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#292: Healing from a Malignant Father

In our book A womb of Her Own Susan Kavaler-Adler writes as follows:

Sherry learned a great deal by becoming conscious of her susceptibility to seduction, and to seduction by such a demon lover man. The Demon Lover male was able to take mental control over her by directing and defining her, and then violating her in rape. She mourns her loss in her writing and in her therapy. She has much better relationships with men after that. She definitely believes she had a new sense of choice. She decides to leave a relationship with a man who seems to truly love her, and who wants to marry her, because this man is in a country where she could never live, although she enjoyed the adventure of being there. He was in a medical residency in his country, and could not come and live with her in New York. She makes a clear choice to leave him, despite that he is a man capable of loving her, and one who has been emotionally available in a way her former boyfriends had not been. Sherry is able to end this relationship directly, without feeling like a victim or a victimizer, even though the man feels hurt. Later she finds a man who she feel comfortable living with in New York, while she continues to find her voice as a writer. She says that she thinks of being a therapist earlier because she has felt psychotherapy has saved her life, as well as having been a powerful experience. However, she realizes that just because she benefitted from therapy doesn’t mean she really wants to be a therapist. In wanting to define herself, and in wanting never to be the victim of a man’s definition of her again, Sherry finds that she can discover her own voice in writing. Subsequently, she begins to pursue a degree in creative writing in college studies. She also begins to write for a literary magazine
The combination in Sherry of an inadequate mother, forced to submit to the abuse of her narcissistic husband and his sadism, and a rapacious father, who beats his wife and is indifferent to all her emotional needs (particularly her need to be loved), sets Sherry up for attraction to a malignant abuser. The early pre-oedipal internalization of the father’s sadism and the mother’s masochism (in relation to the father) can be seen as a malignant form of Melanie Klein’s combined mother-father object that dominates the psyche of those arrested in the paranoid-schizoid position. As such a woman, Sherry is attracted to an external man who resonates with her magnetic, hyper-masculinized internal demon fantasy object (see Reich, 1940). She projects this tantalizing figure outward onto a malicious man, and thus finds him both charismatic and erotically arousing. She also projects onto him the power of her own sexual and aggressive instincts. Inflamed by the lust of oedipal desire, plus the adolescent and adult sexual desires that were naturally triggered in a sexually explicit heterosexual situation.
It would be “blaming the victim” to assume that the female who is raped is guilty of choosing her rapist, just because she has been sexually attracted and aroused by him. She does not consciously choose a man who might rape her, even if there is a demon lover figure within her internal psyche that makes a certain man, with such tendencies, appealing to her. In fact, Sherry’s arousal was unconsciously directed by her frustrated childhood yearnings and by the demonic and inadequate parental objects attached to those yearnings. Thus, we see how psychic fantasy plays a vital role in the pre-oedipally arrested person’s attraction to an object of lust.
Sherry is a victim. She expects to be seduced into surrender by an erotically arousing sensual male, which is a common oedipal fantasy for women of all ages. Unfortunately, she is unconsciously compelled by her internal parents (as they existed in her psyche as dynamic visceral objects or as symbolic representations), with unconscious psychic fantasy elaborations, to choose a man who would viciously and violently deny her right to surrender. Oedipal-stage yearnings for surrender, which take place when the ego self has achieved subjectivity, self-observation, self-agency, self-reflection, and interiority, cannot not be sustained in the face of an unconsciously chosen demon-lover rapist.
In Melanie Klein’s (1940) terms, psychic motivations to surrender collapses downward on a developmental continuum to pathological pre-oedipal modes of sadomasochism, so that submission is compelled rather than surrender being chosen. Also, in keeping with Ronald Fairbairn’s (1943, 1952) description of “bad” (demonic) objects, Sherry’s internalization of her parents’ sadomasochistic enactments set her up for an erotically arousing attraction to the seductive man, who then morphed into her rapist.
Sherry’s attraction to this man repeats Sherry’s attraction a sadistic father. Due to her yet not mourned pathological father as an internal object, Sherry has been vulnerable to a woman’s cravings and yearnings for the demon-lover male father figure. This is the demon-lover complex that compelled Sherry to direct the displacement of an oedipal dynamic toward a malicious man. Sherry’s oedipal longings have not been played out with her father in childhood, due to her father’s unavailability. Therefore, Sherry serves as a case in point in studying the nature of the demon-lover complex. She acts out her complex with an alluring and exotic foreign man who appears to have momentarily served the psychic function of a father or father-mother displacement.
The shocking trauma of date rape illustrates the seductive and malignant nature of the father, who was compulsively internalized by the rape victim in her childhood. The malignant father internalization had been superimposed on an internalization of an inadequate (borderline) mother. This is also the father with whom Sherry yearned to sexually connect, when she establishes a fairly solid connection with her female analyst as a transference mother. This study describes the reparation with the female analyst that also allows for some reparation with the actual mother and then, in turn, allows the rape victim to mourn the absence of sufficiently good mother and father objects in her childhood. Sherry is able to heal her trauma, and to resolve her psychic identification with a borderline masochistic mother, through developmentally progressive mourning process, which included creative work in a psychotherapeutic writing group.
In the process of mourning her grief, the patient develops a fascination with the writings of Marquis de Sade. This fascination allows her to re-own the aggression that she had unconsciously invested in her internal sadistic father object of her childhood (not just a symbolic introject), which she has also acted out temporarily in a sadomasochistic relationship with her sister. Consequently, the patient’s aggression can mature in a neutralized conscious fashion into a stronger and more separated and individuated self, a self that could express her voice in the world, as a writer, and as a human being in interpersonal relationships.

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#292: Healing from a Malignant Father

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). #292: Healing from a Malignant Father. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 10 Jul 2018
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