This is how Jonah came to describe his impressions as he looked down the barrel of the policeman’s gun:
Derealization, depersonalization, the loss of agency leading to a feeling of paralysis, the fear of physical fragmentation, the loss of affectivity and meaning, disruption of continuity, and fear of annihilation, these
are the “primitive agonies” (Winnicott, 1958, 1965) Jonah experienced at that moment and that, in one way or another, continued to hold him in their thrall.When Jonah told me, after a long painful silence, that he was afraid he had lost his soul, I was struck by the extraordinary poignancy of his words and challenged to find a way to help him search for, if not recover, his lost soul. I asked myself where to begin this work. Mills (1998) suggests that “the pursuit of the soul is quintessential to the psychoanalytic quest to understand oneself ” (p. 167). So Jonah and I needed to embark upon a journey to understand how he lost his self. This idea is not unfamiliar to those who have worked with traumatized adults. Kohut (1984) notes that the concentration camp experience destroyed the survivor’s sense of self; Herman (1992) maintains that the self is undone during trauma; Shatan (1973) describes the tattered ego of survivors; Laub and Auerhahn (1989) write that psychic structure is dismantled by trauma; and Lifton (2005) refers to decimated psyches. But little attempt has been made to deconstruct the actual process by which the adult self is destroyed, dismantled, decimated, undone, shattered, or left in tatters during this disastrous confrontation. Drawing on contributions from relational psychoanalysis-together with recent findings in cognitive, neurological, and developmental psychology-this is the task I have set myself in this chapter and the three that follow.