Germany: a traumatized nation

For many years I traveled to Germany to teach about psychological trauma at the Focusing Zentrum Karlsruhe. A psychotherapist has a unique window into the society in which she lives. My years of teaching psychotherapy skills in Germany allowed some very special insights into this foreign country’s history.

Germans suffered terribly from both the first and the second world wars. War, however, is not the crux of their suffering. The trauma begins with German child rearing. I believe that traditional German child rearing is responsible for Germany’s history of wartime atrocities.

Germany has a well-documented history of intentional cruelty and shaming of children dating back to the1750’s. Well meaning parents followed the advice of “experts” who told them how to raise an obedient child. What mattered was that the child would grow into a citizen who would obey orders. To this end, crying babies were shaken to scare them into never making their needs known. Children were shamed and beaten to make sure they never followed their own feelings and wishes.

No one who benefited from secure attachment as a child could have carried out the brutal orders German soldiers inflicted on their victims. As a result of their childhoods, they had no access to their own feelings. If you can’t experience your own feelings, how can you empathize with others?

The lesson for all of us is this: If we want to live in a peaceful world, we need to take great care to raise our children with love and caring.

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