“Keg of amontillado”

The theme of encapsulation (immuring) is often found in works about revenge. Allan Poe’s (1846) short story “The Cask of Amontillado” is a classic example of a revenge plot and reflects the dynamics described above. The narrator/avenger begins the story by saying that he has endured much bullying and humiliation at the hands of his friend Fortunato and decided to take revenge on him when his behavior became offensive. It is at this point, when the fantasy of deliberate and deliberate humiliation by a friend, begins to take shape that the plan for revenge begins to take shape. (At the same time, there is no explanation in the story about exactly how and with what he insulted him.) The narrator unconsciously feels the insult inflicted on him as a sadistic encapsulation, which becomes apparent precisely in the chosen method of revenge: he plays on the narcissism of Fortunato, who considered himself a great expert for wine, lures him into the wine cellar and immures him alive in one of the niches.

The story also hints at the existence of a painful connection between the narcissist’s desire to be recognized and his vulnerability to being forgotten and “walled up”. The avenger must come very close to the object, feel mutual understanding and “confinement” in the mind of the other. There can be two reasons for this: a feeling of distance in relations with the object of revenge or its “impenetrability”; or the desire of the avenger to get an unattainable sense of unity with another. Regardless of the reason, the avenger is embedded in the fantasy of the object of revenge, sees its weak points; further, some aspects of his self are excluded from the enacted situation and the attention of the object of revenge, which allows you to begin to create the other side of the sadistic fantasy of encapsulation. From this point of view, the avenger is one who feels himself in constant danger due to the loss of his individual meaning. If he moves away from the imaginary parent, then he loses the feeling of unity with the one who confirms the meaning and significance of his individual experience; if he approaches, he painfully experiences how his story is intertwined with the imagination of another, lost in it and washed out completely.

Cousin betta

Balzac’s novel Cousin Betta (1846) provides an even deeper insight into the psychology of chronic revenge. Almost every hero of the book felt its influence in one form or another, and the plot of the novel, with all its intricacies and built-in mini stories, is very complex. However, the main character is Betta, a poor old maid who devises a more or less successful plan to destroy the entire Khulo family as revenge for the fact that Adeline (her cousin) “appropriated” for herself Vensislav, a young man to whom Betta gave everything her spiritual love and “concluded” in the role of a son and admirer.

In Bette, Balzac reflected many of the traits of a man obsessed with revenge. Her childhood was filled with envy and unhappiness. She was deprived of talents and abilities unlike her cousin Adeline, she is trained to do hard work, and Adeline is cherished for higher purposes. As a child, Betta directs all her anger and rage at Adeline. She then suppresses her envy of her cousin and watches with bitterness as she marries the wealthy Baron Khulo. With the help of relatives whom she practically hates, Betta attempts to open her own business, but everything falls apart due to the current political events that have led Betta to “consciousness of one’s own insignificance in this eternal cycle of people, their interests and deeds” (p. 36). She reverted to being a pissed-off, eccentric old maid.

Betta’s anger and fury escalate when she learns that Vensislav has fallen in love with Adeline’s daughter, which starts the wheel of revenge. Those curses and torments that she wishes for her victims reflect the torments and humiliations that she was subjected to. She wishes them poverty, humiliation, betrayal by loved ones. Her desire for revenge becomes insatiable and, as often happens, self-destructive as the various intricacies of her plan come into conflict with each other.

In Balzac’s novel, as in the case of Mrs. A, we hear motifs of encapsulation and splitting. The description of Betta leaves a feeling of a deceptive shell that hardly reflects her inner content. Her anger appears as primitive and animalistic. She experiences it as an uncontrollable attack that threatens to flood and destroy her in the truest sense of the word. And yet, she is able to put on a mask of integration and hide her rage under it – the trick works because other people do not show a sincere interest in her.

The feeling of splitting inside and outside and its consequences help Bette develop a plan for revenge: she controls the consciousness of the victims from the inside, inciting their own anger and forcing them to attack each other. She does not act openly; in the eyes of other heroes, Betta maintains the image of a weak woman with insignificant opportunities. Despite the fact that a detailed plan of action is required to implement her plan, it remains hidden not only from the heroes of the work, but also from the reader, who sometimes manages to see certain parts of it.

There is also a motif of a civilized way of revenge in the work, which is actually based on a more primitive one, which is repeated many times in the very structure of the novel, where one story is intertwined with another. Also important is the fact that the whole structure of the work, some of its scenes are an interweaving (encapsulation) of the story of Betta and Adaline. The main character is Betta, but the novel begins and ends with Adalyn’s life story.

It begins with a description of events in the Khulo family: Baron Khulo took the girl away from another young man named Crevel and spent all the family’s money on her. Crevel plots revenge and upsets the wedding of the Baron Khulo’s daughter, Hortense, by telling her fiancé that her family is in dire financial straits. He then decides to seduce Adeline, Mr. Khulo’s wife, by offering her some kind of business deal in exchange for sex, then the family will have money again and his daughter’s wedding will take place. The novel begins when Crevel arrives at the home of the Khulo family to propose to Adeline.

The first pages become the stage for the unfolding of numerous interconnected stories. Balzac leads the reader through the streets and the house of Baron Khulo when Crevel arrives. Bette and Hortense leave the room where Adeline and Crevel are talking. When Crevel’s plan fails, we are led through the garden where Bette and Hortense are talking to Vensislav. Balzac then proceeds to unfold the story of Bette’s life and her experiences.

The walls of the house and garden symbolically “fence off” different stories from each other. Outside the house is a story about how Khulo took the girl away from Crevel. In the center of the house (in the room), the Crevel-Khulo-Adeline triangle unfolds, and in the garden there is a simpler line of Betta-Hortensia-Venislav. At the same time, the arrival of Crevel sets off a series of events that are in tune with the experiences that bind all three story spaces together. Crevel brings to the house of Baron Khulo a story about (and informs his wife about it) what trouble Baron Khulo brought to their family. Adeline’s rejection of Crevel’s proposal finally upsets the wedding of her daughter Hortense and forces her to start looking for a suitable husband, which starts the story of the relationship between Hortense, Vensislav and Betta.

Balzac uses Adeline and Bette as catalysts for each other’s stories, they are kind of antagonists who handle anger and pain in different ways. Adeline appears before us as a person without any secret malice, remaining faithful to her husband, despite his betrayal. Betta is described as vicious, caustic, vindictive, without a share of compassion for those who offended her. It seems that both characters are part of the same character. The very style of storytelling, in which the stories of both women are inscribed one into the other, but nevertheless divorced, may be a reflection of a single complex system of fantasies of one man obsessed with the idea of revenge.

If we consider Adeline as the main character, then we will see that the heroine of Betta is the very way of dealing with anger, in which it splits and keeps it inside. From this point of view, the beginning of the novel – Adeline’s reaction to the news of her husband’s betrayal – is symbolic. Crevel becomes an intermediary in this story of betrayal; Baron Khulo is not present in this scene at all. However, Adeline’s anger and shock is too strong to be contained with calmness and forgiveness, she directs her feelings inward to a story that seems to have nothing to do with her, and anger comes to life in the form of a vindictive Betta.

In this context, the central position of the heroine Betta can be seen as a regressive switch to a more primitive and aggressive state, covertly operating when a narcissistic injury is inflicted on a person like Adeline – that very dynamic of “falling into hatred”. In the system of regressive fantasy – the world through the eyes of Betta – Betta’s story, which is inscribed in the story of Adalyn and at the same time separated from her, takes on a slightly different meaning. The feeling that her own history is inscribed in the history of her cousin and remains unrecognized as a separate one reflects the helplessness and insignificance experienced by Betta, which become the reason for the desire for revenge. The fantasy that her story is intertwined with Adeline’s makes Bette feel offended and resentful: there is an offender in the world, a culprit, and not just a series of unrelated events in her life. Balzac emphasizes the importance of this thought by the fact that Betty observes the behavior of Hortense, begins to suspect something and finds the culprit in all her troubles – Adeline.

Adeline’s story is the basis for Betta’s story, but they are “divorced” from each other in the work, fitting the image of a parent fantasizing about their child. Adeline is the part of the self that identifies with the figure of the distant, ignorant parent, and Betta is the part of the self that identifies with the child, whose feelings and experiences should have been kept secret. The description of both heroines confirms our assumption: in order to cope with her feelings, Adeline “closes her eyes and plugs her ears” (p. 30). And Betta’s need to fit into the stories of others led to a trauma that prevented her from creating her own story. As Balzac described: “The poor girl’s dependent position in itself, as it were, doomed her to a dumb role” (p. 39).

РасщеплениеЯмстителянапослушноеизлопамятное, мстительноесогласуетсясописанием Wurmser (2000) расщепленного представления о себе, которое диктуется ригидным и осуждающим суперэго.Темнеменее, моевниманиекрасщепленнойфантазиимстителяовоображающемивоображаемомприводитнаскпониманиюсложностиструктурыкаждойстороныЯрепрезентацииитогоспособа, которымэтисторонысвязанысобразомвоображающегородителя, которыйпереживаетсякакцентральная фигура, от которой зависит выживание и непрерывность смысла.

Although works of literature should not be viewed solely as a history of human pathology (Spitz 1988), in Balzac’s novel we find markers of primitive aggression and a representation of the avenger’s object world. Betty’s character is described between the lines, she is always seen as if at some distance. She appears before us in the form of a monster, her boundless hatred is simply beyond description. The course of reflections of other heroes of the work is not described in great detail, they are rather a reflection of the personal history and character of the writer. Although the beginning of Betta’s story is very reminiscent of Balzac’s childhood: he was cut off from his family almost from the first days of his life, he had to live in several families and boarding houses, and his younger brothers and sisters lived at home with their parents. He was forbidden to return home until he suffered a nervous breakdown in schools at the age of 17.

In his letters, he wrote about the terrible feeling of rejection and his sensitivity. Balsacs attributed his separation from the family solely to his mother, whom he described as a monster, while his father wished only the best for his son (Zweig 1946).

Perhaps the enormity of the mother was described by Balzac in the image of Betta, and the father was the prototype of Baron Khulo. It was the betrayals of the baron that became the starting point of the whole novel and the plot of revenge, which, even after the death of Betta, led to the death of Adalyn. However, the reader is more sympathetic to the stumbled baron, and not to the broken and crushed Betta.


How could the story of revenge be resolved? On the example of literature and clinical practice, we saw a fantasy about a sadistic imaginary parent, which appears in response to painful experiences of the Self associated with gaps in meanings in a child that this parent imagines. The figure of the sadistic imaginary is a reflection of the reverse (dark) side of the split fantasy of the destructive imaginative parent and the repressed self of the child, which serves as a defense for the fantasy of the ideal parent and child. At the same time, the fantasy of the sadistic parent is itself a reflection of the child’s sense-breaking experience. The revenge fantasy includes a variant of the sadistic parent fantasy in which the wounded self identifies with the sadistic parent figure and tries to convey to him its pain of trauma and hatred for being betrayed by the imaginary parent.

Giving up the desire for revenge requires the avenger to acknowledge his anger and helplessness, which he negates by identifying with the sadistic parent. He must also integrate the feeling of his torn self, which triggers the desire for revenge. This integration requires the avenger to combine his habitual (everyday self) and the representation of the imaginary parent. The process of integration is quite complex and depends on the strength of the desire for revenge, which in fact can be chronic.

Most often, the ordinary desire for revenge is built around an unconscious fantasy from the great I, which the parent fantasizes about the child sees. Traumatic experiences that do not fit into such a grandiose self-experience rupture this fantasy of imaginary and imaginary and lead to the revival of the original split fantasy. Letting go of the desire for revenge includes acknowledging the intermittent sense of self, anger and helplessness. The usual avenger moves from the thought “this cannot happen in the sleepy” to “this could happen in the sleepy”, thereby expanding his experiences and admitting that sometimes he may not be heard, not recognized, not appreciated.

Such a change in self-perception leads to a change in the image of the imaginary parent, as if mourning the protective qualities of identifying with the image of the imaginary and his cruelty to the child are combined, which leads to a change in the qualities of the once inflicted trauma.

The chronic avenger builds his habitual self around a split fantasy imaginary and imaginary, which is the basis for many internal processes, especially in the area of controlling his aggression. This fantasy is very complex and carefully designed, the split is not between an ideal and a very bad version, but between two more or less unsatisfactory versions. Each side of the split fantasy contains aspects of the imaginary that were essential to the survival of the child’s self. A nicer, smarter figure (of a higher level) feels like a skillful storyteller who becomes third in these relationships and allows you to reflect on the experience of your Self. In addition, the fantasy of an imagining other, existing separately from the Self, serves as a reliable barrier against the awareness and assumption of primitive aggression. The figure of a lower level is experienced as bad and charged aggression, but no less containing the possibility of creating an affective connection. 3[3] The combination of both split fantasies becomes a threat to the existence of its components, especially the fantasies of a smarter parent (high level). The fantasy of encapsulation and the sense of wholeness and isolation that accompanies it reinforces the sense of a deep, inevitable split. The trauma that triggers the desire for vengeance tends to exacerbate the protective split that was originally present, making the process of integration more difficult.

The trauma of the chronic avenger is a reflection of a tremendous amount of wickedness, that very primitive layer that is removed from the higher-level fantasy and Self. For this reason, recognizing the existence of trauma, or even the offender who caused revenge, is less effective in the case of chronic avenger therapy. The solution to this problem requires not only the recognition of previously unknown and painful experiences of the Self, but also work with organizing fantasy, which tells why the parts of the child and parent that are not recognized by the imaginary parent should remain unrecognized and unrecognized.

In life-like analysis, vindictiveness does not pass easily. Steiner (1996) noted that he could not find clinical material that would accurately illustrate the release of revenge through interpretation, as this happens in the office, but it is very difficult to describe the process. Although vengeance appears and is experienced in bright and intense flashes, the complex structure of the underlying fantasy appears and is disassembled very, very slowly. Revenge analysis involves interpreting the destructive part of the fantasy system (which is very visible), however, most of the work should be built around the analysis of the split-off fantasy of a more intelligent imaginary parent (high level). This process of analyzing the good imaginary parent and the associated imaginary child is the process that Lansky (2001) describes when he talks about the reworking of the self-ideal that is required to stop the process of seeking revenge.

Vanalizeg-zhiA. the qualities of the more positive side of the split-off fantasy became available at a late stage in therapy, when we came to the end of our work together (fantasy). It was only then that she spoke of the desire to live (be imprisoned) in my head and the body began to ask how she got to the ward and how did you get out of there. I connected her fantasy with the sensation of mindful, uninterrupted listening that I provided to her in every meeting. In addition, I remembered that story, when, years ago, Ms. Practically controlled my thoughts, but only now combined that experience with this fantasy.

Analytical work allowed the same A. end therapy with the feeling that she now knows herself, and I know and understand her, even if our relationship is over. However, the revenge fantasy kicked in every time she was too upset or offended by someone. At that point, she asked to return to therapy for a while, although the analysis was completed.

Perhaps a higher-level split-off fantasy could be realized by zhoyA. only at the end of therapy. After many years, it still seems to me that I could have recognized it much earlier if I had paid attention to the feeling of confusion that sometimes appeared during my work with Mrs. A. I was able to put these moments together only after revenge on her part. When I began to reflect on what had happened, I connected this confusion with the perception of Ms. A. as an unfamiliar person, after which I remembered my countertransference feelings of myself as someone unfamiliar, incapable of understanding others.

Now it does not seem to me that my experiences reflected the less toxic and deeper split-off fantasy of the osadistic imaginary parent that came out so vividly in Ms. A’s retaliation act. If I had paid attention to this, I could have talked to her earlier about feeling unheard, unrecognized, and looked at the role of these experiences in defending the experience of the incoherence of meaning.

If the desire for revenge passes without a trace, then this happens gradually. Ikakot noted Lansky (2001) revenge does not necessarily imply and is achieved through forgiveness. The avenger no longer feels the burden of his desire and the pain of the injury, which allows him to part with the need to get even. One patient described the process as going from anger to anger. Anger made her feel that her whole life was at stake, and revenge became the raison d’être. The anger was less powerful, her life did not revolve around her and allowed her to look at what was happening more carefully and either change the situation, or accept her grief and disappointment, say goodbye to her anger and move on.


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[1] Grotshtein (2004) describes this figure as a containing parent, turned to reality and not seeing the truth.

[2] Gottlieb (2004) described this kind of chronic countertransference as a hindrance to the work of an analyst with a vindictive patient and the need to switch between these states for successful analysis.

[3] I have described the corresponding splitting of the psychopath’s object world, in which each part of the bad object contains important aspects of self and object (LaFarge 1995)

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