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Every week, we invite you to explore a striking quote from a great psychoanalyst to reveal its depth and richness. These lapidary, often provocative, formulas open up new perspectives on the intricacies of the human psyche. By deciphering these quotes with rigor and pedagogy, we invite you on a fascinating journey to the heart of psychoanalytic thought to better understand our desires, anxieties and relationships with others. Ready to dive into the deep waters of the unconscious?

“Incestuous seductions usually occur like this: an adult and a child love each other; the child has playful fantasies… This game can take an erotic form, but it remains always at the level of tenderness. It is not the same for adults with psychopathological predispositions. They confuse the children’s games with the desires of a person who has reached sexual maturity and allow themselves to be drawn into sexual acts without thinking about the consequences.” — Ferenczi.

This quote from the Hungarian psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi sheds light on the psychoanalytic dynamics underlying incestuous and pedophilic seductions between an adult and a child or a minor. Ferenczi’s clinical experience led him to introduce the concept of “confusion of languages between adults and the child” to decode the psychic mechanisms at work in situations of incest and pedophilia. This concept is at the heart of the incestuous and pedophilic dynamic. It exposes the fundamental vulnerability of childhood to the psychopathological desires of adults.

“The confusion of languages” describes a fundamental misunderstanding in the ongoing process during interactions between an adult and a child and how they can become pathological when the adult responds to the tender language of the child’s requests with the language of passion, that is, with perverse adult sexual desires. The child, seeking love, security and care, expresses tenderness in a playful way which will be misinterpreted by an immature, manipulative and psychopathic adult, convinced that they are perceiving a sexual invitation. This adult thus projects their own deviant sexual desires onto these innocent interactions, transforming a space of play and tenderness into a ground they exploit for abusive sexual acts. The pedophilic action stems from the adult’s grave immaturity in their psychosexual development, their inability to contain their impulses, and their confusion between the infantile and adult registers of sexuality. The pedophilic adult abuses their position of power and authority to satisfy their perverse desires, thus violating the psychic and physical boundaries of the child.

This breach of trust in the relationship constitutes a violent psychic intrusion that will be experienced by the child as a traumatic breach, devastatingly and enduringly affecting their somatopsychic, emotional and relational development. Ferenczi also highlighted one of the consequences of this sexual abuse, as well as any other abuse: the unconscious creation by the subject of a defense mechanism he called “identification with the aggressor,” later taken up by Anna Freud. It is a paradoxical mechanism, necessary for the subject’s survival. It consists of an internalization and identification with the perpetrator of the abuse, which can lead to confusion in the perception of self and others, causing the child to struggle with feelings of guilt and responsibility for the abuse suffered. In other words, the abused child represses—always unconsciously—their pain and anxiety to survive psychologically. This allows them, at the cost of serious identity and emotional confusion, to maintain a vital link with the adult on whom they depend. Identification with the aggressor can lead to a transgenerational repetition of sexual abuse acts.

On digital platforms, the confusion of languages takes on a new dimension. The recent scandal of pedophilic abuse on Tik Tok in Lebanon alarmingly illustrates the persistence of deleterious dynamics on social networks. These offer predators new hunting grounds where they can approach their prey under the guise of anonymity and false complicity. The internet has created a virtual space where perverse impulses can be expressed without restraint, shielded from the disapproving gaze of parents and society. Manipulative adults can easily pass themselves off as children or teenagers, thus blurring generational landmarks. They exploit the naivety, needs and quest for affection of the youngest to lure them into abusive relationships. In this way, social networks foster a confusion of psychic spaces, where the intimate and the public dangerously mix.

Understanding these psychoanalytic dynamics is essential in order to develop prevention strategies and therapy for victims of sexual abuse, both in family relationships and on digital platforms. Merely banning Tik Tok, which is ultimately just one symptom among others of this confusion of languages that continues to wreak havoc, particularly in Lebanon, knowing once again that the internet generously offers numerous opportunities for sexual predators, will not be enough. Mainly in the family, but also in schools, in audio-visual media, everywhere it proves necessary, it is crucial to create smart, open and interactive programs on abuse prevention in all areas where it is likely to occur, while ensuring, both privately and publicly, the protection of victims, the psychological support they absolutely need, and the therapeutic treatment of the traumas they suffered.