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Socarides, C.W. (1974). The Demonified Mother: A Study of Voyeurism and Sexual Sadism. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 1:187-195.

(1974). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 1:187-195

The Demonified Mother: A Study of Voyeurism and Sexual Sadism

Charles W. Socarides


As can be seen from the case of Martin, the voyeur and sadist suffer from the basic pre-oedipal nuclear fear found in all perversion: the fear of merging and fusing with the mother. This is accompanied by a predominance of archaic and primitive psychical mechanisms, especially projective and incorporative anxieties. The failure to separate from the mother causes a faulty gender identity and the patient develops an intense primary feminine identification which is unacceptable to him.

The function of voyeurism is to reinforce masculinity through visual reassurance, to view the female body and/or heterosexual intercourse. By viewing intercourse which takes place outside himself, he can be sure that it is not perpetrated upon his body or within his body. The entire event is taking place external to himself. He wishes also to reassure himself that he is not being swallowed up or enveloped through the woman's orifices.

He masturbates during his voyeuristic acts, often startling his victim by exhibiting his penis to her so that she will react to him (exhibitionistic component). Simultaneously he avoids homosexuality. He is reassured against his primary female identification and his castration anxiety.

The occurrence of the sexual event outside of himself prevents a deep fear from arising within him of being invaded by the body of the mother. Engulfment by the female can occur through the eye of the female (a substitute for her genital) through the mechanism of ocular introjection. Her eyes can penetrate into his eyes, enter his body and become an internalized persecutory object which threatens to destroy the insides of his body, to tear them out, to rob and deplete him of strength and masculinity, to weaken and depress him, to divest him of well being. Frequently, as he closes his eyes and attempts to sleep, he will fantasy or dream of an enormous hawklike bird flying through the window and attacking him. He dare not close his eyes, to stop looking, as then he can be attacked and destroyed.

The voyeur wishes to retain the optimal distance and/or closeness to women (mother) without fear of engulfment; he yearns for masculinity, he dramatizes his masculine strength through his voyeuristic activities. Voyeurism, when it is an act of invading others' sexual privacy, can proceed from looking to touching, to seizing and then to assaulting and destroying (sexual sadism).

As demonstrated by the case history, in sexual sadism there is a complex interplay between the

sadist and his 'love' object: (1) The object of the sadistic sexual assault should be powerless. (2) The object should then undergo suffering. (3) The suffering undergone by the object is imposed by the sadist so he can be relieved of his own suffering from pervasive guilt as a result of his conscious and unconscious sexual wishes and his harmful acts. For the moment he may be relieved of his burden of guilt or at least it may be diminished through the mechanism of enforced sharing of guilt with another, the victim. (4) Furthermore, the victim can undergo suffering for the sadist due to the latter's fluidity of ego boundaries and partial identification with the victim. (5) The object is 'forced' to 'forgive' and 'love' the sadist as a move of self-preservation in the context of the sadist's complete control. The sadist is dominated by his need for control. Should the victim ever reject him, protest or seek redress, she has in effect cancelled the 'forgiveness', taken back the 'love' and thereby demanded that the sadist face the dangerous guilt he tried all along to conceal from himself and deny. In such circumstances the sadist experiences a 'violent reaction' and a wish to return, restore his lost control over the victim and resume his sadistic acts. (6) The paramount desire of the sadist, that the woman be powerless, is in contrast to the usual desire of a male that he himself be powerful (potent). The woman's powerlessness is a precondition of the sadist's basic aim: to gain control of the fearful demonic mother.

As in the case of Martin, voyeurism functions as a defensive position against a wholesale expression of destructive and sadistic impulses arising from the fear of being destroyed, invaded, engulfed, inwardly (bodily) despoiled and persecuted. Voyeurism and sadism are intimately connected, now one, then the other can dominate the clinical picture depending upon the balance of psychic forces.

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