Aggression, hypermasculine emotions and relations: the silence/violence pattern

Aggression, hypermasculine emotions and relations: the

silence/violence pattern

 

 

THOMAS SCHEFF

University of California, Santa Barbara

 

 

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 unavail-

able, 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 emo-

tions 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, behaviour

becomes compulsive. When men face what they construe to be threatening situa-

tions, 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 selec-

tions from his work in the volume edited by Demos 1995, pp. 92–4, 57, 275–6).

         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 did not 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 counsellor (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 students.

         My personal life has also been dense with emotional/relational issues. Between

the ages of 14 and 40 I certainly fitted 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 30s, during the Vietnam protest, I took many

risks that seem shockingly unacceptable to me now. Some of my colleagues compli-

mented 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 UPSLEEPY-HEAD, YOUR LIFE IS IN DANGER! Much faster than

thought, this reaction increases our chance of survival, and repressing it is dan-

gerous to self and others. If the sense of fear has been repressed, it is necessary to

find ways of uncovering it.

         Although the idea is only hinted at in Tomkins, it now seems likely that repres-

sion 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 my

father saw expressions of grief or fear 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 behaviour.

         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 curtail-

ments, 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, self-perpetuating loop.

         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 unpre-

dictable. It was a problem in all of my relationships.

         However, at the age of 40, 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 university.

         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

episode.

         These fear experiences also had an immediately visible effect. After the second

one, I actually began to experience fear when I was in danger. Since I was still

deeply involved in the Vietnam protest, I began 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 injury.

         Surprisingly, neither the crying nor the fear episodes were painful. Indeed, they

were more pleasurable than painful. In the fear response, particularly, I felt some-

what 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: Scheff,

1979). That is, I was both in a state of grief or fear, but also outside 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 usu-

ally seemed to feel much better after her marathon of talk. Anew thought occurred

to me: if it works for her, maybe it will work for me! So we took turns review-

ing 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 to thrive.

 

Gender differences in emotion management

 

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 sup-

port 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 woman.

         Doka and Martin (1998) have argued that men’s grieving is not recognised as

such, because it is largely cognitive and behavioural, 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

behavioural, 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 violence.

         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 pattern 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 hypermas-

culine emotions in actual events is difficult to evaluate directly because of

inadequate reporting of the emotional/relational world.

         Conventional reporting involves the behavioural/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 behaviour seem almost as disturbing as Hitler’s: even though he

organised 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 Lai massacre

 

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 16 March, 1968, led by

Lt. William Calley. Like some of the men serving under him, Calley’s back-

ground 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 all right 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 ser-

geant, 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 their enemy.

       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’s 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 redbrick

homes or thatch-covered huts. Adeep 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. Agroup 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 organised

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.

       Meanwhile, the 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 behaviour of audiences

in theatre fires. In a panic to get out of the theatre, members of the audience may

trample on each other. Apanic state of this kind leads to unintentional, indeed

compulsive behaviour. Atelling 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 behaviour in theatre fires very

well. Apanic suggests flight behaviour 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 adds 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

behaviour of the soldiers in Company C is rife with episodes of earlier violence

against civilians, suggesting a habitual pattern of behaviour 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 skilful 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, humiliation.

         Neither Calley’s autobiographical statement (1971) nor his biographies are

sufficiently detailed to allow a clear analysis of his emotional life. With the excep-

tion 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 behaviour 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, undated):

 

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 behaviour stands out not only because of its violence, but because it was

so unemotional. There were undoubtedly many other massacres in Vietnam simi-

lar 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 avoiding it.

         Many studies of battlefield behaviour have shown that to kill effectively, soldiers’

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.

 

The silence/violence 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 distin-

guished himself as a good soldier in World War I (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.

         The Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller (1983) has suggested a family origin of

Hitler’s psychopathology, the conjunction of the father’s physical/emotional vio-

lence 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 did not protect him from his father’s wrath, or allow Adolf to express his

feelings about it.

         Hitler’s mother, Klara, as much as Adolf, was tyrannised 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.

         In later years Hitler (1927) 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, 1983: 40). However, Alois’s son, Alois Jr, left home at 14 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, 1983, 32–3).

         It 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 (1971): 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.

         One indication of Hitler’s continual shame/rage was 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 (Gilbert, 1950, 18) that even before he was seven, ‘Hitler was 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, 1955).

         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. He

was infatuated with her, but never introduced himself (Bromberg and Small, 1983:

55–6).

         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, 1983: 183): ‘His anxieties lest

he appear ridiculous, weak, vulnerable, incompetent, or in any way inferior are

indications of his endless battle with shame.’ Further manifestations of chronic

shame states occurred in his relationships with women. In attempting to interest a

woman in himself,

 

even the presence of other persons would not prevent him from repulsive

grovelling. [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 favour ... one woman

reported that after all kinds of self-accusations he said that he was unworthy

of being in the same room with her. (Bromberg and Small, 1983: 83)

 

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 behaviour suggest

bypassed shame, but I will review only three: his temper tantrums, his ‘piercing

stare’(Bromberg and Small, 1983: 309) and his obsessiveness.

         As 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, 1991). 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

lifelong history of intense rage states, and his projection of his inner conflict on to

scapegoats in the external world.

         The second indicator of bypassed shame is Hitler’s demeanour, especially the

nature of his gaze. As early as l6, it was described as ‘blank’ or ‘cruel’(Bromberg

and Small, 1983: 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 descrip-

tions 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 evi-

dence, in the form of arrogance, extreme self-confidence, isolation, and obsession.

         The prison psychiatrist Gilligan (1996) studied the emotions of male prisoners

convicted of violence. He found evidence that each of them harboured 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 vio-

lence of these men.

 

Isolation from others

 

The biographies and psychological studies emphasise Hitler’s isolation as a child

and adult (Bromberg and Small, 1983; Bullock, 1964; Davidson, 1977; Miller,

1983; Stierlin, 1976). 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 six, he apparently was walled off from every-

one, including his mother (Bromberg and Small, 1983; Miller, 1983; Stierlin, 1976).

         The three most likely candidates for a close relationship after the age of six are

August Kubizek, Eva Braun, and Albert Speer. Hitler and Kubizek were compan-

ions for three years, beginning when they were both sixteen. Kubizek’s memoir of

Hitler (1955) shows that his relationship to Hitler was not that of friend but of

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.

         Speer, an architect-engineer, was closest to Hitler among his officials during

the last years of World War II. 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, 1983: 112): ‘If Hitler had friends, I would

have been his friend’.

         Her diary (Bromberg and Small, 1983: 107–8) shows that Eva Braun, Hitler’s

mistress, came no closer than Kubizek or Speer. For most of the 15-year relation-

ship, he attempted to keep it hidden, confining her to her rooms during meetings

with others. Afew entries suggest the tone of the whole diary. In 1935, 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’(11 March). Most of the women with whom Hitler

had sexual relations either attempted or committed suicide (Small and Bromberg,

1983: 125, count seven such relationships, with three of them attempting, and

three completing suicide). Eva Braun made two such attempts.

         In 1942, 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, 1976: 666.) As Bromberg and Small (1983) 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 World War I 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 an American private first class. In his

evaluations, he was described as lacking in leadership.

         After 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, 1983, 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.

 

Application

 

If it proves to be the case that the silence/violence pattern arises out of 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 par-

ticularly 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 com-

pulsive, 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 pattern.

         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 skilfully 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.

         In an unpublished paper, Hochschild (n.d.) 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 hypermas-

culine, 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.

 

Note

 

This article revises my earlier approach to male violence (2003) in several ways, particularly

by introducing ‘the vulnerable emotions’, and the idea that we need to experience the full

range of emotions. I am indebted to Suzanne Retzinger for suggesting these two ideas.

 

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