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Adolf Hitler: Evil Or Insane?

When it comes to the discussion of distinct personalities well-known worldwide and possessing some peculiar features of psychological condition, suffering mental disorders or psychological development deviations, one would hardly fail to think of one of the most influential and villains in the history of humanity, Adolf Hitler. Hitler is commonly perceived as an ultimate evil and a madman responsible for death, misery and suffering of millions of millions of people. Although most people tend to explain the actions and atrocities of the Third Reich leader with the mere fact of his evil nature, such approach seems to be rather superficial from the scientific point of view. This is probably caused by people’s reluctance to try to think of such abnormity as of a byproduct of psychological deviations or psychosocial development (Goode). 

Nevertheless, examining the problem through the lens of theoretical foundations of psychology and treating the behavior of a person as the result of influence of numerous inner and outer factors would enable understanding the sources of the deviations and defining the key causes preconditioning this problem. Since the end of the World War II, there have been a myriad of biographic and psychological publications along with memoirs and interviews devoted to Hitler. Many researchers have been giving an eye to the study of the tyrant’s personality and life in order to define the reasons of his behavior and psychological condition. Naturally, psychiatrists are unlikely to come up with a comprehensive and precise diagnosis of all Hitler’s psychological disorders: psyche of the German dictator was so abundant with deviations and abnormalities that they would hardly fit into the frames of a standard diagnose.  Moreover, the versions of the diagnoses and even of the biographical facts differ and are argued even nowadays, and the dictator’s figure stays covered with speculations and wild guesses. In this paper, we will provide a brief overview of Adolf Hitler’s biographical background in connection with its impact on his further life and try to find explanations for his mental disorders in psychological theories. 

Childhood: a Mother’s Boy?

The roots of the psychological disorders are often sought in the childhood of the patients. That’s why the psychiatrists paid attention to Hitler’s childhood as well. Paula Hitler, the younger sister of the Nazi leader, told that Hitler was severely punished by his father as a child. Being a child of inbreeding between Alois Hitler and his niece Klara who was much younger than him, Hitler felt strong affection towards his mother who – in her turn, loved and encouraged him. 

According to many sources, Hitler’s father was rather fierce and fond of women having numerous love affairs. Nevertheless, he was a good breadwinner and the family knew no need. At the same time, he mistreated Klara and even brutally raped her (according to Paula’s evidences). Taking into account his treatment towards Klara who was adored by her son and his attitude to Adolf himself, one may assume that Hitler’s aggression in future was preconditioned by Oedipus complex in some ways. 

Klara Hitler pathologically loved her son and their love was mutual. There were only two of Alois’ children who managed to survive and that were Adolf and Paula. All historians agree upon the fact that Hitler was loved and spoilt by his mother. But there is another question rising on what is called love in this case. Klara’s love was almost morbid.  Alice Miller states love to be not the blind over-indulgence of every child’s whim (which is actually more of fulfillment of mother’s unconscious selfish desires), but mother’s ability to be open to the genuine child’s needs and the ability to recognize them (Miller). In other words, the mother should be able to define the child’s unconscious needs, but this is actually the skill not all mothers possess even nowadays. These are mothers who have reached a certain level of emotional maturity which is no way dependent on the age maturity. Moreover, what was also negative about the way Klara brought Adolf up is the complete absence of critique. Thus, the boy acquired a sense of his uniqueness which was a seed of narcissism in his psyche. Meanwhile, his father was Klara’s antipode from whom he suffered abuse, contempt and complete lack of appreciation. 

Erich Fromm describes the first period of Hitler’s childhood as marked by the adoration and unconditional appreciation on the side of his mother and formation of narcissism and passivity. The father was rarely at home due to his work, and mother was at Adolf’s complete disposal praising him and giving him the sense of his own uniqueness (Fromm). At the same time, the family he grew up in was a specimen of totalitarian regime (Miller). While Alois was the only strict authority, Klara exercised her powers over her children in his absence. Nevertheless, she expressed it in the domestic environment and Adolf got only almost maniacal appreciation from her. She showed her love and interest in her son to such extent that it might have been perceived as a kind of invasion of his life. Many scholars believe the two-sided nature of his family background to have contributed to his Oedipus complex (as his hatred towards his father grew, his affection towards his mother developed as well) and the further development of hatred and aggression in him.

The World War I and the complex of messiah

Hitler himself told that he was a brave soldier during the World War I and had deservedly got his reward – the iron cross. It was believed that gas attack of 1918 temporary deprived him of the eyesight and made him cease his military career. However, the recent findings of the historians revealed the true story of a brave lance corporal. One German brain surgeon wrote to his American colleagues about Hitler’s medical record that fell into his hands once. The story told by the dictator had proved to run counter to the diagnosis stated in the medical record as he was claimed to have lost his eyesight as a result of hysterical amblyopia. This is the rare disease caused by psychological stresses like fear of warfare. Human brain “refuses” to perceive the awful images of reality and ceases admitting the signals sent by visual nerves, though the eyesight functions remain normal. This finding should have been a big surprise as such ailment wouldn’t come on a brave soldier. Thus, this evidence proved that Hitler was no brave person. Working as a wireman in the command staff, he was rather far from the front line and knew how to find favor in the eyes of the superiors and probably that was the reason why he got the iron cross. 

In fact, the story of Hitler’s treatment is the most significant aspect of this period of his life in the terms of psychological development deviations. The neurology professor Edmund Forster chose hypnosis to be the key method for Hitler’s treatment. As the lance corporal was eager to rejoin his friends in the battlefield and desperately suffered because he could not do that, professor decided to involve his passionate nationalism as a motivational tool (Lewis). Having discovered Adolf’s pathological vanity the seed of which was planted far back in his childhood by his mother’s devotion and appreciation, Forster realized that this was the tool that would affect the psyche of the patient. 

Forster led the patient into the hypnotic trance in a completely dark room and lit a candle. He told him that there was a chosen one who was born each millennium who would have a great destiny and great deeds (Lewis). Hitler was assured that maybe he was the one who was destined to lead Germany forwards, and Forster told that if that was true, “God would give him the sight back right at that moment” (Lewis) … And Hitler saw the flame. Of course, the doctor had no idea at that time what a beast he had let out of the cage. In his attempts to heal the man who was so desperate about his future, Forster didn’t even think that the latter would take his words so seriously. David Lewis claims that Forster was the one to plant the obsession of his great destination into the future dictator’s mind (Lewis). Later Forster realized the scale of the mistake he had made and even tried to send the true medical record of the Third Reich leader to Paris in order to make its publishing possible. But it was too late. In fact, Hitler eliminated everyone who was aware of the true nature of his ailment. 


The cocktail of the psychological disorders Hitler possessed was so rich that it would drive even experienced psychiatrists in doubt. There have been numerous attempts to explore and study the immense set of disorders and psychological conflicts seething inside this unattractive man, a madman obsessed with the idea of conquering the whole world. Obvious sexual deviations (reflected in his relationships with his numerous mistresses including Eva Braun), strange ability to produce a kind of hypnotic effect on people, almost animal instinct for danger – this is only a small part of the peculiarities that distinguished Hitler among other people.  

Fuhrer also had exceptional memory: he was able to preserve almost photographic image of reality. Such highly-developed memory abilities are believed to be typical for only 4% of children, but lost in the process of maturation. But Hitler’s memory preserved even small architectural details of buildings as well as long text fragments. The dictator drove Reich’s generalship into amazement providing comprehensive quantitative data on the weapons of both German army and its opponents. However, this brilliant ability started to decline in 1941.

Acting talent was also developed in Hitler: his speeches had magical effect on the audience, especially accompanied with tears (as he was able to make himself cry at any moment through affecting the neurovegetative system). Except that, he was rather prone to temper outbursts if he met a failure. 

It would be reasonable to suppose that many of Hitler’s actions were implicitly motivated by the deep psychological factor – inferiority complex. Constantly comparing himself to the great conquerors of the past, he was eager to cast their glory into shade. The overwhelming sense of envy played a significant role in the whole Reich’s policy as Hitler wanted passionately to eliminate his enemies.

It should be mentioned that the Fuhrer was characterized neither by cast-iron physique nor by stable mental health. Of course, the doctors responsible for his health care prescribed several dozens of various medications to him, and organic cerebral affection triggered development of Parkinson disease. His left hand started to tremble in 1942, and facial mimic disturbance was observed in 1945. According to the memories of many people, Hitler looked like a wreck and suffered certain difficulties in moving around in the last few months of his life. However, the dictator passed away before the disease produced a serious impact on his health and psyche. 

Psychoanalytical approach towards Hitler’s personality

Adolf Hitler’s personality became a subject of study for the psychoanalytic school scholars just in his lifetime as psychoanalysis dominated in psychological studies of 1930’s and 1940’s (Hyland). According to Hyland, Jung was the first one to examine the personality of the dictator and even to meet him personally (Hyland). Hitler was described by him as an inhumane and asexual person obsessed with the severe messiah complex and completely engulfed by the idea of compensating for all the misfortunes German nation came across through its history (Hyland). 

At the same time, Langer claimed him to be in a bordering state between neurotic and psychotic, to display certain schizophrenic and masochistic tendencies and to be rather prone to suicide (and in fact, he was right). There were also assumptions about his homosexuality which were later refuted. 

Erich Fromm as an adherent of psychoanalytical approach also described Hitler as a nonsexual necrophilous character (Fromm). Hitler’s dysfunctional character, according to Fromm, gave rise to narcissism and profound incapability to establish relations with other people. In terms of psychoanalysis, this disorders and abnormal psychological tendencies are rooted in early infancy and the stage of psychosocial development that remained unresolved (Fromm). In addition, all the disorders that started developing in Hitler’s childhood were intensified by traumatic events in his further life like complicated relationships with his fierce father (Hylard). It should be mentioned that his affection towards his mother that had evolved into Oedipus complex over time also affected his further mental condition. Hitler projected his affection from the image of his loving and devoted mother (so unfairly mistreated by his father) to Germany. Once, when Eva Braun asked him of the reason he didn’t want to marry her, he told that was already married, and he was married to Germany. At the same time, transferring his Oedipal complex from his family background to the larger scale, the leader of Nazis transferred the image of his father to his enemies and on Jews in particular. 

Developmental approach

Viewed in terms of developmental psychology, Hitler’s personality proves to be a natural product of authoritarian parenting style practiced in his family (Hyland). Alice Miller expressed similar thoughts concerning the nature of Hitler’s excessive aggression and cruelty (Miller). It is commonly known that children treated with love, warmth and understanding acquire different features in the process of their development than neglected and abused children do. At the same time, the latter are unlikely to change their personal disposition to positive features. If we apply Lev Vygotsky’s approach focused on the significance of social learning and the impact of social environment on the developmental process in children, it will be clear that children literally learn by imitation adopting the behavior patterns and cognitive skills from the adults they interact with. Thus, children who experience fierce and abusive treatment on the side of the nearest surrounding (i.e. family members) would probably exercise violence they had gone through in childhood in future towards other people. It is also likely that the scale of this violence will have much larger scale than that experienced by them (Miller, 2002). In contrast, children who experienced love, care and respect from their parents are likely to transfer these features to others in their adulthood. And this pattern is rather reasonable as children have no other options than to follow their own experiences (Miller, 2002). In terms of such theoretical approach, it could be suggested that Hitler’s painful relations with his authoritarian father and morbid affection towards his mother played the key role in his personal development and formation of his internal conflicts.

Psychological Portrait

Talking about the attempts of Hitler’s contemporaries to provide as comprehensive and full analysis of his personality as possible, one should mention a relatively recent finding – a secret psychological portrait of Adolf Hitler compiled in 1943 by the Harvard professor for the predecessor of American CIA. Although psychology has made a considerable progress since the 1940’s, the document provides a detailed analysis of the dictator’s personality. According to Murray, the author, Hitler was an evil vengeful person completely intolerant to critique and abhorring other people. Being deprived of sense of humor, he instead had excessive induration and overconfidence. Along with that, Hitler was stated to possess distinguished feminine features, to have never experienced sport activity or physical labor. Murray also explained all the atrocities initiated by the dictator with his eagerness to retaliate for all the abuse he had suffered through in childhood and also with contempt for his own weakness. The diagnosis conveyed by this document contains a lot of ailments including neurosis, paranoia, schizophrenia and hysteria. Although this diagnosis is often criticized by modern scholars for its ambiguities and inaccuracies, this psychological portrait remains unique. 


As it is seen in numerous evidences, Herr Hitler really was a person suffering from psychological disorders and development deviations which undoubtedly had a significant effect on his behavior and attitude towards the whole world. Oedipal complex and different development deviations enhanced in his further life along with the pathological messiah complex were key preconditions for his spilling his growing hatred onto the mankind. And – to my thinking – one shouldn’t underestimate the destructive contribution of Doctor Forster who unwillingly let a terrible beast out of the cage.

Nevertheless, some researchers raise rather reasonable question: were these disorders enough to justify all the blood shed through Hitler’s fault? Although the Nazi fuhrer was affected by both psychogenic and real mental disorders, he actually suffered from nothing that could be serious and overwhelming enough to take the blame for his outrage against humanity (Goode). 

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