible to them, and the leaders “make plans come true”, “liberate territories”, “take positions”. There are no people, only plans and strategies. In the executors of the plans, a deeper regression can be seen where they have completely lost their self and for them the victim does not die but disappears because a person cannot die if he is not alive. On the other hand, they cannot take responsibility for their emotions and actions, because the self does not exist.
WHAT ABOUT THE ATTACKED?
I consciously chose the word attacked, not victim.
The main fear in a depressed position is the loss of an object. Unlike the aggressor, the attacked floats between a depressed and paranoid schizoid position. Aggressiveness is more mature and limited and serves the goal to survive. No matter how strong it is, its goal is final. Mature aggression is under the control of the ego and can be controlled by the ego, while this is not the case with narcissistic rage. Whether a group will be socially destructive depends not only on whether the ego ideals will dominate over the grandiose self, but whether the ego will dominate over them? For the attacked, the present is difficult, and the future is brighter.
I FAILED – EVERYTHING ENDS IN TRAUMA
In psychiatry, as a branch of medicine, doctors do not study diseases but psychiatric disorders. In order to call something a disease, we need to know the etiology (cause of the disease), clinical picture and therapy. When we talk about psychiatric disorders, we have the ICD (International Book of Diseases), which groups clusters of symptoms into disorders. The etiology is mostly unknown, and the therapy is symptomatic. Is trauma the first psychiatric disease? The etiology is complex, there is a lot of individual, but also something common – the existence of a traumatic event. Clinical picture is clearly described: nightmarish dreams, cocooned in time, feeling of shame and incompetence due to personal experience of damage…
TALKING ABOUT TRAUMA in a protected setting where the therapist facilitates mentalizing. When talking about trauma, the eyes burn, the throat burns and hurts, and the head becomes cloudy. The tongue breaks the words with difficulty, and the stomach tightens. Is the entire body and psyche sick from trauma that fights for its survival, just like a malignant tumour fights, by forcing us to keep quiet?
Trauma is a difficult experience, but is there a life without trauma? Should we stop fantasizing about a life without trauma; stop ignoring it and start accepting it?! By mentalizing, we begin to understand that trauma made us the way we are and that it doesn’t necessarily make us worse or bad. Through transgenerational trauma, both knowledge and reparation are transmitted, and optimum frustration is necessary for skill development. The key moment is the time that passes without new traumas, because experience shows that only the third generation can positively resolve the trauma, when the active actors die and loyalty is lost. In the former Yugoslavia, the wars are not over, they have only changed their form, but you have to fight through speech and mentalization and hope for “victory”.
A.A. V.V., (2000), International Classification of Diseases ICD 10, OMS-WHO.
Klain E. (2009). Stručni skup iz grupne analize Tuzla; Šutnja kao fenomen
Kohut H. (1971) Psihoanaliza između krivice i tragizma (The Searching for the Self; Selected Writings of H. Kohut 1950-1978 (Vol I, II) (1999); Selected Writings of H. Kohut 1978-1981 (Vol III, IV), International Universities Press, Inc, 1978, 1990, 1991)
Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock.
Yordanova K. (2014). IJP Open, (1)(20):1-15 Contemporary War and its Symbolic Representation
Maja Dobranić, Sarajevo
Croatian Psychoanalytical Society
Condividi questa pagina: