Memories of sexual abuse previously shrouded in darkness: Intersubjective exchanges involving joint attention

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I examined a better therapeutic approach for addressing the heart-rending emotional state of a client exposed to serious traumatic experiences during early childhood without experiencing affect attunement from surrounding adults. The clinical case describes a woman in her early 20s who had lost her memory of past sexual abuse by her father. She visited an on-campus student counseling room complaining of feeling she was “not herself.” This paper focuses on intersubjective exchanges involving moments when her traumatic experiences were about to be revived during weekly face-to-face psychoanalytic psychotherapy. I took note of the joint attention that developed between us concerning my attunement with her painful emotional experiences. We eventually shared subjective affective states fostered within a safe mental space. Using this as a starting point, we traced the process by which she came to accept the painful memories and associated experiences surrounding the heart-wrenching affect that she had had no choice but to “shroud in darkness,” as well as accepting her feelings of reality. I made use of knowledge from infant research shedding light on how two people can instantly mutually influence their actions and behaviors, and explored, in great detail, what sort of implicit relatedness had developed between us.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-175
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Forum of Psychoanalysis
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jul 3


  • affect attunement
  • implicit relatedness
  • intersubjective exchanges
  • joint attention
  • sexual abuse
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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