“Such pain… makes us more profound” (Nietzsche, 1888 as cited in Kauffman, 1982, p. 681) Abstract Nietzsche is described as one of history’s most scrutinized philosophers (Schutte, 1984). Yet, much of the literature concerning Nietzsche fails to consider the impact his fathers death may have had on his development, and thus work. Theorists propose situational factors (Raveis, Siegel and Karus, 1998) act as predictors of children who may experience complex bereavement extending into adulthood (Dowdney, 2000).
This essay aims to employ these study’s as framework to analyse Nietzsche’s vulnerability to complex bereavement, and the impact this may have had on his emotional development and consequently on aspects of his work. We concur with Nietzsche, that, perhaps it is through such pain “a psychologist without equal” (Nietzsche, 1886 as cited in Golomb, 1989, p. 13) was borne. Keywords: Nietzsche; childhood bereavement; adjustment; depression; somatisation disorders To what extent did Childhood Bereavement Impact the Emotional Development and Work of Nietzsche?
It has been suggested to understand Nietzsche’s philosophy one must first understand his life (Kauffman, 1974). However, the vast body of Nietzsche literature often fails to discuss the impact of his father’s death. The aim of this essay is to employ the work of Ravieis’ et al (1998) and Downdey (2000) as a theoretical framework to analyse whether situational factors surrounding Ludwig’s death left Nietzsche vulnerable to complex childhood bereavement, a term which refers to bereavement with poor adjustment outcomes (Downdey, 2000).
We present research proposing parental death increases risk of childhood disorders (Berk, 2010) and extant Nietzsche literature to discuss whether the depression and ill health Nietzsche endured (Kauffmann, 1974; Krell, 1996) was partially derived from complex childhood bereavement. We briefly examine the impact of bereavement on Nietzsche’s work, particularly his published views on women. We concur with Nietzsche – perhaps the experience of suffering contributed to his profound thought.
To review factors surrounding Ludwig Nietzsche’s death one need only peruse the introduction of any Nietzsche biography. What appears often neglected is Nietzsche’s perspective of a paternal bond characterised by tenderness (Krell, 1996). Early autobiographical sketches described Nietzsche watching his father draft sermons and his father entertaining him on the piano (Nietzsche as cited in Middleton, 1996). Then in September 1849 his “beloved father suddenly became mentally ill” (Nietzsche, 1877 as cited in Kauffman, 1974, p. 2) and died the following year (Pletsch, 1993). The sadness of Ludwig’s death was expounded by Nietzsche’s brother’s death six months later (Chamberlain, 1998). After which, Nietzsche’s mother relocated the family to Naumburg, where he resided with his mother, grandmother, two aunts and sister (Krell, 1996). While grieving is expected of bereavement, children who experience complex bereavement display deleterious adjustment and an increased risk of impairment extending into adulthood (Dowdney, 2000).
A substantial body of research aimed at understanding consequences of parental death during childhood (Rosenblatt and Elde, 1990; Baker, Sedney ;amp; Gross,1992; Siegel, Karus, ;amp; Raveis, 1996) support the theory that situational factors such as the bereaved child’s age and gender, and the gender of the deceased parent may increase the risk of problematic adjustment (Raveis et al, 1998). Research has demonstrated that children 5 years and younger seem particularly vulnerable to poor adjustment (Worden, 1996; Elizur ;amp; Kaffman, 1983).
Further, research suggests boys increased risk of psychopathology (Fristad, Jedel, Weller ;amp; Weller, 1993; Lifshitz, Berman, Galili ;amp; Gilad, 1977) and a gender match of bereaved child and deceased parent is a strong predictor of poor adjustment (Berlinsky, ;amp; Biller, 1982; Van Eederweght, Bieri, Parilla ;amp; Clayton, 1982). These findings, plus Nietzsche’s age when his father died (five), lend weight to the conjecture that Nietzsche was at risk of complex bereavement. Theorist of developmental psychology posits parental death in childhood increases the risk of childhood depression or somatisation disorders (Berk, 2010).
For young children, intense grief often manifests as physical symptoms which may persist for many years such as sleep disturbance or headaches (Luecken, 2008). Extant Nietzsche literature suggests he experienced such ailments, commencing in childhood and continuing through his life. Entries made in 1862 medical records of Pforta boarding school, where he attended school, report Nietzsche was “often plagued by migraine headaches” (as cited in Kauffman, 1974, p. 23), though the cause of the headaches was unclear.
Letters in which Nietzsche laments his inability to sleep and frequent bouts of illness (Nietzsche as cited in Fuss ;amp; Shapiro, 1971) are supported by friends correspondence detailing ambiguous illness resulting in a good deal of time in bed (Overbeck as cited by Kauffmann, 1974). Sleep disturbance and unidentified illness as evidence of a somatisation disorder remains speculative. However a propensity for depression and suicidal ideation is clearly evident in Nietzsche’s correspondence which depicts life as a “gloomy fog” (Nietzsche, 1878 as cited in Middleton, 1996, p. 163) and statements such as “if I should take my life… hat would not be a reason for too much sorrow” (Nietzsche, 1883 as cited in Kauffman, 1974, p. 58). It is reported that Nietzsche, in reference to his melancholia, made unrealistic remarks about how vastly improved his life may have been, had his father lived (Safranski, 2002). This infers that Nietzsche believed, to some extent his depression may have developed in response to childhood bereavement. Finally, we consider the impact of bereavement on Nietzsche’s theories. Nietzsche considered it an almost “intolerable situation, to be condemned to a fatherless household” (Kauffman, 1974, p. 3). It has been posited that the views Nietzsche published on women express the resentment he held for his mother (Safranski, 2002). However, further deliberation of Nietzsche’s “woman- as-such” (Nietzsche,1886/2003) suggests that Nietzsche’s use of ‘woman’ is an attempt to show the redundancy of traditional sex roles (Oppel, 2005). The real legacy of Ludwig’s death for Nietzsche may be a profound understanding that “one is made stronger by whatever does not kill it. I owe my philosophy to it” (1888, Nietzsche as cited in Kauffman, 1982, p. 680).
Nietzsche’s philosophy gave rise to the work of Freud, Jung and Rogers (Hergenhahn, 2009) to name but a few. With poignant gratitude we recognise “philosophers of the future” (Nietzsche, 1886 as cited in Kauffman, 1974, p. 86) profit from sorrow’s labour, which Nietzsche claims gave birth to his work. Though he is well researched, literature discussing Nietzsche often fails to consider him through the lens of childhood bereavement. This essay aimed to analyse whether Nietzsche was vulnerable to complex childhood bereavement. It is acknowledged that reflections of somatising disorder are conjecture.
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