AGGRESSION, HYPERMASCULINE EMOTIONS AND
THE SILENCE/VIOLENCE PATTERN
Abstract. A particular emotional/relational configuration may lead to violence.
Four emotions seem central: suppressing “the vulnerable emotions”(grief, fear,
and shame), on the one hand, and acting out anger, on the other. The relational
component is the virtual absence of close bonds to others. It is possible that
suppression of vulnerable emotions, acting out anger, and lack of bonds gives
rise to the silence/violence pattern: meeting threats to self with either
silence or violence. This pattern seems to occur much more frequently in men
than in women. Two instances of massive violence illustrate these ideas: the
massacre of civilians at My Lai, Vietnam, ordered and assisted by William Calley,
and the monstrous violence orchestrated by the Germans under Hitler. The
silence/violence pattern may result in violence directly through leaders like
Hitler and Calley, and also indirectly, when this pattern is the basis of public
support for violent leaders.
Boys learn early that
showing vulnerable feelings (grief, fear and shame) are seen as signs of
weakness. First at home, then at school they find that acting out anger, even if
faked, is seen as strength. Expressing anger verbally, rather than storming, may
be seen as weakness. At first merely to protect themselves, boys begin
suppressing feelings that may be interpreted as signs of weakness.
In Western cultures most boys learn, as first option, to
hide their vulnerable feelings in emotionless talk, withdrawal, or silence. I
will call these three responses (emotional) SILENCE. In situations where these
options seem unavailable, males may cover their vulnerable feelings behind a
display of hostility. That is, young boys learn in their families, and later,
from their peers, to suppress emotions they actually feel by acting out one
emotion, anger, whether they feel it or not.
I call this pattern
“silence/violence.” Vulnerable feelings are first hidden from others, and after
many repetitions, even from self. In this latter stage, behavior becomes
compulsive. When men face what they construe to be threatening situations, they
may be compelled to SILENCE or to rage and aggression.
Even without threat, men
seem to be more likely to SILENCE or violence than women. With their partners,
most men are less likely to talk freely than women about feelings of resentment,
humiliation, embarrassment, rejection, joy, genuine pride, loss and anxiety.
This may be the reason they are more likely to show anger: they seem to be
backed up on a wide variety of intense feelings, but sense that only anger is
allowed them (The phrase “backed up” was first used by Tomkins (See selections
from his work in the volume edited by Demos 1995, pp. 92-94, 57, 275-276).
Why did Tomkins use such an
award phrase, rather than the more obvious choice: “repressed?” To understand
his choice requires a brief digression into the history of psychology during the
period that he was writing, in the sixties and seventies. There was little hard
evidence for or against the concepts of repression and the unconscious at this
time, and not much more today. By and large, most psychotherapists assumed it to
be true, and academic psychologists assumed that it was not true. Indeed,
academic psychologists ridiculed these ideas, especially the idea that emotions
exerted “hydraulic” pressure on everyday life.
In this context, Tomkins
didn’t use terms like repression and unconscious, perhaps in an attempt to avoid
open conflict with the vast majority of his colleagues. But his system assumes
the repression of painful emotions to the point that they become unconscious in
everyday life. Although himself an academic psychologist, he found it necessary
to invent terms that would allow his theory of emotions to involve repression
and the unconscious emotions that result.
My own view of emotions is
based largely on my experiences as a teacher, marriage counselor (1971-76), and
my own personal life. For the last thirty-five years of teaching, my classes
came close to being forms of group psychotherapy, even the large classes.
Although I never called attention to the similarity, students often did. Usually
the comments they made in this regard were approving; most of them thought it
added to the value of the class. The format of my classes, whatever their
official names, basically involved having the students examine their own
experiences, to help them understand their emotional/relational worlds.
During the period of
student activism against the Vietnam War, these classes became intensely
emotional. In a large course titled Interpersonal Relations, taught many times
over a period of three years, students underwent mass weeping and laughing, both
in the large meetings, small discussion groups, and in office visits by groups
of students. In 1979 I received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the UCSB
Academic Senate largely on the basis of these classes. Most of my views on
emotional/relational issues were formed by my close contacts with thousands of
My personal life has also
been dense with emotional/relational issues. Between the ages of 14 and 40 I
certainly fit the pattern of male repression of vulnerable emotions. I had
learned to be a strong and silent male like my father, and that expressions of
fear, grief and shame at school made me prey to bullies. Although I have no
memory of my dad equating fear with cowardice, it was implied in his comments
and actions. Over the course of childhood, I seem to have gradually numbed out
feelings of fear. In my late 30’s, during the Vietnam protest, I took many risks
that seem shockingly unacceptable to me now. Some of my colleagues complimented
me on my courage, but looking back it seems to me I was merely reckless.
Numbing out fear,
particularly, makes men dangerous to themselves and others. Fear is an innate
signal of danger that helps us survive. When we see a car heading toward us on a
collision course, we have an immediate, automatic fear response: WAKE UP
SLEEPY-HEAD, YOUR LIFE IS IN DANGER! Much faster than thought, this reaction
increases our chance of survival, and repressing it is dangerous to self and
others. If the sense of fear has been repressed, it is necessary to find ways of
Although the idea is only
hinted at in Tomkins, it now seems likely that repression of emotions leads to a
vicious circle. One represses emotions in order to avoid painful feelings. At
first the painful feelings have their origins in the reactions of others,
especially our parents and schoolmates. Certainly as a child I sensed that
expressions of grief or fear were seen by my father as indicating weakness. He
often used a Yiddish expression in these circumstances: “Zai ayne mensch.” At
the time I took it to mean “Be a man.” (instead of acting like a baby). What was
painful to me was less the words (which actually mean “Be a real person.”) than
his signs of impatience and even disgust at my behavior.
In order to avoid pain
inflicted by others, we learn to repress the expressions of feeling that lead to
negative reactions from others. After thousands of curtailments, repression
becomes habitual and out of consciousness. But as we become more backed up with
avoided emotions, we have the sense that experienced them would be unbearably
painful In this way, avoidance leads to avoidance in an ever increasing,
For a lengthy period as a
teenager and young man, it never occurred to me to try to identify and talk
about the various feelings I might have had. I was angry much of the time, and
sometimes enraged. As my son later told me, my anger was unpredictable. It was a
problem in all of my relationships.
However, at age forty, both
by accident and through various forms of therapy, I began to learn how to cry
and feel fear, rather than numb it out. My first experience of intense crying at
this age led to a solid year of crying every day, without exception. It was as
if I had a backlog of tears to deal with.
My experiences of fear were
different, however. They were only two of them, but they were profound, about
six months apart. The first occurred as a result of therapy, after intense
episodes of crying and laughing. The second was triggered by a death threat on
the phone from an irate citizen. During this time I was both chair of an
academic department and an anti-war activist. This combination increased my
visibility, and it irritated a lot of people, both in and outside of the
Both fear episodes were
quite similar in content and in duration. They each lasted about twenty minutes,
and involved what would have looked like epileptic seizures from the outside.
As I lay on the floor, my body went through convulsive shaking with an
earthquake-like intensity, and sweating that soaked my clothes as if I had been
swimming in them. Unlike my crying episodes, there was no mental content
associated with the two fits of fear. Also, unlike the crying, which occurred so
easily as to become commonplace, I felt utterly transformed after each fear
These fear experiences also
had an immediately visible effect. After the second one, I begin to actually
experience fear when I was in danger. Since I was still deeply involved in the
Vietnam protest, I begin to be less reckless. Isla Vista, the student community
where most of my activity took place, was an extremely dangerous place at this
time. At times the student protesters and the police were in open warfare. My
change with respect to fear probably helped protect me and other protesters from
Surprisingly, neither the
crying nor the fear episodes were painful. Indeed, they were more pleasurable
than painful. In the fear response, particularly, I felt somewhat like a child
on a delicious roller-coaster ride. Apparently all of these changes occurred at
what I have called optimal distance (in my theory of catharsis 1979). That is, I
was both in a state of grief or fear, but also outside of it, looking on like a
member of an audience in a theatre.
Making the acquaintance of
my own shame came later, with more difficulty. At any rate, episodes of anger
and rage became less frequent, briefer, and less intense as I learned to
identify and feel vulnerable emotions. Another decisive step in this direction
occurred as a result of marriage to my present wife, Suzanne Retzinger. After we
began living together, she would usually come home from her job as a mediator in
a child custody court, laden with talk. She would go on for what often seemed to
me an interminable time, reviewing events of her day at work. Sometimes she
would recount the same event several times. Listening to this daily drama, I was
rapidly becoming exasperated.
However, after several
months of suffering in silence, I noticed that she usually seemed to feel much
better after her marathon of talk. A new thought occurred to me: if it works for
her, maybe it will work for me! So we took turns reviewing the events of our
day. At first I could hardly fill five minutes, much less the 45 that Suzanne
usually took. But with some patient probing and questions on her part, I learned
how to go over the events of my day, finding and trying to finish unfinished
emotion-laden events. As I learned to do that, I began to feel better. On the
basis of my own experiences and as a teacher, I have come to believe that
everyone needs to experience the full range of their emotions if they are
Gender Differences in
In my experience, most
women express vulnerable emotions more fully than most men. Certainly they
express fear and grief more. The difference between men and women with respect
to shame is probably smaller, but with women still more expressive of this
emotion, if only obliquely. That is, women seem more likely to review the events
of their day, either to themselves or with another person, than men. In doing
so, they are likely to encounter one or more of the vulnerable emotions.
On the other hand, more
women are inhibited about expressing anger, whether verbally or acting it out.
Each year of teaching hundred students about emotions, I would come across at
least one female student who claimed never to have felt anger. This student
usually wore a continuous smile that was difficult to remove, even on request.
When such a student did hit upon the experience of anger during the course
exercises, she appeared both alarmed and delighted.
My impression is that the
gender difference in these four emotions is slowly decreasing, as women are
being prepared at home and school for careers. This change is clearest with
respect to anger; more women are expressing anger either verbally or by acting
out. The change toward the masculine pattern of vulnerable emotions is less
clear, and may be quite slow. It seems that even career women still cry much
more freely than men and are quicker to acknowledge fear.
Studies of unresolved grief
and of alexthymia (Krystal 1988) indirectly support the different management of
emotions by men and women. Alexithymia is a recent addition to diagnostic
categories, meaning absence of feeling and emotion. Unresolved grief is an older
diagnosis. Unlike most psychiatric diagnoses, there is almost unanimous
agreement that this syndrome is one whose “cause is known, whose features are
distinctive, and whose course is predictable.” (Parkes 1998)
At any rate, although these
studies do not comment on gender differences, in the case studies reported, men
outnumber women by a ratio of about four to one. A patient who shows up in a
psychiatrist’s office with symptoms of alexithymia or unresolved grief is much
more likely to be a man than a women.
Doka and Martin (1998) have
argued that men’s grieving is not recognized as such, because it is largely
cognitive and behavioral, rather than affective. In this and other publications,
Doka has sought to back up his idea with empirical data. But it seems to me that
his data, based on paper and pencil inventories, hardly touches the realities of
grieving. However, his idea that grieving has cognitive and behavioral, as well
as emotional components is probably valid. And not just for grief, but also for
fear and shame also: talking about feeling has a role in reframing trauma that
is partially independent of feeling.
The difference between men
and women’s attitudes toward violence can be seen in the various polls that are
relevant to the support of the Iraq war. No matter which poll or the framing of
the question, women always express less support for the war. Women are much
less keen on violence than men in its collective form. At the level of families,
women are also much less likely to commit violence than men, especially physical
A recent literature review of responses to stress
(Taylor, et al 2000) finds that women, much more than men, are likely to
“tend-and-befriend” rather than fight-or-flight. The attachment/networking
response seems to be more alive in women than in men. The tend/befriend can be
viewed as the default variant for females, an important modification of Cannon’s
idea of fight or flight.
This paper proposes that the silence/violence pattern is
the corresponding variant for males. The violence part obviously corresponds to
fight. But the silence part is equivalent to flight, if withdrawal includes not
just physical flight, but also withdrawal in its psychological sense. The Taylor
et al “tend-befriend” pattern for women, when combined with the silence/violence
pattern for men suggests that the fight/flight response is crucially modified by
culturally driven gender differences.
The way in which the US military continues its policy of
discrimination against gays, in defiance of court rulings, suggests the crucial
role that hypermasculinity plays in collective violence. But the evidence is
indirect. The role of hypermasculine emotions in actual events is difficult to
evaluate directly because of inadequate reporting of the emotional/relational
Conventional reporting involves the behavioral/cognitive
world, at best. But the nature of the emotions involved, and relationships, can
be inferred from these materials if they are interpreted within the larger
context. This method is first applied to the case of William Calley, the Army
officer convicted of ordering and helping carry out the massacre at My Lai, and
then to the much fuller accounts of Hitler’s life. But there is one dramatic
difference between the two that makes Calley’s behavior seem almost as
disturbing as Hitler’s: even though he organized the murder of millions, Hitler
is not known to have to have ever killed even one of those that he led others to
kill. Calley not only ordered murder, but killed many of his victims himself.
William Calley and the My
This account is based on several sources. The
first is the online record of a PBS broadcast: The American Experience: Vietnam
(PBS, undated). The second is based on a recent review of Calley’s conviction
for murder, within the larger perspective of the US military involvement in the
Vietnam war (Belknap 2002). Other biographies are also cited: Hersh 1970; Calley
1971; Everett 1971; Greenshaw 1971; Hammer 1971.
Charley Company reached Mai Lai village on
March 16, 1968, led by Lt. William Calley. Like some of the men serving under
him, Calley’s background was unheroic (The following account is an abbreviated
version of the PBS text.
“[His] utter lack of
respect for the indigenous population was apparent to all in the company.
According to one soldier, "if they wanted to do something wrong, it was alright
with Calley." Seymour Hersh ( )wrote that by March of 1968 "many in the
company had given in to an easy pattern of violence." Soldiers systematically
beat unarmed civilians. Some civilians were murdered. Whole villages were
burned. Wells were poisoned. Rapes were common.
On March 14, a small
squad from "C" Company ran into a booby trap, killing a popular sergeant,
blinding one GI and wounding several others. The following evening, when a
funeral service was held for the killed sergeant, soldiers had revenge on their
mind. After the service, Captain Medina rose to give the soldiers a pep talk
and discuss the next morning's mission. Medina told them that the VC were in
the vicinity of a hamlet known as My Lai 4, which would be the target of a
large-scale assault by the company.
The soldiers' mission
would be to engage the enemy and to destroy the village of My Lai. By 7 a.m.,
Medina said, the women and children would be out of the hamlet and all they
could expect to encounter would be the enemy. The soldiers were to explode
brick homes, set fire to thatch homes, shoot livestock, poison wells, and
destroy the enemy. The seventy-five or so American soldiers would be supported
in their assault by gunship pilots.
Medina later said
that his objective that night was to "fire them up and get them ready to go in
there; I did not give any instructions as to what to do with women and children
in the village." Although some soldiers agreed with that recollection of
Medina's, others clearly thought that he had ordered them to kill every person
in My Lai 4. Perhaps his orders were intentionally vague. What seems likely is
that Medina intentionally gave the impression that everyone in My Lai would be
At 7:22 a.m. on March
16, nine helicopters lifted off for the flight to My Lai 4. By the time the
helicopters carrying members of Charlie Company landed in a rice paddy about 140
yards south of My Lai, the area had been peppered with small arms fire from
assault helicopters. Whatever VC might have been in the vicinity of My Lai had
most likely left by the time the first soldiers climbed out of their
helicopters. The assault plan called for Lt. Calley's first platoon and Lt.
Stephen Brooks' second platoon to sweep into the village, while a third platoon,
Medina, and the headquarters unit would be held in reserve and follow the first
two platoons in after the area was more-or-less secured.
My Lai village had
about 700 residents. They lived in either red-brick homes or thatch-covered
huts. A deep drainage ditch marked the eastern boundary of the village.
Directly south of the residential area was an open plaza area used for holding
village meetings. To the north and west of the village was dense foliage.
By 8 a.m., Calley's
platoon had crossed the plaza on the town's southern edge and entered the
village. They encountered families cooking rice in front of their homes. The
men began their usual search-and-destroy task of pulling people from homes,
interrogating them, and searching for VC. Soon the killing began. The first
victim was a man stabbed in the back with a bayonet. Then a middle-aged man was
picked up, thrown down a well, and a grenade lobbed in after him. A group of
fifteen to twenty mostly older women were gathered around a temple, kneeling and
praying. They were all executed with shots to the back of their heads.
Eighty or so
villagers were taken from their homes and herded to the plaza area. As many
cried "No VC! No VC!", Calley told soldier
Paul Meadlo, "You know what I want you to do with them". When Calley
returned ten minutes later and found the Vietnamese still gathered in the plaza
he reportedly said to Meadlo, "Haven't you got rid of them yet? I want them
dead. Waste them." Meadlo and Calley began firing into the group from a
distance of ten to fifteen feet. The few that survived did so because they were
covered by the bodies of those less fortunate.
What Captain Medina
knew of these war crimes is not certain. It was a chaotic operation. Gary
Garfolo said, "I could hear shooting all the time. Medina was running back and
forth everywhere. This wasn't no organized deal." Medina would later testify
that he didn't enter the village until 10 a.m., after most of the shooting had
stopped, and did not personally witness a single civilian being killed. Others
put Medina in the village closer to 9 a.m., and close to the scene of many of
the murders as they were happening.
As the third platoon
moved into My Lai, it was followed by army photographer Ronald Haeberle, there
to document what was supposed to be a significant encounter with a crack enemy
battalion. Haeberle took many pictures. He said he saw about thirty different
GIs kill about 100 civilians. Once Haeberle focused his camera on a young child
about five feet away, but before he could get his picture the kid was blown
away. He angered some GIs as he tried to photograph them as they fondled the
breasts of a fifteen-year-old Vietnamese girl.
rampage below continued. Calley was at the drainage ditch on the eastern edge
of the village, where about seventy to eighty old men, women, and children not
killed on the spot had been brought. Calley ordered the dozen or so platoon
members there to push the people into the ditch, and three or four GIs did.
Calley ordered his men to shoot into the ditch. Some refused, others obeyed.
One who followed Calley's order was Paul Meadlo, who estimated that he killed
about twenty-five civilians. (Later Meadlo was seen, head in hands, crying.)
Calley joined in the massacre. At one point, a two-year-old child who somehow
survived the gunfire began running towards the hamlet. Calley grabbed the
child, threw him back in the ditch, then shot him.”
In prior studies (1990) of massacres like the
one in My Lai, the most prominent hypothesis concerns what has been called “a
forward panic.” This idea proposes that any group in a highly emotional state,
especially a state of fear, is capable of massacre.
The parallel upon which this idea is based is
the behavior of audiences in theatre fires. In a panic to get out of the
theatre, members of the audience may trample on each other. A panic state of
this kind leads to unintentional, indeed compulsive behavior. A telling detail
from these accounts is that many audience members seem to have no memory of the
panic. In their desperation to flee the theatre, they may have experienced an
absence, which is French for temporarily losing your mind.
The idea of panic seems to explain collective
behavior in theatre fires very well. A panic suggests flight behavior driven
entirely by a single emotion, fear, and that it has no basis in the previous
history of the members of the crowd. Forward panic add a new idea, that instead
of flight, panic can also lead to fight. In the case of massacres, fight would
take the form of slaughter.
There are several studies of massacres by
soldiers that strongly suggest forward panics (Collins, 1990). Military units
that had no history of earlier violence, under conditions of great danger, have
committed mayhem, either captive enemy soldiers or helpless civilians. In
Collin’s forthcoming study of collective violence, he suggests that the
slaughter at My Lai may have been caused, at least in part, by forward panic.
While there are some indications of forward
panic in the massacre at My Lai, there are many indications that suggest other
causes as well. The prior history of the behavior of the soldiers in Company C
is rife with episodes of earlier violence against civilians, suggesting a
habitual pattern of behavior as one of the causes of My Lai.
There are also many suggestions that point
toward intentionality by Calley and by his superior officers, including his
immediate superior, Capt. Medina. Both the orders from above and Calley’s
actions themselves can be seen as intentional. Although Medina’s orders are not
completely unambiguous, certainly Calley’s comments and actions suggest
intention, rather than compulsive actions during a panic.
Another, more obvious
limitation of the forward panic hypothesis is that there seem to have been other
emotions involved, in addition to fear. It seems obvious that fear was a part of
the pattern. In the events leading up to My Lai, Company C had been exposed to
grave and constant danger. They were fighting an enemy that was virtually
invisible, attacking under thick forest cover, and in silence. The lives of
these soldiers had been on the line 24/7 for many days. Surely they were living
in fear of their lives.
But the account above suggests other emotions as well.
The US soldiers found the skillful tactics of their enemy frustrating, which is
one of many vernacular ways of implicating the emotion of anger. Anger is also
implied in regard to the death of one of their sergeants and the wounding of
several of their fellows, only two days before the arrival at My Lai: “[The]
soldiers had revenge on their mind.” The idea of revenge involves not only
anger, since revenge implies a shame-anger sequence. The inability of the men to
even find, much less defeat the enemy appears to have given rise not only to
fear and anger, but also to the feeling of defeat and its consequence,
autobiographical statement (1971) nor his biographies are sufficiently detailed
to allow a clear analysis of his emotional life. With the exception of a
temporary bond with his older sister, he appeared to have formed no close bonds
with anyone. Even though lacking in details, his biographies do uniformly
suggest conditions for one emotion, the emotion of shame. Judging from his
history, beginning as a high school student and extending into his life after
leaving school, he had encountered a long and virtually uninterrupted series of
scornful treatments from others and unremitting failures.
Calley failed many courses
in high school and college, and failed at many jobs after leaving school. By
some monstrous error, when he enlisted in the Army, he was chosen for Officers’
Candidate School. But his record both in OCS and in his regular service was one
of failure and scorn. The officer who was his immediate superior in Vietnam,
Capt. Medina, is recorded as never referring to him by his name, but instead
used only scornful epithets. For example, in front of his platoon, Medina
referred to Calley as “Lt. Shithead.”
Given this record of
unremitting scorn and failure, it is instructive to read Calley’s version of his
life (as told to John Sacks, 1973). Calley was utterly silent about his long
history of failure and scorn. The difference between the biographies and
Calley’s version of his life would seem to support the idea that violent men
suppress their emotional lives.
Calley’s behavior during
the massacre itself provides a vivid image of the silence/violence pattern.
While ordering and participating in the murder of women and children, he was
emotionally silent. Note the details in the final paragraph above (PBS,
“Calley was at the
drainage ditch on the eastern edge of the village, where about seventy to eighty
old men, women, and children not killed on the spot had been brought. Calley
ordered the dozen or so platoon members there to push the people into the ditch,
and three or four GIs did. Calley ordered his men to shoot into the ditch.
Some refused, others obeyed. One who followed Calley's order was Paul Meadlo,
who estimated that he killed about twenty-five civilians. (Later Meadlo was
seen, head in hands, crying.) Calley joined in the massacre. At one point, a
two-year-old child who somehow survived the gunfire began running towards the
hamlet. Calley grabbed the child, threw him back in the ditch, then shot him.”
It should be noted that
some of his troops refused to obey Calley’s murderous commands, and that one who
did obey (Meadlo) was seen crying afterwards. Calley’s behavior stands out not
only because of its violence, but because it was so unemotional. There were
undoubtedly many other massacres in Vietnam similar to the one at My Lai, some
of them unreported. But even the reported ones received little attention
compared to My Lai. Perhaps Calley’s combination of emotional silence and
flagrant violence made it so inhuman and repugnant that there was no way of
Many studies of battlefield
behavior have shown that to kill effectively, solidiers’ greatest struggle is
with their own conscience. Their personal morality dictates it wrong to kill
other human beings, even enemy soldiers. But Calley came to battle with the
conscience problem long overcome: he had numbed out not only fear and grief, but
also feelings of shame, the basic ingredient of conscience.
Pattern in Hitler’s Biographies
The evidence for unresolved
grief is indirect: there is not a single mention of Hitler crying, not even as a
child. There are a host of indications, however, that he prized manliness,
strength, and fortitude in the face of adversity. All of these indications run
counter to placing any value on crying or other expressions of grief.
Hitler’s ideal of iron
strength was not merely ideological, since he had distinguished himself as a
good soldier in WWI (see below). His courage under fire may also suggest the
numbing out of fear, since it is difficult to distinguish between courage and
the mere absence of fear.
psychoanalyst Alice Miller (l983) has suggested a family origin of Hitler's
psychopathology, the conjunction of the father's physical/emotional violence and
his mother's complicity in it. Miller argues that the rage and shame caused by
his father's treatment might have been completely repressed because of his
mother's complicity. Although she pampered Hitler and professed to love him, she
didn't protect him from his father's wrath, or allow Adolf to express his
feelings about it.
Klara, as much as Adolf, was tyrannized by her husband, but offered only
obedience and respect in return. Because of his mother's "love" for him, as a
young child, Adolf was required not only to suffer humiliation by his father in
silence, but also to respect him for it, a basic context for repression.
later years Hitler (l927) was to gloss over his treatment by his parents, which
is congruent with repression. He described his father as stern but respected,
his childhood as that of a "mother's darling living in a soft downy bed"
(Bromberg and Small, l983, 40). However, Alois's son, Alois Jr, left home at l4
because of his father's harshness. His son, William Patrick, reported that Alois,
Sr. beat Alois, Jr. with a whip. Alois Jr.'s first wife, Brigid, reported that
Alois Sr. frequently beat the children, and on occasion, his wife Klara
(Bromberg and Small, l983, 32-33).
would appear that Hitler's early childhood constituted an external feeling trap
from which there was no escape. This external trap is the analogue to the
internal trap proposed by Lewis (l971): when shame is evoked but goes
unacknowledged, it generates intense symptoms of mental illness and/or violence
towards self or others. Under the conditions of complete repression that seem to
have obtained, Hitler's personality was grossly distorted. His biographies
suggest that he was constantly in a state of anger bound by shame.
indication of Hitler's continual shame/rage were his temper tantrums. Although
in later life some of them may have been staged, there is no question that in
most of his tantrums he was actually out of control. His older stepbrother
reported that even before he was seven, (Gilbert, l950, l8):
imperious and quick to anger…If he didn’t get his way he got very angry. He
would fly into a rage over any triviality.”
In his teens,
Hitler's rages were frequent and intense, evoking such expressions as "red with
rage", "exceedingly violent and high-strung", and "like a volcano erupting" (Kubizek
Hitler's compulsive anger is suggested by the slightness of provocation that
triggered rage. Kubizek's memoir provides two examples: one occasion on learning
that he had failed to win a lottery, another when he saw "Stephanie" with other
men. Stephanie was a girl who Hitler longed to meet, but never did so. He was
infatuated with her, but never introduced himself (Bromberg and Small, l983,
The most obvious
manifestations of Hitler's shame occurred after he became Chancellor. Although
easily the most powerful and admired man in Germany, he was constantly
apprehensive (Bromberg and Small, l983, l83):
His anxieties lest
he appear ridiculous, weak, vulnerable, incompetent, or in any way inferior are
indications of his endless battle with shame.
manifestations of chronic shame states occurred in his relationships with women.
In attempting to interest a woman in himself (Bromberg and Small, l983, l83):
even the presence
of other persons would not prevent him from repulsive groveling. [He would} tell
a lady that he was unworthy to sit near her or kiss her hand but hoped she would
look on him with favor... one woman reported that after all kinds of
self-accusations he said that he was unworthy of being in the same room with
These latter descriptions of Hitler's shame states
suggest overt, undifferentiated shame, emotionally painful states involving
feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. How then is one to understand the other
side of Hitler's personality, his arrogance, boldness, and extreme
self-confidence? How could a man so shame-prone also be so shameless?
Lewis's (1971) conception of the bimodal nature of unacknowledged shame provides
an answer. In addition to the overt shame states discussed above, Hitler also
had a long history of bypassed shame. Many aspects of his behavior suggest
bypassed shame, but I will review only three: his temper tantrums, his "piercing
stare" (Bromberg and Small, l983, 309) and his obsessiveness.
already indicated, shame theory suggests that protracted and destructive anger
is generated by unacknowledged shame. Normal anger, when not intermixed with
shame, is usually brief, moderate, and can even be constructive, serving to call
notice to adjustments needed in a relationship (Retzinger, l991). Long chains of
shame and anger alternating are experienced as blind rage, hatred or resentment
if the shame component is completely repressed. In this case, the expression of
anger serves as a disguise for the hidden shame, projecting onto the outside
world the feelings that go unacknowledged within. According to Lewis (1971),
persons in whom shame is deeply repressed "would rather turn the world upside
down than turn themselves inside out." This idea exactly captures the psychology
of Hitler's life-long history of intense rage states, and his projection of his
inner conflict on to scapegoats in the external world.
second indicator of bypassed shame is Hitler's demeanor, especially the nature
of his gaze. As early as l6, it was described as "blank" or "cruel" (Bromberg
and Small, l983, 51). On the other hand, there are descriptions at a later time
(21) in which he was said to have " an evasive manner", of being "shy" and
"never looking a person in the eye", except when he was talking politics (ibid.,
70). These descriptions suggest that Hitler may have been in a virtually
permanent state of shame, manifested as either bypassed shame (the stare) or
overt shame (avoiding eye contact). As his power increased, the bypassed mode
was more and more in evidence, in the form of arrogance, extreme
self-confidence, isolation, and obsession.
psychiatrist Gilligan (1996) studied the emotions of male prisoners convicted of
violence. He found evidence that each of them harbored a kind of shame similar
to Hitler’s. Gilligan’s term for it is not unacknowledged or bypassed, but
“secret.” He proposed that secret shame was a fundamental basis for the violence
of these men.
and psychological studies emphasize Hitler's isolation as a child and adult
(Bromberg and Small, l983 Bullock, l964 Davidson, l977 Miller, l983, Stierlin,
l976, l976). As an infant and youth, he was pampered by his mother. But even as
young as three, the relationship with his father was charged with violence,
ridicule, and contempt. By the age of 6, he apparently was walled off from
everyone, including his mother (Bromberg and Small, l983, Miller, l983, Stierlin,
three most likely candidates for a close relationship after the age of 6 are
August Kubizek, Eva Braun, and Albert Speer. Hitler and Kubizek were companions
for three years, beginning when they were both sixteen. Kubizek's memoir of
Hitler (l955) shows that his relationship to Hitler was not that of friend but
adoring admirer. Kubizek describes Hitler as a compulsive talker, brooking no
interruptions, let alone any disagreement. Lacking any other listeners at this
age, Hitler used Kubizek as a sounding board.
an architect-engineer, was closest to Hitler among his officials during the last
years of WWII. In an interview after the war, Speer revealed that although he
spent countless hours with Hitler, there was no personal relationship between
them (Bromberg and Small, l983, ll2): “If Hitler had friends, I would have been
diary (Bromberg and Small, l983, pp. l07-l08) shows that Eva Braun, Hitler’s
mistress, came no closer than Kubizek or Speer. For most of the fifteen-year
relationship, he attempted to keep it hidden, confining her to her rooms during
meetings with others. A few entries suggest the tone of the whole diary. In
l935, when she was 23 and Hitler 46, she complained that she felt imprisoned,
that she got nothing from their sexual relationship, and that she felt
desperately insecure: “He is only using me for definite purposes.” (March ll).
Most of the women with whom Hitler had sexual relations either attempted or
committed suicide (Small and Bromberg count seven such relationships, with three
of them attempting, and three completing suicide l983, p. l25). Eva Braun made
two such attempts.
l942, Hitler inadvertently suggested his isolation from Eva. Hearing of the
death of one of his officials, Fritz Todt, chief of armaments, he said that he
was now deprived of “the only two human beings among all those around me to whom
I have been truly and inwardly attached: Dr. Todt is dead and Hess has flown
away from me!” (Toland, l976, p. 666.) As Bromberg and Small (l983) note, this
statement leaves Eva out entirely, mentioning instead “a remote man who could
rarely be induced to sit at Hitler’s table and a man he could not bear to
converse with, denounced as crazy, and wished dead” (p. l50).
Neither as a soldier nor as a politician did Hitler have close attachments. His
experience as an enlisted man in the Army during WWI is illustrative. Although
he was a dedicated soldier who demonstrated fearlessness in battle, he was a
“loner” he had no intimates. This may be one of the reasons that although he was
decorated for bravery, he was little promoted after four years. He left the army
at the rank of lance corporal, the equivalent of a private first class. In his
evaluations, he was described as lacking in leadership.
becoming the leader of the Nazi party, he moved no closer to human
relationships. A description of his campaign the year before gaining power is
representative (Small and Bromberg, l983, l08):
[In the campaign,
Hitler] had almost no real contact with people, not even with his associates,
who felt they were touring with a performer… He remained a lone wolf, now….more
distant from his senior associates, and contemptuous of them.
Although the adored leader
of millions of people, Hitler apparently had no secure bond with anyone after
the age of six.
If it proves to be the case
that the silence/violence pattern arises out anger, repression of vulnerable
emotions and lack of bonds, and that this pattern is much more prevalent in men
than in women, what would be the practical implications?
Obviously one direction
would be for men to unlearn their suppression of the vulnerable emotions,
express anger rather than act it out, and to bond to at least one other person.
Reviewing events of one’s day, as indicated above, can be a particularly simple
and effective way of moving toward all three of these goals. However, even if
most men agreed with this direction, which they don’t, it would still take a
long time to see effective change. By adulthood, the s/v pattern is compulsive,
as is the repression of the vulnerable emotions, compulsive anger and isolation
from others. It would take considerable time, energy, and skill to change this
In the meantime, it might
be practical to use the difference between men and women in our political
structures. It is possible that electing/appointing women to high office, rather
than men, might be a step, on the average, of slowing down the leap into war and
violence. There are exceptions, of course, like Margaret Thatcher, who
manipulated collective emotions as skillfully as any man. But most women are at
least somewhat less easy with this kind of exploitation than our present
leaders, hypermasculine men. Women also would be less trigger happy then men,
who have a tendency to fight first and ask questions later.
Arlie Hochschild (2004) has
proposed that large numbers of working class men support the Bush regime, even
though its policies are against the interests of their class. She argues that
the reason for their support is emotional, rather than economic. They admire,
and wish to emulate Bush’s style of meeting threat with aggression rather than
with negotiation and compromise. His hypermasculine, violent style, is a
reaffirmation of their own. It would appear that this style is so central to
their identity that it overrides their economic interests.
Each of the initiatives
proposed here may be only one step toward controlling violence. Having a
majority of leaders be women, rather then men, for instance, seems a long way
away. In Lysistrata, a drama from ancient Greece, women joined together
to deny sex to men who fought. Perhaps modern women might take note, not only to
lessen war directly, but also indirectly, to encourage men to vote for women, or
at least, less arrogant leaders.
Of the many issues that
need further exploration, one stands out: the extent to which some women
accept/encourage hypermasculinity in men. This possibility will be the subject
of a subsequent paper. Perhaps there is a type of femininity that exactly fits
with, and encourages hypermasculinity, women who want a strong, silent man to
protect them because they anticipate being victimized. Such women would seek
hypermasculine men as husbands and encourage hypermasculinity in their male
children. This pattern could help explain why modern societies continue have
high proportions of men who are hypermasculine, or at least show some of its
So far, I have found only
hints in this direction in the literature on masculinity. Reardon (1985) went
only so far as to suggest that the pattern of women submitting to male
domination contributes to the warfare system (p. 19). Jackson’s (1990) study of
violent men states that they usually saw their mothers as passive victims
(p.88), without Jackson trying to deal with the extent their view was accurate.
My hypothesis is that there
is a common emotional/relational configuration for women that would be the
(partial) opposite and therefore complement of hypermasculinity. In the emotion
realm, hyperfeminine women would suppress anger, one the one hand, and
act out fear of being victims, on the other. In terms of relationships, these
women would be engulfed with others, giving up crucial parts of self in
order to be loyal. The suppression of anger provides a key example: the other is
always right. Norwood’s (1985) study of women who tolerated abuse of self and/or
their children by their husband provides an example.
These two hyper-genders
would be mutually reinforcing, creating a social institution of gender that
would support warfare. Being only a surmise, to be taken seriously, it would
have to have to be supported by actual studies. One direction would be to study
gender differences in preferences, and responses to, certain types of films. The
“action” film, revenge by men acting out anger through aggression and violence,
seems to be the favorite of hypermasculine men. The corresponding favorite for
hyperfeminime women, if my hypothesis is correct, would involve the acting out
of fear, as in films that portray danger and threat by an intruder(s) in the
home, and other threats of violence against defenseless victims.
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