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#286: Healing from Rape

After a vicious and sadistic rape we learn that healing can take place in the context of a caring and competent therapist. Dr. Kavaler-Adler then describes a cultural and familial background that can render a woman susceptible to date rape. In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) she writes as follows:
Sherry continues to pursue her goal of becoming a writer, which to Sherry is the avenue to defining herself for herself; by giving vivid emotive voice to her experience in symbolic words. But even when words are supposedly the message, as in the writing group, other things can be going on in the tone and nuance, attitude, and arrogance of interpreting the other, when a group member or an analyst is intending to analyze and relate. The gross physical rape becomes a subtle verbal rape. The verbal behavior impacts through symbolic words, and the voice and the body are behind the words.
Then Sherry begins to read the pornographic ravings of the Marquis De Sade. She tells the writing group that she is fascinated by De Sade’s intense pleasure in slowly torturing the female, sometimes until she succumbs to death. De Sade, the ultimate demon-lover, possesses through omnipotent control. A woman who tries to talk him out of his sadistic and murderous intention and who maintains her spirit half-way through the torture ultimately must give up all self-agency. De Sade is merely aroused to heights of perverse pleasure by the fighting spirit in this woman, and in the end, it is the woman’s pain that most arouses him; and his arousal culminates in his own ability to totally crush the woman. Sherry reads and speaks to the group of how De Sade crushes the liveliest of female opponents, and the most psychologically minded.

What Makes the Woman Vulnerable to the Man’s Definition and Rape?
How Does the Woman Become Developmentally Capable of Her Choice?
Now we fight for reproductive freedom for women as pro-“choice” advocates. However, as psychoanalysts we need to ask what makes women capable of having choice about the kind of men that they get attached to, as well as about whether they choose to follow a pregnancy through to delivery. The question of the kind of men they get attached to bring up the question of whether the men they choose are really their choices or men they are attracted to due to transference projections. If they are attractions due to transference, and if there has been failed mothering, compounded by the internalization of malignant father figures, women will lack the self-agency for choice, and they will be vulnerable to being defined and raped. At the very least, they will be attracted to men who will not support them in their wishes to make their own independent and autonomous choices. Let’s look at the developmental predispositions that interfered with Sherry being a woman of “choice” at the time she trusted a man to be a lover, who turned into being a rapist.
Sherry’s father defines her mother; and her mother could never totally leave, despite hatred, lack of love, cruel physical and emotional beatings, and continuous betrayals. Sherry, on the other hand, would never have consciously complied with a domineering man. Yet, inadvertently she ends up in a rape scene, in the same position as her demeaned, used and exploited, and humiliated mother. She is attracted to the same psychopathic form of narcissistic man as her mother had been. For these women, the unconscious childhood trauma promotes vulnerability to the kind of male who uses all kinds of physical and mental weaponry to define the woman’s choice out of existence.
As we see, Sherry manifests the demon-lover complex, a form of developmental arrest, which represents a preoedipal separation-individuation stage trauma (called the “transitional phase” by D. W. Winnicott, 1971), compounded by the unavailability and/or malignancy of the oedipal stage father figure. For Sherry, the problems of preoedipal failures in mothering emerged in the psychoanalytic transference, and they were largely repaired. However, Sherry remained vulnerable to the impact of the father’s absence as a father, while he maintained his malignant presence as an abusive and abandoning husband to Sherry’s mother. This vulnerability has manifested in Sherry’s tantalization and seduction by the sadistic male rapist. Just like the rapist, Sherry’s father had repeatedly betrayed the woman he was in a committed relationship with. He, like Sherry’s rapist, had masqueraded as an attractive man in his womanizing with young women, using erotic seduction to mask his malignant character.

#286: Healing from Rape

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2018). #286: Healing from Rape. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 20 May 2018
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