The Betrayal of the Self

Version 45, am 24.6.2004 12:58

Introduction to The Betrayal of the Self: The Fear of Autonomy in Men and Women, by Arno Gruen, trans. Hunter and Hildegarde Hannum. Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Edition (April 1988) Hardcover: 154 pages ASIN: 0802110177 $17.95 (Now out of print and typically $100+ used!)

Translation of: Der Verrat am Selbst: Die Angst vor Autonomie bei Mann und Frau. von Arno Gruen, DTV, Mchn. (1986) Broschiert (Prices at EUR 2,73 - 3,00)

Editorial and Customer Reviews are also included below.


This work presents the reader with a theory of autonomy which maintains that being autonomous does not result from having ideas of one’s own importance, nor from the necessity for independence, but from being able to experience freely one’s own perceptions, feelings, and needs. This kind of experience determines the unity or the dissociation of personality development.

The type of personal integration we attain – or the effective lack thereof – depends on what possibilities our life situation offers us for the development of autonomy. It is a distorted development that is the root cause of the pathological and, ultimately, evil element in human beings.

The struggle for autonomy heightens our aliveness. Insofar as the socialization process blocks autonomy, however, this process engenders the evil it attempts to prevent. If parental love is so distorted that it demands submission and dependence for its self-confirmation, social adjustment turns into a test of obedience and the child’s efforts to comply bring with them the loss of genuine feelings. The human being then becomes the true source of evil. Yet it is a paradox of our nature that the failure to attain autonomy may also represent a non-failure. For autonomy can go underground and hide beneath subjection and submissiveness, beneath a surrender of self to the will of others. This is a hopeful sign.

In my first chapter I describe the nature of autonomy, in the second I attempt to show how our tendency toward abstraction masks and smothers the natural drive for autonomy, in the third my goal is to demonstrate that this tendency lies at the heart of the male’s need to oppress women, but also of his own dehumanization. My fourth chapter shows how all this in turn reduces people’s access to their own past, thereby making them more and more dependent on externally applied stimulation – they thus become stimulus-bound and robot like. In my fifth chapter I investigate the way the frustration of autonomy leads to psychological "pathology” and simultaneously blinds us to the madness of the struggle for power. Finally, the sixth chapter portrays the way we shift morality to the plane of intellectual concepts while seeing evil as emanating directly from human nature. These distortions encourage the flight into the "image” and pseudo-feelings, and lead to the lack of an autonomous self, thereby producing human beings who destroy life.

This book is written in the hope of strengthening the resolve of those whose eyes are still open, in a world of conformity and adjustment, to the possibility of other human worlds. It is my desire here to help restore the sphere of feeling – in contrast to thinking and understanding, which are split off from feeling – to its rightful place in our scientifically oriented culture.

The present work is based on my thirty-five years of experience with psychotherapy. For this reason I would like to thank those people who were and still are a part of this experience and the learning that accompanied it: my patients and students both in Europe and the United States; my teachers and friends, especially Gustav Bychowski, Thomas N. Jenkins,

Theodore C. Schneirla and Henry Miller. The latter’s authenticity and vitality were particularly important for my maturation as a human being, as were the acuity and originality of Schneirla’s thinking. From my daughters Margaret and Constance, with their militant and loving spirit, I have also learned a great deal.

I would like to express my sincerest thanks to Claus D. Eck, Claudia M. von Monbart, and Franz Wurm for their stylistic assistance with my manuscript. For the first edition I had the help of Ruth von Blarer. Her intuitive grasp of my intentions and her feeling for the needs of the reader made working with her a stimulating experience. I am deeply grateful to her for this. For stylistic checking of the German paperback edition I am very indebted to my editor Ulrike Buergel-Goodwin. The pages that follow are clearer as a result of her effort.

Arno Gruen, Ticino, 1985


Editorial Review

One of Gruen's debatable findings in this provocative study is that men, cut off from their feelings, are far more oppressed than women. In both sexes, asserts this Swiss-based psychoanalyst, a false, inauthentic self develops as the obedient child learns to deny its own impulses. He argues that the drive for power, for control over oneself and others, chokes off true self-knowledge. Men become robot-like as they plot their lives in terms of abstract concepts; women who identify with powerful males mythologize themselves. Gruen's mapping of the flight from self may sound familiar to readers of Erich Fromm, yet he offers fresh insights fleshed out with examples drawn from politics, literature, therapy sessions and the news. He ties the personal context to the social diseases of mass conformity, worship of material success and overvaluation of intellect. Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Publishers Weekly

An Honest Look, July 28, 2001

Gruen's work is by far and away the best piece of non-fiction I've ever read in my life. Gruen takes a relentless and incisive look at the underlying reasons behind the insidious undermining of a person's true Self by a false system of beliefs set up by a deluded and oppressive society. Gruen gives his audience an opportunity to be aware of their innermost qualities and emotions with absolutely no shame or judgment. This book has been more enlightening and inspiring than the total sum of self-help books that have accumulated and collected dust on my book shelf over the past 10 years. I implore anybody who is searching for answers and solutions to their deepest conflicts to look no further.

A reader from Montclair, NJ United States (Amazon)

I'm not sure how Dr. Gruen did this, but there can be no argument that it is a stellar effort. I can't believe Dr. Gruen's 2 major books are out of print in the U.S. It baffles me. A country with this much violence, alcohol and drug use, is cutting itself off from Gruen's immensely helpful insights. It's a shame. I recently just read a few passages to my 14 year old son. Result? He had a grin from ear to ear. He loved it! I do too! It is just as fresh and important today, as I read it, as it was 11 years ago when it 1st came out. My son loved the idea that to be free, one must be an outcast in rational society. The free man irritates those around him. Are you yourself, or are you an image that others expect from you. The nail that sticks out gets the thump of the hammer. Gruen urges us to be that stubborn "free" nail.

Jim strong from Phila. P.A. (Amazon)

An excellent review, and clear as well!

If you look for something that fathoms out the deep motivations for human frustration, stop here and read this book. It is clearly written, has a soul, and won't lead you into a hotchpotch of jargon. The best book I've ever read on this subject. Read it, and you'll realize that the recipe to get better along in life is very easy - try to be what you are. How? Well, simply by grasping the fact that we all tend to adopt false behavioral patterns as a means of self-defense. The most valuable thing of this book is that it will lead you gently into this spiritual awakening. No cut-and-dried recipe as to how become a "shark". It's not worth it. A good book must be like a good doctor: be rigorous in the treatment and lead you to wellbeing. Gruen won't teach you how to bully the rest of the world, but he will tell you how you can get closer to yourself and get a life of reality, instead of appearances. If this is not enough for you, don't read the book. If this is what you want, this book can be the first rung in a long latter.

Amazon Customer

The Betrayal of the Self. Fear of Autonomy in Men and Women, by Arno Gruen: Book review by Rob Couteau

"Violence Against the Self." The Betrayal of the Self. Fear of Autonomy in Men and Women, by Arno Gruen, trans. Hunter and Hildegarde Hannum. (NY: Grove Press, 1988.) Published in The Bloomsbury Review, March / April 1989.

Arno Gruen’s thesis is that autonomy, which he defines as "that state of integration in which one lives in full harmony with one’s feelings and needs," is often in direct conflict with the needs of society and the collective rules that govern adjustment and the attainment of so-called success. Indeed, our cultural history is largely composed of a "suppression of these feelings and the needs they awaken." The splitting-off of our most deeply felt awareness and perception leads invariably to the danger of violence against the authentic self. As Gaetano Benedetti warns in his preface, "the roots of evil, of negativity, of psychopathology" may be traced in part to this blocking of one’s true inner nature.

Gruen identifies abstraction as one of the most destructive forces governing the fragmentation of the self. We "glorify abstract thought - at the expense of passion, enthusiasm, and openness," successfully avoiding the pain of encountering our actual selves and fearing the broad emotional spectrum that such an encounter entails. The participation of science in abstraction’s almost total usurpation of all other core human values has only further validated this growing "split between intelligence and feeling" - this blind worship of rationalism, which in turn threatens the preservation of authenticity. Ironically, those who work hardest to preserve their psychic authenticity are often "labeled as maladjusted and as failures." Among the so-called maladjusted are the prolific writer Henry Miller and the renowned mystic/philosopher Meister Eckhart, as well as many other notable artists and philosophers whom the author quotes at length.

Gruen provides a solution to what reads in large part as an anatomy of the terrors that one may feel when turning within and facing the dark countenance of the secret self. Although we may ultimately "develop a fear of fear itself," we need to: Discover that though our fear is of complete helplessness - it is actually a helplessness pertaining to a specific situation. It does not have to be equated with total impotence and failure. Feeling helpless can instead lead to a recognition of the limits of one’s influence and the ability to accept interdependency. A shift in mental attitude away from a possible inflation of the omnipotent ego toward the recognition of the significant "other" - through the experience of rapport, empathy, and open-mindedness - is a theme that runs throughout this work.

Certain specialists as well as some general readers will no doubt view Gruen's reinterpretation of Oedipus as being somewhat provocative. He believes that "Our betrayal of what we might have been, which lays the foundation of our destructive tendencies in general, is determined by our relationship with our mother." Yet he rejects what he calls the Oedipal "myth," arguing: "it is neither love nor sexuality … that makes a little boy in the Oedipal stage want to possess his mother. Rather, this is brought about by her often unconscious rejection of his authentic self." The child is thus motivated to either "serve her - or to dominate her." All this, he adds, is not to blame her, for in this regard she serves only as a link to the father and to society, where the self is predicated upon power as the sole worthwhile reality. Gruen is to be lauded for the sincerity of his promulgation of feeling and authenticity, particularly in an age when psychology has had less to do with the study of the soul than with the obsessive and soulless accounting of extroverted patterns of human behavior. Yet there are dangers, even destructive ones, in this approach, which rings of a literalness and a one-sidedness that one all too often observes in a therapist's identification with the victim. It remains, for instance, of vital necessity to separate the personal, literal mother from both the "introjected" mother and from the idealized or archetypal mother. Both the reality of internal nurturing - of assuming the role of a mother to one's self - and the overall reality of the psychic mother complex are points of view that are not mentioned here. The naïve or general reader is left only with a personal notion of "mother" and of "society" where a discussion of an "inner" psychic mother or father, and of the "inner" psychic determinants of society are necessary if the authenticity of the self is to be at all preserved.

Authenticity to the self and to one's feelings are also, ultimately, non-rational categories of being, and if one is to isolate them, or rather, "rescue" them (as Gruen seems to be doing) from psychiatric orthodoxy, then that rescue must also entail a non-rational treatment. Here, instead, the author falls back upon a so-called logical treatment that protects and defends our needs for feeling and self-expression through a method which is itself destructive because of its concreteness and literalism - its assigning of every problem to some outer causality located in (or projected upon) society. But what is society? What is its psychic root? Statements such as "there are societies, such as the African Ituri … or the Yequana in the Venezuelan jungle, where men are whole human beings. But in our society they are not," explain nothing, and are, at the very least, highly questionable. The "noble savage" seems to haunt this argument, as does that all-too-modern spirit that, under the guise of an anything-goes "feminism," denigrates "all men" to be guilt of one thing and "all women" to be in possession of a multiplicity of heroic and endearing traits. Tied up with the Oedipal drama, Gruen tells us, "is the male conception of possession of power that comes into play."

Men think of themselves in a logical, orderly way without realizing that it crushes their spontaneity, which they have grown to fear. As a man who has to rely on spontaneity and the illogical, strangely ordered flow of the unconscious in the act of writing, in creativity, and in life itself, I've long grown tired of such superficial generalizations about men and women, mothers and fathers, even individuals and societies, whether they appear in political discourse, in works of psychology, or in supercilious dinner table conversations. "Men are deeply tormented by doubts about their superiority," and "women who are true to themselves - that is, who are in touch with their own authentic life-forces - are never in favor of war" - it all begins to read like a trivial pursuit in an age of generalizations that has itself damaged the individual through omission of a higher psychological understanding and a more complex and mature analysis. So what begins as a refreshing call to inner truth unravels in a welter of simplistic assertions that undercut their own validity.

Had Gruen followed his own stated philosophy of uncovering the voice that is individual and unique to the self - the creative impulse at the core of the psyche toward which one is always striving - then his goal of propelling the reader toward a genuine experience of this inner authenticity might have been more convincingly accomplished. As it now stands, The Betrayal of the Self is a summons to the creative but surely not an example of it.


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Dienstag, 23. Mrz 2004

englische Übersetzung der Seite "Arno Gruen"