All of my life I could not help myself, but be true to myself. Staying true to ourselves even at the risk of losing the people we love. The pain is deep but we must stay true to ourselves.
“Once feelings have been eliminated, the submissive person functions perfectly and reliably even if he knows no one is going to check up on him: …This perfect adaptation to society’s norms—in other words, to what is called “healthy normality”—carries with it the danger that such a person can be used for practically any purpose. It is not a loss of autonomy that occurs here, because this autonomy never existed, but a switching of values, which in themselves are of no importance anyway for the person in question as long as his whole value system is dominated by the principle of obedience. He never gone beyond the stage of idealizing his parents with their demands for unquestioning obedience; this idealization can easily be transferred to a Fuhrer or an ideology. Since authoritarian parents are always right, there is no need for their children to rack their brains in each case to determine whether what is demanded of them is right or wrong. And how is this to be judged? Where are the standards supposed to come from if someone has always been told what was right and what was wrong and if he never had an opportunity to become familiar with his own feelings and if, beyond that, attempts at criticism were unacceptable to the parents and thus were too threatening for the child? If an adult has not developed a mind of his own, then he will find himself at the mercy of authorities for better or worse, just as an infant finds itself at the mercy of its parents. Saying no to those more powerful will always seem too threatening to him.
Witness of sudden political upheavals report again and again with what astonishing facility many people are able to adapt to a new situation. Overnight they can advocate views totally different from those they held the day before—without noticing the contradiction. With the change in power structure, yesterday has completely disappeared for them.
And yet, even if this observation should apply to many—perhaps even the most—people, it is not true for everyone. There have always been individuals who refused to be reprogrammed quickly, if ever. We could use our psychoanalytic knowledge to address the question of what causes this important, even crucial, difference; with its aid, we could attempt to discover why some people are so extraordinarily susceptible to the dictates of leaders and groups and why others remain immune to these influences.
We admire people who oppose the regime in a totalitarian country and think they have courage or a “strong moral sense” or have remained “true to their principles” or the like. We may also smile at their naiveté, thinking, “Don’t they realize that their words are of no use at all against this oppressive power? That they will have to pay dearly for their protest?”
Yet it is possible that both those who admire and those who scorn these protesters are missing the real point: individuals who refuse to adapt to a totalitarian regime are not doing so out a sense of duty or because of naiveté but because they cannot help but be true to themselves. The longer I wrestle with these questions, the more I am inclined to see courage, integrity, and a capacity for love not as “virtues,” not as moral categories, but as the consequences of a benign fate.
Morality and performance of duty are artificial measures that become necessary when something essential is lacking. The more successfully a person was denied access to his or her feelings in childhood, the larger the arsenal of intellectual weapons and the supply of moral prostheses has to be, because morality and a sense of duty are not sources of strength or fruitful soil for genuine affection. Blood does not flow in artificial limbs; they are for sale and can serve many masters. What was considered good yesterday can—depending on the decree of government or party—be considered evil and corrupt today, and vice versa. But those who have spontaneous feelings can only be themselves. They have no other choice if they want to remain true to themselves. Rejection, ostracism, loss of love, and name calling will not fail to affect them; they will suffer as a result and will dread them, but once they have found their authentic self they will not want to lose it. And when they sense that something is being demanded of them to which their whole being says no, they cannot do it. They simply cannot.
This is the case with people who had the good fortune of being sure of their parent’s love even if they had to disappoint certain parental expectations. Or with people who, although they did not have this good fortune to begin with, learned later—for example, in analysis—to risk the loss of love in order to regain their lost self. They will not be willing to relinquish it again for any price in the world.
The artificial nature of moral laws and rules of behavior is most clearly discernible in a situation in which lies and deception are powerless, i,e., in the mother-child relationship. A sense of duty may not be fruitful soil for love but it undoubtedly is for mutual guilt feelings, and the child will forever be bound to the mother by crippling feelings of guilt and gratitude. The Swiss author Robert Walser once said: “There are mothers who choose a favorite from among their children, and it may be that they will stone this child with their kisses and threaten… its very existence.” If he had known, had known on an emotional level, that he was describing his own fate, his life might not have ended in a mental institution.
It is unlikely that strictly intellectual attempts to seek explanations and gain understanding during adulthood can be sufficient to undo early childhood conditioning. Someone who has learned at his or her peril to obey unwritten laws and renounce feelings at a tender age will obey the written laws all the more readily, lacking any inner resistance. But since no one can live entirely without feelings, such a person will join groups that sanction or even encourage the forbidden feelings, which he or she will finally be allowed to live out within a collective framework.
Every ideology offers its adherents the opportunity to discharge their pent-up affect collectively while retaining the idealized primary object, which is transferred to new leader figures or to the group in order to make up for the lack of a satisfying symbiosis with the mother. Idealization of a narcissistically cathected group guarantees collective grandiosity. Since every ideology provides a scapegoat outside the confines of its own splendid group, the weak and scorned child who is part of the total self but has been split off and never acknowledge can now be openly scorned and assailed in this scapegoat. The reference in Himmler’s speech to the “bacillus” of weakness which is to be exterminated and cauterized demonstrates very clearly the role assigned to the Jews by someone suffering from grandiosity who attempts to split off the unwelcome elements of his own psyche.
In the same way that analytic familiarity with the mechanisms of splitting off and projection can help us to understand the phenomenon of the Holocaust, a knowledge of the history of the Third Reich helps us to see the consequences of “poisonous pedagogy” more clearly. Against the backdrop of the rejection of childishness instilled by our training, it becomes easier to understand why men and women had little difficulty leading a million children, whom they regarded as the bearers of the feared portions of their own psyche, into the gas chambers. One can even imagine that by shouting at them, beating them, or photographing them, they were finally able to release the hatred going back to early childhood. From the start, it had been the aim of their upbringing to stifle childish, playful, and life-affirming side. The cruelty inflicted on them, the psychic murder of the child they once were, had to be passed on in the same way: each time they sent another Jewish child to the gas ovens, they were in essence murdering the child within themselves.”
From the book: “For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence” By Alice Miller page 83, 84, 85 and 86
This book is available for free at NoSpank