FOR YOUR OWN GOOD - Alice Miller
9 [Pages 47-74 in the print edition]

For this reason I would suggest that children be cleansed from head to foot every two to four weeks by an old, dirty, and ugly woman, without anyone else being present; still, parents or those in charge should make sure that even this old woman doesn't linger unnecessarily over any part of the body. This task should be depicted to the children as disgusting, and they should be told that the old woman must be paid to undertake a task that, although necessary for purposes of health and cleanliness, is yet so disgusting that no other person can bring himself to do it. This would serve to prevent a shock to their sense of modesty. [Oest, quoted in Rutschky]

Causing a child to feel shame can also be a stratagem in the struggle against willfulness:

As already outlined above, willfulness must be broken "at an early age by making the child feel the adult's unquestionable superiority." Later on, shaming the child has a more lasting effect, especially on vigorous natures, for whom willfulness is often allied with boldness and energy. Toward the end of his education, either a veiled or an open reference to the ugly and immoral character of this fault must succeed in enlisting the child's thoughts and all his willpower against the last vestiges of willfulness. It has been our experience that a private conversation proves efficacious in this last stage. In view of the prevalence of willfulness in children, it is very surprising that the appearance, nature, and cure of this antisocial psychic phenomenon has received so little attention and elucidation in child psychology and pathology. [Grünewald, Über den Kinderfehler des Eigensinns (On the Character Fault of Willfulness in Children) , quoted in Rutschky]

It is always important to employ all these methods as early as possible:

If we frequently do not achieve our purpose, even in this manner, let this be a reminder for wise parents to make their child docile, malleable, and obedient at a very early age and to accustom him to conquer his own will. This is a major aspect of moral education and to neglect it is the worst mistake we can make. The correct observance of this duty without jeopardizing the other duty that obligates us to see that the child is kept in a happy frame of mind is the most important skill required in early training. [Bock (1780), quoted in Rutschky]

In the three scenes that folow, we see vivid examples of how the principles described above can be put into practice. I quote these passages at such length inorder to give the reader an idea of the atmosphere these children (i.e., if not we ourselves, then at least our parents) breathed indaily. This material helps us to understand how neuroses develop. They are not caused by an external event but by repression of the innumerable psychological factors making up the child's daily lifethat the child is never capable of describing because he or she doesn't know that things can be any other way:

Until the time he was four, I taught little Konrad four essentials: to pay attention, to obey, to behave himself, and to be moderate in his desires.

The first I accomplished by continually showing him all kinds of animals, flowers, and other wonders of nature and by explaining pictures to him; the second by constantly making him, whenever he was in my presence, do things at my bidding; the third by inviting children to come play with him from time to time when I was present, and whenever a quarrel arose, I carefully determined who had started it and removed the culprit from the game for a time; the fourth I taught him by often denying him something he asked for with great agitation. Once, for example, I cut up a honeycomb and brought a large dishful into the room. "Honey! Honey!" he cried joyfully, "Father, give me some honey," pulled his chair to the table, sat down, and waited for me to spread a few rolls with honey for him. I didn't do it but set the honey before him and said: "I'm not going to give you any honey yet; first we will plant some peas in the garden; then, when that is done, we will enjoy a roll with honey together." He looked first at me, then at the honey, whereupon he went to the garden with me. Also, when serving food, I always arranged it so that he was the last one served. For example, my parents and little Christel were eating with us once, and we had rice pudding, which he especially liked. "Pudding!" he cried joyfully, embracing his mother. "Yes," I said, "it's rice pudding. Little Konrad shall have some, too. First the big people shall have some, and afterwards the little people. Here, Grandmother, is some pudding for you. Here, Grandfather, is some for you, too! Here, Mother, is some for you. This is for Father, this for Christel, and this? Whom do you think this is for?" "'Onrad," he responded joyfully. He did not find this arrangement unjust, and I saved myself all the vexation parents have who give their children the first portion of whatever is brought to the table. [Salzmann (1796), quoted in Rutschky]

The "little people" sit quietly at the table and wait. This need not be demeaning. It all depends on the adult's intention--and here the adult in question shows unabashedly how much he enjoys his power and his bigness at the expense of the little ones.

Something similar occurs in the next story, in which telling a lie is the only possible way for the child to read in privacy:

A lie is something dishonorable. It is recognized as such even by those who tell one, and there probably isn't a single liar who has any self-respect. But someone who doesn't respect himself doesn't respect others either, and the liar thus finds himself excluded from human society to a certain extent.

It follows from this that a young liar needs to be treated very discreetly so that, in the process of being cured of his fault, his self-respect, which has already suffered as it is from knowing he has lied, will not be even more seriously damaged, and this is no doubt a rule that admits of no exception: a child who lies must never be publicly censured or punished for this fault or, except under the most extreme circumstances, even publicly reminded of it. --The adult will do well to appear to be more surprised and even astonished that the child has been untruthful than to appear outraged that he has told a lie, and the adult should pretend as long as possible that he takes a (deliberate) lie for an (unintentional) untruth. This is the key to the behavior assumed by Mr. Willich when he discovered traces of this vice even in his own little family group.

Katie was guilty of being untruthful on occasion....She once had the opportunity to benefit from this, and she succumbed to the temptation. One evening she had done her knitting with such diligence that the portion she completed could pass for the work of two evenings. In addition, her mother happened to forget to have the girls show her what they had accomplished that evening.

On the follwing evening Katie secretly stole away from the rest of the family, took up a book that had come into her hands that day, and spent the whole evening reading it. She was cunning enough to conceal from her sisters, who were sent from time to time to see where she was and what she was doing, the fact that she was reading; they found her either with her knitting in her hand or at some other task.

This time her mother inspected the girls' work. Katie held up her stocking. It had indeed grown considerably in size, but her observant mother thought she noticed a certain evasiveness in the girl. She looked at the knitting, said nothing, but decided to make some inquiries. The next day, by asking some questions, she determined that Katie couldn't have done her knitting the previous evening. But, instead of indiscreetly accusing her of being untruthful, at a fitting moment she engaged the girl in conversation with the intention of setting a trap for her.

They spoke of woman's work. The mother remarked that at the present time it was usually very badly paid and added that she didn't believe a girl of Katie's age and skill could earn what she needed to live when food, clothing, and shelter were taken into account. Katie, however, believed the opposite and said she, for example, could accomplish twice as much with her knitting in a few hours as the mother had reckoned. The mother disagreed heartily. This in turn caused the girl to become very agitated; she forgot herself and exclaimed that two days ago she had knit twice as big a portion as usual.

"What am I to think of that?" the mother responded. "You told me yesterday that the evening before you had knit half the amount of what has been added to your stocking." --Katie turned red. She didn't know where to look and cast her eyes about uncontrollably. "Katie," her mother said to her in a grave but sympathetic tone of voice, "has the white ribbon in your hair been of no help?--I must sadly take my leave of you." She quickly rose from her chair and left the room, with a grave manner and without looking at the dismayed Katie, who wanted to run after her but instead remained behind, upset and in tears.

One will note that this was not the first time since Katie had been living with her foster parents that she had been guilty of this fault. Her mother had remonstrated with her about it and had finally told her that in the future she must wear a white ribbon in her hair. "White," she added, "is often considered the color of innocence and purity. You will do well, whenever you look in the mirror, to be reminded by your headband of purity and truthfulness, which should reign in your thoughts and words. Untruthfulness, on the other hand, is filth that stains your soul." --These measures had helped for a considerable time. But now, with this new lapse, all hope was gone that Katie's fault could remain a secret between her and her mother. For the latter had assured her at the time that if Katie proved guilty of this fault one more time, she, the mother, would feel obligated to call upon the father for assistance and thus reveal the matter to him.

Now things had reached this point, and it happened as the mother had promised. For she was not one to threaten to do something without carrying out her threat immediately if the need arose.

Mr. Willich appeared very displeased, ill-humored, and pensive all day long. All the children noticed it, but only for Katie were his stern looks like arrows in her heart. Her fear of what was coming tormented the girl all afternoon.

In the evening Katie's father called her to his room. She found him still with the same mien.

"Katie," he said to her, "I have been confronted with something exceedingly unpleasant today: I have found a liar among my children."

Katie started to cry and could not say a word.

Mr. Willich:   "I was shocked when your mother told me you have demeaned yourself with this vice several times before. Tell me, for heaven's sake, child, how does it come about that you can go so far astray?" (After a pause) "Now dry your tears. Crying will not make it better. Tell me instead about yesterday's incident so that we can determine how to help prevent this wickedness in the future. Explain what happened yesterday evening. Where were you? What did you do or not do?"

Hereupon Katie related the episode as it had happened and as we already know it. She concealed nothing, not even the cunning she had employed to deceive her sisters about what she was doing. "Katie," responded Mr. Willich in a tone that inspired confidence, "you have told me things about yourself that you yourself cannot possibly welcome. When your mother examined your knitting yesterday evening, you told her you had been working hard on it. Knitting is undeniably something good; you told Mother something good about yourself. Now tell me, when did you feel lighter of heart--just now when you were telling something bad that is the truth, or yesterday when you were telling something good that was not the truth?"

Katie admitted she was relieved that she had confessed and that it was an ugly vice to tell lies....

Katie: "It's true, I was very foolish. But forgive me, dear Father."

Willich:   "It's not a question of forgiveness. You have offended me very little. Yourself, however, and your mother as well you have offended very severely. I shall proceed accordingly, and if you were to lie ten times more, you would not deceive me. If what you say is not obviously true, then in the future I shall treat your words like money one thinks is counterfeit. I shall test and question and examine. For me, you will be like a walking stick one cannot rely on; I shall always look at you with a measure of distrust."

Katie:   "Ah, dear Father, as bad as all that..."

Willich:   "Do not think, poor child, that I am exaggerating or joking. If I cannot rely on your truthfulness, then who will guarantee me that I shall not come to harm if I believe what you say? --I see, dear child, that you have two enemies to conquer if you wish to eradicate your inclination to tell lies. Do you want to know what they are, Katie?"

Katie (ingratiatingly, appearing a little too amiable and lighthearted): "Oh yes, dear Father."

Willich:   "But are you sufficiently composed and prepared in your mind? I don't want to say it if it doesn't stay with you and is forgotten tomorrow."

Katie (more earnestly):   "No, I will be sure to remember it."

Willich:   "Poor girl, if you should take this lightly!" (After a pause) "Your first enemy is frivolity and thoughtlessness. --When you put the book in your pocket and stole away to read it in secret, you should have given some thought to what you were doing. How could you find it in your heart to do even the slightest thing you wanted to keep from us? Whatever put the idea into your head? If you regarded reading the book as permissible--good, then you needed only to say, 'I should like to read this book today, and I ask that my diligence in knitting yesterday be counted toward today'--do you really think it would have been denied you? Didn't you regard it as permissible? --Would you have wanted to do something impermissible without our knowledge? Certainly not. You are not that wicked....Your second enemy, dear daughter, is false modesty. You are ashamed to confess it if you have done something wrong. Do away with this fear. This enemy can be vanquished straightaway. Don't permit yourself any more excuses or reticence, not even in the case of the smallest mistake you make. Let us, let your sisters know your heart even as you know it yourself. You are not yet so depraved that you must be ashamed to confess what you have done. Only hide nothing from yourself, and no longer tell anything differently from the way you know it to be. Even in the most trivial matters, even when joking, do not permit yourself to report anything other than the way it really is.

"Your mother has, as I see, taken the white ribbon from your hair. You have forfeited it, that is true. You have besmirched your soul with a lie. But you have also made amends. You have confessed your faults to me so faithfully that I cannot believe you have concealed or misrepresented anything. This in turn proves to me your sincerity and truthfulness. Here is another ribbon for your hair. It is not as nice as the other one, but it is not a question of how fine the ribbon is but of the worth of the one who wears it. If she increases in worth, then I will not be averse someday to showing my appreciation with an expensive hair ribbon worked with silver." With this, he dismissed the girl, not without concern that recurrences of this fault would occur because of her lively temperament, but also not without hope that her keen intelligence and a skillful handling of the situation would soon help the girl to become more steadfast in her ways and thereby block off the wellspring of this ugly vice.

After a time, there was indeed a recurrence....It was evening, and the children had just been asked what their tasks had been and how they had performed them. Their accounts were exceptionally good; even Katie could cite some things she had done beyond the usual course of her duties. But she suddently remembered one thing she had neglected to do; she not only kept it from her mother but, upon being questioned, professed that she had done it. There were some holes in her stockings that she was supposed to have darned and had forgotten about. When she thought of it just as she was giving her accounting, she also remembered that for the past few days she had been rising earlier in the morning than the others. She hoped that this would be the case again the next morning and she would then quickly take care of it.

Things did not turn out at all as Katie had expected, however. Out of carelessness she had left her stockings where she wasn't supposed to, and her mother had already taken them away, whereas the girl believed they were still where she had put them. It was on the tip of the mother's tongue to ask Katie about the stockings again, while giving her a searching look. But she remembered just in time that her husband had forbidden her ever to accuse the girl of her fault in front of others, and she restrained herself. But it hurt her to the quick that the girl could utter a flagrant untruth with such ease.

The mother was also up early the next morning, for she had an idea of what Katie had in mind. She found her daughter already dressed, searching for something and more than a little worried. The girl was about to offer her mother her hand to bid her good morning and was attempting to assume her usual amiable manner. The mother took this to be the right moment. "Don't force yourself," she said, "to lie with your mien as well; your mouth already did so yesterday. Your stockings have been there in the closet since yesterday noon, and you didn't remember to darn them. How could you tell me yesterday evening that they were darned?"

Katie:   "Oh, Mother, I could die."

"Here are your stockings," the mother said in a very cold and distant voice. "I want nothing more to do with you today. Come to your lessons or not, it's all the same to me. You are a wretched girl."

With this, the mother left the room, and Katie sat down, crying and sobbing, to do hurriedly what she had omitted to do the day before. Hardly had she begun, however, when Mr. Willich entered the room with a grave and mournful expression and silently paced up and down.

Willich:   "You are crying, Katie. What has happened to you?"

Katie:   "Oh, dear Father, you already know what it is."

Willich:   "I want to know from you , Katie, what has happened."

Katie (hiding her face in her handkerchief): "I told another lie."

Willich:   "Unhappy child. Is it really impossible for you to master your frivolous ways?"

Katie's tears and heavy heart prevented her from answering.

Willich:   "I shall not besiege you with much talk, dear daughter. You already know well enough that a lie is a disgraceful thing, and I have also noted that at times, when you do not collect your thoughts, a lie pops out. What is to be done? You must take action, and I will lend you support as a friend.

"Let the present day be set to mourn over the mistake you made yesterday. The ribbons you put on today must be black. Go and do it before your sisters get up." When Katie returned, having done as she had been ordered, Mr. Willich continued: "Be comforted, you shall have in me a faithful source of support in your sorrow. So that you become more mindful of yourself, you are to come to my room every evening before you go to bed and enter into a notebook that I am going to prepare for this purpose either 'Today I told a lie' or 'Today I did not tell a lie.'

You need not fear a reprimand from me, even if you have to enter something unpleasant. I hope that just the reminder of a lie you have told will protect you from this vice for many days at a time. So that I, too, may do something to help you throughout the day to have something good in the evening to enter in the book rather than something bad, I forbid you from this evening on, when you take the black ribbon out of your hair, to wear any ribbons in your hair. I forbid this for an indefinite period until the record you keep convinces me that your earnest behavior and your truthfulness have become so ingrained that in my judgment a recurrence is no longer to be feared. If you reach that point, as I hope you will--then you will be able to choose for yourself which color hair ribbon you will wear." [Heusinger, Die Familie Wertheim (The Wertheim Family), 1800, quoted Rutschky]

Katie is without a doubt convinced that only she, the wicked creature, could harbor such a vice. In order to realize that her wonderful and kind father himself has difficulties with the truth and for this reason torments her so, the child would have to have some experience with psychoanalysis. As it is, she considers herself very bad compared to her exemplary parents.

And little Konrad's father? Can we perhaps see in him the problem of numerous fathers of our day?

I had made a firm resolve to raise him without ever striking him, but it didn't turn out as I had hoped. An occasion soon arose when I was compelled to use the rod.

It happened like this. Christel came to visit and brought a doll along. No sooner had Konrad seen it than he wanted to have it. I asked Christel to give it to him, and she did. After Konrad had held it for a while, Christel wanted it back, and Konrad didn't want to give it to her. What was I to do now? If I had brought him his picture book and then had said he should give the doll to Christel, perhaps he would have done i without objecting. I thought it was high time for the child to accustom himself to obeying his father unquestioningly. I therefore said, "Konrad, don't you want to give Christel's doll back to her?"

"No!" he said with considerable vehemence.

"But poor Christel has no doll!"

"No!" he answered again, started to cry, clutched the doll, and turned his back to me.

Then I said to him in a severe tone of voice, "Konrad, you must return the doll to Christel at once; I insist."

And what did Konrad do? He threw the doll at Christel's feet.

Heavens, how upset I was by this. If my best cow had died, I don't think I would have been as shocked. Christel was about to pick up the doll, but I stopped her. "Konrad," I said, "pick the doll up at once and hand it to Christel."

"No! No!" cried Konrad.

Then I fetched a switch, showed it to him, and said, "Pick up the doll or I will have to give you a whipping." But the child remained obstinate and cried "No! No!"

Then I raised the switch and was about to strike him when a new element was added to the scene. His mother cried, "Dear husband, I beg you, for heaven's sake--"

Now I was faced with a dilemma. I made a quick resolve, however, took the doll and the switch, picked up Konrad, ran out of the room and into another, locked the door behind me so his mother could not follow, threw the doll on the ground and said, "Pick up the doll or I will give you a whipping!" My Konrad persisted in saying no.

Then I lashed him, one! two! three! "Don't you want to pick up the doll now?" I asked.

"No!" was his reply.

Then I whipped him much harder and said: "Pick up the doll at once!"

Then he finally picked it up; I took him by the hand, led him back into the other room, and said: "Give the doll to Christel!"

He gave it to her.

Then he ran crying to his mother and wanted to put his head in her lap. But she had enough sense to push him away and said, "Go away, you're not my good Konrad."

To be sure, the tears were rolling down her cheeks as she said it. When I noticed this, I asked her please to leave the room. After she had gone, Konrad cried for perhaps another quarter hour; then he stopped.

I can certainly say that my heart was sore throughout this scene, partly because I felt pity for the child, partly because I was distressed by his stubbornness.

At mealtime I couldn't eat; I got up from the table and went to see our pastor and poured my heart out to him. I was comforted by what he said. "You did the right thing, dear Mr. Kiefer," he said. "When the nettles are still young, they can be pulled out easily; but if they are left for a long time, the roots will grow, and then if one attempts to pull them out, the roots will be deeply imbedded. It is the same way with misbehavior in children. The longer one overlooks it, the more difficult it is to eliminate. It was also a good thing for you to give the stubborn little fellow a thorough whipping. He won't forget it for a long time to come.

"If you had used the rod sparingly, not only would it have done no good on this occasion, but you would always have to whip him in the future, and the boy would become so accustomed to it that in the end he would think nothing of it. That is why children usually don't take it seriously when mothers spank them, because mothers don't have the courage to strike them hard. This is also the reason why there are children who are so intractable that nothing can be accomplished any more by even the most severe thrashing....

"Now while the lashes are still fresh in your Konrad's mind, I advise you to take advantage of it. When you come home, see that you order him about a good deal. Have him fetch you your boots, your shoes, your pipe, and take them away again; have him carry the stones in the yard from one place to another. He will do it all and will become accustomed to obeying." [Salzmann (1796), quoted in Rutschky]

Do the pastor's comforting words sound that outdated? Wasn't it reported in 1979 that two-thirds of the German population are in favor of corporal punishment? In England, flogging has not yet been prohibited in the schools and is accepted as routine in the boarding schools there.* Who will bear the brunt of this humiliating treatment later when the colonies are no longer there to perform this function? Not every former pupil can become a teacher and attain revenge in this way...
* Editor's Note: Corporal punishment of children was banned by law in Germany in 2000; by 1999 England had banned corporal punishment of children in all schools.


I have selected the foregoing passages in order to characterize an attitude that reveals itself more or less openly, not only in Fascism but in other ideologies as well. The scorn and abuse directed at the helpless child as well as the suppression of vitality, creativity, and feeling in the child and in oneself permeate so many areas of our life that we hardly notice it anymore. Almost everywhere we find the effort, marked by varying degrees of intensity and by the use of various coercive measures, to rid ourselves as quickly as possible of the child within us--i.e., the weak, helpless, dependent creature--in order to become an independent, competent adult deserving of respect. When we reencounter this creature in our children, we persecute it with the same measures once used on ourselves. And this is what we are accustomed to call "child-rearing."

In the following pages I shall apply the term "poisonous pedagogy" to this very complex endeavor. It will be clear from the context in question which of its many facets I am emphasizing at the moment. The specific facets can be derived directly from the preceding quotations from child-rearing manuals. These passages teach us that:

  1. Adults are the masters (not the servants!) of the dependent child.
  2. They determine in godlike fashion what is right and what is wrong.
  3. The child is held responsible for their anger.
  4. The parents must always be shielded.
  5. The child's life-affirming feelings pose a threat to the autocratic adult.
  6. The child's will must be "broken" as soon as possible.
  7. All this must happen at a very early age, so the child "won't notice" and will therefore not be able to expose the adults.
The methods that can be used to suppress vital spontaneity in the child are: laying traps, lying, duplicity, subterfuge, manipulation, "scare" tactics, withdrawal of love, isolation, distrust, humiliating and disgracing the child, scorn, ridicule, and coercion even to the point of torture.

It is also a part of "poisonous pedagogy" to impart to the child from the beginning false information and beliefs that have been passed on from generation to generation and dutifully accepted by the young even though they are not only unproven but are demonstrably false. Examples of such beliefs are:

  1. A feeling of duty produces love.
  2. Hatred can be done away with by forbidding it.
  3. Parents deserve respect simply because they are parents.
  4. Children are undeserving of respect simply because they are children.
  5. Obedience makes a child strong.
  6. A high degree of self-esteem is harmful.
  7. A low degree of self-esteem makes a person altruistic.
  8. Tenderness (doting) is harmful.
  9. Responding to a child's needs is wrong.
  10. Severity and coldness are a good preparation for life.
  11. A pretense of gratitude is better than honest ingratitude.
  12. The way you behave is more important than the way you really are.
  13. Neither parents nor God would survive being offended.
  14. The body is something dirty and disgusting.
  15. Strong feelings are harmful.
  16. Parents are creatures free of drives and guilt.
  17. Parents are always right.
When we consider the major role intimidation plays in this ideology, which was still at the peak of its popularity at the turn of the century, it is not surprising that Sigmund Freud had to conceal his surprising discovery of adults' sexual abuse of their children, a discovery he was led to by the testimony of his patients. He disguised his insight with the aid of a theory that nullified this inadmissible knowledge. Children of his day were not allowed, under the severest of threats, to be aware of what adults were doing to them, and if Freud had persisted in his seduction theory, he not only would have had his introjected parents to fear but would no doubt have been discredited, and probably ostracized, by middle-class society. In order to protect himself, he had to devise a theory that would preserve appearances by attributing all "evil," guilt, and wrongdoing to the child's fantasies, in which the parents served only as the objects of projection. We can understand why this theory omitted the fact that it is the parents who not only project their sexual and aggressive fantasies onto the child but also are able to act out these fantasies because they wield the power. It is probably thanks to this omission that many professionals in the psychiatric field, themselves the products of "poisonous pedagogy," have been able to accept the Freudian theory of drives, because it did not force them to question their idealized image of their parents. With the aid of Freud's drive and structural theories, they have been able to continue obeying the commandment they internalized in early childhood: "Thou shalt not be aware of what your parents are doing to you."*

* I did not arrive at this insight until quite recently. I was surprised to find striking corroboration in Marianne Krull's fascinating book, Freud und sein Vater (Freud and His Father) (1979). Krull is a sociologist who is not satisfied with theories; she tries to combine knowledge and experience. She visited Freud's birthplace, stood in the room where he spent his first years of life with his parents, and, after reading many books on the subject, attempted to imagine and feel what the child Sigmund Freud must have stored up in his mind in this room. Since the appearance of my book in Germany, other books have appeared in the United States that also point to Freud's drive theory as a denial of what he had discovered to be true; for example, Florence Rush, The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse in Children (McGraw-Hill, 1980); and Leon Sheleff, Generations Apart: Adult Hostility to Youth (McGraw-Hill, 1981).
I consider the impact of "poisonous pedagogy" on the theory and practice of psychoanalysis so crucial that I intend to treat this theme much more extensively in another book ( cf. page xvi). For now I must limit myself to stressing how important it is that we all be aware of the effect of the commandment to refrain from placing blame on our parents. This commandment, deeply imprinted in us by our upbringing, skillfully performs the function of hiding essential truths from us, or even making them appear as their exact opposites. The price many of us must pay for this is severe neurosis.

What becomes of all those people who are the successful products of a strict upbringing?

It is inconceivable that they were able to express and develop their true feelings as children, for anger and helpless rage, which they were forbidden to display, would have been among these feelings--particularly if these children were beaten, humiliated, lied to, and deceived. What becomes of this forbidden and therefore unexpressed anger? Unfortunately, it does not disappear, but is transformed with time into a more or less conscious hatred directed against either the self or substitute persons, a hatred that will seek to discharge itself in various ways permissible and suitable for an adult.

The little Katies and Konrads of all time have always been in agreement as adults that their childhood was the happiest period of their life. Only with today's younger generation are we seeing a change taking place in this regard. Lloyd de Mause is probably the first scholar who has made a thorough study of the history of childhood without glossing over the facts and without invalidating the results of his research with an idealizing commentary. Because this psychohistorian has the ability to empathize, he has no need to repress the truth. The truth laid bare in his book, The History of Childhood, is sad and depressing, but it holds hope for the future: those who read this book and realize that the children described here later turned into adults will no longer find the atrocities in human history hard to understand. They will locate the places where the seeds of cruelty have been sown and by virtue of their discovery will conclude that the human race need not remain the victim of such cruelty forever. For, by uncovering the unconscious rules of the power game and the methods by which it attains legitimacy, we are certainly in a position to bring about basic changes. The rules of the game cannot be fully comprehended, however, unless we develop an understanding of the hazards of early childhood, that time when the ideology of child-rearing is passed on to the next generation.

Without a doubt, the conscious ideals of young parents of the present generation have changed. Obedience, coercion, severity, and lack of feeling, are no longer recognized as absolute values. But the road to the realization of the new ideals is frequently blocked by the need to repress the sufferings of one's childhood, and this leads to a lack of empathy. It is precisely the little Katies and Konrads who as adults close their ears to the subject of child abuse (or else minimize its harmfulness), because they themselves claim to have had a "happy childhood." Yet their very lack of empathy reveals the opposite: they had to keep a stiff upper lip at a very early age. Those who actually had the privilege of growing up in an empathic environment (which is extremely rare, for until recently it was not generally known how much a child can suffer), or who later create an inner empathic object, are more likely to be open to the suffering of others, or at least will not deny its existence. This is a necessary precondition if old wounds are to heal instead of merely being covered up with the help of the next generation.

The "Sacred" Values of Child-Rearing
It also gives us a very special, secret pleasure to see how unaware the people around us are of what is really happening to them.


People who have grown up within the value system of "poisonous pedagogy" and have remained untouched by psychoanalytic considerations will probably respond to my antipedagogic position with either conscious anxiety or intellectual rejection. They will reproach me for being indifferent to "sacred" values or will say that I am displaying a naive optimism and have no idea just how bad children can be. Such reproaches would come as no surprise, for the reasons behind them are all too familiar to me. Nevertheless, I would like to, comment on the question of indifference to values.

Every pedagogue accepts as a foregone conclusion that it is wrong to tell a lie, to hurt or offend another human being, and to respond in kind to parental cruelty instead of showing understanding for the good intentions involved, etc. On the other hand, it is considered admirable and right for a child to tell the truth, to be grateful for the parents' intentions and overlook the cruelty of their actions, to accept the parents' ideas but still be able to express his or her own ideas independently, and above all not to be difficult when it comes to what is expected of him or her. In order to teach the child these almost universal values, which are rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, among others, adults believe they must sometimes resort to lying, deception, cruelty, mistreatment, and to subjecting the child to humiliation. In the case of adults, however, it is not a matter of "negative values," because they already have their upbringing behind them and use these means solely to achieve a sacred end: to save the child from telling lies in the future, from being deceitful, malicious, cruel, and egotistic.

It is clear from the foregoing that a relativity of traditional moral values is an intrinsic part of this system: in the last analysis, our status and degree of power determine whether our actions are judged to be good or bad. This same principle prevails throughout the whole world. The strong person dictates the verdict, and the victor in a war will sooner or later be applauded, regardless of the crimes that have been committed on the road to victory.

To these well-known examples of the relativity of values based upon one's position of power, I should like to add another, stemming from a psychotherapeutic perspective. In our zeal to dictate to our children the rules of behavior referred to above, we forget that it is not always possible to tell the truth without hurting someone at the same time, to show gratitude one does not feel without lying, or to overlook parents' cruelty and still become an autonomous human being who can exercise independent critical judgment. These considerations arise of necessity as soon as we turn from the abstract ethical systems of religion or philosophy to concrete psychic reality. People unfamiliar with this concrete manner of thinking may find the way I relativize traditional pedagogical values and question the value of pedagogy per se to be shocking, nihilistic, threatening, or even naïve. This will depend on their own personal history. For my part, I can only say that there certainly are values I do not have to relativize. Our chances of survival probably depend, in the long run, on the practice of these values, among which are respect for those weaker than ourselves--including, of course, the child--and respect for life and its laws, without which all creativity would be stifled. Every brand of Fascism lacks this respect, causing psychic death and castrating the soul with the aid of its ideology. Among all the leading figures of the Third Reich, I have not been able to find a single one who did not have a strict and rigid upbringing. Shouldn't that give us a great deal of food for thought?

Those who were permitted to react appropriately throughout their childhood--i.e., with anger--to the pain, wrongs, and denial inflicted upon them either consciously or unconsciously will retain this ability to react appropriately in later life too. When someone wounds them as adults, they will be able to recognize and express this verbally. But they will not feel the need to lash out in response. This need arises only for people who must always be on their guard to keep the dam that restrains their feelings from breaking. For if this dam breaks, everything becomes unpredictable. Thus, it is understandable that some of these people, fearing unpredictable consequences, will shrink from any spontaneous reaction; the others will experience occasional outbursts of inexplicable rage directed against substitute objects or will resort repeatedly to violent behavior such as murder or acts of terrorism. A person who can understand and integrate his anger as part of himself will not become violent. He has the need to strike out at others only if he is thoroughly unable to understand his rage, if he was not permitted to become familiar with this feeling as a small child, was never able to experience it as a part of himself because such a thing was totally unthinkable in his surroundings.

With these dynamics in mind, we will not be surprised to learn from the statistics that 60 percent of German terrorists in recent years have been the children of Protestant ministers. The tragedy of this situation lies in the fact that the parents undoubtedly had the best of intentions; from the very beginning, they wanted their children to be good, responsive, well-behaved, agreeable, undemanding, considerate, unselfish, self-controlled, grateful, neither willful nor headstrong nor defiant, and above all meek. They wanted to inculcate these values in their children by whatever means, and if there was no other way, they were even ready to use force to obtain these admirable pedagogical ends. If the children then showed signs of violent behavior in adolescence, they were expressing both the unlived side of their own childhood as well as the unlived, suppressed, and hidden side of their parents' psyche, perceived only by the children themselves.

When terrorists take innocent women and children hostage in the service of a grand and idealistic cause, are they really doing anything different from what was once done to them? When they were little children full of vitality, their parents had offered them up as sacrifices to a grand pedagogic purpose, to lofty religious values, with the feeling of performing a great and good deed. Since these young people never were allowed to trust their own feelings, they continue to sup- press them for ideological reasons. These intelligent and often very sensitive people, who had once been sacrificed to a "higher" morality, sacrifice themselves as adults to another--often opposite--ideology, in whose service they allow their inmost selves to be completely dominated, as had been the case in their childhood.

This is an example of the unrelenting, tragic nature of the unconscious compulsion to repeat. Its positive function must not be overlooked, however. Would it not be much worse if the parents' pedagogical aims were fully realized and it were possible successfully and irreversibly to murder the child's soul without this ever coming to public attention? When a terrorist commits violent actions against helpless people in the name of his ideals, thus putting himself at the mercy of the leaders who are manipulating him as well as of the police forces of the system he is fighting, he is unconsciously telling the story, in the form of his repetition compulsion, of what once happened to him in the name of the high ideals of his upbringing. The story he tells can be understood by the public as a warning signal or it can be completely misunderstood; if taken as a warning, it calls attention to a life that can still be saved.

But what happens when not a trace of vital spontaneity remains because the child's upbringing was a total and perfect success, as was the case with people such as Adolf Eichmann and Rudolf Höss? They were trained to be obedient so successfully and at such an early age that the training never lost its effectiveness; the structure never displayed any fissures, water never penetrated it at any point, nor did feelings of any kind ever jar it. To the end of their lives, these people carried out the orders they were given without ever questioning the con- tent. They carried them out, just as "poisonous pedagogy" recommends (cf. page 39)--not out of any sense of their inherent rightness, but simply because they were orders.

This explains why Eichmann was able to listen to the most moving testimony of the witnesses at his trial without the slightest display of emotion, yet when he forgot to stand up at the reading of the verdict, he blushed with embarrassment when this was called to his attention.

The strong emphasis on obedience in Rudolf Höss's early upbringing left its indelible mark on him, too. Certainly his father did not intend to raise him to be a commandant at Auschwitz; on the contrary, as a strict Catholic, he had a missionary career in mind for his son. But he had instilled in him at an early age the principle that the authorities must always be obeyed, no matter what their demands. Höss writes:

Our guests were mostly priests of every sort. As the years passed, my father's religious fervor increased. Whenever time permitted, he would take me on pilgrimages to all the holy places in our own country, as well as to Einsiedeln in Switzerland and to Lourdes in France. He prayed passionately that the grace of God might be bestowed on me, so that I might one day become a priest blessed by God. I, too, was as deeply religious as was possible for a boy of my age, and I took my religious duties very seriously. I prayed with true, childlike gravity and performed my duties as acolyte with great earnestness. I had been brought up by my parents to be respectful and obedient toward all adults, and especially the elderly, regardless of their social status. I was taught that my highest duty was to help those in need. It was constantly impressed upon me in forceful terms that I must obey promptly the wishes and commands of my parents, teachers, and priests, and indeed of all adults, including servants, and that nothing must distract me from I this duty. Whatever they said was always right. These basic principles by which I was brought up became second nature to me.

When the authorities later required Höss to run the machinery of death in Auschwitz, how could he have refused? And later, after his arrest, when he was given the assignment of writing an account of his life, he not only performed this task faithfully and conscientiously but politely expressed gratitude for the fact that the time in prison passed more quickly because of "this interesting occupation." His account has provided the world with deep insight into the background of a multitude of otherwise incomprehensible crimes.

Rudolf Höss's first memories of his childhood are of washing compulsively, which was probably an attempt to free himself of everything his parents found impure or dirty in him. Since his parents showed him no affection, he sought this in animals, all the more since they were not beaten by his father, as he was, and thus enjoyed a higher status than children.

Similar attitudes were shared by Heinrich Himmler, who said, for example:

How can you find pleasure, Herr Kersten, in shooting from behind cover at poor creatures grazing on the edge of a wood, innocent, defenseless, and unsuspecting? It's really pure murder. Nature is so marvelously beautiful and every animal has a right to live. [Quoted by Joaquim Fest, The Face of the Third Reich ]

Yet, it was also Himmler who said:

One principle must be absolute for the SS man: we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to those of our own blood and to no one else. What happens to the Russians, what happens to the Czechs, is a matter of utter indifference to me. Good blood like ours that we find among other nationalities we shall acquire for ourselves, if necessary by taking away the children and bringing them up among us. Whether the other nationalities live in comfort or perish of hunger interests me! only insofar as we need them as slaves for our society; apart from that, it does not interest me. Whether or not 10,000 Russian women collapse from exhaustion while digging a tank ditch interests me only insofar as it affects the completion of the tank ditch for Germany. We shall never be cruel or heartless when it is not necessary; that is clear. We Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude toward animals, will also adopt a decent attitude toward these human animals, but it is a crime against our own blood to worry about them or to fill them with ideals. [Quoted by Fest]

Himmler, like Höss, was a nearly perfect product of the training given him by his father, who was first a tutor at the Bavarian court and then a headmaster by profession. Heinrich Himmler also dreamed of educating people and nations. Fest writes:

The doctor Felix Kersten, who treated him continuously from 1939 onwards and enjoyed his confidence, has asserted that Himmler himself would rather have educated foreign peoples than exterminate them. During the war he spoke enthusiastically--looking ahead to peace--of establishing military units who were "educated and trained, once education and training can be practiced again."

In contrast to Höss, who had been trained with total success to be blindly obedient, Himmler apparently was not entirely able to live up to the requirement of being hard- hearted. Fest, who convincingly interprets Himmler's atrocities as the constant attempt to prove his harshness to himself and the world, says:

In the hopeless confusion of all criteria under the influence of a totalitarian ethic, harshness toward the victims was held justified by the harshness practiced toward oneself. "To be harsh toward ourselves and others, to give death and to take it," was one of the mottoes of the SS repeatedly emphasized by Himmler. Because murder was difficult, it was good, and justified. By the same reasoning, he was always able to point proudly, as though to a Roll of Honor, to the fact that the Order had suffered "no inner damage" from its murderous activity and had remained "decent."

Do we not see reflected in these words the principles of "poisonous pedagogy," with its violation of the impulses of the' child's psyche?

These are only three examples of the endless number of people whose life took a similar course and who no doubt had received what is considered a good, strict upbringing. The results of the child's total subordination to the adults' will were not seen solely in his future political submissiveness (for example, to the totalitarian system of the Third Reich) but were already visible in his inner readiness for a new form of subordination as soon as he left home. For how could someone whose inner development had been limited to learning to obey the commands of others be expected to live on his own without experiencing a sudden sense of inner emptiness? Military service provided the best opportunity for him to continue the established pattern of taking orders, When someone like Adolf Hitler came along and claimed, just like Father, to know exactly what was good, right, and necessary for everyone it is not surprising that so many people who were longing for someone to tell them what to do welcomed him with open arms and helped him in his rise to power. Young people had finally found a father substitute, without which they were incapable of functioning. In The Face of the Third Reich , Fest documents the servile, uncritical, and almost infantile naïvete with which the men who were to enter the annals of infamy spoke of Hitler's omniscience, infallibility, and divinity. That is the way a little child sees his father. And these men never advanced beyond that stage, I shall quote several passages here because, without them, it might be hard for today's generation to believe that these men who later went down in history could have been so lacking in inner substance. Fest here quotes Hermann Goering:

If the Catholic Christian is convinced that the Pope is infallible in all religious and ethical matters, so we National Socialists declare with the same ardent conviction that for us, too, the Führer is absolutely infallible in all political and other matters having to do with the national and social interest of the people. ...It is a blessing for Germany that in Hitler the rare union fia:s- taken place between the most acute logical thinker and truly profound philosopher and the iron man of action, tenacious to the limit.

And again:

Anyone who has any idea of how things stand with us ...knows that we each possess just so much power as the Fuhrer wishes to give. And only with the Fuhrer and standing behind him is one really powerful, only then does one hold the strong powers of the state in one's hands; but against his will, or even just without his wish, one would instantly become totally powerless. A word from the Führer and anyone whom he wishes to be rid of falls. His prestige, his authority are boundless.

What is actually being described here is the way a little child feels toward his authoritarian father. Goering openly admitted:

It is not I who live, but the Führer who lives in me....Every time I am in his presence, my heart stands still....Often I couldn't eat anything again until midnight, because before then I should have vomited in my agitation. When I returned to Karinhall at about nine o'clock, I actually had to sit in a chair for some hours in order to calm down. This relationship turned into downright mental prostitution for me.

In his speech of June 30, 1934, Rudolf Hess, another top Nazi official, also admits openly to this attitude, without being hampered by any feelings of shame or discomfort--a situation we can hardly imagine today, half a century later. He says in this speech:

We note with pride that one man remains beyond all criticism, and that is the Führer. This is because everyone senses and knows: he is always right, and he will always be right. The National Socialism of all of us is anchored in uncritical loyalty, in a surrender to the Fuhrer that does not ask about the why in individual cases, in the silent execution of his orders. We believe that the Fuhrer is obeying a higher call to shape German history. There can be no criticism of this belief.

Fest comments:

In his unbalanced approach to authority Hess resembles surprisingly many leading National Socialists who, like him, had "strict" parents. There is a good deal of evidence that Hitler profited considerably from the damage wrought by an educational system that took its models from the barracks and brought up its sons to be as tough as army cadets. The fixation on the military world, the determining feature of their early development, shows not only in the peculiar mixture of aggressiveness and doglike cringing so typical of the "Old Fighter" but also in the lack of inner independence and the need to receive orders. Whatever hidden rebellious feelings the young Rudolf Hess may have had against his father, who emphatically demonstrated his power one last time when he refused to let his son go to a university but forced him, against his wishes and the pleas of his teachers, to go into business with a view to taking over his own firm in Alexandria--the son, whose will had been broken over and over again, henceforth sought father and father substitute wherever he could find them. One must want leaders!

When non-Germans watched Adolf Hitler's appearances in newsreels, they were never able to understand the adulation he was given or the number of votes he received in 1933. It was easy for them to see through his human weaknesses, his artificial pose of self-assurance, his specious arguments; for them, it was not as though he were their father. For the Germans, however, it was much more difficult. A child cannot acknowledge the negative sides of his or her father, and yet these are stored up somewhere in the child's psyche, for the adult will then be attracted by precisely these negative, disavowed sides in the father substitutes he or she encounters. An outsider has trouble understanding this.

We often ask how a marriage can last, how, for example, a woman can go on living with a certain man, or vice versa. It may be that the woman endures extreme torment in this relationship, continuing it only at the cost of her vitality. But she is mortally afraid at the thought of her husband leaving her. Actually, such a separation would probably be the great opportunity of her life, yet she is totally unable to see this as long as she is forced to repeat in her marriage the early torment, now relegated to her unconscious, inflicted on her by her father. For when she thinks about being abandoned by her husband, she is not reacting to her present situation but is reexperiencing her childhood fears of abandonment and the time when she was in fact dependent on her father. I am thinking here specifically of a woman whose father, a musician, took the mother's place when she died but who often disappeared suddenly when he went on tour. My patient was much too little at the time to bear these sudden separations without a feeling of panic. In her analysis we had been aware of this for a long time, but her fear of being abandoned by her husband did not subside until her dreams revealed to her what had hitherto been unconscious: the other--brutal and cruel--side of her father, whom she had until then remembered only as loving and tender. As a result of confronting this knowledge, she experienced an inner liberation and was now able to begin the process of becoming autonomous.

I mention this example because it demonstrates mechanisms that may have played a role in the election of 1933. The adulation accorded Hitler is understandable not only because of the promises he made (who doesn't make promises before an election?) but because of the way in which they were presented. It was precisely his theatrical gestures, ridiculous to a foreigner's eyes, that were so familiar to the masses and therefore held such a great power of suggestion for them. Small children are subject to this same sort of suggestion when their big father, whom they admire and love, talks to them. What he says is not important, it is the way he speaks that counts. The more he builds himself up, the more he will be admired, especially by a child raised according to the principles of "poisonous pedagogy." When a strict, inaccessible, and distant father condescends to speak with his child, this is certainly a festive occasion, and to earn this honor no sacrifice of self is too great.

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