Unit 04: Hitler’s Shadow

Lesson 08 delved into “individual differences”, the things that differentiate one person from another. It states that personality is the category that most psychologists think of when they are discussing individual differences. The lesson refers to personality as the “type” of person that we regard someone as. Motivation is described as why people do the things they do. We are all motivated in different ways whether consciously or subconsciously.

When discussing personality and motivation and its effect on individual differences, I can’t help but use one of the most influential figures in history, despite their negative influence on the world. That person would be Adolf Hitler. Hitler was a mad man and evil incarnate, but he provides a plethora of verifiable information when studying psychology and psychopathology and their effect on behavior. It’s easy to say what Hitler did was wrong and evil but it’s more interesting, in my opinion, to understand why he may have done it. What motivated Adolf Hitler’s destructive behavior?
Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party perpetrated one of history’s most evil deeds by instigating World War II and the Holocaust, which led to tens of millions of lives lost or irreparably damaged. What drove Hitler to act in such a monumentally murderous, horrific (and ultimately self-destructive) way? Perhaps the most famous psychological study of Hitler was done by Henry A. Murray, former director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic, at the behest of the American OSS during the war. Dr. Murray points out that though there is very little information available about Hitler’s childhood, he is said to have been sickly and frail. His father was described as “tyrannical” and physically abusive. According to psychoanalyst Michael Stone, Hitler’s father reportedly beat both Adolf and his older brother with a whip regularly, meting out daily whippings to the more rebellious Adolf, who, by the time he turned 11, “refused to give his father the satisfaction of crying, even after 32 lashes.” Here we can begin see how Hitler as a young boy was overpowered by his father and confronted with a situation he could not control, except by controlling his own emotions and actions. Stone further suggests that Hitler’s hatred for his father fueled his hatred of Jews, who, after his father died when Adolf was only fourteen, served as scapegoats for his residual fury. This would be the basis for Hitler’s authoritarian personality. We can see how Hitler’s upbringing would be a nesting-ground for unethical, draconian, tyrannical leadership.

As an adult, Hitler chose to pursue power through politics. Hitler, like so many victims of physical or sexual abuse during childhood, may have experienced an extraordinary sense of helplessness and powerlessness as a boy, stemming mainly from his poor relationship with his exceedingly domineering and controlling father. Hitler also evidently suffered also from severe anxiety. How much of Hitler’s destructive behavior, before and after rising to power, was an obsessive-compulsive defense mechanism against his painful anxiety? It is known now that Hitler suffered not only from chronic anxiety, but also insomnia and related somatic symptoms similar to what we today might call irritable bowel syndrome. Once in power, he maintained a very close relationship with his personal physician, who helped manage the Fuehrer’s anxiety symptoms with unorthodox medications, including sedating barbiturates and stimulating amphetamine on which Hitler became dependent. Murray, who never actually met or examined Hitler in person, states that Hitler manifested other signs of neurosis toward the end of his four years of military service during World War l, when he developed a case of “hysterical blindness” and “mutism,” possibly in response to “shell shock” or what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Lesson 08’s Motivation states “People may be primarily motivated by providing for themselves or those around them (needs), by what they are rewarded for (reinforcement), by a vision or target for achievement (goal-setting), or by comparisons to what those around them are receiving for their work (equity).” (Penn State, 2019) It can be argued that perhaps the major component of Hitler’s madness was, his mad-ness: his immense anger, embitterment and hatred toward his father and, eventually, Jews and the world at large.

Penn State University. (2019). Unit 04, Lesson 08: Individual Differences.

One Comment

  1. Juwan Levine March 22, 2019 at 8:25 PM #

    Hello Nicholas, I agree with you about Hitler. He definitely had something wrong psychologically. However, I do believe he was a great leader. Definitely a misguided and deranged man, but the man was able to rally millions of people to kill other people. Had Hitler had a different upbringing and a different physician he may have changed the world for the positive. Based on the history you have provided, it seems like Hitler did not really have autonomy and he made up for this when he was older. A lot of his personality and behavior would be completely different if his biodata was different and he had a different upbringing (PSU, 2019). For example, what if he was Jewish, would he still pursue a different race to annihilate? What if Hitler was brought up to love everyone? What if Hitler had an outlet to free up some anxiety or stress that he may have built up over the years? I’m not saying I agree with Hitler. What I am saying he was able to build up a following that led people to kill other people to realize his goal. If you could convince other people to kill, imagine if he had a noble goal. This reminds me of the Milgram experiment. People put off responsibility and put the blame on the authority figure. I feel like this is what allowed so many people to follow their orders (Mcleod, 2017). This is aside those people who had the desire to do this their entire life and Hitler just gave them an outlet. Also, would Hitler be a good leader if he had a positive goal? I feel like some people do not like to rely behind noble goals.


    Penn State. (2019) Lesson 8: Individual Differences. Retrieved from

    Mcleod, S. (2017, February 05). The Milgram Experiment. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.html

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