If self-mutilation shows paradoxical strategies for silencing the excitation of puberty in adolescence, it also bears witness to the traumaphilia that operates within a context of narcissistic filiation. The case of Theo shows us how important it is to recognize the bonds of interdependence between the parents and the young adolescent faced with trans-generational issues. In fact, the problematic underlying these behaviors seems only to be able to elaborated after the traumatic tensions which are the basis of the lack of differentiation and the violence in intergenerational bonds have been put into perspective.
The adolescent who turns against his own body is often imprisoned in a logic of doubles from which he tries to protect himself and which he tries to escape. This has the advantage of maintaining the illusion of omnipotence he experienced as a child, of projecting it onto the other with accompanying violence, and of stabilizing the latter by turning it back upon itself in a targeted, limited way. The mutilations that he inflicts on himself are thus real witnesses to the illusion that he needs to construct. What is interesting about a work like Verdi’s Le Trouvère is that it gives us access to the mythic scenario underlying this type of behavior and opens it up to analysis. In it we discover, notably, how self-mutilation is for some adolescents a rite of passage allowing them to confront a mythical double, to their detriment at first, but with the possibility of unmasking it later.
A clinical treatment of adolescent self-mutilation is possible as long as the adolescent is posited as being in a phenomenal crisis between two bodies. Not only between the child’s body and the adult body, but above all between the body of the partial drives and the phallicized body. The scene of the origins of the human body is psychically re-found and recreated at this moment. The author bets that a reading of the exchanges between Caillois and Bataille will give a glimpse of the adolescent tension in its subjectivation of the corporal.
The object of this contribution is to locate in the history of Catholicism some elements whose echoes we hear when analyzing current adolescent self-mutilation in French society. In Antiquity, we find the martyr used as a model of asceticism; in the Middle Ages, we note the appearance of the Gothic Christ. The relation between old texts and current clinical data will be thrown into relief by a reading of messages about self-mutilation posted by youngsters on Internet forums.
The heritage of the Catholic past can be read in the practices of flagellation, illustrated by the mortifications of the flesh Marie of the Incarnation and her son Claude Martin inflicted on themselves in the XVIIth century. We also find the bodily inscription of stigmata of the Passion, and mystical anorexia ; the latter prefigures, within the framework of mystic Catholic virtuosity, the mental anorexia which is its secular version, and is now considered to be one of the major pathologies of adolescence. The link between adolescent self-mutilation and anorexia is well known to epidemiologists.
In the area of « post-modernity », scarifying practices are tied in a certain way with Medieval Catholicism through currents such as the « Ghotik », for example, when the singer Marilyn Manson uses Grüneweld’s painting of the Crucifixion as an emblem in a quasi-expressionistic way. The words of youngsters who engage in these practices show a wish to flee an uninhabitable world. However, it is necessary to distinguish clearly the different institutional settings where these adolescents live : family or group homes. In a penal setting, even adults scarify and burn themselves to « deal with » their existential distress.
Finally, this reflection leads to a question dear to the media : are we witnessing a « return of the religious » ? On the contrary, it is a radical decline in the control exercised over the French population by what was once the dominant « religiousness », that of the Catholic church. The dogma repeatedly asserted by the Magisterium is more and more lacking in credibility, which enables one to re-employ its scattered pieces without subscribing to its system of dogma, as we see in the current fashion of having a personal relationship with one’s « guardian angel ». It is the same with the satanism of young « goths »… Moreover, this does not lead to institutionalized ceremonies, but to private rituals that are a cry of suffering addressed to a heaven with a loving ear.
Beyond being a mere psychopathological disorder, self-sabotage, according to Jeammet’s definition, reflects the maintenance of a dependence situation and translates a failure of the internal psychical processes to organize the relation. Thus, through this behavioral language or neo-language, the adolescent seeks to create a neo-identity capable of compensating for the deficit in the process of interiorization and, by the same token, to stamp out the narcissistic flaws that the adolescent processes have brought to light in their quest for sensations.
The auto-sadism which underlies self-sabotage, rests on a sort of « compensatory autoeroticism ». This is also an autoeroticism that has been petrified or perverted (as happens with addictions), into something purely mechanical and self-destructive, by fostering, among other things, the dis-objectalization of these conducts, which will then be edified as a way of being. A way of being that lets a taste for dereliction take the place of the desiring dynamic.
This paper explores the « basic endo-psychical situation » described by Fairburn. This situation is that of a split « ego » ; in other words, a schizoid position that Fairburn considered to be central, and is the basis for his theory of mental structure. The « basic endo-psychical situation » is made up of three structures of the « ego » which, while roughly corresponding to Freud’s tripartite division, are conceived as « ego » structures that are intrinsically dynamic in relation to each other. It is the anti-libidinal ego structure, or « internal saboteur » that occupies the central position in this text.
Passion and adolescence both call to mind the issue of excess, excess in the extreme, over-the-top. Here, love is insane and unbearable, more related to the need for the other than to the expression of desire. Also, in addition to the demand for control over the other who causes the need, we also find in the passionate subject an intra-subjective sadomasochism which is acted, as well as frequent self-destructive conduct (auto-sadism). Here, the victim and the tormenter are particularly dissolved and melded together.
The adolescent process sometimes leads to an anxiety about disappearing, of being annihilated, whose main characteristic is that can be shared – and may even be contagious – among one’s family and friends. In this case, it dramatizes itself, most often casting the body as the principle protagonist.
More and more adolescents on the threshold of puberty engage in morbid attacks on their own body, particularly in the form of scarification and burns. Clinical work with these patients shows how serious the disorders are. All these patients have a history of confirmed sexual violence. Most bear the stigma of some real childhood trauma. The others are damaged by potentially incestuous interrelationships that have been woven within the family. The emergence of the experiences of puberty have cataclysmic effects on the psyche. The body begins to stir and seizes power as the privileged locus of expression, for an attempt at figuring, through the act, a psychical issue that cannot yet be elaborated.
In this article, the authors reflect on the masochistic dimension of scarification practices. The displayed erogenous masochism reveals a deficiency of the pre-conscious processes in containing the pulsional pressure through the reversal of feminine passivity into self-agressive activity. The identification to a feminine position which connect eroticism with masochism is reduced to practices of incorporation of unfading signs wich themselves indicate the absence of introjection of the object qualities. These behaviours reveal an impossible hysterisation of intrapsychic conflicts, but also indicate chances of overtaking this conflict initiated by the emergence of puberty and their subjectivation.