Thomas Scheff


Abstract. A particular emotional/relational configuration may lead to violence. Four emotions seem central: suppressing “the vulnerable emotions”(grief, fear, and shame), on the one hand, and acting out anger, on the other. The relational component is the virtual absence of close bonds to others. It is possible that suppression of vulnerable emotions, acting out anger, and lack of bonds gives rise to the silence/violence pattern: meeting threats to self with either silence or violence. This pattern seems to occur much more frequently in men than in women.  Two instances of massive violence illustrate these ideas: the massacre of civilians at My Lai, Vietnam, ordered and assisted by William Calley, and the monstrous violence orchestrated by the Germans under Hitler. The silence/violence pattern may result in violence directly through leaders like Hitler and Calley, and also indirectly, when this pattern is the basis of public support for violent leaders.


Boys learn early that showing vulnerable feelings (grief, fear and shame) are seen as signs of weakness. First at home, then at school they find that acting out anger, even if faked, is seen as strength. Expressing anger verbally, rather than storming, may be seen as weakness. At first merely to protect themselves, boys begin suppressing feelings that may be interpreted as signs of weakness.


In Western cultures most boys learn, as first option, to hide their vulnerable feelings in emotionless talk, withdrawal, or silence. I will call these three responses (emotional) SILENCE. In situations where these options seem unavailable, males may cover their vulnerable feelings behind a display of hostility. That is, young boys learn in their families, and later, from their peers, to suppress emotions they actually feel by acting out one emotion, anger, whether they feel it or not.


I call this pattern “silence/violence.” Vulnerable feelings are first hidden from others, and after many repetitions, even from self. In this latter stage, behavior becomes compulsive. When men face what they construe to be threatening situations, they may be compelled to SILENCE or to rage and aggression.


Even without threat, men seem to be more likely to SILENCE or violence than women. With their partners, most men are less likely to talk freely than women about feelings of resentment, humiliation, embarrassment, rejection, joy, genuine pride, loss and anxiety. This may be the reason they are more likely to show anger: they seem to be backed up on a wide variety of intense feelings, but sense that only anger is allowed them (The phrase “backed up” was first used by Tomkins (See selections from his work in the volume edited by Demos 1995, pp. 92-94, 57, 275-276).


Why did Tomkins use such an award phrase, rather than the more obvious choice: “repressed?” To understand his choice requires a brief digression into the history of psychology during the period that he was writing, in the sixties and seventies. There was little hard evidence for or against the concepts of repression and the unconscious at this time, and not much more today. By and large, most psychotherapists assumed it to be true, and academic psychologists assumed that it was not true. Indeed, academic psychologists ridiculed these ideas, especially the idea that emotions exerted “hydraulic” pressure on everyday life.


In this context, Tomkins didn’t use terms like repression and unconscious, perhaps in an attempt to avoid open conflict with the vast majority of his colleagues. But his system assumes the repression of painful emotions to the point that they become unconscious in everyday life. Although himself an academic psychologist, he found it necessary to invent terms that would allow his theory of emotions to involve repression and the unconscious emotions that result.


My own view of emotions is based largely on my experiences as a teacher, marriage counselor (1971-76), and my own personal life. For the last thirty-five years of teaching, my classes came close to being forms of group psychotherapy, even the large classes. Although I never called attention to the similarity, students often did. Usually the comments they made in this regard were approving; most of them thought it added to the value of the class. The format of my classes, whatever their official names, basically involved having the students examine their own experiences, to help them understand their emotional/relational worlds.


During the period of student activism against the Vietnam War, these classes became intensely emotional. In a large course titled Interpersonal Relations, taught many times over a period of three years, students underwent mass weeping and laughing, both in the large meetings, small discussion groups, and in office visits by groups of students. In 1979 I received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the UCSB Academic Senate largely on the basis of these classes. Most of my views on emotional/relational issues were formed by my close contacts with thousands of students.


My personal life has also been dense with emotional/relational issues. Between the ages of 14 and 40 I certainly fit the pattern of male repression of vulnerable emotions. I had learned to be a strong and silent male like my father, and that expressions of fear, grief and shame at school made me prey to bullies. Although I have no memory of my dad equating fear with cowardice, it was implied in his comments and actions. Over the course of childhood, I seem to have gradually numbed out feelings of fear. In my late 30’s, during the Vietnam protest, I took many risks that seem shockingly unacceptable to me now. Some of my colleagues complimented me on my courage, but looking back it seems to me I was merely reckless.


Numbing out fear, particularly, makes men dangerous to themselves and others. Fear is an innate signal of danger that helps us survive. When we see a car heading toward us on a collision course, we have an immediate, automatic fear response: WAKE UP SLEEPY-HEAD, YOUR LIFE IS IN DANGER! Much faster than thought, this reaction increases our chance of survival, and repressing it is dangerous to self and others. If the sense of fear has been repressed, it is necessary to find ways of uncovering it.


Although the idea is only hinted at in Tomkins, it now seems likely that repression of emotions leads to a vicious circle. One represses emotions in order to avoid painful feelings. At first the painful feelings have their origins in the reactions of others, especially our parents and schoolmates. Certainly as a child I sensed that expressions of grief or fear were seen by my father as indicating weakness. He often used a Yiddish expression in these circumstances: “Zai ayne mensch.” At the time I took it to mean “Be a man.” (instead of acting like a baby). What was painful to me was less the words (which actually mean “Be a real person.”) than his signs of impatience and even disgust at my behavior.


In order to avoid pain inflicted by others, we learn to repress the expressions of feeling that lead to negative reactions from others. After thousands of curtailments, repression becomes habitual and out of consciousness. But as we become more backed up with avoided emotions, we have the sense that experienced them would be unbearably painful In this way, avoidance leads to avoidance in an ever increasing, self-perpetuating loop.


For a lengthy period as a teenager and young man, it never occurred to me to try to identify and talk about the various feelings I might have had. I was angry much of the time, and sometimes enraged. As my son later told me, my anger was unpredictable. It was a problem in all of my relationships.


However, at age forty, both by accident and through various forms of therapy, I began to learn how to cry and feel fear, rather than numb it out. My first experience of intense crying at this age led to a solid year of crying every day, without exception. It was as if I had a backlog of tears to deal with.


My experiences of fear were different, however. They were only two of them, but they were profound, about six months apart. The first occurred as a result of therapy, after intense episodes of crying and laughing. The second was triggered by a death threat on the phone from an irate citizen.  During this time I was both chair of an academic department and an anti-war activist. This combination increased my visibility, and it irritated a lot of people, both in and outside of the university.


Both fear episodes were quite similar in content and in duration. They each lasted about twenty minutes, and involved what would have looked like epileptic seizures from the outside.  As I lay on the floor, my body went through convulsive shaking with an earthquake-like intensity, and sweating that soaked my clothes as if I had been swimming in them. Unlike my crying episodes, there was no mental content associated with the two fits of fear. Also, unlike the crying, which occurred so easily as to become commonplace, I felt utterly transformed after each fear episode.


These fear experiences also had an immediately visible effect. After the second one, I begin to actually experience fear when I was in danger. Since I was still deeply involved in the Vietnam protest, I begin to be less reckless. Isla Vista, the student community where most of my activity took place, was an extremely dangerous place at this time. At times the student protesters and the police were in open warfare. My change with respect to fear probably helped protect me and other protesters from injury.


Surprisingly, neither the crying nor the fear episodes were painful. Indeed, they were more pleasurable than painful. In the fear response, particularly, I felt somewhat like a child on a delicious roller-coaster ride. Apparently all of these changes occurred at what I have called optimal distance (in my theory of catharsis 1979). That is, I was both in a state of grief or fear, but also outside of it, looking on like a member of an audience in a theatre.


Making the acquaintance of my own shame came later, with more difficulty. At any rate, episodes of anger and rage became less frequent, briefer, and less intense as I learned to identify and feel vulnerable emotions. Another decisive step in this direction occurred as a result of marriage to my present wife, Suzanne Retzinger. After we began living together, she would usually come home from her job as a mediator in a child custody court, laden with talk. She would go on for what often seemed to me an interminable time, reviewing events of her day at work. Sometimes she would recount the same event several times. Listening to this daily drama, I was rapidly becoming exasperated.


However, after several months of suffering in silence, I noticed that she usually seemed to feel much better after her marathon of talk. A new thought occurred to me: if it works for her, maybe it will work for me! So we took turns reviewing the events of our day. At first I could hardly fill five minutes, much less the 45 that Suzanne usually took. But with some patient probing and questions on her part, I learned how to go over the events of my day, finding and trying to finish unfinished emotion-laden events. As I learned to do that, I began to feel better. On the basis of my own experiences and as a teacher, I have come to believe that everyone needs to experience the full range of their emotions if they are to thrive.


Gender Differences in Emotion Management


In my experience, most women express vulnerable emotions more fully than most men. Certainly they express fear and grief more. The difference between men and women with respect to shame is probably smaller, but with women still more expressive of this emotion, if only obliquely. That is, women seem more likely to review the events of their day, either to themselves or with another person, than men. In doing so, they are likely to encounter one or more of the vulnerable emotions.


On the other hand, more women are inhibited about expressing anger, whether verbally or acting it out. Each year of teaching hundred students about emotions, I would come across at least one female student who claimed never to have felt anger. This student usually wore a continuous smile that was difficult to remove, even on request. When such a student did hit upon the experience of anger during the course exercises, she appeared both alarmed and delighted.


My impression is that the gender difference in these four emotions is slowly decreasing, as women are being prepared at home and school for careers. This change is clearest with respect to anger; more women are expressing anger either verbally or by acting out. The change toward the masculine pattern of vulnerable emotions is less clear, and may be quite slow. It seems that even career women still cry much more freely than men and are quicker to acknowledge fear.


Studies of unresolved grief and of alexthymia (Krystal 1988) indirectly support the different management of emotions by men and women. Alexithymia is a recent addition to diagnostic categories, meaning absence of feeling and emotion. Unresolved grief is an older diagnosis. Unlike most psychiatric diagnoses, there is almost unanimous agreement that this syndrome is one whose “cause is known, whose features are distinctive, and whose course is predictable.” (Parkes 1998)


At any rate, although these studies do not comment on gender differences, in the case studies reported, men outnumber women by a ratio of about four to one. A patient who shows up in a psychiatrist’s office with symptoms of alexithymia or unresolved grief is much more likely to be a man than a women.


Doka and Martin (1998) have argued that men’s grieving is not recognized as such, because it is largely cognitive and behavioral, rather than affective. In this and other publications, Doka has sought to back up his idea with empirical data. But it seems to me that his data, based on paper and pencil inventories, hardly touches the realities of grieving. However, his idea that grieving has cognitive and behavioral, as well as emotional components is probably valid. And not just for grief, but also for fear and shame also: talking about feeling has a role in reframing trauma that is partially independent of feeling.


The difference between men and women’s attitudes toward violence can be seen in the various polls that are relevant to the support of the Iraq war. No matter which poll or the framing of the question, women always express less support for the war.  Women are much less keen on violence than men in its collective form. At the level of families, women are also much less likely to commit violence than men, especially physical violence.


A recent literature review of responses to stress (Taylor, et al 2000) finds that women, much more than men, are likely to “tend-and-befriend” rather than fight-or-flight. The attachment/networking response seems to be more alive in women than in men. The tend/befriend can be viewed as the default variant for females, an important modification of Cannon’s idea of fight or flight.


This paper proposes that the silence/violence pattern is the corresponding variant for males. The violence part obviously corresponds to fight. But the silence part is equivalent to flight, if withdrawal includes not just physical flight, but also withdrawal in its psychological sense. The Taylor et al “tend-befriend” pattern for women, when combined with the silence/violence pattern for men suggests that the fight/flight response is crucially modified by culturally driven gender differences.


The way in which the US military continues its policy of discrimination against gays, in defiance of court rulings, suggests the crucial role that hypermasculinity plays in collective violence. But the evidence is indirect. The role of hypermasculine emotions in actual events is difficult to evaluate directly because of inadequate reporting of the emotional/relational world.


Conventional reporting involves the behavioral/cognitive world, at best. But the nature of the emotions involved, and relationships, can be inferred from these materials if they are interpreted within the larger context. This method is first applied to the case of William Calley, the Army officer convicted of ordering and helping carry out the massacre at My Lai, and then to the much fuller accounts of Hitler’s life. But there is one dramatic difference between the two that makes Calley’s behavior seem almost as disturbing as Hitler’s: even though he organized the murder of millions, Hitler is not known to have to have ever killed even one of those that he led others to kill. Calley not only ordered murder, but killed many of his victims himself.


William Calley and the My Lai Massacre

This account is based on several sources. The first is the online record of a PBS broadcast: The American Experience: Vietnam (PBS, undated).  The second is based on a recent review of Calley’s conviction for murder, within the larger perspective of the US military involvement in the Vietnam war (Belknap 2002). Other biographies are also cited: Hersh 1970; Calley 1971; Everett 1971; Greenshaw 1971; Hammer 1971.

Charley Company reached Mai Lai village on March 16, 1968, led by Lt. William Calley. Like some of the men serving under him, Calley’s background was unheroic (The following account is an abbreviated version of the PBS text.

“[His] utter lack of respect for the indigenous population was apparent to all in the company. According to one soldier, "if they wanted to do something wrong, it was alright with Calley." Seymour Hersh (    )wrote that by March of 1968 "many in the company had given in to an easy pattern of violence."  Soldiers systematically beat unarmed civilians. Some civilians were murdered.  Whole villages were burned.  Wells were poisoned. Rapes were common.

On March 14, a small squad from "C" Company ran into a booby trap, killing a popular sergeant, blinding one GI and wounding several others.  The following evening, when a funeral service was held for the killed sergeant, soldiers had revenge on their mind.  After the service, Captain Medina rose to give the soldiers a pep talk and discuss the next morning's mission.  Medina told them that the VC were in the vicinity of a hamlet known as My Lai 4, which would be the target of a large-scale assault by the company. 

The soldiers' mission would be to engage the enemy and to destroy the village of My Lai.  By 7 a.m., Medina said, the women and children would be out of the hamlet and all they could expect to encounter would be the enemy.  The soldiers were to explode brick homes, set fire to thatch homes, shoot livestock, poison wells, and destroy the enemy.  The seventy-five or so American soldiers would be supported in their assault by gunship pilots.

Medina later said that his objective that night was to "fire them up and get them ready to go in there; I did not give any instructions as to what to do with women and children in the village."  Although some soldiers agreed with that recollection of Medina's, others clearly thought that he had ordered them to kill every person in My Lai 4.  Perhaps his orders were intentionally vague.  What seems likely is that Medina intentionally gave the impression that everyone in My Lai would be their enemy.

At 7:22 a.m. on March 16, nine helicopters lifted off for the flight to My Lai 4.  By the time the helicopters carrying members of Charlie Company landed in a rice paddy about 140 yards south of My Lai, the area had been peppered with small arms fire from assault helicopters.  Whatever VC might have been in the vicinity of My Lai had most likely left by the time the first soldiers climbed out of their helicopters.  The assault plan called for Lt. Calley's first platoon and Lt. Stephen Brooks' second platoon to sweep into the village, while a third platoon, Medina, and the headquarters unit would be held in reserve and follow the first two platoons in after the area was more-or-less secured. 

My Lai village had about 700 residents.  They lived in either red-brick homes or thatch-covered huts.  A  deep drainage ditch marked the eastern boundary of the village.  Directly south of the residential area was an open  plaza area used for holding village meetings.  To the north and west of the village was dense foliage.

By 8 a.m., Calley's platoon had crossed the plaza on the town's southern edge and entered the village.  They encountered families cooking rice in front of their homes.  The men began their usual search-and-destroy task of pulling people from homes, interrogating them, and searching for VC.  Soon the killing began.  The first victim was a man stabbed in the back with a bayonet.  Then a middle-aged man was picked up, thrown down a well, and a grenade lobbed in after him.  A group of fifteen to twenty mostly older women were gathered around a temple, kneeling and praying.  They were all executed with shots to the back of their heads. 

Eighty or so villagers were taken from their homes and herded to the plaza area.  As many cried "No VC! No VC!", Calley told soldier Paul Meadlo, "You know what I want you to do with them".  When Calley returned ten minutes later and found the Vietnamese still gathered in the plaza he reportedly said to Meadlo, "Haven't you got rid of them yet?  I want them dead.  Waste them."  Meadlo and Calley began firing into the group from a distance of ten to fifteen feet.  The few that survived did so because they were covered by the bodies of those less fortunate.

What Captain Medina knew of these war crimes is not certain.  It was a chaotic operation.  Gary Garfolo said, "I could hear shooting all the time.  Medina was running back and forth everywhere.  This wasn't no organized deal."  Medina would later testify that he didn't enter the village until 10 a.m., after most of the shooting had stopped, and did not personally witness a single civilian being killed.  Others put Medina in the village closer to 9 a.m., and close to the scene of many of the murders as they were happening.

As the third platoon moved into My Lai, it was followed by army photographer Ronald Haeberle, there to document what was supposed to be a significant encounter with a crack enemy battalion.  Haeberle took many pictures.  He said he saw about thirty different GIs kill about 100 civilians.  Once Haeberle focused his camera on a young child about five feet away, but before he could get his picture the kid was blown away.  He angered some GIs as he tried to photograph them as they fondled the breasts of a fifteen-year-old Vietnamese girl.

Meanwhile, the rampage below continued.  Calley was at the drainage ditch on the eastern edge of the village, where about seventy to eighty old men, women, and children not killed on the spot had been brought.  Calley ordered the dozen or so platoon members there to push the people into the ditch, and three or four GIs did.  Calley ordered his men to shoot into the ditch.  Some refused, others obeyed.  One who followed Calley's order was Paul Meadlo, who estimated that he killed about twenty-five civilians.  (Later Meadlo was seen, head in hands, crying.) Calley joined in the massacre.  At one point, a two-year-old child who somehow survived the gunfire began running towards the hamlet.  Calley grabbed the child, threw him back in the ditch, then shot him.”

In prior studies (1990) of massacres like the one in My Lai, the most prominent hypothesis concerns what has been called  “a forward panic.” This idea proposes that any group in a highly emotional state, especially a state of fear, is capable of massacre.

The parallel upon which this idea is based is the behavior of audiences in theatre fires. In a panic to get out of the theatre, members of the audience may trample on each other. A panic state of this kind leads to unintentional, indeed compulsive behavior. A telling detail from these accounts is that many audience members seem to have no memory of the panic. In their desperation to flee the theatre, they may have experienced an absence, which is French for temporarily losing your mind.

The idea of panic seems to explain collective behavior in theatre fires very well. A panic suggests flight behavior driven entirely by a single emotion, fear, and that it has no basis in the previous history of the members of the crowd. Forward panic add a new idea, that instead of flight, panic can also lead to fight. In the case of massacres, fight would take the form of slaughter.

There are several studies of massacres by soldiers that strongly suggest forward panics (Collins, 1990). Military units that had no history of earlier violence, under conditions of great danger, have committed mayhem, either captive enemy soldiers or helpless civilians. In Collin’s forthcoming study of collective violence, he suggests that the slaughter at My Lai may have been caused, at least in part, by forward panic.

While there are some indications of forward panic in the massacre at My Lai, there are many indications that suggest other causes as well. The prior history of the behavior of the soldiers in Company C is rife with episodes of earlier violence against civilians, suggesting a habitual pattern of behavior as one of the causes of My Lai.

There are also many suggestions that point toward intentionality by Calley and by his superior officers, including his immediate superior, Capt. Medina. Both the orders from above and Calley’s actions themselves can be seen as intentional. Although Medina’s orders are not completely unambiguous, certainly Calley’s comments and actions suggest intention, rather than compulsive actions during a panic.

Another, more obvious limitation of the forward panic hypothesis is that there seem to have been other emotions involved, in addition to fear. It seems obvious that fear was a part of the pattern. In the events leading up to My Lai, Company C had been exposed to grave and constant danger. They were fighting an enemy that was virtually invisible, attacking under thick forest cover, and in silence. The lives of these soldiers had been on the line 24/7 for many days. Surely they were living in fear of their lives.


But the account above suggests other emotions as well. The US soldiers found the skillful tactics of their enemy frustrating, which is one of many vernacular ways of implicating the emotion of anger. Anger is also implied in regard to the death of one of their sergeants and the wounding of several of their fellows, only two days before the arrival at My Lai: “[The] soldiers had revenge on their mind.”  The idea of revenge involves not only anger, since revenge implies a shame-anger sequence. The inability of the men to even find, much less defeat the enemy appears to have given rise not only to fear and anger, but also to the feeling of defeat and its consequence, humiliation.


Neither Calley’s autobiographical statement (1971) nor his biographies are sufficiently detailed to allow a clear analysis of his emotional life. With the exception of a temporary bond with his older sister, he appeared to have formed no close bonds with anyone. Even though lacking in details, his biographies do uniformly suggest conditions for one emotion, the emotion of shame. Judging from his history, beginning as a high school student and extending into his life after leaving school, he had encountered a long and virtually uninterrupted series of scornful treatments from others and unremitting failures.


Calley failed many courses in high school and college, and failed at many jobs after leaving school. By some monstrous error, when he enlisted in the Army, he was chosen for Officers’ Candidate School. But his record both in OCS and in his regular service was one of failure and scorn. The officer who was his immediate superior in Vietnam, Capt. Medina, is recorded as never referring to him by his name, but instead used only scornful epithets. For example, in front of his platoon, Medina referred to Calley as “Lt. Shithead.”


Given this record of unremitting scorn and failure, it is instructive to read Calley’s version of his life (as told to John Sacks, 1973). Calley was utterly silent about his long history of failure and scorn. The difference between the biographies and Calley’s version of his life would seem to support the idea that violent men suppress their emotional lives.


Calley’s behavior during the massacre itself provides a vivid image of the silence/violence pattern. While ordering and participating in the murder of women and children, he was emotionally silent. Note the details in the final paragraph above (PBS, undated):

“Calley was at the drainage ditch on the eastern edge of the village, where about seventy to eighty old men, women, and children not killed on the spot had been brought.  Calley ordered the dozen or so platoon members there to push the people into the ditch, and three or four GIs did.  Calley ordered his men to shoot into the ditch.  Some refused, others obeyed.  One who followed Calley's order was Paul Meadlo, who estimated that he killed about twenty-five civilians.  (Later Meadlo was seen, head in hands, crying.) Calley joined in the massacre.  At one point, a two-year-old child who somehow survived the gunfire began running towards the hamlet.  Calley grabbed the child, threw him back in the ditch, then shot him.”

It should be noted that some of his troops refused to obey Calley’s murderous commands, and that one who did obey (Meadlo) was seen crying afterwards. Calley’s behavior stands out not only because of its violence, but because it was so unemotional. There were undoubtedly many other massacres in Vietnam similar to the one at My Lai, some of them unreported. But even the reported ones received little attention compared to My Lai. Perhaps Calley’s combination of emotional silence and flagrant violence made it so inhuman and repugnant that there was no way of avoiding it.


Many studies of battlefield behavior have shown that to kill effectively, solidiers’ greatest struggle is with their own conscience. Their personal morality dictates it wrong to kill other human beings, even enemy soldiers. But Calley came to battle with the conscience problem long overcome: he had numbed out not only fear and grief, but also feelings of shame, the basic ingredient of conscience.


The Silence/Violence Pattern in Hitler’s Biographies


The evidence for unresolved grief is indirect: there is not a single mention of Hitler crying, not even as a child.  There are a host of indications, however, that he prized manliness, strength, and fortitude in the face of adversity. All of these indications run counter to placing any value on crying or other expressions of grief.


Hitler’s ideal of iron strength was not merely ideological, since he had distinguished himself as a good soldier in WWI (see below). His courage under fire may also suggest the numbing out of fear, since it is difficult to distinguish between courage and the mere absence of fear.


The Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller (l983) has suggested a family origin of Hitler's psychopathology, the conjunction of the father's physical/emotional violence and his mother's complicity in it. Miller argues that the rage and shame caused by his father's treatment might have been completely repressed because of his mother's complicity. Although she pampered Hitler and professed to love him, she didn't protect him from his father's wrath, or allow Adolf to express his feelings about it.

Hitler’s mother, Klara, as much as Adolf, was tyrannized by her husband, but offered only obedience and respect in return. Because of his mother's "love" for him, as a young child, Adolf was required not only to suffer humiliation by his father in silence, but also to respect him for it, a basic context for repression.

            In later years Hitler (l927) was to gloss over his treatment by his parents, which is congruent with repression. He described his father as stern but respected, his childhood as that of a "mother's darling living in a soft downy bed" (Bromberg and Small, l983, 40). However, Alois's son, Alois Jr, left home at l4 because of his father's harshness. His son, William Patrick, reported that Alois, Sr. beat Alois, Jr. with a whip. Alois Jr.'s first wife, Brigid, reported that Alois Sr.  frequently beat the children, and on occasion, his wife Klara (Bromberg and Small, l983, 32-33).

            It would appear that Hitler's early childhood constituted an external feeling trap from which there was no escape. This external trap is the analogue to the internal trap proposed by Lewis (l971): when shame is evoked but goes unacknowledged, it generates intense symptoms of mental illness and/or violence towards self or others. Under the conditions of complete repression that seem to have obtained, Hitler's personality was grossly distorted. His biographies suggest that he was constantly in a state of anger bound by shame.

            One indication of Hitler's continual shame/rage were his temper tantrums. Although in later life some of them may have been staged, there is no question that in most of his tantrums he was actually out of control. His older stepbrother reported that even before he was seven, (Gilbert, l950, l8):

“Hitler was imperious and quick to anger…If he didn’t get his way he got very angry. He would fly into a rage over any triviality.”

In his teens, Hitler's rages were frequent and intense, evoking such expressions as "red with rage", "exceedingly violent and high-strung", and "like a volcano erupting" (Kubizek l955).

            Hitler's compulsive anger is suggested by the slightness of provocation that triggered rage. Kubizek's memoir provides two examples: one occasion on learning that he had failed to win a lottery, another when he saw "Stephanie" with other men. Stephanie was a girl who Hitler longed to meet, but never did so. He was infatuated with her, but never introduced himself (Bromberg and Small, l983, 55-56).

The most obvious manifestations of Hitler's shame occurred after he became Chancellor. Although easily the most powerful and admired man in Germany, he was constantly apprehensive (Bromberg and Small, l983, l83):

His anxieties lest he appear ridiculous, weak, vulnerable, incompetent, or in any way inferior are indications of his endless battle with shame.

Further manifestations of chronic shame states occurred in his relationships with women. In attempting to interest a woman in himself (Bromberg and Small, l983, l83):

even the presence of other persons would not prevent him from repulsive groveling. [He would} tell a lady that he was unworthy to sit near her or kiss her hand but hoped she would look on him with favor... one woman reported that after all kinds of self-accusations he said that he was unworthy of being in the same room with her.

                        These latter descriptions of Hitler's shame states suggest overt, undifferentiated shame, emotionally painful states involving feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. How then is one to understand the other side of Hitler's personality, his arrogance, boldness, and extreme self-confidence? How could a man so shame-prone also be so shameless?

            Lewis's (1971) conception of the bimodal nature of unacknowledged shame provides an answer. In addition to the overt shame states discussed above, Hitler also had a long history of bypassed shame. Many aspects of his behavior suggest bypassed shame, but I will review only three: his temper tantrums, his "piercing stare" (Bromberg and Small, l983, 309) and his obsessiveness.

            As already indicated, shame theory suggests that protracted and destructive anger is generated by unacknowledged shame. Normal anger, when not intermixed with shame, is usually brief, moderate, and can even be constructive, serving to call notice to adjustments needed in a relationship (Retzinger, l991). Long chains of shame and anger alternating are experienced as blind rage, hatred or resentment if the shame component is completely repressed. In this case, the expression of anger serves as a disguise for the hidden shame, projecting onto the outside world the feelings that go unacknowledged within. According to Lewis (1971), persons in whom shame is deeply repressed "would rather turn the world upside down than turn themselves inside out." This idea exactly captures the psychology of Hitler's life-long history of intense rage states, and his projection of his inner conflict on to scapegoats in the external world.

            The second indicator of bypassed shame is Hitler's demeanor, especially the nature of his gaze. As early as l6, it was described as "blank" or "cruel" (Bromberg and Small, l983, 51). On the other hand, there are descriptions at a later time (21) in which he was said to have " an evasive manner", of being "shy" and "never looking a person in the eye", except when he was talking politics (ibid., 70). These descriptions suggest that Hitler may have been in a virtually permanent state of shame, manifested as either bypassed shame (the stare) or overt shame (avoiding eye contact). As his power increased, the bypassed mode was more and more in evidence, in the form of arrogance, extreme self-confidence, isolation, and obsession.

The prison psychiatrist Gilligan (1996) studied the emotions of male prisoners convicted of violence. He found evidence that each of them harbored a kind of shame similar to Hitler’s. Gilligan’s term for it is not unacknowledged or bypassed, but “secret.” He proposed that secret shame was a fundamental basis for the violence of these men.

Isolation from Others.

The biographies and psychological studies emphasize Hitler's isolation as a child and adult (Bromberg and Small, l983 Bullock, l964 Davidson, l977 Miller, l983, Stierlin, l976, l976). As an infant and youth, he was pampered by his mother. But even as young as three, the relationship with his father was charged with violence, ridicule, and contempt. By the age of 6, he apparently was walled off from everyone, including his mother (Bromberg and Small, l983, Miller, l983, Stierlin, l976).

            The three most likely candidates for a close relationship after the age of 6 are August Kubizek, Eva Braun, and Albert Speer. Hitler and Kubizek were companions for three years, beginning when they were both sixteen. Kubizek's memoir of Hitler (l955) shows that his relationship to Hitler was not that of friend but adoring admirer. Kubizek describes Hitler as a compulsive talker, brooking no interruptions, let alone any disagreement. Lacking any other listeners at this age, Hitler used Kubizek as a sounding board.

            Speer, an architect-engineer, was closest to Hitler among his officials during the last years of WWII. In an interview after the war, Speer revealed that although he spent countless hours with Hitler, there was no personal relationship between them (Bromberg and Small, l983, ll2): “If Hitler had friends, I would have been his friend.”

            Her diary (Bromberg and Small, l983, pp. l07-l08) shows that Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress, came no closer than Kubizek or Speer. For most of the fifteen-year relationship, he attempted to keep it hidden, confining her to her rooms during meetings with others. A few entries suggest the tone of the whole diary. In l935, when she was 23 and Hitler 46, she complained that she felt imprisoned, that she got nothing from their sexual relationship, and that she felt desperately insecure: “He is only using me for definite purposes.” (March ll). Most of the women with whom Hitler had sexual relations either attempted or committed suicide (Small and Bromberg count seven such relationships, with three of them attempting, and three completing suicide l983, p. l25). Eva Braun made two such attempts.

            In l942, Hitler inadvertently suggested his isolation from Eva. Hearing of the death of one of his officials, Fritz Todt, chief of armaments, he said that he was now deprived of “the only two human beings among all those around me to whom I have been truly and inwardly attached: Dr. Todt is dead and Hess has flown away from me!” (Toland, l976, p. 666.) As Bromberg and Small (l983) note, this statement leaves Eva out entirely, mentioning instead “a remote man who could rarely be induced to sit at Hitler’s table and a man he could not bear to converse with, denounced as crazy, and wished dead” (p. l50).

            Neither as a soldier nor as a politician did Hitler have close attachments. His experience as an enlisted man in the Army during WWI is illustrative. Although he was a dedicated soldier who demonstrated fearlessness in battle, he was a “loner” he had no intimates. This may be one of the reasons that although he was decorated for bravery, he was little promoted after four years. He left the army at the rank of lance corporal, the equivalent of a private first class. In his evaluations, he was described as lacking in leadership.

            After becoming the leader of the Nazi party, he moved no closer to human relationships. A description of his campaign the year before gaining power is representative (Small and Bromberg, l983, l08):

[In the campaign, Hitler] had almost no real contact with people, not even with his associates, who felt they were touring with a performer… He remained a lone wolf, now….more distant from his senior associates, and contemptuous of them.

Although the adored leader of millions of people, Hitler apparently had no secure bond with anyone after the age of six.




If it proves to be the case that the silence/violence pattern arises out anger, repression of vulnerable emotions and lack of bonds, and that this pattern is much more prevalent in men than in women, what would be the practical implications?


Obviously one direction would be for men to unlearn their suppression of the vulnerable emotions, express anger rather than act it out, and to bond to at least one other person. Reviewing events of one’s day, as indicated above, can be a particularly simple and effective way of moving toward all three of these goals. However, even if most men agreed with this direction, which they don’t, it would still take a long time to see effective change. By adulthood, the s/v pattern is compulsive, as is the repression of the vulnerable emotions, compulsive anger and isolation from others. It would take considerable time, energy, and skill to change this pattern.


In the meantime, it might be practical to use the difference between men and women in our political structures. It is possible that electing/appointing women to high office, rather than men, might be a step, on the average, of slowing down the leap into war and violence. There are exceptions, of course, like Margaret Thatcher, who manipulated collective emotions as skillfully as any man. But most women are at least somewhat less easy with this kind of exploitation than our present leaders, hypermasculine men. Women also would be less trigger happy then men, who have a tendency to fight first and ask questions later. 


Arlie Hochschild (2004) has proposed that large numbers of working class men support the Bush regime, even though its policies are against the interests of their class. She argues that the reason for their support is emotional, rather than economic. They admire, and wish to emulate Bush’s style of meeting threat with aggression rather than with negotiation and compromise. His hypermasculine, violent style, is a reaffirmation of their own. It would appear that this style is so central to their identity that it overrides their economic interests.


Each of the initiatives proposed here may be only one step toward controlling violence. Having a majority of leaders be women, rather then men, for instance, seems a long way away. In Lysistrata, a drama from ancient Greece, women joined together to deny sex to men who fought. Perhaps modern women might take note, not only to lessen war directly, but also indirectly, to encourage men to vote for women, or at least, less arrogant leaders.


Of the many issues that need further exploration, one stands out: the extent to which some women accept/encourage hypermasculinity in men. This possibility will be the subject of a subsequent paper. Perhaps there is a type of femininity that exactly fits with, and encourages hypermasculinity, women who want a strong, silent man to protect them because they anticipate being victimized.  Such women would seek hypermasculine men as husbands and encourage hypermasculinity in their male children. This pattern could help explain why modern societies continue have high proportions of men who are hypermasculine, or at least show some of its characteristics.


So far, I have found only hints in this direction in the literature on masculinity. Reardon (1985) went only so far as to suggest that the pattern of women submitting to male domination contributes to the warfare system (p. 19). Jackson’s (1990) study of violent men states that they usually saw their mothers as passive victims (p.88), without Jackson trying to deal with the extent their view was accurate.


My hypothesis is that there is a common emotional/relational configuration for women that would be the (partial) opposite and therefore complement of hypermasculinity.  In the emotion realm, hyperfeminine women would suppress anger, one the one hand, and act out fear of being victims, on the other. In terms of relationships, these women would be engulfed with others, giving up crucial parts of self in order to be loyal. The suppression of anger provides a key example: the other is always right. Norwood’s (1985) study of women who tolerated abuse of self and/or their children by their husband provides an example.


These two hyper-genders would be mutually reinforcing, creating a social institution of gender that would support warfare. Being only a surmise, to be taken seriously, it would have to have to be supported by actual studies. One direction would be to study gender differences in preferences, and responses to, certain types of films. The “action” film, revenge by men acting out anger through aggression and violence, seems to be the favorite of hypermasculine men. The corresponding favorite for hyperfeminime women, if my hypothesis is correct, would involve the acting out of fear, as in films that portray danger and threat by an intruder(s) in the home, and other threats of violence against defenseless victims.




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Kubizek, A. l955. The Young Hitler I Knew. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

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Speer, A. l970. Inside the Third Reich. New York: Macmillan.

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Taylor, Graeme J., R. Bagby, and J. Parker. 1997.  Disorders of affect regulation : alexithymia in medical and psychiatric illness . New York : Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, Shelley, et al. 2000. Biobehavioral Responses to Stress in Females: Tend-and –Befriend, not Fight-or-Flight. Psychological Review. 107: 411-429.

Toland, J. l976. Adolf Hitler. Garden City, NY: Doubleday


Svpat      Feb11   2006   8219


[1] This note revises my earlier approach to male violence  (2003) in several ways, particularly by introducing “the vulnerable emotions,” and the idea that we need to experience the full range of emotions.  I am indebted to Suzanne Retzinger for suggesting these two ideas.