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90 Minute Workshop Series

The Greatest Trauma of Them All: Parental Death Wishes and the Infanticidal Attachment


Trauma devastates human lives. Men, women, and children who become subjected to physical abuse, sexual violation, or psychological neglect will experience profound traumatisation, often becoming psychopathologically symptomatic as a result.

In spite of the deep, painful consequences of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse and neglect, there may be an even greater trauma which, in the experience of the author, underlies all traumata, namely, the persistent presence of extreme parental death wishes towards newborn babies, which propel all subsequent acts of cruelty.

Drawing upon the work of Sigmund Freud, Sándor Ferenczi, and Donald Winnicott – each of whom highlighted the role of death wishes within the family – the author will describe the history and phenomenology of the concept of both conscious and unconscious parental hatred and will describe his own clinical typology of the multiple manifestations of the death wish which might include actual death threats as well as displaced death threats (e.g., killing the family pet or attacking the child’s teddy bear). Brett Kahr will then examine the ways in which persistent death threats and death wishes towards babies become the foundation stones of subsequent forms of abuse and contribute to the development of what the author has come to describe as the “infanticidal attachment”, which persists across the life cycle and even manifests in the transference relationship during psychotherapeutic treatment.

Presenter: Professor Brett Kahr

Professor Brett Kahr has worked in the mental health profession for over forty years. He is Senior Fellow at the Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology in London and, also, Senior Clinical Research Fellow in Psychotherapy and Mental Health at the Centre for Child Mental Health, as well as Trustee of the Freud Museum London and of Freud Museum Publications. He is author or editor of eleven books, including the best-selling Sex and the Psyche (Penguin Books) about the traumatic origins of sexual fantasies; and he has served as series editor to over fifty further volumes. His most recent book is entitled Bombs in the Consulting Room: Surviving Psychological Shrapnel (Routledge, 2018), and his forthcoming book on The Traumatic Roots of Schizophrenia (Routledge, 2019) will appear shortly.