The BRUTAL BULLY and the Timid Soul (Feb, 1932)
… Here is the Surprising Truth about
The BRUTAL BULLY and the Timid Soul
DR. WILLIAM K. GREGORY, distinguished scientist of the American Museum of Natural History, in the first articles of this series, has given the absorbing history of the tiny living speck from which all life arose and sketched its slow development into Man. The manner in which Man passes his characteristics on to his offspring and the functions of the ductless glands were described by Dr. Herbert Ruckes, of the Biological Faculty of the College of the City of New York. Last month, Dr. A. T. Poffenberger, head of the Department of Psychology, Columbia University, New York, told Michel Mok, staff writer, that our emotional life is based upon fear, anger, and love. In this talk, Dr. Poffenberger explains how circumstances and civilization influence and mold our individual emotions; why one man becomes a racketeer and another a useful citizen.
MR. MOK: Dr. Poffenberger, the other day a psychologist said Napoleon defeated the armies of Europe because he had an inferiority complex. What is this complex we hear so much about? Dr. Poffenberger: You must not believe everything that is said. According to the theory of your psychologist, Napoleon set out to conquer the world in an effort to rid himself of a feeling of inferiority caused by his short stature of five feet two inches. The trouble with this idea is that there are plenty of little fellows, but few Napoleons. Bonaparte may have started with an inferiority complex, but several other factors entered into his success. Now for an answer to your question: An inferiority complex is the result of interference with a person’s urge to self-assertion.
Mr. Mok: Will you please explain that?
Dr. Poffenberger: Presently. First, I want to tell you how to recognize people with an inferiority complex. Roughly, they fall into two classes. They either are day-dreamers or bullies and braggarts.
Mr. Mok: How can the same thing show itself in such radically different ways?
Dr. Poffenberger: An inferiority complex grows from an individual’s inability to meet the ordinary situations of life. Every person who suffers from this inability desires to make up for it in some way. The method by which he tries to do this we call compensation. Sometimes, an inferiority complex expresses itself in an utter lack of initiative. The will is almost paralyzed; at best, the individual leads a routine, robotlike existence. In such cases, he compensates by day-dreaming.
Mr. Mok : You mean he just sits about, mooning?
Dr. Poffenberger: Not exactly. Here is a typical example: A humble New York shoestore clerk, on his way to work, stands up in a crowded subway car. Though crushed in the midst of many other passengers, he can yet see a pretty girl seated near by and, directly in front of her, a brutish looking individual hanging on to a strap. As he rides on, our friend feels himself to be a very ordinary person. But, through the back of his mind, there runs this day-dream: “Maybe I seem to be an ordinary man, but I really am a remarkable fellow. I am dressed just like these other people, and naturally they don’t realize who and what I am.
But just let that brute over there try to annoy that little girl! I spring to the rescue, strike him down, take command of the situation. Everyone asks: ‘Who is this?’ Then I come into my own!” Our hero wakes up; he has gone six stops beyond his station.
Mr. Mok: Don’t we all have such daydreams? I remember, while I was in high school, I used to imagine myself as a successful playwright on the opening night of my masterpiece, with a theater packed by a brilliant audience, shouting: “Author! Author!”
Dr. Poffenberger: Yes, this kind of make-believe is common among children and adolescents. One boy likes to visualize himself as a victorious general returning, on horseback, from the wars. Another sees himself as a great engineer on the day his giant bridge is opened. A typical young girl’s day-dream, especially if she is the daughter of strict parents, is that, some day, it will be revealed that she was a foundling, left on the front step by a passing princess. However, such fantasies persist through adult life mostly in persons with an inferiority complex.
Mr. Mok: How about the bully and the braggart?
DR. POFFENBERGER: Bullying and bragging are other ways of compensating for a deep-seated lack of self-esteem. In those cases, the individual raises himself in his own eyes by domineering others, and tries to impress his fellows with his importance by lying about accomplishments he never achieved, or exaggerating what little he did achieve. The man who boasts of his wonderful feats of daring betrays the fact that he is a coward. But there are subtler forms of boasting; for example, self-deprecation. The chap who exclaims: “What a fool I am!” wants you to disagree with him. He gets angry when you ask him: “Why advertise it?” People with an inferiority complex are likely to indulge their temper, shout, rave, wear loud clothes. Fondness for the limelight and publicity is another symptom. The fellow who crowds into the center of the front row when a group picture is taken has an inferiority complex. So has the grand opera prima donna who throws a fit when she does not get her way. She is unable to meet the ordinary situations of life in a reasonable manner. Mr. Mok: Is there such a thing as a superiority complex?
DR. POFFENBERGER: Cases of so- called superiority complex generally turn out to be cases in which an individual adopts some spectacular method of overcoming his sense of inferiority. The multimillionaire who makes lavish gifts to colleges may have had little or no education. The hard driver who will not tolerate mistakes by his employes probably was hard driven himself in youth by his parents, his teachers, or his first boss. Or he may have been a conspicuously bad scholar in school. There probably are persons who have a strong sense of superiority, but they show it in conduct indistinguishable from that which marks the man who feels inferior.
Mr. Mok: You said that an inferiority complex was the result of interference with a person’s urge to self-assertion. What is an urge? Is it the same as an emotion?
Dr. Poffenberger : Not at all. Last month, I told you that our emotional life is based on three primary emotionsâ€”fear, anger, and love (P.S.M., Jan., ’32, p. 42). In addition to emotions, we have drives or urges that probably underlie the emotions.
Mr. Mok: What do you mean by “underlie”?
Dr. Poffenberger: You may compare the emotions with the wheels of an automobile, and the drives or urges with the motor that sets the driving wheels in motion. The difference is this: A machine acts only in response to an outside stimulus; for instance, the motor of your car does not begin to function until you step on the starter. If you do not step on it, the automobile will sit quietly in the garage all day. The human or animal organism reacts somewhat in the same way to outside stimuli but, in addition, it also is a self-starting mechanism. In a manner of speaking, it is charged with these drives or urges. An external circumstance may set off this charge but, lacking that, it will go off of its own accord.
MR. MOK: I am afraid I don’t quite understand that.
Dr. Poffenberger: I am sure you will in a minute. Perhaps the strongest of these drives is hunger. When a dog is hungry, and you put a plate of food in its vicinity, it will bound for the plate. Here is the outside stimulus that set off the charge; you stepped on the starter.
Suppose you don’t feed the dog, and it gets hungry enough, what will it do?
Mr. Mok: It will go hunting for food, of course.
Dr. Poffenberger: Exactly. In that case, the dog is a self-starting mechanism, and hunger was the internal urge or drive that impelled the animal to action.
MR. MOK: If I understand you correctly, you mean that, when a dog fights over a bone, or a baby cries for its milk, the emotion of anger the animal or the child shows is a result of the hunger drive?
Dr. Poffenberger: Right. That is why I said that the drives or urges underlie the emotions. I told you last month that Dr. John B. Watson, the noted psychologist, proved by experiment that there are only two things that make a newborn baby angryâ€”hunger and restriction of movement. In one case, the emotion of anger is caused by the hunger drive, and in the other by the urge to activity.
Mr. Mok: But why does the baby get angry? Is anger the only emotion called forth by these drives?
Dr. Poffenberger: Not by any means. As I have told you, the organism seems to be charged with these drives and urges. The point is that to discharge them gives satisfaction, and to impede their discharge creates dissatisfaction. That is why the baby is contented when it is given its milk on time and is allowed to move its little arms and legs as it pleases, and why it gets angry when it does not get its bottle or when the nursemaid pins its arms to its sides. Do you get irritable when you are hungry?
Mr. Mok: Irritable isn’t the word. I get cross and unreasonable.
DR. POFFENBERGER: So do I. It is the same dissatisfaction created by failure to discharge the hunger drive that causes a baby to cry for its bottle. The difference between us and babies is that, from sad experience, we have learned that yelling for our dinner won’t do us any good. Now, this hunger drive has a physical basis. It springs from a lack of certain substances necessary to the body; you might say it has a chemical cause. The thirst drive is a similar case. The animal (or man) is literally driven to seek water by a lack of fluid in the system. There are other drives and urges with a physical origin. The urge to activity, expressing itself in restlessness and a desire for sports and play, probably is based on the body’s need to find outlets for physical energy. The need for rest is a drive growing out of the presence of fatigue poisons in the system. With less certainty, but with some degree of plausibility, it may be assumed that there is a physical basis for the so-called sex drive in the presence or absence in the body of certain ingredientsâ€”gland secretions, hormones or other chemical matter. Aside from these drives, there are a number of urges that are just as surely part of our make-up, but for which, at present, we can find no physical basis.
Mr. Mok: What are they?
Dr. Poffenberger : Here are a few that you doubtless have observed either in yourself or in others: The need for companionship; the need for friendship; the need for family affection that impels people to establish homes; the need to keep in style. Then, there is the urge mentioned in the beginning of our talkâ€”the need to assert oneself over others; in other words, the urge to self-assertion.
Mr. Mok: Would you call these needs and desires drives, like hunger?
Dr. Poffenberger: Certainly. Some of them may not be as powerful as hunger, but all of them are fundamental urges. They occur in all normal people and affect their behavior. We call them drives because of their impelling nature. They actually drive the individual to express himself in certain ways.
Mr. Mok: You said that these urges occur in all normal people. I believe I am a normal person; yet I have no desire whatever to keep in style or be like other people.
Dr. Poffenberger: Oh, haven’t you?
Do you wear a straw hat in October, no matter how warm and pleasant the weather? Would you go about in winter in a nice warm suit of animal hides? Why do you and I wear these ridiculous, useless buttons on our coat sleeves? I will tell you why. Because we are slaves of fashion, whether we admit it or not.
Mr. Mok: I should have thought that fear of ridicule was at the bottom of it. Dr. Poffenberger: All right. But if you were sufficiently lacking in the urge to keep in style, you would not fear this ridicule. Then you would set the style, instead of following it. Now, the average adult human being is chockfull of these drives and urges I have been telling you about. They are penned up in him, like carbon dioxide gas in a bottle of soda water, always ready to bubble over. To discharge them gives him satisfaction.
Mr. Mok: Can he? Dr. Poffenberger: Not always. Often civilization steps in and says no. Social usage, conventions, morals, proprieties, hem him in on every hand. Civilized society treats the average man much in the manner of the nursemaid who pins the baby’s arms to its sides; in other words, it cramps his style.
Mr. Mok: What is the result?
Dr. Poffenberger: The result is he has to express many of his drives and urges in modified or, as the psychoanalysts say, sublimated form.
Mr. Mok: That’s a big word. What exactly does it mean?
Dr. Poffenberger: It means that he must hitch his urges onto something that the world approves of. The process of education is essentially one of sublimation; that is to say, it is a method of turning our drives and urges to good account.
Mr. Mok: But education does not always succeed in this, does it?
DR. POFFENBERGER: Unfortunately, it does not, but I will come to that in a minute. To make plain what is meant by sublimation, let us take the urge to self-assertion. Primitive man expressed this urge in physical combat. Today, one man beats his fellows at the polls and makes his mark in politics, a second beats his competitors in business, a third distinguishes himself in science or invention, a fourth has an outstanding collection of postage stamps.
Mr. Mok: I understand the King of England is a champion stamp collector. Do you mean to say that he expresses his urge to self-assertion in that way?
Dr. Poffenberger : Undoubtedly. What other way has a king nowadays? If he had lived 500 years ago, he probably would have expressed it by going out to fight the King of France or of Scotland. As a matter of fact, the urge to self assertion is at the bottom of most hobbies, and of almost all competition and contests. In each case, the man asserts himself over others in a manner that has some social value and which, at the same time, gives him personal satisfaction. Dr. Sigmund Freud, the famous Viennese psychologist, and his followers go as far as to say that all poetry, painting, and sculpture is a sublimation of the sex urge; that is, a modified form of expressing it.
Mr. Mok: Isn’t all modern wooing a sublimation of the sex urge? For instance, if a young man writes his best girl a poem or sends her a bunch of flowers, don’t these tokens take the place of the crude methods of his primitive ancestor, who dragged the girl of his choice off to his cave?
Dr. Poffenberger : That is essentially true, but it is more complex than that. You see, sex is not the only thing that enters into our modern forms of wooing. Vanity plays a part in it; the desire to please; a sense of beauty, and other factors.
Mr. Mok : What happens when our drives and urges are not turned to good account?
Dr. Poffenberger: Let us stick for a moment to the urge to self-assertion, because it is responsible for so many of our problems. When education (and by this I mean all training, from earliest childhood) does not succeed in directing it into useful channels, there is sure to be trouble. In children, it may show itself in temper tantrums. In grown people, you may get cases of common bullies, criminals, and chronic invalidism.
Mr. Mok: Invalidism?
Dr. Poffenberger : Yes, this is a form in which the misdirected urge to self-assertion sometimes expresses itself. It is one method by which a person may force the attentions of others upon himself. As for criminals, the modern gang leader and racketeer are striking examples of the urge to self-assertion gone wrong. Arnold Rothstein, the notorious gambler who was shot, and Al Capone have clearly shown characteristics of leadership that have gone astray. Rothstein might have become a prominent banker, and Al Capone a great general or an industrial or political organizer, if their talents had been directed into different channels.
Mr. Mok : What happens when the sex urge is not directed into useful channels?
DR. POFFENBERGER: You then get cases of dissatisfaction and restlessness, such as you see in its simplest form in the infant whose arms are held. At its worst, this may show itself in abnormal behavior unacceptable under our conventions. Often, it expresses itself in a revulsion against sex. This is the basis of prudery in people, and of exaggerated censorship.
Mr. Mok: Is this what is meant by repression ?
Dr. Poffenberger: Repression is interference with these natural urges by social conventions which are called taboos.
Mr. Mok : Would you say, then, that all taboos are bad?
Dr. Poffenberger: Far from it. In order that people may live together in a society, the individual must sacrifice something of his freedom for the general good. Just how much he should be restricted is a great social question that has never been answered. It has differed in various societies through history, and it still differs decidedly in various countries, and even in various social groups within one country.
Mr. Mok : What is the difference between repression and inhibition?
Dr. Poffenberger: If there is any difference at all, it is this: Repression is a check on our urges and drives from the outside; usually, it is a check on our behavior. Inhibition is a check we exercise ourselves from the inside, and more on the urges themselves, before they express themselves in our behavior.
Mr. Mok: And what is a complex?
DR. POFFENBERGER: That is a state of mind growing out of constant repression.
Mr. Mok: Is it a normal state of mind?
Dr. Poffenberger: Oh, no. The normal state results not from repression but from sublimation which, as I have explained, is the translation, as it were, of our urges and drives into desires for useful and acceptable activity. A complex that is serious enough to require treatment is “resolved,” as we say, by the process of sublimation.
Mr. Mok : What do you mean and how is that done?
Dr. Poffenberger: Let us suppose that a person suffers from a complex resulting from repression of the sex urge. As I have told you, this may manifest itself in a variety of ways; it may go so far as to turn the person into a nervous wreck. The treatment then would consist in sublimating the patient’s repressed sex urge into such acceptable activities as art, social service, or anything useful that is pleasing and satisfying to the patient. Great skill is required to bring about such a transfer, and it can be done only by an experienced practitioner who in addition to that is also a profound student of human nature.
Mr. Mok: Is this what is known as psychoanalysis?
Dr. Poffenberger : It is. Speaking of complexes, I told you in the beginning of our talk that an inferiority complex is the result of interference with a person’s urge to self-assertion. Do you understand now that I meant it was the result of repression of the urge to self-assertion?
Mr. Mok : I do. You have explained that all normal people have the urge to self-assertion. How does it happen to be repressed in some and not in others?
DR. POFFENBERGER: Training in the early years of life has much to do with it. Practically every young child at some time or other adopts an unsatisfactory method of giving expression to drives that have been thwarted. A very common case is the child with temper tantrums. The child, urged, for example, to eat a certain food, throws itself on the floor in a fit of anger, kicks and screams. Something must be done about that.
Mr. Mok : What do you recommend to inexperienced parents?
Dr. Poffenberger: A good, old-fashioned spanking is one method of dealing with it. Another is to ignore the child’s antics completely. If something like that is not done, you may have the beginning of an abnormal method of meeting the problems and obstacles of life. The child then has found a weapon with which to force satisfaction of his urges. Now, the trouble is that, later in life, that weapon does not work, and the individual is unable to meet the ordinary situations. Result: inferiority complex which may show itself in any one of the different ways I have mentioned.
Mr. Mok : You mean that all cases of inferiority complex arise from improper handling of the child in early life? If that is so, why isn’t there more of it in the world or why don’t we all suffer from it?
DR. POFFENBERGER: Your question requires a double answer. First, there probably is more of it in the world than you suspect. Secondly, we are not perfectly sure that some people are not born with a predisposition toward inferiority. It is virtually impossible to determine this definitely. But we do know that a baby only a few hours old learns that to cry will bring the satisfaction of being held and fondled. This may be the beginning of a wrong way of going about satisfying drives and urges. If you indulge it, you simply teach the child to get off on the wrong foot, and you may lay the foundation for an inferiority complex which later on, as you know, may prove a serious handicap to the individual.