From authoritative submission to individual existence

Published in Finnish in magazine CITARI 15 p.16 (1997)

Hannu Penttinen, MD, Ph.D, Managing director of Aseman Lapset Association


The early phases in the development of Finnish society are rather conventional; first we were subdued and dependent on the ruler, then we have practised independence under the protection of autonomy and finally we became independent. It means, however, struggling for power and one’s own borders. In the same way do individuals become independent from the parents’ guardianship and become individual persons.

An authoritative structure of the community is certainly the first human social culture. Under primitive and threatened circumstances this kind of community structure is certainly the most secured and guarantees reproduction. An individual is provided with security and his basic needs are fulfilled only if he is totally obedient, acquiescent and loyal to the leader and the whole community. An individual has no intrinsic value.

The basic function of the family is reproduction

Through ages a family is hold the smallest functional unit in society. The basic function of the family has been reproduction and transferring culture and norms to the new generation. The family has included father, mother and children. The relatives have formed a wider family circle. The tribal community, on its part, has shared the same language and culture traditions. The state has been an administrative and defensive unit.

It was important that the family institution was as stable and unwavering as possible. An authoritative model of family with definite roles guaranteed the best continuity. Only man and woman together made a functional unit. This is why husband and wife had to stay together and divorce was made difficult. The dependence of the spouses on each other strengthened the marriage. The relatives and the neighbouring community carried responsibility if the resources of the family were not sufficient. Total obedience and dependence on the parents and on the family belonged to the role of the child far to the adulthood. An authoritative and subdual dependent type of the family is the only safe structure in materially threatened and insecure society.

The security of an individual means submission to the will of society

A new born child is totally helpless. Without other peoples’ help he would die. In this sense he is totally dependent on near people – co-dependent. These people should take care of the child so that he can survive. The child does everything he can to take away hunger, cold and bad feelings. He is ready to adapt himself to anything to keep alive. Very soon the child internalises as normal part of his worldview those factors which determine his survival.

In an authoritative community the value of an individual is defined accordingly whether his existence and activity serve the security or emotional needs of the leader and of the whole community. The members of the community identify strongly with the leader, in a way they experience to be same with him. The security and emotional needs of the community are identical with the needs of the leader. If an individual member of the community starts to listen to his own feelings and needs and stops serving the needs of the leader and the community, he can be destroyed or dismissed from the community.

Suppressed feelings

In a strongly authoritative community a human must never experience pleasure from himself only or from satisfying his needs. He is made clear that the needs of those who are higher in hierarchy always come first. You have to suppress and forget your individual needs and the pleasure you could get from fulfilling them. This is how you are prevented to experience your own feelings and you have to cut emotional connection with yourself. The displeasure caused by the deprivation of your individual needs becomes a strong, dominant and continuous duty connected with how you experience life – a depression, which is present night and day. This state of mind becomes then the content of life and the reality of existence. The bad feeling, although it is always present, must be repressed. There must be nothing bad and hateful!

The only pleasure in these kinds of circumstances is a fantasy how you once could have a chance to rule and subdue someone weaker. You can stand the bad feeling and submission only through this fantasy. And when a suitable situation occurs and you are in a dominating position in relation to someone other, you can start your pleasurable ruling. The easiest and most natural object for this is a child in his helplessness. All the structures of our society include disguised culture of submission and dominance, which mainly serves the emotional needs and needs of power of those who maintain the structures.

A strong dependence on power structures

In an authoritative community a human becomes estranged from his individual emotions and needs. Then his own volition cannot be formed because he cannot use his emotions for choices. An individual has to obey external will in everything. There is no individual emotion or will, but he is dependent on others in everything.

He can neither develop the ability to protect himself from other people’s emotions. If there is contradiction, violence or other indisposition in the environment, he takes all these feelings inside without filtering anything. He is unable to separate what are his feelings and what are other people’s feelings – simply because he has no feelings of his own. This is why this kind of person is all the time at the mercy of others and with his life he fulfils other people’s will. He is also unable to withstand any kind of exploitation, because he cannot recognise anything bad.

Suppressed feelings destroy life

If you lose yourself you will be under the control of other people’s definitions and needs.

Then you often act against your own interest and you will suffer. A human protects himself from anxiety by using the defence mechanisms of the ego. Unpleasant facts are denied. You transfer difficult feelings to others. You can protect yourself from intolerable inner hate and chaos by transferring these feelings to others. Then starts the drama of intolerable hate and power struggle between the people in question. Taking part in it and following it produces relief and pleasure. One solution for intolerable anxiety is drifting to excessive working, to a passionate hobby or to the world of real external threats. Then the anxiety in your mind is relieved. If the defence mechanisms, after all, do not function well enough, the mind becomes ”sick”, which is realised by depression, aggression which cannot be controlled or by a split mind, schizophrenia. Becoming sick is not very probable, though, if all human relations and the whole circle of life represent the same authoritative culture only. Anxiety and real indisposition occur only when a human is in a real contact with such culture, which allows individual existence.

Living with undifferentiated feelings leads after all to a total dead end and stalemate situation. There are several means to get over unbearable feelings. The first alternative is a continuous entertainment by strong external stimuli so that internal contradictions cannot disturb your existence. Another possibility is to live in a compulsive dependence, which regulates and binds all the feelings. These dependencies can be work, a hobby, religion, intoxicants, games, sex etc.

Then you cannot feel your own internal emotions and at the same time the inexplicable bad feeling. The third solution is to start acting violently or being an object of threat and violence. Here external threat is greater than internal threat and extinguishes the feeling of internal threat. The last way to get rid of bad feelings is direct and immediate self-destruction.

Strong roles as savers

In an authoritative community a human is directed by roles, not by an individual himself. Roles are models of behaviour, which have been formed and differentiated so that their unity supports the stability of the whole community. An individual himself need not have any special personal character. After having learnt his role, an individual is doing quite well and fulfils the task his role is meant for. Also the individual himself sees him through this role. The better he fulfils the task of his role, the better and the more valuable he experiences himself. Also the community values him on the basis of his performance. In this way the activity determined by the role of an individual contributes to the benefit of the community.                                               

No chance for development                                                                                                       

Society, which only preserves all the old and maintains existing structures, develops very slowly, if at all. Material development and regional expansion are possible, though. Instead, it does not allow a human to become aware of his individual self. An individual himself is not allowed to develop. An

authoritative community lives under fear and therefore it aspires all the time to add control and rules 

in order to get more security. Because the people in this culture are unable to interaction of feelings and to sense bad and danger, they have to spend lots of recourses in order to guarantee their own security. Even the smallest threatening factor must be eliminated immediately.

A human himself has an ability to develop

An authoritative culture does not stand uncertainty, because it is experienced frightening, although the fright is denied. This is why authoritative and innovative cultures cannot coexist. An authoritative system cannot develop, because it does not allow the development of a human himself. Either an authoritative system remains as it is, expands or stops to exist.

An authoritative community is afraid of everything new and strange as well as of free critics or doubt. New ideas, after all, can appear and cause a contradiction to all that has been learned before. An intellectual contradiction is the most dangerous of all, because it can produce new individual thoughts. A human brain after all takes in opposite and contradictory information, asks new questions and find new solutions. Authority attempts to suppress this noble human ability.

The dawning of individuality

Maybe the first promise of individuality to the mankind was God’s reply to Moses as a burning bush: I am the one who I am. In the early years of our chronology we heard a rebellious declaration against the authoritative community: each human being has his right to good, individual life, women and children included. Jesus relieved people from the fathers’ enslaving traditional rules and promised them an individual life of their own. Also a child had the right to be a child and the father took care of him. Those who lived according to Jesus’ teachings living people could not anymore be ruled by regulations, because their own experience relieved them from law. Jesus and his supports had to be destroyed. But the semen of individualism had been sown. Even the Roman Empire was not able to destroy this freedom although the teaching of Jesus and Judaism were mixed in the name of the Christian church to serve the rulers’ needs.

Individual rights as a basis for democracy

Martin Luther was also a great champion for individual rights. He dared to rise up openly against the church of the Pope. Luther emphasised an individual relationship to God. Sigmund Freud was a noteworthy researcher of the individualisation and personal development of a child and an influential person in society. He described human emotions, psychosexual development and the structure of personal self-using new concepts. It was Alice Miller who finally got us recognise the consequences of children’s authoritative submission and the suppression of our feelings: dammed up anger that sows destruction and death. Miller emphasises a child’s right to express all kinds of feelings, bad as well as good. It took nearly 2000 years human development until the demand of individual freedom was able to come true in practice. A human has finally the right to exist as a child and as an individual. An individual and human rights are an essential value in democratic society. According to legislation society takes care of the basic security of an individual by the aid of social income distribution and independent judiciary. The basic security is guaranteed by being born as a member of society that you don’t have to

earn anyhow. The external security of an individual is rather well guaranteed. To experience internal peace of mind and mental security is, after all, much harder. In an authoritative culture based on leadership an individual has an important role in the whole community. In a democratic community an individual has to find another meaning for his life as serving the needs of the community. It is only after finding a meaning for your life and existence that you can achieve real internal security.

Differentiation of feelings is important

It seems that it belongs to human biological structure to aspire at experiencing individual emotions and along it to experience himself as an individual who his own feelings, will and actions among similar individuals. In an authoritative organisation the whole community in a way forms an individual. Its members cannot act as themselves but they belong firmly to the total structure. When individual people begin to realise their individual self, their own actions, their own will and finally their own feelings, an authoritative community collapses. Nobody wants to live for common advantages anymore and sacrifice himself only as a satisfier of other people’s feelings. An individual, democratic society starts to develop, where each individual can influence on one’s own life. However, there might be difficulties due to a new kind of insecurity and anxiety caused by loneliness. A human has developed several means to overcome these difficulties. The most common of them are dependencies which in spite of their compulsiveness and destruction bring a feeling of familiarity and of security.

The parent comforts the child

In an empathic community based on individuality the parent understands the needs of the child and is able to satisfy them naturally. The child does not have to work too hard; neither please anyone in order to get his needs satisfied. The child experiences that he himself is able to eliminate bad feelings, although it happens through the parent. This is a basis for good self-awareness. In addition to this the child that he can bring joy to his parents by being himself. This feeling contributes to inner joy. The parent does not respond to the child’s aggressive feelings and expressions of hate with hate. He comforts the child and eliminates the child’s bad feelings by being present. The feeling of security does not depend on the child at all, his behaviour or character.

When a child grows in circumstances, where his security is not threatened he does not need to produce defence mechanisms in order to eliminate insecurity. When security is not dependent on the child’s behaviour, expressed feelings or actions, he is totally free to be himself. An individual child who is aware of himself grows in a family where he never needs to be afraid of being rejected.

The bad should be recognised and met

When the child experiences continuous security he is ready to daring and he will have the ability to his own feelings. When a human experiences to be accepted as he is with all his good and bad features he has an ability to develop into an individual person. The first phase in this development is the right to one’s own feelings and to express them freely. Although you can express your aggressive and hostile feelings, a human should never harm himself or the others. The bad feeling is expressed by miens; shouting, crying and talking about the things which cause it. The bad and experiencing the bad is accepted as a fact, which belongs to human life. When you feel bad, you have to clarify the reason and be comforted. If the reason for bad feelings is in human relationships, the matter should be clarified between all those who are participants immediately. If needed you should express your apology and receive apology if someone has been insulted and the offence should be expiated. Thus you will learn that everyone has his own and unique feelings, which should be respected and taken into account. After having clarified and expiated bad feeling peace and good feeling return. Thus the bad is not denied but it is recognised and met.                

Disagreement and opposition as contributing existence

A democratic society endures individual expressions of feelings and everyone’s right to them. A human is not subdued but he is valued, although the others should not feel the same. Dissimilarity is endured and it is even respected. Thus a human will have an experience that he is accepted with his feelings and his volition, although it is not always possible that he can fulfil his intents. His own individual will and experience should not be annulled or shown incorrect. At the same time he can securely express his individuality and oppose the others. Society endures opposition without eliminating it. If an individual has an opposite opinion or will it does not shake society. Everyone just has the right to be what he is. The interaction of feelings is the content of human relationships. Thus it is important that an individual is sensitive in feeling his own and the others’ feelings genuinely and honestly. However, it should be remembered that nobody should transfer his feelings for others to carry or his expectations for other people to be fulfilled. In the same way it is not sensible to start satisfying others’ needs and expectations. It is important that everyone should experience his own feelings genuinely and everyone should act according to his own will. At the same time, however, you should take into account your fellow men and their experiences. When a person gives up his dependencies, submission and accusation of the others, the person is free to live internally on his own starting from his own starting point. Only then you can have a genuine and working interaction with yourself and your environment. Then you will reach a new kind of inner and stable security: the ability to control feelings and your life, to get through with the bad and direct towards the good.                        

Break-up of families as a threat

A person who has grown to be his individual self is at the same time freed from subordinate dependency and roles, which limit the self. The feeling of security that is produced by earlier dependencies is replaced by a new kind of interaction. This means a feeling of security where nobody is subduing, controlling or forcing anyone. People form such an interaction net where you can be near the other without losing your own self-control. Then you can also have a distance to another person without fearing rejection and breaking the relationship. Everyone is accepted as himself. The feelings are expressed the same as they are experienced. Hate is called hate and love is called love. An individual’s life as a whole and everyone’s own reality are accepted as they are without conditions. The material social security has actually made possible the breaking up of families without becoming really abandoned. A woman has been able to get rid of a subdued dependence on man and start her own individual life. The possibility for birth control has freed a woman from the role of obligatory parturient. If needed, a child can be cared for outside home. A single man can manage in his household without a woman. A family or a pair relationship isn’t any more the basis of life or reproduction. Then we have society where an individual’s basic needs are guaranteed and where material and economic dependence on the family is nearly insignificant. It can be said that modern society rather consisted of individual citizens, no more only families.                                                                  

Money as a new dictator

Money is the towering of strength for the material world. Market economy has become superior in the struggle of existence of economic systems. In this system money is the leader and the dictator. Everyone has to obey its orders. Indefinite, unfeeling markets, which don’t take individuals into account, have started to rule people’s lives. Man himself does not any more rule himself. Thus an individual himself must again fight for his existence against severe and ruthless ”natural forces”. Everyone is not able to manage with monetary economics in this complex market system. Those people are pauperised and alienated. The population is divided into prospering and alienated people. In a way a human is back in the primitive phase where each one was required sufficiently individual strength in order to keep alive under the severe circumstances of nature. Then beasts, diseases and famine made elimination. Now the merciless markets are going to make this re-elimination. This system will destroy those who are not able to live under these terms.

Taking care of environment is the foundation of existence

However, if individuality is emphasised excessively, your fellow men are forgotten and you are not in contact with people near you, you may be alienated from everyday reality. Life has no meaning any more. An individual who is striving at one’s own pleasure has to take into account the experience of others. Because the wellbeing of an individual is also dependent on the wellbeing of the environment, it is reasonable to act so that the fellow men feel good. And not just people, but the whole living environment. If a human really wants to find wellbeing, he also should act as is best for his fellow men and for the whole earth. Harms, which you cause to other people and the environment, shall have effects on your individual life. Empathy and taking care of others’ welfare are then a real part of selfishness.

If the basic value in life is individual’s existence in itself a human himself controls and rules his life. However, the concept of a human being should then be harmonious and holistic. You should neither deny all bad things, hate and bestiality of humans. Man can feel and want bad as well as good and act according to these feelings. The most important is to be aware of those inner needs for security which direct our will and actions. If we also recognise the bad things in ourselves we can then control our inner destructive forces. Well-being, which is holistic and belongs to everybody, can be reached only by recognising the bad feelings and by acknowledging the reasons for them. It also means determined politics that support each person’s individuality so that he is able to protect himself from bad and choosing the alternatives for a good life. However, nobody should be left to manage alone. The community should take care of and be responsible of the wellbeing of its all members. In the same way nature and the living environment and the whole earth are an essential part of the interaction net for the wellbeing of people and the human community. Therefore the whole ecosystem should be realised as the home of mankind and each one should be responsible for it.

Development is possible through new creative thinking

Each culture and organisation is consisted of smaller and still smaller parts. The smallest part is a human’s brain, which produces the ability for thinking. Normally a human is controlled by one entirety, which is called his set of values or his norms. It is an internalised model of the world, which contributes to a good and just life.  This system is based on all those things, which you experience during your childhood and youth. Normally it is a copy of the way of thinking of the parents and mostly of that parent who has the same sex. Furthermore, all genuine experiences of feelings and interaction during the whole life are present.

Only in a secure culture that cherishes individuality can produce new critical thinking and new solutions to problems. One new solution will bring ten new questions, which should be solved. There is no single truth. The more you search the more you will find and this new will challenge the old truth. A community, which is able to develop, must endure uncertainty and contradictory information. This is the soil for real development. The key for the secure future is an individual who is genuinely able to recognise his feelings and his existence.