‘The terror of the Third Reich was cultivated in Hitler’s own home.’
– Florian Beierl
The Swiss psychoanalyst, Alice Miller, was of the view that most people repress their memories of childhood trauma and may be in such extreme denial about the way their parents mistreated them that they may actually, on a conscious level, idealize them rather than castigate them. This acts as a psychological defense mechanism : protecting the individual from the painful truth.
Nevertheless, Miller suggests, the unconscious rage they feel against their parents constantly fizzes beneath the surface looking for an outlet. This outlet takes the form of displacement (the redirecting of one’s rage onto innocent victims).
An exceptionally rare and extreme example of individuals who may act out this process of repression, denial and displacement is that of some serial killers. However, Miller provides an even more extreme example, that of the tyrant and fascist dictator, Adolf Hitler.
Indeed, Adolf Hitler, as a child, was severely physically abused by his father (Alois) who would regularly fly into uncontrollable rages and beat his son. Sometimes, Adolf Hitler’s mother would intervene in order to try to physically protect her son, only to be beaten by her husband herself as a consequence.
- Above: Adolf Hitler as a child.
One effect of this on Adolf Hitler is that he began to bully his sister which took the form of hitting her, just as he was hit by his father.
In modern day terms, then, Adolf Hitler’s family was highly dysfunctional, and this had a damaging psychological effect on him as evidenced not only by his bullying of his sister, but also by the fact that in his teens he became increasingly reclusive, resentful and emotionally unstable (particularly when interacting with his father).
According to Miller, Hitler’s terrible and horrific actions can be traced back to this dysfunctional childhood; according to Miller, his heinous actions as an adult were driven by a psychotic and deranged lust for ‘revenge on the world’ for his childhood suffering.
Miller also argues that many high ranking SS officers had also suffered abusive childhoods, as had other tyrants such as Mao and Stalin.
Miller’s ideas have been criticized for being overly simplistic, so she is something of a controversial figure.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).