Contemporary Family Therapy

, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 467–476 | Cite as

Murder in the family: An analysis of two Poe short stories

  • Gerald H. Zuk


“Learning to be possessed” has been described elsewhere by the writer as a form of pathogenic relating begun when children are taught by adults that they will receive a lesser penalty for misbehavior if they can show they were not responsible, such as if it were caused by an evil agent or the Devil. It was suggested that “learning to be possessed” can be an underlying cause of psychopathology, the delusion of persecution in particular. Two short stories by the distinguished American writer Edgar Allan Poe are examined to develop the formulation of “learning to be possessed”, especially when it has passed to a delusion of persecution. Two propositions are offered: (1) Where it appears that a family member is murdered by a delusional assailant by accident, it is not an accident; and (2) the delusion of persecution entails a memory loss so that the murderer not only can claim lack of personal responsibility for the act, but also spares himself the guilt of having broken a fundamental taboo. Further comparison is made between “learning to be possessed” as a cause of delusion, and the psychoanalytic theory in which the defense mechanism of projection is central. In the latter theory, interpretation of the delusion is critical; whereas in the former, interpretation is counterproductive because it merely reinforces the delusion.


Family Member Health Psychology Defense Mechanism Social Issue Personal Responsibility 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. American Psychiatric Association (1987).Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 3rd revised edition. Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  2. Zuk, G. H. (1989). Learning to be possessed as a form of pathogenic relating and a cause of certain delusions.Contemporary Family Therapy, 11, 89–100.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerald H. Zuk
    • 1
  1. 1.Canyon Country

Personalised recommendations