You are on page 1of 12

Kavaler-Adler, S. (2005).

From Benign Mirror To Demon Lover: An Object Relations View Of Compulsion


Versus Desire. Am. J. Psychoanal., 65:31-52.



(2005). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 65:31-52
Fathers And Daughters Special Section
From Benign Mirror To Demon Lover: An Object Relations View Of Compulsion Versus Desire
Susan Kavaler-Adler, Ph.D., ABPP
This article addresses the terrifying power of the father as a dynamic force within the psyche of the female. Its particular
focus is on how the psychodynamic form of father internalization within the female effects her creative process and her
creative work. Two cases vignettes of female writers are used to illustrate the interaction of traumatizing
parental behavior and the daughter's incestuous desire on promoting compulsions and inhibitions in creative
work. Writing blocks will be seen as a symptom of trauma and psychic conflict that has taken place in the oedipal and
post oedipal years, as opposed to the creative compulsions that result from primal stage preoedipal trauma.
The following three papers were originally presented at APA's Division of Psychoanalysis (Division 39)
2002 Spring Meeting. The panel was onFathers and Daughters: Eviscerated Hope and Unending
Desire. All three authors are affiliated with the Object Relations Institute forPsychotherapy and
Psychoanalysis (ORI), in New York City. The author of From Benign Mirror to Demon Lover: An Object
Relations View ofCompulsion Versus Desire, Susan Kavaler-Adler, Ph.D., ABPP, is the Founder and
Executive Director of the Object Relations Institute. She is also aTraining Analyst, Supervisor, and Faculty
member at ORI. Dr. Albert Brok is the author of the second article, Father and Daughter:
HistoricalIdentification, Present Attachments and the Question of Passionate Involvement. He is a Faculty
member, Supervisor and Training Analyst at ORI, and is on the Training Committee as well as Director of
the Couples and Group program of the Training Institute for Mental Health. The third author, Dr. Gladys
Foxe, has written the Discussion of the papers of Drs. Kavaler-Adler and Brok. Dr. Foxe is a Faculty
member, Supervisor, and Chairperson of the Referral Service at ORI.
The three papers are published here with the gracious permission of Dr. Joseph Reppen, Editor in Chief
of Psychoanalytic Psychology.
- 31 -
The father is a powerful and dynamic force within the female psyche. This theme follows Lora Heims Tessman's
work on the profound impact of the father on female development (Tessman, 1982, 1989). It also follows from my own
work (Kavaler-Adler, 1988, 1993, 1996, 2000). I will emphasize the profound role of thefather internalization on the
whole motivational network, and its particular influence on the woman who in this modern age is quite concerned with
her creative potential manifesting in the world, yet without depleting her of her potential to love in intimate relationships.
In doing so I will also indicate the interaction of thefather and mother internalizations and how they effect the motivation
towards creative work in the developing female.
The cases I have chosen describe the interaction of trauma and unconscious psychic conflict in relation to
psychologically inhibiting father/daughter internalizations. A dialectic can be seen between the actual father of the
daughter, in terms of the father's pathology and his daughter's history with him, and the role
of unconscious instinct wishes. It is the later psychodynamic that can be overlooked by Feminist theorists,
while trauma has been often overlooked by Freudian theorists. As profoundly disruptive as trauma is on
psychic development, one cannot see the whole picture of female personality development without seeing the interaction
of real life trauma with the oedipal level incest desires that are displaced and disguised by elaborate defense systems. It is
the oedipal instinct wish that creates the constellation of the demon lover figure in the female psyche, as opposed to the
mere presence of what Ronald Fairbairn (1952) referred to as a demon, which in itself was an internal object with
trenchant psychodynamic power. Fairbairn (1952) refers to a demon internal object or to the bad object. In fact he
even refers to devils (1952) within the dissociated aspect of the internal world of the psyche. He is referring to a
malignant experience with an abusive, negligent, or inadequate external primal parent that is internalized, and yet is split
off form the center of the self (the central ego), as opposed to being digested and assimilated as part of the central self (or
ego). He is saying that experience with a bad parent cannot be assimilated into the psyche. It is too traumatic! Therefore it
is split off as a bad internal object within the internal world, where in its split off form it continues to propel re-
enactments of the traumatic experiences. This is Fairbairn's view of the internal demon, but he never addresses any erotic
aspect of the constellation. I speak here, as I have spoken before (Kavaler-Adler, 1993, 1996, 2000, 2003a, b) of a
demon lover because I address the erotic aspect experienced even in those with preoedipal trauma. Fairbairn speaks of
an exciting object as well as of the rejecting object being formed internally in the psyche, in relation to the
internalized parent demon (devil or bad object). The exciting
- 32 -
object tantalizes and the rejecting object attacks or abandons, but even Fairbairn's tantalizing exciting object is not
necessarily erotic. Fairbairn's exciting object can be arousing primary object hunger and craving by its mere presence, and
has a magnetism based on primary emotional need for an other (as in Emily Bronte's Heathcliff figure in Wuthering
Heights (Kavaler-Adler, 1993, 2000). The need for the other is narcissistic, as in the case of Catherine in Wuthering
Heights who loves Heathcliff as a part of herself. She craves to merge with Heathcliff for her own completion. This is
different than the erotic desire of the oedipal period that infuses thepreoedipal character's longings for the other, and
particularly for the opposite sex other, but which effects the oedipal level character in a more differentiated form. It is this
aspect of oedipal desire that I refer to in speaking of a demon lover, not just a demon parent or an exciting object. It is
a particularly pertinent term in referring to the issues of the oedipal level woman that I am addressing in this article.
In the demon lover complex the woman feels possessed by the internal object persona that combines the profound
hunger for the primal mother with the father's manifest personality. The father persona often manifests in the outward
dress of the hidden primal object, as there is a generally awareness of the desire (oedipal) for
the father and father displacements in heterosexual woman (Kavaler-Adler, 1993, 1996, 2000). In women with more
adequate early mothering, particularly during thepreoedipal years, who manage to advance themselves in the world in
various fashions, the incestuous desire can still interact with trauma in relation to the father, resulting in
neurotic symptoms.
This psychodynamic phenomenon can cause natural female romantic and sexual desires to be perverted into various
forms of compulsive symptoms. Sometimes the compulsion shows itself as blocking in creative work. My earlier work
concerned the compulsion to create in borderline and schizoid women artists who had profound pre-oedipal trauma and
psychic arrest. They attempted to turn the creative process itself into the maternal holding environment since they failed to
adequately internalize such an environment in infancy (Kavaler-Adler, 1993, 1996, 2000). Due to the lack of the
positive mother bond internalizations, these women writers and artists fail to adequately sustain relationships in the world.
Therefore, their turn to the creative process for what they lacked in relationships, both external and internal, caused
compulsive and manic forms of creativity that ultimately had diminishing returns as their lives failed.
There are, however, also the neurotic level women whose form of compulsion involves the blocking of the creative
process. While the preoedipally traumatized women dissociate and split off parts of themselves that are driven
compulsively toward self expression in the creative work (due
- 33 -
to the failing of early recognition from the mother), the oedipal level women are blocked by repressive process that form
another type of compulsion. This is thecompulsion to obsess about wishes to do creative work that they keep postponing
or failing to do. I have worked with many such women in the 30 years of my practice, which includes creative
process groups, writing groups, and therapeutic mourning groups.
When we speak about a benign mirror turning to a demon lover in relation to a differentiated father figure, as it relates
to female desire turning to compulsion, we are speaking of neurotic women with rich creative potential who are frustrated
in their attempt to fulfill that potential. In the case of these neurotic women the fatherserves as a benign mirror in the sense
of Heinz Kohut's mirroring object (1971, 1977). The object as internal mirror can be related back to
Winnicott's (1971) seminal article on the role of the mother as a mirror for her child. Winnicott speaks of the functional
role of the mother in her self supportive, including her self reflective mirroring capacities, as a subjective object, a term
converted into the term selfobject by Kohut.
When I speak of the father as a benign mirror, as opposed to the mother as the mirroring subjective object, I speak of
a father who gives back to his child a positive reflection of her (or his) whole self. In the case of a girl, the father as
benign mirror is also critical in mirroring back to his daughter a basic positive view of her femininity and of her
natural gender evolution, as the daughter develops from a young girl into the body of a woman. The father's mirroring in
this way of the whole self and of the feminine self (see Kavaler-Adler on the feminine self, 1990) allows the
young girl to internalize a loving and adoring father's acceptance of her for who she is.
Fathers with seriously unresolved oedipal conflicts, however, may give their daughters positive mirroring during
her preoedipal years and then become too seductive or rejecting during the oedipal phase.
The childhood father internalization consequently turns demonic, or in Fairbairn's sense bad (see Kavaler-Adler,1988,
The Father's Role in the Self Development of His Daughter). Similarly, a father who has unresolved psychic conflicts
from his adolescence will be compelled to enact his aggression towards his daughter as her figure and body is changing
during her adolescence, damaging her sense of herself as a woman. The daughter of such a father may have a positive
mirroring father internalized within her from the oedipal stage. She will have a basic sense of self as a being with
erotic desire, but a negative or demonized internal father that reflects a hostile and rejecting view towards her
mature body self. She may become addicted to the negative fatherbecause of the intensity of her unfulfilled need for
approval, combined with the
- 34 -
intensity of the hostile and often sadomasochistic erotic interaction that goes with it. Then she becomes strongly effected
by the demon aspect of her father. When afather has been overwhelmed by his mother's physical body presence, or by her
degree of seductiveness and control, he may also become rejecting of his daughter as her body grows into that of
a woman. One young borderline woman spoke of her father calling her breasts those things and of how he pulled back
from any physical affection with her when she developed breasts. Also, when he ceased to feel comfortable offering
physical affection he grabbed physical contact with her in a hostile aggressive way by beating her with a hand or belt.
Perhaps these beatings were at least in part a reaction to the frustration of his own self imposed deprivation, when he
deprived himself of physical contact with his daughter, as soon as she developed breasts and the body of a woman.
With the neurotic father, as contrasted with this borderline father, the reactions may be much more subtle, but the
power of the father's regard for his daughter causes the subtle changes from positive mirroring (benign) to negative or
demonic to be strongly felt by his daughter on an intrapsychic level. Consequently, the daughter of the neurotic father's
rejection can have her natural desire for her creative work negatively transform into a compulsion. She then tries to push
herself towards her work. She is drawn towards her creative work by her father's early benign and positive mirroring, and
then is pulled away from it, with aversion or disgust, in reaction to the internal reenactment of the demonic
mirroring father, who turned away from her as she got older, for whatever reasons. Instead of a free motivation to create
then she will have an intrapsychic polarization between her internal benign mirroring father and her internal
negative father. The desire for creative self expression will be stirred by the benign father mirror within her, whose
mirroring creates desire for the body of her creative work, as contrasted with the deadening effects of the internal
negative mirroring father or demon father. The neurotic woman experiences her father as demonic in relation to how he
turned away from her or turned critical of her. This neurotic daughter then turns away from the body of her work.
Alternatively, she may turn critical of her work in an intense and rejecting way, which causes her to either stop working or
to work under the stress of psychic compulsion, as opposed to psychic motivation (which is generated by libidinal and
often erotic desire).
I will discuss two such cases, while keeping in mind the mammoth role of the father in the actualization of creative
potential in the world. How does a father who successfully mirrors a daughter's budding creativity and thus conjures up
endeavor excitement, as spoken of by Tessman
- 35 -
(1982), turn so dramatically into an internal demon lover that continuously inhibits the woman in her creative work?
Through the cases I discuss, I will attempt to answer this question.
The Case Of Adrian
Adrian dramatically related that her early life was lived on a large country estate, when her father became temporarily
rich through business activities. She wasfree to romp through daily adventures on the vast grounds of the estate, returning
home to mother when she needed to, but forging adventures that tantalized herfather and won his increasing admiration.
One morning, Adrian at five, decided to make breakfast for herself and her brother. After riding her pony out to the ranch
grounds, she lit fire to two sticks and made toast and bacon. Her father was enthralled! What a brilliant little girl he had!
Then when he asked her to sing several choruses in front of a crowd at a restaurant when she was eight, she marched right
up to the microphone and did his biding. She sparkled and belted out the song as her father was emotionally behind her.
This was Adrian's paradise, the one that was to be lost.
Paradise was lost on the day that her mother decided to separate from her father, when Adrian was nine and her
brother several years younger. She was called into the library. Her father stood against the fireplace, with his hand on the
mantle, dramatically posed at the moment of tension. He declared quite bluntly: Your motherand I are going to live
separately. With which one of us would you like to live? As if shot in the head, Adrian swooned with thoughts of living
alone with her father, in a big hotel, maybe with room service, but she looked over at her mother. She couldn't do it! She
burst into tears. Her mother started yelling at her father for his cruelty to a young girl and ushered her out of the room.
The next thing she knew she was in a car, with her mother, her brother, and her grandmother, and was soaring down the
highway, away from her father. Her father had gone out for cigarettes. When he returned they were all gone!
Adrian declared: I'm so glad to have gotten that behind us, lying dramatically to protect her mother's feelings, while
her insides flipped over. She buried her feelings, and became temporarily constipated when she visited her father in a
strange place, in a hotel. A year later her parents re-united, and her father was in her home again. But it was never the
same! Her father never forgave her for leaving him to live with her mother, as if it was her choice! Adrian suffered
the loss and humiliation of having a father in her home who had lost all his admiration and adoration of her. He no longer
responded with excitement and warmth to her
- 36 -
every comment, making it feel both witty and brilliant. He had become cold and critical.
As Adrian became a teenager and young woman her father berated her for her spendthrift ways. He belittled her
for being slightly overweight. He taunted her by comparing her to other young women who he thought were really
attractive, implying that she was definitely not. He would say: Now there's a good-looking girl!, as he glanced over at a
schoolmate of hers in high school. Adrian felt bereft. Her whole sense of her femininity fell flat. Fortunately she found a
boyfriend who admired her intellect, but even he failed to respond to her as a developing woman, and their relationship
remained platonic, much to her chagrin. After college she flew off to Europe and found a totally inappropriate and
emotionally unavailable man to marry. He was everything that her father would have hated as far as his politics and social
status, so she married him. She had a daughter with him, but ended up leaving him after 6 years of marriage. Then she had
an affair with a married man, who gave her some of the adoration she had had from her father at an early age, but who
remained as unavailable as her father had become. When the affair died out, and her boyfriend remained with his wife,
Adrian failed to find another man. She seemed to have a flair for picking out the most unavailable man in the room at
parties, and after many disappointments she began withdrawing from men all together. This situation didn't change until
Arian entered psychoanalytic psychotherapy and discovered the effect of the traumatic disappointment with her father.
But along with Adrian's continuing losses and disappointments in relation to men were her doubts about herself in
terms of her creativity. Adrian dreamed ofbeing a writer, and she was talented, but she continually lost interest in her
creative work. The one exception to this was during the time when she had the intense and passionate affair with the
married man, Louis. During that time she felt a surge of creativity. She turned to the visual arts at that time, and had a
really productive period. However, all her zest and enthusiasm for this creative work, which had become realized in the
business of an art gallery, died out as the passionate affair turned to torment, torture, and cold hate. She again lived
the trauma of having the adoring father and then losing him, not having internalized him well enough in the early years to
sustain an inner sense of an adoring father. The benign mirror turned to the demon lover, i.e., when the formerly
adoring father turned cold and sadistically belittling. In this re-living, Adrian both re-gained and re-lost her confidence to
pursue creative work, despite her talents and gifts as an artistic person.
- 37 -
Adrian ended up working in a business for other artists, resenting them even as she helped them for moving ahead
with their work. She began to feel dead inside and disenchanted with her business, while also feeling dependent on it.
Adrian's frustrated ambition to write became highlighted when she joined one of my psychodynamic writing groups. After
making some progress with work, which the group always found talented and intriguing, she would drop the project.
Later down the line, when she had worked through much grief in relation to the traumatic loss of her father's love, she
worked on a long story that was becoming a novella. She thought she had maintained interest in this piece
of writing longer than any other, and this followed one piece of writing that she was able to publish in a literary magazine.
But just as she pursued the work, she dropped it when an old boyfriend disappointed her, and repeated the trauma of
her father's betrayal in his emotional withdrawal from her.
Every time Adrian would drop writing, doing everything else in her life but writing, she would obsess continuously
about not writing. Then she'd lose any belief she had that she had talent as a writer. Her continuing obsessions about her
belief in herself as a writer reflected the compulsive conversion of desire into a neuroticsymptom. This symptom both
mirrored and contrasted with the compulsive and manic form of creative activity that women artists with early pre-oedipal
psychic arrests havethose who have had traumatic failings internalized in relation to their mother's in the earliest stages
of self development.
Adrian's Treatment And The Interplay Of Repressed Trauma And Repressed Desire
Adrian has been in 7 years of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. In addition to two weekly sessions she participates in
two of my groups, one being a writing group, and one being a four hour monthly mourning and therapy group. Although
much of the treatment reflects the evolution and resolution of the mother transference, there were significant points in
which the father transference entered the treatment, either directly or indrectly. The father transference always repeated
the dynamic of a benign mirror that turns demonic in neglect and unavailability. One day, during her fifth year of
treatment, Adrian cried out from the couch, You've lost interest in me. You're much more interested in new patients,
she proclaimed, attempting to offer evidence from a group situation where I allowed another woman in a writinggroup to
continue past her thirty minutes of allotted time in a group rotation.
- 38 -
Then there was the psychic splitting between men outside the treatment and her feelings towards a male leader in the
monthly mourning group. This split highlighted the division between her early father and her later father, as they had both
been internalized in her psyche and isolated from one another. In relation to the male group leader, Adrian's repressed
incestuous wishes became quite conscious and quite overt. The consciousness of such wishes allowed her to pursue her
creative work in writing, allowing her to channel her desire for her father into her craft. She thus revived the early
internal father who adored her at the age of oedipal desire. When such wishes were frustrated by the male leader's
unavailability as a love object in her life Adrian's creativity was threatened. When gratified by the admiration in the
male group leader, however, she felt a resurgence of enthusiasm for her own creative work.
Adrian's creative work consisted of her memoir, personal essay, and fiction writing that she worked on with an
individual writing teacher and also in my everyother week writing group. She was not a professional writer. She had a
business that she ran independently with a small staff. Her socializing abilities were put to use in her business. However,
Adrian continually yearned for a career as a writer. She did publish an outstanding magazine piece. In this piece Adrian's
vivid pictorial descriptions were interwoven with her subjective feeling states, and with her memories. This was a
memorial essay filled with the anguish of mourning after the sudden and accidental death of her younger brother.
Adrian's writing was also highly regarded by the other members of the writing group. Her brief and spontaneous diary
pieces were felt to be full of evocative imagery that captured, in the moment, emerging feeling states. Her longer fictional
or memoir prose pieces, and a play with vivid dialogue, were intriguing to the writing group members as well, as they
were to other writers she knew. Unfortunately Adrian herself became bored with her own work. She could not sustain
a dynamic involvement with it. She repeated with her own work the cycle of intense involvement, with later rejection, that
herfather had enacted with her during her childhood.
At the time when Adrian perceived me as being disinterested in her, claiming my interest in another
female writing group member as being a sign of my flagging involvement with her, my first response was to allow the
building of this transference development. Then when she became insistent on this piece of distorted reality, feeling the
full force of this transference perception, I interpreted her displacement. Knowing that my feeling about her was quite the
opposite, as my interest in her was growing, I felt free to declare: This is about your father, not me. He was the one who
lost interest! This interpretation took effect almost immediately. Adrian began to reconnect with me, and she returned to
a mother
- 39 -
transference, where I became the mother who was consistently interested in her, although she believed that I had my own
agenda for her as her mother had had.
Gradually Adrian came to see that she was not only re-living a trauma in relation to her father and his withdrawal
from her, but she began to own the incest wish as well that constantly led her to the wrong kind of man, the kind who was
as narcissistic in his attitudes towards her as her father had been. It's the incest wish that kept her involved with such
menthe unavailable ones, the narcissistically injuring onesthe ones that cut off if she ever expressed a strong opinion,
let alone anger, just like her father had all during her adolescent and young adult years, after he returned to the family.
To turn to creative writing to the exclusion of men, in response to the frustration of her wish, as well as in response to
the traumatic nature of the actual paternal rejection, would have left Adrian with a compulsion to create. In this case, she
would be living unconsciously in a surreptitious marriage to her internal object father, the demon lover who would haunt
her and possess her forever. However, since she had repression operating to ward off her incestuous desires, that is desires
for men who represented her father to her, Adrian did not write compulsively in a manic flood of activity, while warding
off relationships with real men in the world, as in those women with early trauma, who use splitting and dissociation as
defenses (Kavaler-Adler, 1993, 1996, 2000). Instead the defense of repression blocked hercreativity. This was a striking
contrast to the manifestation of compulsion to create engendered by dissociation and splitting. By contrast, Adrian
developed acompulsion to obsessively berate herself for not creating, for not writing! Unconsciously she believed that her
incestuous wishes were to be punished. Thepunishment was to fail at writing, and to thus be humiliated in front of
her mother, who she knew would have wished her to attend parties constantly rather than staying home and writing.
Once Adrian's incestuous desires became conscious she could begin to employ her desire as inspiration for self
expression. But she needed to be aware that a re-triggering of her age old traumatic paternal rejection by a disappointment
with a current father displacement figure could forestall her creative work. This re-triggering would return Adrian to the
self deriding and self belittling state that she would go into in identification with the later father who had betrayed her by
withdrawing his loving admiration from her. When this occurred she needed to see that she was not
actually being punished for her sexual desires although her unconscious mind interpreted her writing block as punishment,
in relation to oedipal incest wishes for her father. I interpreted this all to her, and Adrian began
- 40 -
to sustain an interest in her creative writing, with inspiration renewing itself in full force. With time she needed a male
muse figure to encourage her less and less. She could now see her own self agency in arresting her creative work, which
would occur each time she felt either betrayed by the father displacement, onto whom she projected her internal father of
betrayal, or when she suffered guilt for her incestuous desires.
In her sixth year of treatment Adrian met a man who was unlike her narcissistic and emotionally unavailable father.
For the first time she was able to pursue an intimate relationship as the man became increasingly serious about her. It was
her first genuine romantic relationship with an available man. As she owned her creative work more, and owned her own
ability to inspire herselfwithout the admiration of a concrete external man, she could have her work and her man too.
She could now relinquish any requirement that the man be a muse figure. Thus the muse need not turn to a demon lover.
Adrian could now draw her inspiration from herinternal world, where, her early father still resided, encouraging her
endeavor excitement (Tessman, 1982) through his fascination with her.
The Case Of Lillian
Lillian was a woman in her sixties when she entered object relations psychotherapy with me. I was not her first
therapist. Lillian had been in the process of discovering repressed anger towards her father in her earlier treatments, the
first one of which took place after a brief hospitalization for depression. In these earlier treatments Lillian discovered that
she was her father's incest victim, at various points in her life. But the traumas with the father had not been seen in the
context of her internalized mother and the dynamics of her intrapsychic life. All this was to emerge in
the transference with me, despite the limited nature of the treatment, taking place generally on a once a week basis.
Lillian entered treatment with me after hearing me speak on a national radio show about the demon lover complex and
the role of the father in the creative life of women, following the publication of The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes
Frenzy to Love and Creativity. She knew I had writing groups in my practice and saw herself as a blocked writer.
However, her entrance into one of my writing groups was to be short lived because of the shame she felt about exposing
herself in thegroup. She disappointed the other members of the writing group by withdrawing just at the point when they
were becoming truly interested in who she was, both as agroup member and as a writer. Their enthusiastic response to
her writing did not deter Lillian from leaving the group and insisting on seeing me exclusively on an individual basis.
The group members may
- 41 -
have felt seduced and abandoned, as Lillian acted out her hysterical dynamics and defenses, but they felt quite
compassionate towards her nonetheless, and continued to ask about her after she left.
In individual treatment Lillian was petulant, provocative and despairing about fearing I would not be able to help her.
In addition to being blocked in herwriting, she was suffering from medical illnesses related to a lifetime of chain smoking.
Associations to her smoking led back to memories of a plane ride with herfather to California, at the age of 19. On the
plane she and her father smoked together and she experienced the smoke rings that they blew together
as symbolicwedding rings that would bind her to her father forever. Further associations to this trip brought up the
critical incest experience that she and her father had shared, which she had learned in her own therapy was linked to
earlier childhood seductions and molestations.
When they arrived in California to be in a production of a major Broadway musical, now on the road, she was in
her father's world. He was the director of this production and she had always dreamed of singing before her daddy when a
little girl. Unfortunately when she went down to the basement to rehearse with him for a little show at six years old, he
had tripped her on the floor, and had done something that felt funny and good with her behind. Her wish to sing for
her father was disrupted and there was an abortion of her desire that went underground. In treatment with me she re-
experienced an uncomfortable feeling from that time that she would come to call guilt and shame as an adult woman in
therapy. She never could become a singer after this, as her personal benign mirror turned into a demon lover, and she
recalled the intrusion of her internal demon lover's seduction and molestation. Unconsciously Lillian re-lived how all of a
sudden she was on the floor and herfather was on top of her.
So Lillian gave up on singing and channeled her desire into dancing. She became good enough for the chorus of a
Broadway play at 19 and even temporarily for a small solo part when she served as an understudy. At 19 she was in the
dance chorus of a play her father was directing. This was his time of success, with the ups and downs of the family
financial life depending on the New York Times critics, whom Lillian came to increasingly mistrust. The trip to California
was a high time for them both, she and her father. Lillian felt care free, unaware of the early six year old time with
her father, as her repression processes functioned to protect her from a hidden knowledge. Protected, not yet having
experienced intercourse, she was suddenly struck with her naivete as her father convinced her to share an hotel room with
him on the pretext of financial considerations. If she had thought about it Lillian would have realized that her
- 42 -
father was far from frugal in other matters, especially when involved in a Broadway hit, but she unconsciously chose to
not know. She had become invested in a hysterical form of denial early on in life, due to her father. Now she was forced
to continue the tradition. When her father pulled her down on the bed and started to circle her forehead with his finger, as
he hypnotically and soothingly repeated over and over just pretend it isn't happening, she found herself falling into a
trance-like state. Any protests on her part were quickly opposed by a firm hand holding her down on the bed as
her father's other hand circled her forehead in an infinity of circular movement. At one point she didn't know whose hand
was whose anyway. Various parts of her body were being caressed and pressured.
She couldn't help feeling stimulated, and the thought that kept circulating through her mind that this was not right
began to undulate back and forth as herfather's motions undulated against her body. The thought nearly faded out as
the body stimulation became intense and the thought seemed to erupt into outer space as she was vaguely and dreamily
aware of her father's penis piercing inside of her body, entering her vagina and caressing her insides. She wanted to fight,
to argue, to protest and hit, but her hands were held down and another part of her wanted to surrender. Surrender became
submission and she woke up later not knowing what was real.
Nevertheless the incident was encapsulated and she managed to repress its jagged outlines, so that her sense
of other things in reality seemed to remain fairly stable. She just wanted to leave California and go home. She wanted to
go out on dates with lots of men. She wanted to flaunt her body on the beach. Then anger made her feel like running away
when her father moved out of her room, and then invited another girl from the show over to his room and into his bed.
Now she felt jealous, and she began to question whether she was sane. When her mother later arrived too, at the same
hotel, and her father was ready to have his wife move in with him, Lillian was sick with rage. Nevertheless, she felt very
strongly that she needed to protect her mother. So she didn't say a word! Little did she know, on aconscious level, that
her compulsion to protect her mother was embedded in a background of early experience with both her father and
her mother in the bathroom that she was yet to discover consciously in treatment. The key to her discovery became
her transference with me, her new female analyst. Her former male analyst had stirred up the unconscious anger that she
carried related to her father's incest. She rediscovered the point in her life where she had withdrawn from all artistic
activities and had decided to live for a husband and children, until her frustrated desire to express herself haunted her
- 43 -
with hopes of pouring herself into creative writing. Most of the writing she did let come forth, in between blocks, came
out in memoir with the narration of her adult self, as she attempted to discover the world of repressed memories that she
had locked away by the age of 19. Lillian's talent as a writer could be seen in her memoirwriting. She had writing teachers
and classes, and the members of my writing group, all of whom felt the powerful affective impact of Lillian's writing.
When Lillian was younger, she had had a play she wrote produced. She was not a professional writer, however. Her main
role in life had been as a wife and mother.
When Lillian flew away from California at 19 she gave up dancing. Her father's shows flopped after that anyway. She
began to focus exclusively on her social life. More than ever she wanted to be with men! Her state of unconscious over
stimulation drove her. Finally she married an extremely talented man who was rising in the theater as a director. She
admired his interest in the experimental theater. She took a receding role in the background as he forged his career and she
helped him. She decided to devote herself to the two children, two daughters they had together. Her suppressed ambition
was secretly festering. As long as her children were young, however, she could pour herself into the role of mother. She
could unconsciously appease her conscience by identifying with her mother, a mother who had also given up an artistic
pursuit as a musician to devote herself to her children as a full time mother. Lillian became a dedicated mother who was
not opposed to significant sacrifice of herself to serve any needs of her two children. She might have remained fairly
content in this role if her children didn't grow up and leave her as children always do. Also her state of contentment was
disrupted by outbreaks of frustration and rage that she could not understand. She had worked continuously to facilitate the
career and art of her husband, and the creative talents of her daughters who each grew up to become active in music and
the theatre.
Over time Lillian noticed that her outbreaks of frustration poignantly occurred when she went to an opening of one of
her husband's plays, or even when she heard about the success of one of her daughters. Consequently, she decided to
withdraw from the social life that she had been enlisted into in her husband's professional world. She told her husband that
he could go to all the events and parties without her. As she was resolute in this decision, her husband cooperated. Left at
home alone, however, Lillian was far from content. After increasing anxiety attacks in the face of repressed and thus
undefined anger she ended up hospitalized forpanic attacks. Her hospitalization took place after her sister
committed suicide, and also after she found out from one of her sister's
- 44 -
psychiatristswho had done a family sessionthat her sister had been sexually molested by her father.
In the hospital Lillian met a male psychiatrist who helped her face that she was angry. She had been trying to be a
good girl all her life, which included not showing or even feeling anger if she could help it, because her anger had always
displeased her mother. Lillian didn't know why, now in middle age, she was so concerned with appeasing as well as
pleasing her mother. She began to accept that she was angry but she hardly knew why. When she went into private
therapy with a male Jungian analyst she began to learn a little about the incest with her father as memories started to erupt.
The rest she was to learn of with me, her female analyst, after she heard me on the radio and decided that I might help her
get past her reluctance to write, and past all the conflicts she felt about expressing herself, particularly in terms of creative
work.
Lillian's memories of the nineteen year old incest rape and of the six year old paternal sexual molestation were quite
near to consciousness when she began treatment with me. As Lillian described her writing to me and brought in pieces of
it, however, we began to discover that there were earlier memories that needed to be unearthed before she could
understand both her continuing blocks and procrastinations with writing, and her shame that made her want to withdraw
from all social life in the world. Lillian would come into her sessions conflicted about whether to play the role of a
good girl in a rather unreal and hysterical manner, or whether to blow up with the anger she felt when she viewed me as a
parent who would seduce and frustrate her, and would then chastise her for becoming stimulated and involved. As she
gave up some of the play acting of being mother's little girl, her anger about expecting to be controlled by me came more
to the surface and could be articulated. As she associated to the anger she felt towards me in the transference Lillian
became in touch with a three year old little girl inside of her.
As Lillian began to surrender her hysterical defenses and opened to the anger she felt towards me in the transference,
she began to recall memories that suggested that the affect of anger itself served as the link from the present to the past.
She was in the bathroom. She was kept sitting on the toilet by her mother who was trying to toilet train her at two. She
began to express her frustration by eating little holes in the hem of the dress that her mother and grandmother had made
for her. Then she remembered her mother yelling at her in the bathroom, but she thought this was of a later time, maybe
when she was four. She became confused about what she wasremembering and what she was imagining. She began to
fantasize that she was covered with fecal matter that she had smeared all over her body, and that her motherhad been
yelling at her for messing everything up.
- 45 -
Then she remembered the enemas that her mother had given her in the bathroom. She remembered feeling punished when
she had been given the enemas, but she didn't recall what she felt she was being punished for.
Then the two year old and four and five year old bathroom memories yielded to memories from the age of three.
Her mother was in the hospital having another baby. She was both frightened and glad to be rid of mommy. She was
home with her daddy, all alone, just the two of them. Daddy was the one who would take her into the bathroom now, often
in the middle of the night. Lillian began to feel that this had been the happiest time in her life, when she and daddy visited
the bathroom together and she made little fecal babies in the toilet. In Lillian's fantasy these fecal turd babies were
the babies that she and daddy had made together! She wondered why she liked dark black things and had positive
associations to shit when other people thought it was disgusting, as her mother always had. Lillian's writing opened up
after she had this memory. Consequently, she began to write about her attraction to her husband, a Black man. She
remembered how much difficulty she had had with Black women in feminist consciousness raising groups, who
despised her for having taken one of their Black men away. She stopped writing, fearing that the world would never
accept what she had to say, like the women in the consciousness raising groups who would not accept or even hear what
she had to say.
When I confronted Lillian with her fears and interpreted how she was burying her ambitions again, which had led to
her rage in the first place, and had brought her to treatment, she declared that she had realized how she associated Black
people with shit and that that had been part of her attraction to her husband. She declared that the world would never
accept what she had to say. She projected onto the audience of prospective readers for her book of memoir fiction that
they all would hate her for her thoughts and beliefs. She exclaimed that the world was not ready to hear
about unconscious wishes for fecal babies, and how shit could be something to love! She proclaimed that she could not
write her book, because someone else, who had more energy than she, would have to be the one to declare to the world
such provocative things, even if they were human and universal in the unconscious. She berated me for encouraging her to
believe in her own ideas and in her own self expression. She experienced me as the seductive father who was leading her
into a temptation that would horrify and enrage her mother. Her angrymother was projected out onto the imagined
audience of readers and critics that would read her potential book, which she now refused to write, or at least refused to
publish. Nevertheless, when I interpreted her fear of readers and critics as fears of confronting the angry mother that she
carried inside
- 46 -
of her since her early toilet training days, she was able to release herself into more writing. She thanked me and said that
all along she thought the problem had been the shame and guilt she felt about the incest with her father, which had been
real. She didn't yet realize that the root of her writing and publishing inhibition went back to her own incest wishes with
her father, and to her fear of her mother's retaliatory anger. Every time we uncovered another piece of Lillian's fear of
her mother's anger, as it arose in the transference, along with oppositional, complaining, and provocative behavior with
me, Lillian was able to surrender to another piece ofwriting.
Lillian's benign mirror turning to demon lover, turned out not just to be the idealized father who traumatized her, but it
also turned out to be the mother who nurtured her and then turned angry and punishing in her mind, as she repressed the
powerful incestuous wishes that she had harbored for her father from the age of three. Repressed desire had turned
to compulsion in the sense of omission, or writing block, as opposed to commission in the form of an active and
enactedcompulsion to create. Lillian's compulsion was to withdraw from creativity but to continually obsess about not
having it at the same time. This resulted in a whining, childlike, provocative and complaining attitude in her
regressed behavior within her object relations psychoanalytic psychotherapy sessions.
Conclusion
This is an object relations view of how female desire can turn towards free motivation in the world, where creative
potential and creative work can be realized, but how in contrast it can also turn to pathology, when desire turns
to compulsion and disruption of self development. In her attempt to possess the creative process, which unconsciously is
often associated with mother,1 every woman, who is always the daughter of some father, can psychically wed herself to
the murky dark imprint of the lost loving father in the internal world, the sadomasochistic after image of
the father unconsciously merged in with the early mother. When the earlymother has been traumatizing such an
internal father imprint appears like a parasitic tape worm, as in Anne Sexton's poetry (Kavaler-Adler, 1996),2 as the Nazi
daddy in Syliva Plath's poetry, or as the metallic god who drills his welcome in in the poetry of Emily Dickinson.3 We
are left with a manic erotic intensity. The intensity is employed by the psyche as a compulsion to ward off the psychic
graveyard within. Emily Bronte uses the metaphor of an actual grave yard4 in her poetry and prose to grapple
- 47 -
with her own compulsion to create, as well as to experience her state of depletion when she is blocked in her writing.
Shakespeare's Ophelia fits the bill of a woman who dies without her father's mirroring or that of a father substitute.
Her brother Laertes proclaims in Hamlet: Is it possible that a young maid's wits should be as mortal as an old man's life?
Ophelia kills herself when her father is killed. Her identity is merged with her father's, perhaps because she has already
lost her mother. Many of the creative women who have the compulsion to create have already lost their mothers
emotionally even if not literally. Hamlet becomes the demon lover figure for Ophelia because he is the
adolescent's father substitute. It is implied in Hamlet that Ophelia perceived Hamlet as her benign romantic lover until
he strikes out at her with his sarcastic and angry comments when he is enraged after the death of his own father. Hamlet
turns into the dark side of the idealized lover, thrusting upon Ophelia his demonic contempt, rejection of need, and
narcissistic preoccupation with Ophelia as a fallen object, ultimately perceived as a caricature of a woman, or as Hamlet's
own created subjective object, rather than as an other with subjective desire.
In contrast to such women as Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson, and the mythical character Ophelia, all of whom were
possessed by the demon lover complex, as shown in The Compulsion to Create and The Creative Mystique (Kavaler-
Adler, 1993, 1996, 2000), are the women described in this paper. These women had good enough mothers, but were
traumatized by their father's. Their creative motivation is effected in quite a different manner than the women with pre-
oedipal maternaltrauma. Rather than dissociating their early self experience and then being compelled to exorcise it into
creative work with the adrenalin drive of manic erotic intensity, they repressed the trauma they experienced with their
fathers, fathers who they had depended on for motivational inspiration towards creative work. Suchrepression resulted in
blocks to creativity rather than in a compulsion towards creativity.
For a more complete case study related to a woman with creative block trauma, related to
negative father internalizations, see the case of June (three chapters) inMourning, Spirituality, and Psychic Change: A
New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis (Kavaler-Adler, 2003a). I will give a brief synopsis of the case here to
highlight the psychodynamics of the demonic father internalization.
June's mothering was intense and often overwhelming. Nevertheless, June had an extremely attentive mother who
read her long stories, told her fairy tales, played with her, and encouraged her to study, to achieve, and to develop her
intellect.
- 48 -
June had also intense loving times with her mother who had almost lost her daughter in infancy to a childhood illness.
The doctor in the hospital had told June'smother to take her baby home at the point when he thought her baby was going
to die. Carrying her daughter home from the hospital, sitting with her on a train, June as the sick baby vomited her way
back to health on her mother's lap. Obviously, the baby's re-bonding with her mother allowed her to expel the toxins
within her, despite the doctors belief that she would die. Her mother cried tears of grief for the baby she thought would
die as her baby threw up all over her mother's blue blouse.
The same bond that saved June's life would become confining at times, as June's mother resisted her moves
towards separation throughout June's development. June's mother, however, also left June to herself more when she was
ready to go back to work when June was six. At that time June's mother also had another daughter. This second daughter
would become the favorite of June's father, while the father became intensely rejecting of June, particularly as she grew
into the young body of a woman during her adolescence. It was only late in her analysis that June discovered that she had
early memories of her father having been affectionate with her. She had forgotten those early times in later years, when
her father turned contemptuous, critical, ridiculing and cruel towards her. His turning cold towards June occurred also in
conjunction with his descent into alcoholism. He clung to June's younger sister as a life line, as he and his wife became
extremely alienated from one another. June, unfortunately for her, became associated by her father with the wife he had
come so alienated from. June remained identified by thefather as the mother's favorite. Along with the father's rejection,
the mother's guilt trips descended on June. June's mother proclaimed that she was the best motheranyone could ever had,
and allowed no room for June's anger at her. The father's treatment of June then served to exacerbate the internal rage that
she had towards her controlling and possessive mother. The rage was internalized and would later be felt, expressed,
contained, and negotiated during her object relations psychoanalysis. June also opened a vast and colorful internal
world through mourning all the critical losses in her life, and found her internal resources for creative work. Her creative
capacities would not manifest, however, until the powerful internal father rejection was felt, remembered, as well as
grieved as a trenchant loss to her, in her need for afather, and in her need for her own self esteem. Most of June's
memories of her father were of the father of her adolescence who had become a cynical alcoholic. June remembered
her father as ridiculing and mocking her, and as generally tearing her down, rather than as supporting her self esteem. June
recalled her father's verbal attacks on her
- 49 -
growing femininity. She remembered the profound sense of female castration she felt when her father cut off her hair,
after she had gone to the hairdresser and had gotten herself dolled up in a stylish Jane Fonda hairdo.
At the moment of such recall she cried out from the couch: I could kill him in a minute! He took my femininity and
killed it, and now I could kill him in a minute! Then recalling how her father had derided her performance in
a group sport that she loved, she felt similar rage. She remembered her father saying, after he had asked her to come see
her performance in a game, You don't have it! Again she felt murderous towards this man who broke her heart in two
and sounded triumphant as he did so. June came to learn in analysis that her own internal mockery, her internal
deprecating, devaluing and spoiling voice was modeled on herfather. Now his harsh contemptuous negativity was inside
of her! Even when June married she heard the internal voice mocking her with disdain, declaring that men and women
together in couples were disgusting. Due to her father's increasing verbal attacks on her as she grew to adolescence and
adulthood, and due to his favoring her sister and rejecting her attractiveness, as well as her personality, June had an
internal demon father, as opposed to an internal benign mirror or an internal adoringfather. Her sense of intellect and
strength seemed to come from her powerful tie to a mother who was highly invested in her and was highly supportive of
her striving for development and achievement. However the mother's resistance to June's moves to separate from her, and
to be separate from her, combined with the father's rejection, caused June to lust after men who had a demonic side to
them. Such men often having a split off aggression that seduced June when it appeared in the guise of a demon lover
mode of sexuality. Yet, like her father, such men often undermined June's sense of self. She would feel dependent on a
man who would suddenly turn around and attack her out of his own insecurities. June also tended, prior to her analysis, to
split her sexual desire for a man away from her ability to commit to a man in an ongoing relationship, and away from her
ability to allow emotional dependence on him. As June worked through the rage and grief related to her father's treatment
of her, as well as the grief and loss and rage related to separating from her mother and dealing with her mother's guilt trips
(sometimes voiced through herfather: If you don't return home to this country you'll kill your mother,), she gradually
began to integrate her erotic desire with her capacity to surrender to emotional need and to intimacy with a man.
This integration also involved an intense homoerotic and then heterosexual transference with myself, her female analyst.
The integration also involved a separation out of the developmental merger of an idealizing
- 50 -
transference. One day June declared that she had dreamed that her mother's body had separated out from her own, and
within our transference relationship, I could experience this as I no longer felt the same feeling states she felt at the same
time she felt them. In the erotic transference dimension, both homoerotic and heterosexual, June found an intense craving
for an idealized mother that transformed in stages, to an intense yearning for a more fully developed male figure, one who
had integrated his aggression and his sexuality.
The last area of resistance for June in this self integration process, through mourning and transference work, occurred
in the area of June's creative work. She owned her new professional work, but she had difficulty with her attempts at
professional writing. She quoted authorities too much, and distrusted her own insights and intuitions. Her internal attacks
on her own work reflected the internalized demon father. Prior to the difficulty with her writing June had difficulty in an
form of self expression. Her ability to own her sexuality and use it in relationships was accompanied by growth in her
evolving self expression in all areas of her life and work. When she owned wishes to be stimulated by emotional abuse by
men similar to that of her father's abuse, she began to transfer the internal attacks intoconscious psychic fantasies. These
could be used in her intellectual and creative work. Once extremely inhibited in speaking in groups, June began to do
much public speaking, much teaching in her field, as well as much speaking to groups in workshops related to her
psychological interests. Ultimately, June aspired to being a motivational speaker and began advancing on the course of her
intention.
Notes
1 See The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers (Routledge, 1993, Other Press, 2000).
2 See The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity (Routledge, 1996).
3 See The Compulsion to Create.
4 See The Compulsion to Create.
References
Fairbairn, R. (1952). Psychoanalytic studies of the personality. London: Routledge. []
Kavaler-Adler, S. (1988). The father's role in the self-development of his daughter. In J. Zuckerberg (Ed.),
Psychophysical passages in the life of women, (pp. 49-65) New York: Plenum.
Kavaler-Adler, S. (1996). The creative mystique: From red shoes frenzy to love and creativity. New York and London:
Routledge.
- 51 -
Kavaler-Adler, S. (2000). The compulsion to create: Women writers and their demon lovers. New York and London:
Other Press. Reprinted from Routledge publication of The compulsion to create: A psychoanalytic study of women
artists (1993): New York and London: Routledge.
Kavaler-Adler, S. (2003a). Mourning, spirituality and psychic change: A new object relations view of psychoanalysis.
New York and London: Brunner-Routledge.
Kavaler-Adler, S. (2003b). Lesbian homoerotic transference in dialectic with developmental mourning: On the way to
symbolism from the protosymbolic.Psychoanalytic Psychology, 200), 131-152. []
Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self. Madison: International Universities Press.
Kohut, H. (1977). The restoration of the self. Madison: International Universities Press.
Tessman, L. H. (1982). A note on the father's contribution to the daughter's ways of loving and working. In S. H. Cath,
A. Gurrivitt and L. Grunsberg (Eds.), Father and child: Developmental and clinical perspectives. Boston: Little,
Brown.
Tessman, L. H. (1989). Early tones and later echoes. In Cath, S. H. et al. (Ed.), Fathers and their families, Hillsdale, New
Jersey and London: The Analytic Press.
Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Playing and reality. Harmondsworth: Penguin. []
- 52 -
Article Citation [Who Cited This?]
Kavaler-Adler, S. (2005). From Benign Mirror To Demon Lover: An Object Relations View Of Compulsion Versus
Desire. Am. J. Psychoanal., 65:31-52