Volume 1, Issue 1 (September, 2015)

Levels of Being

by Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.


ABSTRACT:  This article attempts to classify seven levels at which people and groups experience life.  It describes each level of being and offers psychological explanations for each level, including theories about what kinds of personalities and personality disorders might be found at each level.  It is hoped that categorizing these levels of being might contribute to a better ­­understanding of what it means to be human.



1. Introduction

Various philosophers and psychologists have alluded to levels of being.  In ancient China Lao Tzu described “the way” in 81 poems.  The way referred to operating in life in the most healthy and harmonic mode, with the least amount of strife or conflict.  Throughout his little book, which is the second-most translated book in the world after the Bible, Lao Tzu details not only the effective way, and also the ineffective ways, people live their lives.  In poem 38, he notes, “Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.  When goodness is lost, there is kindness.  When kindness is lost, there is justice.  When justice is lost, there is ritual.  Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.” (Feng and English, 1972).  In this poem Lao Tzu outlines his own view of the levels of being.  The highest level is the Way (enlightenment); the next is about being good (morality); the next is about displaying kindness (pseudo-enlightenment); the next is about justice (politics); the next is about ritual (convention); then come faith and loyalty (religion, patriotism).

Buddha also looked at levels of being when he wrote about achieving enlightenment or finding the Middle Way.  The Buddhist view eschews extreme modes that range from overindulgence to self-sacrifice, from egoism to self-negation, from self-gratification to severe discipline.  Instead, it favors the middle way of detachment from neediness, envy, regret, resentment and hatred, as well as from the thoughts attached to these attitudes.  While the two extreme modes lead to suffering, the middle way leads to peace and harmony (Tuffley, 2013)

Aristotle introduced his own version of the Middle Way in his writing, Nicomachean Ethics.  Aristotle writes of the attainment of virtue through achievement of the “mean” between extremes.  For example, he saw courage as a mean between rashness and cowardice; moderation as a mean between overindulgence and self-denial; generosity as a mean between wastefulness and stinginess; friendliness as a mean between ingratiation and surliness; and magnanimity as a mean between vanity and modesty (Bartlett and Collins, 2011).  Plato, in his Allegory of the Cave (a chapter in The Republic), has Socrates describe a gathering of people who have spent their lives chained to the wall of a cave. The prisoners watch shadows projected on the wall by objects passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to make up names to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality.  Then as the prisoners come out to the daylight, they are blinded by the sun.  Then they can only see reflections in water.  Thus their mode of being is affected by how well they are able to test reality (Bloom, 1991).

In psychology, Freud spoke of levels of consciousness: conscious, preconscious and unconscious. The more unconscious people are, according to Freud, the more disturbed they will be.  Hence their mode of being will be related to their state of consciousness (Freud, 1900).  This closely resembles Plato’s cave allegory, which uses the metaphor of the cave to denote the unconscious.  Maslow came up with the term “self-actualization” and deemed it to be the highest need, as well as attainment, of human beings.  He devised his hierarchy of needs to depict the basic conditions of healthy development, describing five levels of needs—physiological needs such as food and water, safety needs such as a stable family, love and belonging needs, needs for respect, and finally the need for self-actualization.  To the extent these needs were blocked, people remained on a lower level of functioning; to the extent they were gratified, people reached the higher levels, with a few achieving self-actualization or enlightenment (Maslow, 1954).

Kohlberg, a follower of Maslow, devised his levels of moral development.  In his scheme, he saw three basic levels or stages of morality, which were divided into six sub-stages.  The first stage he called “preconventional” because it referred to the early childhood stages such as when a child’s morality consists of obeying authority in order not to be punished.  The next stage was the “conventional” stage, in which the morality of people is determined by the mainstream values in their society.  And the final stage is referred to as the “postconventional” stage, a stage at which people no longer resolve their moral issues by using conventional values, but instead do so by thinking for themselves from a higher vantage point, as if they were visitors from Mars who were studying Earth’s inhabitants from a completely neutral or enlightened point of view.  Kohlberg referred to this highest level as a kind of universal morality (Kohlberg, 1969).

These writers, who all seem to agree that there are levels of functioning and that that there exists a universal highest level, have led me to a theory that I call “Levels of Being.”  As a psychoanalyst, my focus is on psychodynamics. Humans operate in the world at various levels.  The level at which people operate in the world depends on how mentally healthy they are.  Mental health, in turn, is determined by both environmental and genetic factors, with environmental factors such as the family and society in which they are raised, being most important.  If people are raised in healthy families and societies that support healthy functioning, they will learn to operate on a higher level of being.  They will, as Plato and Freud noted, be more conscious, more aware, more enlightened and more in touch with reality.  To the extent they are in touch with reality, their lives will be more harmonious.   If they are raised in families and societies that do not support or impede healthy functioning, they will operate on a lower level and will be out of touch with reality and endure lives of struggle.

There are six levels of being which I will elaborate, starting from the lowest level:  6. Subsistence Level—in which people are barely able to scrape by and keep themselves alive; 5. Militant Level—in which people or societies are always fighting and at war over domination; 4. Conventional Level—in which people attempt to feel good about themselves by fitting in with society and “doing the right thing”; 3. Political Level—in which people attempt to find individual happiness through controlling the external world; 2. Status Level—in which people attempt to find contentment by achieving a high ranking in society; 1. Harmonic Level—in which people are in touch, aware and contented and don’t need to vie for superiority, making life more or less effortless.  I am rendering the six levels below in the form of narrow to wide lines, to show the levels from top to bottom and depict their proportions of the population.


                                                                              HARMONIC LEVEL: At peace

                                                                         STATUS LEVEL: Seeking high ranking

                                                             POLITICAL LEVEL: Trying to control the external world

                                                             CONVENTIONAL LEVEL: Running along with the herd

                                                                     MILITANT LEVEL:  Fighting for domination

                                                                          SUBSISTENCE LEVEL:  Staying alive


I will now attempt to give a detailed picture of each of the levels of being, beginning with the lowest level, in order to elucidate the psychological characteristics of those at each particular level.

2. The Subsistence Level

The lowest level of being is the subsistence level.  The term “subsistence level” is commonly used to denote someone who lives from paycheck to paycheck.  Here it refers to the lowest level of operation, of which living from paycheck to paycheck, or worse, living in debt or being dependent upon other people or the government for financial support (i.e. welfare), is one example.  People on this level are scarcely able to function in any role they are required to play.  They are not able to work successfully and sometimes don’t work at all; they are not able to do well at school; they are not able to form meaningful relationships with relatives or friends; and they are not able to handle the complex operation of parenting.  Sometimes they are homeless and alone.

At times people on this lowest level of being suffer from a genetic defect.  For example, those who are mentally challenged, born with an IQ of 70 or under, cannot function well because of their lack of intelligence.  Some mental disorders seem to be primarily genetic, such as bipolar disorder, in which identical twin studies show a very high correlation rate (65%) according to the International Mental Research Organization (Staglin, 2014).  Debates continue between geneticists and psychologists as to the extent that to which mental disorders come from nature or nurture.  My take on it, after 38 years of practice as a psychotherapist, is that most mental disorders are more the result of nurture (upbringing, societal factors, and the like) than nature.  However, I will leave this for others to debate.

Generally, people in the subsistence level suffer from the more severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.  At times they can also have severe cases of untreated substance abuse disorder, paranoid personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder or self-defeating personality disorder.  A severe disorder of any type comes with an inability to see the reality of their situation.  A schizophrenic may have a delusion that he can see dark things in people’s souls, and this will render it impossible for him to have healthy relationships.  Someone suffering from major depression spends days, weeks, months, lying in bed, not taking showers or paying their bills because they have an attitude of “what’s the use?”  Bipolar and borderline personalities flip from mood to mood and from one extreme attitude to another and are therefore too unstable to function in a healthy way.  I have had borderline clients idealize me at one moment and despise me at the next, so that they vehemently dump me at a moment’s notice.  And this is how they relate to all the roles they play in life.  Hence they are stuck at a subsistence level.

3. The Militant Level

People who operate on a militant level, which is just above the subsistence level, view life as a struggle for dominance.  They have a “kill or be killed” or “win at all costs” mentality.  If they are married, they are engaged in a lifetime war of domination, a lifetime of emotional or physical skirmishes.  They are often calling the police to settle domestic disputes, and one or the other convinces the police that he or she is the victim and the partner is the victimizer.  These people are almost totally unable to see another point of view, meaning that are almost entirely egocentric.  A militant parent is one who believes in corporal punishment, administered during fits of anger.  Such a parent will tolerate no disagreement or discussion from the child.  Such people also tend to be egocentric and to have a tyrannical mode of operation.

Sometimes a whole culture is militant.  Chagnon (1968) studied a tribe that lived in the Amazon jungle.  Among all the tribes who lived there, they were the most militant.  From early childhood on the children of the Yanomamo tribe were trained to be aggressive; the more aggressive they were the better.  If a boy slapped his sister, the elders applauded, and if a sister kicked her brother, they clapped even louder.  Likewise if a boy slugged his father or a daughter spit at her mother.  Thus, this tribe was known throughout the Amazon as “the fierce people.”  These people trusted nobody and were ready to take arms against another tribe at the drop of a feather.  Sometimes political movements can be militant, in which case a whole group of people join up to start a violent revolution; such movements are always certain that they and only they are in the right. 

Sometimes countries become militant when taken over by a militant segment or militant leader.  Hence, Germany, during World War II, became an extremely militant country under Adolf Hitler’s leadership, as has North Korea under Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-un, in more recent times.  The United States has also become a militant country, engaging in more wars in the 20th Century than any other nation.  In the 20th Century America took part in 15 wars or militant actions, and so far in the 21st Century it has participated in four more.  People, movements and countries that are militant always express noble reasons for their militancy.  A militant father will beat his children and justify it with “children need discipline.”  Militant Moslems quote the Koran and cite religious reasons why “infidels” must be killed.  And the USA calls itself “defender of freedom” and uses that as an excuse to attack countries deemed to be against freedom.

Those who operate on a militant level of being harbor a lot of anger (or a lot of fear, which is the flipside of anger).  They are characterized by rash negative judgments, narrow-mindedness, emotional instability and distrust.  Anger clouds their thinking and their judgment.  In their egocentric mode they are convinced they are right and all who oppose them are wrong.  People in this level suffer from high levels of narcissism, from which stems their conviction they are always right and their violent intolerance.  They may have any of a number of emotional disturbances of a fairly severe nature, including paranoid, antisocial, narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, sadistic, and depressive personality disorders.   Or they may have some combination of these disorders.  Sometimes a whole culture can develop a disorder, as in World War II Germany, under Hitler, when it developed mass hysteria (the tendency of Germans to overreact on a mass scale), paranoia (the feeling that Jews were toxic to German culture and that the whole world was against the German nation) and narcissism (the conceit of German superiority).

4. The Conventional Level

People who live at the Conventional Level are followers.  They run with the herd.  If they are in a Catholic country, then they are Catholics.  The more intensely they follow the conventional religion, the better they feel about themselves.  If they live in a Muslim culture, they follow the Muslim faith.  The more devoutly Muslim they are, the better they feel about themselves.  If they live under a Communist dictator, the more passionately they throw themselves at the feet of the dictator, the better they feel about themselves.  An alternate name for this level might be The Moral Level, for those at this level base their feelings of well-being on doing the right thing and hence on moral superiority.

Conventional people run with the herd and engage in a herd mentality.  They cannot think for themselves; they think whatever the rest of the group thinks.  And their well-being and fragile self-esteem rests on the acceptance of the herd.  The herd mentality doesn’t allow them to look at themselves objectively.  If you tell them they are running with the herd they will be shocked.  Many such people are doctors and lawyers and priests and college professors, and they will provide cogent reasons why they think they way they do.  Being in tune with the herd, practicing the rules and rituals of the herd (i.e., reading the Koran twice a day, sending flowers to Mother on Mother’s Day, being politically correct), gives them a sense of righteousness.  It also offers them a feeling of belonging that they probably found lacking since they were small children.  And, most important, it provides them with a sense of superiority, a sense of being “holier than thou.”

All those in levels of being below the first level look for ways of being superior and attach superiority to well-being.  And so it is with those at the Conventional Level.  They degrade anyone who doesn’t believe the way they do as inferior, and they can be quite negative and aggressive toward those who don’t belong to their herd or think the way they do.  Very often they regard those who disagree with them as worse than criminals.  In the days when Christianity ruled Europe, people who disagreed with Christianity were burned at the stake.  Copernicus, an astronomer, was executed because he said the world was not the center of the universe, which went against Christian doctrine.  Sometimes herds can go on stampedes (engage in wars) in which they run over anybody that gets in their way.  When herds begin to stampede (develop mass hysteria), neither reason nor threat can stop them.   Indeed, they are suspicious of any kind of reasoning.  Their conventionalism—the fact that they are surrounded by allies that think and act as one—gives them the courage and permission to be at times unthinkably cruel.   Thus people who join herds may start out having noble intentions, but as the saying goes, “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.”

People at the conventional level may have any of a variety of mental disorders.  They might suffer from mid-level depression or anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, histrionic disorder, dependent disorder, substance abuse, narcissism, schizoid disorder or passive-aggression.  They have not individuated as children, but instead have been programmed by parents, by a religion, by a political movement or by a culture, to remain attached and in need of authority figures or belief systems that act as authorities.  Their need to be loved and comforted, to belong, and to become confident and independent human beings have been thwarted so they suffer from a lack of real self-esteem.  Whatever other mental disorders they have, there is usually a large helping of narcissism that bolsters the self-esteem.  The self-esteem is boosted by being in step with the herd and by abusing those not in the herd.  They also derive a certain confidence and emotional stability and functionalism through saying the correct things or doing the correct thing, like saying they support gay marriage  (if they are in the liberal herd) or flying the flag on Flag Day (if they are in the conservative herd).

5. The Political Level

In some ways the Political Level is similar to the Conventional Level.  Both are filled with people who need validation through joining with others who think as they do, and both look down on anybody who doesn’t agree with their belief system and are often punitive toward such individuals.  The difference is that conventional people are primarily followers; they are loyal members of religions and political movements and patriotic citizens of countries.  People in the Political Level differ from those in the Conventional Level in that they want change.  They are angry people who are prone to blaming that anger on the political system.  They are jealous of various groups who they feel have unfair advantage.  They are so narcissistically involved and identified with a particular political party or movement that if that party loses an election they dip into a long depression, as if they themselves lost the very foundation of their happiness.  Their solution is the try to change the world so that everybody feels and thinks the way they want them to feel and think.  Instead of being introspective, which they are not, their focus is solely on the external world and how it frustrates what they want and how they can change it so that it instead favors them.

Those in the political level are more functional than those in the levels below in that they are often leaders and initiators who are able to actualize the political changes they want.  They are occasionally charismatic figures (narcissistic) who start new religious, social or political movements and are skilled at manipulating others into, trusting them, following them and working for them.  Such people are often quite intelligent, but they use their intelligence to think up elaborate reasons why their movements are good and necessary and right, and they are able to convince others in the righteousness of their movement.  Like those on the levels below, they are unable to see all sides of an issue.  They can only see their side, and are condescending, mocking and abusive toward those who disagree with them.  Because their point of view is fragile, resting on group consensus rather than on a real, grounded understanding of themselves, they are quite defensive toward those who disagree with them, for such disagreement threatens to burst their narcissistic bubble.

People on this level are interested in political power and control and their self-esteem depends on how much power and control they have.  Their self-esteem also depends on the mythology they can erect, which elevates them to a superior or even noble position and justifies their power and control.  For example, America has erected the myth that it is the leader of the free world, and this myth gives it the excuse to try to control how the rest of the world thinks and conducts its affairs.  Thus it invaded Iraq in 2003 because it did not approve of Iraq’s government and way of thinking; thus it has frequently condemned China and other nations for human rights violations (that is, for not conducting their affairs the way America believes it should); thus it send Navy Seals into Pakistan without that country’s permission to kill Osama Bin Ladan in 2011.    People as well as countries on this level are often successful in changing the political landscape, either through military force, social pressure, mass guilt-tripping, and other measures designed to create new laws and new attitudes.  They are skilled at using propaganda and disguising it so that it appears to be reasonable thinking, and they at the same time make reasonable thinking look unreasonable through the use of guilt-tripping, sarcasm or ridicule.  Because they have risen to the top politically, they appear to know more than others and, in fact, they do have more impact on the world than those in any other level.  They think politics is the ultimate answer to everything, and because they are successful at it they view themselves as the smartest and most superior people in the universe. 

The individuals and countries that live at this level of being are masters at externalizing their anger.  They see the world in very simplistic terms.  There are good people and bad people.  They, of course, are the good people and those who oppose them are the bad people.   They do not see all sides of a situation, although they make a pretense of doing so, and for sure they do not see the complexity of life.  They tend to have mental disorders that include narcissistic features, including narcissistic, histrionic, paranoid and antisocial personality disorders as well as forms of schizophrenia.  Hitler, for example, was a paranoid schizophrenic, but he managed to channel his paranoia and rage into his grandiose political quest for power and his organized persecution and extermination of Jews.

6. The Status Level

People who live on the status level are generally high achievers.  This level is comprised of those whose self-esteem and well-being are connected to their status in life.  They include doctors, lawyers, business executives, wealthy investors, movie and television performers, high-ranking government officials, professional athletes, well-known writers, professors and those at the top of various other fields.  These are people who are fairly high-functioning and because of their high profiles, they tend to be looked up to by people from lover levels.  They surround themselves with symbols of status—titles, large houses or mansions, expensive cars, brand-name clothes and perhaps a sailboat or two—in order to let everybody know about their superior status. 

Because they have the capacity for high achievement, they enjoy a more privileged lifestyle and have less stress than those on the lower levels.  The decreased stress is because they are generally in positions in which they can order people around and get other people to do their dirty work for them.  They take pleasure in being superior and in delegating unpleasant chores to those beneath them; delegating dirty work to others is also a way of releasing aggression.  From their vantage-point at the top of their various professions, they are able to see life from a distance, which makes their view more realistic; they tend to think more independently than those at lower levels.  

Because of their lower stress they tend to be more healthy then those on the levels below.  High achievers generally come from families in which they received support for their ambitions, and having been supported gives them the sense that they are fulfilling some kind of predestined dream.  Yet, although they may have gotten support in one area that allowed them to attain a high place in life, they may not have gotten support in other necessary aspects of their lives.  For example, the golfing great Tiger Woods was coached and supported by his father to become a great golfer, but his early marriage fell apart when he began having multiple sexual affairs, indicating a lack of proper schooling in personal relationships (Woods, 2014).  Since high achievers are high achievers in only one aspect of their lives, they do not reach the highest level of being, the harmonic level.  They function better than those on lower levels, but their self-esteem and well-being still depends on external factors, which makes them fragile.

People on the status level, while they generally function at a healthier and less stressful mode, nevertheless still have mental disorders that keep them from reaching the highest level.  Also, not all high achievers are at this second-highest level of being.  Even madmen, such as Hitler, can be high achievers.  Nevertheless, most are at the status level and they assume, because of their narcissism, that they have gone as high as a human can go.  They are unaware of any higher level, and the harmonic level doesn’t appeal to them.  They have achieved their dream, are surrounded by symbols of success and are usually widely admired.  All of this gives them the sense that they have gone as far as anybody can go and causes them to over-valuate themselves.  They sometimes begin to think that they are not only an expert in their own field of accomplishment, but are also know more about life, medicine, human behavior, etc., than others.  Aside from narcissistic personality disorder, they can also suffer from degrees of obsessive-compulsive disorder, paranoid personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorder as well as various phobias.  They feel proud of themselves for their accomplishments, and this is the most important factor that keeps them from reaching the highest level.

7. The Harmonic Level

As I stated earlier, based on my research (which I will explain later) only a few people live at the harmonic level.  People at the harmonic level, unlike those in the levels below, are not dependent on external factors for their self-esteem or well-being.  They do not need to feel superior to others; they may understand that they are on a superior level, but they are not proud of it, they simply view it as a matter of luck.  When they struggle, it is a struggle with themselves, not others; that is, it is a striving for self-mastery.  They are able to look at themselves realistically.   They more or less follow the advice of philosophers and psychologists mentioned earlier, epitomized by Socrates famous phrase, which Plato sprinkled throughout his writings, “Know thyself” (2007).  They know themselves because they are in touch with their feelings.  If they are angry, they know they are angry and know why they are angry.  If they are jealous, they know they are jealous and don’t try to deny it.  If they are fearful they know they are fearful and therefore are more or less in control of the fear. 

Like all people in all levels, their functioning goes up and down.  Even at their lowest mode, they are still independent of others, but at their highest they reach a point of harmony, where for periods of time they are in sync with themselves and others.  Maslow (1954) wrote about self-actualized people who had peak experiences during which troubles and woes fell away and they were in perfect harmony.  Buddha spoke of the goal of nirvana, meaning the extinguishing of the fires of want, need, hatred, jealousy, ambition, and other forms of unhealthy attachment with the world; once this was done a person achieved a being contented and at home in the world (Tuffley, 2013).  Lao Tsu said, “The wise stay behind and go ahead.  They lose themselves and find themselves.  They want nothing and have everything” (Schoenewolf, 2000).  Harmonic people do not do things for others In order to get something back.  They do things because they enjoy doing them; and for that reason they usually get something back without trying to.

When they are at these periods life is effortless.  They don’t need anything from the world because they have accepted the world as it is as well as accepting themselves as they are.  This acceptance frees them to participate in the world in a constructive way.  Because they don’t need anything from the world, they can focus on the needs of others; and because their offerings are coming from an unbiased place, they are generous and accepting of everyone.  A harmonic parent loves his or her children and accepts them for who they are; parents on a lower level cannot accept their children for who they are and try to mold them into being who they want them to be, thereby creating conflict in their children.  A harmonic teacher follows the saying of Socrates, “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only teach them how to think” (2007).  Harmonic leaders do not force or tell their people what to do or how to be.  Instead, accepting what is, they simply act as facilitators, providing opportunities for people to see for themselves what needs to be done.  Lao Tsu said, “The best leaders are least heard.  Ruling without word or moan, they get things done and people say, ‘We did it on our own’” (Schoenewolf, 2000).  Harmonic people do not get into fights or try to manipulate people; harmonic leaders do not get into wars or try to manipulate other countries.

People on the lower levels do not admire those on a harmonic level.  People on the harmonic level are usually not rich (and if they are they rich do not use their money to gain power or influence); they do not usually have expensive cars or homes; and if they marry it is not for beauty or fame or riches, but for the inner qualities their partner possesses.  They do not have the trappings of success and hence those in the levels below do not look up to them but instead, sometimes disrespect them or even hold them in contempt.  People in the lower levels admire and make into pop gods those who have the symbols of status they look up to.  When these pop gods speak, they listen.  People on the harmonic level have no need to speak, and if they do, those on the lower levels quickly dismiss what they say because it does not fit into their preconceived notions or belief systems.  Hence, despite his wisdom, Socrates was put on trial and sentenced to death because of his disbelief in the Greek gods and his attempts to teach the youth of ancient Greece how to think for themselves (the Athenian judges called it “corrupting the youth.”

The story of the death of Socrates, however, also demonstrates that although Socrates for the most part lived at the harmonic level, at the point of his execution he had sunk to a lower level in which he was overtly defiant toward conventional Athens and flaunted his atheism and his teaching of the youth.  This denotes narcissism, and it is that narcissism that got him into trouble and caused him to choose the suicide (an act that can be seen as evidence that he was attached to the world and felt hurt—a narcissistic blow—that he was so disrespected by the Athenians.  If Socrates had been truly in touch and harmonic, he would not have allowed himself to stand out and be a disruptive force in Athenian society.  A harmonic person is able to accept what can and cannot be done and to know the difference.

To be human is to be less than perfect, and so even those on the harmonic level suffer from bouts of resentment, as did Socrates, as well as bouts desire, jealousy, anxiety, anger, depression and the like.  Like everybody, they have mental disorders, but their mental disorders are less likely to have a major influence on their lives.   Being in touch with these disorders, they can keep them more or less under control.  They are examples of healthy functioning for others to follow.  These harmonic people can appear in all walks of life.  They are not necessarily noted people, and in fact are usually not.  They can range from leaders like Ghandi in India to a well-adjusted and harmonic housewife in Minnesota; from an inspiring figure like Lao Tzu in China to a harmonic and self-contented factory worker in Mexico; from Mother Teresa in India to a well-adjusted accountant in Outer Mongolia.

8. About the Six Levels

People tend, for the most part, to remain on a particular level all their lives.  However, on rare occasions it is possible for them to change from one level to another due to circumstances.  For example, people may be on the militant level until they are soundly defeated; then they may be motivated to step back and look at their mode of operation and realize it has not been productive, in which case they might rise to a higher level.  Or people may learn to know themselves through some form of psychotherapy, by studying with a Buddhist master, or through some other similar pursuit (more on this later), and change levels in this manner. People may sometimes be on two levels at the same time; those on the conventional and political levels have many similarities—for example, they only see their side of a dispute—and therefore may be on both levels.  

A majority of people have some degree of mental disturbance.  Thus the various levels of being represent a range of awareness, mental disturbance, stress, neediness and anger.  

The lowest level, the subsistence level, represents the lowest level of awareness and the highest level of mental disturbance, stress, neediness and anger, while the highest level, the harmonic level, represents the highest degree of awareness and the lowest degree of mental disturbance, stress, neediness and anger.   Sapolski (2008) was one of the first to show the relationship between a person’s rank in a culture (such as a baboon tribe or a company) and the amount of stress found in their body.  The lower a person’s level of being is, the more stress he or she will have.   Below is a chart in which I have tried to illustrate range of awareness, mental disturbance, stress, neediness and anger.



Correlated with Awareness, Anger, Stress, Neediness and Mental Disturbance 

                                                                                                                                             Severity of                                                         Awareness       Anger      Stress       Neediness      Mental Disturbance

            Harmonic Level                      9-10             1              1                     1                         1

            Status Level                            7-8               2-3          2-3                  2-3                     2-3

            Political Level                         4-5               3-5          3-5                  3-5                     3-5

            Conventional Level                4-5                3-5          3-6                  5-6                    3-5

            Militant Level                         2-3               6-8          6-7                  6-8                     6-8

            Subsistence Level                    1                 8-10       8-10                8-10                   8-10


People in the 2nd through 5th levels all derive their feelings of self-esteem and well-being from the external world; that is, they build their self-respect and happiness at other people’s expense, through dominating others, condescending to them, morally or politically marginalizing them, or out-achieving them.  Those in the Subsistence Level are too busy just hanging on to build any feelings of self-esteem or well-being, while those at the Harmonic Level obtain feelings of self-esteem and well-being through being at peace with themselves and in harmony with life.  Only a few people, such as Buddha, Ghandi, Socrates, Lao Tzu or Mother Teresa—or lesser-known figures in various walks of life that quietly live in an enlightened way--have found the highest level.

9. Is It Possible to Rise to a Higher Level?

Yes, it is possible, but not through an act of will.  A person who functions on the conventional level will not be able to attain a higher level by reading this article and willing himself or herself to do so.  People cannot attain a higher level by taking courses in philosophy or joining a Buddhist temple.  People are stuck in the various levels not because lack knowledge, but because they don’t want to know what they don’t know.  Unconscious forces keep them repeating the same cycles of thinking, the same attitudes and the same behaviors.  People on the status level, in order to ascend to the harmonic level, would have to realize that their attachment to status is holding them down.  This is the last thing they would want to know, for they are convinced that status is next to eternal bliss.

There are two main methods of overcoming the obstacle of not wanting to know what you don’t want to know.  The one known throughout most of the world is psychotherapy.  However, to my knowledge only certain kinds of psychotherapy can elevate a person to a higher level and perhaps to the highest level.  Psychoanalytic therapy was the first form of talk therapy, and it is still the best way to become aware of and work through the obstacles that prevent a person from rising above their level.  However, any form of talk therapy that focuses on these unconscious obstacles can do the same job.  Methods that are geared to bypassing these obstacles may alleviate symptoms but do not necessarily lead to a higher level. 

In psychoanalytic therapy a people process and work through the obstacles in three ways: 1) by studying their past to see how the obstacles got there in the first place; 2) by studying the present to see how the obstacles are impacting their life at the moment; 3) by analyzing the relationship between the client and the psychoanalyst to get an immediate sense of how the obstacles are coming to play in the analytic relationship.  Psychoanalysis takes time, depending on what level a person is on.  If a person is on the status level of being and has some capacity for introspection, it might not take too long for the person to attain the harmonic level.  However, if a person is on the subsistence level, he or she might require ten, perhaps even twenty years to make that leap.  And it may never happen at all, because the resistances to knowing what a person doesn’t want to know may be too strong.  There is no guarantee of attaining a higher level.  It depends on the psychotherapist, the patient and the relationship they are able to establish.  As a psychoanalyst I have found that only a minority of clients are able to attain a higher level.

In the East they have a different mode of change, based on Buddhist, Taoist and similar philosophies.  People there may study with a master, and the master functions very much like a psychotherapist in the West.  A story comes to mind.  A man went to a Buddhist master who lived on a hill.  When he got there the master welcomed him into his abode and asked him to sit down and have some wine.  “Tell me why you came to me today?”  The man began talking with excitement about how much he admired the master and then cited a list of books he had read, including all the classic Buddhist texts, and the articles he had written and the kinds of meditation he had done.  When he was finished, fifteen minutes later, the master poured wine into his glass and he filled the glass to the point that the wine spilled out.  “Wait, there’s too much wine in the glass, it can’t hold anymore,” the man said.  “Just so,” the master replied.  And there is too much knowledge in your head and I’m afraid you won’t be able to hold anymore.”

Without the assistance of a mentor of some kind, a people are usually not able to achieve a higher level of being, because on their own they are unable to overcome the obstacles.  Occasionally something dramatic will occur in their lives—a hurricane, the death of a loved one, an economic collapse—that will lead to a catharsis, but this is rather rare.

10. Researching This Theory

How did I come to this theory?  First of all, it is based on my studies of philosophy and psychology, as cited in the beginning of this article.  Second, it is drawn from 38 years of practice as a psychoanalyst, which provided me with a first-hand study of clients who were caught in the various levels of being, and it is also based on the resulting thirteen books on psychoanalysis and psychotherapy and a book of philosophy—a translation of Lao Tsu and two other Taoist authors—which I produced.

Finally, I did a more systematic investigation of the theory, using a specified number (500) of the clients I have seen over the years.  I classified these 500 in terms of the six levels.  To figure out what level of being a client was on, I came up with five criteria for each level.  If an individual had three of the five criteria of a particular level, he or she would qualify for that level.  After completing the categorization of these 500 clients I found that most fell into the political and conventional categories, with fewer people in the other three categories.  The proportions in each level were similar to the graphic of the six levels introduced earlier.   A few of my clients, after receiving therapy, did reach the harmonic level.  Assuming that my client list was not reflective of the general populace, I added some noted harmonic figures to the mix.  Below is a list of the criteria I used for the categorization.


                        Criteria for Categorization at Different Levels

                        Subsistence Level

                        Poor, extremely needy, dysfunctional, self-unaware, anger turned inwards

            Militant Level,

                        Extremely contentious, violent (minimum three physical incidents a year), almost dysfunctional

                        (2 out of 10), almost unaware (2 out of 10) disconnected anger turned outwards

            Conventional (moral) Level

                        Needy of approval, acceptance, functional (5 out of 10), disguised anger (holier than thou),

                        little awareness (4 to 5 out of 10), herd mentality (groupthink)

            Political Level

                        Primary political identification (i.e., “liberal,” “conservative”), politicized anger (i.e., anger at political

                        opponents), some awareness (3 to 4 out of 10, functional (5 to 6 out of 10), politicized neediness

            Status Level

                        Status identification (“I am my house, my car, my trophy wife”), functional (7 out of 10),

                        more awareness (6 out of 10), channeled anger (into work, creativity, etc.), sublimated neediness

            Harmonic Level

                        Independent, functional (9 out of 10), aware (9 out of 10) empathic, in touch with feelings


After the categorization was done, I correlated the Levels of Being with levels of awareness, anger, stress, neediness and severity of mental disorder, again focusing on the types of people who were in each level.  A major assumption is that most everyone (except for those who are perfect) have some degree of mental dysfunction, which is what Freud hinted at when he described the mind as an iceberg and theorized that most of the mind (the iceberg) as underwater—that is, unconscious.  This theory therefore contradicts those who correlate mental disorder to reported cases, which comprise only a minority of the populace.

As I said, I recognize that this research, based primarily on a study of my own clients, is not necessarily representative.  Admittedly the theory is part philosophy and part psychology and is not grounded in hard-core empirical evidence or validated experimentation.  Nevertheless I hold it out as a pioneering effort to make such a classification.  I hope, by doing this, to help people see the world and themselves in some kind of perspective.



Bartlett, R. C.  and Collins, S. D., trans. (2012), Aristotle’s Nicomachian Ethics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bloom, A., trans. (1991), The Republic of Plato, 2nd Edition, New York: Basic Books.

Chagnon, N. (1968), Yanomamo, the Fierce People, New York: Holt McDougal.

Eldrick Tont Woods (2014), The Biography.com website. Retrieved 04:47, Jul 07, 2014, from http://www.biography.com/people/tiger-woods-9536492.

Feng, G. and English, J. (1972), Tao Te Ching, New York, Vintage Books.

Freud, S. (1900), The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. James Strachey.  New York: Avon Books, 1968.

Kohlberg, L. (1969), "Stage and sequence," Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research, McGraw Hill: New York.

Maslow, A.  (1968), Towards a Psychology of Being.  New York: Van Nostrand.

Schoenewolf, G. (2000), The Way According to Lao Tsu, Chuang Tsu and Seng Tsan.  Freemont, CA: Jain Publishing.

Socrates (2007), quotes in http://moco-choco.com/2013/10/10/collected-quotes-from-socrates/

Sapolski, R. (2008), Stress: Portrait of a Killer, National Geographic Documentary.

Staglin, B. (2014), “Causes of Bipolar Disorder,” from https://www.imhro.org/education/about-bipolar-disorder.

Tredennick, H., translator (2003), The Last Days of Socrates by Plato, London: Penguin Classics.

Can Cultures Have Mental Disturbances?

by Amy Capella, Ph.D.


Abstract:  Individuals have mental disturbances, and these mental disturbances have been classified.  This article proposes that cultures have mental disturbances as well, as they are human organisms.  And their disturbances can also be classified.


Cultures, like people, can have a range of disturbances.  A brief look at history provides numerous examples of cultures that developed various mental conditions.

The culture of Nazi Germany, from the 1930s to the end of World War II, is the most obvious recent example of a disturbed culture.  If I were a social psychiatrist, I would diagnose this culture as having what is described in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) as an antisocial personality disorder.  The DSM describes an antisocial personality as a condition in which "There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years"1  It goes on to add that such individuals have no respect for laws, are deceitful, impulsive, aggressive, have no regard for the safety of others, do not honor obligations, and have a lack of remorse.

The Nazi's, under the leadership of Adolph Hitler, exhibited most of these traits.  They invaded and annexed countries at will (such as Austria) without any regard for the rights of these countries, and devalued and persecuted one of the groups of people that lived in Germany--the Jews--rounding them up, putting them in concentration camps, using them as human guinea pigs, and exterminating millions of them in gas chambers, rationalizing that they were ridding the world of an evil. 

One could also make a case that paranoia and narcissism were both components of the Nazi disturbance.  The motto, "Deutchland uber alas" (Germany over everything) prevailed at that time along with a sense of German and Aryan superiority to all over races and ethnic groups.  In both paranoia and narcissism individuals (and countries) compensate for feelings of inferiority by developing a mystique of superiority and unconsciously projecting their own self-hatred onto the external world.

J. L. Hammond has an interesting theory about cultures, such as those of ancient Greece and Rome, flipping from a renaissance mode to a decadent mode.  He applies Sigmund Freud's theories of the life instinct and the death instinct to these two modes.  When ancient Greece and Rome were on the rise, they were propelled by the life instinct, and when in decline they were under the sway of the death instinct.  "When the life-instinct is predominant in a society, the result is a renaissance-type society; when the death-instinct is predominant in a society, the result is a decadent society"2

Both Ancient Greece and Rome went through cycles of renaissance and decadence.  In Greece the renaissance was reflected in the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Thucydides.  It was a period of amorality, a spirit of equality, and free expression; a time when an accepting and respectful attitude prevailed.  The decline of Greece was accompanied by increased militarism (as exemplified by the exploits of Alexander the Great), a repression of free expression (as exemplified by the conviction of Socrates for corrupting the morals of young men), increased morality, and a decadent sexual morality (as indicated by the prevalence of pederasty in ancient Greece during its declining years. Pederasty as idealized by the Greeks from Archaic times onward, was a relationship and bond between an adolescent boy and an adult man, and was rationalized as an aristocratic moral and educational institution. As such, it was seen by the Greeks as an essential element in their culture from the time of Homer onwards.3

In Ancient Rome the Renaissance era was represented by the writings of Lucretius, Virgil and Horace.  It was a time of equality, free expression, and respect for all people.  The decline of the Roman Empire was marked by an era of political and cultural decadence. During this era, there was a general political disintegration: the random invasion of countries, the rise of pirates, the revolt of allies, and the rebellion of slaves.  Leaders like Nero, whose obsession with his own hedonistic pleasures, incestuous relations, and disregard for the Roman state, were also an evidence of this decline.  And, of course, there was the persecution of Christians (feeding them to lions as an amusement for Roman aristocracy), an ultimate sign of Roman decadence.  

That the ancient Greeks and Romans were disturbed in their declining years is obvious.  Their cultures had become mentally disturbed, and their mental disturbance led to their decline, just as mental disturbances foster behavioral and emotional disintegration in individuals.  I would say that both the Greeks and Romans in their declining eras suffered from narcissistic grandiosity (their glorification of themselves and attempts at taking over the rest of the world) as well as denial, being oblivious to this grandiosity and its consequences (the fall of ancient Greece and Rome).

And then there was the Holy Roman Empire, in which the Catholic Church took over Europe.  This culture lasted a long time, from 794 until around 1806.  Eventually the Pope became the leader of the empire and Catholicism the law of the land.  This era was known for such atrocities as the Crusades (when Christians engaged in military campaigns against the Turks and Muslims and slaughtered hundreds of thousands)4, the burning of witches, the Spanish inquisition, and the execution of Copernicus because he determined with his telescope that the Sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe.5 

The Holy Roman Empire was extremely narcissistic in as much as it glorified its own point of view and demonized all other points of view.  Antisocial personality disorder was evidenced by its tyrannical  and militaristic attitude in which the viewpoints of other were demonized (opponents were referred to as heathens), and the rule of law was subordinated to the Bible.

These are but a few of the historical instances in which cultures became mentally disturbed.  None of these cultures were aware at the time that they were mentally disturbed, just as most individuals are not aware of having mental disturbances.  It is only later, through hindsight, that we are able to determine that a period of decadence had occurred.  Culture today is no exemption.  America had a renaissance during the 1950s and 1960s, evident in the writings of Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and William Inge.  It was a time when America was truly "the land of the free and the home of the brave."  But more recently we have become a decadent culture.

A recent issue of the Halifax Chronicle Herald, a Canadian newspaper, contained an editorial drawing of the U.S. flag. However, instead of 50 stars, the left-hand corner of the flag featured 50 guns of various types. The caption beneath the image said simply: "AMERICAN CULTURE."6

This editorial followed on the heels of the mass killing by a crazed gunman, the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his mother and then drove to a nearby school and shot 20 young children and 6 adults.6  Canada is not the only country in the world that is looking in askance at U.S.A. culture. For some time America's reputation has been falling as the number of incidents like the one in Newtown keep rising.

And yet, Americans seem to be the last to understand that our culture has apparently gone astray, although the Newtown incident has temporarily caused an uproar.

The statistics are there for anybody to see. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, America leads the world in gun ownership by far. "With less than 5% of the world's population, the United States is home to roughly 35-50 per cent of the world's civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison," notes a recent UNODC study.7

The United States also leads the world in total crimes committed. A survey of total crimes by country done by the UNODC in 2002 showed that America had almost twice as many crimes as the next highest country: The USA had 11,877,218 crimes while the U.K. had 6,523,706. The USA also has the highest rate of illegal drug use according to the World Health Organization.8

Another statistic in which America takes the lead is that in America almost 50% of marriages end in divorce.9 It is also at the top of the charts in terms of single-parent families: the number is rising and the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 25% of the USA's children were being raised by a single parent.  While many single-parents manage parenting just fine, as a general rule two parents (or an extended family) get better results.10

Our movies have become increasingly violent, as have the video games our children are playing. It is as if only violence can get the attention of today's youths. They are seemingly numb to normal day-to-day exigencies of relationships.

Finally, everybody in America is painfully aware that our economy has been unstable for years and our budget deficit has catapulted to an all-time high, and yet our country's politicians seem incapable of understanding--much less solving--these problems.

Whenever there is a new mass-killing in America it brings forth new complaints about our culture, with cries for gun control and more mental health clinics and perhaps a ban on violent video games. However, such measures would only treat the symptoms and not go to the root of the problem.

The problem is that we as a culture have gone astray. The statistics don't lie. We have gone astray because our values have gone astray. Indeed, we are a culture that is caught in a cross-fire of cultural values between the radical left and the reactionary right. Like a family in which the mother and father are always quarreling and no one is paying attention to what's happening to the kids, American liberals and conservatives are always waging a war with one another and meanwhile not paying attention to what's happening to our society.

We are a culture that has lost sight of the value of families and the importance of families in the breeding of socialized citizens. A geyser of geneticists has spewed forth in recent years with announcements proclaiming genetic links to practically all mental illnesses. More and more the importance of parenting has been de-emphasized, and people have turned their eyes away from what goes on behind the closed doors of the family.  Decadence can also be seen in the sexual arena, where sexual deviation has been increasingly normalized, as it was in Greece and Rome, and where gender narcissism has become a prominent theme, as the writings of Schoenewolf have noted.11

We have become a nation of gun owners and criminals because we value our freedom and independence more than we value responsibility and cooperation. We have become a nation that values having the correct political or religious opinions rather than looking at things in a realistic and objective way in order to find the real truth. We have become a nation that has developed powerful technologies, such as computers, military weapons and cell phones, and our appetite for the "pursuit of pleasure" has encouraged an addiction to these technologies to the point where they have become a wild horse that can no longer be controlled by its rider.

Freud once compared the Ego and the Id to a rider and a horse.  If an individual (or culture) has a strong ego, the ego will be in control (as a rider will be in control of a horse).  But if the ego is weak, the id will run rampant. The only way a rider can get control of a wild horse is by pulling in the reins and disciplining the beast. And the only way America can get control of its culture is by pulling in the reins and restraining the beast.

Every disorder that is listed and described for individuals in the DSM could also be diagnosed for cultures.  Cultures are organisms in and of themselves.  They have a group personality and a group identity.  There is usually a leader or a leadership group that determines this personality and identity, and the mass of people who are like a herd following the leader or leadership group.  This mass of people represent the unconscious of culture, although it can also be said that the leadership group is also primarily unconscious of the deepest springs of its motives.

It is not only the culture of various groups and nations that can be classified as mentally disturbed, but also humankind as a whole.  If we look at the various ways that humans are destroying the planet on which they live, we can diagnose that as a kind of narcissistic denial.  Global warming, pollution and overpopulation are but a few of these means of mass suicidal impulses.  Perhaps this also fits under Freud's notion of the death instinct.

The world cannot control its destructive impulses toward conflict and war; this is yet another sign of a disorder.  The hallmark of a dysfunctional family is its tendency to always be fighting and to always be ad odds without any insight into what is happening until it crashes.  The same can be said about the world.  Our world at present is a dysfunctional world.  A dysfunctional family will not listen to outside experts.  And a dysfunctional world will not listen to critics of the policies that make it dysfunctional. 

Unfortunately at times when cultures are mentally disturbed articles such as this one will have little impact.  The mental disturbance will generally run its course oblivious to any objective analysis.



1. http://www.behavenet.com/node/21650

2. http://www.ljhammond.com/cwgt/14.htm

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Roman_Empire

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusades

5. http://thechronicleherald.ca/editorial-cartoon/2012-12-15-editorial-cartoon

6. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/jul/22/gun-homicides-ownership-world-list

7. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_tot_cri-crime-total-crimes

8. http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500368_162-4222322.html

9. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/peo_div_rat-people-divorce-rate

10. http://newsone.com/1195075/children-single-parents-u-s-american/

11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Schoenewolf


Myths and Truths in Political Movements

By Richard Turlingen, Psy.D.


Abstract:  Political movements create manifestos to justify their goals and the means to their goals.  The manifestos are in reality myths to disguise the underlying truths.



Throughout history there have been political movements.  Each movement is motivated to achieve certain goals, and in order to achieve those goals movements establish a manifesto or a rationale for achieving them.   These manifestos are based on partial truths and sometimes on things that seem like truths.  In reality they are myths, created in order to advance their movement and to disguise their deeper motivations, which remain unconscious.

In this respect, political movements by groups are similar to defense mechanisms by individuals.  Most of our deeper motivations are unconscious, and we use defense mechanisms to disguise them.  An alcoholic uses denial to disguise from himself and others that he has a drinking problem even though he drinks from the time he awakes in the morning.   He represses the childhood pain that fuels his urge to drink.  Just so, political movements use defense mechanisms to disguise  their deepest motivations, such as their need for power.  Instead of saying outright that they want more power, they use euphemisms like "equality" and "liberation."  I'm not saying here that people in movements are bad people; they are actually not unlike most people who use defense mechanisms that are often strung together to create a myth to paints their motivations in a positive way.

A case in point is the Gay Rights Movement that started in the United States on a formal level soon after World War II.  To justify the movement, the leaders of the movement created certain myths.  The bottom line of the myths is that homosexuality is a normal variant of sexuality and homosexuals are being discriminated against by being treated as if they have a mental (or sexual) disorder.  As a proof that homosexuality is normal, they claim that the etiology of homosexuality is genetic.

"Born that way," goes the popular slogan about homosexuality. For many years we have heard this slogan on radio talk fests, in song lyrics, on television shows and in movies. Popular science articles have also lent credence to this view. People are born homosexual, this view asserts, and they stay homosexual all their lives.  Since it is immutable, there is nothing they can do about it but accept it.

However, not everybody agrees with this view.  Some time ago appeared an article that declared just the opposite. People are not born that way, this article asserts, and in fact the evidence that people are born that way has never been validated. And yet the notion that gays are born that way has persisted despite there being no valid evidence.

In "The Life of the Gay Gene: from Hypothetical Genetic Marker to Social Reality" (published in the Journal of Sex Research, Kate O'Riordan traces the evolution of this notion that homosexuality is a genetic variant.1  She starts by examining the research that led the gay rights moment and others to this conclusion, explores its lack of validation, then looks at how it has taken on a life of its on.  "It has become embedded in science media cultures," she explains, "and lodged in databases that open up into information flows with greater porosity than ever. It is fed by aggregations of noise that contribute to the erroneous signal strength of the message that there is a gay gene."

The conclusion that gays are born that way is based on three 1990 studies. In 1991, Simon LeVay published a study that reported on a group of neurons in the brain's hypothalamus that were twice as large in heterosexual males than in homosexual males. LeVay assumed this difference in the hypothalamus was evidence that homosexuality is biological. However, critics point out that LeVay obtained his samples from 19 homosexual men who had all died of AIDS (and six of the supposedly heterosexual brains had also died of AIDS). LeVay did not adequately account for these confounding variables.

Also in 1991, John M. Bailey and Richard C. Pillard did a twin study in which they found a 52% correlation rate with regard to homosexuality among identical twins. This study was quickly picked up by most textbooks in psychology. However, critics have pointed out that Bailey and Pillard had recruited subjects for their study in homosexual newspapers, which probably biased their study. Later, in 2000, Bailey and colleagues did another study in which subjects were recruited from the Australian Twin Registry. The results of this study showed only a 20% correlation rate.

The third and most publicized study was published in 1993 by Dean Hamer at the National Institutes of Health. Hamer studied 40 pairs of homosexual brothers and concluded that homosexuality was linked to a specific region on the human X chromosome (Xq28) inherited by sons from their mothers. This study has come under much criticism. One of Hamer's assistant's complained about Hammer's methodology, and the Office of Research Integrity of the Department of Health and Human Services investigated Hammer's study. They later cleared him, but the study has never been replicated. In order for any study to be reliable, it must be replicated.

O'Riordan notes that despite the serious flaws in this research, the notion of the gay gene has gathered steam in the 18 years since it was done. "In the last 18 years, the mediation of the gay gene has generated a biomedical media materiality that helps ground the concept in fact," she explains. She points to a convergence of popular media and science in which the borders between the two are no longer clearly defined. After 18 years of constant exposition of this idea in all kinds of media and in some so-called scientific periodicals, the notion has taken on the semblance of proven fact.

The gay community, O'Riordan relates, has embraced the notion of the gay gene and encouraged others to embrace it as a matter of human rights and human justice. For example, soon after the Hamer study, gay men in San Francisco printed up T-shirts reading "Xq28-thanks for the genes, mom!" Gays view any suggestion that homosexuality is caused by environmental conditions as discrimination against gays, and hence any research that refutes the gay gene theory or espouses environmental theories is dismissed and discredited.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that the gay gene theory has been refuted, or at least substantially challenged and hardly anyone has taken notice. The general public seems to regard it as their duty as progressive citizens to support the idea that homosexuality is genetic; and, at the same time, they resent anyone who tries to dash the newfound hope and sense of well-being of homosexuals by insisting on  pointing out the dubious underpinnings of their belief.   Indeed, people have been fired from their jobs for expressing disagreement with the notion that gays are born that way.

In 2002 Rolf Szabo was fired by Eastman Kodak for objecting to the company’s diversity policy. The program, which is called “Winning & Inclusive Culture,” allows no “negative comments” toward “gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered” employees. After the company sent out an email memo in October 2002 announcing “coming out” day for homosexual employees and demanding that they be given full acceptance and encouragement, Rolf replied to the same mailing list (1,000 employees), “Please do not send this type of information to me anymore, as I find it disgusting and offensive. Thank you.” For refusing to apologize and submit to diversity sensitivity training, Rolf was fired. He had worked for Kodak for 23 years.

The larger question is, should we organize our society according to real scientific truths or mythical truths? Should researchers be censored with respect to the kinds of research they are doing on the nature of homosexuality, are should they be allowed to find whatever they find and conclude whatever they conclude, regardless of public sentiment?   And should average individuals be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs?

On the one hand, our values are ruled by our sentiments. On the other hand, they are ruled by properly validated scientific research. 

Another myth of the Gay Rights Movement has emerged recently and compounded this conflict.  I am talking about the current crusade to ban psychotherapy with gays who want to be straight.  The myth that has been created here is that therapists who help gays who want to be straight are brainwashing gays and doing harm to them. 

Congresswoman Michelle Bachman came under attack because her husband, psychologist Marcus Bachman, does reparative therapy for those who come to his Christian counseling center seeking to rid themselves of unwanted homosexual urges. She was supportive of her husband's view.6

Almost simultaneously former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was criticized when he told reporters he did not think gays were "born that way." He also supports reparative therapy.

This was followed by a CNN series of reports that sent the message that therapists who attempt to change a person's sexual orientation are frauds and even dangerous. They offered "research" that purported to show that all such attempts are unsafe and universally unsuccessful.

The Gay Rights Movement has for many years tried to discredit therapists who provide psychotherapy for patients distressed by homosexual urges. Yet, therapists have offered reparative therapy for the past half century and sometimes been successful. In fact, over the past 125 years, change of homosexual to heterosexual orientation has been documented by case studies, clinical reports, and research studies.

For example, Robert Spitzer, Ph.D., a professor of Psychology at Columbia, published an article in 2001 in which he interviewed 200 gays--43 of whom were lesbians--who had converted their sexual orientation through therapy.7 All had achieved some degree of success while most had achieved a degree of success while still lapsing into homosexual behavior on occasion.  Critics have pointed out that Spitzer's sampling for the study was not valid, since he choose only people who claimed to have succeeded at reparative therapy.  Still, the study does refute those who think that reparative therapy never works.

Another myth is the contention that reparative psychotherapy does harm.  Actually, any medical approach can do harm if it is not done the right way.  Medicines usually have destructive side effects, and therapies have pitfalls as well.  There is no approach that is absolutely perfect.   That doesn't mean it should be dismissed.   Methods don't do harm; therapists who misuse them do.

With regard to the so-called "gay gene," although many people, including celebrities who sing songs about being "born that way," have been misled into believing there is a biological basis for homosexuality and that therefore sexual orientation can't be changed, a brochure put out by the American Psychological Association as recently as 2008 could find no evidence for a biological basis.8 Anyone familiar with the research knows that there are many pathways that contribute to sexual orientation. 

The CNN report concentrated on a few therapists who appeared biased and pushy in their Christian attitude toward homosexuality. However, there are good therapists of all varieties and bad therapists of all varieties. I do reparative therapy if someone comes to me with that request, and I am neither a fraud nor dangerous. And I know many other responsible and professional therapists who do reparative therapy. I never guide a patient in any direction. They initiate the treatment.

Overlooked in this discussion are the hundreds of thousands of people who seek assistance to change their sexual orientation. The Gay Rights Movement wants to deprive them of their right to do so. It dismisses the feelings of gays who want to be straight, suggesting they are dupes of societal pressures. They have tried to pass ethical rules that would prohibit therapists from doing reparative therapy. Is this not a form of reverse discrimination against gays who want to be straight?

Not every patient can achieve success in reorientation therapy--but this is true in general. Only about one in ten patients are successful in any kind of psychotherapy. Generally, those patients who lean toward bisexuality are the ones who can successfully change their sexual orientation. The question that should be asked is whether politics should be imposed on psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is not political, it is personal. And everybody deserves his chance to pursue his dreams.  If a young man, for whatever reasons, wants to change his sexual orientation from gay to straight, why shouldn't he do so?  If a young woman wants to change from lesbian to straight, why shouldn't she be given that change?  There are no objections if an individual wants to change his or her gender.  Why should we object if someone wants to change his sexual orientation?

Our society--and all societies--are underpinned by myths.  We don't want to see the reality of our motivations.  Our motivations are unconscious and we want to keep them unconscious; meanwhile we make up reasons (myths) to cover our real motivations.  Such is the case with individuals and such is the case with groups. 

I can hypnotize a man and while he is in a trance I can give him a posthypnotic suggestion.  I can tell him, "Now when you awake, I'm going to pull on my left ear and when I do you'll jump up and clap your hands."  I will then count to three and the man will wake up.  At a certain point I'll pull on my left ear and he will jump up and clap his hands.  When I ask him why he has done that, he'll make up a reason.  "Oh, next week is my marriage anniversary!"  This reason is a myth.  The real reason he has jumped up and clapped his hands comes from his unconscious mind. 

The Gay Rights Movement as well as all political movements from the beginning of time are based on myths that are designed to cover up the deeper truths of their actions.  Of course, we all want to respect the rights and feelings of gay people, as well as the rights of all of those who start movements, because of their protests about being the victims of prejudice.  And this is not to say they aren't victims of prejudice.  But being victims doesn't give them a right to suppress the truth.  If respecting their rights means disrespecting the rights of gays who want to be straight, punishing people who disagree with them, or suppressing those professionals who are doing research that goes counter to what a political movement wants to believe, then we are in a paralyzing double-bind and nobody really wins.



1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22720828

2. http://www.simonlevay.com/my-response-to-my-wikipedia-biography

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1845227

4. http://www.fathersforlife.org/gay_issues/gay_gene.htm

5. http://www.wayoflife.org/database/homosexualitylegal.html?awt_I=KKOU&awt_m=3lGCNVdRdtNpjkC

6. http://www.mediate.com/tv/michele-bachmann-asked-about-husbands-alleged-ex-gay-clinic-very-proud-of-our-business

7. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1025647527010

8. http://apologeticjunkie.blogspot.com/2009/05/apa-revises-gay-gene-theory.html

Volume 2, Issue 1 (March 2016)

Parenting as a Domain of Expertise

By Joseph Lao, Ph.D., Juan Suarez and Chandrika Patel, Teacher's College, Columbia University  


ABSTRACT:  Although the nature of expertise has been studied in diverse domains for more than 30 years, insufficient attention has been given to parenting as a domain of expertise.  Because parents exert the greatest of all social influences upon their children, and because the personal and social costs and benefits of parenting are so great, many advantages accrue from studying parenting as a domain of expertise.  These include the augmentation of our knowledge of expertise in general, elucidation of characteristics of parenting by research on expertise in other domains, and the generation of testable hypotheses.  For instance, research in other domains of expertise suggests that parental expertise may be construed as the degree of one’s ability to identify and implement effective solutions to child rearing problems.  In addition, this ability may improve in response to relevant experiences.  The present article offers a broad overview of what parental expertise looks like and advocates continued research from this potentially fruitful perspective.   


Starting with studies of chess players by de Groot (1946/1978) and Chase and Simon (1973), scientists have sought to understand the nature of expertise and how it develops.  Early work focused on defining expert level performance, determining whether it is innate or learned, and tracking how long it takes to develop.  More recent research has sought to understand the structure of expertise (Ericsson & Charness , 1994) and elucidate the conditions under which it develops.  Over the years this research has employed a variety of  methodologies and has expanded to include such diverse areas as physics (Larkin, McDermott, Simon, & Simon, 1980), musical composition (Gardner, 1983; Suzuki, 1981), art (Pariser, 1987), mathematics (Anderson, 1982, 2000), Chess (Chase & Simon, 1973; Ericsson & Charness, 1994; Ericsson & Smith, 1991), selling girl scout cookies (Rogoff, 1995; Rogoff, Baker-Sennett, Lacasa , Goldsmith, 1995), and even dairy product assembly and stock counting (Scribner, 1997).  As a result of this work a consensus has emerged that the nature and development of expertise is remarkably similar across diverse domains (Anderson, 2000; Coyle, 2009; Ericsson & Charness , 1994).    

Throughout this period a very separate vein of research has focused on the behaviors of parents and how they are related to child outcomes.  Although widespread agreement exists that parental skills vary (often dramatically) across individuals, no one has explored the nature of expertise in the domain of parenting.  The two purposes of this paper are to establish the importance of studying expertise in the domain of parenting and to introduce a definition of parenting as a domain of expertise.  


We believe at least six general benefits will accrue from studying parenting as a domain of expertise.  First, as we attempt to understand the nature and nurture of expertise in general it seems reasonable to extend this inquiry to additional domains.  At the very least this enables us to compare and contrast expertise in diverse domains and gain a better appreciation of its nature and development.  It also seems reasonable to extend this inquiry to domains that are relevant to our day to day existence.  Insofar as the effects of parenting are widely regarded as extensive (Bekman, 2003; Collins & Laursen, 2004; Farrington, 2004; Holmbeck, 1996; Kagitcibasi, Sunar, & Bekman, 2001; Luthar & Latendresse, 2005; Spock, 1988; Steinberg, 2001), we may learn a great deal about expertise by studying its existence and development din the parenting domain.  

Second, the conceptualization of parenting as a domain of expertise offers a clear, intuitively appealing, perspective that facilitates the generation of testable hypotheses and discussion of this topic.  For instance, we can consider the desirability of different outcomes, and the best practices to reach those outcomes.  We can determine whether what works in one context also works in other contexts.  And, while acknowledging that it is partly through the diversity of parental practices that cross cultural differences between people are forged, perhaps we can reach consensus about common practices and outcomes that are desirable across cultures and contexts.  Even if we should fail again and again to reach agreement on what constitutes expertise in parenting, our interactions concerning this topic may yet bring us closer and closer to consensus.  

Third, examining parental practices in the light of our growing knowledge about expertise in other domains may further demystify the parenting experience and reveal insights about a still underestimated domain of human development.  We believe the skills associated with expert performance in other domains offer surprisingly fertile comparisons with parenting (Lao, in preparation).  For instance, in most domains of expertise levels of skill exist on a continuum, from novice to expert (Ericsson & Charness, 1994).  In the domain of parenting, the lower levels of performance have received a great deal of attention in the lay and professional literatures (e.g., Azar, Ferraro, & Breton, 1998).  However, to the extent that experts demonstrate the upper limits of human performance, it is also theoretically and practically desirable to learn more about the upper extreme of parental performance.  What is the best a parent can be?  What is the best way to characterize optimal parental competence?  Despite recurrent references in the lay, professional, and scientific literature to “parenting skills”, we have yet to either specify the full taxonomy of these skills (albeit see Bornstein, 2005) or offer a coherent model distinguishing optimum from suboptimum performance.  

Related to the development of a model of parenting skills is the elucidation of how parenting skills develop.  A fundamental assumption of the literature on expertise is that expertise is learned (not just inherited) and that it is influenced by experience (Anderson, 2000; Coyle, 2009; Ericsson & Charness, 1994; Gardner, 1983; Suzuki, 1981, van den Boom, 1994).  It is modifiable.  It develops.  Thus, the expertise perspective also invites attention to what drives the development of parenting skills.

Fourth, one of the most immediate benefits of “charting” the full range/spectrum of parental competence is the enhancement of our ability to assess that competence.  According to Hagen and Castagna  (2001), the test that is most commonly used by courts to assess parental competence in child custody cases is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI).  We need to do better than this.  Defining parental competence as a set of knowledge, skills, practices and emotional dispositions that may be modified through experience (and which may be referred to as parenting literacy) would be an excellent start.  Not only can this facilitate the operationalization and testing of parental competence, it also facilitates the early identification of parents whose parenting practices are incompatible with the needs of their children.   

Fifth, insofar as we are not all equally well prepared to assume the role of parent, and to the extent we agree that it is desirable to prepare parents for this vitally important job, one of the most important reasons to study expertise in parenting is the possibility of improving the skills of parents and prospective parents through training.  A growing body of literature reveals that parenting skills are responsive to training (e.g., Farrington & Welsh, 2002; Royal & Baker, 2005).  But, it is only after we understand the nature and development of expertise in the domain of parenting that we (as scientists or health care professionals) will become able to develop the most suitable training to nurture the sustainable development of that expertise.  Thus, it is advantageous to examine both how it develops (thereby augmenting our knowledge and understanding of human development) and how we can nurture superior levels of performance.  

Sixth, as one of the most enduring of all social influences, when it is done well, parenting prepares people for a happy, healthy, life characterized by constructive engagement with society (Honig, 2000).  Done poorly, parenting prepares maladapted people who, first as children and later as adults, are responsible for a disproportionate share of the personal and social problems present in our communities (Karoly et al., 1998).  Extensive empirical research has detected links between parental practices and such adverse developmental outcomes as psychopathology, poor academic performance, drug abuse, and poor health (Azar, Ferraro & Breton, 1998; Azar, Robinson, Hekimian, & Twentyman, 1984; Blok et al., 2005; Collins et al., 2000; Farrington, 2004; Farrington & Welsh, 2002; National Center for Injury Prevention, and Control, 2004; Prevent Child Abuse Iowa, 2005; Putnam, 2004).  It is becoming increasingly clear that, starting at a surprisingly early age and continuing throughout their lives, the children of abusive and neglectful parents consume a disproportionate share of social resources (in schools, hospitals, prisons, etc …) to counteract the enduring harmful effects of poor parenting.  For instance, Fromm (2001) has estimated that the financial cost of child abuse and neglect (in the United States alone) amounts to approximately $258,000,000.00 per day!  Thus, one of the most important benefits of studying parenting as a domain of expertise is the possibility of reducing ineffective or counterproductive practices and thereby reducing the multidimensional costs of poor parenting.  In addition, the parental expertise perspective enables us to move beyond the focus on minimum standards of competence to the identification of explicit standards of excellence.  It helps us to move beyond a deficit model, and its defensive social posture of reducing costs of poor parenting, to a more comprehensive model focused on accruing benefits of good parenting (cf Bornstein, 2005).  This perspective is particularly compatible with the goal of maximizing human capital.   

Another practical benefit of identifying optimal parenting practices concerns the identification of effective parenting practices.  There currently exists an extensive literature on “what works” in parenting and parent training (Anderson, Vostanis & O’Reilly, 2005; Bird, 2005; Greenberg, Domitrovich, & Bumbarger, 2000; Honig, 2000; Masten & Coatsworth, 1998; National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2004; Powell, 2004; Reynolds et al., 2001; Royal & Baker, 2005; Smagner & Sullivan, 2005; Sutton, Utting, & Farrington, 2004; Wolchik  et al., 2005).  A central goal of this research is to better understand the differences between practices that are effective and those that are either suboptimal, don’t work, or are even counterproductive.  


General Definition of Expertise  

One of the most general ways of defining expertise is as the degree of skill one possesses at achieving a particular type of goal, evident along a continuum ranging from the novice level of performance to the expert level (Ericsson & Charness, 1994).  This perspective construes expertise as something we all have to some extent, acknowledges gradations in degrees of skill, and allows for the conceptualization and assessment of improving performance.  Throughout this paper we will adhere to the common practice of referring to one’s degree of skill/competence within a domain as expertise and the most competent performers of a skill as experts.   

Summaries of research on the nature of expertise suggest that experts differ from novices in several ways, outlined below.  One of the most important of these differences is that experts are more proficient at identifying and solving the problems in their domain of expertise than novices (Anderson, 2000; de Groot, 1946/1978).  For instance, de Groot (1946/1978) defined expertise in chess as the ability to select the best move in any given position.  For their part, Ericsson & Charness (1994) emphasized that expertise is measured in, “a specified set of representative tasks…”  (p. 731), and defined expertise as the ability to select, and implement, the best solutions to a representative set of problems in a domain.  Finally, by adding the acknowledgement that expert performance tends to be consistently superior to that of novices, we arrive at the definition of expert performance offered by Ericsson and Smith (1991) and Ericsson and Charness (1994), as “consistently superior performance on a specified set of representative tasks for the domain….” (Ericsson & Charness, 1994, p 731).  More generally, experts consistently employ means to achieve their goals that are highly effective, whereas novices tend to employ less effective means.    

Definition of Parental Expertise  

If parenting is a domain of expertise then it should fit the definition of expertise, display characteristics of expertise, and develop like other forms of expertise.  Therefore, our focus will be on the correspondence between expertise in general and expertise in parenting.    

The general concept of experts in parenting is revealed by a burgeoning cadre of authors (experts) who write articles and popular books advising us on how to raise our children (e.g., Sonna, 2002; Spock, 1988).  It is instantiated in television programs, such as “Nanny 911” or “Super Nanny”, in which someone with advanced skills in parenting is brought in to assess and train parents dealing with troubled children.  And it is acknowledged less directly when the parents of accomplished individuals are admired and queried about raising children.  One common assumption that is made about these “experts” is that they possess more effective ways to raise children than the average person.   

In addition, the idea of parental expertise already exists in our culture, in several forms.  It is implied in the everyday perceptions and conversations of professionals and lay persons who recognize variations in the skills of parents (Caldwell et al., 2005).  Family courts implicitly use the concept of parental expertise when contrasting the skills of each parent seeking custody in divorce cases, and when they espouse (and enforce) minimum standards of comportment in order for parents to maintain custody of their own children in cases of child abuse and neglect.  And it is taken for granted in numerous interventions intended to improve parental skills (e.g., Blok et al., 2005; Powell, 2004), both in terms of the implied expertise of the teachers and the presumption that parents can improve their skills if only they follow the advice of the experts on parenting.  One common assumption across these examples is that people vary in the degree of their effectiveness at raising children.

Relevance of Child Outcomes

In spite of these superficial parallels between the conceptualization of expertise in other domains and in parenting, it must be acknowledged that each domain of expertise is distinct in some way(s).  In most of the domains studied so far, it has been relatively easy to specify the optimal means and ends.  For instance, in chess the endpoint is clearly defined as checkmating the opponent, or causing him/her to resign.  And, it is relatively easy to determine whether any given move facilitates the achievement of this end.  In the parenting domain, however, defining the optimal means and ends is much more difficult.  Moreover, attempts to do so must navigate theoretical, methodological, practical, and political minefields.

In the parenting domain, the identification of the optimal means must begin with the identification of the optimal ends.  That is, we must consider what skilled parents are supposed to be skilled at accomplishing.  It is necessary to specify these outcomes in order to provide a target for parental efforts and a standard against which to measure their efficacy.  In order to succeed at this task, though, we must confront the difficult challenge of determining which child outcomes are most desirable.  The critical issue here concerns what kind of children we want to nurture.   

Until recently, much of the scientific, professional, and lay literature concerning parenting fell short in this respect because it was too focused on the academic and cognitive domains.  This excessively narrow focus failed to acknowledge that children are more than just cognitive organisms, and that there is more to raising children than the things parents do to improve their school grades.  It did not acknowledge the fact that children are multidimensional people.   

Fortunately, this neglect has begun to attract the attention of developmental psychologists and researchers.  Blok et al. (2005) have argued that studies of child development should be expanded to include measures of socio-emotional variables.  And Raver and  Zigler (2004) have argued that measured child outcomes should include the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social dimensions.  In addition, the authors of many contemporary textbooks of Developmental Psychology (e.g., Bee & Boyd, 2003; Berger, 2003, 2005;  Berk, 2000; Santrock, 2006, 2010) typically focus their chapters on physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development.  By doing so, these authors explicitly acknowledge the importance of each of these dimensions of development.  Of course, even this is a gross overgeneralization.  In reality, each of these four dimensions consists of subsets of knowledge and skills (for instance, see Keating, 2004, for a discussion of the multidimensional nature of cognitive skills).  Still, based on much of the available developmental literature, one reasonable starting point for this discussion is to suggest that the general goal of parenting is to raise happy, healthy (physically and mentally), intelligent, socially adept children.  Of course, while these general goals are probably accepted across diverse cultures, each ethnic group (and indeed each individual) will interpret and pursue them in their own specific ways.  Therefore, while the authors believe there exist some cross cultural commonalities in the goals and practices of parents and child outcomes (e.g., Lansford et al, 2005; Luthar & Latendresse, 2005), we offer no specific claims about the cross cultural relevance of the views espoused herein. 

Parental Expertise as the Best Means to an End 

Once we agree on the general goals of parenting, it immediately becomes apparent that there exist diverse methods to achieve these goals, both within and across cultures.  This introduces the challenge of how to distinguish optimal from suboptimal, or at least skilled from unskilled, practices.  A general solution may be derived by adapting the definition of expertise used above and identifying skilled parents (and experts in parenting) as those who consistently employ means to achieve their goals that are highly effective, and identifying novices (or unskilled caregivers) as those who employ less effective means.  More specifically, we may then define expertise in parenting as the ability to consistently select, and implement, the best solutions to a representative set of parenting problems in order to raise children who are happy, healthy, intelligent, and socially adept.  This is generally compatible with Mansfield’s (2005) suggestion that the quality of parenting must be measured in terms of what parents actually do, especially when interacting with their children.

Of course, an important problem here is that there is no objective measure of what is the “best” response to many child behaviors, or misbehaviors.  Fortunately, there exists a growing body of scientific research detailing the relations between parental practices and child outcomes.  Insofar as this literature helps us discern which types of parental behaviors yield the most desirable outcomes we will refer to it below. 

Practices, Skills and Styles 

In many domains of expertise it is possible to identify patterns of behavior that are consistent for a given individual yet vary from one expert to another, and are often referred to as styles.  For instance, in chess, some players prefer an aggressive attacking style while others prefer a quieter, more positional style.  Likewise, in sports, music and many other domains of expertise, individual differences between equally competent performers are often attributed to style.  It is important to note that differences in style are not the same as differences in skill.  The style that any individual adopts is a function of personality and comfort, and may be influenced by cultural and practical factors.  But, within any given style, different performers vary in their degree of skill.  

Much of the attention to “what works” in parenting has focused on the issue of “parenting styles”.  Indeed, this has been one of the most fruitful veins of research on parenting efficacy.  This work received a big boost from the contributions of Diana Baumrind (1967, 1991) who argued that parenting behavior is built on the broad underlying dimensions of responsiveness to the child and demandingness.  Based on these she identified three general styles of parenting, i.e., authoritarian (low responsiveness and highly demanding), authoritative (highly responsive and moderately demanding), and permissive (low demandingness).  Subsequently, Maccoby and Martin (1983) distinguished between permissive indifferent (low responsiveness and low demandingness), and permissive indulgent (highly responsive and low demandingness) parenting styles.  Also, Darling and Steinberg (1993) and Steinberg (2001) note that Asian, Hispanic, and African American parents often attain desirable child outcomes with a variation of the authoritarian style which Brooks-Gunn and Markman  (2005) refer to as “tough love”.  Overall, subsequent research has confirmed Baumrind’s view that when Western parents adopt the authoritative style of parenting their children tend to have better cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes than when they adopt the other styles of parenting (Baumrind,1991; Brooks-Gunn & Markman, 2005; Steinberg, 2001).   

Unfortunately, it is difficult to reconcile contemporary scientific research on parenting styles with research on expertise in other domains.  The main problem is the discrepancy between the broad styles of parenting and the focus on specific problems and solutions in the expertise literature.  From the expertise perspective, the focus on broad styles of parenting is insufficiently informative about the best solution to any specific child rearing problem.  This discrepancy is compounded by the fact that early research on parenting failed to find significant links between specific parental practices and child outcomes.  For instance, Orlansky (1949, p 38) observed, “It can be conceded that social scientists have failed to produce a definitive answer to the question of the relation between infant disciplines and character development, because of a general lack of historical and cultural sophistication, the difficulty of establishing the validity of the personality measurements employed, and the difficulty of isolating single factors for study.”  This view was echoed more recently by Steinberg and his associates who observe that the assessment of relations between specific parental practices and specific child outcomes has not proven sufficiently fruitful (Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Steinberg, Lamborn, Dornbusch, and Darling, 1992) and suggest a more efficacious approach might be to construe parenting style as the context for specific parental practices (Darling & Steinberg, 1993).   

However, a growing body of research is utilizing increasingly subtle measures to identify links between more specific parental practices and more specific child outcomes.  For instance, Mary Ainsworth (1978), and her associates, have identified correlations between patterns of parental sensitivity and the style of attachment between parent and child.  More recently, Lansford and her associates (Lansford et al., 2005), as well as Gromoske and Maguire-Jack (2012), have found correlations between parental spanking of their children and the emergence of particular personality traits in their growing children.  And Winter, Morawska, and Sanders (2012) found that parents who are taught specific child rearing strategies obtain better child outcomes than parents who are only taught about developmental milestones.  Such studies reveal a growing sophistication in our capacity to both assess parental behaviors and discriminate between desirable and undesirable child outcomes.  

The second major problem with the parenting style perspective is that it does not address novice-expert differences.  It is tempting to associate the authoritative style with expertise and the permissive or authoritarian styles with novice levels of performance.  However, even highly skilled parents may adopt the authoritarian or permissive styles and obtain desirable outcomes (Brooks-Gunn & Markman, 2005; Steinberg, 2001).  Similarly, different parents may adopt the same parenting style and obtain different degrees of success, typically in correlation with their experience, knowledge, and skill.  In this case, differences in their efficacy must be due to something other than parenting style.  And so, the question becomes, what are the effective parents doing that the ineffective parents are not?  

Third, the parenting style literature does not give enough attention to the fact that parenting skills may develop.  Research done on rats (Bridges, 1978) and bonobos (cited in Nelson, 2005) reveals that their parenting skills improve with experience.  In addition, a large body of literature reveals that human parents improve in their child rearing skills after undergoing training (e.g., Winter, Morawska, and Sanders, 2012). 

On the other hand, while the literature on parenting styles is not concerned with expertise, per se, it does offer several insights.  First, this research distinguishes between desirable and undesirable child outcomes and helps answer the question of what works best.  Knowing that the authoritative style of parenting is generally correlated with the most desirable child outcomes enables researchers to focus attention on what it is about this style that is so effective.  It suggests that the “best” response to child rearing problems may be somewhere in the range of the authoritative style, at least in the USA.  

One way to bridge this gap is to describe parental practices as specific actions taken by parents, skills as domains of practices that may be performed more or less effectively, and styles as attitudinal and behavioral dispositions characterized by generally organized patterns combining practices across several domains (e.g., see Bornstein & Tamis-LeMonda, 2010).  Then, we can describe “expert” parents as those who are most effective at solving child rearing problems in one or more domains (Lao, in preparation).  In general, their efficacy should be characterized by high sensitivity to their child (Ainsworth, 1978; Bakermans-Kranenburg, et al, 2003), superior knowledge of developmental norms and child rearing practices (Banasich, & Brooks-Gunn, 1996; Winter et al., 2012; Day, Arthur & Gettman, 2001), superior ability to identify, understand, and prevent child rearing problems, and superior ability to select and implement effective solutions to those problems (cf Ericsson & Charness, 1994).

Challenges for Future Research 

The central aim of the present paper is simply to introduce the idea that parenting may be construed as one of many domains of expertise.  Although we believe this perspective facilitates the integration of a great deal of disparate parenting literature under one broad theoretical umbrella, there remains a great deal of work to be done.  First, we must bridge the language gap between the expertise and parenting literature.  Many of the studies of skills in disparate domains focus on closely related phenomena but use different terminology (e.g., situation awareness and sensitivity).  This tends to obfuscate points of rapprochement.  If we examine both approaches with an open mind it is likely our understanding of each will be enriched by work in the other.   

Second, it is desirable to more clearly define the nature of expertise in the parenting domain.  Because this domain is far more complex than most other domains of expertise it is, in a sense, at an earlier stage of being mapped out than less complex domains.  Hence, one part of this challenge is to reach consensus on desirable developmental endpoints.  General endpoints would include raising children who are healthy, happy, intelligent, and socially adept, though Marc Bornstein (2005) has suggested more specific parenting goals within each of these domains.  The other side of this challenge is to identify the domains of parenting, i.e., a taxonomy of parenting skills.  From the expertise perspective, obvious areas of focus include sensitivity to their child, knowledge of developmental norms and parental practices (which we are referring to as “parenting literacy”), the abilities to identify, understand, and prevent child rearing problems, and the abilities to select and implement effective solutions to child rearing problems (Lao, in preparation).  More specific areas of focus might include disciplinary practices, arranging the home environment, involvement, and others, as determined through empirical research, or even the diverse functions of parenting, as suggested by Bornstein (2006). 

Third, we must determine minimal and optimal standards of performance.  Some of this work is already being done (e.g., Ainsworth, 1978).  In addition, many government and non-government entities have established minimum standards of child care.  For instance, most American states have laws in place that allow them to take children away from parents who display behavior that is incompatible with the well-being of their children, e.g., such as neglect or abuse.  In addition, nearly every country on earth has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This document spells out minimal rights of children, especially the freedom from harm.  On the other hand, little work has been done on the upper limits of human parenting.  Although we have a pretty good idea of the worst parents can do, we still have only the foggiest of ideas about the best that a parent can do.  The present approach is intended to remedy this lacuna.        

Fourth, we must improve our ability to assess parental capabilities.  To some extent, this presupposes progress on the second and third challenges.  While we cannot yet identify the “best” response to each child rearing problem, we are getting better at identifying “consistently superior performance”.  Accurate assessment is a key to making informed decisions about such issues as adoption and custody.

Fifth, we must improve our ability to nurture parental expertise.  A tremendous amount of resources are already being invested in this area.  While this work is extremely important, much of it is in response to the need to reduce or prevent harm to children.  As we improve our understanding of the nature and nurture of parental expertise it is easy to imagine a shift in parent training toward optimizing parental practices and child development.  For instance, the literature on the development of expertise suggests that in order for parents to reach the highest levels of child rearing ability they should engage in deliberate practice and reflection.  That is, parents who desire to improve their performance will need to monitor the effects of their behaviors on their children and (with or without the benefit of training) make whatever adjustments are necessary to facilitate the attainment of their goals. 

Finally, it must be acknowledged that the types of child rearing problems parents encounter change over time.  As children and parents get older their needs, circumstances and resources change.  Much of the knowledge gained from changing a baby’s diapers will become obsolete during childhood.  Optimal solutions to childhood problems may be unsatisfactory for adolescents.  New challenges will often require new solutions.  As the problems parents confront across the developmental stages of their children change, the skills that are most relevant will also change.  Thus, each developmental period requires a distinctive combination of knowledge, skills, and strategies from the parent desiring to achieve high levels of child rearing competence.  As a result, parental expertise may provide a moving target for future research. 


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The Psychology of Mass Killings

By Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

In recent years America has become the center of mass killing sprees.  According to Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama who studied mass killings in the U.S. from 1966 to 2012, the U.S. represents less than 5% of the 7.3 billion global population but had 31% of global mass killings from 1966 to 2012, more than any other country (1).  He defines a mass shooter as those who kill at least four victims. Ninety killers carried out mass killings in the U.S. during this period, five times as many as the next highest country, the Philippines.   And mass killings are on the rise (2).   According to another recent study there were 1,052 U.S. mass killings (in which four or more people died) in the last five years, or about a mass killing every other day.  Still another study of mass killings over the years showed a sort of multiplication of mass killings; in 2000 there was only one mass killing spree, four in 2004 and eight in 2008 (3).  

In addition to the toll of lives and injuries these incidents caused, they have also taken a psychological toll on U.S. society and affected how the world views the U.S.  It is difficult to assess the psychological effect the mass killings have on our culture, but it is safe to say that these chronic killings can’t help but raise each individual’s level of anxiety and harm our quality of life.  And as for the reaction of other countries, after an incident in 2012, newspapers in Europe were filled with editorials that were astounded at the repeated sprees and tended to focus on gun control (4).  “The reaction is always the same,” noted a German newspaper, Berliner Zeitung.  “Shock, disbelief, sadness, prayers, depression.”  In Japan AFPBB News responded to a 2012 incident with the headline, “American Gun Society Unchanged, Even After Massacre.” 

Instead of focusing on the meaning of the rise in mass killings in our culture, people not only in America but throughout the world tend to look for quick fixes to the problem, such as stricter gun control.  The availability of guns in America is not the answer to the rise in mass killings.  Guns have always been available in America, but there was only one mass killing in the year 2000 and even fewer before that.  If guns were the reason, mass killings would be happening proportionately each year.  There are deeper reasons for these mass killings, but these reasons are too complex and perhaps too controversial for many if not most people to fathom. 

Some Theories about Causes of Mass Killings 

A lone gunman stood up in a packed movie theater about 20 minutes into the showing of the newly released movie, "Trainwreck," and started shooting into the crowd, killing two and wounding at least nine others a while back before fatally killing himself.  Only the week before another man who had killed people at a movie theater had been sentenced to death.  And a few weeks before that a home-grown terrorist had fatally shot five soldiers in Tennessee before being killed by the police.   These are just a few examples of the types of killing sprees that have occurred over the years in America. 

Many theories have been offered to explain these mass killings.  One theory looks at the psychodynamics of the killers.  Nearly all of these mass killers are lone wolves.  They are usually men who have a reported history of mental disturbance or have been quietly mentally disturbed without anybody noticing.  They are lonely and full of rage but have kept that rage bottled up inside of them, sometimes for years.  Often investigations reveal twisted family backgrounds or tortured work climates in the lives of the killers. 

In 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members at an elementary school where his mother worked (5).  Prior to driving to the school, Lanza shot and killed his mother at their Newtown home.  He later shot himself in the head.  It was subsequently discovered that he was from a broken home in which his parents’ rocky marriage ended up in a bitter divorce.  His mother was an angry woman whose main hobby was going to a shooting range and shooting her many guns.  Sometimes she would take her son along for shooting practice. The son bore the brunt of his mother's wrath and apparently believed his mother paid more attention to her school children than she did to him.  Who knows how long he held on to his rage.  He ended up exploding one day in December. 

Some have linked the rise in mass killings (killing sprees) with the disintegration of family life in America.  Extended, supportive families are a thing of the past, and one-parent families are increasing (6).  Today almost one-third of families in the USA are single-parent families.  More and more children are growing up alienated with little family support and nobody to talk to about their outer anxieties or inner demons.  Whereas in the past we could count on the support of our families, especially of extended families, nowadays many of us either go to see health professionals who serve as substitute parents or we keep our anger or anxiety suppressed or repressed, sometimes for years, until it leads to health problems or destructive acting out. 

Mass killings may also be linked with a culture of violence that is part and partial of every American's experience.  There is almost twice as much crime in America than in any other industrialized country in the world (7).  Kids grow up watching violent movies, television shows and playing violent video games.  Often violence is depicted as having positive outcomes, as in the numerous movies that portray the theme of revenge, in which some great injustice befalls some man or woman whose family is killed or maimed or murdered and he or she goes after the culprits and heroically exterminates them.   In addition, ours is a polarized society in which our leaders in congress are often at each other's throats and model hot-headed behavior more than they do calm debate.  Violence is everywhere around us and is accepted as the norm.  

These mass killings may also be examples of a copycat syndrome.  Loners who have spent years holding in their rage see a person like themselves causing a huge public uproar by going on a shooting spree.  They see the amount of attention (notoriety) that the killer thus brings to himself.  The mass killers all end up talked and written about and their entire lives fall under public scrutiny and are in the media spotlight for weeks.   Therefore there is a certain negative appeal to the whole thing.  A loner who craves the attention he never got growing up can at least go out with a “majestic” bang.   He can kill a number of people and thereby at last provoke numbers of people to take notice.   A desperate man, seeking for a way to vent his rage and at the same time rationalize that he is doing something important such as carrying out a long-wished-for revenge, will copy other mass killers.   

Mass killings hence feed upon themselves.  The more of them that occur, the more of them will occur.  Each mass killing is, in a sense, a cry for help, a desperate attempt to get people to take notice of and do something about one’s personal crisis.  If the killer could put it in words, he might say, "See what you made me do?"  

Is America Disturbed? 

How do we tell if a person is emotionally disturbed?  We study the symptoms.  If a person suffers, for example, from a sleep disorder such as insomnia, an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, an addiction to alcohol or drugs, an impaired ability to work, an inability to have relationships, or a block to learning, we diagnose him as being emotionally disturbed.  Ironically, another characteristic of individual disturbance is that the more disturbed a person is, the more he will generally be in denial that he has a disturbance.   Hence, serious individual disturbances tend to be deeply ingrained and not easily resolved. 

We can also determine if a country is emotionally disturbed by studying the country's symptoms.  And, as with individuals, the more disturbed a country is, the more likely the country will deny it has a disturbance.  America is among the most industrialized and therefore economically advanced countries, yet its rank with regard to many social indicators is surprisingly low and may indeed point to a cultural, emotional disturbance—an emotional disturbance that may be related to mass killings.

According to statistics collected by UNICEF, America ranks 46 in literacy--the percentage of people in a country who can read and write (8).  On the other hand, America ranks first in a survey by the World Health Organization of illegal drug use among seventeen industrialized countries (9).  America also ranks first in a survey of obesity rates in the industrialized world, with 30% of American citizens reported to be over-weight (10). America ranks first in crime rates among countries in the world.  In fact, it has twice as much reported crime as the next highest country, the United Kingdom (11).  America has the highest divorce rate of all countries, with 50% of first marriages ending in divorce (12).  America, France and The Netherlands have the highest rate of depression, with 30% of the population reporting at least one episode of major depression in its lifetime (13).  America ranks third in sleep deprivation, with 37% of Americans reporting sleep problems (14).  And, as reported previously, we lead the world in mass killings. 

These are just a few of the statistics, but they are enough to demonstrate that America suffers from a number of symptoms that can be related to an emotional disorder. And yet, I would bet that if you asked most Americans if America is emotionally disturbed, they would unequivocally answer, "No." We want to think that our country is a great country, leader of the free world.  But we are mainly leading the world in a military sense, in all these other ways we are not leading at all; instead, we are behind.   According to these statistics we are a troubled society and culture. Drug use, obesity, and sleep disorders are all indicators of stress. The high crime and divorce rates might be seen as indications of relationship problems. The low literacy rate points to the failure of our education system. The prevalence of depression is a sign of emotional instability.   

In contrast, Japan, which has one of the lowest crime, obesity and divorce rates of all industrialized countries, has a highly socialized population. Japan values intact families and puts an emphasis on parenting. By putting this emphasis on families and parenting, Japan seems to keep its culture in relatively sound emotional health. 

The increasing rate of mass killings may be just another symptom of a cultural emotional disturbance.   We are a stressed out culture with numerous symptoms of emotional problems.  Controlling guns will not solve all these problems.  Understanding where they come from will help. 

What Makes People Kill? 

A recent movie, The Stanford Prison Experiment, tells the story of a notorious experiment done at Stanford University in 1971 by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo (15).  Twenty-four male students were randomly chosen to be either prisoners or prison guards in a mock prison erected in the basement of the Stanford Psychology Department.  The movie accurately portrays what happened in the experiment, and sheds light (along with another earlier experiment by Stanley Milgram) on why people are cruel to other people; which may in turn help us to understand why people go on mass killing sprees, which in turn might be viewed as the ultimate kind of cruelty.. 

The Stanford Prison Experiment (16) was to last from 7 to 14 days, but it was abruptly stopped after six days.  The participants, particularly the guards, played their roles well beyond Zimbardo's expectations, as they developed authoritarian attitudes and at times subjected prisoners to psychological torture.   Many prisoners accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who were trying to fight the abuse.  The experiment started out as a simulated event but promptly became real.  Zimbardo later admitted the experiment even affected him.   In his role as the superintendent, he permitted the guards’ abuse of prisoners to continue and even encouraged it.  Two of the prisoners quit the experiment early, and the entire experiment was suddenly stopped, to some extent because of the objections of Zimbardo’s assistant, Christina Maslach, whom Zimbardo later married. 

Another experiment done in 1961 at Yale University by Stanley Milgram studied basically the same topic (17).  It measured the willingness of study participants to follow the instructions of an authority figure who insisted that they administer electric shocks to learners when they make mistakes in remembering word pairs.  (The subjects did not actually receive electric shocks but were actors who screamed as though they were in agony.)   About 65% of the subjects were willing to go all the way to 450 volts (an amount of electricity that would kill anybody several times over) simply because the experimenter told them it would do no lasting harm.   

The authors of both of these studies concluded that people are cruel if an authority figure gives them permission to be cruel.  If one looks at history there are numerous episodes that back up this contention, such as Germany’s cruelty to Jews during World War II at the behest of their maniacal leader, Adolf Hitler; the burning of hundreds of thousands of women accused of being witches during Medieval times when the Pope (and the Bible) was the authority; or the extermination of millions under dictator Joseph Stalin in Russia.  At the present time we are witness to a multitude of beheadings by terrorists who call themselves Muslims and say they act according to the laws set down in the Koran. 

Yet in both experiments mentioned above not everybody did what the authority figures asked.  In the Stanford Prison Experiments, some “guards” became more sadistic than others, and some tried to oppose the cruelty.  In the Milgram experiment, while 65 percent of participants went all the way to administering 450 volts, others stopped earlier and some refused completely.  In Germany, not all Germans went along with the persecution of Jews: some resisted and tried to help Jews. 

What this tells us is that there is another factor that determines whether a person will be cruel or not.  This factor is the potential of each person to be sadistic, and this factor is not linked with the authority, but with the particular upbringing and subsequent character of the individual.  Individuals who have unconscious anger inside them, who try to be nice but are in fact waiting for an opportunity in which they can vent their anger, would be more prone to follow a ruthless authority figure.  Today, many angry young people are joining ISIS, which offers them a “glorious” way to vent their anger.  Others look up to mass killers and try to copy them.  

Some families, unfortunately, are breeding grounds of cruelty.  Parents are the authority figures of these families, and in some instances, either intentionally or unintentionally, they raise their children to be cruel.  Sometimes this happens when parents are overly permissive and sometimes when parents are overly punitive.  In the former case, children grow up spoiled and feel entitled to be cruel.  In the latter case, children grow up resentful and angry and look for people to take out their anger on.  In extreme cases, very sadistic or very permissive (and negligent) parents raise children who have pent-up rage.  The rage comes about because tyrannical parents do not allow children to talk back and express their anger.  Negligent parents allow their children to walk all over them and then guilt-trip them when they do.  Each of these processes can lead to a rage reaction. 

My experience as a psychotherapist has brought to my attention that children become bullies because they are pushed in that direction by parents or older siblings.  I learned of one eight-year-old girl who was called into the principal’s office because of her hazing of a younger girl in her school.  The parents of the younger girl complained, and this led to a confrontation in the principal’s office.  The mother of the bullying girl defended her actions, saying that her daughter was simply being assertive because the younger girl was “snubbing my daughter.”  The younger girl said she was not snubbing the older girl, but trying to stay away from her out of fear.  Defense mechanisms such as projection (attributing one’s own hatred to someone else) often play a role in bullying. 

Another aspect of cruelty is that it is sometimes seen as “clever” by bystanders, while the victim of cruelty is viewed as a “loser.”  This is called, “Identification with the Aggressor” in psychoanalysis.  Because cruel people are sometimes seen as powerful and are looked up to by those who feel powerless, their cruelty is reinforced.  Hence Adolph Hitler, one of history’s cruelest leaders, was looked up to by nearly all of Germany.  Hence, perpetrators of mass killings are sometimes viewed as heroes (as is the case with terrorists who act on behalf of Islam) and are particularly admired by those who have been repressing their own rage.  You might say that mass killing is contagious.

Cultural Factors

Various cultural factors have been considered in connection with mass killings, including America’s insistence on “the right to bear arms,” violent movies and violent video games.  Another cultural factor is our volatile economic status, in which we are a country whose debt is now 19 trillion (18).  However, our economy and our violent society are more likely symptoms of a deeper root cause. 

Almost all of mass killings are done by males.  Most of the victims of mass killings as well as those of serial murderers, are women.    

Therefore we need to ask whether mass killings have to do with males and more particularly with male rage.  If so, where does that rage come from?  Is it a genetic or cultural phenomenon?  One author recently came up with a cultural theory that may well be closer to the root cause, but she only looks at that root cause from one side; she is a feminist who sees things solely from a feminist point of view (19).

Jessica Valenti links male violence to women's rights, positing that men are angry because the balance of power between the genders has changed.   This would offer one explanation as to why mass killings have increased in recent years during which feminism has firmly taken root in Western society.  But she avoids any consideration of the possible provocative behavior of feminists, such as the aggressive, rather than collaborative, way women are going about getting their rights.  Instead, she blames men for their own rage.  "Is it the fear that women’s progress means a loss of all that shiny male privilege?" she asks. "Maybe some men’s anger stems from good old-fashioned misogyny, which is then stoked by political, social and cultural forces....Or perhaps that anger at women comes from straight-up entitlement: the men who believe that women are meant to be there for them, whether it’s to wash their toilets or warm their beds, and that denying them access to us is an unthinkable affront." 

What Valenti is doing, basically, is dismissing men's anger as evidence of a male disturbance, or as frustration about losing their power, or as envy that women are making progress.  She fails to consider that there are two sides to every story.  In this case, the woman's side and the men's side.   

It may be true that men are encouraged by some facets of our society to use anger as a tool.  Maybe there is more anger in the male DNA or in male hormones such as testosterone.  Maybe men have had it their way too long.  However, on the other hand, maybe there is something coming from the woman's side that needs to be looked at as well.  Maybe men are angry because they experience women like Valenti not listening to them.  Maybe from childhood on, their anger is viewed as irrelevant or as a sign of a disturbance.  Maybe their anger grows into rage after they have been continually stereotyped as "sexists, misogynists or abusers."  Maybe men are resentful about being addressed in a sarcastic and condescending manner as Valenti does when she uses terms like "shiny privilege." 

We are alluding here to defense mechanisms.  People--both men and women--use them to avoid the truth.  Instead of admitting we are angry or hateful, we attribute that anger and hatred to others; it's called projection.  Valenti appears to be attributing all hatred to men while denying that women have hatred too.  Instead of getting in touch with feelings of inferiority, both men and women may be projecting anger on the opposite sex and convincing themselves that they are superior beings who have been unfairly treated.  Maybe both sexes project anger at the other sex, justifying their own anger and making up excuses for it instead of taking responsibility for it.   

The fact that we have unconscious defense mechanisms is no longer talked about very much these days.  The fact that there are things about ourselves that we don't want to know about is no longer considered.  We want to point out the faults in others, but not the faults in ourselves.  This is not to say that men's anger, and horrific acts such as killing sprees, should be condoned.  If mass killings and other types of violence are a male phenomenon, we need to address it.  The question is, are we addressing it in the right way?  If we link men's anger with sexism or male privilege being taken away or fear of women's progress, are we simply blaming men for their anger?  If we simply condemn men and punish them for their anger without trying to understand where it comes from, will that solve the problem?   Equality is a two-way process; it means men have to listen to women, and women also have to listen to men. 

Men's anger may indeed be linked with the rise of women's rights, as Valenti contends, but we need to look at all the manifestations of that rise.  The women’s rights movement was and is complicated. Valenti is by no means the only woman who has spoken sarcastically of "shiny privilege," but over the past twenty years as that point of view about men has prevailed, our social problems have not gotten better; they have worsened.  Killing sprees have multiplied. 

Indeed, the cultural phenomenon of “political correctness,” of which feminism is only a part, has seemed to stir up a counter-reaction in many males.  Donald Trump’s candidacy for President of the United States in 2015-2016 seemed to appeal particularly to angry white males who objected to political correctness.  In a survey by Esquire and NBC of 3,257 white people in 2015 men were more likely than women to say they were angry about the treatment of white males (20).  In an October poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University, 68 percent of people of all races and walks of life agreed with the proposition that “a big problem this country has is being politically correct” (21).  White men in particular seem to feel that whenever they disagree with the left they are made to feel politically incorrect with name-calling such as “sexist,” “racist” or “homophobe.”

Maybe we need to try a different approach.  Maybe we need to explore both men's prejudice against women and women's prejudice against men.  And maybe we need to explore the consequences of feminism and political correctness in terms of the parenting of boys. 

Family Dynamics and Killing Sprees 

Lynne Ramsey, the director of the 2010 movie, We Need to Talk about Kevin, has given us a touching portrait of the kind of childhood that leads to the development of a mass killer (22).  I happened to watch it on Hulu the other night and was quite moved by it.  This movie, which was nominated for a best actress Oscar by the lead, Tilda Swinton, was otherwise mostly ignored by the public.   

The story follows the relationship between mother and son (and father and son) from birth onward.  The mother didn’t want a son and was a cold and rejecting mother from the beginning.  The son, out of defiance, soiled his pants until he was about four or five, for which he was punished by the mother but forgiven by the father, who always tried to be loving and nice to the son to make up for the hostility of the mother.  At one point, when the son says something hateful to the mother, she picks him up and throws him across the room, breaking his arm.  As the son nears his eighteenth birthday, he finds a new irritant in his life.  The mother becomes pregnant again and has a daughter.  The son is hostile to the daughter from the time she is born, and when she is about four he pokes one of her eyes out.  The mother is shown doting on the girl while continuing to treat the son as if he is a bad seed.  Never does the mother show any self-objectiveness; never does she look at how she might have contributed to her son’s development. 

The movie is told in a nonlinear manner, flashing from the past to the present, with scattered scenes that do not make sense until the end.  The finale, in which the son enters a school and shoots students down with a bow and arrow, is only shown in an indirect way, which makes it more poignant.  When she asks her son at the end, when she is visiting him in jail, why he did it, he can only reply that “I use to know, but now I’m not sure.”  This is generally true of people who act out in fits of rage; afterwards, they are no longer sure what they were angry about; especially if that anger is toward a parent. 

This movie does what we, as a country, need to do right now.  It talks about the problem of mass killings by telling a story about a boy who grows up to do just that.  The movie doesn’t flinch from facing the reality of the problem.  Of course, one case history does not make a general case.  And of course case histories can be interpreted in different ways.  A review of the movie in Amazon.com by Grady Harp (23) notes: “As adapted for the screen by director Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear this story becomes a terrifyingly realistic exploration of the subject of inherent evil and the manner in which we deal with it.”  (The italics are mine.)  In other words, the son is a bad seed (the inherent evil) who victimizes the mother.  Today, when we are repeatedly told, “Don’t blame the mother,” we tend to protect mothers.  If a boy turns out badly, we have been taught to sympathize with the mother.  The mother didn’t create the monster; the monster created the bad mother.

Dysfunctional families may well be another root cause of mass killing sprees, and they can be seen in real life as well as in the movies.  Last year’s killing of four military men and the critical wounding of another by Mohammod Abdulazeez, 24, in Chattanooga, Tennessee brought to the foreground the mental issues that are often linked to mass killers. These mental issues seem to make such individuals susceptible to being radicalized by organizations such as ISIS.

Recent reports allude to his diary(24), which indicates that as far back as 2013, he wrote about having suicidal thoughts and "becoming a martyr" after losing his job due to his drug use, both prescription and non-prescription drugs. He seems to have been influenced by ISIS, which in their propaganda urged people to stage terrorists attacks during Ramadan, a Muslim religious holiday; the propaganda suggested that the rewards that such acts would be ten time greater for them in heaven and for their relatives on earth.

In one of his posts, Abdulazeez noted, "Brothers and sisters, don't be fooled by your desires. This life is short and the opportunities to submit to Allah may pass you by." His family released statements noting that their son had suffered from depression for years. They blamed his friends for being bad influences. Like most families of terrorists, they took no responsibility for his mental condition. "The person who committed this horrible crime was not the son we knew and loved," they wrote(25).

People do not generally commit atrocious acts such as mass killings because they calmly choose to do them. Instead, they are driven to do such acts by severe internal conflicts, and the propaganda by organizations such as ISIS that gives them a reason, a way out. Court documents filed in 2009 indicated that as part of preliminary divorce proceedings, Abdulazeez’s mother, Rasmia Abdulazeez, accused his father, Youssef Abdulazeez, “of repeatedly beating her in the presence of their children”(26).

The file goes on to state that the elder Abdulazeez “struck his children without provocation” and sexually abused his wife on at least two occasions. Rasmia Abdulazeez eventually dropped the divorce action. It was also revealed by federal authorities that his father had been investigated years ago for giving money to an organization with possible ties to Palestinian terrorists.

We can only speculate on what this father's relationship with his son was. What we do have is denials of the family that it had anything to do with what the son did. Thus the son may have been affected by family difficulties and suffered from depression but would be unable to express such feelings or the reason for such feelings to his family, since they would be shocked if he connected such feelings to them. When a child cannot talk about his feelings to a family that insists that the son only see things from their perspective, the son must turn to external means of expressing such feelings.  What seems apparent then was that he, and perhaps all terrorists, are mentally ill (27).

The very fact that the present environment discourages us from looking objectively at the role of parenting, particularly of mothering, and its relationship to character development, may well exacerbate the problem.  While we have been protecting the rights of mothers, who has been protecting the rights of our sons?  It’s okay to talk about evil sons, but not okay to talk about disturbed mothers.  Some parents have disorders and some have severe disorders, and how those disorders affect their child-rearing ability is something that should be looked at.  Some mothers, as did the mother in the movie, suffer from postpartum depression.  Some mothers have deep feelings of resentment about pregnancy and giving birth and harbor feelings of hatred for their children.  Sometimes they don’t relate to or pick up their babies for months.  These factors have a large influence on their child’s later development. 

Movies such as We Need to Talk about Kevin shed light on the problem of mass killings by focusing on the issue of parenting.  There is a rush in America and in the world to pin this mass violence, which threatens to go out of control, on guns and gun control.  Guns do not in and of themselves kill people; people kill people.  However, parenting as a cause of increasing violence has been neglected.  In addition to thinking about equal rights for various groups of adults—women, homosexuals or African-Americans—maybe we need to think about equal rights for children. 

Right now the whole world is looking with astonishment at America, in part because of all the violence that is happening here.  Yet there seems to be no willingness to look at all the possible causes, not just the ones we feel comfortable with. 


Mass killing sprees in America are happening for a reason, and they are increasing for a reason.  Most experts are focusing on gun control, violent video games, our educational system and other superficial factors.  Rarely do you hear anybody contemplating the impact of family dynamics, parenting, or American culture as causes of the rise of mass killing sprees.   

Our culture tends to protect mothers and parents in general.  We don’t want to blame parents or hurt the feelings of parents.  It is as though it were sacrilegious to suggest that parents have any influence at all on kids—particularly boys—growing up to become violent.  Rather than blame the parents, we blame the children.  The boy who grows up to be a man who goes on a killing spree is “evil,” “a bad seed,” “a psychopath.”  It is completely the boy’s fault, his bad genes, his bad habits of watching violent games, his penchant for running with the wrong crowd or his inherent aggressive masculinity.  While it appears to be culturally forbidden to look at the faults of parents, it is an acceptable trend to find fault with children. 

The bottom line is that we are a society that has developed harmful values.  You might compare it to a family in which the parents are so busy fighting over who is right and who is wrong that they neglect their children.  Our government, likewise, is too busy with right-wrong power struggles between political parties to pay attention to the social problems that are increasing, year after year, in America.  The root of the problem of rising killing sprees is linked to our eroding family values, where the raising of healthy children is no longer a priority.  The priority now is equality between adult men and women, between homosexuals and heterosexuals, between blacks and whites.  While the latter is important, it should not be valued more than raising healthy children who are properly socialized to become good citizens who contribute in a constructive way to our society.   

Values should be based on validated research about what works best, not on political pressure by angry groups who want things their way.  When our children grow up to be healthy adults who value education, constructive communication, good parenting and positive habits and attitudes, we will know we have the proper values for eliminating mass killing sprees. 


1. http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-leads-world-in-mass-shootings-14443905359

2. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news-ng-interactive/2015/oct/02/mass-shootings-america-gun-violence

3. http://blog-sfgate.com/crime/2014/09/24/mass-shootings-on-the-increase-in-u-s/

4. http://www.thewire.com/global/2012/07/rest-first-world-astounded-americas-enduring-gun-culture/54967/

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Hook_Elementary_School_shooting

6. https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20-570.pdf

7. http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Total-crimes

8. http://enwikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countgries_by_literacy_rate

9. http://www.cbsnews.com/2100500368_162-4222322.html

10. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_obe-health-obesity

11. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph.cr_tot_cr-crime-total-crimes

12. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/peo_div_rat-people-divorce-rate

13. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/1107252002240.htm

14. http://healthland.time.com/2010/11/11/why-americans-are-among-the-most-sleepless-people-in-the-world

15. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0420293/

16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanford_prison_experiment

17. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

18. htttp://www.usedebtclock.org/

19. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/27/why-are-some-men-so-angry

20. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/08/angry-white-men-love-donald-trump

21. https://washingtonpost.com/politics/why-trump-may-be-winning-the-war-on-political-correctness/2016/01/04/098cf832-afda-11e5-   b711-1998289ffcea_story.html

22. http://www.imdb.com/title/551242460

23. http://www.amazon.com/We-Need-talk-About-Kevin/dp/B0083GQKQG/ref=we+need+talk+about+kevin

24. http://gma.yahoo.com/chattanooga-shooting-fbi-recovers-gunmans-disturbing-diary-110045048-abc-news-topstories.html#

25. http://www.wrcbtv.com/story/29580433/abdulazeez-family-makes-statement-on-thursdays-shooting-24

26. http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-news/2015717-chattanooga-killers-trips-to-jordan-examined-by-authorities.ece_25

27. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-modern-mind/201306/home-grown-terrorists-actually-terrorists-or-mentally-ill

A Variation of Soul Murder

By Walter Borenstein, M.D.

Soul murder is a term coined by Leonard Shengold, a psychoanalyst.  He defined it as “the deliberate attempt to eradicate or compromise the separate identity of another person” (Shengold, 1989, p. 3).  He goes on to say that the victims of soul murder remain in bondage to their victimizer (usually their parents).   The child feels helpless and terrified and under those conditions is brainwashed by the tyrannical parent, who is usually psychotic or sociopathic, to think and be whoever the parent wants them to think and be for the rest of their lives.

The child grows up with no identity of its own, ever in bondage to its master, without being aware of that bondage.  Shengold compared soul murder to the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, where Jews were told they were evil and their identities were crushed under constant persecution in the form of a variety of sadistic measures.  In the case of the Nazis, prisoners not only lost their souls (by which Shengold meant their real selves); they were also taught to love their persecutors.

Children whose souls have been murdered have no memory of this childhood process, which is no doubt repressed because of its brutality.   Shengold focused on the children who grew up depressed and helpless as the result of such an upbringing.   However, some children do not become depressed and helpless; some spend their adult years acting out the sadistic scripts laid out by the narrative started in their childhoods.  They identify with the aggressor (their narcissistic, psychotic or sociopathic parent or parents), and they also mimic the personality of the aggressor.   They have no identity of their own and no idea of what their real feelings are or what their actions mean, hence they have primarily emptiness inside where their own real feelings should be.  Because of this, they can easily be thrown into a rage if their false self is challenged.

One such case with which I became acquainted involved a girl whose mother was a sociopath with strong features of narcissism.  Her father was an artistic type who had married the girl’s mother only after she became pregnant.   She had become pregnant sneakily, withholding from her boyfriend that she had neglected to take birth control pills on one particular occasion.   When he found out she had become pregnant, he wanted her to have an abortion.  At first she agreed, but later backed out at the last minute. Thereafter she lost no time in guilt-tripping the young man.  “You had your pleasure so I guess now you’ll be going,” she taunted him repeatedly.  The young man, who had come from an abusive childhood in which his own soul had been robbed and he had been left with a depleted personality, agreed to marry her.   Three years later he regretted his decision and began cheating on her.  He had grown to love his Oedipally adoring three-year old daughter, but felt smothered by his wife.   One day he announced that he was leaving her and was moving in with his girlfriend.  His wife did not take it well, as she was a vindictive woman who couldn’t tolerate any kind of rejection.

His idea was to leave her for a more compatible mate, while remaining in close contact with his beloved daughter, who at the age of three had become a Daddy’s Girl.  One of her favorite things to say was, “I love my Daddy.”  Although he moved in with his girlfriend, he made almost daily visits to his daughter to reassure her that even though he and Mommy were separating, he would always be there for her.  However, his wife was so infuriated by his leaving, which she saw as a betrayal of the worst kind, that she became determined to put a wedge between her daughter and the daughter’s father.   She quickly went into what Gardner called the “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” and what Turkot has referred to as “Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome.”

Gardner has provided a lucid description of the Parental Alienation Syndrome, in which the custodial parent engages in a variety of manipulations to poison the child’s mind against the non-custodial parent.   This is a syndrome that either the father or mother can fall into.  Once the child’s mind is successfully poisoned against the non-custodial parent, the child becomes "...preoccupied with deprecation and criticism of a parent-denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated"( Gardner, p 33).   As the syndrome gains momentum, both the custodial parent and the child engage in an array of persecutory actions against the non-custodial parent.  Gardner views "brainwashing" as a concept "too narrow" to capture the intense psychological and often diabolical manipulation involved in turning a child against his/her non-residential parent. 

In the present case, after the divorce was finalized, the mother began to pound away at her daughter’s identity in a malicious way described elsewhere by Turkot (Turkot, 1995).  She wasn’t allowed to individuate from the mother nor establish her own separate self; she was yelled at and terrorized by the mother with one goal; to hate her father.  Every time she visited her father, the mother would berate her as if she had committed treason.  She portrayed the father in extremely negative terms, telling her daughter that the father had selfishly abandoned the little girl (in fact, the father continued to see the daughter weekly), that he was only interested in his own pleasure with other women.  “He’s a selfish pig.”  She told some truths, some half-truths, and many complete lies to her daughter about her father.  “He made me take acid when I was pregnant, and that’s probably why you have bad eyesight,” she repeated again and again.  She also retold many times the story about the abortion that didn’t happen, noting that ‘Your father didn’t want you,” and adding, “It was only because of my stubborn refusal to go through it at the last minute that you’re here at all.”  She characterized the father as a snobbish person who didn’t think his wife, daughter or anyone was good enough for him.  When the father gave his daughter gifts, the mother would disparage the gifts as cheap.  When he wrote and illustrated story books for her, she complained how stupid they were.  Later the mother remarried and recruited her new husband, who was somewhat of a Mama’s boy, to help her gang up against the father.

Almost every time the father came to pick up his daughter for a visit, she would give him a hard time.  “Why don’t you let Phil [her new husband] adopt her.  At least he knows how to be a father!”  She would scold him about divorcing her.  She badgered him about money, about his “wild life,” about the selfish way he had abandoned her and his daughter.  She lost no chance to punish him and he began to dread his obligation to pick up his daughter for her weekly visits.

According to the divorce agreement, the father was entitled to have the daughter for two weeks in the summer.  When she was six years old her father made plans to visit his family in another state.  The mother at the last minute called the father and told him she didn’t want the daughter to go on the vacation, citing her young age.  The father had already paid for the trip and his family was looking forward to the visit, so when he picked up his daughter for what was supposed to be a weekend stay, he took her for the planned two-week vacation to his home state, calling his wife on the phone when he got there.  “You bastard.  You’ll pay for this!” she yelled.  When father and daughter returned, the mother was waiting at the door with a scowl in her eyes.   She and her new husband spent many days yelling at the daughter, repeating over and over how terrible the father was to take her away against her permission.  The daily yelling sessions were tantamount to the sadistic treatment men get in prison camps.  One can only imagine how traumatic they were to a six-year-old.  As a result of this treatment, the daughter refused to see the father for several months. 

From then on the daughter received almost daily doses of hostility from her mother and stepfather , reminding her who and what her father was and lambasting her for wanting anything to do with him.   She became a pawn, which the mother played to get back at the father.  Each time the daughter visited the father, her mother and step-father would mock her.  Each time she returned they would mock her again.  All the while the mother continually complained to the daughter what an “egotistical, selfish jerk” her father was.  They made her feel that her father was the most terrible person in the world, in effect, setting her up to be her mother’s surrogate, her role in life being to exact vengeance on her mother’s behalf. 

This brainwashing eventually had its intended effect.  The daughter’s relationship with the father became increasingly negative as she grew older, and she treated him almost exactly as she had witnessed her mother treating him.  She did not turn out to be like the soul-murdered individuals described by Shengold, but was instead a sadistic monster.  For example, the father planned a family reunion at his house, which the daughter helped him arrange.  Then at the last minute she announced that she was going to Europe with her parents, the father’s whole family hanging.  She developed an ambivalent relationship toward her father.  She would suddenly insult him and find some pretext to throw him out of her life.  Then, on other occasions she would telephone him with a guilty voice and ask him to get together with her again, only to later find another pretext to gleefully reject him.  When the daughter later married, she recruited her husband to gang up against the father, just as her mother had once done with her stepfather.  The father, because of his own childhood abuse, allowed the daughter to have her way with him and always took her back.

The daughter never got out from under the mother’s sway, and she never developed her own identity.  She had become a copy of her mother; she identified with her and modeled her own personality after her.  She thought like her, was crafty like her, and was mean like her.  She had no idea who she really was or why she had so much rage inside her.  She attributed this rage entirely to her father.  “It’s because of you that I wear glasses!” she would sometimes hiss at him.  After the father died at an early age of a heart attack, she developed more and more emotional problems.  She was an obsessive and picky eater, would fly into a rage at the drop of an eyebrow and often yelled at her husband over trifles.  Whereas she had loved cats in her childhood, in her older years she wouldn’t touch cats because “they are full of germs.”

Despite all these issues, she had no clue that anything was wrong with her.  Her father tried for many years to get her to see a therapist with him, but she was dead-set against psychotherapy.  Instead, whenever she had tension, she would take it out on her father.  Eventually, as she got older and her father was no longer around, the rage inside her turned toward her husband and other male authority figures.  Eventually her husband left her and she became a virtual recluse, developing various psychosomatic disorders and refusing to see doctors.  But she never had anything but love and allegiance toward her mother.

She had no soul in the sense that she had no real self.   She did not know herself, she only knew what her mother wanted her to know:  That her father was a bad man who deserved whatever he got.  When her father died of a heart attack (which, in his diary he blamed on her), she did not shed a tear. This case clearly demonstrates a very different outcome than the usual cases described by Shengold, but nevertheless it shows a soulless character, one without an identity of her own, but one with a definite role: a zombie-like mission to destroy her father.  All of the cruelty that had been shown to her in her childhood by her mother and later her step-father came out toward her father.  

I’m sure there are many cases such as this one that have never been written about.  As Turkot noted, “While the media correctly portrays the difficulties imposed upon women and children by the "Deadbeat Dad" phenomenon, the cameras have yet to capture the warfare waged by a select group of mothers against child support paying, law abiding fathers” (Turkot, 1995, p. 1). Certain fairy tales, such as “Cinderella,” also allude to such circumstances.  These cases need to be written about in order to illuminate a rather cruel aspect of the human condition, one that Shengold intimated but did not describe.

Incidentally, Gardner committed suicide not long after introducing his “Parental Alienation Syndrome” (which is now included in DSM-IV).  An associate (Crouch, 2013) wrote that “Dr. Gardner was so overwhelmed by the unrelenting hostility of feminist driven antagonists that he ended his own life.”  Such occurrences are often the case when new and controversial ideas are offered. 



Shengold, L. (1989).  Soul Murder: the Effects of Childhood Abuse and Neglect.  New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gardner, R. A. (1998).  The Parental Alienation Syndrome, Second Edition.  New York: Creative Therapeutics.

Turkat, I. D. (1995).  Divorce related malicious mother syndrome.  Journal of Family Violence, 10:3, p. 253-264.

Crouch, H. (2013).  http://ncfm.org/2013/06/news/suicide/parental-alienation-dr-richard-gardner-inclusion-in-the-dms-v-final-vindication/ (National Coalition of Men website)


Volume 2, Issue 2 (October 2017)

Towards a Practical Morality

by Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.


ABSTRACTMany religions, political systems and philosophies have created moralities throughout history; all have been handed down by an authority.  Instead, we need a moral system that comes from within, not without, one based on tried and true, scientific principles.



Moral Systems Based on Authorities

Since ancient times humans have created moral systems.  Almost always these moral systems have consisted of rules imposed by an outside force such as a god, religious book, political movement or an authority figure.  Some, such as Lao Zi in ancient China and Buddha, suggested that the moral system must come from within.

Most moral systems from the beginning of history have been based on the worship of higher powers.  The ancient Romans (1) and Ancient Greeks (2) each had a number of Gods who had super powers of some kind or another.  The Greeks had Athena, Poseidon, Hermes, Ares, Zeus, Aphrodite, Hera and Artemis.  Each of them had some specialty; Aphrodite, for example, was the Goddess of Love.  The Romans had a main pantheon of 12 Gods and Goddesses, including Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, Apollo, Minerva, Diana—each with their special powers and provinces.  The Ancient Greeks and Romans derived their morals and values through the Greek and Roman founders, who in turn received divine instructions from the various Gods.

Judaism (3) began thousands of years ago and is based on devotion to the Jewish God referred to as Yahweh or Jehovah.  According to the Jewish Torah (sacred book), Yahweh made heaven and earth and everything in it, including human beings.  He also gave them moral rules to live by—the 10 Commandments—delivered  to the Jews by Moses, one of the idealized figures of the Jewish religion.  The roots of Judaism goes back more than 3000 years and remains one of the world’s major religions.  Orthodox Jews believe they are the children of God and their God is exclusively their God.  Many also believe that Israel is a land promised to them by God.

An offshoot of Judaism is Christianity (4), which was began by a man named Jesus, who was a Jew who called himself the son of God.  In those days the Jews were expecting a Messiah who would save the world.  Various false Messiah’s had appeared before Jesus, and he also was eventually crucified on a cross as a false messiah.  However, Jesus attracted a following and passed on his own rules for living and his own brand of morality, which included the 10 Commandments.  Christianity has grown through the years and is now the most populous religion in the world, with over 2.4 billion adherents.  The sacred book of the Christians is the Bible, a combination of the Old Testament (the Torah) and the New Testament, written by followers of Jesus.

Islam(5), like Christianity, is also an outgrowth of Judaism.  Mohammad is viewed as the founder of Islam, and the sacred book is the Quran.  Muslims, as the followers of the Quran are called, believe that the purpose of life is to worship Allah (the name they give their God).  There are two major sects of Islam, Sunni and Shia.  Worldwide there are over 1.6 billion Muslims, or about a third of the world population.  Muslims follow Sharia, a moral law they believe comes from God and cannot be disobeyed.  Fundamentalists believe that all who do not believe in and follow the Sharia are “infidels” who must be eliminated.

The Hindu Religion (6) has been called the oldest religion In the world.  It apparently began as a fusion of various Indian cultures.  There are no ten commandments, but there is the Braham, the name of the Hindu God, and there are several scriptures that are followed, such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas.  The moral laws are codified in these and other texts.  Ethics followed by Hindus are called Dharma, who strive to attain moksha, which represents liberation from worldly attachments and from the cycle of death and rebirth.  Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world.

Buddhism started in India at around the 1st Century BC.  According to legend it was started by Gautama Buddha (7), who was perpartedly the son of a royal family in India.  Buddha was interested in how one could achieve contentment by practicing the Eight-Fold Path (the Middle Way), the goal of which was liberation from suffering (Nirvana).  From India the religion spread to China and then to other parts of the world.  Today there are many schools of Buddhism, some of which believe in reincarnation.  In the case of Buddhism, The Buddha is the higher authority from which the precepts come.  Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world.

In China there have been many religious systems associated with various dynasties, but one leader, Kong Qui (8) (known in the West as Confucius) became the most popular figure and his tenants were passed down as the Analects.  Confucianism has also come to be based on the Four Classics, presumed to have been written by Confucius.  Unlike the other major religions, Confucianism is not concerned with a God or an afterlife, but rather with how to live this life.  However, in common with other religions, the moral principles of Confucianism comes from a higher authority.

There have been hundreds of smaller religions throughout history.  Every tribe that has ever existed in America, in Mexico, in Asia, in South America, in Europe, in Africa, or on any little island in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, had its own brand of superstitious beliefs hat constituted its morality.  The Yanomami (9), a tribe in the Amazon jungles of Brazil, has a “kill or be killed” morality in which cannibalism plays a role (they believe if they eat the bodies of their enemies they will have power over them).  In general primitive religions have had certain things in common.  “The rituals were often associated with magic. Animism, spiritism, magic, totemism and sacrifice,” (9) and such things were practiced by tribes around the world.  The native American tribe called Senecas were said by the explorer La Salle to sacrifice a virgin each year by sending her to her death over the falls (11).

A History of Religious Wars

Unfortunately, when people are indoctrinated by a religion at a young age, they begin to believe that unproven and superstitious aspects of religion are facts and act on those facts.  The result is that religion does not always lead to beneficial ends.  Over the years, from ancient times to the present, many religions have been associated with wars, genocide and other atrocities.  This aspect of religions seems to be directly linked with the fact that such religious systems were superimposed by an authority and evolved not from scientific research but from superstition.  Stanley Milgram (12) did important study in the 1950s called the “Obedience to Authority” experiment in which he found the subjects were willing to administer 450 volts of electricity to other subjects (in reality actors) if an authority (the experimenter) gave them a reason why it was all right. His thesis was that people will be cruel to other people if an authority gives them permission to do it.

Examples of wars and other atrocities that were either directly or indirectly linked to the authority of a religion, religious figure, or religious book abound.  The earliest direct records of religious warfare are from the Bronze Age (13).  In the Near East, each city-state would have its own tutelary deity, which gave it the right to own, rule and protect the city. Warfare between these cities was conceived of as warfare between the cities' national gods.  The ancient system of city-state deities was still found in the Iron Age, thus in ancient Greece Athena, the goddess of Athens, became the "goddess of warfare".  The Trojan War is portrayed by Homer as a conflict between factions of the gods, fought with the use of human armies. Thus, while each war would be seen as a conflict between the deities of the warring parties.

The Crusades (14), the Spanish Inquisition and the Burning of Witches in Medieval times are all were all done under the auspices of the Christian religion. The Crusades were a series of military campaigns that lasted from 1096 to 1487, sanctioned by different Popes of that era.  At state were other religious shrines such as Jerusalem, that were held by Muslims.  Hundreds of thousands of people from many different walks of life and nations of Western Europe became crusaders by taking a public vow and receiving rewards from the Catholic Church.   Some crusaders were peasants hoping for absolution at Jerusalem.  Some were children, some were rich people, all particularly spurred on when Pope Urban II claimed that all who participated were forgiven of their sins. 

The burning of witches (15) in Europe took place over a five-century interval—from the 14th to the 18th Century. The total number of victims was probably between 50,000 and 100,000; most were burned at the stake but some were tried and executed in other ways.  About 75% were women regarded as pagans, 25% were men.  Although in many instances it was governments that executed people, the church sanctioned the witch hunts.  Germany, Switzerland and France were the main countries where the witch hunts occurred.

The Spanish Inquisition (16) was another infamous event of religious cruelty. The Inquisition was originally intended in large part to ensure the orthodoxy of those who converted from Judaism and Islam. This regulation of the faith of the newly converted was intensified after the royal decrees issued in 1492 and 1502 ordering Jews and Muslims to convert or leave Spain. About 150,000 persons were charged with crimes by the Inquisition and about 3,000 were executed.

Sects of Asian religions also practiced their share of atrocities against other groups. Human sacrifices were still occurring in Buddhist Burma in the 1850s. When the capital was moved to Mandalay, 56 designated men were buried beneath the new city walls to sanctify and protect the city. When two of the burial spots were later found empty, royal astrologers decreed that 500 men, women, boys, and girls must be killed and buried at once, or the capital must be abandoned. About 100 were actually buried before British governors stopped the ceremonies.

A sect of the Hindu Religion went on a rampage in India. Members of lndia’s Thuggee sect strangled people as sacrifices to appease the bloodthirsty goddess Kali, a practice beginning in the 1500s. The number of victims has been estimated to be as high as 2 million. Thugs were claiming about 20,000 lives a year in the 1800s until British rulers put a stop to the practice. In 1840.  One Thug was accused of killing 931 people. Today, some Hindu priests still sacrifice goats to Kali. 

Over the years we have witnessed the Jihads in Muslim countries. Islamic jihads (holy wars), supposedly mandated by the Koran, killed millions over 12 centuries. In early years, Muslim armies were exhorted to spread the faith unmercifully.  They battled east to India and west to Morocco. Then splintering sects branded other Muslims sects as infidels and declared jihads against them. The Kharijis battled Sunni rulers. The Azariqis decreed death to all “sinners” and their families. In 1804 a Sudanese holy man, Usman dan Fodio, waged a bloody jihad that broke the religious sway of the Sultan of Gobir. In the 1850s another Sudanese mystic, ‘Umar al-Hajj, led a barbaric jihad to conquer pagan African tribes.

There have also been historical atrocities committed against certain religions (17), most notably in Ancient Rome and more recently in Nazi Germany.  The Romans persecuted Christians as a group by the emperor Nero in 64 AD. A colossal fire broke out at Rome, and destroyed much of the city. Rumors abounded that Nero himself was responsible. To divert attention from the rumors, Nero ordered that Christians should be rounded up and killed. Some were torn apart by dogs, others burnt alive as human torches. Over the next hundred years or so, Christians were sporadically persecuted.  In Nazi Germany before and during World War II, about 6 million Jews were sent to prison camps where they were exterminated in what is referred to as the Holocaust (18). 

These are just a few of the atrocities linked to religions.  The bottom line is that religions—as well as political groups that behave much like religions--while espousing goals of goodness, eternal life, the brotherhood of men, peace, harmony, equality and the like, often actually end up causing more “evil” than “good.”  Religions up to the present have not been based on scientific research.  Rather, they have been based on strong, superstitious beliefs.  All religions have led to wars, although some more than others.  Only one sect of Buddhism led to a war; for the most part this is the one religion that has not had wars on its behalf.

A few ancient philosophers have come along, such as Lao Zi (19) in China and the original Buddha in India, who have developed systems of morality that were not based on superstitions but on reasoned concepts on how to live in the world in the most peaceful and harmonious way.  Lao Zi (Or Lao Tzu, as he is sometimes called) is the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching and the founder of philosophical Taoism.  More recently he has become a deity in religious Taoism as practiced in many Asian countries.  His book of 81 poems is usually dated to around the 6th century BC.  Taoism as conceived of by Lao Zi is the most practical moral system devised so far (20).

Lao Zi was a pioneer in developing a practical morality.  He believed that there was one “way” of behaving that was universally beneficial.  This was a way that led to resolution, peace and harmony within an individual and between the individual and the world.  This way advocated detachment from selfish needs to be richer, smarter, more powerful, or more beautiful than others.   It was a way that eschewed narcissistic desires for admiration, obedience, or vengeance.  His way led to harmony and peace, not to strife and war.   He noted:  “The wise stay behind and go ahead.  They lose themselves and find themselves.  They want nothing and have everything.” 

Inspired by Lao Zi, Buddha and other classical authors, I have pondered the possibility of a new kind of practical morality, one that does not come from a higher authority but evolves out of one’s own thinking.  Kohlberg (21) envisioned such a morality when he conceived of “Post Conventional” morality.

Towards a Practical Moral System

Practical morality is a moral system based on what works best to achieve contentment.  It comes from within. When a moral system comes from without, it doesn't work. You don't own it; you accept it on faith, hence you are more likely to "break the rules."  When it comes from within and you discover from your own experience that it works, then it will be a system you will truly embrace.  You will embrace it because it is practical.  It brings peace and harmony.

Here are my 10 Suggestions (not commandments) regarding a practical morality.  These are suggestions, and each person can think about them and decide whether to adopt them as his or her own, or whether to add or subtract from them.  Each of the principles is rooted in ancient writings and are found in almost every philosophy or religion.  Each has been chosen because it benefits human relationships rather than leading to destructive communication or behavior.

1.  Accept What Is.  Much strife is caused by wanting to change things.  It is all right to want to change things--to improve a marriage, to find a better job, etc.--but it is not all right to need to change things in order to be happy.  Change things that can be changed, and accept those that can't be changed.  Worry, resentment and agony cannot help you improve things; they only make you miserable.  Accepting what is; that is the morality that works on a practical level.

2.  Treat Others the Way You Would Want to be Treated.  This is sometimes called the golden rule.  Do this not because it has been commanded by authorities; do it because it is what works.  If you treat others the way you would have them treat you, you will bring about harmony in your life and improve your relationships.

3.  Judge Each Situation on its Own Merits.  Each situation in life must be judged on its own merits.  You can't use one moral system for all situations.  "Honor thy father and thy mother," is only good in certain instances.  If your father and mother are antisocial personalities, then you must turn away from them.  If a mugger stands before you with a gun, you must do as he says. If a homeless person stands before you with a cup, fill it up with tea.

4.  Put Yourself in Another's Shoes.  Empathy goes a long way in smoothing out relations with children and people.  Do it not because it is commanded, but because it is what works.  If a child is getting into trouble, before taking a moral position, try to understand how he feels.  Is his trouble-making a form of crying out for attention?  Understand him and give him the space to find out that he is loved no matter what.

5.  Make Up Your Own Mind.  For every moral dilemma there is a crowd reaction.  The human tendency is to engage in groupthink.  Like other animals, we seem to have a herd instinct which lead to religious or political ideological thinking.  The crowd tends to rush to judgment and can be cruel to those who disagree with it.  Make up your own mind based on the situation.  Stand up to the pressure of the crowd and say or do what needs to be said or done in order to foster balance and harmony.

6.  Respect all People.  Everybody tries to solve life's problems in their own way, according to the circumstances of their life.  We are all who we are as a matter of luck; either we are born with good genes or we are born rich with good parents.  It's a matter of luck.  Both rich and poor people deserve to be respected, as well as both saints and sinners, nice people and murderers, and selfless and selfish people.  Respect all people as doing the best under their circumstances and you will have loving relations.

7.  Verbalize Anger instead of Acting it Out.  Much of the world problems are due to acting out rather than verbalizing anger.  A husband and wife do not sit down and calmly discuss their problems; instead they act them out by being cold and rejecting, by lying, by arguing, by giving ultimatums.  Governments do likewise; instead of talking honestly, they give ultimatums, threaten, lie, go to war, and make situations worse.  Constructive communication makes things go best for individuals and governments.

8. Tell People What They Need to Hear.   All too often we tell people what they want to hear in order to spare their feelings.  We don't tell a mother that she is mistreating her child because we don't want to hurt her feelings.  Yet, by not telling her we are mistreating the child.  Look at the root of the problem, not the surface.  The child is feeling unloved and is hitting people at school.  This is the root of the problem.  Tell the mother what she may be doing to make the child act out at school.

9.  Love Unconditionally.  Children and people need to be loved unconditionally.  Everybody has good and bad qualities.  Accept them the way they are.  Accept yourself the way you are.  When you accept yourself the way you are, you will change naturally, without pressure.  When you accept others the way they are, you will provide them with the security to see their own flaws.

10. Give for the Sake of Giving.  When we give, we help others, but mostly we help ourselves.  Give even if others don't appreciate it.  Give without expecting anything from it.  Give because it makes you feel better.  When we give of ourselves, we feel better about ourselves and we feel better about humanity.  When we give with strings attached we are not really giving, we are bribing.


I offer these suggestions as a way of stimulating a dialogue about morality.  You may agree or disagree with these suggestions, but hopefully we can discuss them.  The bottom line is that moral systems should be based on principles that lead to goals that are beneficial to the individual, to society and to humankind as a whole.  If religions lead to conflict with those of other religions, to exclusivity, to a “holier-than-thou” attitude, or to any other destructive end, they are not moral systems at all, but systems of superiority stemming from human narcissism.

Religions throughout history have come out of superstitions. They were humankind’s attempt to compensate for its fear of death, feelings of inferiority, and fear of the unknown.  Religions were rarely set up in a scientific way, and they have therefore been replete with all the faults of humankind.  Human jealousy, denial, prejudices, greed, and many other aspect of what is human become part of the religions we have erected, which are extensions of our deepest, unconscious notions, and often provide us with a rationale for actualizing these notions.  Thus religions justify many of the conflicts that have occurred through history.

The 10 principles offered here all fulfill three main criteria:  (1) They are beneficial to humankind as a whole (rather than to a part of humanity); (2) they lead to international peace, rather than to conflict; and (3) They lead to inner peace.  They constitute practical morality, rather than superstitious morality.

The first principle, “Accept What Is,” is found in Buddhism and Taoism as well as in humanistic psychology.  The second principle, “Treat others as you would have them treat you,” is found in almost all religions and philosophies.  The third principle, “Judge each situation on its own merits,” Is intended to counter the tendency of humankind to judge situations according to some biased view coming out of their religion, political ideology or philosophy. The fourth principle, “Put yourself in another’s shoes,” is based on the universally acknowledged understanding that empathy leads to the highest form of relationships.  The fifth principle, “Make up your own mind,” is intended to counter the trend of people to allow their religion and their group to think for them.  Principle six, “Respect for all people,” is tied to empathy and advocates respect for others regardless of their point of view or their outward behavior.  A group’s behavior or words may seem wrong in our eyes, but we must understand that they came to these views because of cultural or other factors in their lives.  The seventh principle, “Verbalize anger rather than acting it out,” comes out of psychotherapeutic understanding of constructive communication.  The eight principle, “Tell people what they need to hear,” is intended to counter the trend to tell people what they want to hear, which so often rules communication with a destructive effect.  The ninth principle, “Love unconditionally,” is taken from developmental psychology, which generally espouses that parents love their children unconditionally.  When humankind loves unconditionally (loves and accepts without reservations) it leads to healthy development of humankind, just as parental unconditional love leads to healthy child development.  The tenth principle, “Give for the sake of giving,” is an outgrowth of universal notions of giving to others without expecting anything in return.

These new principles of practical morality are, I realize, while being practical, will be next to impossible to achieve.  People throughout the world, in every religion, will not easily give up the beliefs, even the destructive beliefs, of their religions.  But we need to at least start the thinking about the destructive qualities of these existing religions and how they can be remedied.

At some point in the future, moral principle should ideally be based on actual scientific research that proves the efficacy of each principle of practical morality.  The values that we live by are perhaps the most important organizing phenomenon in the world.  Up until the present, as I have previously stated, the principles have been based on the strong opinions of a higher authority and are hence biased.  Eventually each principle such be thoroughly researched to show that it is beneficial to the world as a whole, not just to certain groups in the world. 

In America we taut “freedom of religion,” which means all religions should be accepted and respected.  However, while this may have worked doing the protestant reformation, it doesn’t work at the present time.  All religions, especially those espousing principles that lead to destructive ends, while they may be respected, must be scrutinized.  Only those that lead to unity, peace, and universal respect, should be encouraged.



1. http://www.crystalinks.com/romereligion.html

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_religion

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaism

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam

6. http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/core-beliefs-of-hindus.html

7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism

8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucianism

9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanomani

10. http://www.crvp.org/book/Series03/IIIB-12/chapter-1.htm

11. http://niagarafallsupclose.com/niagara-falls-mythology/

12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_war

14. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusades

15. http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_burn.htm

16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition

17. http://listverse.com/2008/04/02/8-atrocities-committed-in-the-name-of-religion/

18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust

19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laozi

20. https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Schoenewolf%2C+The+Way

21. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Kohlberg%27s_stages_of_moral_development

Political Correctness and Censorship in Higher Education

By Joseph Lao, Ph.D.

ABSTRACT: Political Correctness is now the prevailing value system on college campuses in America, if not in the West.  Although this value system is based on good intentions, it has grown into a movement that threatens academic freedom as well as the original goal of education, to teach students to think critically.


What is the problem?

Last January, a senior professor was giving the first lecture of the semester to the students of an undergraduate Experimental Psychology class at a major Northeastern university. In an effort to get the students to think critically about the importance of having reliable tests, he asked them to imagine what it would be like to try to measure intelligence by the color of someone’s clothing. He explained that one of the problems with this way of measuring intelligence is that the same person might be deemed to be intelligent one day and retarded the next day, based solely on what color clothes they were wearing. The students seemed to understand the concept and the lecture continued.

After class, the graduate Teaching Assistant who had been assigned to this class approached the professor and said he felt uncomfortable with the professor saying that some of the students in the class would be considered retarded. The professor explained that he did not mean to hurt anybody’s feelings, and that he was just trying to make a point about how important it is to use appropriate tests in scientific research.

A few days later, that professor received correspondence from the Chair of his Department asking for a meeting. At the meeting, the Chair explained that the Teaching Assistant found the professor’s statements so offensive that he could not continue to work with that professor. He continued by asking if the professor did, in fact, say that someone could be considered retarded based on the color of their clothing, even if only hypothetically. When the professor confirmed that he had said that, the Department Chair said he was deeply concerned that the professor would use that type of language in the class room. He said he was surprised that this professor would speak that way and asked him to apologize to his students for using that type of language. The professor explained that he intended no offense, none of the students seemed offended, and that the example appeared to have its intended effect. The chair responded that neither the possibilities that the students were too embarrassed to protest nor that they didn’t know any better absolved the professor of such flagrant insensitivity. After the meeting the Chair sent the professor links to articles describing how people who have been labeled as mentally retarded now find the use of such terms hurtful and offensive.

Incidents such as this have become increasingly common in American higher education (Adams, 2016, Snyder, 2013)). On one level they reflect an attempt to minimize harm to people who are intellectually disabled and reflect a trend toward increased political correctness (PC), defined as, “… conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities … should be eliminated” (Merriam Webster Dictionary, 2016). On another level, however, they constitute a trend that may be counterproductive to the aims of higher education.

Why is This a Problem?

At its best PC reflects the sensitivity of a characteristics and preferences of others. It recognizes that differences between people, or between people and other living creatures, are not the same as deficiencies. Accordingly, it tries to minimize use of profanity and negative judgments of people based on minority status, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, and disability. Unacceptable words include most profanity, racial terms, “fat,” “stupid,” “ugly,” “short,” “retarded,” “dumb,” “oriental,” “queer,” “Black,” etc. … . One recent list of newly unacceptable terms may be found at http://www.languagemonitor.com/category/politically-incorrect/ (of 2015).

In addition, friendly PC works voluntarily. That is, it acknowledges the freedom of speech of the speaker and audience. Speakers who make statements that are unacceptable to an audience may receive negative feedback, typically in the form of diverse opinions, especially in higher education, where freedom of speech is regarded highly. The typical audience reaction from this perspective is to assume the speaker did not know better, alert him that he has violated the sensitivity of some group and to try to correct him. There is no attempt to punish the speaker, or impose the will of the audience on the speaker. At worst, members of the audience may walk away from the incident convinced the speaker is an insensitive jerk. This is not a serious social problem.

On the other hand, even friendly PC reduces the number and types of things that are acceptable to be said in public. The problem with this type of PC (apart from learning and remembering all the sensitivities of all groups) is that it threatens to interfere with the unfettered expression of thought and stifle the free flow of ideas in higher education. Freedom of speech is the bedrock upon which democracy is built. It is one of the foundations for modern American education.

This seems to suggest that PC constitutes a violation of the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America (Ratified December 15, 1791), which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” But because

the restrictions are voluntary, PC does not rise to the level of restriction defined as censorship, i.e., “to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable” (Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, 2016). Although it seems that speech cannot be considered free if there are things you cannot say, this is a straw dog argument. It is like saying our personal freedom is curtailed because we are prohibited from walking on private property, or extending our hands beyond where someone else’s nose begins.

Of greater concern is a new variation of PC that may be referred to as radical PC. This type of PC is characterized by fastidious adherence to “the letter of the law,” and self-righteous indignation at the insensitivity of speakers who violate the sensitivity standards of the audience. It infers harm by the speaker, and demands atonement for offenses committed, at least with a sincere apology, but sometimes with formal sensitivity training. The central goals of radical PC are to change not only the speech, but also the sensitivity of the speaker.

Although radical PC generally does not rise to the level of legal censorship, it nonetheless constitutes an attempt to punish undesirable behavior in order to make it comply with some social standard. In high profile cases, offended audience members may report the insensitivity of the speaker to the public media, thereby launching what amounts to a smear campaign. Or, they may call for a boycott of the products or performance of the speaker. In such cases the general goal is to hurt the speaker so much that he repents and permanently changes his behavior. Thus, radical PC seeks not conformity but obedience, to the rule of the mob. It is this attempt to control behavior that distinguishes friendly from radical PC, and makes the latter a harsh and punitive form of social censorship.

Some might argue that the goals of radical PC are socially desirable (i.e., preventing the discomfort and marginalization of minority groups), and that even advocates of radical PC provide a valuable public service, by raising our sensitivity to the plight of disenfranchised groups. This is the allure of radical PC. However, the problems lie not so much with the goals as with the methods of radical (not friendly) PC.

At its most extreme, “PC is becoming weaponized” (Adams, 2016), that is, it is increasingly being used as a weapon to hurt people with dissenting opinions on a growing range of topics. In this form of PC, the members of some (e.g., religious) group perceive themselves the victims of the hostile actions of another group. They respond by targeting people who they perceive as the perpetrators of such crimes, and believe themselves justified in defending their interests by whatever means necessary. For them, PC is a matter of survival. We also see this in political campaigns, when one candidate for political office accuses their opponent of being politically incorrect. It is interpreted as a sign that the opponent is unfit to be elected because he or she is too insensitive to the needs of their prospective constituents. But, in both cases, their goal of silencing diverse (undesirable) opinions and their heavy handed methods contradict the need for open dialogue in a safe environment, especially in academia. While advocating for greater sensitivity they are often insensitive to the rights and needs of those they excoriate.

Some Dimensions of the Problem

PC is Evolving

There are at least two ways in which PC is evolving. One is that the topics and terms that are considered incorrect change over time. The second is that it differs from one group (however defined) to another.

People with low intellectual ability used to be called “morons,” but someone thought that was too disparaging, so they substituted the phrase “mentally retarded.” But then that became perceived as offensive and it was changed to “intellectually disabled.” Now, there are some who perceive that term as insensitive and are advocating for a different term, such as “intellectually challenged.” It appears the real problem is not with the specific term used to describe a group, but rather with using any term that draws attention to characteristics of a group that are perceived negatively. Even if we all concede that the term “intellectually challenged will be the new term of choice, it won’t be long before that term is also perceived as pejorative.

Is it ok to say, or even imply, that it is bad to be disabled, or that someone is a bad parent? Not for the person being labeled. The labeled person might contend that such labels are too restrictive and fail to include their life challenges and positive qualities. Someone like Stephen Hawking might say, “Yes, I have some interesting physical challenges, but I’m a genius at Physics.” And a person labeled as a bad parent might respond, “It might seem like bad parenting to you, but you don’t know what a little monster I’m dealing with, or all the personal, financial, and social challenges I’m dealing with.”

Also, what is considered politically incorrect, or radical, is in the eye of the beholder. What is acceptable to the mainstream may be hurtful to some minority groups, but not others. Part of the problem may be that we tend to define people in terms of their distinguishing characteristics. When almost everyone else is healthy, a disability becomes a distinguishing, then a defining,

characteristic. When nearly everyone is white then nonwhites stand out. When most people are Christian then non-Christians stand out. And, when almost everyone is “X” then anyone who is non-X stands out. In principle, this should not be a problem. But once we place someone into a neat little category we gain the benefit of being able to apply all the characteristics that we associate with that category to that individual. It then becomes seductively easy to overgeneralize stereotypical characteristics to that person, and use biases, such as ethnocentrism, to perceive ourselves as better than the person who is different. As a consequence of this, whenever we label someone, we risk the possibility of retaliation from their feeling as though we are pigeonholing them. In a sense, then, political correctness is about not wanting to be stereotyped in negative ways.


An increasingly common feature of radical PC is a sense of urgency. This is comprised of (surprisingly) intense negative audience emotions and control. Advocates of radical PC seem passionate about their target issue. It’s almost as though advocates of radical PC perceive themselves as crusaders, defending the rights of the oppressed against the insensitive evil hordes. The problem is that this passion is too easily transformed into hostility. The audience presumes (projects?) ill will by the speaker and responds with ill will of its own. This tends to escalate emotions and reduce the probability of reconciliation. This particular characteristic of radical PC leads persons perceiving offense to over respond to even innocent lapses by speakers, frequently devolving to disproportionate threatening or hurtful language or actions. But using hostile means to achieve supposedly benign goals creates a climate of threats and intimidation that is antithetical to the goals of higher education.

Another characteristic of radical PC is control. Advocates of radical PC seem to believe it is important to not only voice their views but to also control the views and behaviors of others. They believe that the speaker’s insensitivity is causing harm, which they want to end, immediately. They also assume they are right, and that they represent the moral high ground. It’s as though they know that they know something the speaker just doesn’t understand. They seem to perceive it as their responsibility to correct this. Moreover, deviation from the path they offer is interpreted as flagrant (and punishable) disrespect for the welfare of others.

Genesis of PC

What is the genesis of radical PC? Why do proponents of radical PC seem to blow events out of proportion and become harsh and punitive? Why do some people attach so much importance to PC, even going so far as to physically attack others? The answer is not clear. From a psychological perspective, strong emotional overreactions usually indicate a personal investment in the issue at hand. It seems similar to the acute sensitivity with which people protect an unhealed emotional wound. This suggests that radical PC represents some type of rebound effect, in which suffering from long years of repressions causes the disenfranchised to reach a climax, beyond which their anger spills over and they fight back for what they think is right. Alternatively, in some cases, it may be a matter of young people jumping on a popular political bandwagon, being part of a group, or something bigger than themselves. And, in some cases, it may just be a form of bullying, i.e., using power to hurt others, for whatever pretext is available. In this case, one’s own feelings of inadequacy may be assuaged by the temporary feeling of power derived from group support and influencing others. Still another possibility is that radical PC reflects a high level of fastidiousness, what a Psychodynamic theorist might describe as an inflated superego run amok. It’s hard to know which, if any, of these motives generate radical PC, but they all seem plausible.

Both the evolution of the scope of PC and its growing urgency may also be explained by more general social trends. One possibility is that PC is a response to humanity’s growing awareness of social diversity. As different social groups gain a voice through expanded media options, it is becoming clear that each group harbors a distinctive perspective. In addition, interactions between the different members of each social group highlight their distinctiveness and strengthen the perceived legitimacy of their common plight and perspective. Although this provides benefits to group members, it also engenders disparities between the interests, perspectives, and vocabulary of different social groups. From this perspective, PC reflects an attempt by group members to control how they are perceived by outsiders, as occurs when a nondominant group resists the labels (or perspective) of a dominant group. For example, when a Muslim person claims that it is politically incorrect to wish him a Merry Christmas, he may be rebelling against the speaker’s adoption of a Christian, or Eurocentric, perspective. Similarly, the Christian may react negatively to someone wishing him a happy Ramadan, or a happy Kwanzaa.

Another interesting perspective on this is suggested by Nick Haslam’s concept of “Conceptual Creep.” Drawing on Pinker’s (2011) observation that people, “… are prompted by an escalating sensitivity to new forms of harm,” (Pinker, 2011, p 460, cited by Haslam (2016, p 13), Haslam notes that humanity also appears to be experiencing an, “expansion of the moral circle” (p 14). He observes, “In essence, the concept creep phenomenon broadens moral concern in a way that aligns with a liberal social agenda by defining new kinds of experience as harming and new classes of people as harmed, and it identifies these people as needful of care and protection.” (p 14). This is generally consistent with recent expansions of the concept of political correctness and the still more recent emergence of radical PC. It suggests that radical PC represents the cutting edge of the expansion of humanity’s moral sensitivity. This might also explain why radical PC is most often found on college campuses (among our most intelligent and idealistic youth) and is perceived negatively by the conservative media (e.g., Adams, 2016).

Academic Ideals and Political Correctness

The key responsibility of American educational institutions is to cultivate an informed citizenry, capable of critical thought and self-governance. This entails providing students with information, and nurturing their abilities to inquire and think critically and express their views w/o fear of recrimination, all in a safe environment.

Political correctness poses interesting challenges for educators that are less commonly found in the lives of most other people, in that most people tend to associate with others who share their major characteristics while faculty come into daily contact with a greater variety of different people in their classrooms. As there currently exist more than 10,000 different ethno-linguistic groups (Joshua Project, 2016), and countless other categories of people (e.g., sexual orientation, gender, disabilities, religion, etc…) around the world, even the best intentioned faculty will not be knowledgeable about the norms and preferences of each different group. This makes it inevitable that faculty will occasionally violate the preferences of some group represented by students in their class.

One of the ways that most colleges respond to this challenge is to advocate freedom of speech in the classroom, as long as it does not inflict pain or arouse disorderly conduct. But there are many things that one can say and should not. According to the National Coalition Against Censorship (2016), freedom of speech inside the classroom is less than outside. There are many legitimate reasons for this. While it is important for faculty to introduce students to the controversies in their topic of expertise, there are many views that faculty should not give in the classroom, either because they are not relevant to the course, because they are inconsistent with available evidence (except in the case of evaluating their merits/demerits), or are hurtful to others. Second, classroom discussions are typically focused around one key topic at a time. Although teachers and students alike are technically free to say anything they want in the classroom, in practice it is common to restrict comments to the topic at hand. Third, except in highly specialized courses, it is not practical to consider all of the diverse views about any given topic. College faculty normally restrict their discussion of topics to the major theories about the phenomena of interest. Minor, or disfavored, theories typically do not get much attention, largely due to time constraints. Fourth, the manner in which topics are considered in class is supposed to be unbiased. While faculty often share their biases with students, they are supposed to present diverse theories about a topic in as unbiased a way as possible. The ideal is to provide students with enough accurate information about a topic for them to develop their own informed opinion about that topic. Such conversations differ from casual conversations in part by their examination of the (scientific) evidence supporting or contradicting the theory under discussion. Most importantly, making hurtful statements causes students to feel pain and resentment, and may prove distracting to the intended lessons. Since one of the keys to political correctness is to avoid harming others, PC is practical and desirable.

Does this mean that faculty should avoid contentious terminology? No. It is important for faculty to accurately reflect reality in the course content and discussions, and not to shy away from controversies. But not disparaging others is not the same as not disparaging ideas. Wrong ideas (e.g., those that are incompatible with available evidence) should be discussed, and discredited, albeit without disparaging their authors (we assume they meant well, and in that sense give them the benefit of the doubt). Students will typically be aware of contentious claims and terminology and have legitimate questions and concerns about their meaning and use. Students need to be familiar with contemporary controversies, if for no other reason than because they are often the ones who wind up resolving them. The best (i.e., most informative/valuable) courses will assess contemporary issues (and terminology) and nurture the abilities of students to understand and think critically about them. In this manner, students can become aware of social controversies, learn what professionals think about those issues and piggy back on their professors’ ideas to find better and better solutions.

But radical PC threatens this process. The methods used to control speech can sometimes cause more harm than the harm they are trying to prevent. Although boycotts and protests are relatively benign methods of expressing one’s concerns, any time anger overflows there is a heightened risk of harming others. Sometimes the anger of radical PC advocates takes the form of physical attacks on the speaker. This is obviously not a good thing. Harming people in retaliation for perceived harms is not the best way of changing the way they think, or feel, though it may influence what they say, in public. At the least, such hostile behaviors present a distraction from constructive classroom activities. It gives rise to a climate of anxiety, or even fear. It causes all involved to feel discomfort in the place where the violence occurred. None of these feelings are good for learning. Fortunately, it is rare for PC anger to reach such levels in colleges. Protests, and not taking the courses of politically incorrect professors, are more common.

In addition to the harms described above, however, radical PC interferes with higher education by restricting conversations, and possibly instructional opportunities, in the classroom. There is also harm in reducing the possibility of reconciliation of discrepant views. Another harm is the failure to adequately prepare students to deal with the issues (especially controversial) of their day. One of the reasons this is so important is that censorship is sometimes used to keep people from speaking out against commonly accepted forms of injustice. Still another harm derives from reducing the diversity of opinions about the topic of interest. If they succeed in getting everyone else to think about the topic the way they do, radically politically correct protagonists reduce the diversity of opinions about their chosen topic. This may be a good thing if it nurtures consensus, but it is a problem if the consensus is coerced and not organic, i.e., if people say what they are supposed to say and not what they really mean, or feel.

Perhaps the greatest academic danger of radical PC is the stifling of freedom of expression. In general, political correctness is about sensitivity, but censorship is about force. Any attempt to stifle the free exchange of ideas smacks of censorship. When honest differences of opinion, or innocent misuse of a newly politicized term, become the subject of boycotts, or threats, then PC has become radical, and a form of censorship. This is a problemfor college classrooms in that it threatens to reduce our ability to discuss the characteristics and views of different groups of people. This is exacerbated when differences between groups (especially between majority and minority groups) are perceived as deficiencies. If one is not allowed to criticize the views of a given group (especially political or religious) then there can be no open and honest discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of that group’s perspective relative to others, including the costs and benefits of their theories and practices. If we cannot discuss the differences between us because they are perceived as sacrosanct, it curtails our ability to find common ground and superior alternatives. When the theories and practices of diverse groups are not amenable to discussion, opportunities for rapprochement are diminished. It is harder to reach a consensus when we cannot even discuss our differences. In the long run this has the net effects of sustaining diversity and prolonging division.

In addition, the more topics and practices one excludes from classroom discussions, the greater will be the restriction of the range of educational opportunities available to the college community. As colleges become more diverse, faculty, staff, and students alike will confront the diverse norms of people who are different from them, sexually, ethnically, religiously, etc…. The more diversity we have, the more different ideas and perspectives we have, and the greater the opportunity to find solutions to common problems. But when we restrict the range of ideas and practices we can consider critically, it reduces the number of opportunities available to learn alternative views and approaches to life.

It is important that faculty select topics of discussion that are educationally justifiable and engage students, ideally emotionally as well as intellectually, for that is a well-known mechanism for lighting the fires of interest and stimulating curiosity. It’s OK to discuss sensitive topics, preferably in an unbiased, i.e., nonjudgmental, way. Of course, this is not completely possible, since we all have points of view that bias our perceptions, either as professionals or as individuals. And so, perhaps the best approach is simply to do our best to be open to disparate perspectives and share our views with the goal of increasing knowledge. The reality is that we cannot predict all the different pet peeves we will encounter. There will always be someone with a chip on his shoulders about some topic that is not important to most other people. And we cannot legislate sensitivity or good taste. There will always be teachers who are insufficiently sensitive to some topic or another, to the dismay of some select segment of their students. By deliberately being open, sensitive, and tolerant to diverse views faculty maximize opportunities for all to learn.


Adams, N. (2016). Retaking America: Crushing Political Correctness. Franklin, TN: Post Hill Press.

Global Language Monitor (2016). Evolve, Trigger & Almond Shaming Top Global Language: Monitor’s Politically (in)Correct Words of 2015. http://www.languagemonitor.com/category/politically-incorrect

Haslam, N. (2016). Concept creep: Psychology’s expanding concepts of harm and pathology. Psychological Inquiry, 27, 1-17. Joshua Group (2016). https://joshuaproject.net/assets/media/articles/how-many-people-groups-are-there.pdf

Merriam Webster Dictionary (2013). http://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/politically%20correct

National Coalition Against Censorship (2016). The first amendment in schools: A resource guide. http://ncac.org/resource/first-amendment-in-schools

Snyder, M. (2013). 19 shocking examples of how political correctness is destroying America. The Sleuth Journal: Real News Without Synthetics. http://www.thesleuthjournal.com/19-shocking-examples-of-how-political-correctness-is-destroying-america/

The Apology

By Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett


:  In the 3rd Century AD Socrates was condemned to death after being tried for corrupting the morals of the youth of ancient Greece.  Plato, Socrates' follower, wrote his version of the trial, which shows how going against conventional morality could be fatal in his day as it is in ours.  This article is published as a "FLASHBACK" feature of the Journal.

Socrates' Defense

How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was - such was the effect of them; and yet they have hardly spoken a word of truth. But many as their falsehoods were, there was one of them which quite amazed me; - I mean when they told you to be upon your guard, and not to let yourselves be deceived by the force of my eloquence. They ought to have been ashamed of saying this, because they were sure to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and displayed my deficiency; they certainly did appear to be most shameless in saying this, unless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for then I do indeed admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs! Well, as I was saying, they have hardly uttered a word, or not more than a word, of truth; but you shall hear from me the whole truth: not, however, delivered after their manner, in a set oration duly ornamented with words and phrases. No indeed! but I shall use the words and arguments which occur to me at the moment; for I am certain that this is right, and that at my time of life I ought not to be appearing before you, O men of Athens, in the character of a juvenile orator - let no one expect this of me. And I must beg of you to grant me one favor, which is this - If you hear me using the same words in my defence which I have been in the habit of using, and which most of you may have heard in the agora, and at the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, I would ask you not to be surprised at this, and not to interrupt me. For I am more than seventy years of age, and this is the first time that I have ever appeared in a court of law, and I am quite a stranger to the ways of the place; and therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger, whom you would excuse if he spoke in his native tongue, and after the fashion of his country; that I think is not an unfair request. Never mind the manner, which may or may not be good; but think only of the justice of my cause, and give heed to that: let the judge decide justly and the speaker speak truly.

And first, I have to reply to the older charges and to my first accusers, and then I will go to the later ones. For I have had many accusers, who accused me of old, and their false charges have continued during many years; and I am more afraid of them than of Anytus and his associates, who are dangerous, too, in their own way. But far more dangerous are these, who began when you were children, and took possession of your minds with their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better cause. These are the accusers whom I dread; for they are the circulators of this rumor, and their hearers are too apt to fancy that speculators of this sort do not believe in the gods. And they are many, and their charges against me are of ancient date, and they made them in days when you were impressible - in childhood, or perhaps in youth - and the cause when heard went by default, for there was none to answer. And, hardest of all, their names I do not know and cannot tell; unless in the chance of a comic poet. But the main body of these slanderers who from envy and malice have wrought upon you - and there are some of them who are convinced themselves, and impart their convictions to others - all these, I say, are most difficult to deal with; for I cannot have them up here, and examine them, and therefore I must simply fight with shadows in my own defence, and examine when there is no one who answers. I will ask you then to assume with me, as I was saying, that my opponents are of two kinds - one recent, the other ancient; and I hope that you will see the propriety of my answering the latter first, for these accusations you heard long before the others, and much oftener.

Well, then, I will make my defence, and I will endeavor in the short time which is allowed to do away with this evil opinion of me which you have held for such a long time; and I hope I may succeed, if this be well for you and me, and that my words may find favor with you. But I know that to accomplish this is not easy - I quite see the nature of the task. Let the event be as God wills: in obedience to the law I make my defence.

I will begin at the beginning, and ask what the accusation is which has given rise to this slander of me, and which has encouraged Meletus to proceed against me. What do the slanderers say? They shall be my prosecutors, and I will sum up their words in an affidavit. "Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others." That is the nature of the accusation, and that is what you have seen yourselves in the comedy of Aristophanes; who has introduced a man whom he calls Socrates, going about and saying that he can walk in the air, and talking a deal of nonsense concerning matters of which I do not pretend to know either much or little - not that I mean to say anything disparaging of anyone who is a student of natural philosophy. I should be very sorry if Meletus could lay that to my charge. But the simple truth is, O Athenians, that I have nothing to do with these studies. Very many of those here present are witnesses to the truth of this, and to them I appeal. Speak then, you who have heard me, and tell your neighbors whether any of you have ever known me hold forth in few words or in many upon matters of this sort. ... You hear their answer. And from what they say of this you will be able to judge of the truth of the rest.

As little foundation is there for the report that I am a teacher, and take money; that is no more true than the other. Although, if a man is able to teach, I honor him for being paid. There is Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis, who go the round of the cities, and are able to persuade the young men to leave their own citizens, by whom they might be taught for nothing, and come to them, whom they not only pay, but are thankful if they may be allowed to pay them. There is actually a Parian philosopher residing in Athens, of whom I have heard; and I came to hear of him in this way: - I met a man who has spent a world of money on the Sophists, Callias the son of Hipponicus, and knowing that he had sons, I asked him: "Callias," I said, "if your two sons were foals or calves, there would be no difficulty in finding someone to put over them; we should hire a trainer of horses or a farmer probably who would improve and perfect them in their own proper virtue and excellence; but as they are human beings, whom are you thinking of placing over them? Is there anyone who understands human and political virtue? You must have thought about this as you have sons; is there anyone?" "There is," he said. "Who is he?" said I, "and of what country? and what does he charge?" "Evenus the Parian," he replied; "he is the man, and his charge is five minae." Happy is Evenus, I said to myself, if he really has this wisdom, and teaches at such a modest charge. Had I the same, I should have been very proud and conceited; but the truth is that I have no knowledge of the kind.

I dare say, Athenians, that someone among you will reply, "Why is this, Socrates, and what is the origin of these accusations of you: for there must have been something strange which you have been doing? All this great fame and talk about you would never have arisen if you had been like other men: tell us, then, why this is, as we should be sorry to judge hastily of you." Now I regard this as a fair challenge, and I will endeavor to explain to you the origin of this name of "wise," and of this evil fame. Please to attend then. And although some of you may think I am joking, I declare that I will tell you the entire truth. Men of Athens, this reputation of mine has come of a certain sort of wisdom which I possess. If you ask me what kind of wisdom, I reply, such wisdom as is attainable by man, for to that extent I am inclined to believe that I am wise; whereas the persons of whom I was speaking have a superhuman wisdom, which I may fail to describe, because I have it not myself; and he who says that I have, speaks falsely, and is taking away my character. And here, O men of Athens, I must beg you not to interrupt me, even if I seem to say something extravagant. For the word which I will speak is not mine. I will refer you to a witness who is worthy of credit, and will tell you about my wisdom - whether I have any, and of what sort - and that witness shall be the god of Delphi. You must have known Chaerephon; he was early a friend of mine, and also a friend of yours, for he shared in the exile of the people, and returned with you. Well, Chaerephon, as you know, was very impetuous in all his doings, and he went to Delphi and boldly asked the oracle to tell him whether - as I was saying, I must beg you not to interrupt - he asked the oracle to tell him whether there was anyone wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered that there was no man wiser. Chaerephon is dead himself, but his brother, who is in court, will confirm the truth of this story.

Why do I mention this? Because I am going to explain to you why I have such an evil name. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? and what is the interpretation of this riddle? for I know that I have no wisdom, small or great. What can he mean when he says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god and cannot lie; that would be against his nature. After a long consideration, I at last thought of a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should say to him, "Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest." Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed to him - his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination - and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself; and I went and tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is - for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him. Then I went to another, who had still higher philosophical pretensions, and my conclusion was exactly the same. I made another enemy of him, and of many others besides him.

After this I went to one man after another, being not unconscious of the enmity which I provoked, and I lamented and feared this: but necessity was laid upon me - the word of God, I thought, ought to be considered first. And I said to myself, Go I must to all who appear to know, and find out the meaning of the oracle. And I swear to you, Athenians, by the dog I swear! - for I must tell you the truth - the result of my mission was just this: I found that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish; and that some inferior men were really wiser and better. I will tell you the tale of my wanderings and of the "Herculean" labors, as I may call them, which I endured only to find at last the oracle irrefutable. When I left the politicians, I went to the poets; tragic, dithyrambic, and all sorts. And there, I said to myself, you will be detected; now you will find out that you are more ignorant than they are. Accordingly, I took them some of the most elaborate passages in their own writings, and asked what was the meaning of them - thinking that they would teach me something. Will you believe me? I am almost ashamed to speak of this, but still I must say that there is hardly a person present who would not have talked better about their poetry than they did themselves. That showed me in an instant that not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them. And the poets appeared to me to be much in the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise. So I departed, conceiving myself to be superior to them for the same reason that I was superior to the politicians.

At last I went to the artisans, for I was conscious that I knew nothing at all, as I may say, and I was sure that they knew many fine things; and in this I was not mistaken, for they did know many things of which I was ignorant, and in this they certainly were wiser than I was. But I observed that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the poets; because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom - therefore I asked myself on behalf of the oracle, whether I would like to be as I was, neither having their knowledge nor their ignorance, or like them in both; and I made answer to myself and the oracle that I was better off as I was.

This investigation has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to many calumnies, and I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and in this oracle he means to say that the wisdom of men is little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name as an illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. And so I go my way, obedient to the god, and make inquisition into the wisdom of anyone, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise; and this occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.

There is another thing: - young men of the richer classes, who have not much to do, come about me of their own accord; they like to hear the pretenders examined, and they often imitate me, and examine others themselves; there are plenty of persons, as they soon enough discover, who think that they know something, but really know little or nothing: and then those who are examined by them instead of being angry with themselves are angry with me: This confounded Socrates, they say; this villainous misleader of youth! - and then if somebody asks them, Why, what evil does he practise or teach? they do not know, and cannot tell; but in order that they may not appear to be at a loss, they repeat the ready-made charges which are used against all philosophers about teaching things up in the clouds and under the earth, and having no gods, and making the worse appear the better cause; for they do not like to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been detected - which is the truth: and as they are numerous and ambitious and energetic, and are all in battle array and have persuasive tongues, they have filled your ears with their loud and inveterate calumnies. And this is the reason why my three accusers, Meletus and Anytus and Lycon, have set upon me; Meletus, who has a quarrel with me on behalf of the poets; Anytus, on behalf of the craftsmen; Lycon, on behalf of the rhetoricians: and as I said at the beginning, I cannot expect to get rid of this mass of calumny all in a moment. And this, O men of Athens, is the truth and the whole truth; I have concealed nothing, I have dissembled nothing. And yet I know that this plainness of speech makes them hate me, and what is their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth? - this is the occasion and reason of their slander of me, as you will find out either in this or in any future inquiry.

I have said enough in my defence against the first class of my accusers; I turn to the second class, who are headed by Meletus, that good and patriotic man, as he calls himself. And now I will try to defend myself against them: these new accusers must also have their affidavit read. What do they say? Something of this sort: - That Socrates is a doer of evil, and corrupter of the youth, and he does not believe in the gods of the state, and has other new divinities of his own. That is the sort of charge; and now let us examine the particular counts. He says that I am a doer of evil, who corrupt the youth; but I say, O men of Athens, that Meletus is a doer of evil, and the evil is that he makes a joke of a serious matter, and is too ready at bringing other men to trial from a pretended zeal and interest about matters in which he really never had the smallest interest. And the truth of this I will endeavor to prove.

Come hither, Meletus, and let me ask a question of you. You think a great deal about the improvement of youth?

Yes, I do.

Tell the judges, then, who is their improver; for you must know, as you have taken the pains to discover their corrupter, and are citing and accusing me before them. Speak, then, and tell the judges who their improver is. Observe, Meletus, that you are silent, and have nothing to say. But is not this rather disgraceful, and a very considerable proof of what I was saying, that you have no interest in the matter? Speak up, friend, and tell us who their improver is.

The laws.

But that, my good sir, is not my meaning. I want to know who the person is, who, in the first place, knows the laws.

The judges, Socrates, who are present in court.

What do you mean to say, Meletus, that they are able to instruct and improve youth?

Certainly they are.

What, all of them, or some only and not others?

All of them.

By the goddess Here, that is good news! There are plenty of improvers, then. And what do you say of the audience, - do they improve them?

Yes, they do.

And the senators?

Yes, the senators improve them.

But perhaps the members of the citizen assembly corrupt them? - or do they too improve them?

They improve them.

Then every Athenian improves and elevates them; all with the exception of myself; and I alone am their corrupter? Is that what you affirm?

That is what I stoutly affirm.

I am very unfortunate if that is true. But suppose I ask you a question: Would you say that this also holds true in the case of horses? Does one man do them harm and all the world good? Is not the exact opposite of this true? One man is able to do them good, or at least not many; - the trainer of horses, that is to say, does them good, and others who have to do with them rather injure them? Is not that true, Meletus, of horses, or any other animals? Yes, certainly. Whether you and Anytus say yes or no, that is no matter. Happy indeed would be the condition of youth if they had one corrupter only, and all the rest of the world were their improvers. And you, Meletus, have sufficiently shown that you never had a thought about the young: your carelessness is seen in your not caring about matters spoken of in this very indictment.

And now, Meletus, I must ask you another question: Which is better, to live among bad citizens, or among good ones? Answer, friend, I say; for that is a question which may be easily answered. Do not the good do their neighbors good, and the bad do them evil?


And is there anyone who would rather be injured than benefited by those who live with him? Answer, my good friend; the law requires you to answer - does anyone like to be injured?

Certainly not.

And when you accuse me of corrupting and deteriorating the youth, do you allege that I corrupt them intentionally or unintentionally?

Intentionally, I say.

But you have just admitted that the good do their neighbors good, and the evil do them evil. Now is that a truth which your superior wisdom has recognized thus early in life, and am I, at my age, in such darkness and ignorance as not to know that if a man with whom I have to live is corrupted by me, I am very likely to be harmed by him, and yet I corrupt him, and intentionally, too; - that is what you are saying, and of that you will never persuade me or any other human being. But either I do not corrupt them, or I corrupt them unintentionally, so that on either view of the case you lie. If my offence is unintentional, the law has no cognizance of unintentional offences: you ought to have taken me privately, and warned and admonished me; for if I had been better advised, I should have left off doing what I only did unintentionally - no doubt I should; whereas you hated to converse with me or teach me, but you indicted me in this court, which is a place not of instruction, but of punishment.

I have shown, Athenians, as I was saying, that Meletus has no care at all, great or small, about the matter. But still I should like to know, Meletus, in what I am affirmed to corrupt the young. I suppose you mean, as I infer from your indictment, that I teach them not to acknowledge the gods which the state acknowledges, but some other new divinities or spiritual agencies in their stead. These are the lessons which corrupt the youth, as you say.

Yes, that I say emphatically.

Then, by the gods, Meletus, of whom we are speaking, tell me and the court, in somewhat plainer terms, what you mean! for I do not as yet understand whether you affirm that I teach others to acknowledge some gods, and therefore do believe in gods and am not an entire atheist - this you do not lay to my charge; but only that they are not the same gods which the city recognizes - the charge is that they are different gods. Or, do you mean to say that I am an atheist simply, and a teacher of atheism?

I mean the latter - that you are a complete atheist.

That is an extraordinary statement, Meletus. Why do you say that? Do you mean that I do not believe in the godhead of the sun or moon, which is the common creed of all men?

I assure you, judges, that he does not believe in them; for he says that the sun is stone, and the moon earth.

Friend Meletus, you think that you are accusing Anaxagoras; and you have but a bad opinion of the judges, if you fancy them ignorant to such a degree as not to know that those doctrines are found in the books of Anaxagoras the Clazomenian, who is full of them. And these are the doctrines which the youth are said to learn of Socrates, when there are not unfrequently exhibitions of them at the theatre (price of admission one drachma at the most); and they might cheaply purchase them, and laugh at Socrates if he pretends to father such eccentricities. And so, Meletus, you really think that I do not believe in any god?

I swear by Zeus that you believe absolutely in none at all.

You are a liar, Meletus, not believed even by yourself. For I cannot help thinking, O men of Athens, that Meletus is reckless and impudent, and that he has written this indictment in a spirit of mere wantonness and youthful bravado. Has he not compounded a riddle, thinking to try me? He said to himself: - I shall see whether this wise Socrates will discover my ingenious contradiction, or whether I shall be able to deceive him and the rest of them. For he certainly does appear to me to contradict himself in the indictment as much as if he said that Socrates is guilty of not believing in the gods, and yet of believing in them - but this surely is a piece of fun.

I should like you, O men of Athens, to join me in examining what I conceive to be his inconsistency; and do you, Meletus, answer. And I must remind you that you are not to interrupt me if I speak in my accustomed manner.

Did ever man, Meletus, believe in the existence of human things, and not of human beings? ... I wish, men of Athens, that he would answer, and not be always trying to get up an interruption. Did ever any man believe in horsemanship, and not in horses? or in flute-playing, and not in flute-players? No, my friend; I will answer to you and to the court, as you refuse to answer for yourself. There is no man who ever did. But now please to answer the next question: Can a man believe in spiritual and divine agencies, and not in spirits or demigods?

He cannot.

I am glad that I have extracted that answer, by the assistance of the court; nevertheless you swear in the indictment that I teach and believe in divine or spiritual agencies (new or old, no matter for that); at any rate, I believe in spiritual agencies, as you say and swear in the affidavit; but if I believe in divine beings, I must believe in spirits or demigods; - is not that true? Yes, that is true, for I may assume that your silence gives assent to that. Now what are spirits or demigods? are they not either gods or the sons of gods? Is that true?

Yes, that is true.

But this is just the ingenious riddle of which I was speaking: the demigods or spirits are gods, and you say first that I don't believe in gods, and then again that I do believe in gods; that is, if I believe in demigods. For if the demigods are the illegitimate sons of gods, whether by the Nymphs or by any other mothers, as is thought, that, as all men will allow, necessarily implies the existence of their parents. You might as well affirm the existence of mules, and deny that of horses and asses. Such nonsense, Meletus, could only have been intended by you as a trial of me. You have put this into the indictment because you had nothing real of which to accuse me. But no one who has a particle of understanding will ever be convinced by you that the same man can believe in divine and superhuman things, and yet not believe that there are gods and demigods and heroes.

I have said enough in answer to the charge of Meletus: any elaborate defence is unnecessary; but as I was saying before, I certainly have many enemies, and this is what will be my destruction if I am destroyed; of that I am certain; - not Meletus, nor yet Anytus, but the envy and detraction of the world, which has been the death of many good men, and will probably be the death of many more; there is no danger of my being the last of them.

Someone will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I may fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong - acting the part of a good man or of a bad. Whereas, according to your view, the heroes who fell at Troy were not good for much, and the son of Thetis above all, who altogether despised danger in comparison with disgrace; and when his goddess mother said to him, in his eagerness to slay Hector, that if he avenged his companion Patroclus, and slew Hector, he would die himself - "Fate," as she said, "waits upon you next after Hector"; he, hearing this, utterly despised danger and death, and instead of fearing them, feared rather to live in dishonor, and not to avenge his friend. "Let me die next," he replies, "and be avenged of my enemy, rather than abide here by the beaked ships, a scorn and a burden of the earth." Had Achilles any thought of death and danger? For wherever a man's place is, whether the place which he has chosen or that in which he has been placed by a commander, there he ought to remain in the hour of danger; he should not think of death or of anything, but of disgrace. And this, O men of Athens, is a true saying.

Strange, indeed, would be my conduct, O men of Athens, if I who, when I was ordered by the generals whom you chose to command me at Potidaea and Amphipolis and Delium, remained where they placed me, like any other man, facing death; if, I say, now, when, as I conceive and imagine, God orders me to fulfil the philosopher's mission of searching into myself and other men, I were to desert my post through fear of death, or any other fear; that would indeed be strange, and I might justly be arraigned in court for denying the existence of the gods, if I disobeyed the oracle because I was afraid of death: then I should be fancying that I was wise when I was not wise. For this fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being the appearance of knowing the unknown; since no one knows whether death, which they in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. Is there not here conceit of knowledge, which is a disgraceful sort of ignorance? And this is the point in which, as I think, I am superior to men in general, and in which I might perhaps fancy myself wiser than other men, - that whereas I know but little of the world below, I do not suppose that I know: but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a better, whether God or man, is evil and dishonorable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil. And therefore if you let me go now, and reject the counsels of Anytus, who said that if I were not put to death I ought not to have been prosecuted, and that if I escape now, your sons will all be utterly ruined by listening to my words - if you say to me, Socrates, this time we will not mind Anytus, and will let you off, but upon one condition, that are to inquire and speculate in this way any more, and that if you are caught doing this again you shall die; - if this was the condition on which you let me go, I should reply: Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting anyone whom I meet after my manner, and convincing him, saying: O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed of this? And if the person with whom I am arguing says: Yes, but I do care; I do not depart or let him go at once; I interrogate and examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue, but only says that he has, I reproach him with undervaluing the greater, and overvaluing the less. And this I should say to everyone whom I meet, young and old, citizen and alien, but especially to the citizens, inasmuch as they are my brethren. For this is the command of God, as I would have you know; and I believe that to this day no greater good has ever happened in the state than my service to the God. For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons and your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue come money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, my influence is ruinous indeed. But if anyone says that this is not my teaching, he is speaking an untruth. Wherefore, O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus bids or not as Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not; but whatever you do, know that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many times.

Men of Athens, do not interrupt, but hear me; there was an agreement between us that you should hear me out. And I think that what I am going to say will do you good: for I have something more to say, at which you may be inclined to cry out; but I beg that you will not do this. I would have you know that, if you kill such a one as I am, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me. Meletus and Anytus will not injure me: they cannot; for it is not in the nature of things that a bad man should injure a better than himself. I do not deny that he may, perhaps, kill him, or drive him into exile, or deprive him of civil rights; and he may imagine, and others may imagine, that he is doing him a great injury: but in that I do not agree with him; for the evil of doing as Anytus is doing - of unjustly taking away another man's life - is greater far. And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against the God, or lightly reject his boon by condemning me. For if you kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by the God; and the state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has given the state and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. And as you will not easily find another like me, I would advise you to spare me. I dare say that you may feel irritated at being suddenly awakened when you are caught napping; and you may think that if you were to strike me dead, as Anytus advises, which you easily might, then you would sleep on for the remainder of your lives, unless God in his care of you gives you another gadfly. And that I am given to you by God is proved by this: - that if I had been like other men, I should not have neglected all my own concerns, or patiently seen the neglect of them during all these years, and have been doing yours, coming to you individually, like a father or elder brother, exhorting you to regard virtue; this I say, would not be like human nature. And had I gained anything, or if my exhortations had been paid, there would have been some sense in that: but now, as you will perceive, not even the impudence of my accusers dares to say that I have ever exacted or sought pay of anyone; they have no witness of that. And I have a witness of the truth of what I say; my poverty is a sufficient witness.

Someone may wonder why I go about in private, giving advice and busying myself with the concerns of others, but do not venture to come forward in public and advise the state. I will tell you the reason of this. You have often heard me speak of an oracle or sign which comes to me, and is the divinity which Meletus ridicules in the indictment. This sign I have had ever since I was a child. The sign is a voice which comes to me and always forbids me to do something which I am going to do, but never commands me to do anything, and this is what stands in the way of my being a politician. And rightly, as I think. For I am certain, O men of Athens, that if I had engaged in politics, I should have perished long ago and done no good either to you or to myself. And don't be offended at my telling you the truth: for the truth is that no man who goes to war with you or any other multitude, honestly struggling against the commission of unrighteousness and wrong in the state, will save his life; he who will really fight for the right, if he would live even for a little while, must have a private station and not a public one.

I can give you as proofs of this, not words only, but deeds, which you value more than words. Let me tell you a passage of my own life, which will prove to you that I should never have yielded to injustice from any fear of death, and that if I had not yielded I should have died at once. I will tell you a story - tasteless, perhaps, and commonplace, but nevertheless true. The only office of state which I ever held, O men of Athens, was that of senator; the tribe Antiochis, which is my tribe, had the presidency at the trial of the generals who had not taken up the bodies of the slain after the battle of Arginusae; and you proposed to try them all together, which was illegal, as you all thought afterwards; but at the time I was the only one of the Prytanes who was opposed to the illegality, and I gave my vote against you; and when the orators threatened to impeach and arrest me, and have me taken away, and you called and shouted, I made up my mind that I would run the risk, having law and justice with me, rather than take part in your injustice because I feared imprisonment and death. This happened in the days of the democracy. But when the oligarchy of the Thirty was in power, they sent for me and four others into the rotunda, and bade us bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis, as they wanted to execute him. This was a specimen of the sort of commands which they were always giving with the view of implicating as many as possible in their crimes; and then I showed, not in words only, but in deed, that, if I may be allowed to use such an expression, I cared not a straw for death, and that my only fear was the fear of doing an unrighteous or unholy thing. For the strong arm of that oppressive power did not frighten me into doing wrong; and when we came out of the rotunda the other four went to Salamis and fetched Leon, but I went quietly home. For which I might have lost my life, had not the power of the Thirty shortly afterwards come to an end. And to this many will witness.

Now do you really imagine that I could have survived all these years, if I had led a public life, supposing that like a good man I had always supported the right and had made justice, as I ought, the first thing? No, indeed, men of Athens, neither I nor any other. But I have been always the same in all my actions, public as well as private, and never have I yielded any base compliance to those who are slanderously termed my disciples or to any other. For the truth is that I have no regular disciples: but if anyone likes to come and hear me while I am pursuing my mission, whether he be young or old, he may freely come. Nor do I converse with those who pay only, and not with those who do not pay; but anyone, whether he be rich or poor, may ask and answer me and listen to my words; and whether he turns out to be a bad man or a good one, that cannot be justly laid to my charge, as I never taught him anything. And if anyone says that he has ever learned or heard anything from me in private which all the world has not heard, I should like you to know that he is speaking an untruth.

But I shall be asked, Why do people delight in continually conversing with you? I have told you already, Athenians, the whole truth about this: they like to hear the cross-examination of the pretenders to wisdom; there is amusement in this. And this is a duty which the God has imposed upon me, as I am assured by oracles, visions, and in every sort of way in which the will of divine power was ever signified to anyone. This is true, O Athenians; or, if not true, would be soon refuted. For if I am really corrupting the youth, and have corrupted some of them already, those of them who have grown up and have become sensible that I gave them bad advice in the days of their youth should come forward as accusers and take their revenge; and if they do not like to come themselves, some of their relatives, fathers, brothers, or other kinsmen, should say what evil their families suffered at my hands. Now is their time. Many of them I see in the court. There is Crito, who is of the same age and of the same deme with myself; and there is Critobulus his son, whom I also see. Then again there is Lysanias of Sphettus, who is the father of Aeschines - he is present; and also there is Antiphon of Cephisus, who is the father of Epignes; and there are the brothers of several who have associated with me. There is Nicostratus the son of Theosdotides, and the brother of Theodotus (now Theodotus himself is dead, and therefore he, at any rate, will not seek to stop him); and there is Paralus the son of Demodocus, who had a brother Theages; and Adeimantus the son of Ariston, whose brother Plato is present; and Aeantodorus, who is the brother of Apollodorus, whom I also see. I might mention a great many others, any of whom Meletus should have produced as witnesses in the course of his speech; and let him still produce them, if he has forgotten - I will make way for him. And let him say, if he has any testimony of the sort which he can produce. Nay, Athenians, the very opposite is the truth. For all these are ready to witness on behalf of the corrupter, of the destroyer of their kindred, as Meletus and Anytus call me; not the corrupted youth only - there might have been a motive for that - but their uncorrupted elder relatives. Why should they too support me with their testimony? Why, indeed, except for the sake of truth and justice, and because they know that I am speaking the truth, and that Meletus is lying.

Well, Athenians, this and the like of this is nearly all the defence which I have to offer. Yet a word more. Perhaps there may be someone who is offended at me, when he calls to mind how he himself, on a similar or even a less serious occasion, had recourse to prayers and supplications with many tears, and how he produced his children in court, which was a moving spectacle, together with a posse of his relations and friends; whereas I, who am probably in danger of my life, will do none of these things. Perhaps this may come into his mind, and he may be set against me, and vote in anger because he is displeased at this. Now if there be such a person among you, which I am far from affirming, I may fairly reply to him: My friend, I am a man, and like other men, a creature of flesh and blood, and not of wood or stone, as Homer says; and I have a family, yes, and sons. O Athenians, three in number, one of whom is growing up, and the two others are still young; and yet I will not bring any of them hither in order to petition you for an acquittal. And why not? Not from any self-will or disregard of you. Whether I am or am not afraid of death is another question, of which I will not now speak. But my reason simply is that I feel such conduct to be discreditable to myself, and you, and the whole state. One who has reached my years, and who has a name for wisdom, whether deserved or not, ought not to debase himself. At any rate, the world has decided that Socrates is in some way superior to other men. And if those among you who are said to be superior in wisdom and courage, and any other virtue, demean themselves in this way, how shameful is their conduct! I have seen men of reputation, when they have been condemned, behaving in the strangest manner: they seemed to fancy that they were going to suffer something dreadful if they died, and that they could be immortal if you only allowed them to live; and I think that they were a dishonor to the state, and that any stranger coming in would say of them that the most eminent men of Athens, to whom the Athenians themselves give honor and command, are no better than women. And I say that these things ought not to be done by those of us who are of reputation; and if they are done, you ought not to permit them; you ought rather to show that you are more inclined to condemn, not the man who is quiet, but the man who gets up a doleful scene, and makes the city ridiculous.

But, setting aside the question of dishonor, there seems to be something wrong in petitioning a judge, and thus procuring an acquittal instead of informing and convincing him. For his duty is, not to make a present of justice, but to give judgment; and he has sworn that he will judge according to the laws, and not according to his own good pleasure; and neither he nor we should get into the habit of perjuring ourselves - there can be no piety in that. Do not then require me to do what I consider dishonorable and impious and wrong, especially now, when I am being tried for impiety on the indictment of Meletus. For if, O men of Athens, by force of persuasion and entreaty, I could overpower your oaths, then I should be teaching you to believe that there are no gods, and convict myself, in my own defence, of not believing in them. But that is not the case; for I do believe that there are gods, and in a far higher sense than that in which any of my accusers believe in them. And to you and to God I commit my cause, to be determined by you as is best for you and me.

The jury finds Socrates guilty.

Socrates' Proposal for his Sentence

There are many reasons why I am not grieved, O men of Athens, at the vote of condemnation. I expected it, and am only surprised that the votes are so nearly equal; for I had thought that the majority against me would have been far larger; but now, had thirty votes gone over to the other side, I should have been acquitted. And I may say that I have escaped Meletus. And I may say more; for without the assistance of Anytus and Lycon, he would not have had a fifth part of the votes, as the law requires, in which case he would have incurred a fine of a thousand drachmae, as is evident.

And so he proposes death as the penalty. And what shall I propose on my part, O men of Athens? Clearly that which is my due. And what is that which I ought to pay or to receive? What shall be done to the man who has never had the wit to be idle during his whole life; but has been careless of what the many care about - wealth, and family interests, and military offices, and speaking in the assembly, and magistracies, and plots, and parties. Reflecting that I was really too honest a man to follow in this way and live, I did not go where I could do no good to you or to myself; but where I could do the greatest good privately to everyone of you, thither I went, and sought to persuade every man among you that he must look to himself, and seek virtue and wisdom before he looks to his private interests, and look to the state before he looks to the interests of the state; and that this should be the order which he observes in all his actions. What shall be done to such a one? Doubtless some good thing, O men of Athens, if he has his reward; and the good should be of a kind suitable to him. What would be a reward suitable to a poor man who is your benefactor, who desires leisure that he may instruct you? There can be no more fitting reward than maintenance in the Prytaneum, O men of Athens, a reward which he deserves far more than the citizen who has won the prize at Olympia in the horse or chariot race, whether the chariots were drawn by two horses or by many. For I am in want, and he has enough; and he only gives you the appearance of happiness, and I give you the reality. And if I am to estimate the penalty justly, I say that maintenance in the Prytaneum is the just return.

Perhaps you may think that I am braving you in saying this, as in what I said before about the tears and prayers. But that is not the case. I speak rather because I am convinced that I never intentionally wronged anyone, although I cannot convince you of that - for we have had a short conversation only; but if there were a law at Athens, such as there is in other cities, that a capital cause should not be decided in one day, then I believe that I should have convinced you; but now the time is too short. I cannot in a moment refute great slanders; and, as I am convinced that I never wronged another, I will assuredly not wrong myself. I will not say of myself that I deserve any evil, or propose any penalty. Why should I? Because I am afraid of the penalty of death which Meletus proposes? When I do not know whether death is a good or an evil, why should I propose a penalty which would certainly be an evil? Shall I say imprisonment? And why should I live in prison, and be the slave of the magistrates of the year - of the Eleven? Or shall the penalty be a fine, and imprisonment until the fine is paid? There is the same objection. I should have to lie in prison, for money I have none, and I cannot pay. And if I say exile (and this may possibly be the penalty which you will affix), I must indeed be blinded by the love of life if I were to consider that when you, who are my own citizens, cannot endure my discourses and words, and have found them so grievous and odious that you would fain have done with them, others are likely to endure me. No, indeed, men of Athens, that is not very likely. And what a life should I lead, at my age, wandering from city to city, living in ever-changing exile, and always being driven out! For I am quite sure that into whatever place I go, as here so also there, the young men will come to me; and if I drive them away, their elders will drive me out at their desire: and if I let them come, their fathers and friends will drive me out for their sakes.

Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that the greatest good of man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living - that you are still less likely to believe. And yet what I say is true, although a thing of which it is hard for me to persuade you. Moreover, I am not accustomed to think that I deserve any punishment. Had I money I might have proposed to give you what I had, and have been none the worse. But you see that I have none, and can only ask you to proportion the fine to my means. However, I think that I could afford a minae, and therefore I propose that penalty; Plato, Crito, Critobulus, and Apollodorus, my friends here, bid me say thirty minae, and they will be the sureties. Well then, say thirty minae, let that be the penalty; for that they will be ample security to you.

The jury condemns Socrates to death.

Socrates' Comments on his Sentence

Not much time will be gained, O Athenians, in return for the evil name which you will get from the detractors of the city, who will say that you killed Socrates, a wise man; for they will call me wise even although I am not wise when they want to reproach you. If you had waited a little while, your desire would have been fulfilled in the course of nature. For I am far advanced in years, as you may perceive, and not far from death. I am speaking now only to those of you who have condemned me to death. And I have another thing to say to them: You think that I was convicted through deficiency of words - I mean, that if I had thought fit to leave nothing undone, nothing unsaid, I might have gained an acquittal. Not so; the deficiency which led to my conviction was not of words - certainly not. But I had not the boldness or impudence or inclination to address you as you would have liked me to address you, weeping and wailing and lamenting, and saying and doing many things which you have been accustomed to hear from others, and which, as I say, are unworthy of me. But I thought that I ought not to do anything common or mean in the hour of danger: nor do I now repent of the manner of my defense, and I would rather die having spoken after my manner, than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor yet at law ought any man to use every way of escaping death. For often in battle there is no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death; and in other dangers there are other ways of escaping death, if a man is willing to say and do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death. I am old and move slowly, and the slower runner has overtaken me, and my accusers are keen and quick, and the faster runner, who is unrighteousness, has overtaken them. And now I depart hence condemned by you to suffer the penalty of death, and they, too, go their ways condemned by the truth to suffer the penalty of villainy and wrong; and I must abide by my award - let them abide by theirs. I suppose that these things may be regarded as fated, - and I think that they are well.

And now, O men who have condemned me, I would fain prophesy to you; for I am about to die, and that is the hour in which men are gifted with prophetic power. And I prophesy to you who are my murderers, that immediately after my death punishment far heavier than you have inflicted on me will surely await you. Me you have killed because you wanted to escape the accuser, and not to give an account of your lives. But that will not be as you suppose: far otherwise. For I say that there will be more accusers of you than there are now; accusers whom hitherto I have restrained: and as they are younger they will be more severe with you, and you will be more offended at them. For if you think that by killing men you can avoid the accuser censuring your lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable; the easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves. This is the prophecy which I utter before my departure, to the judges who have condemned me.

Friends, who would have acquitted me, I would like also to talk with you about this thing which has happened, while the magistrates are busy, and before I go to the place at which I must die. Stay then awhile, for we may as well talk with one another while there is time. You are my friends, and I should like to show you the meaning of this event which has happened to me. O my judges - for you I may truly call judges - I should like to tell you of a wonderful circumstance. Hitherto the familiar oracle within me has constantly been in the habit of opposing me even about trifles, if I was going to make a slip or error about anything; and now as you see there has come upon me that which may be thought, and is generally believed to be, the last and worst evil. But the oracle made no sign of opposition, either as I was leaving my house and going out in the morning, or when I was going up into this court, or while I was speaking, at anything which I was going to say; and yet I have often been stopped in the middle of a speech; but now in nothing I either said or did touching this matter has the oracle opposed me. What do I take to be the explanation of this? I will tell you. I regard this as a proof that what has happened to me is a good, and that those of us who think that death is an evil are in error. This is a great proof to me of what I am saying, for the customary sign would surely have opposed me had I been going to evil and not to good.

Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good, for one of two things: - either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by the sight of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private man, but even the great king, will not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others. Now if death is like this, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead are, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than this? If indeed when the pilgrim arrives in the world below, he is delivered from the professors of justice in this world, and finds the true judges who are said to give judgment there, Minos and Rhadamanthus and Aeacus and Triptolemus, and other sons of God who were righteous in their own life, that pilgrimage will be worth making. What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? Nay, if this be true, let me die again and again. I, too, shall have a wonderful interest in a place where I can converse with Palamedes, and Ajax the son of Telamon, and other heroes of old, who have suffered death through an unjust judgment; and there will be no small pleasure, as I think, in comparing my own sufferings with theirs. Above all, I shall be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge; as in this world, so also in that; I shall find out who is wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not. What would not a man give, O judges, to be able to examine the leader of the great Trojan expedition; or Odysseus or Sisyphus, or numberless others, men and women too! What infinite delight would there be in conversing with them and asking them questions! For in that world they do not put a man to death for this; certainly not. For besides being happier in that world than in this, they will be immortal, if what is said is true.

Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know this of a truth - that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death. He and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own approaching end happened by mere chance. But I see clearly that to die and be released was better for me; and therefore the oracle gave no sign. For which reason also, I am not angry with my accusers, or my condemners; they have done me no harm, although neither of them meant to do me any good; and for this I may gently blame them.

Still I have a favor to ask of them. When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing, - then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing. And if you do this, I and my sons will have received justice at your hands.

The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways - I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows.

Volume 3, Issue 1 (February 2018)

Postpartum Depression and Autism

by Harold Rothenberger, Ph.D.


ABSTRACT:  The theory that a mother's depression (or caretaker's) is a causal agent of a child's development of autism was briefly considered by psychologists in the mid-nineteenth century and then was quickly dismissed.  Ever since the mental health community has looked for alternate explanations for the causes of autism, but to no avail.  This author cites recent research that points the way to a reconsideration of depression--particularly postpartum depression--as a likely causal factor of certain developmental arrests that can lead to the development of Autism Spectrum Disorders.



In recent years a lot of research has pointed to the affect a mother’s depression can have on her child’s development, resulting in cognitive and behavioral developmental arrests.  Some studies have found a direct link between postpartum depression and autism.  Other research has demonstrated that a mother’s depression during pregnancy can have an influence on newborn irritation.

Work done several decades ago by Kanner in 1943 and Bettelheim in the 1950s and 1960s had anticipated this recent research and speculated on the link between a mother’s coldness (coldness toward a baby being a symptom of postpartum depression) and autism.  These theories were viewed as lacking empirical evidence and were quickly dismissed.  Indeed the term for such mothers coined by Kanner—“refrigerator mothers” was mocked by critics and both Kanner and Bettelheim were accused of blaming mothers for their child’s autism (1)

For the most part studies on autism have focused on other factors as the causal agent of autism, although no one cause has been proven.  One recent study focused on mothers who take antidepressants during pregnancy as the causal agent, but this study did not properly account for the effect of depression itself.  Because of the trend not to blame mothers for their children’s mental disorders, any research that focuses on a mother’s depression rather than on some other factor such as medication taken during pregnancy is refuted or ignored.

A comment that followed a recent blog entitled, “The Cause of Autism May Not Be Unknown,” demonstrated the resistance to considering a mother’s postpartum depression as a causal agent for autism.  Seth Bittker wrote, “This hypothesis is representative of the most advanced thinking on autism …from the early 1950s.  The statement, ‘…there is a relationship between a mother’s depression (and hence neglect) and a child’s subsequent development’ seems to be just another variant of the refrigerator mother theory that autism is due to parental coldness. It is amazing to me that this theory still lives on in 2015.  Anybody who seriously looks at this debilitating and frustrating condition will see that it is almost always the result of dysfunctional biochemistry. This does not mean that there are not environmental factors. Far from it. I would suggest that the environmental factors are the primary cause of the huge increase during the last couple of decades. Some key environmental factors that may be important in my view are vitamins consumed, foods consumed, exposure to microbes, endocrine disrupters, and air pollution” (2).

Indeed, Bittker and many if not most others consider the case closed.  Autism is not linked to a mother’s depression and any research that purports to confirm this case is misguided if not antagonistic.  Like Bittker, most autism “experts” strongly suggest that biology and brain chemistry are the culprits that engender autism, or environmental factors that do not involve parents.

The trend in autism research, as well as research regarding mental disorders in general, has moved towards genetic and biological explanations over the last few decades.  The slogan, “Don’t blame the mother,” became popular during this time and seemed to affect all aspects of developmental research.  It seems almost a sacrilege to suggest that mothers or parents had anything to do with how a child turned out.  Research, such as the studies that are cited in this paper, are dismissed with an attitude that such research is too little and too late—if not a spiteful attempt to impugn mothers.

Recent Studies Linking Autism with Mothers’ Depression

A study in European Psychiatry (2) in 2010 found a link between postpartum depression and autism.  This was a longitudinal study done in Athens, Greece that questioned 291 women with respect to their depression and their children’s development. The women filled out the Edinburg Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) at six and twelve months after giving birth and the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) at around 18 months after delivery. Self-reported postpartum depression in the mother at 12 months was highly linked with the presence of autism in children at 18 months of age.

A pioneering correlated empirical investigation of maternal depression and its link to children’s development was done by Mary Ainsworth in 1978 (3).  She devised an experiment called “The Strange Situation” in which a mother, her one-year-old toddler and a stranger were put in a room together.  The mother leaves the baby alone with the stranger and then comes back.  How the baby reacts to the mother leaving and then coming back (the “reunion”) demonstrates what kind of attachment the child has to the mother.  Of interest here is one of Ainsworth’s insecure attachments, which she referred to as an “avoidant attachment.”

Insecure avoidant children do not orientate to their attachment figure while investigating the environment.  She described them as very independent of the attachment figure both physically and emotionally.  They do not seek contact with the attachment figure when distressed. Such children are likely to have a caregiver who is insensitive and rejecting of their needs, according to Ainsworth. The attachment figure may withdraw from helping during difficult tasks and is often unavailable during times of emotional distress.  This description of the avoidant personality is quite similar to that of children with autism.

A study by the Kennedy Krieger Institute (4) in 2008 found that 46% of mothers of autistic children reported being depressed following pregnancy.  The institute concluded that mood disorders occur more frequently in family members of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) than in the general population. The study also suggested associations between maternal mood disorder history patterns and specific ASD phenotypes.  The study looked at the relationship between maternal mood disorders and child autism spectrum disorders in 998 mother-child dyads that participated in a national online autism registry and database. The odds of an Asperger’s syndrome or autistic disorder diagnosis were higher among children whose mothers had a lifetime history of bipolar disorder or depression. Further, maternal mood disorder onset before first pregnancy was associated with higher odds of an autism diagnosis among this sample of children with ASD. These data suggest that differences in maternal mood disorder history may be associated with ASD phenotype in the offspring of such individuals.

Goodman, Rouse and Connell conducted a meta-analysis of 193 studies (5) to examine the strength of the association between mothers’ depression and children’s behavioral problems or emotional functioning. They found that maternal depression was significantly associated to higher incidence of internalizing, externalizing and general psychopathology and negative emotions/behavior, as well as to lower levels of positive emotion and behavior. These associations were significantly mediated by certain variables.

A 2004 article in Pediatrics and Child Health focused on maternal depression and child development (6). The article contended that women of childbearing age are particularly at risk for depression, and many of them are never treated. “Mothers already at risk for depression are particularly fragile during the first months postpartum. Maternal depression has consequences on the child’s development,” the authors conclude.  A 2001 study in Child Development by Petterson and Albers (7) looked at the effect of poverty and depression on child development. Using data from the National Maternal and Infant Health Survey, the authors discovered that maternal depression and poverty affected the development of very young boys and girls in varying ways.  In particular, they found that poverty and maternal depression had an impact on cognitive development. Results also showed that chronic maternal depression had severe implications for both boys and girls, whereas persistent poverty had a strong effect on the development of girls.

A 2006 study by Sohr-Preston and Scaramella (8) investigated the current state of the research on maternal depression and children's cognitive and language development. The authors state that “exposure to maternal depressive symptoms, whether during the prenatal period, postpartum period, or chronically, has been found to increase children's risk for later cognitive and language difficulties.” Their research focused on both the timing and the chronicity of maternal depression and its effect on children's cognitive and language development.  The longer maternal depression lasts, the more it is associated with more problematic outcomes for children, “perhaps because depression interferes with mothers' ability to respond sensitively and consistently over time.” 

Hay wrote a paper on postpartum depression and cognitive development (9) that in large part echoed the study by Sohr-Preston and Scarmella.  He notes that postpartum depression by mothers initially leads to problems of attention and the regulation of emotions and eventually to cognitive defects in their children.  Murry, et al., did a longitudinal study in 1996 (10) in which they assessed five-year-olds who had what they referred to as postnatally depressed mothers.  They found that early interactions with insensitive mothers predicted cognitive problems such as problem-solving ability.

Daniels, Forssen, Hultman and Cnattingius in a 2008 paper (11) found elevated amounts of psychiatric disorders and distinct personality traits among the parents of individuals with autism.  They drew on data from Swedish registries and used them to investigate whether hospitalization for psychiatric disorders were associated with child autism and found a positive correlation between the two.

A study by McLearn, Minkovitz and Strobino et al. in 2006 (12) concluded that mothers with depressive symptoms had reduced odds of continuing breastfeeding, demonstrating confidence, showing their children books, playing with their infants, talking to the infants and following daily routines that would foster trust between mother and infant.  Such practices were shown to thereafter affect infant development, including cognitive, behavioral and emotional reactions. 

Asano, et al. (13) found a link between PPD (postpartum depression) and BAP (broader autism phenotype) in 2007. Pregnant women were enrolled in the Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) in Japan. Mothers were studied during their mid-gestation and were followed up until three months after they had given birth. BAP was measured during the 2nd trimester of the pregnancy by using the Broader Phenotype Autism Symptoms Scale. Participants scoring 9 points or higher on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale at least once during the first three months after childbirth were diagnosed with PPD. Among participants, 128 women (a high percentage) were found to have PPD. 

Zuckerman, et al., in 1981, studied how a mother’s depression during pregnancy can have an effect on the development of her newborn (14).  The investigation of 1,123 mothers and their infants aimed to determine whether maternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy are associated with behavioral functioning by their offspring, which they measured by using the Neurologic and Adaptive Capacity Scale. Mothers were first given the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression (CES-D) questionnaire, which assesses depressive symptoms during pregnancy. Their infants were then examined by a pediatrician who was blind to their CES-D scores. The experimenters found a correlation between higher mothers’ CES-D scores and infants who were inconsolable or cried excessively. When the study controlled for such potential confounding variables as cigarette smoking, alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine use, poor weight gain, income, birth weight, and other drug use, the relationship between CES-D score and newborn inconsolability and excessive crying remained the same.  The authors concluded, “The results of this study suggest that the relationship between early childhood problems and maternal depressive symptoms may be part of a sequence that starts with depressive symptoms during pregnancy.”

Auerback (15) took exception with a study done in 2015 that stirred up the autism community by warning pregnant mothers not to take anti-depressive medication, saying it was linked with autism.  He contended that depression, not antidepressants, may be the cause of autism. Aurback compared this study that warned against antidepressants to one done in 1998 that linked measles to autism and led to a similar shock wave.  The article Auerback referred to was written by four researchers in Quebec and stated that “the use of antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs], during the second and/or third trimester increases the risk of autism spectrum disorder in children.”   The study appeared in JAMA Pediatrics, so it was taken quite seriously.

This research was quickly embraced by many news outlets before it had been validated.  This often happens and leads to unnecessary disappointment. “Autism is such a hot-button issue that it’s dangerously easy to frighten and mislead people,” warns Auerback.  He and others point to a confounding variable in the research: we don’t know whether it is the anti-depression medicine or the maternal depression that is causing autism, which makes the interpretation of the results of this experience as demonstrating only one of the variables biased.

Paul Wang (16), another of the paper’s critics noted that we should look at “the severity of a mom's depression that's related to autism, not the medications she's taking.”  Wang is repeating what all the above research has found.  This study and the way it was handled demonstrated how much of the research on autism studiously avoids looking at the human factor, such as maternal depression or deprivation, while also showing that the research on autism is often skewed.  The often-repeated assertion that the cause of autism is unknown is more propaganda than science.  The cause is known, but few want to mention it out of a fear of offending mothers.

The research on the link between depression and autism is not new.  Bettelheim (17) was perhaps the most noted figure to come up with this link.  In his book, The Empty Fortress (1967), he documents his work with autistic children at the Orthogenic School in Chicago, where he devised a new method of working with them that emphasized empathy. Bettelheim, a Jew, was taken prisoner during World War II and put into a concentration camp.  His oppression in the concentration camp later informed his view of autism.

Bettelheim believed that autism did not have an organic basis, but resulted from mothers who withheld affection from their children, obstructed their development and failed to form an adequate attachment with them.  Bettelheim also thought that absent or weak fathers contributed to the problem of autism. He devised a complex and detailed explanation of this dynamic in psychoanalytical and psychological terms, deriving his ideas from the qualitative investigation of clinical cases at the Orthogenic School. He also related the world of autistic children to conditions in concentration camps.  Later his work became controversial and was dismissed; genetic and biological explanations replaced them.

Perhaps the first psychologist who did research on the effects of maternal deprivation was Harry Harlow in the 1950s (18).  Although he did not mention autism, his work with monkeys has implications for the cause of autism and many other disorders in that it showed the devastating effects of maternal deprivation in monkeys and, by comparison, in human infants.

Harlow devised a number of experiments for infant monkeys.  In one, he separated a monkey from its mother and then observed how it reacted to two surrogate monkey mothers, a wire mother that had a bottle of milk, and a cloth mother with no milk.  The baby monkey drank the milk from the wire mother but spend 17-18 hours clinging to the cloth mother.  Harlow thus interpreted (and was one of the first to do so) that monkey babies (and by comparison human babies) need comforting more than they need to be fed.  In subsequent experiments he separated baby monkeys from their mothers and put them in isolation cells without any surrogate mother.  These monkeys developed severe emotional and behavioral disorder.  They were antisocial and did not relate to other monkeys; when it was time to mate they avoided the opposite sex; and if they did mate, the mothers sometimes engaged in cannibalistic behavior—actually eating their babies.  Harlow speculated that human babies would react similarly to such deprivation.

The symptoms of avoidance that monkey babies went through as a result of maternal deprivation were similar to the avoidant behavior manifested by autistic children.  Harlow believed that maternal deprivation (emotional abuse) was the worst kind of abuse that a baby—monkey or human—could encounter.  Physical and sexual abuse is also damaging, but it is easy to detect and is therefore easier to address.  If one knows the cause of a disorder, one can more easily devise a treatment for it.  Aside from Harlow and a few others, few researchers have adequately explored the effects of deprivation.  And, although many have explored the relationship of caretaker depression and childhood disorders, that research has been largely dismissed.

The research I have cited here is only the tip of the iceberg.  Research showing how a mother’s depression affects infant and child development is now abundant and needs to be seriously considered.

Resistance and Alternate Theories

Over the years there has been a resistance to attributing the cause of autism to the mother’s depression during and after pregnancy, or to a mother’s or father’s mental disorder.  Instead, researchers have looked away from the mother and father to various other causes, as they did in the afore-mentioned study on antidepressants and autism.

Genetic factors (19) have been viewed by many as the cause for autism spectrum disorders. Early studies of twins estimated heritability to be over 90%, meaning that when one identical twin had autism the other did 90% of the time. However, this original estimate was later seen to be exaggerated, as new twin studies showed a correlation rate of between 60-90%.  Many non-autistic co-twins also had learning or social disabilities which presented a confounding variable. For adult siblings who were not twins the risk for both having one or more features of the broader autism phenotype might be as low as 30%.  

It was then hypothesized that spontaneous “de novo mutations” in the father's sperm or mother's egg contributed to the developing of autism.  There are two lines of evidence that support this hypothesis. Firstly, individuals with autism are 20 times less likely to have children than average individual without autism, thus delimiting the persistence of mutations in ASD genes over generations of a family.  Secondly, the likelihood of having a child develop autism increases with advancing paternal age,[ which was linked to the knowledge that mutations in sperm gradually accumulate throughout a man's life.  

Other theories concentrated on prenatal factors. The risk of autism they contended, is associated with several prenatal risk factors, including advanced age in either parent, diabetes, bleeding during pregnancy, and the aforementioned use of psychiatric drugs by the mother during pregnancy.  Autism has been linked by some experts to birth defects that take effect during the first eight weeks from conception, though these same experts admit that these cases are rare (20).

Viral infection during pregnancy have often been cited as the principal non-genetic cause of autism. Prenatal exposure to rubella or cytomegalovirus, experts contend, activates the mother's immune response and thereby increases the risk for autism.   Many were convinced that congenital rubella syndrome was the environmental cause of autism. Infection-associated immunological events in early pregnancy were thought to affect neural development more than infections in late pregnancy, not only for autism, but also for psychiatric disorders that are presumed to of neurodevelopmental origin, notably schizophrenia (20).

Then there was the fetal testosterone theory. The fetal testosterone theory states that higher levels of testosterone in the amniotic fluid of mothers, while causing brain development of fetuses to have an improved ability to see patterns and analyze complex systems while at the same time diminishing communication and empathy, emphasizing "male" traits over "female".  In other words, high levels of testosterone in children emphasizes "systemizing" over "empathizing".  Several reports have appeared suggesting that high levels of fetal testosterone could produce behaviors similar to those seen in autistic children (20).

The number of biological causes that experts have come up with seems unlimited.  Some have pointed to epigenetic mechanisms such as histone modification or modification of the DNA bases. Such modifications are known to be affected by environmental factors, including nutrition, drugs, and mental stress.  Some have also expressed interest in imprinted regions on chromosomes 15q and 7q. Thyroid problems that lead to thyroxine deficiency in the mother in weeks 8–12 of pregnancy have been suggested to produce changes in the fetal brain leading to autism. Others have cited that folic acid taken during pregnancy could play a role in reducing cases of autism by modulating gene expression through an epigenetic mechanism. There has been many theories that prenatal exposure to air pollution may be a risk factor for autism, despite the fact that this evidence is only supported by a small number of studies with a failure to control for potential confounding factors (20).

A number of theories about pretnatal contributions to autism have been put forth, including a mother’s gastrointestinal or immune system abnormalities, allergies, and exposure of children to drugs, vaccines, measles, infection, certain foods, or heavy metals such as lead. The evidence for these risk factors is anecdotal and has not been confirmed by reliable studies.  Still another study looks at amygdala neurons. This theory hypothesizes that an early developmental failure involving the amygdala impinges on the development of “cortical areas that mediate social perception in the visual domain. The fusiform face area of the ventral stream is implicated.” In other words, this process is is somehow involved in social knowledge and social cognition, and that the deficits in this network are the cause of autism (20). 

Another theory asserts that destructive autoantibodies that go after the brain or elements of brain metabolism may cause or exacerbate autism. Still another theory says that injections of minute quantities of opiates in young laboratory animals induce symptoms similar to those observed among autistic children. More recent there was some research evidence that autistic children were more likely to have GI symptoms than typical children.  A method called “Secretin Infusion” was developed to treat such children. After a preliminary 1998 study of three children with ASD treated with secretin infusion reported improved GI function and dramatic improvement in behavior, many parents sought secretin treatment and a black market for the hormone developed quickly.   Later studies found secretin infusion was clearly ineffective in treating autism and this theory, like so many others, was abandoned (19).

Other external causes of autism centered on things like mercury (mercury poisoning led to autism), lead (lead poisoning led to autism), lack of Vitamin D, impaired functioning of the locus coeruleus–noradrenergic (LC-NA) system, oxidative stress, vaccines, and viral infections during pregnancy (19).

Some of these studies twist their results to the point of being unethical.  That seems to be the case in the study warning pregnant women that antidepressants taken during pregnancy can cause autism (15).  Auerback took the article to task, saying,  “Study co-author Bérard, it turns out, has been criticized by a federal judge for cherry-picking results to link antidepressants to birth defects.” Underwood, another critic of the study, wrote in Science, “Many epidemiologists and psychiatrists say the study, published today in JAMA Pediatrics, is flawed and will cause unnecessary panic.” Auerback also cites how a fraudulent 1998 study purportedly linking autism to the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine stoked a mass panic that “resulted in lower vaccination rates, lower herd immunity, and the return of measles.” Wakefield in the British journal Science wrote of a now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines, calling it an "elaborate fraud" that has done long-lasting damage to public health.”  An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study—and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible. After an investigation of such studies Auerback found that “the debunked pseudoscience of facilitated communication persists in large part by feeding on the desperate hopes of autistic children’s parents, some of whom are quietly shepherding such junk science into public schools.”  Yet, he contends, these dissenting voices do not go far enough and much more needs to be done.

It is almost comical how fervently investigators have looked for causes of autism everywhere except the one place where research has come up with the most valid and reliable results: depressed (postpartum) mothers and the effect of their negligence and avoidance on fetuses, babies and toddlers.  The growing accumulation of evidence is not just hastily dismissed by such “experts,” but is also totally ignored.  One thinks of the famous saying by Shakespeare in his play, Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings (21)."

It is as if many if not most researchers have been terrorized by mothers who repeat the slogan, “Don’t blame the mother,” to the point it becomes a sort of gospel to them.  Researchers go out of their way to obey the slogan and find other causes for autism.  And so they unwittingly make the feelings of mothers more important than the healthy development of their children.  If we are ever to get to the bottom of this disorder, we must be willing to make autistic children our priority, not mothers of autistic children.  We must be willing to look at all research about autism, especially that research that goes against our strongest beliefs.

Treating Autism

Here is what I think happens.  When a mother first discovers the symptoms of autism—the refusal of her toddler to respond to or make eye contact with her or anybody, echolalia, diminished motor operation, repetitive movements—she goes to a pediatric doctor and is often alarmed about how her child has turned out.  Many mothers either do not remember their postpartum depression or don’t want to remember it.  Some feel guilty about it and have repressed it.  Many others view it as a normal aspect of the childbirth experience.  Doctors are generally not going to tell a mother that her depression caused the autism.  It appears that most doctors are not aware enough of the mind-body connection. The child, who can barely talk and does not know what is happening, can’t tell the doctor about its mother’s depression and how it affect him or her.  The doctor reacts to the mother’s extreme distress over her child and attempts to reassure her is was not her fault.  So the doctor will attribute the autism to whatever theory he subscribes to that avoids any implication of the mother.

Because the medical establishment generally rejects out of hand any theory, such as the one in this article, that suggests that a mother’s depression and its associated neglect of her infant is the cause of autism, there is at present no treatment that has been proven to cure autism.  Some of the methods that have been tried over the past decades have been based on research that is unreliable and not valid, if not fraudulent.  Each year a new cure for autism is devised in response to some new research that is later found to be unsubstantiated or fraudulent.

For example, the previously mentioned study that linked autism with a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine led to treating autism by foregoing such vaccines, which in turn lead to a rise in these diseases while doing nothing to cure autism (20).  Over the years there have been a myriad of such “cures” based on faulty studies.  Nearly all of the treatments for autism used today are done after the onset of autism and therefore can only have a minimal effect.  If you have a mild form of ASD (autism spectrum disorder), these methods may lead to a partial and even full recovery.  But most often these methods are only able to maintain some degree of normal functioning, while full cures are the exception.  They do nothing to prevent autism since they do not consider a mother’s depression and neglect as a causative factor.

There are three main approaches to treating autism used today.  One is the biological approach—using some form of medication.  According to WebMD, medicines are limited in their ability to improve symptoms of autism.  Some are designed to help prevent self-injury and others treat behaviors that are causing difficulty. Medicines may also be used on conjunction with other treatments such as psychotherapy by helping children function at a higher level.  There are two main non-medical treatments—Applied Behavioral Analysis and the Early Start Denver Model—that are sometimes used in conjunction with medication and sometimes without.

Medicines (22) that are often used to treat behaviors related to autism include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and antipsychotic medicines. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors include citalopram, fluoxetine, and sertraline. These medicines may help with depression, anxiety, and obsessive behaviors, but they also have side effects, such as weight gain, insomnia, and increased agitation. Antipsychotic medicines, such as haloperidol, risperidone, and thioridazine change brain chemistry and therefore help decrease problem behaviors.  Risperidone, another antipsychotic medication, reduces tantrums, aggression, and self-harming behavior.  Like SSRIs, these medicines can have side effects, including sleepiness, tremors, and weight gain. Their use is usually considered only after behavior management has failed to address the problem behaviors.

Behavior analysis (23) focuses on the principles of learning first developed by B. F. Skinner.  It uses positive reinforcement to reward an autistic child for any behavior that leads to progress in some aspect of his or her functioning. When a behavior is followed by some sort of reward, the behavior, Skinner found, is more likely to be repeated. Over the years, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for encouraging beneficial behaviors and discouraging those cause harm or prevent learning.  WebMD contends that ABA principles and techniques can improve basic skills such as looking, listening and imitating, as well as more complex skills such as reading, conversing and understanding another person’s perspective.

Sally Rogers and Geraldine Dawson, both clinical psychologists, developed the Early Start Denver Model as an extension of the Denver Model (24), developed by Rogers and colleagues for use with older autistic children and adults.  This early intervention program integrates a relationship-focused developmental model with Applied Behavior Analysis. It uses a family approach, including parent-training into the process in a manner called “deep parental involvement.  Teachers and parents collaborate, starting at 18 months, focusing on interpersonal exchange, joint activities and the teaching of language and communication skills.

Rogers, Dawson and Rogers all drew on the pioneering research of Bruno Bettelheim who wrote a book called The Empty Fortress in 1967 (25).  Bettelheim used this title to describe an autistic child as someone who was as defended as a fortress but empty inside.  His approach to working with autistic children anticipated the Early Start Denver Model in that it emphasized respecting the child’s symptoms, empathy, a non-coersive environment and unconditional love.  Although Bettelheim became a controversial figure because, in part, he compared the families of autistic children to concentration camps, his method nevertheless lives on.

There are many other approaches, depending on the needs of particular children.  These methods include Pivotal Response Therapy (PRT), Verbal Behavior Therapy, Floortime to improve spontaneity, Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), Social Communication/Emotional Regulation/Transactional Support (SCERTS), and treatments for speech, language and motor impairments 23).

However, the Autism Speaks website asserts that a growing amount of evidence suggests that only a small minority of persons with autism progress to the point where they no longer meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Various theories have been proposed to explain why this is so.  They include the possibility of an initial misdiagnosis, the possibility that some children mature out of certain forms of autism with or without treatment and the possibility that some treatments are not a good match for the children they are trying to reach (26).

The bottom line is that these treatments have a limited effect because they prevent autism from occurring in the first place.  In order to prevent autism, one would have to accept the theory that autism is indeed caused, or mostly caused, by mothers with postpartum depression or some degree of major depression.

Summary of How Maternal Depression Affects a Baby

I have already cited a small sampling of the many researchers that have explored how a mother’s depression affects the development of her child or have found a direct link between postpartum depression and autism.  These investigators have presented a general picture of the consequences of a mother’s depression and postpartum depression on development.

Mothers already at risk for depression are particularly susceptible to postpartum depression during the first months after giving birth. From the research previously cited, I speculate that the longer this postpartum depression lasts, the more severe will be the consequences to their child’s development. First of all infants repeatedly participate in interactive routines with their mothers. Maternal depression delimits the infant’s ability to learn to regulate the interaction because of two negative interactive patterns, intrusiveness or withdrawal. Postpartum mothers are known to be Intrusive or withdrawn. Sometimes they pick up their infants in a hostile way that conveys to the infant the mother’s rejection of them, which disrupts their activity. The infants generally react angrily to this, turn away from the mother and internalize the mother’s angry and mode of coping. Another hallmark of postpartum mothers is withdrawing—that is, not caring for their infants.  Withdrawn mothers are disengaged, unresponsive, affectively flat and therefore do not encourage their child’s growth. Infants are unable to cope or self-regulate while in this negative state, and become passive, withdrawn and defensive (looking away or performing repetitive behaviors to comfort themselves).  By 18 months these behaviors become entrenched in their personalities.

Again, based on research cited previously, there are also cognitive effects.  Infants of postpartum mothers demonstrate patterns of limited attention and arousal. Studies show that cognitive performance regarding the independent existence of objects are worse for infants of postpartum mothers than infants of non-depressed mothers. Depressed mothers are less likely to provide stimulating contact to their infants, which disrupts their performance on nonsocial learning tasks. Another factor that obstructs learning is the negative attitude of infants of depressed mothers, even when they are interacting with non-depressed adults. In other words, an infant’s own negative attitude interferes with both learning and the ability to process information.  By the time infants become toddlers, the cognitive impairments are all the more observable. Postpartum maternal interactions lead to poorer intellectual development. Boys may be more sensitive than girls to the effects of the mother’s illness (twice as many boys as girls develop autism).  Only boys show a decrease in cognition on standardized tests of intellectual attainment (mainly on indexes of abstract intelligence, reasoning about opposites and analogies) and the “draw-a-child” task. Other aspects of cognitive development, such as cognitive-linguistic functioning are also damaged, and there were also deficits on the perceptual and performance scale.

It also seems apparent from previously cited research that as children get to elementary school and beyond, the impairment of their behavioral and cognitive skills becomes more apparent.  School-age children of depressed mothers display impaired adaptive functioning, such as internalizing their problems or acting them out.  Children of depressed parents are also at higher risk of psychopathology, including depression, anxiety and conduct disorders.  Studies have shown a marked risk of psychopathology in the children of depressed parents.

One case with which I became acquainted illustrates the complexity of the problem.  A woman in her early thirties had delayed getting pregnant because of a negative attitude toward giving birth, viewing it as a aspect of domestic slavery and the act of birthing as something disgusting (like an alien force taking control of her body).  The man to whom she was married did not want a child either, and the two were often fighting.  She complained that he did not care about her, love her, listen to her or support her.  He complained that she was controlling, guilt-tripping and emasculating.  She got pregnant by accident and he immediately demanded that she get an abortion.  He was not sure their marriage would last and therefore didn’t think this was a good time to have a child.  Although she did not want a child either for different reasons, her husband’s continual threats to leave her caused to go ahead and have the child, thinking that this would hold the marriage together.

When the child was born, the husband was even more distant, and even began an affair with a woman with whom he worked.  The mother suffered from postpartum depression and the anger she felt toward her husband got taken out on her male infant.  For three months she seldom got out of bed, seldom took baths, and often did not respond when her baby cried.  Perhaps once a day she would get out of bed to feed him in a perfunctory manner, gazing at him in an angry manner, hating him for not saving her marriage and for being a male child.  The husband made matters worse by coming home late and continually reminding his wife that he didn’t want the child in the first place and it was her own fault he was born and he was her responsibility.  He showed now empathy for her condition.  This made her postpartum depression worse.

After about six months he confessed his affair to his wife and said he was going to leave her for his new girlfriend, whom he said was loving and supportive in a way she was not.  They went through an angry separation and divorce and the woman was eventually left alone to raise their child.  The husband was no interested in visitation rights or in taking any responsibility for raising the child.  Subsequently the boy shows signs of depression and by the age of 18 months he demonstrated symptoms of autism.  By then he had turned away from his mother (as she had turned away from him at birth), and had likewise turned away from people in general.  He could not show direct anger to his mother because he was too scared of her angry fits about her state of affairs and about her child’s father.  His own anger took the form of self-injury—breaking an arm falling from a bench, hitting his head against a door and bruising one of his eyes when he had intended to such his thumb.

The boy went on to develop many of the learning deficits, behavioral problems and diminished self-esteem mentioned in studies above. 

Preventing Autism

The best cure is prevention.  In order to prevent autism, we need to know what causes it.  There is enough evidence now (some of it cited in this paper) to conclude that there is a definite link between a caretaker’s depression and various developmental arrests, including autism.  Therefore to prevent it would require two things: 1. Testing pregnant women for depression and postpartum depression and treating this depression if possible and giving her the support she needs in order to properly care for her infant.  2. If that’s not possible, we should make other arrangements—such as a surrogate caregiver taking over the crucial job of infant nursing and nurturing until such time as the mother recovers from her depression.

More attention needs to be paid to the depression of both parents, for both have an impact on childrearing, but the mother’s depression is crucial.  The more research that is done on the effect of maternal depression on early child development, the more important it becomes to treat maternal depression.  A human being is most vulnerable during the earliest stages of infancy and even before.  The basic attitudes are formed based on the earliest interactions with the first caretaker.  We need to understand the basis of maternal depression—whether it is the result of pregnancy itself, of an abusive relationship with her husband, wounds from her own childhood, or something biochemical.  By understand maternal depression we can treat it.

And certainly we need to make sure that an infant’s earliest experience with life is a positive one.  A depressed mother, especially one suffering from postpartum depression, can only provide a negative experience for her infant.  This experience causes infants to fall behind in behavioral, emotional and cognitive development.  The child is the first priority and needs to be given a positive start in life, either by its mother or some other caretaker who is emotionally able to do it.

This will of course require properly understanding the resistance to accepting the link between postpartum depression and autism.  As long as many if not most people refuse to look at or acknowledge this link, we cannot begin to prevent or cure it.  Hopefully this and other papers like it will raise awareness of this problem.



1. https://www.autism-watch.org/causes/rm.shtml

2. http://blogs.psychcentral.com/psychoanalysis-now/discuss/186/

3. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924933810704612?np=y

4. http://www.simplypsychology.org/mary-ainsworth.html

5. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/aurt/2012/435646/

6. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10567-010-0080-1?version=meter+at+null&module=meter-Links&pgtype=Blogs&contentId=&mediaId=

7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724169/

8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11768146

9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16817009


11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9119940/

12. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/121/5/e1357.short

13. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/204668

14. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1750946714002025

15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2212032

16.http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2015/12/antidepressants_in_pregnancy_probably_ do_not_cause_autism.html

16. http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/news/20151214/antidepressants-in-pregnancymay-raise-autism-risk-study-suggests#2

18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruno_Bettelheim

19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Harlow

20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_autism

21. http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/01/05/autism.vaccines/

22. https://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/fault-dear-brutus-our-stars

23. https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment

24. https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/applied-behavior-analysis-aba

25. https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/early-start-denver-model-esdm

26. http://bdkmsw.umwblogs.org/psychoanalytic-causes/

27. https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment

The Way of Life

By Chuang Zi

(Translated by Gerald Schoenewolf)


ABSTRACT: As as special Flashback Feature we are presenting a selection of stories and poems by Chuang Zi.  A follower of Lao Zi, who is credited with founding the philosophy of Daoism, Chuang Zi wrote about how to live a healthy life.  In that sense his tenets were not dissimilar to those of humanistic psychologists who have advocated the healthy life that leads to self-actualization.  He observed how such things as conceit, selfishness, or narrow-minded thinking lead to discontent and how our points of view are most often illusions.  To him, the healthy life was the simple life.  Athletes often say they must “play within themselves” to play well.  Chuang Zi urged followers to “stay within themselves” to live the healthy life.


The Phang

In the Northern Ocean there is a fish named kwang, which changes into a bird named phang.  The phang is so large it cannot be measured.  When it flies, its wings fill the sky like clouds and move the sea below so that it carries the bird along the Southern Ocean.  The Southern Ocean is the Pool of Heaven. 

There is a book called the Book of Marvels.  Of the phang it says, “When the Phang migrates to the Southern Ocean, it flaps on the water for 3,000 li, then rises up on a whirlwind for 90,000 li, and it does not stop flying for six months.”

However, because the phang flies so high, it looks the same to somebody standing below as the specks of dust that blow up from a field or the smaller creatures that flit through the air.

Nor can one tell if the phang’s dark blue coloring is its own or a reflection of the sky around it.

And whether one is peering up from earth or down from heaven, a phang of whatever size still looks the same.

Three in the Morning

When people use up their minds and feelings clinging to one point of view and refusing to see the deeper oneness between this and its complementary that, they suffer from what I call “three in the morning.”

What is “three in the morning?”

A monkey trainer went to his monkeys and said to them, “As to your meals, you’ll be given three bowls of chestnuts in the morning and four in the afternoon.”

The monkeys squawked with anger.

So the trainer said, “All right, since that makes you unhappy, I’ll give you four bowls in the morning and three in the afternoon.”

The monkeys squealed with delight.

The two arrangements were actually the same, but in the first instance the monkeys were displeased and in the second they were pleased.

The wise, seeing life from heaven’s view, are open to both sides of an issue, and they are never displeased.


A Wise Person

What is a wise person?

The wise of old were not afraid to stand with the few.  They did not set out to plan great plans or do great deeds.  If they failed, they were not sad, and if they gained they were not glad.  They climbed great mountains and were not dizzy, dived into the sea and were not wet, and walked through fire and were not burned.  Their knowledge was one with the Way.

The wise of old slept without dreaming and woke without worrying.  Their food was simple and their breathing slow.  They breathed from their heels while fools breathed from their throats, and when fools got into quarrels, they threw up arguments like vomit.  When the well of earthly desire is deep the heavenly spring is shallow.

The wise of old did not love life or hate death.  They were born without joy and died without sorrow.  Coolly they came, and coolly they went.  They did not forget where they had been and they did not ask where they were going.  The took life with a dash of gratitude and death with a grain of calm.  They went willingly into the beyond.

They did not try to resist the Way, not did they try to help it along.  Such were the wise of old. 

They did not try to resist the Way, nor did they try to help it along.  Such were the wise of old.

Their minds were free of thought, their hearts still, their brows unwrinkled.  If they were cold, they were cold as autumn.  If they were warm, they were warm as spring.  Their feelings flowed like the four seasons.

They gave to all things what was suitable, and to all things they remained inscrutable.


Confucius went to Lao Zi’s house and found him to be distant.  To win him over he began to speak at length about the Twelve Classics.

“That’s too vague,” Lao Zi said after a while.  “Can you give me the gist of the Twelve Classics?”

“The gist of the Twelve Classics?”

“The gist is concerned with goodness and righteousness.”

“Let me ask you this: do you think humans are naturally prone to goodness and righteousness?”

“I do.  If the superior man is not good, he won’t fulfill his destiny, and if he is not righteous, he might as well not have been born.  Goodness and righteousness are the true nature of humanity.”

“Let me ask what you mean by goodness and righteousness?”

“To be in deeper sympathy with all things, to love all people, and to allow no selfish thoughts—this is goodness and righteousness?”

“Ah!” Lao Zi exclaimed.  “You show your stupidity with such ideas.  ‘To love all men!’—isn’t that a bit abstract and grandiose?  ‘To allow no selfish thoughts!’—isn’t that really another kind of selfishness?  Isn’t it a kind of self-preoccupation?  If you, Master, wish to guide men, think of heaven and earth, which always stay on course; of the sun and moon, which always shine bright; of the stars in the zodiac, which are always in order; of birds and beasts, which always flock together, and of the trees, which always stand together.  Do you, Master, follow this Way and practice it?  Why must you always stubbornly insist on goodness and righteousness, as if you were beating a drum and chasing a fugitive son—only to make him run away all the more?  Ah, Master, you’re introducing disharmony into the natural harmony of things.”

Favoring Wisdom

In the olden days of natural virtue

People did not favor wisdom nor call attention to ability;

Leaders were like the higher branches on a tree

And the people were like deer grazing beneath.


People were good

Without knowing about “Goodness;”

They were kind

Without knowing about “Kindness;”

They were loyal

Without knowing about “Moral Fiber;”

They were dependable

Without knowing about “Good Character;”

They were cooperative

Without knowing about “The Spirit of Cooperation.”

Thus, their footsteps left to trail.

Thus, they have no trace.

Dragging one’s Tail

Chuang Zi was fishing in the Pu River with his bamboo pole, when two officers from the King of Chu approached him, saying, “The king wants you.  He think you would be a good governor for one of his territories.”

Chuang Zi held the bamboo pole and watched the river.  After a while he said, “I have heard there is a sacred turtle-shell whose owner died over three thousand years ago.  This turtle was so admired by the kind that it was sacrificed and canonized and now its shell sits wrapped in silk on a shrine inside the temple.  What do you think?  Is it better for a turtle to give its life and leave behind a sacred shell as an object of devotion for three thousand years, or to live as an ordinary turtle dragging its tail in the mud?”

“For the turtle,’ the officers replied, “it would be better to live in ordinary life and drag its tail in the mud.”

“Go away!” Chuang Zi said.  “And let me drag my tail in the mud.”

The Fighting Cock

Chi Hsing Zi, a trainer of fighting cocks, was training a particularly fine cock for King Hsuan.

After ten days the king asked if the bird was ready.  The trainer replied, “Not yet.  He’s still vain and prone to picking fights and showing off his own prowess.”

After ten more days the kind asked again and the trainer replied, “Not yet.  He still flaps his wings when he hears another cock crow.”

After ten more days the trainer replied, “Not yet.  He still gets that mean look and ruffles his feathers.”

Finally after ten more days he said, “Now he is nearly ready.  When another cock crows, he does not even blink an eye.  To see him, you would think he was a wooden cock.  Now he has the right quality; as soon as other cocks see hi they run away.”


Confucius went to the state of Chu,

Along with a madman named Kie Yu,

Who followed the master to his door

And sang outside with a maddening roar.


“Phoenix, phoenix, does your virtue last?

Can’t reach the future, can’t reach the past!

When the world is calm, then you guide;

When the world is mad, then you hide.

Every day you try to stay alive.

You’ll be lucky if you can survive.

Joy is a feather that fiercely intrudes;

Sorrow is a landslide that no one eludes.

Beware, beware of walking too straight!

Danger, danger, thorns lie in wait!

Quietly, quietly, do without ado,

And maybe the ferns won’t puncture you.”


The tree on the hill upends itself.

The oil in the lamp devours itself.

The cinnamon tree is eaten up.

The lacquer tree is beaten up.

It is frequently said by the needful

That it’s useful for things to be useful.

But people rarely seem to see

How useful uselessness can be.


Right and Wrong

Hun Zi said to Chuang Zi, “Can a man really be without desire and passion?”

“He can.”

“But that’s just not right.  How can you call somebody without desire and passion a man?”

“The Way gives him life, and heaven gives him form.  Why should we not call him a man?”

“But I don’t understand.  How can he be a man if he doesn’t have desire and passion?”

“You’re misunderstanding what I mean by desire and passion.  When I say that a wise man is without desire and passion, what I mean is that he does not do any inward harm to his body through his likings and dislikings; he always lives effortlessly and doesn’t want to ask for more.”

“If he does not try to get more, how can he sustain himself?”

“The Way gives him life, and heaven gives him form; and he does not do any inward harm to his body through his likings and dislikings,” Chuang Zi repeated.  “But you, Master Hui Zi, are now draining your vital powers through the indulgence of your desire and passion.  You sing your ditties for all to hear while leaning on a tree; you fall into a drunken sleep, grasping the stump of a rotten dryandra.  Heaven gave you the form of a man, but you babble all day like a child about what is right and wrong.”

Wanting to Know More

Master Ki was leaning forward on his stool, gazing up at heaven.  He was scarcely breathing and seemed to have forgotten himself.

Yu, his attendant, exclaimed, “What is going on?  Can the body be withered like a tree?  Can the mind be slaked like lime?  I’ve never seen you like this.”

“It’s true.  I had lost myself,” Master Ki said.  How can I explain it?  You may have heard the music of earth and of heaven?  When nature sighs you can hear its breath, though it makes no sound of its own.  As it blows on other beings and wakes them, you can hear the voices calling from every hole.  Have you not heard this crescendo of sound?  It comes from the trees that hang from the tallest mountains, old trees with clefts like mouths, noses and ears, or like cups or bowls; trees with dark grooves and hollows filled with water.  You can hear them howling and roaring and whistling.  You can hear them shouting and murmuring or moaning deeply or beckoning like sad flutes, one awakening another as an endless dialogue.  You can hear soft winds singing shyly, mighty winds booming mightily; until the wind fades and the trees let out their last sound.  Have you not heard how everything trembles and then is no longer there?”

And Yu said, ‘I understand.  I really do.  The music of the earth sings through a thousand holes and the music of humans is played on bamboo poles. But there’s one other thing I’d like to know.  What about the music of heaven?”

And Master Ki replied:  “When the wind blows on the thousand holes, the earth trembles with music; and when the wind stops the music dies down.  Is there more to know than that?”

The Beginning

There was a beginning.

There was a beginning to that beginning.

There was a beginning to that beginning to that beginning.


There was nothing.

There was nothing before nothing.

There was nothing before nothing before nothing.


If there is nothing,

Was there ever something?


Now that I have said what I have said,

Have I said something

Or nothing?


The Prince of Wu took a hunting party on a boat to Monkey Island.  They soon pulled up to the island and drew their bows and arrows. When the monkeys saw them, they darted frantically to the tops of the trees.

One monkey, however, stayed behind.  He was calmly swinging from branch to branch, doing flips and twirls, showing off his skills for the Prince and his party.  The Prince took out his bow and shot an arrow at the monkey, and the monkey deftly caught it in his hand.

The Prince then ordered his attendants to shoot the monkey down.  In an instant the monkey was full of arrows and fell to the ground.

The Prince turned to his companion, Yen Pui, and said, “You see what just happened?  This monkey flaunted his cleverness.  He was conceited about his skills.  He thought nobody could come near him.  Always remember: It is a mistake to rely on superiority or talent when you deal with others.

When they returned to their home, Yen Pu began studying with a local master in order to rid himself of everything that made him stand out.  He gave up every desire and learned to hide his superiority.

After three years no one in the state could figure him out.

And so they admired him.

An Inner Rattle

The wise regard all that is deemed necessary

To be unnecessary.

So they do not fight with themselves.

The foolish regard all that is unnecessary

To be necessary,

So they are always at war with themselves.

Those caught up in this internal war,

Externalize it at every door.

Hence, an inner rattle leads to an outer ruin.



When Chuang Zi was about to die, his followers began to make plans for an elaborate burial service.

He interrupted them, saying, “Heaven and earth will be my tomb, the sun and moon will be the jade symbols at my side, the planets and stars will shine as jewels all around me, and all beings will be there as mourners at my funeral.  What more do I need than that?  Everything will be just as it should.”

But they said, “We fear the crows and hawks will eat our Master.”

“So?” Chuang Zi replied.  “Above ground the crows and birds will eat me, below it will be the ants and worms.  Either way I’ll be eaten.  What have you got against birds?”

Emotional Abuse: The Most Harmful Kind of Abuse

by Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D


ABSTRACT:  Emotional abuse (sometimes called psychological abuse or mental abuse) is hard to define and hard to detect and therefore people often do not study it as much as sexual or physical abuse.  And because it is hard to detect, it is hard to understand it etiology.  This article attempts to make a beginning in understanding this kind of abuse.

Over the years I have often been asked what is the most harmful kind of abuse—physical, sexual or emotional.  My answer is always the same; emotional abuse is definitely the most harmful because, unlike physical and sexual abuse, it is hard to detect. When you can detect abuse (such as physical abuse) you know it's happening and you can fight back.  But a child often doesn’t even know emotional abuse is happening, and it sometimes takes years of psychotherapy before the client understands it.

One of the problems of emotional abuse is defining what it is.  According to Wikipedia, it can also be termed “psychological abuse,” “psychological violence,” or “mental abuse and is “characterized by a person subjecting, or exposing, another person to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.”(1) This definition focuses on people rather than parents, and does not explain what kinds of behavior constitute emotional abuse or the broad variety of outcomes.  I would add that emotional abuse can be of many varieties, including (to name a few) neglect, emotionally bullying, scape-goating, creating dependency, making children take sides in battles of fathers and mothers, and pretending to be loving while behaving in a hateful way.

There are many harmful things a parent can do to a child, and certainly physical and sexual abuse are harmful.  Since they are more often reported, it is easier to focus on sexual and physical abuse.  However, emotional abuse, because it often happens without the child knowing it, seems to have a deeper effect on the child.  Sometimes all three are mixed together—physical, sexual and emotional abuse.  That is when the abuse is most harmful. 

In the most harmful cases of emotional abuse the parents, who have a narcissistic need to think of themselves as great parents, present an outward appearance of being good parents, as well as outstanding citizens. Because of this need to be seen as good parents, they are unable to look at their parenting in an objective way.  They indoctrinate their children to view them as good parents and their family as a healthy family, and they are unable to hear their children's complaints about their parenting.

Such parents indoctrinate their children from an early age to think of their parents in only the most positive ways. Any other kind of thinking is considered family treason. If any of their children develop behavioral problems, they see such problems as an accusation of their parenting. Their response is, "Why am I so unlucky as to have this bad seed?" Very rarely do they ever consider that anything they did might have had an effect on their children.

Emotional abuse comes in many varieties, and at times, as I mentioned, it is combined with other kinds of abuse.  Below are some brief case histories that illustrate what I mean.

The Good Daughter and the Bad Daughter

One family with which I became acquainted had two daughters. The oldest daughter could do nothing wrong. The youngest daughter could do nothing right. Both parents lamented the troublesome nature of their youngest daughter. To both of them, she was a thorn in their sides and an embarrassment to the family. As Mary (the name I'll give to the youngest daughter) grew up, she was always being compared unfavorably to her older sister. "Why can't you be more like your sister?" She was constantly being looked at in a negative way. If she told a joke, they laughed at her, not with her, and treated her as if she were stupid to say such a thing.

When she was a preteen, her father, who was a wealthy real estate tycoon, took her on a business trip with him. She was flattered to be brought along, because he had always favored her older sister. He insisted they share the same hotel room, telling her they were family. When she was taking a shower, he walked in and said she shouldn't be shy around him because he was her father. That night he insisted she sleep in the queen-sized bed with him, and in the middle of the night he began touching her and telling her it was all right because they were family.

When she mentioned this event to her mother, the mother treated the daughter as if she were just being a troublemaker as usual. "Why would your father do something like that? He's a powerful man. He could have any woman he wanted, but he has always been totally loyal to me. I want you to apologize for what you just said." Mary had to repress this incident and she grew up to be a child who doubted her perceptions of things. She remained attached to her father and continued to idealize him as the rest of the family did. But her idealization of her father, her mother and her older sister kept her in a one-down position. Her relationships with men were a disaster as were her relationships with women friends. She distrusted everybody and would sooner or later find a reason to reject them (symbolically rejecting her family).

The mother in this family was a writer who once wrote an article for a parenting magazine. The article was called, "How I learned to Adapt to My ADHD Daughter," and she stated that she was motivated to write the article to help other mothers with similar children. The father was almost revered in the extended family and among friends for his business acumen and his happy-go-lucky personality. Neither parent gave a thought to the emotional or sexual abuse they had shown their youngest. Both continued to firmly believe that they had been great parents, and that their youngest daughter was simply genetically damaged and it was their unfortunate lot in life to adapt to her (be sympathetic to her "wiles"). But their sympathy (a pretense of caring) only made her worse.

Incidentally, the oldest daughter in this family ended up becoming a narcissistic parent like her parents, She had been raised to feel that she could do no wrong and hence she did not think she could do anything wrong as a parent. Sometimes this kind of parenting is passed on from generation to generation.

Narcissistic personalities can only see things one way--their way. And they are very good at finding extremely viable reasons for their way. You are either with them or against them. If you are with them, you can share their glory, if you're against them and tell them what they don't want to hear, you will get their wrath. The queen in the children's story, "Snow White," is an example of a narcissistic personality. The mirror had to tell her she was the fairest in the land, and when it told her Snow White was the fairest, she punished Snow White by having her taken to the forest to die. 

Beneath their narcissism is a bubble of unconscious inferiority and rage, which they protect against through the development of the rigid covering of the superior personality that cannot be contradicted.

Narcissistic parents will go to doctor after doctor until they find one who tells them what they want to hear. The problem is never with them or their parenting. It is always traced to some external cause, some genetic source, a hostile teacher, or a faulty vaccination. This is not to say that genetics or other factors do not play a part in development. But they don't play the entire part. Parenting must always be considered. With narcissists it almost never is.

I call this kind of parent the most harmful because they do the most harm while seeming to have all the right intentions.  The emotional abuse that such parents do to their children is hard for the children to detect. Therefore, it is all the more disastrous. 

The “Stage Mother” Syndrome 

Narcissistic parents occasionally raise their children to be some ideal person who becomes their narcissistic extension.  The “Stage Parent Syndrome” is an example of this—parents raising their child to fulfill their own blighted ambitions.

A case that comes to mind involved a parent who raised her child to be her little genius.  This mother believed that she was a latent genius, but her intelligence had been squashed by her family.  She had her son, Philip, late in life and did so through artificial insemination with a compulsive unconscious goal.

From the beginning her son was there to take care of her needs—her loneliness, her need to prove her family wrong, her need to be idealized as a fabulous mother, and especially her need to raise a super son who would reflect her own superiority.  He would be the icing on her cake of life.

From the time he was born she taught Philip that he was superior to his peers, more attractive, more intelligent, and generally of a higher class.  Sometimes she even told him that he was her little genius and that when he grew up he would be a god.  As he grew up, she discouraged him from playing with children in the neighborhood, whom she regarded as beneath her son and liable to contaminate him with their inferior attitudes and tastes.  From the time he was born—and even in the womb—she read to him and tutored him to be a precocious, intelligent boy who would serve as her flag of victory.  He could read and write by the time he was three.

In elementary school he was far advanced and superior to the other children.  Hence he skipped a grade and was a favorite of most of his teachers.  He flew far ahead of others in his school work and seemed to be completely fulfilling his mothers wishes for him.  But he began having problems with some schoolmates who had taken to bullying him.  When he complained to his mother, she replied, “They’re just jealous of you.  Pay no attention to them.  They’re inferior and hateful and the world would be better without them.”

He more or less followed his mother’s guidance throughout secondary school; if he ever questioned her, he was severely punished.  He was always the outcast of his class but rationalized that it was because he was superior to his classmates.  It was when he went away to an elite college that things fell apart.  In college he no longer stood out; there were many intelligent students there.  In addition, he was alone, without his mother’s protective umbrella.  He was living in a dorm with other students who thought him to be peculiar.  He could no longer successfully rationalize that they were jealous of him, because by then he was no longer excelling at academics.  Indeed, his actual intelligence turned out to be somewhat less than ordinary.  And so his fragile self-image broke down. 

There was a discrepancy between what his mother had trained him to be and what Philip was in reality.  Formerly a student who made all A’s, now his grades had plummeted and there were even a few failures.  Students in the dorm trashed him behind his back and mocked him to his face.  He was filled with rage at these “underlings” making fun of him, and he began to take dumps in various students’ dorm rooms and write message on their walls such as “doomed as Sisyphus.” 

He was particularly riled by college girls, who spurned and ridiculed him; far from turning out to be the handsome genius his mother had predicted, he was unusually short with a fat face, stubby nose and beady eyes and his intellect was average. One day he walked naked into one of the coed’s rooms and proceeded to ejaculate in front of her, to which she laughed.  After a number of such incidents, one in which he began choking a coed, he ended up in a mental hospital in New York, where he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.  He had by now developed a delusion that he was not only a genius, but had powers such as being able to will some stranger to die on the other side of the world.   He was convinced he had a special neurotransmitter in his brain that nobody else had.  

After a few years in the mental ward, he learned how to present himself well to the committee that decided whether he could be released, so the committee let him out to the streets of New York.  His mother had been incensed when he had been put into a mental hospital and after going to the administrators and exploding with rage, she fell ill and suddenly died of a heart attack.  Philip had nowhere to go, so he became a homeless man.  Even as a homeless man, he harbored his delusion of superiority and believed that his homeless condition was a disguise to prevent others from detecting his superiority and persecuting him.  Unconsciously he was in a rage at the world for refusing to acknowledge his genius. 

One day he was on the subway.  His clothes were dirty and torn, his face gaunt, and his hair disheveled.  He smelled from not having bathed in many weeks.  He saw a pretty young woman standing at the edge of the platform.  She had just graduated from college and had come to the city to work for a fashion magazine.  When Philip saw her, he felt envious of her.  Since she looked intelligent and nice, he hoped maybe she might be the girl who would finally recognize his genius.  So he approached her and asked her if she knew the time.  She glanced at him, taking in his woeful appearance, and quickly turned away. 

“She’s disgusted with me!’ Philip thought.  “She’s just another snotty little bitch!”  And he thought of all the bitches in college who mocked him, who didn’t deserve to walk on the same ground on which he walked.  He recalled his mother telling him that the world would be better off without some people.

When the subway train entered the station, he pushed the young woman onto the track.  She was let out a shocked scream as the train hit her.  Philip felt nothing. 

Toxic Parents

The most toxic parents are the parents that do not at all look toxic.  To the outside world they appear as the most normal parents of all.  Children of such parents do not even know that they are being poisoned.  Nor does anybody else, until it is too late. 

Some parents are obviously abusive, either sexually or physically.  In this case it is also obvious that they are toxic, and children have less trouble understanding this kind of abuse and realizing how they have been harmed by it.  They can therefore predict and learn to control such abuse to minimize its harm. 

The most toxic parents are all about appearances.  The are often leading citizens of their communities.  They serve on committees.  They give to charities.  They are deacons of churches.  They convince themselves, their children and everybody else that they have only the best intentions.  And they really believe it.  Their toxicity becomes lethal because it is hidden.  Nobody would ever think that such people have a single bad thought because they themselves would never think it. 

In one case encountered many years ago a disturbed mother treated her oldest daughter as if she was disturbed.  The mother projected her own disturbance onto this particular daughter.  The mother was in complete denial of her own disturbance.  It was her daughter who was disturbed, and this is how she “cast” her from the beginning.  As the daughter (we’ll call her Megan) grew older, her younger brothers and sisters were made aware that Megan had problems and they treated her the same way her mother treated her. 

In normal, healthy parenting, a child’s ego is supported and she is encouraged to be who she is and made to feel that she has great judgment, healthy instincts and is someone who is trustworthy and sensible.  In the kind of twisted upbringing I am referring to, the child is made to feel abnormal, to have crazy judgments, unhealthy instincts and is deemed untrustworthy and not sensible.

Megan’s mother played the part of the long-suffering mother.  She went to doctor after doctor and was extremely concerned about her daughter.  This only made the daughter more disturbed, because deep inside Megan knew that her mother was being hypocritical.  Megan had tried over and over to demonstrate the traits her mother seemed to value in her siblings, but her mother never noticed.  In kind of disturbance, the parent has a need to demonize a certain child, and nothing can dissuade the parent from that goal.  The need is unconscious and is often generated by an upbringing in which something similar happened to the parent.  This is a particular kind of narcissism that I call the Demonizing Parent Syndrome.

To her mother, Megan was inexorably, inexplicably twisted.  Eventually Megan gave up trying to be good and began being the demon her mother wanted her to be.  Eventually she began to hate her mother.  “I want to kill her,” she told doctors.  The mother responded, crying.  “I just don’t know why she got that way.  My husband and I have tried everything we could to help her. 

Megan started acting out at home and at school, and by the time she was an early adolescent she was put into a mental hospital.  Her mother sobbed uncontrollably when she signed the papers to put her into the hospital.  Her Dad was stoic.  Her brothers and sisters were not surprised.  Megan felt relieved.  In the hospital there were fellow patients who listened to her and tried to understand her and also understand how she got that way.  Some staff members listened too, and saw that the family was toxic to Megan, and they recommended keeping her in the mental hospital, where she was flourishing.  Megan always knew that she was not as disturbed as her mother made her out to be.  But because of crowded space in hospitals she was sent back to the family and became even sicker.

Such cases happen all the time and nobody knows about them.  A disturbed parent—it can be a mother or father or other guardian—will project their disturbance onto a particular child.  Often it is a beautiful and smart child, someone who is threatening to the fragile, disturbed ego of the parent.  The parent perhaps had a childhood in which the same thing was done to them.  These things can be passed on from generation to generation.

Emotional abuse of this kind is hardly ever detected.  When a parent takes a small child to a pediatrician, who is the doctor going to listen to, the parent or the child?  The parent cries and shakes and says he or she has done everything possible.  “What else can I do?  Please tell me, Doctor?”  The doctor is going to listen to the parent.  The child is too confused, too discombobulated to speak in a coherent way about what is going on.  If the child says something like, “She is making me crazy.  She acts nice to others, but she is making me crazy,” the doctor will reply, “There, there, I’m sure your mother (or father) means well.”  No one wants to hear what this child is saying. 

In such instances, the parent’s disturbance remains hidden, projected onto the child.  On some level the child sees this deception and become confused, angry and eventually enraged.  The parent expresses deep sympathy for the targeted child and her siblings express deep sympathy for her and the submissive parent, to whom she turns for solace, tries to support her, but the submissive is under the sway of the dominant parent.  There is nobody to whom the child can turn.

Such children spend a life feeling they have been unfairly miscast by the casting director.  They become the disturbed people their parents cast them as, and they begin to act more and more disturbed.  The toxin is deep inside them and has rendered them helpless.  And the world sympathizes with the poor parents who have to deal with such “disturbed” children. 

Narcissistic Parents

Narcissism seems to be on the rise in America and therefore so is narcissistic parenting.  One of the biggest problems is that narcissistic parents do not have any inkling that they are doing something wrong.  They are convinced that they are great parents and they convince their children that they are great parents.   They are great actors because they completely believe in their act themselves and are therefore able to sell their act to their children and others.

In a case that I became acquainted with (not one of my own cases), the youngest child of a narcissistic mother was designated the “disturbed child.”  The mother suffered from anxiety attacks during her pregnancy with “Mary,” and hence Mary picked up the stress chemicals from her mother’s body and was born cranky.

The mother had not wanted another child, and from the beginning she viewed Mary as a curse that she had to endure.  She continually warned her other children that Mary was different and “not right.”  The mother, being the “casting director” of the family, had everyone, including the father, treat Mary like a second-class citizen.  When Mary was about twelve, she threatened to kill her mother.  The mother, throwing her hands into the air in dismay, sought the help of doctors.

“I just don’t understand her.  I feel her pain.  What can I do?  I just don’t know why she wants to kill me?”  The doctors all sympathized with the mother, as she seemed so forlorn and concerned.  Ironically, the more forlorn and concerned the mother became, the more Mary wanted to kill her.  Eventually, at the doctor’s suggestion, Mary was put in a mental hospital. 

The reason Mary wanted to kill her mother, and the reason she wanted to kill her even more when she acted sympathetic and concerned, was because at no time did the mother ever acknowledge that she had a role in her daughter’s anger at her, and Mary was aware of the Big Lie.  When she was at home alone with Mary, the mother would often scream at her, “Why are you doing this to me?  You have the Devil in you!”  Sometimes she would punish her by locking her in a cellar.  Mary was mocked by the whole family as if she were a pathetic person who was trying in some bizarre way to get attention, and therefore she was getting what she deserved.

The mother never gave Mary a chance from the time she was born.  Nor did she feel guilty about anything she did; a narcissistic parent is convinced his or her opinions and actions are almost divinely inspired.  When she talked to doctors, the mother was completely different than she was at home behind closed doors; she acted so concerned and so sympathetic and so distraught by her daughter’s situation that nobody doubted her.  And she never doubted herself.

In the mother’s eyes, her daughter simply suffered from schizophrenia or some other disease and it was the mother’s unfortunate plight to deal with that.  In fact, the mother had shined a negative spotlight on Mary from the time she was born.  All Mary’s actions, thoughts, and spoken words were interpreted as negative evidences of her sickness.

If the daughter said she was angry at the mother, the mother would look at her with great sympathy and reply, “I’m sorry you feel that way.  It’s your sickness that causes you to feel that way.  I love you.”  Thus Mary’s complaints were quickly dismissed by everybody in the family.  Who would listen to a crazy person?

Since the mother was the dominate person in this household, the father was also under her sway and saw things through her eyes.  He served as the mother’s sycophant.  He also treated Mary as if she were disturbed, as did her three siblings, and the more they ganged up on her, the more she acted disturbed.  Sometimes she turned to her father, hoping that he, as the other adult in the family, would listen to her and see what was happening.  But he was like someone hypnotized; he would pretend to comfort her, but down deep he was convinced that she was crazy. 

She was deeply disappointed by her father and It was enraging to her to be constantly persecuted by her family (in the guise of concern); and so she had nowhere to turn.  After a while, she preferred living in a mental institution than living with her family.  At least the staff members in the hospital listened to her and gave her some comfort about her family, as did other inmates in the hospital who had endured similar circumstances.

A parent’s job is to provide a supportive and nurturing environment for their children, to love them unconditionally (at least in the beginning), value them and respect them.  However, sometimes a narcissistic parent’s disturbance causes him or her to seek out a particular child and make that child the scapegoat for their narcissistic rage.  And they think up good reasons for doing so.

Adolph Hitler (2), the German Nazi leader, was one of the most narcissistic people who ever lived.  In his childhood, his father beat him and yelled at him and treated him as if he were the worst human being in the world.  As an adult he developed an inordinate narcissistic pride and saw himself as the great man who would resurrect German greatness, the savior that his father never thought he would be.  He also sought out scapegoats on whom to dump the rage that had been drummed into him by his father.  His scapegoats were the Jews, and he thought up good reasons for persecuting Jews, portraying them as devious, demonic people who were taking over German banks and other financial institutions.

Fortunately Mary found a therapist who did not treat her the way her family did.  She treated her with the respect she always knew, deep down, she deserved.  Through therapy she managed to regain some of the self-esteem she had lost in her childhood.  Narcissistic parenting is harmful for the very reason that narcissistic parents are so good at disguising their harm.  Only the victim of their harm has any inkling about the harm, but he or she is usually so confused and angry that all her complaints seem irrational.

Raising Awareness of Emotional Abuse

These are but a small sample of cases involving emotional abuse, but one which fairly represents some of the paths emotional abuse take.  As I mentioned earlier, emotional abuse is under-reported and is not as easily detected as sexual or physical abuse.  I would guess that emotional abuse is more prevalent than the other two types, and therefore should be a topic of concern to mental health professionals.  But often mental health professionals do not understand the prevalence or harmfulness of emotional abuse, and they have a problem defining what constitutes emotional abuse.

Recently a young woman of 17, a high school student, complained to me that her mother was emotionally abusing her, which was causing her to have thoughts of committing suicide by jumping in front of a train.  I was alarmed enough by this client that I called the Child Protective Services of New York to make a complaint.  After explaining the problem, the woman immediately replied, “That’s not emotional abuse.”  I was later to find out that for social workers emotional abuse is strictly defined as parental behavior that is threatening to the child.  Unrelenting pressure to live up to parents’ expectations and, or chronic humiliation when a child fails to perform a task are, or chronic controlling behavior that drives a child to suicide are not considered by many experts as psychological or emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse can take many forms, some of them extremely subtle, as is evidenced by the cases in this paper.  Often it is an ongoing attitude by parents to their children over a period of many years that renders them helpless and depressed (3) bringing to mind Martin Segelman’s work on “Learned Helplessness.”  Each form of emotional abuse has its own behavioral outcomes.  Neglect, for example, has been shown to be linked with children who are increasingly defiant and aggressive toward adults.   Other research indicates that in general psychological abuse “is most strongly associated with depression, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, attachment problems and substance abuse.”  This study, by the American Psychological Association, found solid links between psychologically abusive early life experiences and health across the board. 

Hopefully this paper will raise the awareness of this very harmful kind of parenting and help to expand its definition and detail its scope, so that health professionals can devise proper treatments for it.



1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_abuse

2. http://www.biography.com/people/adolf-hitler-9340144

3. https://www.verywell.com/what-is-learned-helplessness-2795326

4. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014521340200341

5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/douglas-labier/childhood-psychological-a_b_6301538.html

Volume 4, Issue 1 (February 2018)

Politics and the Suppression of Psychoanalysis

by Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.


ABSTRACT:  Sigmund Freud has been attacked since he first began writing about his theories of personality and development, stressing the unconscious.  Most recently, he has all but been dismissed by current revisionist politics that have influenced the social sciences, politics often referred to as “political correctness.”  This article reviews and critiques some of the examples of how psychoanalysis has been dismissed without a proper hearing.


Recently a Vermont Licensed Psychoanalyst reported that a 48-year-old man turned down a job because he feared that a co-worker would be gay. She characterized him as a crazed person who was upset that gay culture was becoming mainstream and blamed most of his personal, professional and emotional problems on the gay and lesbian movement.  He was so obsessed with homosexuality, any articles in a magazine about gays made him agitated. He confessed that his fears had left him socially isolated and unemployed for years: A recovering alcoholic, the man even avoided 12-step meetings out of fear he might encounter a gay person.  "He had a fixed delusion about the world," said Sondra E. Solomon, a psychologist at the University of Vermont. "He felt under attack, he felt threatened" (2005).

Mental health practitioners such as Solomon say they regularly confront extreme forms of racism, homophobia and other prejudice in the course of therapy, and that some patients are disabled by these beliefs. As a result, Solomon and others are asking whether pathological bias ought to be an official psychiatric diagnosis.  This, unfortunately, is an example of how psychoanalysts are thinking today.  This psychoanalyst has been swept along by the paranoid trend that fuels political correctness.  She wants to punish her patient for daring to react with outrage to the paranoia and hostility of the Gay Rights Movement, a movement that sees homophobia everywhere and is on a crusade against it.

Since Sigmund Freud’s death in 1939, the theories that he and other psychoanalytic pioneers courageously worked out have been attacked from all sides and twisted around so that they are now seen as offenses against humanity and as disordered thinking.  Today, that which is called psychoanalysis bears little resemblance to Freud’s psychodynamic theory.  The articles that appear in today’s leading psychoanalytic journals have repealed his theories about homosexuality, about women, about drive theory, and about cultural psychology, but they don’t offer plausible theories that logically refute Freud and convincingly lead to a new direction.  Instead, they often polemically discard his theories as “sexist” and “Victorian” and “homophobic” and preach a new kind of psychoanalysis.  Mostly they follow the prevailing consensus.  In other words, they are exercises in political correctness.

Freud believed that homosexuality was a sexual disorder.  In his study of Leonardo Di Vinci (1916) he wrote:  “Homosexual men who have started in our times an energetic action against the legal restrictions of their sexual activity are fond of representing themselves through theoretical spokesmen as evincing a sexual variation, which may be distinguished from the very beginning, as an intermediate stage of sex or as ‘a third sex.’”  Freud goes on to note that the theories of gay rights advocates were formulated without regard to the psychogenesis of homosexuality.  Psychoanalysts, he reiterated, who had studied homosexuality had all come to the conclusion.  “In all our male homosexuals there was a very intensive erotic attachment to a feminine person, as a rule to the mother, which was manifest in the very first period of childhood and later entirely forgotten by the individual.”  He adds that homosexual boy also had a relationship with a “weak or distant father in those early years,” which was also later forgotten.  This view is now considered not only obsolete but sexist.

Richard C. Friedman’s book, Male Homosexuality, A Contemporary Psychoanalytic Perspective (1988), offers the currently accepted, revisionist attitude toward Freud and his view of homosexuality.  “The richness of Freud’s legacy is available to all. The scientific-clinical dimensions of his work now mandates a scientific response.  As this response becomes more common, Freud’s valid insights will be preserved, and his incorrect speculations will fade away.”  In other words, he is calling on all professionals to do the right thing, make a token gesture about Freud’s validity, then put Freud in his place.

He concludes that homosexuality per se cannot be considered as pathological.  Instead, he focuses considerable attention on the role of childhood "unmasculinity" as the source of adult male homosexuality, referencing such works as Richard Green's The "Sissy Boy Syndrome" and the Development of Homosexuality.  “I take a different approach to the theoretical and clinical problems of male sexual orientation than that offered by previous psychoanalytic treatments of the subject,” he states.  “Two aspects of psychoanalytic psychology in particular need of change are those involving psychic determinism and sex differences in behavior.”  In other words, Friedman does not feel that homosexual behavior is determined by unconscious conflicts or by events in the Oedipal stage.  He, like many—if not most—psychoanalysts nowadays feels that the determinants of homosexuality are biological, not psychodynamic.   He also believes that sex differences between males and females are greater than Freud and other early pioneers believed, and that the boy’s genetics and character predetermine his sexual orientation.

Every era has its myths, and the science of that era has to conform to those myths.  This is true now and it has been true throughout history.  The myth during Galileo’s era was that the Earth was the center of the universe and the sun revolved around the Earth.  Galileo published two major works, Sidereus Nuncius and Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.  The publication of the second of these created a storm of controversy since it debunked the myth of earth as center of the universe, causing him to be viewed as a madman possessed by the Devil.  He was interrogated four times by the Inquisition, and in 1633 he was forced to recant his views of the heavens.  Upon recanting, Galileo was put under house arrest until his death in 1642.  Galileo’s story has been repeated again and again during other times and when other myths prevailed.

We have many myths today to which all social scientists must adhere, or else they risk punishment.  No, they won’t be put under house arrest, nor will they be branded and burned as a witch.  The punishment of social scientists will take form of professional and social ostracism, defamation of character, and sometimes loss of their job.  And they will be forced to recant (or apologize).  I am one of those who took that risk, revealing some of these myths in my writings, and as a result my work has been attacked, devalued, and viewed with disgust and contempt.  Even though I have published 13 books in the field of psychology, only once have I been invited to speak at a scientific conference (that was at a previous NARTH convention). Eventually my papers were no longer accepted by journals, partly because they may have been blunt and angry, but partly because they did not conform to today’s myths.  These myths concern the psychology of female development, the psychology of race, and the psychology of homosexuality, to name just a few.   

Myths have always been a crucial element in the formation of movements; they serve as a rationalization and justification of their modes of operation.  On a conscious level, movements present idealistic reasons for change; on an unconscious level, they provide a motivation for obtaining power and for acting out anger on other groups.  The Communist Revolution in Russia proclaimed that it was for “the people,” and advocated the sharing of profits by all workers.  But underneath this exalted idea was an unconscious desire to gain power and act out anger towards anyone who opposed them (a societal father transference).  Millions ended up being exterminated by Stalin.  Similarly, the Nazis in Germany proposed to rescue Germany from depression and chaos after World War I, but ended up acting out anger at the millions of Jews, who became their scapegoats.  Today’s movements have advanced similar idealistic ideas (myths) and have used them to obtain power and to act out anger toward “out” groups—generally straights, white males, Christians and conservatives.  I am focusing on two movements in particular: the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Gay Rights Movement, which I believe are interrelated.  Let me hasten to add that I am not opposed to gays or women who strive for equality and respect in civil ways.  I am opposed to militant political movements that attempt to control society through fear tactics and punish all who disagree with them. Because of ongoing pressures by these movements to force everyone to adhere to their myths, women can only be studied in ways that are approved by gender feminists (that is feminists who idealize women and degrade men); and gays and lesbians can only be researched in ways that the gay and lesbian community deem as correct and which uphold the current mythology that homosexuality is a normal variant of sexual orientation (2015).  This effectively suppresses objective psychoanalytic research that attempts to find out the truth, whatever that truth is.  Each movement suggests that its emotional disturbances are the result of prejudice and discrimination by other groups.  Gender feminists blame patriarchy and misogyny as the culpable parties; and radical homosexuals decry homophobia. 

The current myth with regard to homosexuality is that homosexuality is not only normal but even in some senses superior to heterosexuality.  In fact, at this moment the Gay Rights Movement has become so strong that it is now insisting on controlling all the professional associations that govern psychology, psychoanalysis and social work.  As we speak, the Movement is demanding that professional organizations such as the American Psychology Association pass ethical laws that would ban psychotherapists from helping homosexuals who want to be heterosexuals.  The Movement claims that helping gays to become straight is giving into societal bias that pressures them to be straight.  It says if someone is gay, a psychotherapist should help him to accept his homosexuality.  They even claim that any psychotherapy which helps a gay man become straight is a form of brainwashing that may do harm to the patient. 

The movement has been protesting and pressuring professional organizations for many years. In 1977, a group of gay psychiatrists broke into a meeting of the American Psychiatry Association and verbally harassed a panel of psychiatrists who were discussing the next manual of mental disorders. This group of radicals demanded that homosexuality be taken out of the category of sexual disorders. It was later done. The movement similarly pressured the American Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association and other organizations to normalize homosexuality. Soon nearly all professional organizations fell into step.

The American Psychoanalytic Association was the last to join the normalization movement, and when it did, a schism occurred.  Many psychoanalysts, like Charles Socarides, the cofounder of NARTH, had spent their lives doing research on homosexuality.  Now, suddenly, their life work had been dismissed, not because of new research that had found their work deficient, but because of political sentiment.  Before long the writings of those who viewed homosexuality as a sexual disorder was not only devalued but also considered a kind of moral crime against homosexuals.        

The movement didn’t stop there. In the 1990s it joined transvestites and transsexuals in pressuring the APA to normalize transvestism and transexualism. Eventually, the gay rights movement became so influential that it seemingly turned the APA and other professional associations into a gay rights advocacy organizations.  The bottom line is that those gays who are most unable to look at themselves objectively—the most radical gays—are now in charge of formulating homosexual policy at all our professional organizations.  That’s like having the inmates take over the asylum.  Now, as I noted previously, the Gay Movement wants the APA to ban sexual reorientation therapy.  I believe the movement has gone too far, but I am only one weak voice among a million shrill voices, and the weak voices are immediately condemned as “homophobic.”  Galileo was made to feel crazy because he saw that the Earth revolved around the sun.  And today anybody who says that it is abnormal for a male to insert his penis into the anus of another male, is also made to feel crazy.

At the core of this and other moments is the notion that prejudice and discrimination are somehow linked with definitions of psychopathology.  If psychologists view homosexuality as a sexual disorder, that is prejudice.  If we view transvestism as a disorder, that is discrimination.  In fact, if we view anything as a psychological disorder, we are insulting people and, yes, discriminating against them.  The trend today is to either take everything out of the category of mental disorder, or at least to make everything a genetic or biological disorder.  The American Psychiatric Association has now determined that schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, delusional disorders, bulimia and anorexia are all biologically based mental disorders.  Other disorders, such as alcoholism and autism, are generally considered biological but have not been officially declared so by the APA.  And still other disorders, such as homosexuality, have been removed from the category entirely.  This trend continues despite new research that substantiates the psychopathology inherent in various disorders—such as important new studies by Hammersley and colleagues that link schizophrenia with child abuse (Hammersley and Mullen, 2005). 

The Gay Rights Movement is only part of an overall trend.  Starting in the late 1950s, America went through a revolution.  This was a revolution of words, not of weapons; and it aptly demonstrated the old saying, “The tongue is mightier than the sword.”  The revolution began with a change in childrearing practices.  Previously America followed the “spare the rod, spoil the child” philosophy of childrearing.   In the 1950s Dr. Benjamin Spock and his permissive philosophy of childrearing took American parents by storm.  Indeed, his book, Baby and Child Care (1946), was one of the biggest bestsellers of all time.  During Spock's long lifetime, the book would go through seven editions, be translated into 39 languages, and sell more than 50 million copies, making it second in sales only to the Bible.  Before Spock parents had been told that picking up infants when they cried would only spoil them; Spock countered that cuddling babies and bestowing affection on children would only make them happier and more secure.  Instead of adhering to strict, one-size-fits-all dictates on everything from discipline to toilet training, Spock urged parents to be flexible and see their children as individuals.  Spock wasn’t all wrong, put parents interpreted his books to mean they should be permissive.  Inadvertently Spock gave rise to a spoiled generation, a generation of Americans that felt entitled. 

This sense of entitlement translated into the modern human rights movement and its branches.  The “me generation” became the generation that demanded its human rights, but was not that big on human responsibility.  This generation joined the gay rights movement and the feminist movement, radicalized them and made them into emotional revolutions.  They cast themselves as victims, demanding their human rights and verbally assaulting anybody who disagreed with them.  Feminism went from a minority to a majority of women, and the gay rights movement went from a handful of gays to a seeming majority of gays.  This new kind of revolution was not fought with actual guns and bombs, but rather with emotional guns and bombs.

I was a young man during the 1960s and 1970s when the human rights movement ramped up.  I got to where I no longer wanted to go to psychology conferences because of the demonstrations that invariably disrupted them.  At every conference there would be a group feminists or gays that would scream at the presenters, treating them as though they were criminals.  And it was not only conferences that were disrupted, but also news programs and talk shows on television and, indeed, any public gathering.  I once went to a cello concert and the two women who were playing a cello duet suddenly put down their instruments and began lecturing the audience about how women were discriminated against in the music field.  Anybody in the audience who attempted to speak out against them was immediately shouted down.  A man got up and tried to say that it was unfair for them to use this concert as a vehicle for their cause.  He was interrupted.  “That’s what men have done to us for hundreds of years.”  It was clear the two musicians had planned this event and had rehearsed for it.

Rap groups became the vogue during these years.  Feminist rap groups and gay rap groups formed all over the country.  A classified ad on the back page of the Village Voice, typical of that time, began with the headline, “Empower Yourself!”  Underneath the headline, the copy read, “Gay men have been victimized for centuries.  Learn how you can assert yourself against straight tyranny and find your true self!”  

This verbal, emotional revolution had a large-scale ripple effect.  These rap groups were in reality radical cells which led to revolutionary actions.  Each individual cell and the combined cells orchestrated the events of the revolution.  Each event had been very intricately worked out, down to the last detail.  The assaulters knew they would provoke a response and were ready to shout down and shame anybody who responded.  If a man spoke out, he would be dismissed as a sexist or a homophobe.  If a woman spoke up she would be similarly dismissed with, “You’re a dupe of the male chauvinistic establishment!”  If a black disagreed he was accused of being an “Uncle Tom.”  After years of these confrontations, opponents were driven away and most people joined the movements, anxious to prove how liberal they were.

Mark Segal, one of the leaders of the American Gay Rights Movement, paved the way for this kind of radical activism.  In 1973 Segal disrupted the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, an event covered in newspapers across the country and viewed by 60% of American households, many seeing or hearing about homosexuality for the first time. Segal went on to disrupt The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and then Barbara Walters on The Today Show, going on tirades about gay persecution in each instance. The trade newspaper Variety claimed that Segal had cost the television industry $750,000 in production, tape delays and lost advertising revenue (Mark Segal, Wikipedia). 

This was how the movements gradually wore all opponents down and took over our values.  This is how radicals took over liberalism.  The more liberal you are, the movement told us, the more you are in the know.  If you are a moderate liberal, you don’t get it. If you are a centrist, you are confused.  If you are a conservative, you are a sick.  If you are a religious conservative, you are demented.  Eventually, many of the prevailing theories of psychology were shot down, not due to new research, as I said previously, but because they weren’t liberal enough.  This is how the liberal mob intimated and, yes, terrorized American culture, including the psychoanalytic establishment. 

With regard to feminism, not only was all past psychoanalytic research on female psychology were shot down by gender feminists, but nearly all male writers and thinkers, starting with Freud and including such luminaries as Shakespeare, Strindberg, Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Hemingway and Mailer—to name but a few—were likewise dismissed (2003).  It appeared that any male who was admired and looked up to by other males was devalued by this militant brand of feminism, and only males who were properly modest, giving a proper nod to feminism, were allowed to be any kind of leadership position.  The violent complaints of these feminists continued for several decades until everybody either agreed or fell silent.  Everybody either had to accept their truth as the sacred truth, or they had to be taught a lesson.

Freud and psychoanalysis were the first casualties of this human rights revolution.  His biggest attackers came from the gender feminists and radical gays.  For example Gilligan found Freud’s theories about women flawed by a masculine bias.  She offered a new theory to replace them, based on what she claimed was new research studying primarily adolescent girls.  She took to task for its bias not only Freudian psychoanalysis but virtually all theories about women in all fields of social science.  In the place of Freud’s theories, she espoused a developmental line that “delineates the path not only to a less violent life but also to a maturity realized through interdependence and taking care” (1982, p.9).  She argued that “Freud’s negative and derivative description of female psychology,” with its emphasis on the rejecting, close-binding mother, should be replaced with a “positive and direct” account of female development that stresses “the positive aspects of the attachment to mother” (ibid).  It sounds good, but when one looks more closely at her research it becomes obvious that here again the radicals are idealizing their group (women) and degrading and demonizing Freud and men.  Women are “positive and direct” while men are into “separation and violence”.  Much research has been collected by gender feminists since the human rights revolution, but unfortunately is it nearly all biased; the research was not done to find out the truth, but in order to back up the mythological trends of our time.  In essence, it is propaganda. 

Christine Hoff Sommers in her book, Who Stole Feminism (1994), distinguished between two kinds of feminists, gender feminists, who she described as radicals who were angry at men, and equity feminists, who wanted women to have a chance for wider opportunities but did not idealize women or attack men.  Summers criticized the way the gender feminist movement was taking over education, noting that ‘statistically challenged' feminists engage in bad scholarship to advance their liberal agenda.”  By “statistically challenged,” Hoff was referring to the penchant for feminist writers to create overblown statistics such as “Every 7 minutes a woman is being beaten,” which she proved in her book to be nonsense.   Hoff Summers referred to women’s studies in colleges as a form of indoctrination.

Similarly, as I noted in the beginning, psychoanalysts now present a revisionist attitude toward homosexuality.  On a webpage with the headline, “How Does Psychoanalysis View Homosexuality?” Dr. Niclas Berggren quotes from a letter from Ralph Roughton of the American Psychoanalytic Association on the APsaAs position toward homosexuality.  Naturally, on this website, NARTH is the villain. 
NARTH's official position is that homosexuality is ‘a treatable disorder.’  Dr. Socarides has repeatedly stated in writing that ‘the homosexual, no matter his or her level of adaptation and functioning in other areas of life, is severely handicapped in the most vital area -- interpersonal relations.’ He strongly opposed the adoption by the APsaA in 1991 of a resolution that required the selection of analytic candidates and faculty to be based on factors other than sexual orientation.”  Roughton contrasts the APsaA’s position with NARTH’s.  “Although the APsaA has no official position beyond the non-discrimination policy, we have officially moved forward with encouraging the acceptance of gay and lesbian candidates for analytic training and the appointment of gay and lesbian faculty members, including training analysts. There are now probably 30 to 40 openly gay and lesbian candidates in training in institutes affiliated with the APsaA. Nearly half of our institutes also have faculty members who are gay or lesbian, and two institutes have a gay or a lesbian training analyst. So you see, by this data, that our organization is strongly opposed to the repressive and negative ideas that NARTH represents, even more than any official statements or actions that have been taken” (Roughton, 2002).

The question that arises in my mind is, if the American Psychological Association is so into diversity in its institutes, why are there not a proportionate number of Christian psychoanalysts?  Why are there not a proportionate number of dwarf psychoanalysts?  You know the answer.  They are not politically correct. 

As I noted in the beginning, I see a connection between the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Gay Rights Movements.  Both were copycats of the Civil Rights Movement.  The difference is that the Civil Rights Movement was based on a something real and tangible: blacks began as slaves and evolved from their into second class citizens of our culture.  The plight of women and gays cannot be compared to that of Blacks, and yet the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Gay Rights Movement both strived to do just that.  Because women in the beginning were not allowed to vote, this was seen as a sign that they were second class citizens.  Because homosexuals were categorized as having a sexual disorder, this was a sign they were being discriminated against.  From these facts, the movements erected huge edifices of propaganda.  In addition, there may be another link between gender feminism and gay rights; I have found in my own research that the mothers of radical gay rights advocates are often radical feminists.  So the gay sons in effect, received their radical training from their mothers.

I hasten to add again, so as not to offend those in my audience who regard themselves as feminists, that I am not against feminism, only against radical feminists (or gender feminists, as Hoff refers to them), those who romanticize women and discriminate against men.

Psychoanalytic theory has changed over the years to fit this political change.  The classical theory of Freud’s time, with its drive theory, has been largely left behind and replaced by a number of other theories.  Psychoanalysis has become fragmented into different schools:  Ego psychology, which started with Anna Freud and Alfred Adler, puts more emphasis on the ego functions; object relations, pioneered by Melanie Klein, explores relationships rather than drives; Carl Jung’s analytical psychology found meanings in the collective unconscious, dreams and myths and dabbled into parapsychology; Wilhelm Reich’s school went into the direction of biological psychology but ended up in mysticism; Heinz Kohut started the school of self-psychology with its new view of narcissism; Margaret Mahler wedded drive theory to object relations; Hyman Spotnitz conceived of modern psychoanalysis, which presumed a new understanding of schizophrenia; Jerome Kagan, in his book, Three Seductive Ideas,” has brought psychoanalysis to a physiological etiology:  The biology of the brain provides the basis for an envelope of psychological outcomes, just as a large outdoor pen constrains the animals inside but does not determine any one arrangement of the animals”; and in France, Jacques Lacan came up with yet another school which seems to be more philosophy than psychology.  It was he who noted that, “Psychoanalysis is a terribly efficient instrument, and because it is more and more a prestigious instrument, we run the risk of using it with a purpose for which it was not made for, and in this way we may degrade it. (Lacan, n.d.)

Over the last century thousands of books have been written debunking Freud (2017).  Along the way, Freud’s greatest discovery, that most of our ideas and behavior have unconscious motivations, has been all but discarded.  Even most psychoanalysts today only pay lip service to the idea of the unconscious.  The radicals who changed our current values never for one moment considered the unconscious, especially their own unconscious motivation (although they had no trouble attributing Freud’s theories to misguided (and therefore unconscious) bias.  When I recently inserted two key words on Google, “Freud” and “sexism,” I found 92 pages of entries on this topic.

Psychoanalysis, from its inception, was about reality.  The various political movements are about creating myths.  Freud wanted people to face reality, to admit the truths that were buried in our unconscious.  The political movements want to deny these truths and to erect myths to replace them.

The bottom line here is: what is the truth, and is it necessary for us to know the truth?  Abraham Lincoln said, “Let the people know the truth and the truth shall make them free.”  Lincoln was shot because some people did not want to know about the ideas he was advancing.  Stating truths always arouses resentment.  Was it necessary for us to know that the earth revolves around the sun and is not the center of things?  Was it necessary for us to know that Homo sapiens have evolved from lower animals?  Was it necessary for us to know that humans are largely motivated by unconscious feelings?  Is it necessary for us to understand that homosexuality is a sexual disorder?  Can’t we just spare people’s feelings and let things be?   No, we can’t just let things be.  The truth is necessary because it frees us from the false beliefs that lead to destruction.  Every war that has ever been fought has been motivated by false beliefs.  Every family dysfunction is based on false assumptions.  Every individual conflict is rooted in self-deception.  An alcoholic rationalizes that drinking is necessary because his job requires him to entertain customers.  Corporations are destroying the earth’s rain forests based on the notion that global warming is a myth.  The Nazis of World War II exterminated millions of Jews based on the false belief that Jews had caused all of Germany’s social and economic problems.  To save ourselves, we must know the truth.

If I understand that obsessive-compulsiveness is a form of psychopathology, does that mean I disrespect obsessive-compulsives?  If I understand that alcoholism is a substance-abuse disorder, does that mean I am biased against alcoholics?  If I recognize that I have psychological disturbances, does that mean I look down on myself?  No, it does not.  There is a distinction between respecting someone as a fellow human and being objective about their flaws.  It is important to understand one’s flaws and to accept them.  If I simply insisted that all my faults were the result of society’s labeling and bias, I would not help myself and I would not help the people around me.  If I insisted that everybody see things exactly as I see them that would be both egotistical and egocentric.

Freud and other pioneers in the field of psychoanalysis did the initial studies of infantile sexuality, homosexuality, female psychology and cultural psychology, and along the way they engendered an angry response.  In the beginning, people laughed at psychoanalysis, calling it “pornography,” “Jewish pseudoscience,” and “mysticism.”  Later, when it turned out to be a serious science, people began to pick at its various findings.  But the angry response did not discourage the early pioneers.  They would not be controlled by other people’s anger.  Freud understood the ego defense mechanisms such as projection and denial and how they unconsciously caused people to rail against the truth; and although he ultimately became embittered, he was not surprised at the attacks that were leveled at him.  Indeed, up until his dying day, he continued to revise and expand on his theories.  And like Freud, I will also until my dying day continue to revise and expand.          

I do not think that I am a Galileo or Freud.  But I do think my work—especially my later work—has more substance than it has been given credit for.  In fact, I believe that it makes some points that many people are afraid to make, which I guess makes me braver or stupider than everybody else.  Those who are wedded to political correctness may find my view repugnant and will only listen it in order to find weaknesses in the arguments and condemn it.  But maybe, just maybe, there are some more rebels out there like me.


Bauer, Margaret D.  “Forget the Legend and Read the Work: Teaching Two Stories by Ernest Hemingway.”  College Literature 30.3 (2003): 124-137.

Crews, F. (2015).  The Making of an Illusion. Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company. 

Freud, S., (1910), “Leonardo Da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood,” SE, 11: 57-137.

Gilligan, C. (1983), In aDifferent Voice, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

Kinny, III, R. L. (2015).  “Homosexuality and Scientific Evidence: On Suspect Anecdotes, Antiquated Data, and Broad Generalizations,” Linacre Quarterly November, 2015; 82(4): 364–390.

Lacan, J. (n.d.), BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved July 5, 2010, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jacqueslac316666.html

Read, J., Hammersley, P., Mullen, J. P. (2006), “Child Sexual Abuse and Schizophrenia: Author’s Reply,” The British Journal of Psychiatry, January 1, 2005; 186(1): 76 - 76.

Roughton, Ralph (2002), “How Does Psychoanalysis View Homosexuality?”, quoted in a letter from the American Psychoanalytic Association by Nicolas Berggren, World Wide Web. 

Segal, M., in “The Gay Rights Movement,” Wikipedia, World Wide Web.

Spock, B. (1946)  Baby and Child Care, Revised in 2004, Pocket Books, New York.

Sommers, C. H. (1994), Who Stole Feminism, New York, Touchstone Books. 

Vedantam, S. (2005),  “Psychiatry Ponders Whether Extreme Bias Can Be a Mental Illness,” Washington Post, Saturday, December 10, 2005.

New Directions for Person-Centered Therapy

By Deborah Bynoe-Lao


ABSTRACT: This article, after presenting an overview of the evolution of person-centered therapy, introduces a new, integrated approach to the clinical theory of Carl Rogers, including the use of the therapeutic alliance and pre-therapy.  It also suggests new training methods for people practicing humanistic therapy, linked to recent research and examines some of the directions person-centered therapy should go, based on this research, as well as some of the limitations of person-centered therapy.  It concludes by showing how it can be integrated with other approaches, in order to make it more eclectic. ­     ________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Historical Background

Person Centered Therapy was created by Carl Rogers, and described in a series of publications between 1951 and 1965.  His book, Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory (1951), is widely regarded as one of the core contributions to the beginning of a new approach to psychotherapy that he called “client centered therapy” (Barrett-Lennard (2007). 

The ideas that led to the creation of PCT emerged from an interaction between Rogers’ own personal and professional experiences and world conditions at the time.  During his youthful years Rogers spent some of his time on a farm, where he was especially interested in the process of facilitating growth.  In order to learn how to expedite growth he began testing hypotheses about what works.  This perspective characterized his experimental attitude toward life and understanding human interaction and guided the development of his ideas (Bohart and Watson, 2011).  During his senior year in college, Rogers visited China, where his witnessing of great suffering reinforced his desire to help people.  His experience continued when he went to graduate school where he placed more emphasis on accepting people for who they are and seeing the best in them.  In order to improve his ability to help people Rogers obtained a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University (Barrett-Lennard (2007)

Two additional influences on Rogers were the American Zeitgest during the Roosevelt years (Barrett-Lennard, 1998) and his own experience with clients (Rogers, 1961).  According to Barrett-Lennard (1998) Rogers adopted several ideas from President Theodore Roosevelt.  These include encouraging other people to be themselves, accepting different ways of thinking, and then trying to integrate their diverse views.  He also learned from his experiences with his own clients that people should be treated with respect, trust, and with reason even if their behavior was irrational. This led Rogers to eventually try to empower people, by assuming that they are open to new ideas and using trial and error learning to help them develop (Rogers, 1961).

Overview of Person-Centered Theory

Person Centered Therapy is unique in terms of both the assumptions it makes about people and the methods used to help them.  One of the most basic assumptions of PCT is that the client is the main figure in the therapeutic process.  One of the main goals of PCT is to help the client self-actualize, that is to become the best form of themselves they can (Bohart, 2007).  This is achieved in at least two ways.  First, PCT is centrally focused on the clients’ present experience in therapy, that is, on the client’s subjective experience.  This is an important part of their humanity (Elliot et al., 2013).  Second, the client is her own therapist.  One of the therapeutic approaches of PCT is for clients to have the freedom to self-disclose and feel open to their own experience, through a process that was not driven by their therapist.  In his form of therapy the most important therapeutic approach is acceptance of the clients and understanding the meaning of what the clients are trying to convey (Bohart and Watson, 2011).  In addition, client learning plays a central role in PCT.  Therefore, PCT tries to provide an environment in which the therapist listens carefully to the client, tries to understand her point of view, and is accepting, and genuine, in the hope it will make the client feel comfortable enough to trust the therapist and her own experience (Rogers, 1961).  It is assumed this will facilitate the client’s growth.

What it Means to be Fully Functioning.

According to PCT, being open to experience is the most effective way of operating your life.  The idea is not to be rigid.  When you are open to new information, it is a sign that you are fully functioning (Bohart, 2003).  As indicated by Bohart (2007), humans are constantly learning and changing their ways of functioning.  We continue to grow and change and personality structures continue to evolve.  According to PCT, the fully functioning person is someone who is more aware, trusting, open to consequences, experiences all of his or her feelings and actions, and corrects her behavior if it is less than satisfying (Rogers, 1963).   Special emphasis is given to being present, which mean in the here and now, and being responsible for one’s own choices (Rogers, 1963), which leads to becoming fully functioning.

From the PCT perspective, what is most important to keep in mind is that as clients interact with the world around them they continuously learn new things.  This process of learning from experiences causes growth, and change.  Because the client is constantly having experiences it means that she is constantly growing (Caspi, Elder, & Herbener, 1990).  As a result, even though each client has some core characteristics, even these evolve, in accordance with her experiences (Caspi, Elder, & Herbener, 1990).  It is for this reason that PCT perceives personality as the momentary expression of ever changing conditions, expanding knowledge, and biological dispositions, or as a process, in the moment.  In addition, Warner (2009) also indicated that PCT therapists sometimes use the word “process” to include the innate drive toward actualization that is a characteristic of each life form.      

The self is a key factor for person centered theory.  Rogers described the self as, “… an organized fluid, but consistent conceptual pattern of characteristics and relationships of the “I or the me” together with the values attached to those concepts” (Rogers, 1951, p. 498).  From the PCT perspective, the individual is consistently aware of the different parts of self, whether pleasant or unpleasant.  Part of what makes the self so important from the PCT perspective is that people tend to organize their experience within their sense of self (Warner, 2009).  As a result, the self is like a map that the person uses to help navigate the world. 

When the individual is self-actualized, their sense of self has some components that are relatively stable, but others that tend to be fluid, depending on their personal experiences.  Sometimes, new experiences cause a change in one’s self-concept.  When this happens, the change tends to be focused on the part of self one discovers, and the self is reorganized in a way that makes it more congruent with their whole experience (Warner, 2009).  This is consistent with the view that congruence consists of constantly integrating the different parts of the self into an increasingly cohesive whole (Warner, 2007).  If the client is self-actualized, the changes to the self tend to enhance her self-development.  On the other hand, if an individual holds a rigid self-concept, it can lead to psychological dysfunction.  

Warner (2009) mentions that a central assumption of PCT is that the individual has the capacity to act on her own behalf, a quality frequently referred to as agency in the psychological literature.  Rogers (1959) indicates that, from infancy onward, behavior is likely to be a goal-directed attempt of the individual to satisfy her own needs for actualization in their reality as perceived.  Based on Rogers’ research, children are able to survive under difficult circumstances because they have the built in potential for resilience.

Also, PCT sees the client as a holistically fully functional person, having control and operating on one’s values instead of rigidly conforming to what society dictates.  The premise is that while in therapy clients are capable of identifying their own next steps (Rogers, 1951).  Warner (2009) indicates that agency is not the same as being independent, or an individual.  Instead, “… it is the capacity to find a personally right balance between one’s own desires, the needs of others, and the values of society.” (2009, p 114)  The client is able to cope and face challenges, and this is fundamental to effective functioning (Dweck & Leggett, 1988).

According to Kahn & Rachman (2000) one of the central concerns of PCT is with personality change.  Personality change was described in terms of the self.  According to PCT, it is not the responsibility of the therapist to tell the client how, or in which direction, to change her personality (Cooper, 2007).  It is the client who must take the lead.  However, it was accepted by PCT that the individual has a natural, innate, tendency to grow in the direction of self-actualization (Cooper, 2007).  When mature personality change does occur, it is characterized by an increase in the integration of the different parts of self and a reduction in personal internal conflict (Rogers, 1957).  In order for meaningful personality change to take place, PCT holds that several conditions must be met.  First, the client must be in a state of incongruence, the client and therapist must be in psychological contact, and the therapist must display unconditional positive regard, empathy, and understanding toward the client (Rogers, 1957).  If these conditions are sustained over a period of time the process of constructive personality change will follow.

Psychopathology According to PCT

One of the defining characteristics of PCT is it’s contention that one of the main indicators of a personality disorder is the presence of incongruence in the client (Warner, 2007).  Incongruence refers to a discrepancy between the actual experience a person is going through and their own personal perception of that experience (Rogers, 1957).  Where incongruence occurs, it is a sign that the individual is not open to experience as it actually occurs, but that there exists some type of block that is obstructing openness to experience (Cornelius-White, 2007; Warner, 2007).  According to Cornelius-White (2007), a clinician who states one idea and feels another is demonstrating a denial of some aspect of reality.  The same is true of clients.  The problem is that this creates an atmosphere of emotional dishonesty (Warner, 2007).  When it is the therapist who does this, it creates an unsafe environment for the client (Cornelius–White, 2007).  When it is the client who does this, it makes it more difficult to help that person, since their interpretation of events may be inconsistent with that of others (Warner, 2007).  This makes the understanding of congruence/incongruence vital to the outcome of therapy.  

According to PCT, when a client is unable to manage her experiences, or be open to her own experience, especially internal experience, the client is disempowered (Gendlin, 1967).  In addition, when a person comes to sense that her inner life is in a state of confusion and sick, she may turn away from it altogether, presuming that there is nothing there to be trusted (Gendlin, 1967).  When this happens, the client may become incongruent, vulnerable, and nervous, and interpret the actions of others as indicators of their own low worth (Bozarth, 2013).  The client’s conditions of worth may develop into conditional positive self-regard (Rogers 1959).  On the other hand, if conditional positive regard conflicts with the client’s organismic (individual) experiences then the client experiences incongruence from time to time (Rogers, 1959).  Speierer (1998) suggests that everyone experiences incongruence from time to time, but that it only becomes pathological when it overcomes the client’s level of tolerance. 

Core Conditions of the Therapeutic Relationship

One of the defining characteristics of PCT is the way in which therapists interact with their clients.  As defined originally, three of the primary conditions of a good therapeutic relationship are unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence (Rogers, 1957).

Unconditional Positive Regard

According to Bozarth (2007), unconditional positive regard (UPR) is one of the most essential aspects of PCT.  Bozarth (2007) said that unconditional positive regard occurs when the therapist accepts the client with warmth, including his/her imperfections.  From the client’s perspective, this entails feeling as though she is being perceived in a positive way by the therapist (Bozarth, 2007).  He noted that positive regard was a fundamental learned secondary need of persons, normally developed in infancy  

Todd and Bohart (1994) indicated that unconditional warmth by the clinician means that the clinician should not judge or evaluate the client.  Interestingly, this means that the clinician should not even label the client for diagnostic purposes, since this is a way of pigeonholing the client.  It is better that the clinician focus on the individual’s phenomenology.  This way the clinician can more easily accept the client’s reality and choices without forcing any restrictions on them (Todd and Bohart, 1994).

Finally, Kensit (2000) notes that the client moves toward openness, respectfulness, and self-discovery so long as a trusting and respectful environment is provided.  Bozarth (2013) noted that it is the patient’s ability to see the clinician’s unconditional positive regard, offered through empathic understanding that makes possible the patient’s unconditional positive self-regard.  


According to Cornelius-White (2007), congruence is one of the most challenging person-centered concepts to measure and understand.  What makes it important is that when it is done well, it may facilitate growth.  Cornelius-White (2007) noted that, “Congruence refers to the internal, relational and ecological integration of persons” (p. 168).  It is the extent to which the self is related to the ideal self.  Also, Seeman (2001) noted that congruence is a broad construct that helps to define each person and provide boundaries on who that person may become. 

Kensit (2000) notes that congruence (which is typically held to be synonymous with genuineness) requires that the clinician actively listen to the client and, in a sense, occupy their world.  Also, the clinician should reflect accurately to the client his or her feelings.  When the client believes that the therapist is listening to her it will help her to create more order and integrate different parts of self (Rogers, 1951).


According to Freire (2007) empathy is the central idea in the practice of PCT.  From the PCT perspective, an ideal therapist is empathic, and a study by Raskin (1974) ranked it as the most important factor in therapeutic success. Greenberg et al. (2001) indicate that empathy is a form of understanding the client.  It involves the clinician having the ability and willingness to grasp the client’s view point, feelings, and challenges from the client’s point of view.  It is the therapist’s ability to see through the lens of the clients, and to adopt her frame of reference.  The idea is that the therapist is sensitive to the client’s perspectives about their own world, while also being open to alternative interpretations of the client’s experiences (Greenberg et al., 2001).  This then enables the therapist to become aware of, and share, meanings that the client is not aware of  

Freire (2007) mentioned that there are several reasons empathy is so important in PCT.  First, it is closely related to the actualizing tendency.  For example, Freire cites some research showing that a clinician who is fully integrated within himself will exhibit empathy toward his clients.  Second, the more clinicians and teachers are sensitive and exhibit understanding, the more likely useful learning and change are to occur.  Third, the emphasis on empathy is a distinguishing characteristic of PCT, in that it puts the power in the client-therapist relationship in the hands of the client.  It is the therapist who must understand the client in order to be most helpful (Freire, 2007). 

How PCT Evolved

Since person-centered therapy was introduced, in the 1940s and 1950s, there has been a great deal of discussion and research on what works and what doesn’t work.  And, there have been many people who have thought about it and made suggestions for improvements.  Although the basic principles have held up well in response to empirical research, there have been some changes that have also persisted.  Among the most important changes are changes in the way personality is perceived (Cooper, 2007), the therapeutic methods used (Bozarth, 2007), the research methods used (Angus et al., 2015), and the ways in which new therapists are trained (Hill and Corbett, 1993).  

Although the original model for PCT described the development of personality as individualistic, contemporary humanistic theorists have gravitated to the view that development generally occurs in interrelationship with other people (Cooper, 2007).  We are not as isolated as the original PCT model of development suggests.  From birth, we interact with our parents, and significant others, who support, challenge, and guide us (Cooper, 2007).  Also, human development always occurs in a context that interacts with the characteristics of the individual to affect changes in that individual.  An early criticism of the original PCT model of development is that it is too limited.  It does not take into account the diversity of influences on the individual and so fails to account for many possible outcomes (Kensit, 2000).  More contemporary developmental theorists incorporate more phenomena into their models, and so their models are more powerful than the original PCT model (e.g., Cooper, 2007).

General Practices   

According to Bohart (2007), self-actualization is continuous, and consists of enhancing one’s awareness and capabilities.  Bohart (2007) observes that personal development is associated with an expansion of the self and an improvement in one’s ability to cope.  He continues by noting that it is unhealthy to have a rigid self-concept, because selves continue to grow and change, and the individual needs to modify oneself in order to include new experiences just as an individual must revise other concepts to fit with one’s experience.  According to Bohart (2007), one of the ways in which PCT has changed is in moving away from the view that self-actualization is what a therapist triggers to the view that self-actualization itself drives the therapeutic process, with the role of the therapist being to facilitate it, or get out of the way, rather than make it happen.     

One of the areas in which there has been growth on the part of PCT methodology is in the role of “unconditional positive regard” (UPR).  According to Bozarth (2007), classical PCT theory sees unconditional positive regard as the key factor that drives the therapeutic process.  The general idea is that client’s come for treatment because they have developed a form of conditional self-regard.  According to the original formulation of PCT, by providing unconditional positive regard that therapist provides the conditions for the client to regain a sense of unconditional positive self-regard.  However, Bozarth (2007) observes that more contemporary therapists view UPR as one of many aspects of the therapeutic environment that facilitate client growth.  Whereas the original version of PCT claimed the UPR was a necessary and sufficient condition for client growth, more contemporary theorists claim that UPR is neither necessary nor sufficient for client healing, but is instead a facilitative condition (Bozarth, 2007).  

In the original form of PCT, the client is the expert on herself.  The client, therefore, takes the lead in the therapeutic relationship (Rogers, 1951).  At the same time, the interactions between the therapist and client were thought of as being affected by the extent to which the therapist displayed empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence.  However, Kirschenbaum and Jourdan (2005) note that there is a shift underway, toward thinking of the therapeutic relationship more as a “therapeutic alliance” (borrowing a term from psychoanalysis) between the therapist and client.  What is different about this model is that the therapist and client are seen as partners, working together for the common cause of helping the client improve her functioning.  In practice, this means the therapist and client form an understanding, if not an explicit contract, about what will happen in their relationship (Kirschenbaum and Jourdan, 2005).  From this perspective, each participant brings something to the relationship.  It also opens the door for the therapist to be less passive in the relationship, more overtly contributing her expertise.  This does not discount the importance of the original core conditions in PCT.  Instead, it places them in a different, more powerful, context (Kirschenbaum and Jourdan, 2005).  

According to Wyatt (2007) and Van Werde and Prouty (2007), one of the ways in which the processes used in PCT have evolved is through the addition of what Prouty has referred to as “Pre-therapy.”  With clients who are initially unresponsive to normal treatment (such as clients who are schizophrenic, mentally retarded, or demented), it is hard to establish therapeutically meaningful contact.  According to Prouty (2002), it is helpful to focus on building the ability of those clients to process their experiences in a way that enables them to form a meaningful therapeutic relationship with a therapist.  This may be done by focusing on what Prouty refers to as contact functions, behaviors, and reflections.  Since these steps must be achieved before these clients can enter into a meaningful therapeutic relationship, they are referred to as pre-therapy.  Prouty’s research on this matter has produced significant positive results.

Recent Research.

Angus et al. (2015) note that the evolution of methods of conducting research in humanistic psychotherapy originated with the work of several key researchers, one of whom was Carl Rogers.  At the time PCT was first invented, the gold standard of empirical research was the controlled experiment (Elliot, 2007).  However, almost nobody was doing any empirical research on the effects of psychotherapy.  One of the ways this has changed is that PCT sparked a revolution, characterized by a dramatic increase in the amount and quality of empirical research that was done on psychotherapy.  According to Hill and Corbett (1993), early research on the effects of psychotherapy was naturalistic.  This gave way to a focus on analogue (or quantitative) research, followed most recently by qualitative research.  

However, Elliot et al. (2004) note that at least half of all of the empirical research done on the efficacy of PCT has been conducted after 1990.  As a result, most of the highest quality research on the effects of PCT has taken the form of controlled experiments.  According to Elliot (2007), this has the advantage of producing the kind of results that are valued most highly by the academic community.  Angus et al. (2015) add that there has also been an increase in the amount of high quality empirical research that has been done on PCT.  They note that therapeutic techniques are increasingly relying on testing and empirical support.    

On the other hand, this also presents a problem.  According to Elliot (2007) this (positivistic) approach ignores issues such as the subjective experience of the client.  It makes it difficult to know which specific practices caused a significant qualitative shift in the therapeutic relationship.  And it ignores questions about which specific practices produce the most improvement in the quality of life of the clients.  As a result, Elliot (2007) suggests that research on the efficacy of PCT should include more qualitative studies.  Unfortunately, he notes that this poses a different problem, since qualitative studies are not as highly regarded by the academic community as are the quantitative studies.  According to Angus et al. (2015), this problem may be in the process of being solved, as there has recently been resurgence in the number of high quality qualitative studies done on PCT therapy.  

Perhaps the most important way in which PCT research has evolved is by moving in the direction of using empirical research to find out what works, and what doesn’t.  Goldfried (2007) has observed that the field of psychotherapy is evolving in the direction of using evidence-based methods.  This means that therapists are increasingly relying on methods that are shown to work by empirical research.  It also means that new creative ideas are increasingly being tested empirically, instead of being used indefinitely without knowing if they are truly effective.

Therapist Training

Another of the areas in which PCT has evolved is in therapist and counselor training.  Inspired by Rogers’ own empirical research on what worked, others began to focus their attention on how to train therapists and counselors to develop the skills that are most effective in facilitating client recovery.  Hill and Corbett (1993) indicate that even though Rogers did not approve of such an emphasis on therapist behaviors and training his contributions helped to revolutionize training in counseling psychology.  Hill and Corbett (1993) indicate that many psychologists have accepted Rogers’s ideas about facilitating treatment conditions, and have tried to operationalize them into specific clinicians’ skill that can be taught.  Hill and Corbett (1993) also mention that numerous influential training models are well known, but they focus on three models which appear to have significant influence on counseling psychology, i.e., Carkhuff’s Human Resource Training, Ivey’s Microcounseling, and Kagan’s Interpersonal Process Recall.  

According to Hill and Corbett, Ivey’s Microcounseling model is an innovative contribution that contributes, “a sophisticated technology for training, which involves modeling, practice, and feedback.”  (Hill and Corbett, 1993, pg 6).  In addition, the different skills that are considered important for being a good counselor are taught one at a time.  In their review of the literature on different training methods, Hill and Corbett (1993) cite studies by Baker and colleagues that claim that the results of empirical research provide strong support for the efficacy of the Microcounseling model.  Despite these findings, it is important to remember Hill and Corbett’s (1993) observation that many other forms of training have been developed and continue to benefit from the PCT emphasis on empirical investigation into the efficacy of any model.

Research on the Efficacy of PCT

Hill and Corbett (1993) note that the best way to study the effects of treatment is to compare the client’s behavior before therapy to her behavior after treatment.  The PCT approach to psychotherapy was characterized by a greater degree of concern for empirical confirmation than was common during the 1940s and 1950s (Kirschenbaum and Jourdan, 2005).  One of the benefits of this was that it spurred a great deal of empirical research into the efficacy of PCT (Hill and Corbett, 1993).  One of the problems with this was that some of that research had methodological problems, sometimes producing misleading results.  

Kirschenbaum and Jourdan (2005), in their review of the empirical research on PCT, note that the early studies were very supportive of PCT, but were plagued by methodological problems, such as small sample sizes and biased analyses.  More recent studies have used stronger methodology and include several meta-analyses.  Among these, Kirshenbaum and Jourdan describe a meta-analysis by Bohart, Elliott, Greenberg, and Watson that examined the results of 47 studies, with more than 3,000 clients.  They found a medium effect size for the use of empathy on positive therapeutic outcomes.  Kirschenbuam and Jourdan (2005) also cite the results of a meta-analysis by Orlinsky, Grawe and Parks that summarizes the results of 76 studies of the efficacy of the use of affirmation by therapists.  According to them, 56 percent of the results supported the efficacy of using affirmation.  Kirschenbaum and Jourdan (2005) also reviewed studies of the efficacy of therapists’ use of congruence with their clients.  They found that these studies produced generally positive results, but not as strong as with empathy and affirmation.  Citing still more recent research on PCT’s three key conditions for successful therapeutic interventions, Kirschenbaum and Jourdan (2005) note that it is likely that empathy, affirmation, and congruence may be neither necessary, nor sufficient, conditions for successful treatment, but that instead they are facilitative conditions.  In addition, Kirschenbaum and Jourdan (2005) cite empirical studies that appear to support the shift in thinking about the therapeutic relationship toward the idea of a therapeutic alliance between therapist and client.

One of the specific practices of PCT that has received research attention is empathy.  As noted by Freire (2007), many studies have found a positive correlation between the clinician’s empathy and client outcomes.  In their meta-analysis of the effects of empathy in treatment, Greenberg et al. (2001) found that empathy accounts for a significant effect size of r = .32.  However, this study was not limited to PCT forms of therapy.  On the other hand, they note that there were no significant differences between different theoretical orientations in the effects of empathy on client outcomes.


If we examine the ways in which PCT has changed since its inception, we may find several general patterns.  First, the underlying theory is becoming more inclusive.  That is, it is being expanded to include more factors that may influence the development of the individual as well as progress in treatment.  We see this in Cooper’s (2007) work on the factors that influence personality development.  Second, PCT is being expanded to include more methods to treat clients.  This is seen in Bohart’s (2007) ideas about how best to nurture self-actualization and Van Werde and Prouty’s (2007) work on pre-therapy.  Third, there is a general trend toward having the client take a greater leadership role in the therapeutic process.  This is seen in Bohart’s (2007) work on self-actualization and Bozarth’s (2007) work on unconditional positive regard.  Fourth, there is a trend toward greater flexibility, as seen in Van Werde and Prouty’s (2007) addition of pre-therapy as an option and Bozarth’s (2007) idea that unconditional positive regard by the therapist may not be either necessary nor sufficient to bring about a significant improvement in clients.  Fifth, research in PCT continues to improve in quality.  This is characterized by an improvement in the rigor of therapeutic research as well as an expansion of research methods to include more high quality options, with less of a focus on only experimental designs.  It also includes a greater tendency to test therapeutic methods with empirical research (Angus et al., 2015). 

At the same time that PCT has evolved, there are many key ideas that remain relatively unchanged.  For example, empathy on the part of the therapist continues to be one of the central features of PCT.  Greenberg et al. (2001) conducted a meta-analysis of 47 studies and found that empathy is a significant factor in the efficacy of therapy.  Because of the results of such studies the key ideas of empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence are still central to the practice of PCT.  They may not be as necessary as once thought, but there is widespread agreement that they are all helpful (Kirschenbaum and Jourdan, 2015).

Limitations of PCT

Although PCT has proven to be an effective form of treatment for many psychological disorders, it is not without limitations.  One of the limitations of PCT concerns the way it deals with behavioral problems that were learned.  According to Kensit (2000), there are many clients who suffer from the effects of learned behaviors that are counterproductive.  For clients such as these, it may be most effective to help them unlearn those behaviors.  For example, if a client is afraid of flying in airplanes, it may be more effective to use some form of counter conditioning rather that have them engage in the PCT approach of trying to nurture self-actualization.  

Another limitation of PCT is that it doesn’t give enough attention to the importance of genetic dispositions (Kensit, 2000).  There are many psychological disorders that have a physical component.  For example, a client who is suffering from a genetic predisposition to suffer from schizophrenia is unlikely to recover fully when using PCT treatment alone.  

A third limitation of PCT is that it tends to not give enough attention to environmental influences on client behavior (Kensit, 2000).  There are many clients who develop maladaptive behaviors in response to the conditions in which they live.  In some cases, those behaviors may seem adaptive in the specific environment in which they were learned, yet be counterproductive outside that environment.  For example, a young man who joins a neighborhood gang in order to survive in a large city may develop very aggressive behaviors to survive in the gang and in his neighborhood.  But those aggressive behaviors may be counterproductive in other environments.

Kensit (2000) also notes that the non-directional approach used by PCT may not always be in the client’s best interest.  In some cases, clients are not able to self-actualize, even with a therapist’s help.  This may occur when a client is blocking their innate disposition for some reason.  When this happens that client may have difficulty apprehending what is truly in their best interest, or what types of behavior are most compatible with their true self.  In situations like this, it may be advantageous if the therapist takes the lead and guides the client toward a resolution of the underlying problem.

Personal Perspective

Despite the advocacy by PCT of the key therapeutic conditions (i.e., unconditional positive regard, congruence, and empathy), there are critics who question the efficacy of this approach.  According to Kirschenbaum and Jourdan (2005), a few studies indicate that no specific benefits ensue from meeting one or another of these core conditions.  However, the overall pattern of findings supports the claim that these conditions are associated with positive therapeutic outcomes.  In my opinion these core conditions are the foundation for most of the different therapeutic approaches.  It is imperative for clients to receive warmth, understanding, and genuineness regardless of the therapeutic approach the therapist may utilize during a therapy session.  

Clearly, many clients have had reduced symptoms when treated with a pure PCT therapeutic approach within the medical framework (Finke & Teusch, 2007).  And, the PCT approach appears to be effective with clients who suffer from depression, anxiety, depressive, somatoform, and personality agoraphobia, panic, and alcohol addiction disorder (Finke & Teusch, 2007).  On the other hand, each client is different.  

Despite the effectiveness of PCT for many clients, there are others for whom PCT may not be the therapy of choice.  Or, there may be specific conditions, as suggested by the limitations of PCT above, for which PCT may not be the most suitable therapeutic approach.  Therefore it is vital for clinicians to sometimes add techniques from other approaches that are consistent with the needs of the clients if PCT alone does not appear to work with that particular client.  This is consistent with the observation by Hill and Corbett (1993) that many therapists are using techniques that are based on the needs of the client, rather than just PCT, and that most therapists adhere to more than one theoretical approach.

In my opinion, one of the benefits of the person-centered therapy approach is that it can be integrated with other approaches, which provides mutual benefits for both the client and therapist.  This point of view is supported by Cepeda & Davenport (2006) who note that PCT and solution focused (SF) techniques are frequently compatible, even though these theories make dissimilar assumptions about the clinician’s role in facilitating patient care.  For instance, Norum (2000) indicated that one of the commonalities between PCT and SF is that both are similar with respect to increasing the client’s awareness.  

In my professional experience working with adolescents, I find it interesting that some of my clients’ symptoms were reduced when I used only PCT treatment methods while other clients did not seem to benefit as much.  Therefore I made a conscious decision to work with those clients who didn’t benefit enough from a pure PCT approach by integrating different approaches along with PCT.  

One of the clients that I worked with was an adolescent female who appeared to have a challenge trusting counselors.  This client was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as suffering from depression, conduct disorder, and substance abuse.  My first counseling session with her was interesting, in that she did not want to talk with me.  During the next session she spoke with me for a few minutes, and then left my office.  I continued to show warmth, understanding, acceptance, and genuineness each time we met.  The core conditions appeared to have worked for her, in part, but it was clear to me that I had to include other approaches.    

One particular problem I discovered with this client is that she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease but was resistant to getting treatment for almost one year.  I wanted to help her deal more effectively with this problem but was not sure how to proceed.  Even though, PCT was my preferred choice for helping this client, it occurred to me that goals and techniques (such as homework) are not included in person-centered therapy.  This is consistent with Brodley’s observation, “Nevertheless, some clients of some client-centered therapists choose to engage in homework and to interact with their therapists about homework experiences as part of their therapeutic path.” (Brodley, p. 148, 2006).  As I spoke with this client she indicated that she was open to doing some homework assignments.  So, we discussed this and she decided to do a homework assignment that consisted of learning more about the effects of sexually transmitted diseases.  Since she was making small steps I went along with her choice of designing her own homework.  During the next session, the client disclosed to me what the homework meant to her, and that she was going to continue to pursue that exercise.  

According to Brodley (2006), between 15-20 percent of her patients volunteer to do some homework outside the therapy session.  She notes that her clients appeared to have felt in control and empowered by engaging in homework that they set for themselves while in therapy.  This observation is consistent with the claim made by my client during a later session that having to work on the homework exercises helped her to feel empowered.  Based on the scientific research reported in the professional journals, and my own professional experience, it appears that some clients feel that they need to feel more included in the selection of goals and at the same time are receptive to the person–centered therapeutic approach.  In the case of this specific client, I believe my use of unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence helped set the stage for a breakthrough with a client who had resisted medical treatment for a serious condition.  During the following session the client and I went to the nurse and she received the medical treatment she needed.


What works best in counseling is the core conditions that facilitate personality growth and change in clients.  When clients are able to feel the warmth, genuineness, and acceptance from their therapist, it opens doors for the clients to navigate their options with open-mindedness, facilitating positive change, growth and strength.      

This paper addresses the evolution and the efficacy of PCT and how these translate into my experiences and ideas regarding the counseling relationship.  Even though the evolution aspects of PCT may arise in certain areas in the counseling relationship, there are other areas that remain constant yet effective to date, like unconditional positive regard and congruence.  The research has shown that empathy has evolved, and this therapeutic alliance when combined with CBT has a great outcome when treating clients with depression (Kirschenbaum and Jourdan, 2005).  Also, it is crucial to note that when the core conditions are present they facilitate the formation of a sound, stable, working alliance between the client and therapist.      

I believe one of the strengths of the person-centered therapy approach is that it is non-directive.  This makes it easier for the client to express her concerns and utilize her inherent tendency to self-actualize.  In a sense, this is a way of letting the client use her innate wisdom to help heal herself.  In contrast, I dislike the fact that person-centered therapy does not include goal setting, or any direction by the therapist.  In my opinion, balance is vital in any therapeutic approach.  Although it may be effective to let the client take the lead in the therapeutic process, I agree with Cepeda and Davenport (2006) that there are times when the therapist can significantly accelerate the client’s progress by either suggesting goals or helping the client form her own goals.  This is especially true when the client’s maladaptive behavior was learned and can be easily unlearned.     

Also, in my professional experience, all of my clients seem to appreciate the core conditions, but some of them were able to benefit from a combination of a directive approach and non-directive approach during our sessions.  This suggests that it may be beneficial for the therapist to take into account what the client needs at that moment, even if it falls outside the bounds of traditional PCT.     

Perhaps most importantly, the research on PCT is consistent with my professional experience in suggesting that despite the strengths of PCT, it is in the best interests of our clients if therapists do not restrict themselves unnecessarily to only the current principles of PCT.  Sometimes it is better for our clients to incorporate techniques from other therapeutic approaches.  I think it is vitally important to keep trying different methods, or techniques, and to be open to possible forms of intervention that go beyond our preferred therapeutic approach.  The best way to do this is to keep abreast of the current research on what works.  That is, as suggested by Goldfried (2007), if we can use the methods that are supported by research evidence, we can expand our repertoire of tools in ways that are most likely to be effective.  

Perhaps, this is the most important source of evolution in PCT.  As therapists get new ideas, try them, and test them by using scientific methods of examination, we will discover more and more methods that work.  This will increase the number of options we have to facilitate growth and change in our clients.      

But, there is another part of the evolution of PCT.  Just as therapists seek to nurture flexibility in our clients, so too therapists must also be flexible.  Having scientific research that shows what works best is of little value if the therapist is so attached to her favorite therapeutic approach that she cannot try new ideas.  Just as we want our clients to be open to new ideas, we must also be open to new ideas.  This includes being patient with clients who do not progress the way their therapist thinks they should (Goldried, 2007).  But, also, in this way, not only will PCT evolve, but, more importantly, we as therapists can also evolve.  Through the evolution of PCT and our own professional evolution, we will continue to increase our efficacy in helping our clients.


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An Interview with Freud

By G. S. Viereck
ABSTRACT: As a special flashback feature we are reprinting this interview with Sigmund Freud done by G. S. Viereck in 1927, when Freud was 70 years old.  It is a fascinating interview that probes the man and his ideas, and it gives us a special view of the personality of Freud and in particular of his controversial theory of the Death Instinct.

"Seventy years have taught me to accept life with cheerful humility."

The speaker was Professor Sigmund Freud, the great Austrian explorer of the nether world of the soul. Like the tragic Greek hero, Oedipus, whose name is so intimately connected with the principal tenets of psychoanalysis, Freud boldly confronted the Sphinx. Like Oedipus, he solved her riddle. At least no mortal has come nearer to explaining the secret of human conduct than Freud. Freud is to psychology, what Galileo was to astronomy. He is the Columbus of the subconscious. He opens new vistas, he sounds new depths. He changed the relationship of everything in life to every other thing, by deciphering the hidden meaning of the records inscribed on the tablets of the unconscious.

The scene where our conversation took place was Freud’s summer home on the Semmering, a mountain in the Austrian Alps, where fashionable Vienna loves to foregather. I had last seen the father of psychoanalysis in his unpretentious home in the Austrian capital. The few years intervening between my last visit and the present had multiplied the wrinkles of his forehead. They had intensified his scholastic pallor. His face was drawn, as in pain. His mind was alert, his spirit unbroken, his courtesy impeccable as of old, but a slight impediment in his speech alarmed me.   
It seems that a malignant affection of the upper jaw had necessitated an operation. Since that time, Freud wears a mechanical contrivance to facilitate speech. In itself this is no worse than the wearing of glasses. The presence of the metal device embarrasses Freud more than his visitors. It is hardly noticeable after one speaks to him a while. On his good days, it cannot be detected at all. But to Freud himself it is cause of constant annoyance. "I detest my mechanical jaw, because the struggle with the mechanism consumes so much precious strength. Yet I prefer a mechanical jaw to no jaw at all. I still prefer existence to extinction.

"Perhaps the gods are kind to us," the father of psychoanalysis went on to say, "by making life more disagreeable as we grow older. In the end, death seems less intolerable than the manifold burdens we carry." Freud refuses to admit that destiny bears him any special malice. "Why," he quietly said, "should I expect any special favor? Age, with its manifest discomforts, comes to all. It strikes one man here, and one there. Its blow always lands in a vital spot. The final victory always belongs to the Conqueror Worm.
                            "Out–out are the lights–out all! 
                            And over each quivering form 
                            The curtain, a funereal pall
                            Comes down, with the rush of a storm 
                            And the angels, all pallid and wan, 
                            Uprising, unveiling, affirm
                            That the play is the tragedy ‘Man,’ 
                            And its hero the Conqueror Worm.
"I do not rebel against the universal order. After all," the master prober of the human brain continued, "I have lived over seventy years. I had enough to eat. I enjoyed many things–the comradeship of my wife, my children, the sunsets. I watched the plants grow in the springtime. Now and then the grasp of a friendly hand was mine. Once or twice I met a human being who almost understood me. What more can I ask?"

"You have had," I said, "fame. Your work affects the literature of every land. Man looks at life and himself with different eyes because of you. And recently on your seventieth birthday the world united to honor you–with the exception of your own university!"

"If the University of Vienna had recognized me, they would have only embarrassed me. There is no reason why they should embrace either me or my doctrine because I am seventy. I attach no unreasonable importance to decimals. "Fame comes to us only after we are dead, and, frankly, what comes afterwards does not concern me. I have no aspiration to posthumous glory. My modesty is no virtue."

"Does it not mean something to you that your name will live?"

"Nothing whatsoever, even if it should live, which is by no means certain. I am far more interested in the fate of my children. I hope that their life will not be so hard. I cannot make their life much easier. The war practically wiped out my modest fortune, the savings of a lifetime. However, fortunately, age is not too heavy a burden. I can carry on! My work still gives me pleasure." We were walking up and down a little pathway in the steep garden of the house. Freud tenderly caressed a blossoming bush with his sensitive hands. "I am far more interested in this blossom," he said, "than in anything that may happen to me after I am dead."

"Then you are, after all, a profound pessimist?"

"I am not. I permit no philosophic reflection to spoil my enjoyment of the simple things of life."

"Do you believe in the persistence of personality after death in any form whatsoever?"

"I give no thought to the matter. Everything that lives perishes. Why should I survive?"

"Would you like to come back in some form, to be reintegrated from the dust? Have you, in other words, no wish for immortality?"

"Frankly, no. If one recognizes the selfish motives which underlie all human conduct, one has not the slightest desire to return. Life, moving in a circle, would still be the same. Moreover, even if the eternal recurrence of things, to use Nietzsche’s phrase, were to reinvest us with our fleshly habiliments, of what avail would this be without memory? There would be no link between past and future. So far as I am concerned, I am perfectly content to know that the eternal nuisance of living will be finally done with. Our life is necessarily a series of compromises, a never-ending struggle between the ego and his environment. The wish to prolong life unduly, strikes me as absurd."

"Do you disapprove of the attempts of your colleague Steinach to lengthen the cycle of human existence?"

"Steinach makes no attempt to lengthen life. He merely combats old age. By tapping the reservoir of strength within our own bodies, he helps the tissue to resist disease. The Steinach operation sometimes arrests untoward biological accidents, like cancer, in their early stages. It makes life more livable. It does not make it worth living. There is no reason why we should wish to live longer. But there is every reason why we should wish to live with the smallest amount of discomfort possible. I am tolerably happy, because I am grateful for the absence of pain, and for life’s little pleasures, for my children and for my flowers!" 

"Bernard Shaw claims that our years are too few. He thinks that man can lengthen the span of human life, if he so desires, by bringing his will-power to play upon the forces of evolution. Mankind, he thinks, can recover the longevity of the patriarchs."

"It is possible," Freud replied, "that death itself may not be a biological necessity. Perhaps we die because we want to die. "Even as hate and love for the same person dwell in our bosom at the same time, so all life combines with the desire to maintain itself, an ambivalent desire for its own annihilation. Just as a stretched rubber band has the tendency to assume its original shape, so all living matter, consciously or unconsciously, craves to regain the complete and absolute inertia of inorganic existence. The death-wish and life-wish dwell side by side, within us. Death is the mate of Love. Together they rule the world. This is the message of my book, Beyond the Pleasure Principle."

"In the beginning, psychoanalysis assumed that Love was all important. Today we know that Death is equally important. Biologically, every living being, no matter how intensely life burns within him, longs for Nirvana, longs for the cessation of ‘the fever called living,’ longs for Abraham’s bosom. The desire may be disguised by various circumlocutions. Nevertheless, the ultimate object of life is its own extinction!" 

"This," I exclaimed, "is the philosophy of self-destruction. It justifies self-slaughter. It should lead logically to the world suicide envisaged by Eduard von Hartmann."

"Mankind does not choose suicide, because the law of its being abhors the direct route to its goal. Life must complete its cycle of existence. In every normal being, the life-wish is strong enough to counterbalance the death-wish, albeit in the end the death-wish proves stronger. We may entertain the fanciful suggestion that Death comes to us by our own volition. It is possible that we could vanquish Death, except for his ally in our bosom. "In that sense," Freud added with a smile, "we may be justified in saying that all Death is suicide in disguise."

It grew chilly in the garden. We continued our conversation in the study. I saw a pile of manuscripts on the desk in Freud’s own neat handwriting. "What are you working on?" I asked.

"I am writing a defense of lay-analysis, psychoanalysis as practiced by laymen. The doctors want to make analysis except by licensed physicians illegal. History, the old plagiarizer, repeats herself after every discovery. The doctors fight every new truth in the beginning. Afterwards they try to monopolize it."   
"Have you had much support from the laity?"

"Some of my best pupils are laymen."

"Do you practice much yourself?"

"Certainly. At this very moment, I am working on a difficult case, disentangling the psychic conflicts of an interesting new patient. My daughter, too, is a psychoanalyst, as you see. . . ." At this juncture, Miss Anna Freud appeared followed by her patient, a lad of eleven, unmistakably Anglo-Saxon in feature. The child seemed perfectly happy, completely oblivious of a conflict or tangle in his personality.

"Do you ever," I asked Professor Freud, "analyze yourself?"

"Certainly. The psychoanalyst must constantly analyze himself. By analyzing ourselves, we are better able to analyze others. The psychoanalyst is like the scapegoat of the Hebrews. Others load their sins upon him. He must exercise his art to the utmost to extricate himself from the burden cast upon him."

"It always seems to me," I remarked, "that psychoanalysis necessarily induces in all those who practice it, the spirit of Christian charity. There is nothing in human life that psychoanalysis cannot make us understand. ‘Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner.’–’To understand all, is to forgive all.’ "

"On the contrary," thundered Freud, his features assuming the fierce severity of a Hebrew prophet. "To understand all, is not to forgive all. Psychoanalysis teaches us not only what we may endure, it also teaches us what we must avoid. It tells us what must be exterminated. Tolerance of evil is by no means a corollary of knowledge." I suddenly understood why Freud had quarreled so bitterly with those of his followers who had deserted him, why he cannot forgive their departure from the straight path of orthodox psychoanalysis. His sense of righteousness is the heritage of his ancestors. It is a heritage of which he is proud, as he is proud of his race.

"My language," he explained to me, "is German. My culture, my attainments are German. I considered myself a German intellectually, until I noticed the growth of anti-Semitic prejudice in Germany and in German Austria. Since that time, I consider myself no longer a German. I prefer to call myself a Jew." I was somewhat disappointed by this remark. It seemed to me that Freud’s spirit should dwell on heights, beyond any prejudice of race, that he should be untouched by any personal rancor. Yet his very indignation, his honest wrath, made him more endearingly human. Achilles would be intolerable, if it were not for his heel!

"I am glad," I remarked, "Herr Professor, that you, too, have your complexes, that you, too, betray your mortality."

"Our complexes," Freud replied, "are the source of our weakness; they are also often the source of our strength."

"I wonder," I remarked, "what my complexes are!"

"A serious analysis," Freud replied, "takes at least a year. It may even take two or three years. You are devoting many years of your life to lion-hunting. You have sought, year after year, the outstanding figures of your generation, invariably men older than yourself. There was Roosevelt, the Kaiser, Hindenburg, Briand, Foch, Joffre, George Brandes, Gerhart Hauptmann, and George Bernard Shaw. . . ."

"It is part of my work."

"But it is also your preference. The great man is a symbol. Your search is the search of your heart. You are seeking the great man to take the place of the father. It is part of your father complex." I vehemently denied Freud’s assertion. Nevertheless, on reflection, it seems to me that there may be a truth, unsuspected by myself, in his casual suggestion. It may be the same impulse that took me to him, "In your Wandering Jew," he added, "you extend this search into the past. You are always the Seeker of Men."

"I wish," I remarked after a while, "I could stay here long enough to glimpse my own heart through your eyes. Perhaps, like the Medusa, I would die from fright if I saw my own image! However, I fear I am too well versed in psychoanalysis. I would constantly anticipate, or try to anticipate, your intentions."

"Intelligence in a patient," Freud replied, "is no handicap. On the contrary, it sometimes facilitates one’s task."

In that respect the master of psychoanalysis differs with many of his adherents, who resent any self-assertion of the patient under their probe. Most psychoanalysts employ Freud’s method of "free association." They encourage the patient to say everything that comes into his mind, no matter how stupid, how obscene, how inopportune, or irrelevant it may seem. Following clues seemingly unimportant, they can trace the psychic dragons that haunt him to their lair. They dislike the desire of the patient for active cooperation, for they fear that once the direction of their inquiry becomes clear to him, his wishes and resistances, unconsciously striving to preserve their secrets, may throw the psychic huntsman off the trail.

Freud, too, recognizes this danger. "I sometimes wonder," I questioned, "if we would not be happier if we knew less of the processes that shape our thoughts and emotions? Psychoanalysis robs life of its last enchantments, when it traces every feeling to its original cluster of complexes. We are not made more joyful by discovering that we all harbor in our hearts the savage, the criminal and the beast."

"What is your objection to the beasts?" Freud replied. "I prefer the society of animals infinitely to human society."


"Because they are so much simpler. They do not suffer from a divided personality, from the disintegration of the ego, that arises from man’s attempt to adapt himself to standards of civilization too high for his intellectual and psychic mechanism. The savage, like the beast, is cruel, but he lacks the meanness of the civilized man. Meanness is man’s revenge upon society for the restraints it imposes. This vengefulness animates the professional reformer and the busybody. The savage may chop off your head, he may eat you, he may torture you, but he will spare you the continuous little pinpricks which make life in a civilized community at times almost intolerable. Man’s most disagreeable habits and idiosyncrasies, his deceit, his cowardice, his lack of reverence, are engendered by his incomplete adjustment to a complicated civilization. It is the result of the conflict between our instincts and our culture. How much more pleasant are the simple, straightforward, intense emotions of a dog, wagging his tail or barking his displeasure! The emotions of the dog," Freud thoughtfully added, "remind one of the heroes of antiquity. Perhaps that is the reason why we unconsciously bestow upon our canines the names of ancient heroes such as Achilles and Hector."

"My own dog," I interjected, "is a Doberman Pinscher called `Ajax.’ " Freud smiled. "I am glad," I added, "that he cannot read. It would certainly make him a less desirable member of the household if he could yelp his opinion on psychic traumas and Oedipus complexes!  Even you, Professor, find existence too complex. Yet, it seems to me that you yourself are partly responsible for the complexities of modern civilization. Before you invented psychoanalysis we did not know that our personality is dominated by a belligerent host of highly objectionable complexes. Psychoanalysis has made life a complicated puzzle."

"By no means," Freud replied. "Psychoanalysis simplifies life. We achieve a new synthesis after analysis. Psychoanalysis reassorts the maze of stray impulses, and tries to wind them around the spool to which they belong. Or, to change the metaphor, it supplies the thread that leads a man out of the labyrinth of his own unconscious."

"On the surface, it seems, nevertheless, as if human life was never more complex. And every day some new idea, put forward by you or by your disciples, makes the problem of human conduct more puzzling and more contradictory."

"Psychoanalysis, at least, never shuts the door on a new truth."

"Some of your pupils, more orthodox than you, cling to every pronouncement that has ever emanated from you." 
"Life changes. Psychoanalysis also changes," Freud observed. "We are only at the beginning of a new science."

"It seems to me that the scientific structure you have erected is very elaborate. Its fixtures–the theory of ‘replacement,’ of ‘infantile sexuality,’ and of ‘dream symbols,’ etc.– seem to be fairly permanent."

"Nevertheless, I repeat, we are only at the beginning. I am only a beginner. I was successful in digging up buried monuments from the substrata of the mind. But where I have discovered a few temples, others may discover a continent."

"You still place most emphasis on sex?"

"I reply with the words of your own poet, Walt Whitman: `Yet all were lacking, if sex were lacking.’ However, I have already explained to you that I place today almost equal emphasis upon that which lies ‘beyond’ pleasure–death, the negation of life. This desire explains why some men love pain–as a step to annihilation! It explains why all men seek rest, why poets thank–

                                  "Whatever gods there be,  
                                  That no life lives forever
                                  That dead men. rise up never
                                  And even the weariest river
                                  Winds somewhere safe to sea."
"Shaw, like you, does not wish to live forever, but," I remarked, "unlike you, he regards sex as uninteresting."

"Shaw," Freud replied smiling, "does not understand sex. He has not the remotest conception of love. There is no real love affair in any of his plays. He makes a jest of Caesar’s love affair–perhaps the greatest passion in history. Deliberately, not to say maliciously, he divests Cleopatra of all grandeur, and degrades her into an insignificant flapper. The reason for Shaw’s strange attitude toward love, and for his denial of the primal mover of all human affairs, which robs his plays of universal appeal in spite of his enormous intellectual equipment, is inherent in his psychology. In one of his prefaces, Shaw himself emphasizes the ascetic strain in his temperament.  I may have made many mistakes, but I am quite sure that I made no mistake when I emphasized the predominance of the sex instinct. Because the sex instinct is so strong, it clashes most frequently with the conventions and safeguards of civilization. Mankind, in self-defense, seeks to deny its supreme importance. If you scratch the Russian, the proverb says, the Tartar appears underneath. Analyze any human emotion, no matter how far it may be removed from the sphere of sex, and you are sure to discover somewhere the primal impulse, to which life itself owes its perpetuation."

"You certainly have succeeded in impressing this point of view upon all modern writers. Psychoanalysis has given new intensities to literature."

"It also has received much from literature and philosophy. Nietzsche was one of the first psychoanalysts. It is amazing to what extent his intuition foreshadows our discoveries. No one has recognized more profoundly the dual motives of human conduct, and the insistence of the pleasure principle upon unending sway. His Zarathustra says:
                                Woe Crieth: Go!
                                But Pleasure craves eternity
                                Craves quenchless, deep eternity.
"Psychoanalysis may be less widely discussed in Austria and Germany than in the United States, but its influence in literature is nevertheless immense. Thomas Mann and Hugo von Hofmannsthal owe much to us. Schnitzler parallels, to a large extent, my own development. He expresses poetically much that I attempt to convey scientifically. But then, Dr. Schnitzler is not only a poet, but also a scientist."

"You," I replied, "are not only a scientist, but also a poet. American literature," I went on to say, "is steeped in psychoanalysis. Rupert Hughes, Harvey O’Higgins, and others make themselves your interpreters. It is hardly possible to open a new novel without finding some reference to psychoanalysis. Among dramatists Eugene O’Neill and Sydney Howard are profoundly indebted to you. The Silver Cord, for instance, is merely a dramatization of the Oedipus complex."

"I know," Freud replied. "I appreciate the compliment, but I am afraid of my own popularity in the United States. American interest in psychoanalysis does not go very deep. Extensive popularization leads to superficial acceptance without serious research. People merely repeat the phrases they learn in the theater, or in the press. They imagine they understand psychoanalysis, because they can parrot its patter! I prefer the more intense study of psychoanalysis in European centers. America was the first country to recognize me officially. Clark University conferred an honorary degree upon me, when I was still ostracized in Europe. Nevertheless, America has made few original contributions to the study of psychoanalysis. Americans are clever generalizers, they are rarely creative thinkers. Moreover, the medical trust in the United States, as well as in Austria, attempts to preempt the field. To leave psychoanalysis solely in the hands of doctors would be fatal to its development. A medical education is as often a handicap as an advantage to the psychoanalyst. It is a handicap, if certain accepted scientific conventions become too deeply encrusted in the mind of the student."

Freud must tell the truth at all cost! He cannot force himself to flatter America, where he has most admirers. He cannot even at threescore and ten bring himself to make a peace offering to the medical profession, which accepts him only grudgingly even now. In spite of his uncompromising integrity, Freud is the soul of urbanity. He listens patiently to every suggestion, never attempting to overawe his interviewer. Rare is the guest who leaves his presence without some gift, some token of hospitality! Darkness had fallen. It was time for me to take the train back to the city that once housed the imperial splendor of the Hapsburgs. Freud, accompanied by his wife and his daughter, climbed the steps leading from his mountain retreat to the street, to see me off. He looked gray and sad to me, as he waved his farewell.

"Don’t make me appear a pessimist," he remarked, after the final handshake. "I do not despise the world. To express contempt for the world is only another method of wooing it, to gain an audience and applause! No, I am not a pessimist, not while I have my children, my wife, and my flowers! Flowers," he added smilingly, "fortunately have neither character nor complexities. I love my flowers. And I am not unhappy–at least not more unhappy than others." The whistle of my train shrieked through the night. Swiftly the car bore me away to the station. Slowly the slightly bent figure and the gray head of Sigmund Freud disappeared in the distance. Like Oedipus, Freud has looked too deep into the eyes of the Sphinx. The monster propounds her riddle to every wayfarer. The wanderer who does not know the answer she cruelly seizes and dashes against the rocks. Yet she may be kinder to those whom she destroys, than to those who guess her secret.