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Thread: Leonard Shengold

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    Default Leonard Shengold

    - from Soul Murder: The Effects of Childhood Abuse and Deprivation by Leonard

    Shengold, M. D.; pp. 59-61 [Chapter Four—The Parent as Sphinx (Rage and Traumatic Anxiety

    as a Result of Overstimulation)]: Later in the analysis, after the patient had reacted negatively to

    success, and his need for punishment had been repeatedly reenacted and interpreted with effect,

    he was able to approach the deeper layer of his rage at his mother. This was done with the

    greatest difficulty, as expressed in the cry of Oedipus, “And could a mother’s heart be steeled to

    this?” The rage accompanied memories of the subsequent part of the seductions, during which C.

    became overstimulated to the point of feeling that somehow he would explode, a state

    accompanied by overwhelming (traumatic) anxiety. He had apparently almost fainted and had

    the expectation that he would just cease to be. With these memories the rage against the mother

    broke out in its cannibalistic intensity: “I wish I had a scissors, a knife—I would slash her

    cheeks, I could carve out the mark of Cain on her face.”* Anger of such frightening extremity

    had rarely been felt, but it had occasionally surfaced in “accidents” in which the patient’s anger

    had been turned onto himself. He had expressed it very infrequently toward others, usually in an

    attenuated, nonphysical way. In the analysis, he began to feel and voice anger toward the

    analyst—finally, without provocatively acting it out to evoke punishment.

    * The mark of Cain, which the patient was wont to say belonged on his forehead, turned out in

    the analysis to refer to the “impression” of the mother’s pubic hair and genitals, into which his

    face had been pressed, apparently while the mother had had orgasm. In the Bible, the mark of

    Cain has the contradictory superego meanings that I have attributed to the victims of psychic

    murder: (1) It is the mark of punishment of the primal murderer, to whom God says in language

    that resembles that of Oedipus to his son Eteocles, “And now art thou cursed from the earth,

    which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand [Genesis 4:10]. . . . a

    fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth [Genesis 4:12]”; (2) And yet it is also the mark

    of God’s special protection (that is, Fortune’s): “And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any

    finding him should kill him [Genesis 4:15].”

    During this time C. talked about a shoe fetishist who was wont to put a man’s shoe

    between the legs of his lover. He next expressed a wish to be the analyst’s passive anal partner,

    then said with a sudden anger, “I would like to throw my shoe at you. I would like to take a

    spiky, high-heeled shoe and gouge your eyes out.” The shift to the female shoe and its

    penetrative high heel made the analyst think of identification with the phallic mother; the patient

    associated to the wish to lie between his mother’s thighs and use his penis on her. What followed

    was a wish to penetrate the analyst anally with the female high heel. He was aware that this

    meant the penis: historically it represented the invading finger of the mother during her seduction

    of him in childhood; phylogenetically it was the primal parent’s destructive penetrative organ—

    the claws of the Sphinx. The analyst was used first to represent the penetrative phallic mother,

    then the child who is penetrated, with the patient becoming the aggressor who will penetrate the

    “parent” through the eyes with the destructive maternal phallus. (Thus Oedipus, subject and

    object, put out his eyes with his mother’s brooches, the claws of the Sphinx.) C. then shifted

    part-objects from the analyst’s eyes to the analyst’s anus. Next he reversed this, returning to the

    wish to be anally entered, and said, again expressing the cannibalistic fury of the overstimulation

    involved in his impulses: “If you touched me in that way, I would shatter glass over your head, I

    would tear the flesh off your face with my nails.”

    Patient [C.] had been seduced by his mother for a number of years after the age of three.

    The sexual contact included his mother’s rubbing and sucking at his genitals and putting her

    finger into his anus. The seductions mobilized not only the child’s passive responsiveness but

    also intense, positive oedipal wishes that were not fulfillable. He had correspondingly intense

    castration fears; these were augmented by his repeated and unequivocal views of his mother’s

    genitals: “I have seen my mother’s vagina many times.”

    The excitement involved in the sexual contacts, with sexual stimulation in between them

    furnished by the mother’s exhibitionism, brought about overstimulation, traumatic anxiety, and

    rage. The overstimulation, especially in response to the mother’s digital penetration of the anus,

    brought the boy to intimations of ego dissolution. Generally speaking, a child’s sexual

    excitement in relation to an adult’s cannot result in any kind of balanced mutuality; it is simply

    too much for the child, whose psychosexual organization is not capable of adequate discharge in

    orgasm. The wish for, need for, discharge is expressed through the child’s fainting or sometimes

    by a loss of sphincter control (usually urethral), but a full release cannot be achieved. It appears

    that the wish for discharge can be transformed into a wish for a passive, penetrative experience,

    explosive or implosive—perhaps a kind of anal orgasm. This . . . might threaten to shatter the

    ego . . . . At any rate, the wish for an explosive penetration, even a castrative penetration, can be

    mobilized to end the torment of prolonged and finally unbearable forepleasure.* The wish for

    anal explosion can leave its mark on subsequent sexual experiences; because the wish involves

    castration and ego dissolution, it does not represent any kind of satisfactory solution. Another

    patient, for example, in recalling his excitement at being seduced as a child, expressed the wish

    to be “fucked to death” anally—to be castrated and explosively ground out of existence in order

    to end the unbearable overstimulation. In fact he had had many homosexual experiences, in some

    of which he had been anally penetrated, but these were always under carefully chosen and

    controlled conditions. Despite the opportunities, he had always avoided the really sadistic older

    pederast he so much craved. He both desired and feared a passive explosive experience.

    * This complex of overstimulation and anal regression is similar to that found in children who

    have suffered traumatic enema experiences. In both instances the child’s basic body ego

    defensive mastery, furnished by the control of the anal sphincter, is compromised.

    - pp. 69-72 [Chapter 5—Soul Murder, Rats, and 1984]: Aside from his schoolboy

    experiences, one cannot present George Orwell as a victim of child abuse. Orwell was reticent

    about his earliest years and his family, but there is no evidence of any extraordinary neglect or

    cruelty in his first eight years. He tells us only that he was unhappy, lonely, and felt unlovable.

    Analysts are familiar with how little reliance can be placed on the initial, conscious memories of

    the patient’s self and parents in childhood, and some of us are sadly aware of how even the best

    psychoanalyses leave us with at most a palimpsest of the past: a bit of certainty and a lot of

    doubt. We cannot expect to establish objective past reality, although we do our best to approach

    it. And of course Orwell was not an analytic patient; one cannot conceive of psychoanalysis even

    being considered by this man, who apparently confided in no one. I make use of Orwell because

    whatever the “facts” of his actual experiences, he portrays with such vividness what it felt like

    and feels like to be an abused child—to feel helpless, inadequate, and guilty in a world one never


    I will begin with a sketch of a patient, D., who had been seduced as a child and who

    feared and was fascinated by rats. I will be using this clinical material to make parallels with

    George Orwell’s life and especially with the view of the world he presented in 1984, a

    primer on soul murder.

    Patient D.

    A young man in analysis for several years complained of having difficulty with his memory and

    of disruptions in his thinking that interfered with his professional achievements. Despite his

    complaints, his achievements were considerable. D. was very intelligent, but at his work he

    seemed always to promote dissension, controversy, and ultimately punishment or even dismissal.

    He seemed unaware of his provocation of authority figures. D. lived a life of disconnected and

    largely unacknowledged sadomasochistic fantasy, which he occasionally expressed in action that

    he quickly disavowed. So much was disavowed that his functioning sometimes suffered because

    of a discontinuity in his memory; this affected his sense of identity, and he had little awareness

    of himself as a child—only dim feelings about a little person with his name who seemed like

    somebody else. D. insisted on the facade of being regarded as the decent, helpful, kindly, but

    feckless friend of the family—of so many families. His specialty was compulsively and

    successfully seducing the wives of his “good friends.” This was part of a secret life that he

    covered over by competent impersonation. D. had been engaged for many years to a masochistic

    young woman who worshiped him and whom he treated very badly. He seemed to despise her

    for loving him, yet felt he needed her dependable affirmation of his “lovability.”

    D.’s painful, although intermittent, awareness of not being able to be responsible for what

    he was feeling and doing was connected by the analyst with the patient’s deepening memories of

    having been given as a child repeated, overstimulating enemas by his mother. She appeared to

    have had very little interest in him, but much fascination with his anus and bowel habits. The

    enemas always went beyond what he could stand. More pleasurable were the occasions of having

    his anus wiped by her—a habit that continued even after he started going to school. (The anally

    fixated D. was a “rat person” . . . who frequently associated to rodents and had a specific fantasy

    of rats crawling up his anus.) In the early phases of analysis, D. described his childhood with few

    specific memories but generally thought of it as quite happy. During one session when he

    seemed to be integrating past and present more than was usual, he commented with poignancy,

    “It is sad. I am not really a whole person. I live in compartments, in fragments.” The analyst said,

    stressing the defense, “In disconnected fragments.”

    Some time after this, D. reported an incident he had never told anyone about. As a

    teenager he had been a babysitter for an infant female relative. Once he had exposed his erect

    penis and tried to get the baby to play with it and suck on it. He was unsure of the baby’s age but

    thought she was too young to know what was going on. He “really didn’t think anything had

    really happened,” but with his memory defects he of course could not expect to know this for

    sure. He was however sure of one thing: that the girl in her adolescence had become a

    promiscuous delinquent had nothing to do with his attempt at seduction. When the analyst (who

    was not feeling kindly that day) asked him how he could be certain, D. became furious. He

    characteristically wanted to treat this vaguely recalled sin as if he were telling it in confession

    (his family was Catholic). He had reported it; he gave himself absolution; it was over and should

    no longer matter. He did not want to connect the incident, even speculatively, with the past or

    present—neither with the former little girl nor with his analyst (for it had current transference

    implications). What had happened must have no consequences that might threaten his self-


    After this session came a series of provocative actions. It was as if D. were trying to show

    by example some of the terrible intensity of accusation and hatred connected with his sexual

    excitement about children, intensity that he could not responsibly feel or connect with his

    mother, his analyst, or himself. His behavior seemed to be a reaction to the confession of his

    crime, designed to evoke punishment while simultaneously expressing anger. The punishments

    came mostly at work, although he obviously wanted to provoke the analyst to be the spanker and

    enema giver. His main victim and scapegoat was his fiancée. Using the excuse of financial

    pressure (which unconsciously represented an urgent anal impulse), he sold a treasured heirloom

    that had been given to her by her beloved mother. He had extorted his fiancée’s permission for

    this, but when he had sold the heirloom and returned to the apartment he shared with her, she

    burst into tears. “I knew I had been a son of a bitch,” he said. “I knew I should be feeling sorry

    for her. She truly is a good person. But I hated her for reproaching me with her weeping. She’s

    so goddam helpless; she can’t even yell at me. And—I don’t want to tell you this—when I saw

    her crying that way, I got an erection.” “As you got an erection with the ‘helpless’ baby,” I

    added. “That has nothing to do with this! You make me sound like a monster! . . . Listen to me

    screaming, as if I were a woman. I can’t even be properly angry with you. It’s all a show!”

    D., the “son of a bitch” (he would also frequently call himself a “rat”), was struggling

    with feminine identifications—an identification with the “monster . . . woman,” the bad mother

    of his childhood, as well as with the seduced child and with his fiancée as victim. But he was not

    able to be responsibly aware that this was going on. His terror of his suppressed and isolated

    feelings made much of his life into a dramatic simulation: he lived as if he were involved. After

    he had gained some insight, D. described himself, echoing T. S. Eliot, as a hollow man, a stuffed


    - pp. 73-78: The headmaster’s wife, who bullied and shamed Orwell and who is portrayed as

    having made him doubt his own perceptions and feel that he was guilty and bad, may or may not

    have deserved to be a prototype for Big Brother in the novel, but I have no doubt that Orwell

    considered her to be so.

    In most families with a soul-murdering parent, the other parent is an unconscious

    colluder,* a fellow victim, or both. (Where this is not so, the situation is less “totalitarian,” and

    the trauma tends to be less devastating—the child has someone else to turn to.) When one parent

    can tyrannize, the need for a loving and rescuing authority is so intense that the child must break

    with the registration of what he or she has suffered, and establish within the mind (delusionally)

    the existence of a loving parent who will care and who really must be right. Like the broken

    Winston Smith at the end of 1984, the child loves Big Brother. (In the adult, there may be a

    good deal of intellectual awareness of what the parent is like, but the delusion of goodness

    continues underneath and surfaces when needed.) The child takes on the guilt for the abuse,

    turning inward the murderous feeling that is evoked by the traumata. The actuality of torment

    intensifies what is a usual vicissitude of hatred toward a needed parent. The child denies what

    has happened, sometimes but not always with orders from the tormentor. The parent is right and

    good; the child must be wrong and bad. I repeat these sequelae of soul murder because they are

    so movingly presented in Orwell’s essay and in his prophetic novel.

    Shortly after arriving at school, Orwell began to wet his bed. This was felt to be criminal,

    and even though the child had no control over the symptom, he felt the authorities were right. He

    was threatened with beating, and when the symptom continued the threat was carried out. The

    headmaster had “already taken a bone-handled riding crop out of the cupboard, but it was part of

    the punishment of reporting yourself that you had to proclaim your offense with your own lips.

    When I had said my say, he read me a short but pompous lecture . . . He had a habit of

    continuing his lecture while he flogged you, and I remember the words, ‘you dir-ty lit-tle boy’

    keeping time with the blows” (1947, pp. 3-4).

    The beating did not hurt much, which made the boy smile. (The boy’s masochistic

    provocation, similar to my patient’s, can be seen here.) Therefore the beating was repeated:

    This time Sim laid on in real earnest. He continued for a length of time that frightened

    and astonished me—about five minutes, it seemed—ending up by breaking the riding crop. The

    bone handle went flying across the room.

    “Look what you’ve made me do!” he said furiously, holding up the broken crop . . . The

    second beating had not hurt very much either. Fright and shame had anesthetised me. I was

    crying partly because I felt that this was expected of me, partly from genuine repentance, but

    partly also because of a deeper grief which is peculiar to childhood . . . a sense of desolate

    loneliness and helplessness, of being locked up not only in a hostile world but in a world of good

    and evil where the rules were such that it was actually not possible for me to keep them. . . . I had

    a conviction of sin and folly and weakness, such as I do not remember to have felt before . . .

    [Another result] is that I accepted the broken riding crop as my own crime. I can still recall my

    feeling as I saw the handle lying on the carpet—the feeling of having done an ill-bred, clumsy

    thing, and ruined an expensive object. I had broken it: so Sim told me, and so I believed.

    This acceptance of guilt lay unnoticed in my memory for twenty or thirty years. (pp. 4-6;

    Orwell’s italics)

    The abused child takes on the guilt that the self-righteous parent so often lacks.

    Here is Winston Smith’s response to being tortured beyond his endurance. The tormentor,

    O’Brien, has been holding up four fingers and insisting that Winston see five. With enough pain,

    Winston gives in. He loses consciousness and recovers to find O’Brien holding him. “For a

    moment he clung to O’Brien like a baby, curiously comforted by the heavy arm round his

    shoulders. He had the feeling that O’Brien was his protector, that the pain was something that

    came from outside, from some other source, and that it was O’Brien that would save him from

    it” (1949, p. 254). O’Brien correctly predicts the result of the brainwashing he is administering.

    It is a description chillingly appropriate to my patient D.: “Never again will you be capable of

    ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of

    love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be

    hollow [patient D. called himself a “hollow man”]. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we

    shall fill you with ourselves” (pp. 259-260).

    Orwell shows that Winston Smith has been forced by torture both to identify with the

    tormentor and to cultivate denial—the erasing of what has happened, the abolition of the past;

    this has become a principle of government: “All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and re

    inscribed exactly as often as was necessary” (p. 41). “If the Party could thrust its hand into the

    past and say of this or that event, it never happened—that surely was more terrifying than mere

    torture and death” (p. 35).

    * Here is an instance of “family collusion” from the memoirs of Lucy Boston (1979), an English

    writer born in 1895. The author describes herself reaching puberty. Her mother, then a widow,

    never mentioned sex to her but started to treat her with suspicion, “seeing evil where none was”

    (p. 81). The mother interfered with an innocent friendship with a very nice boy whom the mother

    suddenly characterized as “dangerous.” In contrast, the girl was encouraged to stay with her aunt

    and uncle. Lucy describes her uncle as having an air of “rolling self-confidence and gusto. He

    had the twinkling little eyes of a porker. They now took notice of me. After a few displeasing

    signals of his intentions, he one day caught me on the landing and carried me fighting like a bull

    calf into a bedroom where he flung me onto the bed and his twenty stone on top of me. From this

    extremity I was rescued by one of his sons calling his father to order. The old man was not put

    out of countenance. ‘Ah, well. All right, my boy.’ Neither man seemed to think it out of the

    ordinary. A few days later when Mother wished to send me with a message to her sister, I

    refused to go, saying Uncle was too dangerous. He wouldn’t let me alone. ‘Nonsense, you silly

    child,’ she replied. ‘It’s only Uncle’s way.’ This was her side of the family and therefore

    perfectly conformable. But she was right—it was Uncle’s way, and there was to be no help from

    her” (p. 81).

    D.’s Denial

    I recall the interferences with D.’s thinking of which he complained. In one session, during a

    period when D. was attempting to recall his enema experiences and his wish to be wiped by his

    mother, he became restless, turned on his side on the couch, and said that he felt as if he were

    going to be goosed. I suggested that he was feeling anal excitement. “I don’t know what you

    mean by ‘anal excitement,’” D. responded. I pointed out that he had told me he liked to have his

    anus played with by a particular woman. “I wouldn’t call that excitement,” he rejoined. Since I

    was aware that D. frequently wanted to argue (that is, to be contacted, scolded) instead of

    registering and becoming responsible for the subject of the argument, I left the exchange at that.

    During the next session, D. reported that on the previous night he had for the first time

    masturbated while stimulating his anus. Several weeks later, again while talking about enemas

    but this time stressing how unpleasant he thought they had been (he was speculating rather than

    remembering), he started to wriggle on the couch and again turned on his side, presenting his

    behind. I interpreted that his body seemed to be remembering better than his mind and was

    perhaps expressing the anal pain and anal excitement that he seemed unable to feel. “What is this

    anal excitement business?” he exclaimed. “I have no idea what you mean by anal excitement.” I

    reminded him of the anal masturbation that had occurred a few weeks back. “Oh that,” he said,

    “What does that mean? It only happened once.”

    In 1984 Orwell describes this power of denial, of being able to split one’s

    responsible awareness (“It is like trying to write on water,” Freud is alleged to have said of how

    one patient dealt with his interpretations), as part of the principle of doublethink:

    To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling

    carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing

    them to be contradictory and believing both . . . to forget, then to draw it back into the memory

    again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all to

    apply the same process to the process itself . . . consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then

    once again to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to

    understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink. (1949, p. 36; my italics)

    Orwell mentions hypnosis, and the passage is relevant to the autohypnosis so often used by

    victims of soul murder to effect nonregistration and denial . . . Therapeutically, the patient needs

    to become aware of using doublethink and autohypnosis, and, harder still, to become responsible

    for using them.

    Anal Defense

    It is necessary for the patient to get away from the torment of overstimulation and the rage and

    murderousness it brings forth by identifying with the tormentor and turning the rage on the self

    and on others. I conceive of what happens defensively as a regression to the so-called

    anal-sadistic period of development (between the ages of 18 months and 42 months), during

    which the child usually evolves defenses against a burgeoning aggressive drive; this regression

    may also be conceived of as an enhancement of the anal-sadistic period and eventually as a

    fixation on it. The regression is of course partial and subject to great individual variation . . . .

    . . . becoming able to control the anal sphincter (a momentous developmental

    achievement) has its psychic counterpart in the control of aggressively charged emotion (that is,

    murderous emotion). There is a primitive kind of shutting off of feeling as well as a primitive

    kind of letting go of feeling. We all require some amount of obsessive-compulsive defensive

    structuring (which implies anal defensive structuring)—the developmental conversion of impulse

    and action into thought—and the kind of emotional sphincter control that goes along with the

    possibility of isolating feeling from idea. Optimally, this obsessive-compulsive scaffolding is not

    so constrictive as to prohibit subsequent emotional development toward the capacity to care

    about and love others; this is a goal that severe obsessive-compulsive characters with anal

    fixations (such as D.) do not achieve. We all have to master hate, but those who have been

    abused as children have more hate to master than most, and they frequently do not have the

    needed help of a loving parent. What results can be a massive recourse to obsessive-compulsive

    defenses, to anal mechanisms, symptoms, and erogeneity.* The overuse of the emotional

    sphincter makes for a kind of anal-sadistic universe with all the contradictions that this entails.

    Repression, isolation, and excessive emotional control (which can result in a kind of zombie

    existence) can be found alongside outbursts of intense, hate-filled sadism and masochism

    (sometimes covered over, as in D., by a very different “as if” facade of “normality”). In

    1984 the enforced, docile conformity coexists with perpetual war and daily hate sessions.

    In our patients there are myriad combinations of these contradictions, which usually subsist

    unsynthesized, side by side, in fragments or compartments, and result in the confusing variety of

    clinical pictures we find.

    *A specific instance for Orwell occurred when he was hospitalized in his early thirties for

    pneumonia. His sister Avril reported “the nurse telling her that when Eric had been delirious, he

    had talked incessantly about money: one of the obsessions of his life emerging, as it were, from

    the unconscious and demanding to be heard . . . ‘We reassured him that everything was all right,

    and he needn’t worry about money. But it turned out that it wasn’t actually his situation in life as

    regards money that he was worrying about, it was actual cash—he felt that he wanted cash sort

    of under his pillow’” (Stansky and Abrahams 1980, 47). Orwell was regressing to anal

    defensiveness at a time when his life was in danger—holding on with his anal sphincter to try to

    keep control (see Shengold 1988).

    Before toilet training anal consciousness is cloacal consciousness, and control of the

    urethral sphincter plays its important but lesser part in asserting a kind of instinctual defensive

    mastery alongside control of the anal sphincter. Urethral control is usually attained first. Bed-

    wetting, a frequent response in children subjected to neglect or overstimulation (and a cry for

    help from them—Orwell illustrates both), means an unconscious relinquishment of urethral

    control. This probably involves a regression that enhances the anal organization and defensive

    need for the anal sphincter; here is one explanation for the terror that accompanies loss of the

    sphincter’s integrity for bed wetters like Orwell. This would underlie Orwell’s fear of rats (and

    Winston Smith’s): as in the florid fantasies of Freud’s Rat Man, these animals are endowed with

    the power of penetrating the body by eating through sphincters.

    - pp. 3-15: Victims of attempts at soul murder find it very difficult to be responsible for their

    mental pictures of themselves, of others, and of the world around them. They often cannot

    properly register what they want and what they feel, or what they have done and what has been

    done to them.

    Child abuse is the abuse of power. We do not have a coherent psychology of power;

    much is unknown. Soul murder is as old as human history, as old as the abuse of the helpless by

    the powerful in any group—which means as old as the family. But soul murder has a particular

    resonance with the twentieth century—with the world of Orwell’s—and a particular relevance to

    it. This is the century of the computer, the concentration camp, and the atomic bomb, of the

    presence of such destructive potential that all life on earth is threatened, and of a centralized

    power so monolithic and intrusive that it has been aimed at mastery over the individual’s mind as

    well as body. This power has been implemented by twentieth-century discoveries in psychology

    and communications that have made brainwashing and mind control easily attained effects of

    terror and torture. Hitler and Stalin have proven that the strongest adults can be broken and

    deprived of their individuality and even of their humanity. That is one of the lessons of Orwell’s

    1984—one that can also be learned from the lives of those who have grown up in the

    charge of crazy, cruel, and capricious parents, in the totalitarian family ambience that Randall

    Jarrell calls “one of God’s concentration camps” (1963, p. 146).

    In relation to both our external and our inner psychic lives, Freud viewed as all-important

    the influence of those first carriers of the environment and first objects of our instinctual drives,

    the parents: what they do, what they evoke in the child, how they are registered within the mind

    of the child and become part of its mental structure, how they are separated out to leave the child

    with its own individuality. For the developing infant, these gods of the nursery (or their caretaker

    substitutes) are the environment. They have power over the helpless, and they can easily get

    away with misrule and tyranny. They are also under a powerful unconscious compulsion to

    repeat the circumstances of their own childhood. We regularly find that abusers of children have

    been abused as children by their own parents. This is not heredity (although we cannot

    completely rule that out) but rather a passing down of a traumatic past from generation to

    generation. The sins of the father are laid upon the children . . . . we have learned that in the

    terrible circumstances of parents who do not love, are indifferent, or hate, children will turn to

    seduction, even to provocation to be beaten, to fulfill the imperative need for some parental

    attention. Those who have devised procedures for causing mental breakdown in inmates of

    prisons and concentration camps have resorted to a regimen of emotional deprivation and

    isolation, alternating with humiliation and torture. Child abuse is a consequence of our need for

    dependence and our innate sadism and masochism, and it enhances that sadism and masochism

    in its child victim.

    We find in our patients that they regularly identify with the aggressor. To identify means

    to be and not to see someone. It follows that when these people find their own victims they do

    not experience them as separate individuals—they do not empathize with them. The abused

    child’s siblings, already subject to the primal displacement of murderous impulse from the parent

    to the intruding infant (this is the theme of the story of Cain and Abel), tend to be the first

    scapegoats of the abused child. Although individual variations may ensue, usually the hostility is

    eventually displaced onto people outside the family: underlings, especially those who play vague

    parental roles and yet are dependent—like servants, porters, waiters. This kind of hostility that

    denies the other’s humanity is very often shifted onto those who are already the victims of

    persecution—the racially different, foreigners, “official” enemies, like the ever-changing warring

    opponents in 1984. (These can all unconsciously stand for the denied and projected bad

    aspects of one’s parent, self, and family.) Ultimately the compulsion to repeat a traumatic past

    focuses the rage of the former victims of attempted soul murder on children in general, and on

    their own children. [In an autobiographical part of his short story “Three Years” (1895), Anton

    Chekhov writes of the emotions of his grown-up hero on revisiting his father’s warehouse, where

    he was beaten daily (like Anton himself as a child in the family business of his own father):

    “Every little detail [in that warehouse] reminded him of the past, when he had been whipped and

    given plain, lenten food. He knew that boys were still whipped and punched in the nose until it

    bled, and that when these boys grew up they would do the punching” (p. 102). See also Daldin,


    - pp. 6-12: Too much neglect and too much torment and abuse (especially when these occur too

    early) interfere with development and functioning and can make for the blank slate of devastated

    psychic structure. The children may not physically survive the assaults, or they may later

    succumb to an inner need for annihilation analogous to that Rene Spitz (1945) found in his study

    of emotionally deprived infants who died after growing up in institutions. For the survivors of

    abuse and neglect, this self-destructive current develops into a strong, conscience-distorting need

    for punishment. It is all too easy to murder the souls as well as the bodies of children. There must

    be some minimum of care and some kind of acceptance from the parents for the child to survive.

    What we do not know about child abuse and soul murder is probably more important than

    what we do, and in addition there is the mystery of greatly varying inherited gifts and ego

    strength: these enable some abused children to sustain more abuse and transcend it better than

    others. [See the work on so-called invulnerable children by C. James Anthony and others.] Some

    of these children grow up impelled chiefly to contain rather than repeat the traumata, although

    differing proportions of both impulses will always be present. With faulty or inconstant defenses,

    with partially defective psychic structure (here again there is interplay with mysterious, in this

    case negative, “givens”), soul-murdered children can be or become psychotic, or psychopathic

    and criminal. Or, by using massive and primitive defenses (usually including denial and

    autohypnosis), they may be able to contain the terrifying, primarily murderous (sado-

    masochistic) charge of affect that they have been forced to bear. They have to pay a price for

    these defenses, but they can appear or really be neurotic. Some frequently can or even must

    function in an “as if” fashion: they act as if they were psychologically healthy, presenting a

    facade of normality that covers an essential hollowness of soul.

    From my experience with patients and my reading about the lives of others, I know that

    one comes across the unexpected in these people. For example, alongside the scars and

    distortions produced by terrible childhoods there are some strengthening effects: some survivors

    appear to have derived from their experiences adaptive powers and talents that helped them

    survive . . . . This enhancement of certain gifts is analogous to what has been observed in those

    who have survived wars and concentration camps. I have learned to be wary of generalizations

    about pathological limitations in people who were abused and neglected as children. But I have

    observed certain common pathological features, mostly based on specific consequences of

    prolonged or repeated abuse and neglect: the evocation and reactive overstimulation (frequently

    but not always marked by the eruption in analytic associations of cannibalistic creatures like the

    rat); the concomitant imperative need for rescue from the unbearable intensities and defense

    against them; the need to take on the attributes of the tormentor and turn on other victims the

    abuse that was suffered.

    Before further defining and describing soul murder I will present an instance of it. The

    childhood experiences of A., a superficially successful man, married and a father, deserve the

    label of soul murder. The soul murder was not completely successful: A.’s identity was warped

    and constricted, but it survived. There was no overt physical abuse on the part of A.’s parents

    the “crime” consisted of some cruelty toward him, but predominantly what made his childhood a

    hell was their indifference, their lack of loving care and empathy.

    A. sought analysis because he was chronically and sometimes desperately unhappy. His

    depression was intermixed with a smoldering hatred for his peers and superiors, especially at his

    work. He was afraid of retaliation, but it was the feeling of hatred itself that made him most

    anxious. Occasional outbursts of rage, like temper tantrums, were usually directed against his

    wife. “I have never been able to enjoy anything,” he said with intense bitterness. Although his

    parents were very rich and had provided luxurious surroundings and the most expensive

    education, he had always felt deprived and cheated: “What father and mother did for me they did

    for themselves; they never bothered about what I wanted. They never even tried to find out what

    I wanted. They told me what I wanted.” A. felt that his parents had not loved him or even liked

    him. “My parents despised their children; I despised my brothers; and I despised myself.” He

    believed he had been stripped of the capacity for humor: “I can laugh only when I am drunk.”

    Unfortunately, he was drunk all too frequently—his parents were alcoholics, and alcoholism was

    a family problem that had bridged generations. A.’s monotonous tone of accusatory complaint

    and his almost unchanging bitter, deadpan expression seemed to me to represent an unconscious

    challenge: “Just you try to like me!” He himself said: “People tolerate me because of my

    abilities, but I am simply not likable.” His masochistic wife was registered as an exception to this

    rule, but as part of his despising himself he despised her for wanting him.

    The story of A.’s childhood evoked for me F. Scott Fitzgerald’s psychologically acute,

    much-quoted remark to Hemingway: “The very rich are different from you and me.”

    [Hemingway’s cynical rejoinder, “Yes, they have more money,” attests to his deficiency as a

    psychological novelist (see Trilling 1948, 214).] The special ambience of the mansions of A.’s

    childhood came from the contrast between his parents’ visibly lavish fulfillment of material

    needs and their unawareness or frustration of emotional ones. He was brought up by servants in a

    nursery seldom visited by his father and mother even when they were at home—and they were

    frequently away, sometimes abroad. When in his parents’ presence A. usually felt belittled and

    humiliated by them, especially in response to any show of emotion on his part. The family ideal

    was to be cool, witty, and physically distant. The habitual vicious teasing and sarcasm from both

    parents amounted to training A. to regard any empathic communication as a prelude to torment.

    It seemed consistent with adaptation to this background that he talked in a clipped monotone,

    like a machine.

    A.’s mother had often told him that she had been looking for a strong man when she

    married his father. Indeed, the father tried to act the generalissimo at home and in his business.

    Both the family home and the country estate had the aura of a cavalry post, and the patient firmly

    believed that the parents’ many horses received better care than the children. The servants in the

    stable were by and large kept on; those in the nursery were frequently and capriciously changed.

    The strong-willed parents seemed to agree only in their concern for horses and in their abusive

    treatment of their sons; they quarreled constantly and dramatically, especially when drunk.

    Stubborn and prolonged spitefulness abounded. The patient talked of family life in military

    metaphor—as a war with battles, retreats, campaigns. Although terrified by this, the boy was

    expected to express no feelings or complaints; he was reproached for not being grateful for his

    privileged life.

    The parents of A. finally divorced when he was ten. The mother had always said that she

    wanted her son to be a strong man, like her own father, a professional army officer. The

    avowedly spartan character training the parents devised for their sons, marked by aloofness,

    nakedness, and the endurance of cold, was in confusing contrast to the self-indulgent life-style of

    the parents. [I feel that these parents were two of “those who have been maltreated in childhood

    [and] have an almost uncanny ability to find and to marry someone with a similar background

    and similar ideas about child rearing” (Steele 1976, 14).]

    Something of the current relationship of the depressed son with his mother was revealed

    by a birthday gift she sent to him shortly after she was told he had entered psychoanalysis. In a

    note accompanying the gift she said she was sorry to hear yet again about the weakness of his

    character, and the gift itself—a true “gift of Medea” (see Orgel and Shengold 1968)—was a set

    of pistols that had belonged to her father. It was apparent to me that this twentieth-century Hedda

    Gabler was telling her weak, deserting son to shoot himself. A. seemed to have some insight into

    his mother’s motivation—he quoted a friend’s comment that to give a pistol to a depressed man

    was not exactly a loving act. But this secondhand comment was superficially felt. The meaning

    of the pistols was overdetermined; A. talked more readily (yet with little feeling) about the

    paternal phallic symbolism of the pistols than about their destructive potential. Although he

    spoke of his mother’s murderous intent when expanding on the quote from his friend, he

    essentially denied it. Medea too had sent her poisoned gift on the occasion of a threatened

    separation—a breaking of the symbiotic tie. Like Medea’s victim, A. could not resist the magical

    promise of a present, even from an avowedly hostile witch. There had been many similar gifts in

    the past, but he could never keep from an insistent, almost delusional anticipation that this time

    the gift and therefore the giver would turn out to be good (this is characteristic of soul-murder

    victims). He found himself drawn to playing with the pistols.

    A.’s father was a tyrannical, paranoid loner who quarreled with and alienated everyone.

    With both parents drinking so heavily, the silent and embittered home atmosphere could

    suddenly be transformed by violence. The parents’ verbal abuse could become physical assault,

    and sometimes the parental battles would end in turbulent and exhibitionistic sex within view of

    the terrified children . . . Sometimes the parents would then disappear for weeks.

    Overstimulation was not A.’s main complaint about his childhood. He remembered

    suffering most from intense emotional deprivation, and this he immediately transferred onto the

    analytic situation: “Nobody cared, and you don’t care!” Being the object of his parents’ sarcasm

    and witnessing their sex and violence at least provided some sort of contact. What was worst was

    the emotional abandonment and the misery of feeling alone, uncared for, and helpless to do

    anything about it. He had turned off his feelings because feeling nothing was better than feeling

    panic and pain. Now A. was distressed by his inability to respond lovingly to his wife and


    Any nurse or governess to whom A. became too attached was soon dismissed. He learned

    to hide his feelings toward the servants and was able through craft to maintain two meaningful

    relationships, with a cook and a gardener. These two substitute parents seemed genuinely

    concerned about him and actually listened to him. Unfortunately the gardener’s caring was partly

    spoiled by the sexual interest that he took in A. after the boy became pubescent. A. found the

    man’s sexual advances frightening and disgusting, but for a while he submitted to being

    masturbated because he craved the emotional warmth. And he was able to discontinue the sex

    without breaking the relationship. It became obvious in the analysis that he had been greatly

    threatened by the intensity of his unconscious passive cravings. Both parents insisted that he be

    “manly,” and his strong temptation to accuse and betray the beloved gardener to his father was a

    torment to the boy. It came as a relief to be sent away to boarding school.

    A characteristic of this family’s habits (one frequently found mutatis mutandis in the

    families of many soul-murder patients that I have observed) was the enforced emotional isolation

    of the immediate family group. To preserve the myth that the parents’ ways are not pathogenic

    and sometimes bizarre, the family members have to keep away from others. In A.’s family there

    were many houseguests, generally at drunken weekend parties, but there was a constant turnover

    and those who were repeaters paid little attention to the children. There was no extended family,

    no literal or figurative aunts or uncles to act as substitute parents. (Most importantly for A., the

    two servants I mentioned did fulfill this function.) The children’s friends were not permitted to

    visit the family homes, and A.’s parents discouraged their children from visiting the homes of

    their schoolmates. In the other homes they might have gained some perspective on their own

    domestic soul-murder atmosphere by viewing and sharing more relaxed, loving family

    relationships, and in late adolescence and beyond A. did to some extent gain such a perspective.

    This avoidance of other families and parents can be encouraged and enforced by the soul-

    murdering parents consciously, unconsciously, or both. At some point the need to keep away is

    usually taken over by the child victim. To see from others’ lives that one’s life and parents might

    have been different can provide some hope for the future, for a change for the better;

    unfortunately there is usually alongside this hopeful feeling a preponderant pain and danger. To

    be able to make comparisons and attain a sense of proportion and perspective threatens the denial

    necessary for the soul-murder victim to keep the delusion of having good parents, and intense

    destructive impulses against the bad parent might be felt. As this was becoming clear in A.’s

    analysis, he said to me plaintively, “You don’t understand that a real honest look at other

    families would lead to the total destruction of my family.” He was terrified of the murderous

    rage in his walled-off fantasy life; to him, fully feeling this rage meant that change brought the

    prospect of unsustainable loss, even if the change promised something better.

    Perhaps the acme of the recurrent, agonizing combination of overwhelming promise and

    cruel frustration came at Christmas. Every year a huge tree was beautifully decorated and

    presents were piled underneath. There was great stir in the house, which was filled with guests,

    and a showy but exciting ritual of opening the presents on Christmas morning. On Christmas day

    the boy was permitted to play with the expensive toys he had received. But the next morning he

    had to help his father repack the toys in their boxes: they were to be given away, every one, to

    the “poor children.” How he hated those poor children! Of course he hated them instead of his

    father; they were nasty vermin like his younger brothers. A. usually remembered the past as if he

    were an only child, so intense was the hatred displaced from the parents onto the siblings. No

    cooperation or community of feeling as fellow victims was possible for these brothers in the face

    of their mutual, murderous, malignant envy. [The turning on the fellow victim was like that

    depicted by Orwell in 1984 as the final crushing of Winston Smith’s humanity and identity,

    when he displaces the cannibalistic rage aroused by his torturers onto his lover Julia.]

    Christmas left the boy feeling wicked, guilty, and depressed. His father must be good—

    he was doing Christ’s work by giving to the poor. A.’s conviction that his father was benevolent

    meant a complete suppression of rage toward him and a nonregistration of what had happened.

    The rage was untenable, and the absolute need to suppress it and be left with at least a potentially

    good and giving parent made for brainwashing. The cruelty of the giving and then taking away

    was denied; the boy identified with the aggressor, his conscience taking over his father’s

    inhumanity. He, the boy, was unworthy, and he accepted as valid his father’s professed

    charitable and character-building motives. He idealized his tormentor and suppressed the

    torment. As Christmas again approached he would remember what had happened to last year’s

    toys, but the insistent hope that this time things would be different would return (and need turned

    this hope into delusional promise). He was effectively deprived of his feelings, memory, and

    identity and became his parents’ creature: the Good Boy, a pseudo-identity marked by

    mechanical dutifulness and a cheerless, loveless existence. The brainwashing, involving denial,

    emotional isolation, and autohypnotic states, became a continuous internalized process, and this

    made for a chronic soulless facade. Underneath lurked murder and suicide; yet A. functioned and

    he achieved.

    I am fond of meandering designs; this book proceeds more by association than by orderly

    progression, and some motifs recur throughout.

    pp. 1-3 (Introduction): Too much and too little are qualities of experience.

    From the child’s experiences we induce our theoretical psychoanalytic concepts of psychic

    energy and the “economic.” Too much too-muchness we call trauma. Too much not-enoughness

    inhibits proper maturation. Child abuse means that the child has been exposed to too little to

    meet his or her needs. What the child’s mind and body have been subjected to evokes discharge

    of body feeling and emotion; these in turn require defensive psychological measures against

    feeling—both discharge and defense are needed to avoid or lessen unbearable intensities. What

    comes from outside the body and mind in the form of stimulation operates in conjunction with

    constitutional givens and constitutional deficiencies (both can involve the all-important

    instinctual access to body feeling and emotions) to contribute to the normal and the pathological

    development of the structure and functioning of the mind.

    The too-muchness of child abuse can be primarily sexual, as in being seduced or forced

    into sexual action and feeling. The overwhelming impact of the adult’s sexuality and what it

    imposes on the child’s relatively undeveloped physical and psychic capacity to function sexually

    and discharge sexual affect ensures that what can initially be pleasurable and promising to the

    child will produce overstimulation and pain. Psychologically, seduction can produce the same

    effect as outright rape (although the latter can result in greater physical damage). The frightening

    overstimulation inevitably leads to rage and an overwhelming mixture of sexual and aggressive

    feelings. If the abused child’s experiences are primarily those stemming from aggressive

    attacks—being beaten and tormented—there is almost always a defensive sexualization of those

    experiences, which results in a similar sado-masochistic mixture of unbearable affect. To

    survive, the child must have enough gratification of the physical need for care and the

    psychological need to be wanted. The palpable absence of being cared about usually inhibits the

    developmental maturation of the mental structure and functioning needed to master intensities of

    affect. So for the developing child, deprivation can lead to the same traumatic and

    sadomasochistic imbalance as overstimulation. There are inescapable mixtures and alternations

    of overstimulation and neglect in everyone’s development. These should be called child abuse

    and child deprivation only if “economic” conditions of intensity, duration, or both make for

    enough psychic damage that the result can be described as soul murder.

    Soul murder is neither a diagnosis nor a condition. It is a dramatic term for circumstances

    that eventuate in crime—the deliberate attempt to eradicate or compromise the separate identity

    of another person. [Lionel Trilling wrote that the essence of morality is “making a willing

    suspension of disbelief in the selfhood of somebody else” (1955, p. 94).] The victims of soul

    murder remain in large part possessed by another, their souls in bondage to someone else. Thus

    Winston Smith at the end of 1984 loves the Big Brother who has taken over his mind.

    Torture and deprivation under conditions of complete dependency have elicited a terrible and

    terrifying combination of helplessness and rage—unbearable feelings that must be suppressed for

    the victim to survive. Brainwashing makes it possible to suppress what has happened and the

    terrible feelings evoked by the erased or discounted experiences. When it is necessary to retreat

    from feelings, good feelings as well as bad ones are compromised, and the victim’s deepest

    feelings are invested primarily in the soul murderer (as Big Brother dominates the emotional

    universe of Winston Smith). Therefore murdering someone’s soul means depriving the victim of

    the ability to feel joy and love as a separate person. In 1984 O’Brien says to Winston

    Smith: “You will be hollow. We will squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with

    ourselves” (p. 260).

    Sexual abuse, emotional deprivation, physical and mental torture can eventuate in soul

    murder. Brainwashing keeps the condition of emotional bondage going. Children are the usual

    victims, for the child’s almost complete physical and emotional dependence on adults easily

    makes possible tyranny and therefore child abuse; because he or she cannot escape from the

    tyrant-torturer, the child must submit to and identify with the abuser. (“The cut worm forgives

    the plough,” Blake 1793, 96.) A consummated soul murder is a crime most often committed by

    psychotic or psychopathic parents who treat the child as an extension of themselves or as an

    object with which to satisfy their desires. Lesser effects ensue from intermittent parental cruelty

    and indifference. I will try to demonstrate in my clinical examples something of what is done to

    effect soul murder and of how it comes about.

    I cannot present a definitive exploration of child abuse and neglect, nor a solution for it.

    My case material will seem mild indeed to those dealing with battered and sexually assaulted

    children who turn up in police stations and hospital emergency rooms. I will describe people who

    were assaulted as children and have been scarred, but who have enough ego strength to maintain

    their psychological development and have summoned the considerable mental strength needed to

    present themselves as patients for psychoanalysis. The attempt to murder their souls was not

    completely successful. They are only a handful of people, but I would judge them representative

    of many others; I think my generalizations apply to many of the more disturbed victims too. But

    I have not studied any of the countless number who have ended up as derelicts, in madhouses, or

    in jails, or those who have not even survived an abused childhood.
    Last edited by HERO; 09-25-2013 at 05:11 AM.
    “Must get that Capel street library book renewed or they’ll write to
    Kearney, my garantor. Reincarnation: that’s the word.

    — Some people believe, he said, that we go on living in another body
    after death, that we lived before. They call it reincarnation. That we all lived
    before on the earth thousands of years ago or some other planet. They say we
    have forgotten it. Some say they remember their past lives.

    The sluggish cream wound curdling spirals through her tea. Better remind
    her of the word: metempsychosis. An example would be better.”

    —from Ulysses by James Joyce

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    Cool extracts, thanks for posting. I have no idea about his type though.
    Reason is a whore.

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