FOR YOUR OWN GOOD - Alice Miller
12 [Pages 120-141 in the print edition]

Once Christiane could have her fights with Klaus, her father seemed "like a different person." "He acted awfully nice. And he really was, too. He gave me another dog. A female." And somewhat later she writes:

My father was terrific. I could tell that he loved me, too, in his way. Now he treated me almost like a grown-up. I was even allowed to go out at night with him and his girl friend.

He had become really reasonable. Now he had friends his own age and he told them he'd been married before. I didn't have to call him Uncle Richard anymore. I was his daughter. And he seemed to be really proud of having me for a daughter. Of course, typical for him--he arranged his vacation to suit himself and his friends. At the tail end of my vacation. And I got back to my new school two weeks late. So I started skipping school from the beginning.

The resistance she never showed when her father beat her now emerges in the struggle with her teachers.

I felt I wasn't accepted in school. The rest of them had that two weeks' head start. In a new school, that makes a big difference. I tried my routine from elementary school here, too. I interrupted my teachers and contradicted them. Sometimes because I was right, and sometimes just for the hell of it. I was back in the fray. Against the teachers and against the school. I wanted to be accepted.

Later the struggle extends to the police as well. This way Christiane can forget her father's rage--to the extent that she even writes:

Building superintendents were really the only [!] authoritarian types I knew. You had to hate them because they were always bugging you when you were having fun. The police still represented an authority you didn't question, as far as I was concerned. Then I learned that the superintendents in Gropius City were really the same as cops. Only, the cops were much more dangerous. Whatever Piet and Kathi* said was the last word for me anyway.

* * Here, a boy's nickname.
The others offered her hashish, and she realized that she "couldn't say no."

Kathi began to fondle me. I didn't know what I ought to think of it.

A child conditioned to be well-behaved must not notice what she is feeling, but asks herself what she ought to feel.

I didn't resist. It was like I was paralyzed. I was scared as hell of something. At one point I wanted to split. Then I thought, "Christiane, this is the price you have to pay for being one of the crowd now." I just let it all happen and didn't say anything. Somehow I had terrific respect for this guy.

Christiane was forced to learn at an early age that love and acceptance can be bought only by denying one's own needs, impulses, and feelings (such as hate, disgust, and aversion)--at the high price of surrender of self. She now directs all her efforts toward attaining this loss of self, i.e., to being cool. That is why the word cool occurs on nearly every page of the book. In order to reach this state and be free of unwanted feelings, she starts using hashish.

The guys in our crowd weren't like the alchies, who were aggressive and tense even when they were at the club. Our guys could turn off completely. After work they changed into wild clothes, smoked dope, listened to cool music, and it was all perfectly peaceful. Then we forgot all the shit we had to put up with out there the rest of the day.

I still didn't feel quite like the others. For that, I thought, I was still too young. But the others were my models. I wanted to be--or to become--as much like them as possible. I wanted to learn from them because I thought they knew how to be cool and not let all the assholes and all the shit get to you.

I always had to find some way to get high. I was invariably totally spaced out. That's the way I wanted it, so I wouldn't have to face all the crap at school and at home.

I wanted to look mysterious. I didn't want anyone to see through me. No one was supposed to notice that I wasn't at all the cool chick I wanted to be.

Problems didn't exist when the group was together. We never talked about our problems. We never bothered anyone else with our shit at home or at work. When we were together, the lousy world of the others didn't exist for us at all.

With great effort, Christiane is consciously developing and perfecting her false self, as illustrated by these sentences:

I thought the guys [at the Disco] must be incredibly cool. . . . Somehow [Micha] was even cooler than the guys in our crowd.

There wasn't any contact at all among the people.

It was a really cool group.

I met a guy on the stairs... he was unbelievably relaxed....

Yet the ideal of being completely relaxed is least likely to be attained by someone in puberty. This is the very period when a person experiences feelings most intensely, and the use of a pill to aid the struggle against these feelings verges on psychic murder. In order to preserve something of her vitality and her capacity to feel, Christiane has to take another drug, not a tranquilizer this time, but just the opposite, one that arouses her, peps her up, and restores the feeling of being alive. The main thing, however, is that she can regulate, control, and manipulate everything herself. Just as her father previously succeeded in bringing the child's feelings under control, in keeping with his needs, by beating her, the thirteen-year-old girl now attempts to manipulate her mood by taking drugs:

At "The Sound" disco scene there was every kind of drug. I took everything except H[eroin]. Valium, Mandrax, Ephedrine, Cappis--that's Captagon--of course lots of shit and a trip at least twice a week. We took uppers and downers by the handful. The different pills tore your body apart, and that gave you a crazy feeling. You could give yourself whatever mood you felt like having. When I felt like dancing my head off at "The Sound," I swallowed more Cappis and Ephedrine; when I just wanted to sit quietly in a corner or in the Sound Cinema, I took a lot of Valium and Mandrax. Then I was happy again for a few weeks.

How does it continue?

In the days that followed, I tried to deaden any feeling I had for others. I didn't take any pills or do a single trip. I drank tea with hashish in it all day and rolled one joint after another. After a few days I went back to being real cool again. I had gotten to the point where, except for myself, I didn't love or like anyone or anything. I thought, Now I have my feelings under control.

I became very placid. That was because I was always taking downers, and uppers only once in a while. I wasn't wired anymore. I hardly ever went out on the dance floor anymore. I really only danced like crazy when I couldn't dig up any Valium.

At home, I must have been a pleasure to have around for my mother and her boyfriend. I didn't talk back and I didn't fight with them anymore. I didn't complain about anything anymore either because I had given up trying to change things at home. And I realized that this made the situation easier....

I kept taking more pills.

One Saturday when I had some money and the scene had all kinds of pills to offer, I OD'd. For some reason I was very low, so I washed down two Captagons, three Ephedrines and then a few caffies, that's caffeine pills, with a beer. Then, when I got totally high, I didn't like that either. So I took some Mandrab and a whole bunch of Valium.

Christiane goes to a David Bowie concert, but she doesn't allow herself to get excited about it, and before going she has to take a large amount of Valium, "not to turn on but to stay cool at the David Bowie concert."

When David Bowie began to sing, it was almost as fantastic as I had expected. It was terrific. But when he got to the song "It's Too Late," I came down with a thud. All of a sudden I was really out of it. Over the past few weeks, when I didn't know what life was all about anymore, "It's Too Late" had been getting to me. I thought the song described my situation exactly. Now "It's Too Late" really killed me. I sure could have used some Valium.

When the drugs Christiane has been using no longer give her the desired control over her emotions, she switches to heroin at the age of thirteen, and at first everything goes as she had hoped.

I was feeling too good to think about it. There aren't any withdrawal symptoms when you're just beginning. With me, the cool feeling lasted all week. Everything was going great. At home there were no more fights at all. I was completely relaxed about school, studied sometimes, and got good grades. In the weeks that followed, I raised my grades in a lot of subjects from D to B. I suddenly had the feeling that I could handle everybody and everything. I was floating through life in a really cool way.

Children who were unable to learn to recognize their authentic feelings and to be comfortable with them will have a particularly difficult time in puberty.

I was always carrying my problems around with me but didn't really know what problems they were. I snorted H and the problems were gone. But it had been a long time since one snort lasted for a whole week.

I didn't have any connection with reality anymore. Reality was unreal for me. I didn't care about yesterday or tomorrow. I had no plans, all I had were dreams. What I liked best was to talk with Detlef about how it would be if we had a lot of money. We would buy a big house and a big car and some really cool furniture. The one thing that never appeared in these pipe dreams was heroin.

The first time she goes cold turkey, that ability she had coveted to manipulate her feelings and be free of them collapses. We witness complete regression to the infantile stage:

Now I was dependent on H and on Detlef. It upset me more to be dependent on Detlef. What kind of love is that if you are totally dependent? What if Detlef made me ask and beg for dope? I knew how junkies begged when they went cold turkey. How they demeaned themselves and allowed themselves to be humiliated. How they went to pieces. I didn't want to have to ask for it. Especially not Detlef. If he was going to make me beg, then it was all over between us. I had never been able to ask anyone for anything.

I remembered the way I had demolished junkies when they went cold turkey. I had never really figured out what was the matter with them. I only noticed that they were terribly sensitive, easily hurt, and completely powerless. A junkie gone cold turkey hardly dares to talk back, he's such a nothing. Sometimes I had made them the brunt of my power trips. If you really went about it the right way, you could tear them to pieces, scare the hell out of them. You just had to keep hammering away at their weakness, keep rubbing salt into their wounds, and they fell apart. When they were cold turkey, they were able to see what miserable meatheads they were. Then their whole cool junkie act was all over; then they didn't feel superior to everything and everyone anymore.

I said to myself, Now they'll demolish you when you go cold turkey. They'll find out how lousy you really are.

There is no one Christiane can talk to about her panic at the thought of going cold turkey. Her mother "would simply flip out if you tell her that." "I couldn't do that to her," Christiane says, and she perpetuates the tragic loneliness of her childhood in order to spare the adult, in this case her mother.

She doesn't think of her father again until the first time she goes out to "hustle" and tries to keep this a secret.

Me hustle? Before I do anything like that I'd stop shooting up. Honestly. No, my father finally remembered he has a daughter and gave me some pocket money.

Whereas hashish had still offered her hope of being free and "coolly" independent, it soon becomes clear that in the case of heroin she has to contend with total dependence. The "stuff," the hard drug, eventually takes over the function of the unpredictable, hot-tempered father of her childhood, who had her completely at his mercy just the way heroin does now. And just as her true self had to remain hidden from her parents in those days, now too her real life is lived secretly, underground, kept secret from her school and from her mother.

From week to week we all got more aggressive. The dope and all the excitement, the daily struggle for money and H, the eternal hassle at home, the concealment, and the lies we told to deceive our parents all wore us to a frazzle. We couldn't keep the aggressiveness that was building up under control anymore, not even among ourselves.

When Christiane describes her first meeting with Max the Stutterer, the return of the father in the psychological dynamics of the situation may not be obvious to Christiane, but it is to the outsider. Her simple and forthright report gives the reader a better understanding of the tragic nature of a perversion than do many theoretical psychoanalytical treatises.

I had heard the sad story of Max the Stutterer from Detlef. Max was an unskilled laborer in his late thirties and came from Hamburg. His mother was a prostitute. He had been beaten terribly as a child. By his mother and her pimps and in the homes where he had been put. They beat him to such a pulp that he was so scared he never learned to talk right, and he had to be beaten even now to get off sexually.

The first time I went to his place I asked for the money in advance, although he was a regular customer and you didn't need to be careful with him. He actually gave me 150 marks, and I was kind of proud that I was cool enough to take so much money from him.

I took off my T-shirt, and he handed me a whip. It was just like in the movies. It wasn't really me. At first I didn't hit him hard. But he whimpered that he wanted me to hurt him. Then at some point I really let him have it. He cried out, "Mommy," and I don't know what-all. I didn't listen, and I tried not to look. But then I saw how the welts on his body kept swelling, and then the skin actually burst in some places. It was simply disgusting, and it lasted nearly an hour.

When he was finally finished, I put my T-shirt back on and ran. I ran out the door, down the stairs, and barely made it. In front of the building I lost control of my goddamn stomach and had to throw up. After I vomited, that was it. I didn't cry, and I didn't feel the least bit sorry for myself either. Somehow I realized that I had brought this situation on myself, that I sure had screwed up. I went to the station. Detlef was there. I didn't tell him much. Just that I had done the job with Max alone.

Max the Stutterer was now a regular customer for both Detlef and me. Sometimes we both went to his place, sometimes just one of us. Max was really O.K.. And he loved us both. Of course, with what he earned as a laborer he couldn't keep on paying 150 marks. But he always managed somehow to scrape together 40 marks, the cost of a fix. Once he even broke open his piggy bank and took some change from a bowl, then counted out exactly 40 marks. When I needed money in a hurry, I could always stop by his place and collect 20 marks. I'd tell him I would be back the next day at such and such a time and do it for him then for a twenty. If he still had twenty, he'd agree to it.

Max was always waiting for us. He always had peach juice, my favorite drink, for me. Detlef's favorite pudding was always in the refrigerator for him. Max made the pudding himself. In addition, he always offered me a choice of yogurt flavors and chocolate because he knew I liked to eat after the job. The whippings I gave him had become strictly routine for me, and afterwards I ate and drank and rapped with Max for a while.

He kept getting thinner. He was really spending his last cent on us and didn't have enough to buy food for himself. He had gotten so used to us and was so happy that he hardly stuttered anymore when he was with us.

Soon after that, he lost his job. He was completely down and out, even without ever having been on dope. Junkies had demolished him. Meaning us. He begged us to at least stop by once in a while. But friendly visits aren't part of the deal where junkies are concerned. Partly because they are incapable of that much feeling for someone else. But then mainly because they are on the go all day to hustle money for dope and honestly don't have time for anything like that. Detlef explained this to Max when Max promised to give us a lot of money as soon as he got some. "A junkie is like a businessman. Every day you have to see to it that you make ends meet. You just can't give credit out of friendship or sympathy."

Christiane and her boyfriend Detlef are behaving here like working parents who profit from their child's (in this case, their customer's) love and dependence and ultimately destroy him. Max the Stutterer's touching selection of yogurt flavors for Christiane, on the other hand, was probably a reenactment of his "happy childhood." It is easy to imagine that his mother was still concerned about what he ate even after she had given him a beating. As for Christiane, without her previous history with her father she might never have been able to "cope" with her first encounter with Max as well as she did. Now she had her father in her, and she whipped her customer not only because he told her to but also as an expression of all the pent-up misery of a battered child. In addition, this identification with the aggressor helps her to split off her weakness, to feel strong at someone else's expense, and to survive, whereas Christiane the human being, the alert, sensitive, intelligent, vital, but still dependent child, is being increasingly suffocated.

When [Detlef or I] went cold turkey, then one of us could demolish the other to the point of not being able to go on anymore. It didn't really make things any better to know that at some point we would be lying in each other's arms again like two children. Not only for us girls but also for Detlef and me, it had gotten so you saw in the other person what a shit you were yourself. You hated your own rottenness and attacked this rottenness in the other person and tried to convince yourself that you weren't quite as rotten.

This aggressiveness naturally took itself out on strangers too.

Before I was on H, I used to be afraid of everything. Of my father, later of my mother's boyfriend, of the fucking school and my teachers, of building superintendents, traffic cops, and subway conductors. Now I felt as though nothing could touch me. I wasn't even scared of the plainclothes cops who sometimes were hanging around the station. So far, I had gotten away, cool as a cucumber, from every bust.

Her inner emptiness and numbed feelings eventually make life meaningless for her and awaken thoughts of death.

Junkies die all alone. Usually in a stinking john. And I honestly wanted to die. That's really all I was waiting for. I didn't know why I was alive. I never quite knew that before either. But what the hell does a junkie have to live for? Just to ruin others after ruining yourself? That particular afternoon I thought I ought to die if only for my mother's sake. I didn't know anymore anyway whether I was alive or not.

But the silly fear of dying was getting me down. I wanted to die, but before every fix I had this silly fear of dying. Maybe my cat [who was deathly ill] made me realize what a lousy thing dying really is if you haven't even had any kind of a life yet.

It was a great stroke of luck for Christiane that two journalists from Der Stern, Kai Hermann and Horst Rieck, got her to talk to them over an extended period of two months. It may be of great significance for her future that in the crucial stage of puberty this girl, after her horrifying experiences, had the good fortune to emerge from her boundless psychological isolation and find sympathetic, understanding, concerned people who listened to her and gave her the opportunity to express herself and tell her story.

The Hidden Logic of Absurd Behavior

CHRISTIANE'S story awakens such feelings of despair and helplessness in sympathetic readers that they probably would like most of all to forget about it as quickly as possible by passing it all off as a fabrication. But they are unable to, because they sense that she has told the unvarnished truth. If they go beyond the outer trappings of the story and permit themselves, as they read, to consider why it happened, they will find an accurate description of the nature not only of addiction but of other forms of human behavior as well that are conspicuous at times for their absurdity and that our logic is unable to explain. When we are confronted with adolescent heroin addicts who are ruining their lives, we are all too readily inclined to try to reach them with rational arguments or, still worse, with efforts to "educate" them. In fact, many therapeutic groups work in this direction. They substitute one evil for another instead of trying to help these young people see what function addiction actually has in their lives and how they are unconsciously using it to communicate something to the outside world. The following example illustrates this.

On a German television program shown on March 23, 1980, a former heroin addict, who has been off the drug for five years, talks about his present life. His depressive, almost suicidal frame of mind is apparent. He is around twenty-four, has a girl friend, and says that he is going to turn the attic of his parents' house into a private apartment for himself, which he wants to do over with all kinds of bourgeois fixings. His parents, who never understood him and who regarded his addiction as a kind of physical and fatal disease, are ailing now, and it is at their insistence that he is going to live in their house. This man is intensely preoccupied with the value of all sorts of little objects that he is now able to own and for which he must sacrifice his autonomy. From now on, he will live in a gilded cage, and it is very understandable that he keeps talking about the danger of returning to his heroin addiction. If this man had had therapy that enabled him to experience his bottled-up infantile rage at his restrictive, cold-hearted, and authoritarian parents, he would have sensed what his actual needs were, would not have let himself be confined in a cage, and would probably have become a more genuine and sincere source of help to his parents. A person can offer this help freely to his parents if he does not make himself dependent on them like a child. But if he does, he is likely to punish them with his addiction or by committing suicide. Either of these enactments will tell the true story of his childhood, which he has had to keep to himself (and from himself) all his life.

In spite of its enormous resources, classical psychiatry is essentially powerless to help as long as it attempts to replace the harmful effects of early childhood training with new kinds of training. The whole penal setup in psychiatric wards, the ingenious methods of humiliating patients, have the ultimate goal--as does the disciplining of children--of silencing the patient's coded language. This is made very clear in the case of anorexia. What is someone with anorexia, who comes from an affluent family and has been spoiled with an abundance of material possessions and intellectual opportunities and who is now proud that her weight does not exceed sixty-five pounds, actually saying about herself? Her parents insist that they have a harmonious marriage, and they are horrified at their daughter's conscious and exaggerated efforts to go without food, especially since they have never had any trouble with this child, who always met their expectations. I would say that this young girl, under the onslaught of the feelings of puberty, is no longer able to function like an automaton, but in view of her background, she has no chance to express the feelings that are now erupting in her. By the manner in which she is enslaving herself, disciplining and restricting herself, even destroying herself, she is telling us what happened to her in early childhood. This is not to say that her parents were bad people; they only wanted to raise their child to be what she did indeed become: a well-functioning, high-achieving, widely admired girl. Often it wasn't even the parents themselves but governesses who were responsible for raising her. In any case, anorexia nervosa exhibits all the components of a strict upbringing: the ruthless, dictatorial methods, the excessive supervision and control, the lack of understanding and empathy for the child's true needs. To this is added overwhelming affection alternating with rejection and abandonment (orgies of gluttony followed by vomiting). The first law of this police system is: any method is good if it makes you the way we want and need you to be, and only if you are this way can we love you. This is later reflected in anorexia's reign of terror. Weight is monitored to the ounce, and the sinner is immediately punished if the boundary is overstepped.

Even the best of psychotherapists have to try to convince these patients, whose lives are in danger, to gain weight; otherwise, a dialogue cannot take place. But it makes a difference whether the therapist explains to the patient that she must gain weight, at the same time making it the aim of her therapy to reach an understanding of her self, or whether weight gain is regarded as the sole therapeutic goal. In the latter case the doctor merely assumes the methods of compulsion used in the patient's early training and will have to be prepared for a reversal or a new set of symptoms. If neither of these eventualities should occur, this simply means that the second training period has been a success, and once puberty is over, a permanent lack of vital energy is assumed.

All absurd behavior has its roots in early childhood, but the cause will not be detected as long as the adult's manipulation of the child's psychic and physical needs is interpreted as an essential technique of child-rearing instead of as the cruelty it really is. Since most professionals themselves are not yet free from this mistaken belief, sometimes what is called therapy is only a continuation of early, unintended cruelty. It is not unheard of for a mother to give her year-old baby Valium so he will sleep soundly if she wants to go out in the evening. This may be necessary on occasion. But if Valium becomes the means of insuring the child's sleep, a natural balance will be disturbed, and the autonomous nervous system will be undermined at a very early age. We can imagine that when the parents return home late at night they may want to play with the baby a while and may awaken it, since they no longer need to worry about him waking up alone. The Valium not only undermines the child's natural ability to fall asleep but also interferes with the development of his perceptive faculties. At this early age the child is not supposed to know that he has been left alone, is not supposed to be afraid, and perhaps later the adult will be unable to perceive inner danger signals as a result.

To prevent absurd, self-destructive behavior from developing in adulthood, parents do not need extensive psychological training. They need only refrain from manipulating their child for their own needs, from abusing him by undermining his vegetative balance, and then the child will find the best defense against inappropriate demands in his own body. He will be familiar from the beginning with the language of his body and with his body signals. If parents are also able to give their child the same respect and tolerance they had for their own parents, they will surely be providing him with the best possible foundation for his entire later life. His self-esteem as well as the freedom to develop his innate abilities depend on this respect. As I have said, we do not need books about psychology in order to learn to respect our children; what we need is a revision of the theories of child-rearing.

The way we were treated as small children is the way we treat ourselves the rest of our life. And we often impose our most agonizing suffering upon ourselves. We can never escape the tormentor within ourselves, who is often disguised as a pedagogue, someone who takes full control in illness; for example, in anorexia. Cruel enslavement of the body and exploitation of the will are the result. Drug addiction begins with an attempt to escape parental control and to refuse to perform, but the repetition compulsion ultimately leads the addict to a constant concern with having to come up with large sums of money to provide the necessary "stuff"; in other words, to a quite "bourgeois" form of enslavement.

When I read about Christiane's problems with the police and with drug dealers, I suddenly saw before me the Berlin of 1945: the many illegal ways of coming by food, fear of the occupation forces, the black market--the "dealers" of that day. Whether this is a strictly private association for me, I do not know. For many parents of today's junkies, this was the only world that existed for them as children. It is not inconceivable, seen against the background of the inner emptiness resulting from the repression of feelings, that the drug scene in Germany also has something to do with the black market of the forties. This idea, unlike much of the material in this book, is not based on verifiable scientific evidence but on intuition, on a subjective association that I have not pursued further. I mention it, however, because many psychological studies are being conducted that show the long-term effects of the war and the Nazi regime as they relate to the second generation. Time after time, the amazing fact is uncovered that sons and daughters are unconsciously reenacting their parents' fate--all the more intensely the less precise their knowledge of it. From the few bits and pieces they have picked up from their parents about early traumatization caused by the war, they come up with fantasies based on their own reality, which they then often act out in groups during puberty. For example, Judith Kestenberg tells about adolescents in the sixties who rejected their peacetime affluence and disappeared into the woods. It was later revealed in therapy that their parents had survived the war as partisans in Eastern Europe but had never spoken openly about it with their children. (Cf. Psyche 28, pp. 249-65, and Helen Epstein, Children of the Holocaust [New York, 1979].)

I was once consulted by a seventeen-year-old anorexic patient who was very proud of the fact that she now weighed the same as her mother had thirty years before when she was rescued from Auschwitz. During our conversation, she revealed that this detail, her mother's exact weight, was the only thing she knew about that period of her mother's past, for the mother refused to talk about it and asked her family not to question her. Children are made anxious by secretiveness, by their parents hushing things up, by whatever touches upon their parents' feelings of shame, guilt, or fear. An important way of dealing with these threats is by fantasizing and playing games. Using the parents' props gives the adolescent a feeling of being able to participate in their past.

Could it be that the ruined lives described by Christiane go back to the ruins of 1945? If the answer is yes, how did this repetition come about? We can assume that its roots lie in the psychic reality of parents who grew up during a period of extreme material deprivation and who therefore made it their first priority to have enough to live comfortably. By continually adding to their material well-being, they warded off their fear of ever again having to sit among the ruins like hungry, helpless children. But no amount of affluence can banish this fear; as long as it remains unconscious, it leads an existence of its own. And now their children leave their affluent homes where they do not feel understood, because feelings and fears are supposed to have no place there; they enter the drug scene and either become active as dealers, like their fathers in the larger economic world, or sit apathetically on the sidelines. By so doing, they then resemble their parents, who once actually were helpless, vulnerable little children sitting among the ruins but who were later not permitted to talk about their experiences. These children of the ruins had been banished forever from the parents' luxurious homes, and now they reappear like specters in their unkempt sons and daughters with their shabby clothes, their apathetic faces, their hopelessness and alienation, their hatred for all the luxury accumulated around them.

It is not hard to understand that parents are impatient with these adolescents, for people would rather submit to the strictest laws, go to all kinds of trouble, achieve spectacular feats, and choose the most demanding careers than be expected to bring love and understanding to the helpless unhappy child they once were, whom they have subsequently banished forever. When this child suddenly reappears on the lovely parquet floor of their lavish living room in the guise of their own son or daughter, it is not surprising that the child cannot count on finding understanding. What he or she will find is resentment, indignation, warnings or prohibitions, perhaps even hatred--above all, a whole arsenal of child-rearing weapons with which the parents try to ward off every unhappy childhood memory from the war years that tries to come to the surface.

There are also instances in which our children can cause us to confront our unmastered past, with beneficial results for the entire family.

Brigitte, born in 1936, highly sensitive, married, and the mother of two children, went into analysis for the second time because of her depressions. Her fears of impending catastrophe were clearly connected with the air raids she lived through in her childhood. In spite of the analyst's efforts, her fears were not dispelled until the patient, with her child's help, was led to acknowledge an open wound, which had not been able to heal in all this time because it had not been noticed until now and therefore had never been treated.

When her son reached the age of ten, the same age the patient was when her father returned from the Eastern Front, he and some of his friends at school started drawing swastikas and playing games inspired by the Hitler period. It was clear from the way these activities were kept secret on the one hand and invited discovery on the other that the child, whose distress was apparent, was calling for help. Nevertheless, his mother found it difficult to respond to his distress and try to understand it by having a heart-to-heart talk with the boy. She regarded these games as sinister and didn't want to have to deal with the subject; as a former member of an anti-Fascist student group, she felt hurt by her son's behavior and reacted, against her will, in an authoritarian and hostile way. The conscious, ideological reasons for her attitude were not sufficient to explain the intense feelings of rejection she felt toward her son. Deep inside, something was coming to the fore that until now--even in her first analysis--had been completely inaccessible. As a result of the ability to feel that had emerged in her second analysis, she was able to approach her earlier experiences on an emotional level.

In her present situation, the more intolerant and horrified she became and the more pains she took to "put a stop to" her son's games, the more frequently and intensely he played them. The boy gradually lost trust in his parents and became more attached to his group of friends, which led to despairing outbursts on the mother's part. Finally, with the help of transference, the roots of her rage were uncovered, and the whole family situation then changed for the better. It began with the patient suddenly falling prey to tormenting questions she felt impelled to address to her analyst about himself and his past. She desperately tried to keep herself from asking these questions out of a feeling of panic that she would lose him if she uttered them. Or perhaps she feared being given answers that would make her despise him.

The analyst patiently allowed her to formulate her questions, whose significance he respected, but he did not answer them; since he sensed that they were not actually directed at him, he did not have to ward them off with hasty interpretations. And then the ten-year-old girl--who had not been allowed to ask any questions of her father, just back from the war--clearly emerged. The patient said she had not given this any thought at the time. And yet, it would be only natural for a ten-year-old who had waited for years for her father's return to ask: "Where were you? What did you do? What did you see? Tell me a story! A true one." Nothing of the sort happened, Brigitte said; it was taboo in the family to speak of "these things" with the children, and they realized that they were not supposed to know anything about that portion of their father's past. Brigitte's curiosity, which was consciously suppressed at the time but which had already been stifled at an earlier stage, thanks to her so-called good upbringing, now entered into her relationship with her analyst in all its vitality and urgency. It had been frozen over, to be sure, but not frozen solid. And now that it was allowed to come fully to life, her depressions disappeared. For the first time in thirty years, she could talk to her father about his war experiences, which was a great relief for him, too. For now the situation was different: she was strong enough to hear what he had to say without having to lose her autonomy in the process; she was no longer the dependent little child. When she was a girl, these conversations would not have been possible. Brigitte understood that her childhood fear of losing her father by asking questions had not been unfounded, for at that time her father could not have brought himself to talk about his experiences in the East. He had constantly tried to rid himself of every memory of that time. His daughter adapted herself completely to his need to forget and managed to keep herself very poorly informed about the history of the Third Reich; the little she did know was of a purely intellectual nature. It was her view that one must judge that period "unemotionally" and objectively, like a computer that counts the dead on both sides without evoking any images or feelings of horror.

Brigitte was definitely not a computer but a very sensitive person with an intelligent mind. And because she tried to suppress her thoughts and feelings she suffered from depressions, feelings of inner emptiness (she often felt as though she were "in front of a black wall"), insomnia, and dependence on medication meant to inhibit her natural vitality. The intelligent young girl's curiosity and need to know, which had been diverted to strictly intellectual problems, first became visible almost literally in the form of "the devil on her son's doorstep," whom she tried to chase away from him as well--and only because in her repetition compulsion she wanted to spare her introjected, emotionally insecure father. Every child's ideas of what is evil are formed according to the parents' defense mechanisms: "evil" can be anything that makes the parents more insecure. This situation can give rise to guilt feelings that will resist all later attempts to dispel them unless their history has been experienced on a conscious level. Brigitte was fortunate in that this "devil" in her, i.e., the vital, alert, interested, and critical child, was stronger than her effort to adapt, and she was able to integrate this quintessential part of her personality.

During this period, swastikas lost their fascination for her son, and it became clear that they had served more than one function. On the one hand, they had been an "acting out" of Brigitte's repressed desire to know, and on the other hand they had caused her disappointment with her father to be redirected to her child. Once she had the possibility of experiencing all these feelings with her therapist, she no longer needed the child for this purpose.

Brigitte told me her story after hearing a talk I gave. At my request, she gladly gave permission for it to be included here, because she has the need, as she put it, to communicate her experiences to others "and not to remain silent any longer."

We were both convinced that her predicament reflected the situation of an entire generation that had been raised to keep silent and that consciously or (more frequently) unconsciously suffered from this. Psychoanalysts in Germany devoted little attention to this problem prior to the Conference of German-Speaking Psychoanalytic Societies in Bamberg (1980). As a result, until now only a few people here and there have had the good fortune to liberate themselves emotionally as well as intellectually from the taboo of silence. (Cf., for example, Männerphantasien [Male Fantasies] by Klaus Theweleit.) This same second generation reacted strongly to the television film Holocaust when it was aired in Germany. It was like breaking out of prison for them: the prison of silence, of not being able to ask questions, of not being able to feel, of the mad idea that such horror could be "dealt with unemotionally." Would it be desirable to raise our children to be people who could hear about the gassing of a million children without ever giving way to feelings of outrage and pain? Of what use are historians to us if they are able to write books about it in which their only concern is to be historically and objectively accurate? What good is this ability to be coldly objective in the face of horror? Wouldn't our children then be in danger of submitting to every new Fascist regime that came along? They would have nothing to lose except their inner emptiness. Indeed, such a regime would give them the opportunity to find a new outlet for their unlived feelings that are now split in scientific objectivity; as members of a grandiose group, they would finally be able to discharge these feelings that are of an unbridled, archaic nature as a result of having been locked up.

The collective form of absurd behavior is no doubt the most dangerous because the absurdity is no longer apparent and because it is sanctioned as "normal." It was taken for granted by most postwar children in Germany that it was improper or at least uncalled for to ask their parents specific questions about the Third Reich; often it was even explicitly forbidden. Keeping silent about this period, which represented their parents' past, was just as much a part of the "good manners" expected of children as was the denial of sexuality around the turn of the century.

Even though it would not be difficult to demonstrate the impact of this new taboo on the development of current forms of neurosis, traditional theories are reluctant to acknowledge the empirical evidence because not only patients but analysts, too, are victims of the same taboo. It is easier for analysts to pursue with their patients the sexual compulsions and prohibitions uncovered by Freud long ago that are often no longer ours than to uncover the regressions of our own time, which also means of their own childhood. But the history of the Third Reich teaches us, among other things, that what is monstrous is not infrequently contained in what is "normal," in what is felt by the great majority to be "quite normal and natural."

Germans who experienced the victories of the Third Reich as children or during puberty and then later in life became concerned with the issue of their integrity necessarily ran into difficulties in this regard. As adults they learned the terrible truth about National Socialism and integrated this knowledge intellectually. And yet there still live on in these people--often untouched by all their later knowledge--the voices connected with the songs, the speeches, and the jubilant mass rallies that were heard at a very early age and were accompanied by the intense feelings of childhood. In most cases pride, enthusiasm, and joyful hope are linked in their minds with these impressions.

How is a person to bring these two worlds--the emotional experience of childhood and the later knowledge that contradicted it--into harmony without denying an important part of the self? To numb one's feelings, as Brigitte attempted to do, and to deny one's roots, often seem to be the only ways to avoid this conflict and the tragic ambivalence inherent in it.

I know of no work of art that expresses the ambivalence of a major portion of this generation in Germany more clearly than Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's seven-hour film Hitler, a Film from Germany. It was Syberberg's intention to present his own subjective truth, and because he surrendered to his feelings, fantasies, and dreams, he created a contemporary portrayal in which many people will find themselves reflected, for it unites both perspectives, that of the person who sees and that of the one who is misguided.

The sensitive child's fascination with the Wagnerian music, with the pomp of the parades, with the Führer's emotionally charged, incomprehensible shouting on the radio; the idea of Hitler as a powerful and at the same time insignificant and harmless puppet--all this is in the film. But it takes its place alongside the horror and, above all, alongside a genuine adult pain that has been barely perceptible in previous films on this subject because such pain presupposes liberation from the constricting pedagogical pattern of blame and exoneration. In several scenes in the film this pain of Syberberg's is palpable: he realizes the tragedy of both the victims of the persecution and the victims of the seduction that he himself succumbed to as a child. Last but not least, his film, in my view, demonstrates the absurdity of all ideologies, those continuations of pedagogical principles applied in early childhood.

Only someone who has come to terms with having been led astray without denying it will be able to depict this with the intensity of grief that Syberberg does. The experience of grief is an essential part of the film and conveys more to the audience on an emotional level--at least in several powerful scenes--about the emptiness of National Socialist ideology than many well-documented, objective books on the topic have succeeded in doing. Syberberg's film represents one of the few attempts that have been made to live with an incomprehensible past instead of denying its reality.

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