Understanding the Traumatized Self

Imagery, Symbolization, and Transformation
  • Robert J. Lifton
Part of the The Springer Series on Stress and Coping book series (SSSO)


When we gather as an intellectual and moral community in connection with our concern about traumatic events and post-traumatic responses, we seek to have good emerge from the bad. Although I feel this is especially true in my work, which involves so many destructive, indeed evil, events, I think it is also true for all of us. The logical aspect of that paradox for us is that, as we pursue our work, we seek the moment when our work is less necessary. We seek and work toward the cessation of destructive events on a massive scale, such as the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, or Hiroshima. As a result, we must keep a watchful eye on perpetrators, even as we pursue our work to help victims and survivors. At the same time, we have to keep a sharp moral and psychological distinction between victimizers and victims. In that regard, I refer to my own study of Vietnam veterans, Home from the War that I subtitled Vietnam Veterans: Neither Victims nor Executioners (Lifton, 1973). This reflects my understanding, as I began to work with Vietnam veterans, that they had been cast into the two roles that Camus warned us never to assume. Those with whom I worked subsequently struggled courageously to extricate themselves from both the roles of executioner and victim. One does not want to be a victim any more than one wants to be a victimizer.


Death Anxiety Vietnam Veteran Protective Shield Pleasure Principle Failed Enactment 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert J. Lifton
    • 1
  1. 1.John Jay College of Criminal JusticeCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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