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

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Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, March 18, 2017, NYC


This paper presents the interplay of the compulsion to create and the demon lover complex in well-known women artists and writers who have suffered primal preoedipal trauma (such as Emily Dickinson, Edith Sitwell, Emily Bronte, and Sylvia Plath), and who manifest a developmental arrest that undermines a capacity to mourn primal loss without treatment. This contrasts with those who have a free motivation to create, and a capacity to mourn and heal themselves within their creative work (such as Charlotte Bronte and Suzanne Farrell). Poetic and biographical material will be offered to describe this contrast.

On the other side of the dark side of creativity spectrum is the syndrome of writing blocks. The last part of this paper offers some case process from a four times a week psychoanalytic patient, who gradually resolves a major block to creative self expression, in writing, through mourning trauma, primal losses, and disillusionments within the holding environment and “container” of an object relations psychoanalytic treatment process. The point is made that repression plays a dominant role in creative blocks, while splitting and dissociation play the main role in compulsions within the creative process, where addiction to an eroticized internal “bad” object is symptomatic of a pathological state, consequent to primal trauma.

Keywords: creativity, dark side of creativity, writing blocks, developmental mourning, demon-lover complex, object relations psychoanalysis, creative blocks, compulsion to create, creative mystique, bad objects, eroticized bad object, holding environment, psychic container.

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.

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Contact Dr. Kavaler-Adler by email: or phone: 212-674-5425;


Kavaler-Adler, S. (2017). The dark side of creativity: Compulsions, blocks, and creations.. MindConsiliums, 17(4), 1-29.

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