All of these recent posts are leading inexorably up to Sunday when I’m going to change direction. Until then, the landscape is dark, and, today, very dark.
So. Mothers and sons. Being unmothered.
The Guardian is one of two British newspapers allowed into court to report the trial of Josef Fritzl who, yesterday, changed his plea to guilty after having watched the video testimony of his daughter. His change of plea surprised everyone, not least his lawyer who said “I was indeed surprised, not least because someone with such a personality disorder as he has – which involves keeping up appearances and giving the impression that he’s the one with the power – finds it difficult to drop his trousers in front of the world”.
The Guardian reports the description given to the court yesterday of Fritzl’s psychological profile which tracks his behaviour back to his need to control his daughter as a result of the chronic failure of his mother to mother him in any real sense at all. He lived his childhood in a constant state of anxiety, always wondering if his mother was about to disappear. Rather than feel that pain of abandonment, he chose to control women around him, ensuring he was never abandoned again. His daughter was the tragic object onto whom he projected his worst fears, the fears that he could not bear to confront. If avoiding feeling that pain (because you believe it will kill you) is your goal, you can see how preventing another abandonment is a logical, albeit, warped step to take. Just as mothers have to sacrifice their sons to their son’s wives, so a father has to give up his position in his daughter’s affection to his daughter’s husband. There is inevitably pain in that necessary sacrifice, pain which can feel all too much like a maternal rejection all over again for a father who has not been mothered.
Fritzl is an extreme example of what happens when mothering fails. But he is also an extreme example of what happens when we suppress our emotions and refuse to feel our deepest fears – and the psyche cannot contain the conflict. Outward aggression, anger, violence are invariably the superficial symptoms of an aching soul.
I wish I could reassure everyone that they would not fall apart if, in a supervised and supportive setting, they were able to face those fears and, having felt them, heal them. Thing is, I am not confident enough myself. The pain is extraordinary, and in recent days I have wondered whether Tim Kretschmer abandoned his therapy sessions at the point at which it all became too painful, at the most dangerous point, and the rampage was the outward sign of the internal chaos that he was unable to see through to the calm afterwards.
I wish we supported mothers more, that we valued the work that mothers do instead of wanting to turn them into cash cows to stave up a failing economy. Much better to prevent a catastrophe than to clear up after it. I wish, too, that we valued the importance of good mental health care and easy, affordable access to the best psychiatrists and therapists. You can break your leg playing rugby and people will feel sorry for you and sign your plaster cast: you can be in great pain because your parents did not do their job, and people look down on you as weak. Perhaps the difference in attitude is explained our own reluctance to face our own psychological fears, to turn our backs on those who express our own stories too well. Strange that we associate strength with stoicism when facing our fears requires more courage.
Sometimes that essential therapeutic treatment will need to be provided in a residential setting. Sometimes a supportive network of family and friends can cradle a person during this time. Blogs can be part of that too. Sadly, in Britain you would need to be very lucky to receive free NHS therapy unless the treatment is precipitated by a breakdown. Short of a breakdown, your choices are to cope as best you can, often with medication, or pay. Therapists are largely unregulated and finding a good therapist is not always easy, and at between £40.00 and £60.00 an hour, once, twice or three times a week, the costs are beyond many people’s means. Having said that, if you knew that a year’s therapy, costing between £2,000 and £6,000, was going to change your life, and the lives of your own children, beyond recognition for the better, wouldn’t it be worth finding that money somehow? You do not even need to find it all at once. A car, a holiday, a new camera, a football season ticket, a motorbike, two handbags, a new sofa and a laptop. Displacement activity.
As a wise woman said, “You cannot heal what you refuse to feel.”
Power-hungry unloved son who was ‘born to rape’
Thursday 19 March 2009
A court psychiatrist yesterday described how Josef Fritzl had locked up his daughter as a way of compensating for a loveless childhood as she detailed his troubled relationship with his mother.
Adelheid Kastner told the court in St Polten that Fritzl was a dangerous man and recommended his transfer to a psychiatric institute for intensive therapy for a serious personality disorder. She said if it was left untreated even at his advanced age, Fritzl could go on to commit other crimes so great was his “need to dominate and control other people”.
Kastner said Fritzl had developed strategies to learn to cope with life, including “pushing his feelings into the cellar of his soul”. She said there was “much of the volcano about him,” explaining that violent sex had provided the main outlet for his pent-up feelings. She said he had told her: “I was born to rape”.
In an hour-long testimony to the court, based on extensive interviews she carried out with Fritzl last year, Kastner said that his behaviour had its roots in his troubled childhood, describing a mother who did not love him, who left him to cry when he was in pain, who regularly beat him and left him on his own for hours at a time. “Herr Fritzl spent most of his childhood in a severe state of anxiety,” she said.
She described how his mother Maria, who herself had been fostered as a child, had had him “solely in order to prove to the world that she was not infertile” following a marriage which broke up because it produced no children.
“Herr Fritzl was a ‘proof child’, an ‘alibi child’,” she said, adding that this “was his only function as a child”. “As a consequence he was a burden to her, something she was forced to look after”. She said that Fritzl, now 73, struggled throughout his childhood to form a relationship with his mother but that “it was impossible to build up any sort of bond of trust with her”.
The fear he felt by her constant absences was never more intense than during the second world war bombing raids on their home town of Amstetten. She refused to take refuge in the air raid shelter near to the family home, insisting on staying in the house and sending her son into the underground shelter instead. “As a result he suffered from an overwhelming sense of anxiety, not knowing when the air raid was over whether or not the only person in the world to whom he had any relationship, would still be alive,” she said. “It’s the type of fear that over time has a huge impact on a person”.
She described how his mother ignored his screams when, as a young boy he suffered from the extremely painful, but easily treatable condition of phimosis, or a tight foreskin. Only the intervention of a neighbour prompted her to take him to see a doctor.
Fritzl listened attentively as Kastner delivered the in-depth psychiatric analysis of his character to the court. But at times he appeared nervous, twisting his fingers and his left foot, while glancing at the floor.
His decision to lock up his daughter stemmed from a need to compensate for the years during which his mother dominated him. “He developed an overwhelming desire to exert power – to dominate, control and possess another person. These were fantasies that grew and grew and which he managed to realise”.
She said one reason as to why he chose Elisabeth, his fourth of seven children, was because of her resistance. “If you conquer someone you consider strong and stubborn, the effect is all the more gratifying”. He told her he had chosen Elisabeth “because she was most like me, as strong as me, as stubborn as me”.
She said that the more incestuous children he had with her, the more powerful he felt. “The more children, the more power he had over his victim”. She said Fritzl was able to separate his two lives – the family he kept downstairs, and his official upstairs family.
“When I asked him how he was able to lead a double life, he said it was very simple. ‘As soon as I went upstairs the downstairs family didn’t exist any more’.” But he told her that when he woke up in the mornings he was flooded with feelings of guilt, “realising that he was breaking every rule in the book”.