Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Theories of Personality: Adolf Hitler: A Case Study


This thesis focuses on three parts, researching and detailing the life experience of one human being, evaluating models that refer to personality development and applying the models to the individual as a case study. 

My argument is to (1) Summarize the life experiences of Adolf Hitler presenting background, family history, and significant life experiences that influenced his personality development. (2) Evaluate Psychoanalytic, Neoanalytic, Psychosocial, Trait/Evolutionary/Genetic, Cognitive/Behavioral, Social Learning and Humanistic theories and apply them to the individual’s personality development. 

This thesis will analyze Adolf Hitler’s childhood and lifespan development as a result of the direct influence both developments had on his character.

[Keywords: Adolf Hitler, Psychoanalytic, Nonanalytic, Psychosocial, Trait/Evolutionary/Genetic, Cognitive/Behavioral, Social Learning, Humanistic, personality development, lifespan development, case study.] 

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“While the Goddess of suffering took me in her arms, often threatening to crush me, my will to resistance grew, and in the end this will be victorious.”

(Hitler, Mein Kampf, Pg. 21).

The Hitler family came from Waldviertel,“the wooded quarter”, a land of hunters, fishermen and small farmers who make a bare living from the brutal soil” (Payne, The Ancestors, Abstract) in Lower Austria. People were stern and uncultured. Their dialect, rough, was misunderstood by Vienna and intermarriage was tradition. Families rarely traveled. Most were illiterate and a priest conducted education. This land was open to invasion. 

From the 13th century to 1805, people of Waldviertel held constant contempt and hatred for their enemies, “The closer they are to their frontier, the greater is their hatred – and their fear.” (Payne, The Ancestors, Abstract).

The surname, Hitler, “was spelled in a bewildering variety of ways: Hiedler, Hietler, Hytler, Huetler, Huedler, Hittler, and once in 1702, Hitler.” (Payne, The Ancestors, Abstract). Hitler’s family tree consists of illiterates, alcoholics, illegitimate children, unwed mothers and extremely poor families. 

The birth of Hitler’s biological Father, Alois Schicklgruber in 1837 in Waldviertel is monumental. On “May 10, 1842, Johann Hiedler married his [Alois] mother” (Payne, The Ancestors, Abstract) and Alois became the ward of Johann Hiedler.

Johann was purportedly the biological father of Alois and felt pity for the wretchedly poor child. With Hitler’s grandparents 20-30 years passed, Alois adopted the name Hitler, due to compensation to carry on another family name. Alois’ birth certificate was tampered with illegally. 

In Austria, it was law only for nobility to be responsible for name changing, and Hitler came from peasants. There is no factual way to prove who the biological father of Hitler was; however, Alois is the start of Adolf Hitler.

Alois married three times, two ex-wives passed, and had eight children. In this era and socioeconomic status, it was typical for a husband to be unfaithful and he was. Alois, 47, worked hard, was thrifty, drank, and was an authoritarian figure. Hitler’s mother, Klara Polzl, 24, common-law third wife, was pregnant when married. 

She bore Alois six children, one of them Adolf. This marriage was interfamilial. Klara’s grandfather was the brother of Alois’ Father, Johann, which made breeding incestuous. Klara was subservient to Alois.

Four of their six children, Hitler’s siblings, Gustav, Ida, Otto, and Edmund, all died within early childhood. Adolf, the fourth, survived, along with Paula. Adolf and Paula never had children. The death of Edmund, Hitler’s longest living brother, left deep psychological scars. This was the first time Adolf experienced death. 

After this, Hitler became sullen, withdrawn, morose, nervous and later waged wars against his instructors. The Hitler name was never to be carried onward.

Adolf was sickly as a child, inherited his “peasant” Mother’s features, and was chubby. The family moved from an Austrian to a German town where Hitler embraced the German language, Gothic and Baroque architecture, the Renaissance, Benedictine monasteries, Byzantine frescos, and paintings by medieval masters. Church fascinated Adolf, mainly the choir and the strict organizational structure of church officials. 

Hitler wished to have supreme authority over the Abbott and monks at nine years old. Within the monasteries, Adolf discovered the swastika, utilized in the coat of arms of the Abbott displayed inside in several areas. Hitler was fascinated with this then innocent symbol. He was able to view the swastika from a window in their apartment.

Klara, anxiety ridden and over-protective, spoiled Adolf and Hitler was “one of those who are incurably devoted to their mothers and therefore capable of latent and sometimes open hostility to the father.” (Payne, The Ancestors, Abstract). 

In grammar school, Hitler enjoyed debating with peers and wrote, “That even then my oratorical talent was being developed in the form of more or less violent arguments with my schoolmates. I had become a little ringleader.” (Hitler, Mein Kampf, Pg.6). 

Hitler spoke of his tyrannical Father with furious anger and upon Adolf’s suicide, he was found with a photograph of his Mother he always kept with him. Hitler felt he would never find a woman comparable to his Mother and inherited his Father’s stern attitude and authoritarianism. Hitler adored art and wrote, “I wanted to become a painter and no power in the world could make me a civil servant.” (Hitler, Mein Kampf, Pg.17).

The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna rejected Adolf. Far from unintelligent, he was not recognized for his artwork. He suffered psychologically and did not make friends easily. His educators were uncompassionate. His Father was appalled by his son’s poor progress, ignoring his artistic abilities. Hitler felt alone away from home. This first year at university formed who he was to become, a man walking alone.

Hitler wrote his autobiography, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), while in prison for political crimes in Munich during his reign of the Nazi Party of Germany. Mein Kampf is Hitler’s perception of life, as well as an anti-Semitic plan for Germany. Hitler’s “political theories” encompassed his hatred of what he believed to be the world's evils, Communism and Judaism. 

At the age of 13, Hitler’s Father died. Adolf quit school and started pursuing a career as an artist. Hitler’s Mother followed her husband two years later. “I had honored my father, but my mother I had loved.” (Hitler, Mein Kampf, Pg.18). This broke Adolf and he returned to Vienna, began developing his political idealisms, and joined the Anti-Semitic League and discovered the political party, Social Democrats, where he believed he was doing “The Lord’s work” fighting against Marxism. 

Hitler had self-realizations that “my eyes were opened to two menaces . . . and whose terrible importance for the existence of the German people I certainly did not understand: Marxism and Jewism.” (Hitler, Mein Kampf, Pg. 21). 

This was the saddest period of his life.

Throughout Europe, noblemen held power. Due to the poor and broken world he was born into, his estranged, unloving, abusive family, numerous deaths, and repeated rejections of his artistic abilities, the future dictator began to take form. 

From the untitled masses were emerging men like Hitler, who would come to wield the substance of power, men of common and often vulgar beginnings, riding the relentless wave of popular revolt against a war which had demanded sacrifices for goals no one could define.” (Toland, Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography, Chapter 2).

Adolf Hitler was a politician that became the Chancellor of the German Reich. In the years preceding, Nazis had engaged in campaigns of terror against the labor movement while the state looked away. This appointment by the President of Germany became an officially sanctioned state policy. 

Hitler and the Nazi party had an immense advantage, German citizens lost hope in “bourgeois” democracy and capitalism. Hitler, a decorated World War I Veteran, a member of the German Workers Party, later to become the leader of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party), the Nazi Party, was now a dictator.

His contributions to the world involved promoting German Nationalism, racist military agendas, exterminating the Jewish, Polish, Romani and Slavic peoples, homosexuals, Africans, physically or mentally handicapped people and anyone that challenged the Nazi Party in order to create one pure white race. Hitler’s foreign policy is the primary cause of World War II. 

The Nazi Regime is responsible for the genocide of “Up to 6 million Jews, 11 million Soviets, 1.8 million Polish, 312,00 Serbians, 250,000 disabled, up to 220,000 Roma’s, 1,900 Jehovah's Witnesses, 70,000 criminals, an undetermined amount of German political opponents, and up to thousands of homosexuals.” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Number of Deaths, 2018). 

 1938 Man of the Year © Time Magazine

In 1933, the first concentration camps were constructed to house “political prisoners.”

In regards to Psychology and Adolf Hitler, six main areas must be addressed, individual differences, adaptation and adjustment, cognitive processes, culture, biological influences and development. Considering Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theories, where Hitler was born and raised, Waldviertel, a village under constant attack, there is a pre-birth disposition to violence, hatred and projection.

Hitler did not love the strict Father that abused him physically, emotionally, and mentally, yet was endeared to his Mother, and she to Adolf, in an almost incestuous aspect. Hitler wished to rule monasteries, violently debated with peers, three siblings died before his birth, his closest brother died in later years, extremely close to Adolf, which crushed him, the family was constantly moving and split up, and he lived with half siblings from another Mother. 

Hitler’s relations with both parents address Psychosexual Stages and the Oedipus and Messiah Complex’s. In adulthood, profound admiration, envy and emulation of his father’s masculine power and contempt of his mother’s feminine weakness emerged.

Adaptation and adjustment for Adolf proved to be beyond human, especially for a child. There was constant trauma, relations with parents were unnatural, he lost siblings, and there were no role models. His parents impeded healthy development resulting in extreme imbalances in Hitler’s Id, Ego and Superego that marred his adult adjustment and cognition, sexually, mentally and emotionally. 

Without a healthy ego, Hitler was unable to project a loving message to the world. Instead, he projected his own conscious and subconscious inferiorities, impotence, perversions, defense mechanisms, shortcomings, delusions, and trauma.

With Neoanalytic Theory and Carl Jung, focus is on the unconscious, spirituality, and lifespan development. Being introverted and extroverted is diverse and changes throughout life. While Hitler was extroverted in his studies, with peers, and speaking and debating, internally, he was introverted and relations with close friends were rare. 

With Adolf, both his subconscious and conscious were imbalanced. His childhood experiences and ways he dealt with death and society as an adult are examples of how the unconscious was in the forefront and the conscious was in hiding. During latter parts of his adulthood, Hitler’s conscious mind took lead, meaning; the unrecognized unconscious became his conscious.

Rational thinking was absent and distortions of reality were present. Cultural ideals were unpreserved and Hitler did not possess a collective unconscious. Although Jung was not as interested in early childhood as Freud was, Hitler’s childhood experiences had immense impacts on adult life. 

In regards to Jung and lifespan, creative processes attempted to be explored; however, the constant rejection of the artistic self did not birth individuation. By this means, the identity of Adolf Hitler is a mystery. 

 © ATT Now

His personal and collective unconscious resulted in failure of self-actualization. Several archetypes appeared, however, unhealthy integration emerged. With Hitler, a process of self-realization was absent, although he found meaning and purpose in life; the meanings and purposes were monstrous. 

The ongoing monumental debate is did Hitler truly find himself and become who he was meant to be? 

Alfred Adler’s Psychosocial Theory is based upon “the never ending effort to move on to a better way of life.” (Cloninger, Theories of Personality, Pg. 71). Hitler had an inferiority complex and lacked self-worth. Striving to improve was present; however, Adolf chose to focus improvement in a delusional, destructive fashion. 

While Hitler felt superior instead of inferior outwardly, inwardly he lacked self-esteem. The motivation to “strive from a felt minus situation towards a plus situation”, (Cloninger, Theories of Personality, Pg. 71), served “the Hitler identity” and the Nazi Party and not humanity.

In childhood, Hitler was helpless to a point, coddled by his Mother, abused by his Father. One’s sense of right vs. wrong is personal, however, Hitler went beyond typical “negative” and “positive” emergences of personality taking on the “aggressive drive” similar to his Father. 

Hitler dominated in order to compensate and exhibited the “masculine protest” where maleness is superior to femininity, mainly due to his Mothers weakness towards his father. Adolf showed signs of perfection and superiority traits early on into adulthood. Adler stated, “the person is a creative self who is trying to discover or create experiences that lead to fulfillment” (Cloninger, Theories of Personality, Pg. 72), and for Hitler, that meant a destruction of all that is not pure and perfect.

Erik Erikson formulated psychosexual stages first presented by Freud, adding social aspects and lifespan. Erickson’s ninth stage, the crisis, is detrimental to Hitler’s development. In this stage, one crisis occurs and out of the crisis, ego emerges that is virtuous. That part of ego then becomes part of identity. The strengths developed stay during lifespan. With Hitler, each crisis presented negative emergences, not positive. Instead of trust, there was mistrust, instead of strength there was shame and weakness. These aspects of his ego prevented him from having healthy relationships.

All nine psychosexual stages for Hitler resolve in negative fashions. There was mistrust, shame and doubt, and guilt emerged, although initiative was present. Inferiority and identity confusion were present, as well as isolation instead of intimacy. Generativity was present, not stagnation, however unhealthy, and despair replaced integrity. In regards to culture, the same unhealthy changes occurred. Religion, law, purpose, competence, fidelity, cooperation and care were all unbalanced or not present. Hitler did not nurture, he respected only certain religious beliefs, and law to him was of his own making. He had purpose yet that was of his own distorted idealism, and there was no cooperation. Hitler did what Hitler wanted.

The lack of human universals and cultural tradition, along with lack of healthy social involvement, paved the path for the dictator. He found solace and purpose in leading people. While Adolf was far from unintelligent, wisdom was not present. His lack of respect for ethnicity, race and sexual gender was unfathomable. Hitler suffered from identity diffusion on an astronomical scale. Hitler’s psychosocial stages ceased to build upon one another and each crisis was left unresolved that impeded his development in childhood and as an adult.

Gordon Allport focused on the person as a whole, ways they adjusted to the world, a unity of personality with positive traits as healthy, with special regard to religious beliefs to form stages of development into self-concept. “Unification is based on a person’s philosophy of life, which for many is a religious philosophy.” (Cloninger, Theories of Personality, Pg.127). 

Hitler never openly stated his religious beliefs; he only stated what he did not believe in, although he was quick to eradicate Jehovah’s witnesses and the Jewish and often mentioned “God”. However, Hitler’s “God” was a cruel, judgmental one and Jesus an “Aryan fighter”. In reality, Jesus was an Arab-Jew that Hitler would have eradicated. This is an indication of gross inconsistency in Adolf’s Trait Personality.

There was no unification of any one belief in order to solidify his philosophy on life or traits of humanity and his personal philosophy was one that only showed disbeliefs. Hitler viewed religion from an extrinsic perspective, which in turn led him to see the world as a place to punish others instead of a place to act out of love.

David Buss, Evolutionary Theorist, believed in natural selection and a genetically based species where behaviors and impulses affected personality. Mechanisms are present such as means of reproduction, with behaviors such as jealousy, aggression, and dominance for natural order of protection and hierarchy. 

The outward sexual behavior of Hitler aligns with evolutionary biology in regards to the male race. However, hidden deviant sexual behavior is a result of a biocultural paradigm, one where culture, religion, and biology, for Hitler, did not develop and change.

Genetic approaches focus on “normal and pathological variations in personality.” (Cloninger, Theories of Personality, Pg. 172). Genetic traits such as narcissism and psychopathology are hereditary, as well as the effects of environmental factors on personality. Neurotransmitters are crucial to emotional intelligence, aggressiveness, anger and impulse. Temperament, the crux of personality, is formed from childhood. 

Hitler exhibited early signs of inherited traits from both parents such as his relation to peers, control within intimate relationships and his domineering attitude towards race, ethnicity, religion and sexual gender. 

Hitler had both types of temperament, inhibited and uninhibited. While he interacted less with people and was endeared to his Mother, he was outwardly driven and domineering. As a child, he socialized with other children but in a controlling fashion. 

Hans Eysenck developed biological factors of personality that include extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism. Hitler in childhood was not able to tolerate intense emotional stimuli, hence, introverted, however, as a dictator; he was an extrovert. 

When threatened, Adolf’s defense mechanisms projected neuroticism. A non-conformist, Hitler exhibited psychoticism, a personality pattern of aggressiveness and interpersonal hostility. An emotional, creative individual developed into a hostile, sadistic, unempathic person. Hitler possessed all three levels of biological personality traits predisposed genetically with influence from his environment.

Dollard and Miller proposed theories based on behavior-learning principles. Both psychoanalysts “described several such phenomena as learned behaviors, including identification and conflict.” (Cloninger, Theories of Personality, Pg. 190). 

These include drive, (food, water, shelter, sex), cues, (light, speech, sound), response (habitual patterns), and reward (getting something in exchange for a behavior). The point of change is to avoid the learned behavior that results in negative consequences. Hitler learned fundamental concepts about behavior, yet rarely did they change. 

Dollard and Miller believed that “aggression is always a consequence of frustration [and that] “the existence of frustration always leads to some form of aggression.” (Cloninger, Theories of Personality, Pg. 193). This formed the frustration-aggression hypothesis that resulted in people learning how to respond in unhealthy fashions towards life.

Albert Bandura studied moral behavior and focused on self-regulation, (empowerment), reciprocal determinism, (cause and effect), and observational leaning, (learning by observing others). 

Bandura believed that “individual differences, adaptation and adjustment, cognitive processes, culture, biological influences, and development” (Cloninger, Theories of Personality, Pg. 249), all led to how people set and pursue goals and how observation models behavior. 

Bandura empathizes the importance of regulating behaviors in order to succeed in living a moral, ethical existence. Hitler suffered from moral disengagement, when people justify bad behavior, project their emotions onto others and degrade others. These are all defensive mechanisms that protect the individual from guilt for their own immoral behavior.

Abraham Maslow created the humanistic perspective, a personality theory that takes ideas relating to psychoanalysis and behavior analysis considered unacceptable in psychology circles and further develops them. The focus was to develop a higher and healthier existence and consciousness by living in the moment, developing spiritual and creative aspects of self, being responsible for one’s actions, and utilizing self-reflection. 

For example, when considering Maslow’s Hierarchy Theory, development is fundamental, meaning personal satisfaction must be met on certain levels in order to move to a higher level. When “lower-order needs are not met, the human spirit would be kept from developing.” (Cloninger, Theories of Personality, Pg. 283). 

In this relation, cognition and personality development are congruous and without one, the other suffers. Hitler’s needs were rarely met and progressing to succeeding higher levels was erratic. Adolf did not possess qualities such as courage in order to help move him past life experiences as a child and adult. Without a realistic approach to one’s existence, an individual cannot move in a healthy fashion to the next level of development. Instead, Hitler developed an aggressive personality. 

Carl Rogers focused on childhood theory, most importantly, that, “the most important childhood experience is to be loved, wholly and unconditionally.” (Cloninger, Theories of Personality, Pg. 268). Carl focuses on the actualizing tendency (urge to grow), organismic valuing process (in touch with inner self), fully functioning person (a self-actualizing person), existentialism (living in the moment), being open to experience (receptive to life), and freedom and creativity (to choose), leading to motivation.

All of these aspects are fundamental to growth. For example, when a child is not loved, feels no worth, is discriminated against and is abused, mentally, emotionally, and physically, spiritually, the “self” and identity is not going to be built up. Instead, the self and identity is not fully recognized, more so, the self and identity emerges that external factors impart on the developing self, and become the self and identity. 

The aggressive factors in a developing human can be a result of parenting styles (such as authoritarian where parental self-actualization is not realized), conditions of worth (idealism that a child must live up to certain expectations), and unconditional positive regard (loving the child no matter what), which all contribute to a developing self-concept.

The Keirsey Temperament Scale is an instrument used to assess personality. This seventy-question assessment is based upon the Keirsey Temperament Theory, developed by Dr. David Keirsey. This subjective method, existential in nature, has two choices for each question. The individual is to choose the answer that is most suitable. There are no definitive answers.

The MBTI, or Myer-Briggs assessment, relates to Jung’s theories on personality focused on development that evolved in adulthood, not childhood. Theories empathize the importance of life experiences and report their findings to others. MBTI results mirror experience by giving an individual an assessment that relates to life experiences, beliefs, attitudes, and opinions.

In relation to inkblot and word association tests and MBTI personality inventory, there are comparisons and contrasts. For example, both inkblot and word associations rely on the unconscious, subconscious and conscious mind, both tests involve not thinking too hard about an answer, rather, relaying on what is first intuitive or what comes to mind immediately. 

The advantages of the MBTI are that as a professional, as well as the individual, a basic view of personality based upon questions consciously answered is provided. This is a starting point in understanding self. The advantages of the MBTI, inkblot and word association tests all point to a basic understanding of self, development, behavior and thinking. 

The disadvantages of all tests is that none of these assessments are absolute, meaning, there is no way to test if the questions were answered honestly or if the associations to photos and words were given with a sound mind, rational thinking and non-judgment of self during questioning. 

The usefulness of all of these forms of testing personality is that every one of them is a basis to begin to understand how one is thinking, feeling and behaving. In addition, they provide an individual with a sense of self that may be a useful tool. 

Results of these tests in regards to Hitler would be crucial had someone administered these to him. A factual attempt to understand what drove a seemingly innocent child into one of the most sadistic human beings that existed is the mystery that is Hitler’s psychopathology.

In order to progress, every single individual must take consistent self-inventories and have a desire to grow. Although nature and nurture contributes immensely to one’s self-efficacy, without a constant need to better oneself during lifespan development, the ways in which one was raised may not have detrimental effects on the developing adult. 

It is within the tenements of self-actualization that a human soul will authentically develop their want, need and ability to heal. 

Adolf Hitler is undoubtedly one of the most terrifying and significant figures of the twentieth century. Historians and psychologists alike are fascinated by the many unanswered questions that Hitler left behind. From the moment he came into power, historians and psychiatrists have been captivated by Adolf Hitler. Authors continually try to answer many burning questions in attempts to better understand Hitler as a man and as a leader.

(Clark, A Psychological Analysis of Adolf Hitler, Abstract).


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Bandura, Albert. (2016). Albert Bandura: Self-Efficacy for Agentic Positive Psychology. Psychology Today. 

Clark, Emma. (2012). A Psychological Analysis of Adolf Hitler. University of Mary Washington. 

Cloninger, Susan. (2013). Theories of Personality. Pearson. Sixth edition. International. Print. Pgs. 71. 72, 127, 172, 190, 193, 196, 249, 268, 283.

Hitler, Adolf. (1943). Mein Kampf. 12th edition. Sentry Edition. Print. Pgs. 6, 17, 18, 21.

Payne, Robert. (2015). The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler

Toland, John. (1991). Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography. Anchor Books. 

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (2018) Documenting Numbers of Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution.

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