A Nameless Dread.






It is difficult to understand why people suffer from traumatic events to such varying degrees. While there is no complete explanation for this, psychologists and therapists suggest that everyone’s psyche is made up a little differently by a combination of both nature and nurture creating subtle differences in the way we experience and process life.

Trauma is more prevalent than one might think. We tend to think of it in terms of the extremes such as war, disasters, major accidents and abuse. However, day to day emotional difficulties, which are harder to identify and aren’t’ validated or even acknowledged  by the person who experienced them can ultimately have a defining influence over our personality, relationships, and everyday lives.

To consider the impact of trauma we need to start from the most difficult moment of life – birth. From that point onward, everything in theory becomes easier to deal with as we become less helpless by accruing resources from our environment to help us cope with the harsh realities of the world. A carer nurtures her baby and provides food, safety and love. Eventually language is learned, equipping the toddler to request more specifically, with words, what it needs. Toys are imbued with meaning and coveted as belonging to the individual and are felt as part of the self, enabling play in the world. This is both a real and imaginary world that can be returned to and played in time after time. These real and imaginary objects are the threads that comprise the fabric of the psyche, giving it integrity to support experiences. We cannot control what is encountered in our lives. Experiences of terror, the unexpected, the unfortunate and the unthinkable are ineluctable aspects of reality. When traumatic events take place however, the moment itself seems to stand apart from daily life. Some say that time “stands still.” These moments are beyond comprehension. Emotions and the words that represent them such as terror, anger, and fear may be present in these moments but are not consciously felt or experienced. – or as Bion stated experienced as the “nameless dread.”

Theorists such as Freud and Klein focused on love and hate as central components to our developmental self.  The World War One veteran, and influential psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion added knowledge, particularly the inability to know. The inability to know results from the failure to have found someone, generally in early life, willing and able to contain unbearable feelings, feelings that cannot be put into words, but have more the quality of fragments of feelings. It is only by encountering another mind willing and able to hold these unbearable pieces of feeling that one can learn to put them together for oneself.

Uncontained emotional experiences result not just in our inability to know these experiences, but in the attempt to destroy connections between our associations, creating isolated islands of knowledge that cannot be connected in thoughts or sentences. Attacks on linking are an attack on the associations between thoughts that make knowledge possible.

Bion’s use of the term ‘Nameless dread is simply a placeholder for an indescribable feeling that takes place during a traumatic event and plays a critical role in the development of a person. If an event cannot be woven into the fabric of the psyche, something harmful happens. Unconsciously, a promise is made with the self. You will never have to feel nameless dread ever again but in return you will give up part of yourself. This promise however, comes at a great cost. The edges of spontaneity, vulnerability, creativity, openness to explore, learn, and take in what is new will be compromised.

Therapy might offer the opportunity to safely explore our experiences, associations, fantasies and feelings. Perhaps in time, we may find a way to assimilate these cut off aspects of the self, and live a fuller more authentic life.





‘Just because you’re invited, doesn’t mean you’re wanted’

From ‘Get Out’ by Jordan Peele



My role as a psychotherapist working in Central London brings me face to face with people of many different backgrounds, ages, races, class and political and religious viewpoint. The origins of psychotherapy lie in Europe which was mostly created by middle class white men to treat mainly white women. Much has changed about the world since then and much has changed in the way we see difference and otherness in the consulting room.

At the beginning of treatment and throughout the course of therapy, both the therapist and patient can expect to be silently evaluated by each other. This process leaves us open to our vulnerabilities. Psychotherapy may activate emotional memories that relate to issues such as trust, entitlement, , authority conflicts, and the possibility of being judged. The opportunity for the person in treatment to expose her difficulties and to have these accepted and validated by the therapist, are critical components of the work. A positive therapeutic relationship is predicated on creating a safe enough space to expose our thoughts and desires and the therapist’s ability to handle these, including navigating those occasions when our differences interfere with a sense of emotional safety.

With this in mind I was struck by the relevance of the film ‘Get Out’ by Jordan Peele. The film artfully attempts to allow a white person to see the world through the eyes of a black person for an hour and half.

In the film, Missy, the therapist uses hypnosis to stir up memories of main character losing his mother and the associated pain to enter his mind. She sends him to ‘The Sunken Place’ – this is used as a metaphor for the representation of People of Colour. The “sunken place,” is where people are weighted down by lies they have internalised about their history and racial trauma. This idea refers to W.E.B Du Bois’s theory of “double consciousness” where we see ourselves through the eyes of the dominant culture. Double Consciousness is an internal struggle that affects the Black psyche. Contemplating oneself through the eyes of others, you are forced to live double lives―the life of a person of colour and as a British citizen, both of which are not liberal to you. Hence, the term ‘double consciousness’. You know what racism feels and looks like, but white people do not know what racism is. They have never experienced it after all. They have never felt what it is to be suppressed by people of their own country. They have never felt that pain or misery that many people of colour have been breathing like air since their birth.

As a psychotherapist there is much to be learnt from this experience. Our role asks us to try to understand the difficulties experienced by another human being, quite often with very different backgrounds to our own. The film ‘Get out’ uses imagery and symbolism to demonstrate both the literal meaning of the dialogue as it unfolds, but also the more subtle unconscious aspects of how we relate to each other and the world.

My experience of my difference means that on occasions I can’t quite tell if what I’m seeing has underlying bigotry, or it’s just a normal conversation and I’m being paranoid. I admit sometimes I see race and racism when its not there. That dynamic in itself is unsettling. It is this dynamic the film is able to capture. These aren’t the racists Hollywood is traditionally more comfortable calling out and posturing against. They aren’t Neo-Nazis, or White Nationalists. These are good White People, proud, well off and liberal who are very likely being completely sincere about their Obama votes and desire to connect with a multicultural society. Peele highlights a very specific subset of White racism: Liberals who are insistent of their non-racism because they admire an abstract ideal of Blackness while not actually engaging or regularly encountering any actual Black people.

Peele isn’t showing us that one race is superior to the other. He’s showing us that ideas of racial superiority are learned and passed down in families, workplaces, social groups and through the media.