Is there such a thing as feminine masochism

About female masochism

Until 1972 Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen was the wife of Alexander Mitscherlich in the public consciousness. Point. And that despite the fact that, as head of the training committee, she had a decisive influence on psychoanalysis in Germany, both practically and theoretically. And that despite the fact that, together with her husband, she is the founder of the Frankfurt Sigmund Freud Institute. And that although she, together with her husband, is the author of "The Inability to Mourn" - the most illuminating social-psychological analysis of being German after Hitler. As a combative woman, as a nonconformist analyst, Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen was always exposed to criticism. However, it degenerated into a real hunt in 1982 after the death of her husband. Today she is the best-known psychoanalyst in the FRG and has been translated and recognized far beyond the German borders.

Alice Schwarzer If Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen should characterize herself, for better or for worse: How does she describe herself?
Margarete Mitscherlich Funny, the strange thing is that I haven't dealt with myself for so long ... I really don't know what my typical character traits are at the moment.

Surely there are some.
I want to say a laissez-faire. I let myself get away with a lot of things because I just can't make it. And while I was still in a close relationship, I was a very jealous person. I couldn't stand that Alexander had something with other women, which he definitely had a tendency to ... And then I often had anger, rivalries, etc. But who should I have rivalries with today? Who should I be jealous of?

There are certain ideas about a person like you. A psychoanalyst who is confident and calm. You are that, but not only that. You are also a very quick-tempered person. You once said yourself that you are choleric.
Yes, I can be very quick-tempered.

Actually, you have very little of a German professor, you have a rather wild temperament who is always ready to break out and do something that is not really appropriate in your situation. That struck me the most when I met you. This is expressed in the small playful as well as in the large. For example in the 1977 EMMA confession: "I am a feminist". That was a scandal back then. Or simply by acting like a young girl in the street, hopping along the curb on one leg.
I never really accepted the seriousness of adulthood. Thank God no. It was like that for a while. For example, when I had to lead psychoanalytic training in the Federal Republic of Germany. I'm glad I got out of there. I also don't feel like living anymore when I have to be so adjusted. I only like the people I can freak out with occasionally.

There is a kind of German smartass. Always safeguarding yourself, never daring to think what might be wrong or not accepted by your own people.
Yes, terrible, terrible! And that's exactly what I'm happy about, I have to honestly say, that I'm out of these narrower psychoanalytic relationships.

You are the best-known German psychoanalyst, but at the same time an outsider in your own industry.
Yes, no question. But it is very relieving, also very liberating, to be an outsider again and again. In the 1950s, as a psychoanalyst, you were an outsider in German society. But then when you become more or less an insider and belong to the psychoanalytic establishment, that's terrible. Then you have to free yourself again. And the women's movement helped me with this.

Let's talk about you, your life, your childhood. You are used to being told about other people's lives on the couch. How was your life, what are your most important influences?
I was born on the Danish-German border in Denmark. My father was a doctor. As far as ethnicity is concerned, as the saying goes, he, like his entire family, has felt like a nationally conscious Dane for centuries. My mother came from Lütjenburg, near Lübeck, and was actually brought up as a nationally conscious German. So that I stood between two different ratings when it came to national awareness. It was of course also a country that only became Danish again after the Second World War, a country that was fought over a lot between Germans and Danes, and that went back and forth, sometimes it was Danish, sometimes it was German. My father's whole childhood, for example, was determined by the fact that as a child of very nationally conscious Danes he had to go to a German school. And I was born at a time, namely in 1917, when it was still German. Only after the war, in 1920 the vote, this part came to Denmark because the majority had opted for Denmark.

How was your mother actually?
My mother was a very energetic person. She was née Leopold, her father was a fur trader, her mother née Feudenthal. They were very Protestant and Christian, but it was never so clear where they both came from ... Later, when she became the director of a secondary school, she studied for a few more semesters in order to get the appropriate degree for this qualification . But she gave up the job when she got married. She never loved my father as much as she loved her first deceased fiancé - and he knew it too.

It can also be a way for women to evade men: by bringing forward someone who has long since died ... That shifts the balance of power in favor of a woman right from the start.
Yes. It was clear that my mother was the focus in the family. She was the livelier one, that's how I felt. She was the more interested. She actually always felt like laughing.

Was she also the more intellectual?
It's not that simple. I found her to be the more intellectual. She read a lot, she was very literary. When I walked with her through the woods and gardens, she knew how to name each flower by its German and Latin name. She was able to write casual poems very quickly, had a great talent for drawing, etc. etc. She helped my father in practice, she helped out at school, she ran her house like nothing, there was always very good food to eat, she could cook fabulous. For me she was actually an omnipotent woman, I gladly admit that.

You were very attached to her, and she hasn't been dead long. She's almost 100Years.
Yes, 98 ...

And she still traveled to Africa until she was over 90. It must have been overwhelming too. Did you feel recognized by her?
I feel very loved by her, no question about that. But I was also infinitely dependent on her. She taught me herself in the first years of compulsory schooling. I didn't even go to school until I was nine.

Since I naturally identified myself totally with my mother, I decided to go to German school. My brother, who felt much more at one with my father and was in constant competition with me, went to Danish school. Well, but at first she didn't send me to any. That was very pleasant because I had a lot of freedom. I was used to getting up and going out when it crossed my mind. I did that a couple of times later at school. I didn't think of getting to school on time unless my mother sent me. It wasn't easy for me. It was very difficult for me to get used to the coercion, I may not have learned that properly in my entire life. And I always had some kind of row with the teachers, always had very bad grades. I always thought myself terribly nice and terribly nice, but ... But I didn't really have any difficulties at school. I actually always had good grades, especially in mathematics I was temporarily considered a lamp.

You wrote a lot about being German, about the identity of Germans. Is it precisely this distance and the break in your German-Danish being that made it possible to take a step back and look at it critically?
At first I identified myself very much with the Germans. I think stronger, more conscious than someone who doesn't have this break in their own family. In 1932, when I was 14 years old, I came to Germany. To Flensburg. I went to school because my family still had money in Germany that they could no longer transfer to Denmark due to Brüning's laws. I should then go to school and study in Germany. My Germanness then got its first steamer. That was a very different mentality. For example, I had a tendency to run a lot, I fell easily, and when I did that, I was run over in Germany and was admonished to control myself. Where, on the other hand, when that happened to me in Denmark, I was pityed, I was helped. Just obedience and cleanliness. I didn't really know that. My mother always tried, but unclean wasn't considered morally inferior because of it.

And the separation from the mother who was so central to you?
It was catastrophic.

You were pushed into adult life so suddenly.
For a year, I know, I begged my mother to take me back. But she always said - I always gave her high credit for that - you want to study, you want to do your Abitur, and there is no other way financially. And then she convinced me again and again. When I was home for a weekend, I was filled with tears and went back to my German prison. That's really how I felt. It took about a year and then I really became independent

So she attached great importance to your education, didn't she say, marry a nice man or something?
She was very clear about that! My father always said, my God, why should all the money be used up in Germany now. Then she won't get any trousseau. However, I always laughed mockingly at this and said: Nothing is more indifferent to me than trousseau! It was very early on, when I was 15 years old, very clear to me. Then I said to my mother, I don't want to get married, I want to have children, because I think that's very nice, but I definitely don't want to get married. That was already too much for her, but she accepted that I didn't want to get married.

We'll surely come back to why you got married anyway. Then you got into the incipient fascism in Germany.
In spite of everything, until then I was happily identified with my mother and in the belief that being German, being German, is actually much better than being Danish. . . And then after 1933, when I was amazed to see the teachers crouching, I was thoroughly spoiled for that. And then suddenly I saw these BDM girls in my class, in uniform and even more orderly, at a marching pace - everything seemed so ridiculous to me.

You had a teacher at school who was important to you. And did you also have the classic boy-girl friendship during that time?
I've always had the most intimate boy-girl friendships. When I was 13, I sometimes stayed with my best friend, we cuddled and said: That's probably how it is with a man and a woman ... It took a long time before I started something serious with a man. First came this German teacher, whom I loved more than anything, Annie Meez, who taught us philosophy, literature, but not only old German literature, but also the frowned upon literature of the 1920s. We loved it. She was my idol. By the way, she was very ugly, fat. But we thought it was just beautiful. She was certainly no taller than me in stature, very broad and waddled, although she was only in her mid-30s, and had such a round face with frog eyes. But she was incredibly expressive. We measured the beauty in her. Together with Jutta - that was my dearest friend - and one or two other friends we raved about, went around her house at night. When men spoke to us, we just said contemptuously that we don't talk to men. Instead, we raced around her house and checked to see if she still had light. We even went to philosophy classes in the afternoons, to modern literature classes, etc. etc. That was the absolute, deep passion.

You then went to Munich to study.
Yes. I had to go to a labor camp beforehand because I had been classified as politically unreliable and almost wasn't allowed to graduate from high school, which was an absolute disaster.

What did you have to do there?
You had to hoist the flag in the morning and sing Hitler songs, then I lost 20 pounds, it was all terrible. Then I got the stamp that I was allowed to study in Germany. Then I first studied history, German, literature and English in Munich.

And why did you switch to medicine?
German studies was then also very much shaped by Nazi nonsense, and so was history. My father always wanted me to study medicine. I switched to medicine, although literature was of course my subject, that was what mainly interested me.

Which has hit through again and again later. - At that time the political situation also broke into your everyday life. Later you also tried very specifically to put up resistance.
I was then able to speak openly with the Danes across the border, but no longer with the Germans. That was very clear. Then German nationalism stopped with me. I was in Denmark for several months a year and then I had relationships with all kinds of Danes. But of course we were a clique in Germany too. Then I never met people other than those who increasingly hated Hitler. But I was also trembling with fear all this time. I witnessed Kristallnacht in Munich in 1937, when I realized what I was confronted with. That if you just express a different opinion, then you disappear very quickly.

Surely the friendships were very close and free of tension, weren't they? All aggressions were directed against the external enemy, against the evil fascists.
That was clear: there were good and bad. The bad guys were the Nazis and the good guys were the ones who were against the Nazis. And then there was actually no difference whether they were right or left. Then one day it became clear that the Gestapo was looking for us. Our landlady later in Heidelberg, whose husband was an SA man, warned us immediately and said: The Gestapo was there, someone reported you because of disruptions in the military and so on. And I have to say when you leave the room, then they want to search your room. I was scared to death there. I didn't feel like dying at all, not at all. And I was terrified if they would start interrogating me, or subject me to any form of torture, that I would betray my friends, or that something horrible would happen to me.

But then you were spared that?
They then interrogated me, all of us, but I was still a Danish citizen and they didn't really want to cause trouble with the Danes. I soon left Germany. First to Denmark, then to Switzerland.

Was that the first time you worked as a doctor?
I helped in some of these transit camps, in Denmark, but only temporarily. All the people from the concentration camp came and went through the country. For the first time you really saw the catastrophic effect. I mean, we all knew what was happening, but not to that extent.

What did you know and what did you not know?
So we knew the insane were going to be killed. We knew gassings were going on. We once saw, I still remember, how such a wagon, a truck, came out of the concentration camp, all the inmates crouched there and an SS man stood in front and brandished a whip. I have never forgotten this sight. We have been listening to the English radio regularly since 1939. We knew that there were concentration camps, that the people were mistreated, that they were gassed - just not to the actual extent.

Because it was so unimaginable?
Yes. We also know that the Poles tried to inform the English from Auschwitz and that the English did not bring the material until much later.

In Switzerland, you soon met Alexander Mitscherlich.

Alexander was still married then, and you were together illegitimately, so to speak. That also means something for the relationship. Your child, who was born in 1949, was initially out of wedlock. It wasn't that easy back then.
No, of course that wasn't easy, that was very clear. You can still imagine the 1950s. But we actually didn't even think about getting married, I have to say.We met there in Switzerland, in 1947, when there were hardly any Germans there, not at all, and very few foreigners at all. And then we were in a completely different country, in a completely different situation.

Then how did psychoanalysis emerge? Was that a common thing? Did either of you bring that in first?
Psychoanalysis has interested me for a long time. At first, however, I did not learn to differentiate very much between Jung and Freud. Without a doubt my interest was intensified by my relationship with Alexander. He had been interested in psychoanalysis for a long time.

At that time you were still working in an anthroposophic clinic.
That wasn't for me, despite all the admiration for anthroposophy ... at the same time it was a religious sect, that just couldn't be denied. So that I broke up my tents there and was in Zurich for a while, in an orthopedic clinic, where I learned medicine very "down to earth", that is, as a simple earthly science. And then I was pregnant. For God's sake, I couldn't stay in moral Switzerland ...

How old were you there
I was 30 years old then. I also had my first long-term relationship behind me, which stayed in Denmark. I had earned quite a bit of money in Switzerland, by the standards at the time, for 20 francs I got 100 marks. I exchanged everything, put it in my pockets, everywhere. I had bought a wide coat, a very nice wide coat. And when I crossed the border, I was called into such a cubicle. Well, I thought, what is this going to be now. Then the officer really got my money out of every pocket. You were only allowed to take a small amount with you. I told her about my situation, I was pregnant and I had no money in Germany, so she put everything in my pockets again.

You've actually met them more often, that kind of women's solidarity, haven't you?
Over the years, I have actually experienced mostly positive things with women - starting with my mother, who allowed me to start my own business with her. I can't put it any other way, I've very seldom got to know the dark side of women, actually almost never with my girlfriends.

How did you get into psychoanalysis specifically?
In Stuttgart. Then I started a self-analysis.

Out of scientific interest or was that also a personal pressure?
Both. I always felt the need to deal with myself. I loved doing that. However, I wanted to become a psychotherapist right from the start. In 1950 I started my analysis at Vilma Popescu. Ms. Popescu was a Romanian who went to Canada after a few years. I think she did her training in Vienna. At the same time, I started my psychotherapy training at the Stuttgart Institute.

Why did you become a psychoanalyst?
I was predestined to be a psychoanalyst. I've written about it a number of times. I've been really interested in psychological processes for as long as I can remember. I always thought about my mother psychologically: what is she thinking, what is she feeling, how happy is she, how unhappy? My first conscious impulse that I remember is: How can I make my mother happy? When I started psychotherapy with Mrs. Popescu at the Stuttgart Institute, I was by no means as Freudian-oriented as I was later. The feeling that psychoanalysis is really enlightening, enlightening and unambiguous, that it brought me something that no one else could explain or show me - I only got to know that feeling in London. I did another analysis there at Balint. That's when I got to know this whole London atmosphere, which was actually the original Viennese atmosphere - Freud and almost all Berlin analysts had gone to London. Then I understood things that I had never understood before, inside myself, outside of myself. That was a decisive experience.

What did that mean in concrete terms?
First, I was confronted with my aggressions in a completely different way, with my repetition compulsions, my ambivalence towards my beloved mother, my father. So what inner soul processes led to this and that and made me react so and so, and blinded me for this and that, namely for my idealizations and aggressions in particular. It fell like scales from my eyes. It's painful and terrible, but yes it is. And since then, of course, I've re-idealized, that's always part of it.

Who, Freud?
Yes. But, I am still a Freudian today. That Freud summarized something that has always been seen, but which has never been brought together in a theory and consequently, in differentiation in an all-encompassing building, that remains true. It was nothing new that Freud discovered with Oedipus, but he did discover it here and now in a modern society and summarized it in a theory that was then elaborated on and on. What he said about women was of course seen through the eyes of his time.

But he lived in a time when the first women's movement already existed, so the men's world reacted to the women's struggle. He could have recorded that too.
He did that. He wrote to his fiancée at the time, that is all well and good, of course women should have more rights, of course women have not been sufficiently recognized for centuries. But I can't imagine that a woman should become exactly like a man. I have also quoted the letter several times. But one shouldn't forget that becoming a psychoanalyst was at least as much a woman's job as a man's job, except in America.

Sure, because that's their business, empathizing with others ...
Exactly. But I just wanted to say that Freud's phallocentrism was in line with his culture. On the other hand, he was certainly one of the few men who first saw the hysteria in men, which is why he more or less had to leave the university. So Freud was someone who, on the one hand, of course saw and participated in phallocentrism, on the other hand, very clearly described the feminine desires of men and the questionable nature of narcissistic phallocentrism.

As a creative person, he would not have been so stupid as to ignore the new findings of the feminists of the time ...
Exactly, he certainly wasn't stupid. Sure, his penis envy ... But of course he saw breast envy too. He described the man's enormous envy of the woman. He saw that we are all ultimately and finally dependent on completely different things. And earlier from women than from men, so that women are more powerful when it comes to child dependency.

But to what extent has he admitted the real balance of power between men and women? There is always the danger of psychologization, that is, of abstracting from real power relations. The penis envy has the very real background of the envy of the role, doesn't it?
Completely clear. Freud was not very interested in general politics either. So, psychologically and medically, he has placed himself in an unparalleled outsider position. Should he really have been socially and politically knowledgeable and should have shown himself to be combative? Indeed, I think that is asking too much. There are limits to what a person can do, and those were his limits.

Did you see these limits from the start?
After London, Freud was my father, my new father, if you will. That is, my omniscient teacher, my enlightener, whom I have read and admired above all else. It took a long time ... It took a while before I was able to say: Freud taught me an infinite amount, this is a new way of thinking, and it stays that way. But at the same time I could see that he had little interest in certain social situations, women or general political issues and, as a result, had limits in these areas. It took a long time before I was ready to say: You can also see and think something that he has not seen.

You then went back to Heidelberg after completing your psychoanalytic training.
I will be back at the end of 1954, and then at the beginning of 1955 I married Alexander Mitscherlich.

Why did you actually get married? After you were so against marriage before.
There is no question at all that with one part of my consciousness I was against marriage, but with another part of my consciousness I was very happy to put myself in a calm position, a secure, civil existence ...

So really be Mitscherlich's wife after you've been the illegal one for so long ...
It is perfectly clear!

Did you have to give up your Danish citizenship or did you not pay attention to it back then?
Yes, yes, I haven't given it up in the first place. I remained a Danish citizen and only then, I believe, became a German citizen in the early 1960s. I wasn't a member of the Medical Association either, and nothing, because I was a Danish citizen. My professional situation was difficult.

Did you keep your name from the start or did you add it again later, like many women?
I always just added my own name to it. But legally I can only call myself Mitscherlich.

For what was then the Federal Republic of Germany - where fascism had smashed the whole tradition of psychoanalysis - in the early 1950s you were one of the first to get to know the psychoanalytic craft again in London?
There was a group in Berlin that had also worked during the war, in the well-known Goering Institute. And part of this group around Müller-Braunschweig was recognized by the international again as the German Psychoanalytic Association in 1951. At that time I also had to take my final exam in Berlin in order to belong to the German Psychoanalytic Association. But at the same time there was the Psychosomatic Clinic founded by Alexander Mitscherlich with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation in Heidelberg. I came across this whole story in 1951. Only, I was the first of this group to do analysis in London. Then I came back enthusiastic and said: You don't understand anything about anything! There really is psychoanalysis there. There really is the very new and the truth! Later others went to London too.

And what specific tasks did you take on in Heidelberg in the 1950s?
Then, relatively quickly, I also took over the training of psychoanalysts, seminars, training analyzes, control analyzes.

You were also the head of the Psychoanalytic Training Committee in the Federal Republic for a long time.
Yes, for a long time, for many years.

It is a committee that ultimately decides who will be an analyst and who will not. You wrote about it again and again, and you criticized the fact that training is now very formalized and hierarchical.
Many have also reproached me for being part of the entire initiation of these training guidelines at the beginning, and they are absolutely right. I came from England and I also took over the entire training - which was no different from what it was previously practiced at the Berlin Institute; at the Vienna Institute, by the way, it was much more free.

This means?
In other words, in Germany it was still a bit more bureaucratic, typically German. Real exams were introduced there. Admittedly, the admission requirements in London were at least as strict as in Germany, but in England you didn't have to be a doctor to become an analyst. It was only like that in America. Freud had already protested against this. He was very committed to lay analysis.

Famous analysts like Melanie Klein and Freud's daughter Anna were all lay analysts, not medical professionals.
Yes. In any case, we must try today to reduce this hierarchical structure and the authoritarian attitude of some psychoanalysts, in short the whole type of training, more to the original Vienna guidelines, that is, to practice more really collegiality. I think it is very important that a type of training is found where it is made clear that we are dealing with two adults. So the training candidate, if you should use that name, is a man who is as grown up as you and me ...

Or a woman, it also happens. . .
True, more women than men. . . It is perfectly clear that the method in which you really let your free associations run free always leads to a regression. This means that when you are analyzed, it always leads to memories and experiences from childhood and also to repetitions of behaviors etc. Nevertheless, it must be built into this training that, as soon as you get out of this situation, which inevitably sometimes arises in the analysis and is then analyzed, is out, the rest of the training takes place at an adult level among adults.

A hierarchical relationship between teacher and training analyzer will then usually extend to the relationship between analyst and patient.
Exactly. That is the danger. But under no circumstances should the analyst abuse this situation! It is about the possibility, the reasonably fear-free precondition that the patient or the analysand may regress. He has to, otherwise he cannot revive and experience certain things again without fear of abuse of power.

How did you feel about yourself in your life? You have been doing analysis for over 30 years now. The people who come to you are often desperate and you are simply superior to them because of your knowledge of processes and mental mechanisms. Have you always been able to withstand the threat of abuse of power?
As an analyst, you don't just test your patients. But you are also constantly checked by them whether you are really responding to them. You try to understand and get involved. You actually stop feeling yourself in a position of power all by yourself. It is clear that this is how the patient experiences one. That is why you have to try to make the patient and analysand aware of what he is making you through interpretations or explanations - without disguising the fact that here as a helper you are naturally less fearful and aggressive than the one who needs help. That is clear, there is already a gradient, but that cannot be changed. Only that the helper has to analyze himself again and again in order to give the person who needs help what he asks for, that is also clear. This being required allows such a feeling of triumph as I am the mighty and he is the powerless, actually not at all.

But there will certainly be analysts who will not get involved. You are only challenged when you face it, right?
I do think that the analyst is also afraid of his patient. He is afraid of not understanding him appropriately. And the patient is allowed to say anything, to express his criticism unrestrainedly, and that often hits a really sensitive point with the analyst. As long as they are pure projections that completely ignore reality, the analyst can handle them very well. But when they go very close to the really weak points, and each of us has really weak points, then it can be very painful.

But that's not all. There is also a risk of abuse of power.

How many patients do you have on average?
No more than an average of 5-6 patients a day.

How do you cope with that in concrete terms? You come home in the evening and are full of these things to the top.
There are very, very critical moments when you are also very worried about the patient, and then you are really full, as you say. But of course there are also many patients where everything takes its course very slowly and where you are actually not confronted with existential problems on a daily basis.

So where it is a bit of a routine, as in any job. - Let's get to working with Alexander. It is obvious that this was an asset. But it was probably also a handicap. You have worked together, you have gone so far as to write together, "The Inability to Mourn" for example - but this book was later attributed almost entirely to him. This is certainly a difficult chapter for you too.
That was it.

What was your part in this collaboration? What were your strengths and weaknesses?
I read a lot and then gave him an abridged version of what I had read. He had a certain way of working very freely associatively, it was then my job to bring the red thread into it. I taught literature, ideas, my own experiences. He was a very stimulating person. But of course it never occurred to him to read or do anything for me. And he was also reluctant to read through when I had written something. I always felt that he had more vocabulary than I did. So I said, read it through and say where else can I improve something, improve the style, etc.We always had different ideas. I always had my own, and so did he, of course.

Did you also have differences with regard to psychoanalysis?
Yes, yes, we often argued with each other. I was more individual psychoanalytical than he was, and I have read more psychoanalytic works of this kind. He was more focused on social psychology and related literature. Already in Heidelberg I was very concerned with training and individual psychological psychoanalytical matters. I've trained more people, I've done more training analysis. I've also seen more patients than him. He took on all the tasks associated with managing a clinic, and it was the same later in Frankfurt at the Freud Institute. For a long time I had the training under myself, in Heidelberg and also in Frankfurt, but when it came to the management of the clinic, I didn't interfere.

"The inability to mourn "was the only book you shared together. How did you work there? Did you both write the same essays or is it a collection of essays, one by you and the other by Alexander?
Some of the essays were mine, some were his. The main essay, "The Inability to Mourn," which defines the book, was really both of us. That is to say, I supplied some of the cases, the psychoanalytic reflections on them, and the literature on psychoanalysis. And then we both wrote about it, and then he'd mess around with what I'd done and I would criticize what he'd done a lot. Of course, I resisted from the start, but so did he. There was always a lot of argument because I always delivered when it came to ideas. And then I got the anger. But on the other hand, I always said to myself: man, formulate it yourself, Margarete. I mean, he really couldn't help it, actually, I have to honestly say. Because he gave me every chance to formulate it myself. But something in me always felt that he was phrasing better. And then I thought, why are you so angry? Then do it yourself, damn it!

With "Do we have to hate?" you first came into public consciousness as a theorist in 1972. You once said that I was allowed to be clinically good and make others creative, but the moment I was that myself, I also attracted aggression. . .
Very strong of course.

"Do we have to hate" is a feminist book, so to speak. What was the trigger?
I thought, hell, the women, they can do what they want, they can work and they can generate ideas, etc., and yet they never get the appropriate recognition. But it was actually up to me, I just had to assert myself. It was only natural that he was the main character. It was so natural ...

He was also very self-confident in his way, a real diva.
Yes, "you are our diva" - that's what we often called him, my son Matthias and me.

Then it was no coincidence that your resistance began in the early 1970s with the beginning of the new feminism. You were in America for a year and you were certainly confronted with the American women's movement ...
Naturally! Then I was again at an institute where actually only men were seen as the main characters, and women, when they had ideas, only rarely. Then I was with other American women who were able to express, formulate and enforce this anger in a completely different way.

In 1977, in the first EMMA, you said: "I am a feminist" - a very rare sentence from the mouth of a psychoanalyst.
Somewhere I knew that for a long time! And of course it was also an opportunity for me, I'll admit, to finally bang it on the table. I always said that to Alexander, for whom it was already too much: Man, you kept drawing my attention to the injustices of the social situation! You didn't necessarily draw attention to the injustice of the woman's situation, but otherwise. He was someone who was much more interested in politics than I was. I was more interested in psychoanalysis. Afterwards he was often annoyed. And he hasn't been doing well in the last few years either. And it was really extremely difficult for him when I went away to give a lecture and left him alone. That made him angry. And then I said: Alexander, what do you want? You taught me to see social conditions. I would have remained well-behaved in individual psychology.

And what has the new feminism given you as a stimulus and impetus?
The student revolution or movement was a very interesting movement for me. Only the way in which they then dealt threateningly and narcissistically and patriarchally with these findings on the one hand touched me very much, but at the same time made me extremely angry. And then when the women gave these vain men, even within the otherwise progressive student movement, one in front of the chests and pelted them with tomatoes and said: What are you actually doing? and it is you yourself towards us - that of course gave me enormous courage.

The aha-effect of feminism joined the aha-effect of psychoanalysis.
That was really liberating. Then I was finally able to think and - finally write everything that I had been thinking and feeling underground for a long time.

The real hunt against you as a feminist psychoanalyst didn't start until after the death of Alexander Mitscherlich, and didn't start until 1982.
Yes, it was bad after his death, how I was attacked.

So, on the one hand, you were attacked by the group of psychoanalysts, who did not like two things: the independently thinking woman and the critically thinking colleague.
Yes, the critically thinking colleague who suddenly asserted herself instead of finally keeping her mouth shut after the man is no longer there, against whom of course there was also a lot of underlying resentment. Much of this underlying resentment was shifted to me after I did not go into the hoped-for retreat as a grieving widow.

On the one hand you have a very, if I may say so, sympathetic distrust of power, but also a little, it seems to me, the female hesitation. After his death you had to say all over again: Here I am now. In case of doubt, I am not only Alexander Mitscherlich's wife, who risks a fat lip, but I am myself: Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen, who picks up the microphone, writes books, deals with controversies ...
I did that before and in the last few years of Alexander's illness, but I was still Alexander Mitscherlich's wife in public.

I mean that.
That's why the entire women's movement was an enormous liberation for me. I really learned to take full responsibility for myself. I had been able to do it long before, but it was also very pleasant to be under the protection of a famous man.

You will be asked a lot about your understanding of femininity and masculinity, especially on the occasion of the "Peaceful Woman" that has just appeared. It is always difficult to give advice, but what do you think is essential for women today? In which direction should women work?
Well To answer that is not that easy. So, I do think that women should try to make themselves independent of existing values. To examine them critically! Because almost all values ​​today are of a patriarchal nature. And women accept it and identify with it. Much of what is seen as valuable, as "typically female value", is made by men and actually has very little to do with women and their own self-image, if they are really honest with themselves. Well, I think that's the beginning of making yourself independent from the thinking of men.

That you don't give a damn whether you are recognized as a woman. . .
Yes. It is of course very difficult. Whistling at everything is often a defensive position. Then you give a damn about everything, but you haven't thought it through. And then comes what is very often said that women suddenly behave like men. And exactly the same stupidities and restrictions and cruelties and what I know commit as men. You really have to think about what you want to do as a woman, which values ​​you can agree to, which not, but they have to be independent. Then you can give a damn about everything. That doesn't mean for a long time that you shouldn't have the knowledge that men have now, for God's sake, it's not thought of as primitive. Of course you will try to acquire the knowledge of what is out there and what interests you and what you can cope with. To make it your own as much as possible and to perceive how things are actually in this world. But critically, as you say, with the help of thought. And also with the help of your own experiences, you are also critical because of your own experiences that you have had. And not just in terms of reflection.

What would you say about yourself Has psychoanalysis strengthened you? And do you have relapses as a psychoanalyst?
I have to say that I benefited a lot. I've always known that I have limits. I was able to expand these limits with the help of psychoanalysis, also with the help of numerous patients who have always taught me new things that I was not aware of from my own experience. I know, for example, that I have no reason for certain fears or something, or that they come from here and there. But that I still have it, I actually take it for granted. For a long time I was so afraid of being cramped, and it can still be felt today, if I get stuck in elevators, it can get over me. I investigated their psychological reasons, my individual memories, childhood situations, and for a long time knew to some extent where they came from - and nothing has changed. And then one day many fears were more or less gone.

It needs time...
... and sometimes it never goes away.

And you would say that to put up with it is actually already a step forward?
So I personally believe that you have certain insights, but that you also know that because of this, certain symptoms or peculiarities do not go away anytime soon. I used to suffer a lot more from my faults and symptoms. Today some symptoms have disappeared, mistakes certainly not, but I am much more tolerant of myself ...

Are there younger women psychoanalysts in the Federal Republic of Germany today who would say that Margarete Mitscherlich is an encouragement and a shining example for me in many ways? Are there any who openly refer to you?
Very few, I would think. It is of course also difficult as a psychoanalyst when you have people in training, you respond to them, and you will not impose yourself on them or want to have a formative effect on them, but want to try to understand them, to get them to do so, to go their own way. So to want to represent a mother or something like that for her, who is then idealized, that would be very unfavorable for her.

And you trained a great many of the psychoanalysts who practice today?
I have trained many people and I think it is absolutely right that they go their own way ...

You wrote about Kleist in your Abitur essay. And what particularly moved you at Kleist was the passion. Passion for the cause and for the job.
... but also for humans ...

You have admitted your life to yourself with a passion for work. But there are moments, passages in your texts where I have the feeling: You did not take enough time, you did not admit the passion, you did not take your work seriously enough at the moment. Do you sometimes get in the way of your femininity?
I don't really think so. I think it's more like my certain mess. I am always in a situation where I am full to the top and especially then do not have enough time to write and think. I mean, I don't want to give up my patients because I learn a lot through this daily confrontation with immediate experience and also through confrontation with other ways of thinking and with criticism. I just kind of live a little too much with my tongue hanging out. So the organization of my time and my strength, that's the problem.

But that's not a coincidence in the long run.
Yes. But then so and so many people keep coming ...

Then you keep your grandchild safe instead of continuing to write on your book ...
Absolutely correct. Or patients come who used to be with me or are with me now ...

... and you have to worry. Of course nobody works to help you. You are a woman and no one works to a woman. Nobody says: The great Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen finally has to think about it, but ...
... no, it doesn't actually have to be at all, it should be there for others. And I also like to be there for others, I admit that.

But there are so many people in the world and you will not be able to satisfy all of them
But that is the difficulty: to say no. And it is clear, I also experienced that with my mother, that human relationships always come first.

What do you want to continue working on in the future?
So, basically I would like to explain how women can be deformed and at the same time how they can also bring new shapes out of their deformation. How the theories of femininity or masculinity are related to the respective political undesirable developments. That would be something I would like to continue to take care of. I would like to further develop the analysis of the "inability to grieve", would like to examine the effects of masculinity and femininity on politics and on our lives. That is, I would like to ask: How does a repetitive, unhappy policy that is made by men and women come about ?! And how far are they related to specific female and male developments? I want to create this bridge between the individual experiences on the one hand and the social ones on the other hand and the conclusions one draws from them. Upbringing is not everything either. It does not determine a person for life. Upbringing is one thing - what a person ultimately makes of it is another. That goes for men. But also for women.

More about Margarete Mitscherlich
The recording of the symposium "100 Years of Margarete Mitscherlich" as well as conversations and articles with Mitscherlich and about her on


Continue reading