The discipline called psychohistory is a controversial field that combines psychoanalytic concepts with historical methods. Freud (1910/1957) originated psychohistory with an investigation of Leonardo da Vinci and later collaborated with American ambassador William Bullitt to write a book-length psychological study of American president Woodrow Wilson (Freud & Bullitt, 1967). Although Erikson (1975) deplored this latter work, he took up the methods of psychohistory and refined them, especially in his study of Martin Luther (Erikson, 1958, 1975) and Ma-hatma Gandhi (Erikson, 1969, 1975). Both Luther and Gandhi had an important impact on history because each was an exceptional person with the right personal conflict living dining a historical period that needed to resolve collectively what could not be resolved individually (E. Hall, 1983).

Erikson (1974) defined psychohistory as "the study of individual and collective life with the combined methods of psychoanalysis and history" (p. 13). He used psychohistory to demonstrate his fundamental beliefs that each person is a product of his or her historical time and that those historical times are influenced by exceptional leaders experiencing a personal identity conflict.

As an author of psychohistory, Erikson believed that he should be emotionally involved in his subject. For example, he developed a strong emotional attachment to Gandhi, which he attributed to his own lifelong search for the father he had never seen (Erikson, 1975). In Gandhi's Truth, Erikson (1969) revealed strong positive feelings for Gandhi as he attempted to answer the question of how healthy individuals such as Gandhi work through conflict and crisis when other people are debilitated by lesser strife. In searching for an answer, Erikson examined Gandhis entire life cycle but concentrated on one particular crisis, which climaxed when a middle-aged Gandhi first used self-imposed fasting as a political weapon.

As a child, Gandhi was close to his mother but experienced conflict with his father. Rather than viewing this situation as an Oedipal conflict, Erikson saw it as Gandhi's opportunity to work out conflict with authority figures—an opportunity Gandhi was to have many times dining his life.

Gandhi was born October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, India. As a young man, he studied law in London and was inconspicuous in maimer and appearance. Then, dressed like a proper British subject, he returned to India to practice law. After 2 years of unsuccessful practice, he went to South Africa, which, like India, was a

British colony. He intended to remam for a year, but his first serious identity crisis kept him there for more than 20

British colony. He intended to remam for a year, but his first serious identity crisis kept him there for more than 20


A week after a judge excluded him from a courtroom, Gandhi was thrown off a tram when he refused to give up his seat to a "white" man. These two experiences with racial prejudice changed Gandhis life. By the thne he resolved this identity crisis, Ins appearance had changed dramatically. No longer attired in silk hat and black coat, he dressed in the cotton loincloth and

According to Erikson, Mahatma Gandhi developed basic strengths shawl that were to be-from his several identity crises. COtne familiar to millions of people throughout the world. During those years in South Africa, he evolved the technique of passive resistance known as Satyagraha and used it to solve his conflicts with authorities. Satyagraha is a Sanskirt term meaning a tenacious, stubborn method of gathering the truth.

After returning to India, Gandhi experienced another identity crisis when, in 1918, at age 49, he became the central figure in a workers' strike agamst the mill owners at Ahmedabad. Erikson referred to the events surrounding the strike as "The Event" and devoted the core of Gandhi's Truth to this crisis. Although this strike was only a minor event hi the history of hidia and received only scant attention in Gandhi's autobiography, Erikson (1969) saw it as having a great impact on Gandhi's identity as a practitioner of militant nonviolence.

The mill workers had pledged to strike if their demands for a 35% pay increase were not met. But the owners, who had agreed among themselves to offer no more than a 20% increase, locked out the workers and tried to break then solidarity by offering the 20% hicrease to those who would come back to work. Gandhi, the workers' spokesperson, agonized over this hnpasse. Then, somewhat impetuously, he pledged to eat no more food until the workers' demands were met. This, the first of Ins 17 "fasts to the death," was not undertaken as a threat to the mill owners but to demonstrate to the workers that a pledge must be kept. In fact, Gandhi feared that the mill owners might surrender out of sympathy for him rather than from recognition of the worker's desperate plight. Indeed on the third day, the workers and owners reached a compromise that allowed both to save face—the workers would work

Chapter 9 Erikson: Post-Freudian Theory 265

one day for a 35% increase, one day for a 20% increase, and then for whatever amount an arbitrator decided. The next day Gandhi ended his hunger strike, but his passive resistance had helped shape his identity and had given him a new tool for peaceful political and social change.

Unlike neurotic individuals whose identity crises result in core pathologies, Gandhi had developed strength from this and other crises. Erikson (1969) described the difference between conflicts in great people, such as Gandhi, and psychologically disturbed people: "This, then, is the difference between a case history and a life-history: patients, great or small, are increasingly debilitated by their inner conflicts, but in historical actuality inner conflict only adds an indispensable momentum to all superhuman effort" (p. 363).

Breaking Bulimia

Breaking Bulimia

We have all been there: turning to the refrigerator if feeling lonely or bored or indulging in seconds or thirds if strained. But if you suffer from bulimia, the from time to time urge to overeat is more like an obsession.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment