The Familiy-Dynamics of Nations

(Andreas v.Wallenberg, Düsseldorf, FRG)


It  would  have seemed somewhat missing to me as a  German to participate in this congress at this time of the century and not speaking on the subject of interrelations between national dynamics and the dynamics of small-groups’ and individual.

Recently Parin,  a Swiss analyst published a paper on the Ger÷ man and Italian national dynamics. He diagnosed a much higher de÷ gree  of repressing of the fascist past in Germans and stated a greater need for them to come to terms with it. So, being a rep÷ resentative of my country I want to analyze the feelings that the daily  confrontation with todays historic development stirs up in its people and make it to the object of a public discussion.

Generally confronted with individuals or small groups, psycho÷ therapists, psychoanalysts, group-therapists or family-therapists always  can detect within the individual and small group dynamics the downfall of societies or the nation’s dynamics. As well, we can observe that the large group-dynamics of a given society and nation are  influenced by the dynamics of individuals and small groups, respectively family-dynamics.

Poland  with its particular catholic family-structure is  a splendid example demonstrating this fact. This structure did re÷ sist  any communist ideology motivated collectivizing of agricul÷ ture and many small farming families stayed on functioning.

Now  since  the early eighties I have been studying the  rela÷ tions that exist between individual and small group  psychology and have endeavored to develop concepts that try to overcome this conceptual gap. There does exist without doubt a national dynamic with  considerable influence on the family and the individual. However, frequently it does evade our observation and encounter simply because we are missing concepts and skills and some other qualities perhaps,  to become aware of it, to become conscious of it, and to encounter it.

Object of my Presentation

The questions I want to pose are, is there a significant rela÷ tionship

  1. between the personality structure, the internalized group- dynamics  of the individual member of a given society and the group-dynamic of the entire society,

  2. between the group-dynamics of its families and small living groups, and the society as a whole and as a nation, and

  3.  between  this inner dynamics and the way a nation  manages its relations with other nations.

My  personal point of view coming from clinical encounter with individuals and small groups and from cross-cultural experience is that there exists a very definite interrelationship.  And that we as psychotherapists, group-therapists or family-therapists would be very much confronted with these different dimensions of social, national and international relations, if we only had ears to  hear, eyes to see, and the courage to feel. Because on the other hand if we deny the existence of these social and political dimensions we are prone to become mere tools of the ruling power÷ structure, without even being conscious of it.

To get hold of this, in the past ten years I have developed

  1. the concept of the ego-function of social participation and its group-dynamical understanding,

  2. a  group-dynamical understanding of Johan Galtungs concept of structural violence and

  3.  a group-dynamical understanding of national identity  and how it relates to the capacity for peace as a continuing dynamic process.

In  this paper I will attempt to deepen this quest for a  pro÷ found understanding of the interrelationship between individual, small groups,  and society and try to approach the problem of the interrelationship of nations and how the later relates to the dynamical processes mentioned above.

Clinical observations on a Nation’s Social Mood

During  the past 10 months,  besides the joy and enthusiasm in face of the newly gained freedom for East-Germany and the fall of its totalitarian regime there were,  from my participant observa÷ tion, three feelings among the West-Germans that became particu÷ larly acute in the past 10 months though they were not  publicly spoken of.

  1. There where feelings of intensive anxiety about the crumbl÷ ing of structures that, so unjust as they had been, promised more security than the new ones to come, nobody knows about yet.

The second,  deeper feelings,  are intensive feelings of shame about  having not been more outspoken about the inhumanity of the SED Regime during the past decades.

A  variety of present West-German Schoolbooks on history  wit÷ ness this attitude of denial of inhumanities (by their  neutral, even sympathetic attitude to many more than doubtful aspects  of the then East-German social reality). East-German teachers were shocked  after they received these books as a donation to use now in their education.

There  is a third feeling that is also very important.  It is the individual feeling of oneness, of being complete,  being repaired again.

We all know about the importance of this feeling in the devel÷ opment  of the individual personality, it is described in the treatment of  borderline personalities and we also know it from broken families and the struggle of the children to experience an intact, a united family,  one that is not being split into mom’s and dad’s family.

There is another phenomenon I want to report on.  It’s the re÷ vival of the past. The war, its atrocities and its wounds seemed so  long away. But now suddenly many people feel that the losses of 45 years ago are the losses of yesterday and the feelings  of wanting to have it back are as fresh.

I just think of a good, very liberal and humanistic friend who cannot  help but wanting back his old, admittedly very beautiful house in still East Berlin.

Well,  now I have been speaking of the feelings of  West-Germans. It seems that East Germans have evolved different dynamics, influenced by oppression,  suspicion, isolation and other factors not necessarily favorable to a healthy personality development. Some  East-German psychotherapists have published on these damag÷ ing effects on the personality development.

Another phenomenon that stroke me personally was the unexpected  fragility of social systems and modes of social organizations seemingly  so stable and proving themselves so unstable. At the same time unveiling themselves as having rested only on the illu÷ sionary  perceived power of a small leading group that proved itself to be neither very stable nor very extraordinary. Does this throw some light on the phenomenon of transference upon socially leading groups as a whole as being perceived to be much more pow÷ erful than they are, because of intrapsychic human needs, because of the projection of parental securing figures. It is the unmask÷ ing of illusionary powerlessness of the oppressed.

I  have reported on these feelings,  because I have perceived that they are powerful,  pervasive manifestation of individual, small groups, and national dynamics and can become strong motivating  forces the ways a nation deals with its members and oth÷ ers. Thus it will be decisive, wether they can be worked through and left behind or have to be defended against permanently.

The ambiguous undifferentiated sphere of the Ego – a Key to

understanding its dependency from social forces and its capacity to tune in with the social body

Through  my work with victims of torture with Amnesty International in  the past nine years, I met several Argentineans and Chileans, who, in an impressive and convincing way try to come to terms  with their dictatorial past and who have proposed several conceptual models to gain an understanding of the relationship between society, family and the individual.

Bleger, in my appraisal developed a key concept in our attempt to  approach an understanding of this, by describing the primary sphere of an ambiguoud nucleus in our ego of non-existing differentiation  between the inside and outside world, between I and you, me and the other, as the sphere of most contradictory emotions of love and hate, without being organized in a hierarchical or what so ever way.

It  is here,  where human beings need most support on the  one side and are most susceptible to fall prone to totalitarian rule and  to submission to circumstances and behaviors that originally stand in opposition to their genuine needs and sincere believes.

According to Bleger,  and from my clinical evidence I only can support his view that the mature Ego tries to dispose of this in÷ ternal sphere of ambiguity,  of its ambiguous nucleus by projecting it into situations in the outside world that will give him security and identity.

However, on the other hand, by way of reciprocity, it enables us to become recipient of the phantasies and anxieties of others. Thus anxieties,  and other feelings can pervade a society by this pre-differentiated ego-sphere, which exists beyond individuality. (This may be also the realm of e.s.p. sensitivity to social and individual events in the outside world)

But because of the ego-threatening quality of this to our ma÷ ture,  differentiated, and structured ego, we deny this and the accompanying conformism and opportunism will give rise to our so÷ cial double that contains our most uncontrolled social reactions.

Bleger  also mentioned the good symbiosis that makes life possible against the paralyzing, dependent making, alienating symbiosis, humans are prone to enter into to save themselves from the life-threatening anxieties.

Interesting for the understanding of totalitarian and dehumanizing  states is that torturer but also social-violence, and destructive social and national forces can replace the  protecting father and mother by usurpating their psychic place and offering so called security to that part of our self which is  threatened by existential anxieties and fears.

This  describes how the ego and the whole group come to accept the premisses  of a torturing system and also of a dehumanizing system.

The feeling of Shame as a Key to Liberation

The task is, to make the ego become aware of the projection of its  undifferentiated part on the outside world, and its subsequent submission and adaptation to it.

The  feeling of shame becomes a paramount important signal  to recognize this gap between ego-ideal and practised real life.

To  leave alienation behind seems a positive human  force, to look for meaning, as Winnicott said,  to create and make use of objects, to develop towards individualization (Mahler) and then to integration.

We  as psychotherapists should be aware that to the degree  we ourselves are identified with the life-destroying aspects of the system  we live in, we cause iatrogenic effects in our patients and we prevent them from separating out of the destructive symbiosis they live in.

It  seems also important to accept this human trait of extreme vulnerability that makes us strive for security at any price,  I think in place of a death-instinct in its importance for human development.

Shame has a survival function for the integrity of our personality,  or character. It arises, when we perceive a discrepancy between the image of ourselves and our real actions and feelings. When our prejudices about ourselves are challenged, shame arises. When  we have done something, agreed to something that actually corrupts us and we are faced with the recognition of this dis÷ crepancy.

(The oriental loss of face comes close to this.)

Of  course I don’t mean ridicule and the subsequent feeling of shame as an abuse of parental power.

Being used like a machine by torturers or by a system,  if re÷ alized is a very painful process.

To  prevent the ego of being invaded by ambiguity that is  ac÷ companying active participation of the individual in  corrupting activities.

What can we learn about Germans

Splitting  and denial are defenses the ego develops to protect itself   against this conflict of ambiguity threatening its integrity.  The invasion of the ego by this sphere of ambiguity leads to numbing (Lifton), total adaptation, or rather submission to the external circumstances without any alternative options as a way of coping with the arising, overwhelming anxieties.

In  the process of German unification the following  elements can obviously be observed:

  1.  The breakdown of the GDR system has reveiled the  defense character of the prevailing projection on the warm authority rep÷ resented by the totalitarian state.

  2. The ego is threatened by invasion of its ambiguous spheres, for the projection does not work any longer.

The  internal anxieties are split off and projected on a crumbling economy  that makes one believe this country reaches the poverty level of Biaffra,  a obvious projection of this inner state of mind, and thus the consequent, complete,  and unconditional submission to a country perceived as rich, promising eco÷ nomic security and thus providing safety.

Of course there exists the West-German correspondent part, the promise  of security in place of confronting feelings that might arouse own anxieties.

What would happen if this process would not occur?

  1.  A numbing in face of the becoming conscious of this sphere of  ambiguity that for so long motivated the submission to a corrupt, fascist regime that was inhumane to human needs,  ruled by frightening its members and by threatening permanently their own identity, by dehumanizing them and by making them objects of its rule, but  also by coercing and luring them into submission against their better convictions.

  2.  A sharp increase in the felt level of anxiety,  a severe identity-crisis in face of the own past,  where one has collaborated with a inhumane state-power and submitted to ways of behaving that clearly are opposed to one’s own convictions. I think of the  educator, who every morning handed her own baby over to the state-run toddlers’ group, though being profoundly convinced that it would harm him, because of the way of its set-up.

  3.  and even more severely, most certainly,  the discovery of spheres within one’s own personality that are completely identified  with the aggressor, or more accurately with the omnipotent state ruler that had been completely alienated from  one’s own needs and submitted quasi automatically, dehumanized, objectified to the rulers demands by denial of oneself.

This  “adaptive  function” of  a corrupted ego has  not been worked through and thus has been “transferred”  on to the adapta÷ tion to West-Germany. By this of course the rising anxiety is fend off and controlled.

(Now of course this does also apply to West-Germany.)

Present  ultrasonic speed of unification has of course several roots. The fear of a soviet backlash, making unification impossible again,  the messianic hope into West-German economy, but last not least also the escape from the personal encounter with one’s own past, which always is the encounter with oneself.

West-Germany’s dynamic

Another  interesting  question is, what has become of the  so long split off feelings of aggression in Germany projected on the east,  and after the downfall of the idealization of the U.S.A., which was substituting the idealization of Hitler pretty quickly after the war?

My  hypothesis  is that this splitting process in general  has shifted during the three past decades  considerably from the East-West conflict on the one side to the North-South conflict and  to environmental destruction versus protection of the environment. Today some nations destroy their coastal sea, the atmo÷ sphere and their soil as if they did not live there and if nobody were  affected by this. This process of denial and exclusion of consciousness resembles very much the projection of aggressive÷ ness on the respective east or west side and then fighting it there.  To destroy nature to such an extent that human fertility has dropped by two third (60 to 20 Million sperms per milliliter) can only be understood as the destructive conquest of the bad na÷ ture, which seems to be a projection of our own nature. In a certain  way it does remind me of the European conquest of South America, which basically also consisted of exploitation and anni÷ hilation. Now is this a Pan-European dynamic?

Family-Dynamics and Nation’s Dynamics

What  relationship  bears this to family-dynamics and  nations dynamics. How are nations perceived by their members? As big families,  as institutions, as clans, as state powers or as the general matrix, within which each member and also each family is integrated.

The  way a family copes with its borders,  handles inside and outside of the family,  in my experience bears close relationship to the way, a nation deals with other nations. The Japanese family  is an excellent example to demonstrate this. Inside and outside of the family, in the Japanese culture, is a most important concept, to describe the family member’s group adherence and also to  gain an understanding of the individuals perception of the outside world.

It  is my observation from Japan that the degree of  impermeability of family borders corresponds to the degree of  impermeability of a nation’s borders.

(I very  well remember my first visit to Poland,  when I had been warned by members of such families that I would be  highly endangered when coming to this country and that bringing my two months-old son with us would come close to manslaughter. Those of course  were the same families that also otherwise felt highly threatened by the outside world.)

This factor carries a high inverse correlation to the capacity to integrate unpleasant elements.  By this I mean shameful events of the past, unaccepted feelings, desires, and impulses, which in turn  bears a clear relationship to a nations capacity to encoun÷ ter foreign cultures, face new challenges, cope with change without resorting to black and white thinking.

Nations and their Families

How  do nations influence their families.  Bettelheim did describe how families support their members denial of social reality and thus have contributed eventually to their being murdered.

From  several South-American authors we do know that  families contributed to the emotional stability of their members  during times of dictatorial rulership.

Thus we can understand the increasing importance of the family  in totalitarian and fascist societies as a source of security and  anxiety-reliever. So, fascist state-powers endeavor, to split families and rule over them by mistrust, treachery, and try to establish a stronger liaison with state institutions than ex÷ isted between the family-members.

Up-to-now  East-Germany  is a prominent example for a  fascist type of society, in Chile this has been even more overt, but may be because of this it was not so treacherous.

Of  course the family dynamics within nations relate also in a very direct way to the family dynamics of families of nations.

The severe,  punishing, low self esteem providing, super ego, communicated by an achievement oriented, but instable and unreliable mother with low self esteem will create, in turn, members of a  society that are more prone to depend on the defense mechanism of denial to cope with human conflicts of a more extreme nature than children who were brought up by a reliable mother with  high self esteem.

Inter-National Relations

What  now determines the relationship between nations and  how can we understand the dynamics active between nations.

One  factor recently described by Rita  Rogers, psychoanalyst and Psychiatrist, is the transgenerational inheritance of feelings of revenge.

We have noticed how feelings of revenge can not only be transferred from one generaton to the next,  but but how they are then be projected upon the other and experienced by the individual as a feeling of fear from revenge.

Another factor I want to propose, alludes to Winnicott’s concept of interhuman space, the idea of an international intermediate space. By this I mean the space between nations, where people have the chance to encounter and to communicate on an equally respected basis. In my understanding this corresponds to the inter÷ mediate and playful space a society creates for its members.

This  years Report of Amnesty International states that we can find torture and the violation of basic human rights in 130  out of 160 states. As we know from the training of war, war atrocities, and concentration camps, the psychological mechanism of de÷ humanization is an important factor in enabling human beings  to kill, without being paralyzed by feelings of guilt.

Still the overwhelming majority of states,  of course to a varying degree, do rule their people by the process of making them dehumanized subjects or rather objects.

A second,  important fact, we have learnt from the description of the dynamics in concentration camps and annihilation camps,  I just remind of Bettelheim, is the fact that the destruction of hope, the destruction of the future, the destruction of any out÷ look for betterment is an essential part of effective totalitari÷ an rule.

Now if we look at the family dynamics between nations, we also have to diagnose this form of totalitarian rulership between many rich  northern countries and many “hopelessly indebted” poor southern countries.

When  talking about the family dynamics of nations,  it is of course necessary, to take into consideration the nations living or having until just recently lived under a dictatorial rule.

Among others, two factors characterize a dictatorial rule:

First,  conflicts are being resolved by excluding dissidents and under certain circumstances even by annihilating them.

The separation, the split between oppressor and oppressed, between  those that knew about the violations of human rights, and those that  did not, and those that did not want to know, destroyed, distorted, and perverted the fundamentals of the process of living together.

(By the way,  this is the extraordinary characteristic of Na÷ zi-Germany that  it was not primarily the dissidents that were massmurdered but on a whole rather quiet citizens).

Second,  a paralyzing anxiety prevails, a fear of eventual an÷ nihilation, unpredictable and hovering over everything, where every move can be wrong and a real double-bind situation exists.

Therapeutic Consequences – Social Therapy

We  have learnt from the treatment of many victims of  torture that psychotherapy can be the first place to make public the experienced  psychic and somatic damage within an engaged therapeutic relationship, where the therapist acknowledges real  injustice.

It  must be the right of every member of such a  society, and this has to be achieved by public consent, to get  acknowledged and to make public his experienced damage and destruction, and to regain the reconstruction of a new life-project.

The aim must be,  to make available a chance to make conscious to every member, who was a victim of oppression, how and why did it happen and with what aims.

The  November revolution of East-Germany triggered the  breakdown of a dictatorial rule, but revolutions usually do only exchange one oppressor by another one,  if they are not accompanied by individual and group-dynamic changes.

To regain the basic feeling of infantile innocence, to experience the fundamental right to be accepted unconditionally, to recuperate  the parents benevolent look, their holding, and one’s inner continuity and one’s own sense of history are primary objects of a repairing therapeutic experience.

If,  on a social level the trauma of a dictatorial regime has not been worked through, the big risk arises that democracy, as a political system,  turns out to become increasingly in contradi tion to the social reality of a democratic system. Consequently the democratic system can not be stabilized.

This,  of course, is also valid for relationship between nations. For instance, the experiences and the feelings of expelled people have to be acknowledged,  as President Havel did recently in a representative manner with the German Sudets. Only by breaking the vicious circle of denied emotions and realities can  we overcome the eternal circle of inherited revenge. This does not mean, we exculpate criminals of their crimes.

I  feel,  in a successful psychotherapeutic process,  be this individual, group, or family, another important criteria  of success will be the feeling of hope, which allows a human being, as well as a group, to gain and share a common vision of the future,  to have aspirations and hope. The fathers of the North-Am÷ erican constitution put this, somewhat old-fashioned, in the words, “pursuit of happiness”. And the children’s concentration and destruction homes, recently brought to light in Rumania, bear most recent  witness to the function of the production of this hopelessness by an authoritarian states.

The International Intermediate Space

Now,  the family dynamics of nations would most certainly  be insufficiently described if we do not develop a concept to get hold  of interrelationship, mutuality and of reciprocity. Of course this applies North-South and East-West.

What  we need,  similar to Winnicott’s  intermediate, playful space, where human beings can explore and grow is an intercultural  space, a discourse between members of different cultures to approach an understanding of each others living condition,  of each others anxieties, heritage and of each others way of dealing with existential anxieties. A sincere discourse means also,  to share the views about each other, to assist one another to gain new insights about oneself, and thus gain a new under- standing about the way, oneself deals with existential anxieties.

Human and Cultural Evolution

Generally speaking,  in my opinion, la “condition humane”  is characterized by three different, important lines of  developments.

First, the human tendency to integrate, to form an entirety, to unite, to reach a state of oneness,

secondly, the human tendency, to ward off the threat posed  by his fellow human being by dehumanizing him, by objectifying him, by turning him into his tool that behaves completely according to his whishes,and

thirdly, this intra-human area of undifferentiated, paramount need for emotional security that makes us want to protect us from annihilating anxieties,  combined with this is the human tendency to seek security in the outside world. However, simultaneously as we dispose this archaic, internal sphere of anxiety to the outside world, we posses at the same time possibly a sensitive organ to the phantasies, feelings and motives of our human environment.

So  it seems to me that we stand on the threshold to an evolu÷ tionary change in the dynamics of nations. Of course,  this has been foreseen long ago by others. Already Lincoln spoke of the family of Nations and meant relations between equals  partners. However, the past 45 years can only be described as a bipolar world, split into two with some nations trying to keep more  or less equal distance.

So, the threshold we stand in front of now is,

either towards a multipolar world, as for instance demanded by Vaclav Havel, or

towards a unipolar world with some form of world government as already   previewed in the seventies by Carl Friedrich v. Weizäcker, German physicist and philosopher, by the way, brother of our present federal president.

We  can observe this struggle at present,  too, on a smaller scale within Europe,  one faction advocating a politically united European  market with a strong supra government, the other fac÷ tion,   advocating a multipolar Europe of all the fatherlands, collaborating  on an equal and peaceful basis, but as sovereign states.

Now,  the old dilemma or  quite obvious struggle is,  if it would be possible to unite without loosing one’s national identity,  or even worse, will unification not only result in the loss of one’s identity,  but also in the oppression of many by one or by one dominant center of power.

((Now, obviously,  the former so called communist or real-socialistic nations are good examples,  how one center of power was formed and applied, to rule over vast parts of society. Ironically,  this reminds me very much of the authoritarian family structure with primarily one strong father)).


Psychoanalysis,  by its very nature, is an ethical endeavor. A psychoanalyst,  by the very definition, is enmeshed into the production of truth.  However, as Lichtenstein once wrote, it is important to know, where the struggle takes place:  the fight for the human being against the human tendency to objectify, against metamorphosis of man into a thing-object.

The  fundamental  premise of my work is the struggle  for man against the human tendency to objectivity or,  as I wrote previously, to support the live-supporting group-dynamics against the live-forbidding, even live-destroying dynamics.

Adorno once said, after Auschwitz all culture is impure, however, we refuse to acknowledge this, because as a consequence our hope and our will to live would diminish.

Denial,  consequently,  in the years after,  was the paramount defense  mechanism. The peace movement fought to bring into consciousness  the irrationality of the atomic threat and the dimen÷ sion of the denial of the atomic risk,  pictured in the memorial museum in Hiroshima and underneath the increasingly failing con÷ crete ceiling of the Tschernobyl atomic-reactor.

I still remember very good,  the most impressive traces of the atomic bomb in the Hiroshima Museum.  It was not the picture of the atomic mushroom nor the photos of a whole city being  wiped out, but the greasy spot on a rock being left over from a human being, having been burnt in the epicenter. These are the moments, when repression and denial fail to work and the ego is invaded by a social reality and overwhelmed by its ambiguous feelings.

The mechanisms of denial and splitting are withering, we stand on  a threshold to come to new terms with ambiguity and existential needs for security.  I think however these old mechanisms will be revived under new constellations, staying basically the same,  unless we succeed in a common effort to create new solu÷ tions.

In  my experience,  the degree of the capacity to tolerate and to cope with ambivalences, ambiguities, and inner conflicts, is a direct measurement for the capacity of an individual, but also of groups and nations to handle conflicts peacefully and in a mature way,  as I have called it some years ago, for man’s “Frie÷ densfähigkeit”, capacity for peace.

At  the same time,  we can observe that individuals and groups that  are not overwhelmed by their inner sphere of ambiguity  and undifferentiation posses a powerful instrument to tune in on the existential anxieties of others.  They posses the capacity to be in touch with existential needs and fears of others, without letting  themselves be manipulated or alienated from themselves. The more we succeed to integrate this part of us, that we used to project to the outside world,  the more we can face and cope with the threatening aspects of reality more consciously.

To  support our patients and the groups we work with,  to get into touch and to integrate these parts, is a very important

therapeutic  task and may need to develop new ways of  encoun÷ ter. We only can try to reach the inner state of freedom,  to be able to choose, on which side we want to stand on.

(Alive become also the memories of an encounter with the East- German regime.  I think of these border-policemen, completely identified with the state-agressor,  and the hidden, silent soli÷ darity I personally experienced after being involved in an accident and being exposed to the state’s inhumane police-machinery, which  of course too consisted of living beings, German nationals.)


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