In our book A womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) Susan Kavaler-Adler writes as follows:
Sherry has to face the demonic visage of her father in the men she had felt seduced by, but in order to do so, she needs to rediscover some favorable views of him. Facing his dark side, as well as her own, helps Sherry gather and preserve some precious positive father images as if they are rare flowers she need to dry, press, and preserve in a scrapbook. Before all this psychotherapeutic work, Sherry’s experience of date rape with a foreign man came as an inevitable drama from the split-off dark side of her father that she carried within. She is hypnotically drawn forward in the path of the great seducer. This is not a fun seduction! This is serious! No wonder that it leads Sherry to read and speak of the writings of Marquis de Sade in my therapeutic writing group. In fact, Sherry becomes an extremely articulate female voice on the demonic lover (and on the demon-lover complex) as she does this. One man in the group then becomes the “demon” onto whom she projects her inner male demon, as she tells her whole story to the group, date rape and all.
The group members are awed by Sherry’s description of her date rape, and even more awed by her detailed descriptions of Marquis de Sade and his cleverest female victim, who de Sade murdered. When Harry, the man in the writing group, returns to Sherry’s own demon-lover, speaking of her male assailant as a guy who “fucked you and left you,” Sherry freezes. It is not until her next individual therapy session that I learn how devastated Sherry had been by the male writing group member’s words. Sherry tells me that she has not been able to stop those words from pulsating repeatedly in her mind – “fucked me and left me,” she says. Sherry feels so vulnerable, exposed, and humiliated by her own shame when she heard these words, especially hearing them from a man! In fact, her subjective emotional experience is of feeling raped all over again. I encourage Sherry to share her reaction in the group, and to speak directly to Harry, whose words had provoked her into feeling so abused and assaulted.
Sherry struggles very hard before she responded to me. Her shame make her want to hide away again. I urge her not to. I say that shame grows when the incident that ignites it is kept secret, kept hidden in the darkness. She is reminded of the dark bathroom where she had stumbled, broken-hearted and lost– to find her clothing after the rape she had endured. She knows she had to come out of the darkness into the light to cure herself. She knows she had to reveal her secret in order to find her voice. Consequently, she reluctantly agrees to confront Harry with her reaction to his words. She reluctantly agrees to share her re-provoked trauma with the group members, and to tell them what she had told me, that she was raped by a man’s words as she had been raped by a man’s body.
At the next writing group session, everyone is there. Everyone listens intently when Sherry spoke of Harry’s words. She is able to look right at Harry when she reminds him “You said, ‘He fucked you and left you,’” and went on: “I can’t stop hearing those words biting into me, over and over, searing pain and haunting obsession into my mind.” Harry is surprised, but not shocked. He is quite willing to apologize for his insensitivity to Sherry’s feelings, and adds that it is careless and thoughtless of him to speak so casually of something Sherry was still in the middle of feeling and suffering from. The group is relieved by Harry’s response and by their collective capacity to tolerate and contain a trauma that had taken place in their midst. I know, however, that Sherry was not just reacting to Harry’s words. I know she is projecting onto Harry the relationship with a male demon-lover figure that she still carries within her.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.