– by Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler (Ph.D., ABPP, D.Litt., NCPsyA)

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This study integrates Virginia Woolf’s biography with her terror of losing her fragile self in compulsive merger with another, with her imagery of birds flocking together in a merger of terror and terrified impulse. Then two clinical case examples of profound childhood terror are depicted. The first case has the subjective experience of a child who trembles with terror in the face of a murderous borderline mother. One particular day of terror is seen from the child’s perspective, and dream material highlights the unconscious reflections of the terror of being destroyed by maternal poison, with its transference evolutions. The second case is also primal terror at an even earlier source, with a dream of prenatal imagery: the womb that destroys through lack of containment.

Keywords: psychoanalysis, creativity, developmental mourning, terror, preoedipal, symbolic, unthinkable anxieties, Virginia Woolf, creativity

About The Author

Susan Kavaler-Adler, PhD, ABPP, NCPsyA, D.Litt.

Susan Kavaler-Adler, PhD, ABPP, NPsyA, DLitt is a graduate of the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies at Adelphi University, and has been practicing for over 35 years as a psychologist and psychoanalyst in New York City. She founded the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis in New York City in 1991, and has been this institute’s executive director ever since. She is also a supervisor and former faculty member at the National Institute for the Psychotherapies, and is a member of the Postgraduate Psychoanalytic Society, where she had served as a faculty member at the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health.

Besides individual psychoanalytic psychotherapy and object relations psychoanalysis, Dr. Kavaler-Adler offers groups on mourning, creative blocks, and supervision. She conducts classes on “Projection and Projective Identification,” “The Analyst as an Instrument,” and others, using role playing; and courses on work of Ronald Fairbairn, Melanie Klein, D. W. Winnicott, Michael Balint, Wilfred Bion, and on her own theories of “developmental mourning” and “the demon- lover complex.” Dr. Kavaler-Adler also conducts workshops in self-sabotage, developmental mourning and psychic change, fear of success, envy, creative blocks, and compulsions.

Dr. Kavaler-Adler is the author of 5 books and 60 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters in the field of psychoanalysis and object relations theory. Three of her earlier books were published with Routledge: The Compulsion to Create: A Psychoanalytic Study of Women Writers (1993), The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity (1996), and Mourning, Spirituality, and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis (2003). The Other Press reprinted The Compulsion to Create as The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers (2000). Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s two recent books are published with Karnac: The Anatomy of Regret: From Death Instinct to Reparation and Symbolization through Vivid Clinical Cases (2013) and Klein-Winnicott Dialectic: Transformative New Metapsychology and Interactive Clinical Theory (2014).

Dr. Kavaler-Adler has won 16 awards for her books and articles, including the Gradiva Award from NAAP for Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change (published by Routledge) in 2004. She has won Arlene Wohlberg Memorial Awards from Postgraduate Center for Mental Health for peer-reviewed journal articles, including “Mourning and Erotic Transference” in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis (1992, Vol. 3), and “My Graduation is My Mother’s Funeral” in The International Forum of Psychoanalysis (2006, Vol 15). Dr. Kavaler-Adler also received multiple Author’s Recognition Awards from the Postgraduate Psychoanalytic Society and the National Institute for Psychotherapies.

For more information, visit www.kavaleradler.com.

Contact Dr. Kavaler-Adler by email: drkavaleradler@gmail.com or phone: 212-674-5425;


Kavaler-Adler, S. (2016). Swallowed up by terror: The image of birds in Virginia Woolf and echoing images of terror in the internal world of patients: dissociated links to childhood. MindConsiliums, 16(6), 1-14.

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