Understanding Love and Ending War:

Psychohistorians Discuss Psychohistory

by James C. Duffy

Psychohistorian Eric Heimstadt informed me that in 1967 the following words, written by a past president of the American Psychiatric Association, George Stevenson, in a letter to the editor, were published in The American Journal of Psychiatry:

For us in the APA, war ought to be a psychiatric health program. A solution to this problem may still be a long time in the future, but this is no reason why we should continue to ignore it, or leave it only to politicians or to the protagonists of the extreme left or the extreme right . . . war behavior results basically from emotional disturbance.1

This is a remarkable quote, if only because of its date, 1967!

Much warring has happened since then, but little understanding of the motivations for war has become widespread even while psychohistory has moved forward by leaps and bounds since then, a psychohistory that has given us many needed insights into motivations for war.

I doubt there will be much serious interest in understanding and, thus, in ending warfare unless there is a lot more interest in psychohistory.

So why is there not more serious interest in psychohistory?

Answer: Because without group-fantasies, including those that serve especially defensive and projective functions and the reenactments of early life traumas that these fantasies stimulate, so many persons would feel as if they were totally collapsing and fragmenting. Were many persons to lose unrealistic (and unconsciously motivated) group fantasies which lead to war, they would feel abjectly terrible.

War-stimulating group fantasies and accompanying reenactments of early life trauma serve to fortify the wall of silence2 about child abuse, neglect, and other trauma. This fortification will continue vigorously so long as only very few persons do the necessary personal processing to come to terms with their own early life abuse, neglect, or other trauma.

But even this much is not enough. What is also required to replace unreal group-fantasies with compassionate love is not just enhanced self-understanding, though that is of course required; but also needed are revised perceptions of what is real in the outer world and also of what is possible there, too.

Without these enhancements and revisions, which are greatly facilitated by the serious study of psychohistory, as well as personal processing of one's early traumas, many will continue to find that just as in the abusive household, human beings will have war because we "hurt individuals, and we hurt groups of people, and we hurt entire nations, and we even sometimes hurt the whole world - and then we lie about it to ourselves." These are the succinctly stated words of Sandra Bloom, as cited by Robbins,3 from Bloom's 1997 book Creating Sanctuary: Toward an Evolution of Sane Societies. Bloom is also president of the Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility and of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

So many of the group-fantasies sustaining war are essentially just such lies that Sandra Bloom refers to - lies that keep so many from doing the difficult work of processing huge amounts of personal childhood emotional injury. The lies are thus short-cuts, potentially world-destroying substitutes for breaking down the wall of silence surrounding child abuse, neglect and other trauma, substitutes used to protect oneself from floods of feeling experienced as personality collapse.

Note Lloyd deMause's4 description of this defensive function of unreal group-fantasies:

That historical group-fantasies are absolutely essential to the psychic well-being of individuals is unquestionable. People stripped of important group-fantasies - even though their private fantasy systems remain intact - nevertheless feel they are going crazy. The most dramatic examples, perhaps, are those found in anthropologists' accounts of groups who are suddenly "deculturated," who lose their rituals and beliefs through traumatic contact with Western or other cultures. This dramatic loss of traditional group-fantasies generally leads to such severe outbreaks of personal anxieties that new groupfantasies with apocalyptic and millenarian content are usually quickly formed to replace them . . . It appears that being without a set of group-fantasies is one of the most dangerous personal conditions which can be experienced.

Note that without unrealistic group-fantasies - some of which lead to war-people can encounter one of "the most dangerous personal conditions which can be experienced."

I will believe that psychiatrists and related professionals are serious about ending war, and that nations are serious about ending war, when they are serious about learning how difficult and painful the subject of love is and work to end love's status as merely a frivolous or taboo topic. And when anyone with a scholarly disposition, or with just an interest in reading more, is serious about understanding the evolution of love, s/he will be led to delve deeply into the extraordinary insights of psychohistory and the prodigious contributions to that discipline by Lloyd deMause.

Humankind pays a high price socially and individually for remaining ignorant of the limitations of unreal group-fantasies in offering only the feelings of protection, without real protection, from injury. Real protection will come when love is better understood - and appreciated in actions - on a very wide scale.

There are many aspects to better understanding love. I believe that love cannot be fully understood until the subjects of empathy and sympathy are also studied more closely. I am aware that most psychologists and social scientists have not studied research on and analyses of empathy and sympathy, such as those found, for instance, in works by Suttie,5 Wispe,6 Basch7 and others. That professionals are left using only the term "empathy," while having very little acquaintance with the research and analyses of empathy, much less of sympathy or of love (other than a minimal basic textbook level of acquaintance with these fundamental subjects) reveals something about a bigger picture. In this neglect of the basic issues related to human love, we find more evidence of the innumerable reflections of the situation in which so many professionals cannot take love itself seriously because of the many painful memories that are stimulated in doing so. I am referring to painful memories associated with their own early lives of love deprivation, a deprivation that is the common lot of all but very few human beings.

There is abundant literature on all of these subjects - a great deal of which is accessible in almost any issue of The Joumal of Psychohistory - that could enlighten psychiatrists who purport to want to understand war. This literature could enlighten also all others who purport to be interested in fully understanding how to love others and oneself in general, as well as how to end war. Meanwhile, group-fantasies that substitute for hard evidence and more careful reasoning (about love, empathy, sympathy, and related issues having to do with why so many misunderstandings and taboos surround these topics) get in the way of our becoming acquainted with this vast psychohistorical and other research literature that could shed light on these topics.

As we learn from the above quote by Lloyd deMause, these interfering group-fantasies also protect persons who do not process their own early traumas from personal experiences that are felt to be dangerous. And there may of course be times in anyone's life when not processing these traumas may be wise. Thus, a wholesale disparagement of the defensive function of group-fantasies would be inadvisable, of course. But to the extent that individual persons can find help managing the arduous task of processing early abuse, neglect, and trauma, it would be in this kind of endeavor that we look for understanding of the motivations for war.

I am one who happens to believe, however, that not everyone can withstand this kind of intense exploration of early life personal trauma. Some persons, I believe, were so badly damaged by early experience that the effort in processing their painful early experiences would be counterproductive or worse. But those who can manage the task and can find the help to undertake it will be those who lead as quiet revolutionaries creating a more loving world with more loving future generations of parents and, thus, of children.

Meanwhile, civilization is a race between ignorance and education - ignorance and education about love and the many taboos associated with knowing about it and living with it!


1 George Stevenson, "Psychopathology of International Behavior." American Journal of Psychiatry, 124 (1967): pp. 166-167.

2 Alice Miller, Breaking Down the Wall of Silence; The Liberating Experience of Facing Painftil Truth. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.

3 Arthur D. Robbins, "Psychiatry and Politics." The Journal of Psychohistory, 26 (1999): pp. 868-873.

4 Lloyd deMause, Foundations of Psychohistory. New York: Creative Books, 1982, p. 178.

5 Ian D. Suttle, The Origins of Love and Hate. New York: The Julian Press, 1952.

6 Lauren Wispe, The Psychology of Sympathy. New York: Plenum Press, 1991.

7 Michael F. Basch, "Empathic Understanding: A Review of the Concept and Some Theoretical Considerations." Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 31 (1983): pp. 101-126.

Jim Duffy gave us this biographical statement: He is a human being, which, he says, is the most important identifying information one ever needs to know about anyone.

This article appeared in the Winter, 2000, issue of The Journal of Psychohistory
Reprinted with permission

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