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 Post subject: Deja Vu
PostPosted: Wed Jun 30, 2010 10:46 am 
Hi everyone - It's been a long time since I've been on here but during my studies for my training I stumbled upon this:

The Structure of the Déjà Vu Experience1


Jacob A. Arlow, M.D.


Although psychoanalytic literature abounds in allusions to the phenomenon of déjà vu, few communications can be found devoted primarily to an analysis of this interesting psychological state. The experience is reputedly a very common one, occurring frequently in persons otherwise considered quite normal as well as in association with various psychoneurotic and psychotic disturbances. Some observers note that déjà vu is to be seen regularly in children and in adolescents, its appearance being facilitated by states of fatigue, stress, illness (13), (21), (24), etc. (factors which presumably favor regression or the emergence of repressed material). In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud (11) commented on the significance of déjà vu. He said that when the phenomenon of déjà vu is related in a dream to a landscape, it indicates some reference to the mother's body and/or genitals "concerning which one can maintain with absolute certainty 'I've been there before.'" In literature and in the cinema déjà vu has been described and employed with dramatic effect and wide appeal. Déjà vu phenomena are said to be especially prominent in brain-damaged individuals (3), (22), (23) and in the experience of soldiers on the way to battle (19). In addition, it has been observed as part of the aura of grand mal seizures and in relation with petit mal seizures of children (3), (24).

In his early comments on déjà vu Freud (12) emphasized the activation of an unconscious impression, "In such moments, something is really touched that we have already experienced, only we cannot consciously recall the latter [event] because it was never

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Submitted August, 20, 1958

1 Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Chicago, 1956.



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conscious … the feeling of Déjà vu corresponds to the memory of an unconscious phantasy…" In a situation when recall is inhibited by repression the individual may transfer or displace the memory feeling onto the current locality creating a false recollection with the impression that one has already seen everything exactly as it is. In a series of complementary observations, Ferenczi (9), (10) asserted that not only unconscious fantasies but repressed fragments of dreams of the previous night, or even of dreams long past forgotten, are related to déjà vu. Freud (13), Oberndorf (21), and others expanded this view to include not only fantasies or dreams which threaten to emerge from repression in connection with analogous subjects, but also consciously experienced intentions and circumstances which were subsequently repressed. Marcovitz (20) criticized this explanation of déjà vu as insufficient because it failed to account for the characteristic element of explicit repetition.

Following the introduction of the structural hypothesis into psychoanalytic theory, references to déjà vu emphasized the ego aspects of the problem. Déjà vu has been examined as one of a series of manifestations of disturbance of ego functions, usually in the context of the ego's need to fend off anxiety in the face of internal or intrapsychic conflict. In discussing a specific form of falsification of memory, Freud (15) contrasted the different defensive maneuvers of the ego in déjà vu as opposed to those employed in depersonalization and in derealization.2 To this list of the disturbances of the sense of reality, Isakower (16) added the aura of epileptics and various phenomena related to the process of falling asleep, which were his primary interest. In connection with déjà vu, however, he contrasted the retrograde amnesia of repression with the antrograde revival of memory in déjà vu, remarking that in either case the result is the same; an unconscious memory or wish is kept in repression. In this respect déjà vu experiences

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2 These two defensive maneuvers are by no means mutually exclusive. Feigenbaum (5), Oberndorf (21), and others have reported cases characterized by the simultaneous occurrence of depersonalization and déjà vu. To make the familiar unfamiliar and vice versa both serve a common purpose of minimizing the threatening significance of some event, situation and/or the analogous fantasy associated with it. See also Fenichel's (6) "The Economics of Pseudologia Phantastica." A lie is often told to deceive oneself rather than to deceive the listener. Telling lies may thus serve the function of intrapsychic defense.



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resemble the defensive utilization of substitute cover memories. Fenichel (7), (8) emphasized the failure of the ego's defensive function, stating that the actual experience in which déjà vu occurs is associated with a repressed one, and serves as a substitute for it. He says, "The ego does not want to be reminded of something that has been repressed, and the feeling of déjà vu consists of its being reminded of it against its will" (8). Why this defensive failure should take the form of déjà vu rather than an attack of anxiety, symptom formation, or fantasy is not clear from this explanation.

Two more recent contributions to the subject deserve special reference because, among other reasons, they undertake clinical presentations in order to validate their hypotheses. In a paper entitled "Erroneous Recognition" Oberndorf (21) says, " Déjà vu is primarily a disturbance of reality perception and the reaction to it serves to reassure the patient against this insecurity by divesting the recurrent circumstances of the impact of a new reality through an estrangement affect. It constitutes a defense reaction against a future danger or unpleasantness as well as anxiety associated with the memory of an undefined, unsolved experience which was originally responsible for the reaction." The specific form of assurance he refers to is "Don't worry about this situation. You have been through this thing before and got out alright; the same will happen this time." This form of reassurance Oberndorf did not link specifically to the formal or manifest structure of the déjà vu experience, but the notion is, I believe, implicit in his clinical material. In passing, one must observe in criticism of Oberndorf's thesis that the disturbance in déjà vu does not constitute a disturbance of reality perception since the perceptual function is unimpaired. The subject is aware of a disturbance in the sense of reality rather than in the reality of his perceptions as such. This distinction Federn (4) made in other connections, notably regarding the ego deterioration in psychosis.

Marcovitz (20), on the other hand, finds in the formal structure of the déjà vu reaction the expression of the wish to have a second chance, to wit., "It is an illusory fulfilment of a wish that one could repeat some experience so that one could make the outcome accord better with the desire." He makes no reference to the



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possible defensive function of the déjà vu reaction and does not try to account for the uncanny, disconcerting, unpleasant, anxietytinged affects which usually accompany this form of experience. Such wishes, I hope to demonstrate, may be observed in connection with déjà vu experiences, but they are of secondary significance and are analogous to the "secondary gain" in the structure of a symptom.

In a recent study of phobias, Lewin (17) suggested that it might be profitable from the methodological point of view to examine the formal façade of a symptom in the same manner as one would treat the manifest content of a dream. Since it has already been indicated that the formal structure of the déjà vu reaction may contain latent elements of defensive reactions and wish fulfillment, it would seem plausible to expect that meticulous analysis of the specific setting and details of a déjà vu experience might afford a deeper understanding of this phenomenon. It is in keeping with this anticipation that the following material from the analysis of a male patient who had several recurrences of déjà vu during the course of his analysis is presented.

CASE REPORT
The patient was a thirty-three-year-old, single, instructor in engineering at a university. He was employed full time in a teaching and administrative capacity at a minimal salary. He was the oldest of three children and had been his mother's favorite. His father was a general practitioner of medicine in a small town.

Onset of Illness: The patient's illness began abruptly about six weeks before he came for treatment. His choice of girl friends indicated an underlying necessity for degradation of the love object. One evening the young woman in whom he was currently interested confided to him that some time ago she had become pregnant by a doctor who had subsequently performed an abortion upon her. This disclosure precipitated the patient's illness. He immediately became anxious and depressed, experiencing compulsive thoughts like "little whore" or "he killed the baby." The patient became increasingly apprehensive, fantasying that he would meet this physician and have a violent fight. He was unable



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to sleep at night, had to keep a light on, and became fearful of knives and barbers.

During the early phase of the treatment the patient was concerned primarily with his ambivalent attitude toward the rival. Such ambivalence was characteristic of the patient's attitude toward authority figures in general. His pattern was to attach himself as an "apprentice" to an older person—as an adolescent, to outstanding athletes whom he idealized; as a student, to exceptionally gifted professors and teachers.

The patient was indeed a perennial apprentice, overly submissive to "masters" whom he resented, unable to demand the recognition, the advancement, and the remuneration to which he was obviously entitled. Closely associated with this were various symptoms indicating a specifically phobic reaction to examination situations. He had several dreams of the classic examination-anxiety type.

Two events from the patient's childhood which emerged during the early months of the treatment deserve to be recorded at this time. When the patient was between the ages of three and six he was caught masturbating by his father. The father then said to the patient's mother in the patient's presence, "If this keeps up we'll have to do something drastic." This threat so upset the patient that he was unable to sleep without a light in the room. There were, furthermore, two experiences during which the patient intruded upon his parents' intimacies in the bedroom. On one such occasion his father scolded him angrily and told him to leave the room, whereupon the patient picked up a hairbrush and threw it at his father's genitals. He hid behind a chair expecting his father to come and beat him, but the beating never took place and he was permitted to leave the room without punishment.

With treatment the patient's anxiety abated considerably and he was able to effect a number of realistic changes in his work situation. He overcame his inhibition about demanding money and took steps to renegotiate his contract on more favorable terms.

Background of Déjà Vu Attack: The first attack of déjà vu occurred about eleven months after the beginning of treatment. The patient at this time was engaged to an attractive young



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woman of his own faith and found himself in a serious conflict over whether to have intercourse with her. In this context he found the relationship with her becoming increasingly fraught with anxiety.

The Attack of Déjà Vu: The patient described the setting and the attack of déjà vu in the following terms.

I went to see Miss X, the secretary, at the University. It was the second time that I had come into her office. The first time I was there was on a simple, routine affair—to register the number of my car for parking. This time I got word, "The financial officer wants to see you." I had sent a letter of complaint regarding a delay in getting paid. Now, two weeks later I was told, "Mr. P. wants to see you about the letter." I had the thought, "I'll be punished." I felt scared.

I went to Mr. P's office and saw Miss X, his secretary. I've had lots of sexual thoughts about her. I'd often watch her walk down the halls and would have the thought, "I'd like to climb into bed with her." Mr. P. was busy so I sat down with Miss X and talked with her. Suddenly I looked out the window at the fields and the surrounding landscape. "The grass looks green, like springtime, " I thought. Just then, I had the feeling, "I've seen this before. I've been through all of this." My next thought was, "It's happening again. That's how it was last year—in the springtime, when I began to have my nervous breakdown."

I went to see Mr. P. He was sitting behind his great big executive desk. "The boss, the judge, " I thought. "It's just like an examination all over again." He was not at all antagonistic. I smiled and I asked, "Did I kick up trouble?" He said, "No. Don't worry. Nothing will happen." No. He did not say that. He said, "The check will come through in time. It will take three months or so." Before, when I said "Nothing will happen, " I thought, "Maybe they will cut me off altogether. No funds." I also thought, "Don't worry. Nothing will happen. But they could fire me for raising hell. But all I did was write a letter."

I think of the secretary again. I avert my gaze when I pass that office. She is very attractive.

Analysis of the Déjà Vu Attack: Before proceeding, a number of observations should be underscored. First, the attack of déjàvu occurred in a locality with which the patient was already familiar. He had been there before and under circumstances which evoked



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no anxiety and represented no danger. Second, concerning the locality, the landscape and the green lawn were in the center of consciousness at the time that the feeling of déjà vu was experienced. Third, an obvious element of wishful assurance intruded itself into the patient's thoughts as a slip, a falsification or embellishment of the experience which the patient, in his account, projected onto the financial officer.

It was only the subsequent course of the analysis and attention to the specific details of the total déjà vu experience which clarified the significance of this experience and demonstrated the dynamics and structure of the déjà vu experience.

The patient's associations at this point took an unexpected turn. He thought of two athletes whom he admired very much and with whom he had been associated. The initials of their names, like the analyst's, were both J. A. One of these athletes had taken part in an amphibious invasion during the war. He pictured him bravely wading through the water toward the lush, green, tropical island in the face of the enemy entrenched behind machine gun emplacements. In addition, both athletes, like the analyst, were balding. In the barber shop he had observed the beginning of a bald spot at the back of his own head and he had the thought, "Balding doesn't mean very much to Dr. Arlow. But to me, it's like losing my head." He then thought of a play which he had seen the previous night on television. It was the story of the assassination of Leon Trotsky. The assassin had driven a pickax into Trotsky's head. One sequence of the play showed how the assassin's mother had urged him on to commit the crime.

The analytic session on the following day was rich with dramatic material. The patient reported that while thinking on the theme of the balding head, he recalled a picture in a children's book of Bible stories in which the aged, blind, and bald Isaac is blessing Jacob. With uncanny accuracy the patient went to the bookcase of the library at home and found that his old book of Bible stories was still there. He brought the book to the analytic session and pointed out the picture of Jacob stealing the blessing as well as an illustration of Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. However, what impressed the patient most of all were two drawings which, as a child, he had made on the back of both illustrations. In



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each case he had drawn the figure of an American Army officer whose head was detached from his body. Next to him was standing a smaller but intact figure—in one case, that of a German soldier; in the other, that of a German aviator.

The analysis of this material led to an understanding not only of the specific features of the déjà vu experience but also of the precipitation of the patient's illness. A condensation of the pertinent material oriented to the problem under consideration follows:

Because of the similarity of his Hebrew name the patient identified himself with Jacob. The patient concentrated on the theme of the son who deceives and rebels against the father with the aid of the mother. He was impressed with the figure of Isaac's staff which he associated with the staff of Moses which changed into a snake. He recalled stealing money from his father's pocket and his envy of the great roll of dollar bills his father often had. To round out the typical oedipal import of this material the patient confused Jacob's wife and Jacob's mother when discussing the Bible stories.

Abraham's knife and Isaac's staff were soon associated. At the onset of his illness the patient developed intense anxiety when knives were placed on the table. He would have the obsessional thought, "Pick up the knife and plunge it into mother." The thought appeared in the current setting, displaced, however, onto his fiancée. He associated the knives with his father's scalpels and other medical instruments. He had been very curious about his father's medical paraphernalia and often when the father was out of the house, he would play act being the doctor in various ways. On several occasions he found excuses to intrude upon his father in the consultation or examining room when he was busy with his nurse or his patients.

The father, now bald, still retains a good measure of his youthful handsomeness. On the desk at home there had been photographs of mother and father before their marriage; the father was in the uniform of an Army lieutenant in World War I. As a young boy the patient had destroyed the picture by cutting it with a very sharp pencil, thereby acting out the same fantasy which he had drawn on the back of the illustrations in his childhood book of



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Bible stories. He had identified himself with the enemy, the German aviator, decapitating the American officer. The mother was very beautiful and her body had always intrigued the patient. She did not cover herself in his presence and, on one occasion, when an aunt discussed this in the patient's presence, he innocently averted his gaze and looked out of the window. On several occasions the patient had used this maneuver of averting his gaze in an innocent way when he was caught staring at his mother. A most striking example of this took place when the patient was eleven and his father was convalescing from an illness which had almost taken his life. The patient and his mother went to stay with relatives in a neighboring state. During the train trip the patient gazed at his mother with great admiration. When she caught his look, he abashedly turned to the window and called her attention to the beauty of the green lawn of a playing field in the environment.

As the conflict over whether to have intercourse with his fiancée was becoming more intense, the patient had the following nightmarish dream, "I approached my sister to kiss her. A snake jumps out of her mouth toward me and I am afraid of being bitten." As he walked into the analytic consultation room on the day he reported the dream, he had the thought, "He won't make a girl out of me." He remarked that he had become aware of the fact that as he crossed the threshold of the consultation room or entered the lobby of the building, he would have thoughts of this nature accompanied by feelings of anxiety. Much of the session was devoted to his fear of knives and his compulsive thoughts about using the knife on his mother and his fiancée. He recalled an incident when he and his sister were caught playing sexual games and he, as the older one, was severely reprimanded. He had been aware of many similarities in the physical appearance of his sister and his fiancée. On the previous day, while driving his mother to the station, he began to feel anxious and recalled that prior to the onset of the feelings of anxiety he had been thinking of having intercourse with his fiancée. He had also noticed anxiety about entering vehicular tunnels with his new car. He would imagine crashing into another car and having a serious accident or, having grazed another man's car, the two would



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stop in the tunnel and have a first fight. Several times while riding in the tunnel, he recollected, he found himself preoccupied with a fantasy of quarreling with his father. Further associations equated the snake with Abraham's knife, Isaac's staff, his father's scalpel and the penis. He thought of the law of retaliation and said, "An eye for an eye; a penis for a penis."

The interpretation was made at this point that his wish to enter a woman's vagina had aroused in him the fear that the father's snake-knife-penis, lurking within the vagina, would attack him and castrate him. The response to this interpretation was striking. For the first time, the patient reported that, although his father was a general practitioner, he had originally been trained in gynecological surgery but had discontinued training in this specialty in order to enter practice to provide for his family. He still does considerable office gynecology. Over the years, the patient had been fascinated by his father's gynecological instruments and had, in his fantasy, erotized the professional use of these instruments. One of the instruments had been, of course, a uterine curette. With the father now identified as the wielder of the curette, it was possible to interpret why the revelation by the original girl friend that she had had a curettage performed upon her by a rival figure had proven so traumatic to the patient. At the point when he had contemplated entering her with his penis, he had been reminded that someone else had been there previously with a surgical instrument. He was afraid of the encounter with the father's penis within the vagina. In the current situation, contemplating intercourse again for the first time in eleven months caused this anxiety to reappear. It was as he had said, "Going through all this again—the same thing happening as last year in the springtime when I began to have the nervous breakdown." The anxiety-fraught reminder of an analogous dangerous situation, already successfully overcome, is comparable to the structure and function of the examination-anxiety type of dream which this patient had several times.

The following day, upon entering my consultation room, he had the thought, "like a condemned man going to the slaughter." In association with this thought he felt I would be angry because of his references to my baldness. His father had become bald and



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soon, he felt, he, too, would be bald. "To be like you, I have to be bald. I was anxious yesterday in the barber's chair. I felt the barber would say I am getting bald." He remembered his fear of barbers as a child and the recurrence of this fear the previous year at the height of his illness. As a child, his mother had to coax him to get into the barber's chair. He was worried each time and would ask his mother, "Do I have to get a haircut?"—to which she would reply, "Yes, you do." "Will it hurt?" "No, you know it doesn't hurt. You've been through all of this before and you know it didn't hurt you." The patient commented that in spite of these reassurances by his mother he was not convinced it would not hurt, thinking, "It didn't hurt last time, but it might hurt me next time." This material confirmed and gave the genetic background of the reassuring aspect of the déjà vu experience, to wit., "I have seen this before. I have been through this before and came out alright. The same will happen this time." It is also noteworthy that the prototype of this reassurance was related, in the patient's experience, to the mother, just as in the two Bible pictures the mother is the reassuring, safeguarding image—protecting the son against the danger of the father's knife and paternal retaliation. (Beyond this, of course, was the reassuring recollection of having struck his father in the genitals with a hairbrush, expecting immediate, drastic retaliation, yet receiving none and emerging unscathed.) From his reactions to the anxiety occasioned by having to take examinations, or while pitching in a baseball game, and before having sexual intercourse, the patient illustrated how characteristic this type of defensive assurance was for him.

Resuming, now, our analogy to the structure of the manifest content of the dream, one can observe how each manifest element in this experience of déjà vu was richly determined by its latent connections. The entire reaction, like a dream, was interposed in the patient's psychic life against the background of the genetic development of his conflict. Both the affective tone and the accompanying misjudgment of his perceptions that "all this has been seen or experienced before" may be understood in the same manner as if they were manifest contents of a dream; that is to say, they represent condensed expressions of many latent trains



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of thought, subject to defensive distortions and displacement, capable of representing the expression of wish fulfillment, etc.

It was, indeed, true that the patient was experiencing something which he had been through before, but this feeling had been erroneously and defensively displaced onto the perceptions of the current experience. What had been experienced before was not immediately conscious to the patient, namely, a specific fantasy of an incestuous nature with its attendant castration anxiety. This fantasy had been stimulated and was symbolized by the current realistic situation in which the déjà vu experience occurred. The external realistic stimulus—"the day residue"—was his wish to have relations with his fiancée and the financial officer's secretary. The latter, identified with the father's nurse and the mother, represented the incestuous love object; the inner office represented the vagina; the financial officer, the father with whom it was necessary to struggle for the money—phallus. Thus the situation which provoked the déjà vu reaction contained many of the elements basic in the patient's neurosis. It was, indeed, true that one year earlier he had "experienced all this before, " i.e., he had found himself in a similar position when the girl friend confided in him the details of her abortion. The anxiety which that situation aroused in him then was being aroused in him once again, namely, the danger of castration during an encounter with the father's curette-penis in the vaginal arena. The comforting assurance that he had recovered from the nervous breakdown which that previous anxiety had occasioned was latently present in his thoughts and manifest in the affective feeling tone imparted to this current experience: "I've been through this before." The déjà vu reaction constituted a defense against overwhelming anxiety such as the patient had experienced with the onset of his illness. As in dreams and symptom formation, needless to say, the defense was only partially successful.

Looking at the secretary aroused in the patient dangerous sexual wishes associated with desires for his mother's body which he had tried to fend off by averting his gaze and by fastening his attention on the relatively neutral but symbolically significant landscape with its green lawn, as he had, in fact, diverted his gaze from his mother's nude body at the open door of his parents'

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3 Another fantasy implicit in the material which, for purposes of compression, was not described, related to an identification with the fetus in the womb in danger of conflict with the intruding paternal phallus. This fantasy, confirmed later in the analysis, was not interpreted at this point.



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bedroom, and during the train ride while his father was sick from his frankly sexual gazing at his mother onto the green lawns of the suburban school. This displacement proved insufficient to ward off the emerging anxiety and further defensive steps were undertaken by the ego. A dreamlike depreciation of the current situation and its implications took place plus the addition of a manifest assurance: "I've seen this before; I've been through all of this before." This assurance is completed in the latent thought, "And I came out alright then as I trust I will now." To carry the idea deeper, "I will not be killed or castrated now for demanding money, for having sexual desires, for my parricidal, castrative or incestuous wishes—just as I was not injured by my competitors while playing baseball, or cut by the barber, or punished when I hit my father with the hairbrush, or castrated when I would not stop masturbating, or killed in utero by my father's penis when I was a fetus."3

A Second Déjà Vu Attack: Another experience of déjà vu occurred in connection with the analysis of an attack of globus hystericus. The patient found himself in a situation of temptation associated with a maternal figure. This temptation revived a sexual wish from the age of twelve directed toward his father's very seductive office nurse. Although this woman had initiated him into many new experiences and interests, she frustrated his wish for sexual initiation at the very last moment. These critical events occurred precisely at the time when the patient's father was seriously ill and was expected to die. The current setting, therefore, was most appropriate for experiencing the wish for a second chance. Unfortunately, professional discretion makes it impossible to record the details of the analysis of this particular experience of déjà uv. It may be stated, however, that this experience which took place at a table in a restaurant condensed and symbolized a whole series of elements consisting of anxiety-laden dreams, fantasies, and situations which the patient had previously experienced. The anxiety was connected essentially with the danger



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attendant upon yielding to the temptation of a seducing mother image and subsequently having to face the vengeful wrath of a returning father like the suitors of Penelope when Ulysses returned from Troy. The current sexual temptation took a specifically oral form and was related to the initiation into marriage. The precise seating arrangement about the table in the restaurant corresponded symbolically to the details of a dream which he had had, and represented the situation which he might anticipate if he yielded to the offers of the seductress. The entire situation was reminiscent of the situation and the wishes which almost came true when his father lay close to death in the next room and the nurse was arousing the patient's sexual desires. Against the castration anxiety aroused by the emergence of these orally represented sexual wishes came the ego's defensive assurances, "I have seen this before. I have been through this before and I came out alright. The same will happen now." The price of the defensive reassurances of the ego is a transitory regressive deterioration of a specific ego function, namely, the sense of reality. The wish-fulfilling component of this reassurance became manifest in the very structure of the experience in the idea of déjà vu, while the attendant anxiety, not completely mastered by this form of defense, accounted for the uneasy anxiety-tinged sensation which usually accompanies the déjà vu experience. As in its analogue, the examination dream, in the déjà vu experience anxiety appears not because the individual is having the feeling of déjà vu, but contrariwise he is having the feeling of déjà vu because he is fending off anxiety.

Like the dream, the experience of déjà vu can perhaps be analyzed inexhaustibly. However, this material has been adduced in necessarily condensed form to discuss the problem of the wish for a second chance, which Marcovitz (20) emphasized in his analysis of déjà vu. This wish emerged very clearly in relation to the nurse who had left the patient's bed so abruptly. In the present situation, the wish for a second chance concerned the seducing maternal figure. The opportunity which had not materialized with the nurse was, in fact, being presented to the patient by her latter day representative. He did not have to wish for a second chance; he was in fact being confronted with the temptation—the



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temptation which aroused his fear of retaliation. It must be observed, moreover, that there had been ample opportunity for the wish for a second chance to emerge many times earlier during the several flirtatious gambits of the seducing maternal image. Actually, however, the déjà vu experience occurred in a more threatening situation, a situation which at the same time contained so many of the significant temptations and anxieties which the patient had mastered in the past. The patient was in danger of being exposed in a situation which was structured very precisely in terms of his previous experiences and conflicts. The wish for a second chance is apparently a subsidiary motive in the structure of the déjà vu experience, not essential in its organization and clearly secondary to the defensive need of the ego to ward off the anxiety which threatens to emerge when the structure of a current situation stimulates and symbolizes quite precisely an important, unconscious conflict associated with concrete experiences from the past.

This function of warding off anxiety in a consoling way might presumably account for the observation of Linn (19) concerning the frequency of déjà vu in soldiers about to enter battle. He noted that these soldiers frequently reported that they experienced the sensation of déjà vu in some town before fighting. On subsequent discussion, they associated this town with others which they had passed through before earlier encounters from which they emerged safe and alive.

DISCUSSION
To summarize the situation from the structural point of view, the phenomenon of déjà vu represents the result of a combination of several defensive activities of the ego in a situation which both symbolizes and stimulates the revival of an anxiety-producing memory, wish or fantasy. The ego tends to fend off anxiety by several concurrent and complementary measures. To begin with, the memory, wish or fantasy which threatens to emerge is minimized as being unreal, dreamlike or already past. The origin of the disturbance is projected or displaced onto the external situation, in this way tending to suppress the significance of the inner



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sources of anxiety. The current situation, in addition, is offered as a substitute for the original memory or fantasy in an effort to keep that memory or fantasy in repression. In this respect, the dynamic situation in déjà vu is similar to the use of screen memories as substitutes in order to aid the defense of repression. To these defenses is added the consoling thought with its corresponding affect, "Don't worry; you have been in this kind of dangerous situation before and emerged safe and alive. The same will happen now." This sort of consolation is practically a universal ego-building device employed by mothers and those who care for children in their attempt to strengthen the child's capacity to master anxiety.

The sense of prophetic foreknowledge of what is to follow which often accompanies the déjà vu experience represents a further defensive action of the ego. It constitutes a regressive, defensive reanimation of the feeling of omnipotence in a situation in which the ego perceives that, in spite of the various defensive maneuvers outlined above, its capacity to fend off anxiety has proven inadequate to the task. It would correspond to the statements of a frightened, young child, in effect, "I don't have to be afraid of what is going on because I have been through this before and I came out alright. And to prove that I've really been through all this before, I'll show you that I can predict everything that is going to happen." This defensive utilization of the false sense of prophetic knowledge by the ego resembles Martin Stein's (26) study of premonition as a defense. Premonition, déjà vu, depersonalization, and certain distortions of time sense together with other phenomena mentioned at the beginning of this paper, are examples of the wish-fulfilling denigration or deterioration of a specific ego activity serving, in part, the function of warding off anxiety.4 The false judgment, "I have seen or experienced this before, " contains the expression of a wish, not a wish from the id, but a wish from the side of the ego.5 Déjà vu, accordingly, is

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4 Beres (2) has demonstrated how specific functions of the ego in children may undergo temporary deterioration or regression in the face of unfavorable environmental influences and as a result of intrapsychic conflict.

5 In order to avoid confusion in terminology, it is perhaps advisable to distinguish between wishes of the id and interests of the ego in order to take into account the tension-producing, "driving" quality of the id impulse.



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not a symptom in the sense in which Freud (14) described the structure of symptoms in The Problem of Anxiety. There he said that symptoms constitute a substitute for an unachieved instinctual gratification (i.e., an id impulse) as a result of the process of repression. Déjà vu is not a compromise formation. It is a transitory, circumscribed disturbance of a specific ego function. The other déjà phenomena, i.e., déjà raconté (25), entendu, pensée, probably have a similar structure.

The connection between the characteristic affect and the defensive function of the ego which is apparent in the déjà vu phenomenon deserves elucidation. The affective component of déjà vu is usually unpleasant. There is an element of the uncanny, but more often a perplexing feeling that something is not right, a feeling which frequently merges into the sensation of anxiety. In this respect the structure of déjà vu resembles the typical dream of missing a train or taking an examination by virtue of the feeling of having experienced something before in an attempt at reassuring consolation. Concerning these typical dreams Freud (11) said, "Dreams of missing a train deserve to be put alongside examination dreams on account of the similarity of their affect, … They are dreams of consolation for another kind of anxiety felt in sleep—the fear of dying… These dreams say in a consoling way: 'Don't worry, you won't die …', just as examination dreams say soothingly: 'Don't worry, don't be afraid, no harm will come to you this time either.' The difficulty of understanding both kinds of dreams is due to the fact that the feeling of anxiety is attached precisely to the expression of consolation." In déjà vu, likewise, the unpleasant feeling of sensing that current reality has been experienced previously is attached precisely to the expression of consolation, to wit., "Don't worry. You have seen this before. You have been through this before. No harm will come to you this time either."

Penfield and Rasmussen (23) observed during operations on conscious human subjects suffering from disease of the temporal lobe that electrical stimulation of the cortex of the temporal lobe could produce a variety of perceptual disturbances, such as dreamlike hallucinations and perceptual illusions including déjà vu sensations. Stimulation of the cortex of the temporal lobe which



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was not diseased produced no such reactions. Brickner and Stein (3) reported several patients with tumors of the temporal lobe in whom déjà phenomena of various sorts replaced the aura of the epileptiform seizures. They regarded the déjà experiences as part of the abnormal discharge which culminates in the convulsion. The question may be raised whether such déjà phenomena represent the psychic response to the awareness of an imminent seizure, namely, the ego's attempt at reassurance in the face of the knowledge that the patient is about to experience a convulsion. Certain hallucinatory auras in themselves seem to play the same role in some patients suffering from posttraumatic convulsions. Beck and Guthrie (1), for example, recently described a patient whose aura before seizures consisted of hallucinations of bottles of dilantin pills or of the nurse approaching with anticonvulsive medication. According to Ostow (22), there lie within the temporal lobe structures which have the function of matching percepts with preconscious memories and thereby with unconscious repressed memories and fantasies. The successful matching of percepts with preconscious memories is normally attended by a feeling of recognition. Where the temporal lobe has been damaged, a disturbance of the functioning of these structures may lead to the illusion of false recognition. The precise relationship between the déjà phenomena encountered under those circumstances and the defensive responses of the ego remains to be clarified.

Since déjà vu has been equated with hallucination (20), a note of distinction is timely at this point. Although déjà vu and certain hallucinations may be based, in part, on the ego's need to give reassurance in the face of danger, the two processes are quite different. There is no falsification of perception in déjà vu. The disturbance is not in the ego's function of reality testing but in the function which Federn (4) has differentiated as the "sense of reality." It is the same function which is also disturbed in depersonalization.

Déjà vu is more closely allied to illusion which it resembles in the wish-fulfilling complementation of the data presented by perception. The specific addition in déjà vu, however, is along the lines of a reassuring distortion of the sense of reality, to wit., this has been experienced previously and safely. A related phenomenon,



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indicating a disturbance in the discriminating function of the ego, was observed by Linn (18) in certain brain-injured patients. They were unable to scan completely the cluster of ideas associated with percepts, and could not separate with normal precision the various persons or situations which constituted a cluster. Some patients would, at times, condense into a single cluster all the hospitals at which they had been treated—"there seems an element of wishful thinking in this contamination as if the patient is trying to reassure himself that he will survive this hospitalization as he did the previous ones."

This leads directly to the problem of the relationship between déjà vu experiences and delusion. Déjà vu differs from delusion by the ready amenability to critical discriminatory judgment of the true nature of the perceptions received. There is, however, a significant relationship between déjà vu and two types of delusion into which it may develop. These delusions tend to incorporate into their structure the unsuccessful reassurance of déjà vu.

The lingering sense of uneasiness or the uncanny which characterize déjà vu appear to be in proportion to the underlying anxiety and indicate that the ego has not fully succeeded, through the various mechanisms already mentioned, in mastering this anxiety. One possible development from this situation is the transformation of the illusory nature of déjà vu into a delusional certainty of really having experienced the situation before. Even in these delusions, remnants of the characteristic function of the déjà vu may be observed. In a personal communication, Linn reported that patients with brain tumors, admitted to the hospital for surgery, sometimes deny the current hospitalization and have the reality-denying delusion that they had been through the hospitalization before; for the current dangerous situation, however, they substitute a previous operation in a different hospital—in effect, an examination type of situation through which they had already passed successfully. Another delusion of this type may involve the physician. One patient said, "I have seen you before. You were my instructor in psychology at college." These delusions have in common with déjà vu the tendency to depreciate current, dangerous reality in favor of past experiences already successfully overcome.



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Reference has already been made to the second type of delusional development out of déjà vu. This type involves a buttressing of the failing déjà vu defense with a delusion of foreknowledge or prophetic foresight. This represents a regressive reanimation in the ego of the magical sense of omnipotence. It is as if the patient were saying, "I have nothing to fear because I have been through all of this before, and to prove that this is so—I can predict what will happen from now on." Such a development involves the overthrow or suppression of several functions of the ego in a desperate effort to serve the more pressing task of warding off anxiety. A disturbance of this type occasionally may dominate the clinical picture in certain schizophrenic patients.

REFERENCES
Beck, A. T. & Guthrie, T. M. Psychological study of visual auras in patients with brain damage and seizures Transactions of Joint Meeting of N.Y. Academy of Medicine, Section of Neurology and Psychiatry, and N.Y. Neurological Society, January 11, 1955

Beres, D. Ego deviation and the concept of schizophrenia The Psychoanal. Study Child 11:164-235 New York: International Universities Press, 1956 [→]

Brickner, R. & Stein, A. Intellectual symptoms in temporal lobe lesions, includingdéjà pensée J. Mt. Sinai Hosp., 9 344 1942

Federn, P. Ego Psychology and the Psychoses New York: Basic Books, 1952

Feigenbaum, D. Depersonalization as a defense Psychoanal. Q. 6:4-11 1937 [→]

Fenichel, O. The economics of pseudologia phantastica 1939 The Collected Papers of Otto Fenichel 2 129-140 New York: W. W. Norton, 1954

Fenichel, O. The misapprehended oracle Am. Imago 3 14-24 1942 [→]

Fenichel, O. The Psychoanalytic Theory of the Neuroses New York: W. W. Norton, 1945 p. 146

Ferenczi, S. A case of "déjà vu" 1912 Final Contributions to the Problems and Methods of Psychoanalysis London: Hogarth Press, 1955 pp. 319-320

Ferenczi, S. Hebbel's explanation of "déjà vu." Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psychoanalysis 1915 New York: Boni Liveright, 1927 p. 422

Freud, S. The interpretation of dreams 1900 Standard Edition 5 385 London: Hogarth Press, 1953 [→]

Freud, S. Psychopathology of everyday life 1905 Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud New York: Modern Library, 1938 p. 169

Freud, S. Fausse reconnaissance (déjà raconté) in psychoanalytic treatment 1913 Collected Papers 2:334-341 London: Hogarth Press, 1933

Freud, S. The Problem of Anxiety 1926 New York: W. W. Norton, 1936

Freud, S. A disturbance of memory on the acropolis 1936 Int. J. Psychoanal. 22:93-101 1941 [→]

Isakower, O. A contribution to the pathopsychology of phenomena associated with falling asleep Int. J. Psychoanal. 19:331-345 1938 [→]



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Lewin, B. D. Phobic symptoms and dream interpretation Psychoanal. Q. 21:295-322 1952 [→]

Linn, L. The discriminating function of the ego Psychoanal. Q. 23:38-47 1954 [→]

Linn, L. Personal Communication

Marcovitz, E. The meaning of déjà vu Psychoanal. Q. 21:481-489 1952 [→]

Oberndorf, C. P. Erroneous recognition Psychiat. Quart. 15 316-326 1941

Ostow, M. A psychoanalytic contribution to the study of brain function Psychoanal. Q. 24:383-423 1955 [→]

Penfield, W. & Rasmussen, T. The Cerebral Cortex of Man New York: Macmillan, 1950

Poetzl, O. Zur Metapsychologie des "déjà vu." Imago 12:393-402 1926

Siegman, A. J. The psychological economy of déjà raconté Psychoanal. Q. 25:83-86 1956 [→]

Stein, M. H. Premonition as a defense Psychoanal. Q. 22:69-74 1953 [→]



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 Post subject: Re: Deja Vu
PostPosted: Wed Jun 30, 2010 8:12 pm 
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excellent!!!not got time to read now but look forward to reading soon as i get chance!

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