Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sympathy for the Devil

Wounded Monster: Hitler's Path from Trauma to Malevolence by Theo L. Dorpat

Next month on September 18 TBIPS resumes classes, including the first year course “Introduction to Psychoanalytic Concepts.” While the privileging of left brain narrative (e.g. free association) and insight (understanding via verbal interpretation) have long been emphasized by traditional training programs, TBIPS starts its instruction on the being with patients. What is an open attitude that invites possibility into the treatment room? An exercise to foster an open and accepting attitude includes having the clinician student imagine all the ways s/he might empathize with the most unacceptable of human creatures, such as the murderer, the homophobe, the pedophile.

Such is the call to stretch the limits of empathy in Theo L. Dorpat’s book Wounded Monster, which pointedly, and poignantly, describes consequences of chronic childhood trauma— occurring without comfort and secure attachment to mitigate it—specifically regarding its most egregious of outcomes, that which helped produce the likes of Adolf Hitler. Adolf’s father Alois dominated and abused Adolf and his mother Klara, both physically and emotionally. Like many children who must submit to abuse at the hands of those who are meant to protect and nurture them, Adolf developed impairment in emotional regulation, antisocial behavior, and did poorly in school. His depressed mother Klara, having lost three infants before Adolf was born, alternated between withdrawal and overindulging and overprotecting him. Stop the presses! Dorpat surmises that Klara was unable to provide a secure base for, or consistently nurture and attune to Adolf. Playfulness was absent in his childhood and he failed to develop interpersonal skills, withdrawing from or bullying others. It is speculated (perhaps reductionistic) that Hitler’s hatred of his father (whom he sometimes suspected was part Jewish)and wish to protect his mother was enacted in his hatred of Jews and his mega-maniacal wish to bolster supreme his motherland.

Dorpat’s book on Hitler is a smorgasbord on child development and on attachment and trauma research, as well as outlines what is essential to a healthy psyche capable of personal and interpersonal success. Dorpat applies “contemporary trauma theory …to explain …Hitler’s psychiatric disorders and personality malformations, especially his malevolence.” That Dorpat frames this knowledge in the context of Hitler’s childhood is an expression of Dorpat’s capacity to empathize with even the most heinous of human creatures. Perhaps we might utilize this study to open ourselves to the trauma of even our most “hateful borderline” (Slochower) patients, patients who often see themselves as worth hating.

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