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Soul Murder Revisited

Soul Murder Revisited: Thoughts about Therapy, Hate, Love, and Memory

Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 340
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  • Book Info
    Soul Murder Revisited
    Book Description:

    Since the publication of Dr. Leonard Shengold's highly acclaimed bookSoul Murder in1989, issues of child abuse have become the subject of much public debate. Now Dr. Shengold offers his latest reflections on the circumstances in which the willful abuse and neglect of children arises and on the consequences of this abuse, providing compelling examples from literature and from clinical material.Dr. Shengold describes various types of child abuse as well as techniques of adaptation and denial by soul murder victims. He explores the psychopathology of soul murder, addressing such issues as instinctual drives, aggression and sexuality, love, and narcissism. In a chapter on sadomasochism, he relates the story of Algernon Swinburne-who may have been a victim of soul murder-and he tells about Elizabeth Bishop, who, like Swinburne, has been able to use artistic creativity to transcend the damage sustained by early childhood trauma. Finally he offers suggestions about therapy for the abused and neglected, emphasizing the need to restore the power to care about and love others in order to ameliorate soul murder's narcissistically regressive effects.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14912-8
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    The observations in this book are extensions and illustrations of themes involved with child abuse and neglect taken up in my previous books, most specificallySoul Murder: Child Abuse and Deprivation(1989), together with some related issues. Time and aging have broadened my perspective, and since I wroteSoul Murderchild abuse and deprivation have become subject to much more public attention and debate.

    Some amount of lack of care and even torment is inevitable in the course of everyone’s growing up.Soul murderis the term I have used for the apparently willful abuse and neglect of children by...


    • CHAPTER 2 Fatal Gifts
      (pp. 19-46)

      Customs involving the giving of gifts can reveal much about relationships. In examining some of the phenomena reported and enacted by my patients involving gift giving, I have noted repetitive revivals of experiences and relationships that evoked the myth of Medea and specifically Euripides’ dramatic version of it.¹ I am focusing on a certain type of gift, apoisonousgift, exemplified by the fatal gifts of Medea and given within the family, especially from a particular sort of bad parent or parent substitute.

      Gifts are usually thought of, and usually are, benevolent. Presents exchanged between any two people can reflect...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Smell of Semen
      (pp. 47-64)

      I have noted in several women patients a preoccupation with the smell of semen. In each there was a predominant aversion as part of a fascinated ambivalence and what appeared to me to be an exaggerated insistence on the olfactory power of seminal fluid. Semen seemed to stink in their nostrils. This led me to wonder why other women did not share this perception, especially in view of the frequent experience of hearing about vaginal and anal odors from both men and women in analysis and therapy, and why male patients—I puzzled especially over male homosexuals—so seldom insisted...

    • CHAPTER 4 Once Is Never (Or Once Doesn’t Count)
      (pp. 65-76)

      I have observed in several patients a need to prove, sometimes repetitively, that an event that occurs only once has no meaning. In German this attitude has achieved the dignity of a folk saying: “Einmal ist keinmal”—literally, “Once is never,” or “Once doesn’t count.” When “once is never” is a principle influencing a person’s behavior with compulsive force, I have found it understandable as an attempt to counteract and deny the frightening notion of irrevocability, of once and for all. The epigraph to this chapter says the opposite: once is forever. I believe that the two antithetical meanings really...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Ring of the Narcissist
      (pp. 77-96)

      Rings are precious objects that, as Shylock shows, can be clung to passionately.¹ Rings adorn the body; like clothing, they can be equated with the body unconsciously. InThe Golden Bough(1890), Frazer describes the magic powers ascribed to rings and knots in various cultures and the taboos adherent to them. There are contradictory meanings; rings promise to protect and preserve as well as to damage and destroy. The ring can serve as a kind of sphincter; it can constrict and it can protect: A ... power to bind or hamper spiritual as well as bodily activities is ascribed by...

    • CHAPTER 6 Child Abuse and the Concentration Camp
      (pp. 97-110)

      In Chapter 1, I quoted Randall Jarrell on abused children who had grown up in “one of God’s concentration camps.” There is an obvious parallel between soul murder and that paradigm of abuse and destruction of the individual for our time, the concentration camp. The differences between the two kinds of experiences are many. I am not an expert on concentration camps and so am pointing out only some important similarities, making use of the works of Primo Levi in relation to an area in which I have no direct contact. The victim of soul murder is usually in some...


    • CHAPTER 7 “That Fixed Obsession Which Is a State of Love”: Where Proust and Freud Can Be Both Wise and Wrong
      (pp. 113-136)

      The destructive effects of child abuse distort and inhibit the emotional life of the child. Soul murder, as I have said, tends to destroy the child’s capacity for joy and inhibit the power to care and to love. This inhibition includes love of the self, but it is especially damaging to the capacity for love that can partially transcend narcissism, permitting caring for others.

      It should not be necessary to state that there many circumstances besides child abuse and deprivation that give rise to an inability to care about oneself and others. Deficiencies stemming from the environment that interfere with...

    • CHAPTER 8 Comments on Freud’s “A Child Is Being Beaten”
      (pp. 137-164)

      Soul murder is engendered by, evokes, and flourishes in the climate of sadomasochistic phenomena. Some sadomasochism is present in all of us to varying extents: part of our sexuality, part of our character. It is of course enhanced if there is sexual and violent abuse in one’s childhood. But sadomasochistic sexual perversion, a passionate investment in beating or being beaten, arises from many sources. Sadomasochistic sexual perversion (acted out with others or expressed autoerotically in perverse fantasies) is frequently present with compulsive force in adults who have suffered soul murder in childhood. In a 1919 paper on beating fantasies, Freud...


    • CHAPTER 9 Algernon Swinburne: A Child Who Wanted to Be Beaton
      (pp. 167-206)

      The English poet Algernon Swinburne, in his life and writings, provides an example of a child who grew up with beatings and as an adult retained fantasies of being beaten that amounted to obsessions.¹ The beatings that he idealized were the ones administered to him as a student at Eton at the hands of a “stunning tutor” (Swinburne, 1854–69, p. 78).² In a letter written as an adult, he says of Eton, “I should like to see two things there again, the river—and the flogging block” (quoted in Fuller, 1968, p. 25). Here he linked two of his...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Moth and the Mother: Elizabeth Bishop
      (pp. 207-242)

      This chapter deals with the use of the image of moths to depict the destructive and the vulnerable: destructive and vulnerable parents (mainly, but not exclusively, mothers) and children who are drawn to and have identified with them. A thesis—that the moth can serve as an allusion to, and perhaps be an unconscious symbol of, the mother—is illustrated by a clinical example and by the life and writings of the great American poet Elizabeth Bishop. The story I have to tell is one that is imbricated with soul murder; it illustrates the complicated consequences for pathology and for...


    • CHAPTER 11 Narcissistic Pathology Stemming from Parental Weakness
      (pp. 245-256)

      In recent years, often as a consequence of having read some of my writings on soul murder, a number of people who had memories of child abuse and seduction have consulted me. I have also seen a few who had no such memories but appeared to be in search of them. I have now studied three of these would-be victims as analytic patients. They had developed passionate intellectual interests that seemed also to serve them as defensive isolation posts guarding against and distancing their varied sexual impulses and their rage. They did indeed, in their character structure, defenses, and symptomatology,...

    • CHAPTER 12 Murder, Violence, and Soul Murder: “Did It Really Happen?” and a Note on Therapy
      (pp. 257-286)

      Why is there violence in the world? What is the origin of evil? How can benevolent and omnipotent deities permit the triumph, or even the existence, of evil and violence? These philosophic and religious questions have preoccupied human beings since the beginning of recorded history, and even earlier, according to archeological evidence. Homer, the great Greek dramatists, and the ancient Hebrew writings dealt directly with these enigmas. The Greeks, in myth and in literature, portrayed the gods as immortal and powerful versions of human beings, with all the human faults and passions. The God of the Hebrews, as he evolved...

  8. APPENDIX A Discussion of “Dissociative Processes and Transference/Countertransference Paradigms in the Psychoanalytically Oriented Treatment of Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse,” by Jody Messler Davies and Mary Gail Frawley
    (pp. 287-302)
  9. References
    (pp. 303-312)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 313-313)
  11. Permissions
    (pp. 314-314)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 315-328)