The inner witness

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The inner witness is a mechanism that develops in response to a reasonable experience of infantile helplessness, the resulting maternal impingement and the presence of a sufficient experience of a third. Being crucial to the subject's capacity to shift between the first person and the third person of experience, it also has an essential role in coping with trauma. Three types of testimonial narrative are differentiated in terms of the presence of the inner witness in their syntax. The first mode is one in which the inner witness is accessible, enabling the imaginary shift between the voice of the victim and the voice of the witness. The second mode, which remains a 'first-person' mode of report, preserves and enacts the traumatic memories and the traumatic features. The third, psychotic mode attacks both the first and the third person, separating the subject from both his memories and his sense of selfhood. This mode can evolve as a reaction to an adult massive trauma, but is more likely to emerge as a result of early traumatization. The above ideas and their implications for recovery are illustrated by a case study and through a reading of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)879-896
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Psychoanalysis
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Aliveness
  • Beckett
  • Deadness
  • Narrative
  • Testimony
  • Trauma
  • Victim
  • Witness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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