Nietzsche Trauma and Overcoming
The Psychology of the Psychologist
הספר מראה כי ניטשה סבל מהפרעת דחק פוסט טראומטית וכי ככל הנראה היה קורבן לפגיעה מינית בילדותו. אני מביא הוכחות הפזורות בכתביו ומעמידם לצד ממצאים פסיכולוגיים בתחומים אלה. אני מראה כי בהתבססות על נסיון חייו הוא בעצם מלמד התמודדות עם כאב וסבל. הספר מצביע על שלוש דרכים עקריות להתמודדות המבוססות על לקחים מבית-הספר של המלחמה, החוכמה של פירוש מחדש, ופעילות אמנותית. שלושת הנושאים המרכזיים בתורתו של העל-אדם, השיבה הנצחית והרצון לעוצמה, בעצם הלב של הפילוסופיה והפסיכולוגיה שלו, מובנים כעת באור חדש, בקשר לסבלו והתגברותו.
הספר מבקר את הניסיונות לאבחן את ניטשה כסובל מתחלואים פסיכיאטריים שונים, לערוך לו פסיכואנליזה עקב התיתמותו מאב ולחשוף אותו כהומוסקסואל סמוי. גישות אלו מובילות למבוי סתום: ראשית אי-אפשר להוכיח שמשהו הוא מופת לבריאות נפשית, שאינו הומוסקסואל סמוי, ושנשאר אדיש למות אביו. שנית, ספקולציות כאלה מסבירות רק חלק קטן מהתבטאויות המצויות בכתביו. שלישית, ואולי חשוב מכל, הן לא משנות את הבנתנו את רעיונותיו, וכיצד הגיע אליהם; הן לא מעצימות את הערכתנו אליו; ולא משאירים אותנו עם לקחים לחיינו (המטרה של כל כתיבה טובה על פי ניטשה).
דר’ אורי ורניק הוא פסיכולוג קליני ורפואי מדריך ומטפל מיני. פרסם לפני שנתיים ספר על פסיכולוגיה ופסיכותרפיה על פי ניטשה. ספרו שינוי בדרך קלילה יצא בהוצאת מודן.
לפניכם פרק מתוך הספר באדיבות המחבר וההוצאה לאור:
Must I begin by elaborating on the importance and significance of Friedrich Nietzsche’s work? You, the reader, even if you did not realize that he consid- ered himself and in fact was a psychologist, must have known why you chose this book. It is almost impossible to characterize Nietzsche with one label, as any of the following will be correct: philosopher, philologist, psychologist, doctor of the soul, poet, musician and teacher (Beyond, IV, 63), and all of them combined would be closer to the truth. Everything he wrote was in a distinct style, blending polemics, short aphorisms, and poems. Critics, versed in the methodology of social sciences, could argue that Nietzsche’s psychological work is not based on controlled studies and an investigation of a sample of subjects (nowadays, usually undergraduate psychology students, participat- ing in experiments for credit).
Let us not forget the other eminent psychologists, who relied on their obser- vations and life experiences to reflect and theorize about human beings, among them Sigmund Freud, Carl R. Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Eric H. Erik- son, Carl G. Jung and Alfred Adler.1 I hope to convince you that it is worth- while to pay attention to the observations and experiences of an especially talented person. One with a developed sense of what is pertinent and human- ly universal, and with an ability to generalize to others his own experiences and struggles to find meaning in life (Human, Preface, 7). He described him- self as an observer “A man who constantly experiences, sees, hears, suspects, hopes, and dreams extraordinary things; who is struck by his very own thoughts as if from outside, as if from above and below, as if they are experi- ences and lightning strikes tailor-made for him” (Beyond, IX, 292).
In another book, I explored Nietzsche’s original psychology and psycho- therapy, which philosophers usually understand in circumscribed ways, and psychologists hardly know.2 Here, I am going to extract Nietzsche the person, out of his writings, and thus, display what he called “the psychology of the psychologist” (Will, II, 426). Then, in a “circular transaction,” I will take ad- vantage of what was learned about him, to examine and understand the text again. My first hypothesis is that Nietzsche experienced the consequences of traumatic events in his life and that he most probably suffered from abuse as a child. The second hypothesis is that we can understand his psychology and central themes in his philosophy as his ways of coping and self-healing, which he wanted us to learn and adopt. The third hypothesis is that Nietzsche’s ordeal can be understood pertinently in terms of the psychological literature and studies of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). The knowledge gained in these fields will help us understand a significant part of Nietzsche’s writings in a new light. Once we realize that he wrote about his tribulations and ways of contending with them, we will gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenology of trauma and abuse in general. We will also find in Nietzsche inspiring directions for dealing with such situa- tions, in our own lives, and the lives of those we care about. His aphorism “Out of life’s school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger” (Twilight, Maxims, 8), is often quoted in texts on Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG), but we will learn that he had much more to say on this issue.
Why bother with him as a person? Are not his books sufficient and self- evident? Nietzsche’s writings have been and continue to be the subject of many scholarly books, and most commentators had something to say about Nietzsche the person, and the relation between his life and his ideas. Ama- zon.com listed 630 books under “Nietzsche and biography” (May 2017). Even if the examination of the person is justified, are there not enough biog- raphies,3 Philosophical-biographies4 and psychobiographies5 about him al- ready? My answer, similar to other authors’ who wrote one more book on an extensively treated topic, is that my perspective, focusing on his traumas and overcoming is, at least, different and new. Nietzsche came to our help and supplied us with answers to these questions, invited us to solve his life riddles and instructed us on writing meaningful psychobiographies as well. For him, the test of a philosophy and a psychology is in their application to living, which is “The only method of criticizing a philosophy that is possible and proves anything at all, which is a manner of criticism untaught at universities, where only ‘criticism of words by other words’ is practiced.” Because the proof a philosophy lies in life, he found reading Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers to be more useful than reading academic publications. Thus, the best test of a theory is the life of the philosopher “since everything depends on the character of the individual who shows the way” (Untimely, Schopenhauer, 8). Hence, by studying him, we examine his philosophy.
We can safely disregard the author in reading most philosophy and psychol- ogy books, as the ideas or information speak for themselves, and we find them either agreeable or useful, or not. Knowing that citizens in Konigsberg, Kant’s hometown, used to set their clocks the moment they saw him coming out to take his daily stroll, is not going to add or distract from our understanding of his abstract and systematic work. However, in some outstanding cases, a book makes us wonder about the life of its author. Such writers live in their books’ pages, and what they wrote is connected with what they experienced them- selves. Nietzsche wrote with the blood of his heart (Zarathustra, I, Reading and writing) and he felt that he gave birth to his books, his children. In his classic essay Why Read the Classics, Italo Calvino explained that such books “exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflag- ing themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.” This kind of a book “has never finished saying what it has to say,” and the reader continues to be in a dialogue with it, feeling a particular kind of rapport, naturally want- ing to get to know the author better6. Margaret Sanger, expressed the feeling of many readers, in writing about Nietzsche that “It is impossible to apply his philosophy or to study or know him before first getting an insight into the tremendous personality which so strongly reveals itself through every line of his work in every aphorism of his mind.”
We wish to understand, and are fascinated by the lives of prominent per- sons, those who shape culture and history, who are exemplars of the highest achievements or most awful calamities; be they generals, politicians, artists or scientists. Perhaps, we want to understand our human potentials and charac- teristics, as if touching them will transform or teach us lessons about life. We pay attention to the way they dealt with setbacks, disappointments, and frus- trations encountered on their way. We are interested not only in their thoughts and actions but also in the way they died, as is exemplified in the figure of Socrates. Geniuses are a riddle to those of us, not as talented as them. Excep- tional ideas, forcefully stated, invite attention to the person behind them. Life shrouded in mystery calls for elucidation, and indeed Nietzsche’s last ten years of life in a state of unexplained mental paralysis became a topic of inves- tigation and speculation by scholars, physicians, and psychiatrists in particu- lar. Being a single man without life-partners, his love-life is another area of exploration and search for clues, aiming to uncover his secret, culminating in claims that he had affairs with this or that person, or that he had this or that sexual orientation. Nietzsche, like Heraclitus, at whose proximity he felt “warmer and better than anywhere else” (Ecce, Birth of tragedy, 3), can be called “the dark one,” as so much of his life remains under cover. I am a psy- chologist, and not surprisingly I see Nietzsche as a psychologist, who in writ- ing about “the psychology of the psychologist” (Will, II, 426), tried to under- stand his own life. Like him, I feel that “I have a nose” (Ecce, Wise, 1) for psy- chological issues, and see them where others have not suspected they exist. He described himself as “a born psychologist and lover of a “big hunt,” one who explores the intricacies of the soul (Beyond, III, 45), and this hunter is now the subject of our hunt.
The biographer’s forte is that she knows many things her protagonist did not report (but cannot protest, deny or reaffirm). Psychologists and therapists, on the other hand, relate only to what their subjects say directly. They do not visit their subjects’ hometown, kindergarten or high school; do not interview their families, friends, and colleagues; and do not take into consideration what persons with their agenda wrote about them, as was the case of his sis- ter, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. Unlike a biographer who wishes to discover new facts, a psychologist-therapist can only offer new interpretations, suggest hypotheses and try to examine them from as many perspectives as possible. I will thus relate only to what Nietzsche himself had to say, wrote, and wanted us to know, as found in his publications and letters to friends. I am going to take into consideration his diaries, edited after his death, in what is known as The Will to Power, assuming that he intended to make a book or books out of them. It is certainly possible to combine the two roles: psychologists can write biographies; biographers can use psychological theories and speculations.
In addition to connecting with the literature on trauma and abuse, this book is tied in with the discipline of psychobiography, and I will, therefore, begin my exploration with the issue of the author-text connection, the relation be- tween the person and her writings and the possibility of retracing, extracting the person from the writings. Nietzsche himself, we will see, had what to say about these questions as well. I will then go on to review, criticize and reject the prevalent psychological attempts to analyze and portray him, and follow it with an examination of Nietzsche’s autobiographical writings and the exten- sive use of riddles in them. A careful reading will show us that this psycholo- gist‘s “multifaceted tortures” are compatible with what is known today as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
A reservation is in order here. Everything that I will claim about Nietzsche’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in adulthood, his pain and suffering, poison- ous upbringing and childhood sexual abuse, is based on circumstantial evi- dence, and for this reason is open to more than one understanding. Apparent- ly, one could choose different texts and offer different interpretations. To make my case, I have combined pieces of information from diverse sources, which eventually support each other. My first line of argumentation is based on gleaning, juxtaposing and interpreting, passages from his writings, which were overlooked until now, or not understood as referring to Nietzsche, the person, and as indications of trauma and abuse. How ironic it is, that we did not have to be detectives, looking for clues in faraway places, which Nietzsche did not discuss, or did not want us to explore. The answers only lay in front of us, in what he wrote. As the prophet said, we are persons who “have eyes but do not see; who have ears but do not hear” (Jeremiah, 5, 21). You, my dear reader, are going to find many quotes from Nietzsche’s writings in this book. I felt that it would almost be a crime to reduce them into my ordinary language. I hope that you wish that there had been more of them.
My second line of reasoning is based on a reanalysis of the figures of Diony- sus and Jesus that hold a central place in Nietzsche’s writings and which, I will argue, he saw as representing him. Nietzsche considered his idea of the Eter- nal Recurrence to be especially sublime, and with tremendous implications for life. What looks like an unexplained over-evaluation is understood in a new way, once his secret, the one he called “midnight’s voice,” is deciphered. These readings will supply us with indirect evidence for the presence of a traumatic theme in his life. The third line of argumentation will consist of the striking parallels found, between Nietzsche’s reports of mental anguish and difficulties in life, and the findings of the psychological studies of survivors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the consequences of adverse childhood experiences and sexual abuse. At this point, we will be able to characterize Nietzsche, as the survivor par excellence, which will bring us to the last part of the book, where we will deal with overcoming.
I will present Nietzsche’s original conceptualization of pain and suffering, and three modes of coping and overcoming trauma, which can be drawn from his writings: the ways of the sage, warrior, and creator. These conceptualiza- tions pass the Nietzschean test of relevance to life, as in studying them, we gain thinking and acting tools for coping with hurt and distress to the best of our ability. Similarly, we will find that his search for meaning and self-healing following his traumas, formed the foundation of his central ideas, the triad of the Will to Power, the Eternal Return and the Superman. All of them will be shown as different ways of overcoming. The new light shed on these much- discussed themes, from a psychological-biographical perspective offers an additional vindication of our position.
Nietzsche, who said about himself “I am no man, I am dynamite” (Ecce, Why I am a destiny, 1), rarely fails to move his readers, who respond either with admiration of his unconventional thinking and way with words or with almost hostile opposition to his ideas. These responses are often accompanied by a heightened sense of irony, which is also used in his writings as a literary de- vice.8 Ironies were abundant in his own life as well, which revealed marked contrasts between what he intended or what could be expected from his writ- ings and what actually took place. The three Moirae (Fates), who come unin- vited, must have worked overtime in his case. I will conclude my introduction, with a rundown of some such ironies:
The Barefoot Shoemaker: Nietzsche is one of the great teachers of life. He is the teacher of the Superman (I will use, not to be a hair-splitter, the most common Thomas Common’s translation of Übermensch into English, having it stand equally for men and women) and the Will to Power. He is also the disciple of Dionysus, the laughing dancer, the champion of earthly desires and being an “animal with a good conscience” (Gay, II, 77). In his own life, as we will see, he was a hermit, locked in his cell of pain, isolation, and depriva- tion. He demonstrated insight into human behavior that did not involve him. He gave valuable advice on managing life and self-advancement, but as far as he was concerned, we will see that he emerges from his writings, to say the least, as unassertive, inflexible, inhibited and without a highly developed pragmatic emotional intelligence. And yet, I wonder how many therapists can disagree with Zarathustra‘s statement “Many a man cannot loosen his own chains, and yet he is a savior to his friend” (Zarathustra, I, The friend).
Beware of pity: Zarathustra said “Alas, where in the world have there been greater follies than with the compassionate? Woe to all lovers who cannot surmount pity!” (Zarathustra, II, The compassionate). Moreover, he argued that creators must be hard, and that great love and pity are incompatible, and pity is obtrusive and offensive (Zarathustra, IV, The Ugliest man). Still, it is usually reported that on January 3, 1889, on the Piazza Alberto in Turin, he saw an exhausted and ill-treated carriage horse. In what could be the last gesture of a still sane person or the first signs of mental breakdown, the same person, who decried pity and empathy in such high terms, flung his arms around the horse’s neck, wept and then lost consciousness. He never wrote again and sank into a state of daze and withdrawal.
Anacleto Verrecchia, who investigated Nietzsche’s “catastrophe in Turin,” concluded that the above description, often mentioned and taken to be factu- al, in what consists of a double irony, is probably a myth only. He found out that the story was first reported unsigned, in a tabloid, eleven years after Nie- tzsche’s death. The more graphic details of the story appeared in another newspaper item forty years afterward, seeping from there into more serious publications.9 We have here another variation on facta ficta (Daybreak, IV, 307), and a justification of the low esteem Nietzsche held for journalism “Sick are they always; they vomit their bile and call it a newspaper” (Zarathustra, I, The New Idol).
On how to die: after Nietzsche’s breakdown in Turin, he was kept in psychi- atric clinics in Basel and then Jena. Later he was placed in his mother’s care in Naumburg, the town where he grew up. After her death, his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche took care of him. Much of the time, he was bed-ridden and incommunicative. Again ironically, in the years before his mental collapse, Nietzsche detested his sister, yet she took upon herself to run his archive and edit, or more accurately censor and distort his works. He died in his sister’s villa on August 25, 1900, apparently of pneumonia in combination with a stroke. With another wry twist, the person who attacked Christianity vehe- mently had a Christian funeral and was buried near his father in his hometown church’s graveyard. The circumstances of his death are much re- moved from what Nietzsche had to say about timely death. When Nietzsche wrote, on two separate occasions, about Socrates and Jesus, he saw their deaths as a mirror of the truthfulness of their life-tasks.
Nietzsche who taught the doctrine of voluntary death “Die at the right time,” did not know that he was describing the exact opposite of his own, indeed, not voluntary death. Dying well, meant dying not too late, nor too early, turning death into a celebration of a full life. A death willed after one had a goal and an heir to continue one’s cause; avoiding unnecessary prolon- gation of life “Sour apples are there, no doubt, whose lot is to wait until the last day of Autumn: and at the same time they become ripe, yellow, and shriv- eled” (Zarathustra, I, Voluntary Death).
On falling between the cracks: Nietzsche studied and was later a professor of philology. He never had formal training in philosophy, and when he wrote about himself as a philosopher, it meant simply “a lover of wisdom,” usually qualified with adjectives such as real, tragic, pessimistic or experimental. He examined philosophy from the point of view of psychology and argued that quite often, the errors of the greatest philosophers in constructing false ethics were based on wrong explanations of human behaviors and feelings (Human, I, 37). Nietzsche took upon himself to expose the philosophers’ errors “I have asked myself whether, taking a large view, philosophy has not been merely an interpretation of the body and a misunderstanding of the body” (Gay, Preface for the 2nd Edition, 2).
Nietzsche describes himself as a psychologist from birth “a born and inevi- table psychologist and analyst of the soul” (Beyond, IX, 277) with an “innate refined sense concerning psychological questions in general” (Gay, Prologue, 3). This role-identity continued throughout his life, culminating in his becom- ing “an old psychologist and pied piper” (Twilight, Preface). A good reader, Nietzsche believed, will certainly discover the fact that “my works bespeak a psychologist who has not his peer” (Ecce, Books, 5).
None of the philosophers before him were real psychologists like him; on the contrary, they were “superior swindler,” and “Idealists,” which made him conclude that “Before me there was no psychology” (Ecce, Destiny, 6). In those instances where he wore the hat of a philosopher, he was not a “philosophy laborer,” and he singled out his idea of the philosopher “by miles from the idea which can admit even a Kant, not to speak of the academic ruminators and other professors of philosophy” (Ecce, Untimely, 3). However, this is not how he is perceived now, as a simple Google search (May 2017) reveals: twice as many results were found for the combination “Nietzsche + philosophy” as compared with “Nietzsche + psychology.” An Amazon search for books with the same combinations found a ratio of three to one. Most of the discussions of Nietzsche as a psychologist are from the perspective of depth psychology, seeing him as a precursor of other admired psychoanalytical authorities. For this reason, supposed similarities between them are highlighted, while to my mind, the differences are much more interesting. Mainline psychology, in contradistinction, treats him as if he never existed. Thus, recent clinical psy- chology books, discuss multiple-selves and acceptance therapy, without even once mentioning Nietzsche’s idea of multiplicities and Amor fati. The bottom line is that those he rejected, adopted him; while the ones he wanted to be part of, stayed clear of him.
On scholars: Nietzsche was a critic of the academic establishment and no fan of scholars. This part of his work is unsurprisingly usually disregarded in academia. A philosopher, a lover of wisdom, is not only a great thinker but also a real human being with an “immediate perception of things.” Scholars, however, lose touch with reality, letting concepts, opinions, history and other books and articles step between them and things (Untimely, Strauss, 7). Their books are oppressive, with the typical specialists’ shortcomings: zeal, serious- ness, fury and “overestimation of the nook in which he sits and spins.” Their books “also mirror a soul that has become crooked; every craft makes crook- ed” (Gay, V, 366).
In his discourse on scholars, Zarathustra-Nietzsche stated “I have left the house of scholars and slammed the door behind me.” He had enough of being a spectator and preferred the open air over dusty rooms. He lost his patience with the cunning little sayings and little truths; with “weaving the stockings of the spirit.” Scholars, he felt, are sly poisonous spiders who “know how to play with loaded dice” (Zarathustra, II, Scholars). He reserved his sharpest remarks for the scholars studying the philosopher who was his educator: “A corpse is a pleasant thought for a worm, and a worm is a dreadful thought for every living creature. Worms fancy their kingdom of heaven in a fat cadaver; professors of philosophy seek theirs in rummaging among Schopenhauer’s entrails, and as long as rats exist, there will exist a heaven for rats” (Untimely, Strauss, 6).
Allow me to check Google twice more and be done with it. I found 413,000 results for “Nietzsche + academic articles” and 1,900 for “Nietzsche + Ph.D. Dissertations.” My guess is that there must be more than a hundred references per article or book. How ironic it is that the severest critic of scholars became their very favorite body, not to say corpse, of study. I must admit that with this book, I might be joining the crowd.