I’m Torturing Myself: A Thematic Analysis of Psychoanalytic Literature on the Internal Persecutory Experience

Boughen, Kiersten
Appel, Stephen
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Master of Psychotherapy
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Auckland University of Technology

Psychotherapists are familiar with working with clients who persistently self-sabotage and mentally torture themselves. This is inevitably re-enacted in the therapeutic setting and, through the process of projective identification, client and therapist become entangled in the internal persecutory experience. This dissertation is an analysis of the clinical material identified in peer-reviewed psychoanalytic literature on the experience of the internal persecutor in the therapeutic setting. A thematic analysis within an interpretive hermeneutic framework was critically applied to the literature and the salient patterns of meaning, or themes, were identified. Non-hierarchical networks of themes were developed based on the interrelationships among the themes. The results are six thematic networks: Destruction and Desolation, Hidden/Disowned, Stuckness, Disorienting, Bridging, and Connection and Transformation. The themes are discussed in the context of wider psychoanalytic theory and the clinical implications of these findings are considered. The analysis of the interrelationships between the themes reveals the internal persecutory experience as a destructive, self-perpetuating, persecutory cycle. The therapeutic process is identified in the analysis as bridging and transforming the internal persecutory experience.

Internal persecutor , Self-sabotage , Projective identification , Introjection and projection , Thematic analysis
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