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Archive for Sunday, February 15, 1998

MENNINGER LETTERS NEW YORK, N.Y. JAN. 22, 1931

February 15, 1998

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My dear Doctor Menninger:

I have read with much interest the answers to questions about mental hygiene that appear in the Ladies' Home Journal. My case may not come under that caption but I have been wondering whether it did or not. Hence this letter. I am a woman 54 years old. Was pretty I am told, but now I only weigh a 115 pounds. The weight plus 5 pounds that I had when I was married -- I've never been really thin as my height is only five feet three. My hair, unfortunately, refuses to gray and is still very black. I am in robust health and active in sports -- a good shot and a fair fisher with a fly. Play a fair game of golf and have ridden a horse since I was 8 years old. I married a man when I was 22, two years my senior.

He also was interested in sports and for 30 years we had a wonderful time doing things together. We had three children. Two boys and a girl. There never was any worry about finances.

When last January came, this husband and a friend combined and asked me for a divorce.

I told him I was not a dog in the manger and said yes. I had to perjure myself to give it to him. Six days after the decree he married his secretary. A girl of 24 -- six years younger than his daughter.

She knew nothing of housekeeping or how to entertain. All of which he was accustomed to. His children refused to recognize her and clung to me. All of which made him unhappy. The town in which we lived refused to accept her and this naturally cut him off from his friends.

Now to the point which I want advice. He came to me last week. Told me he had made a mistake. Asked me if I would take him back. That he had lied to the Roman Catholic Church in which he was married about his baptism. This being the case he could get divorced at once. He did not seem to consider the state. He said I was still his wife in the eyes of God. For the children's sake, I must do it.

He had tickets for a West Indies cruise. Insisted that I go with him and "let the opinion go to hell because I was still his wife."

This attitude cannot be normal. But just this morning a wire came to meet him at the dock.

Can you advise me?

My dear Mrs.:

I have just read with a great deal of interest your letter of Jan. 22 addressed to me in care of the Ladies' Home Journal. I think of all the letters I have received since I have been on the staff of the Journal yours is one of the most interesting.

By all means go back to your husband. Marry him and go on the West Indies cruise or go on the cruise first, which ever happens to be most convenient. Don't hesitate.

You say this attitude cannot be normal. I think it is exactly normal. I think this interest in his secretary and this divorce and all the rest of it was a kind of neurotic flight, a "Strange Interlude," and if I were you I would take him back as if nothing had ever happened and love him just as much as ever and make him as happy as possible. I think this is about as beautiful an ending to a thing of this sort as I have ever heard of because usually they discover only too late that they want to come back and there are too many obstacles.

Let me call your attention to the fact that he unconsciously expected to come back all the time. That is the reason I am sure that he fixed his wedding so that it could be declared invalid by the Church.

I have a notion to send you a telegram but this letter will be out in a few days and I hope you will set upon it immediately. You have my best wishes and congratulations.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Oct. 16, 193I

Dear Doctor:

I have never read the Ladies Home Journal but happened to be in a friend's home and picked up this magazine. I came across your article which interested me a great deal as I am in a very unfortunate predicament now.

I am about to become a mother, and don't know what to do about my husband. He is very good at times, yet at other times becomes so irrational as to strike me and use the vilest language. I have left him on many occasions during our one year married life, but returned to him each time on his promise that he would be different.

I have had a miscarriage three months after my marriage due to his striking me and throwing me on the floor. While I lay in the hospital he came to me and cried and said he was terribly sorry for what had happened, that he must have been out of his head, and that it would never happen again.

I was so terribly run down in health that when I was discharged from the hospital I went to live with my mother. He came to live there with me, and at the beginning seemed to be all right, and then he began behaving in a most terrible manner such as striking and abusing me for no reason at all, and if my parents interfered he would stop at nothing to abuse them, even as much as wanting to strike my 70-year-old dad. I had to leave my parent's home because of this, and because I became pregnant, so I opened up home again with him, saying this would be the last chance I would give him. I lived in these rooms for two months during which time he behaved all right and then one night he came home from business and struck me when my back was turned as I was in the midst of preparing his supper. I became very frightened, and told him if he did not change I would be compelled to leave him again, that life with him was unbearable. That night he was in a terrible state. He even showed me an unloaded gun and said some day he would kill me. The next day he was still at his most peculiar behavior, and even went so far as terribly abusing me and shouting "I'll kick you in the stomach and give you another miscarriage." He also cut the furniture. I had to call a policeman as he was becoming worse and worse.

When he is in one of these conditions he frightens me very much, as his voice and his facial expression change completely. Always after one of these terrible outbursts I ask him

See Menninger, page 4D

Continued from page 1D

whether he knows just how terrible he acts, and he seems to know everything. This has me puzzled.

I am now living with my married sister and he continues to call me on the phone. He wants to make up again, which I dread doing very much, as I know it is of no use. He also continues to confess his love for me. Sometimes I think he does not know what it is all about. He is not very clever.

What do you think is ailing him? I think he is not just right. Is there a way of finding out whether he is sane?

Your kind reply will be most appreciated from one who is puzzled and bewildered.

Oct. 31, 1930

My dear Mrs.:

I have your letter of October 16 in which you say that your husband has beaten you, kicked you, threatened to kill you and so forth. You also say that time after time you have told him you would leave him if he did it again, but you have also indicated that you did not keep your promise. By this time your husband probably thinks you don't intend to keep your promise. I don't think you should permit yourself to get into that predicament. You already have a serious problem on your hands in your husband, as well as in the fact that you are pregnant and have children to take care of and to support. And I can understand exactly why you do it, you keep hoping against hope that he is going to be different. But as you say yourself in this letter, it doesn't look as if that were likely to be the case, at least not without help.

Probably your husband has times when he can be reasoned with. You say he calls you up and promises to be good and wants to come back.

Now I should certainly take advantage of those moments if I were you, to see if something could not be done with him. Many times I have seen this thing straightened out in this way. The wife has agreed to come back providing the husband would go with her for a mental examination at a psychiatric clinic. Let them examine him and let them have a social worker keep in touch with you and the family. This will protect you and will also help him to control himself. It sounds to me as if he were indulging in temper-tantrums, like a grown-up baby, and your way of dealing with him has apparently encouraged him instead of discouraging him. Now a social worker will back you up in your firm resolves and will also help him to toe the line, which apparently he sometimes very much wishes to do.

There are many good psychiatric clinics in New York, one of the best of them being the new Medical Center's Psychiatric Institute, way uptown in Manhattan. There is probably a psychiatric clinic in Brooklyn but I don't know just where it is and there are some in downtown New York.

Orange City, Iowa

Feb. 9, 1931

My Dear Dr. Menninger:

After reading your page on Mental Health in the Home, I decided to write you in the hope that you can help me with my problem of unhappiness.

I am a girl and 24 years old. Since my mother's death four years ago, I have been responsible here at home. Our family consists of my father, a brother just of age, a sister in high school, and an old, but very active and helpful grandmother.

In these years, my father has lost his grip on life. He is subject to moods of melancholy and discouragement, and magnifies little trifles into calamities. Because of this he had to give up a good position and take one as an inferior clerk. This was a tremendous blow to his pride and made his condition worse.

After graduating from high school, I worked for two years and had just started my college course when I was called home. I have never given up the idea of continuing, and have tried to get a few hours of credit at various times. At present my activities are three-fold: housekeeping, eight hours of study at the junior college here and music. (I am giving a dozen lessons in piano every week and I am church organist on Sundays, in order to be independent of my father as far as my personal expenses are concerned.) I will admit that this is a very full schedule. My friends continually warn me, for a similar period of activity two years ago caused an overactive thyroid condition which put me in bed for two months. I could do all this, though, if matters would always run smoothly. But they don't. Last year my sister gave me much uneasiness. Before I awoke to my responsibility, she had gone through three adolescent years practically undisciplined, and had developed an ungovernable temper and a sharp tongue. This often made her very unhappy in her school associations. This condition has improved somewhat this year, but her independent spirit is still often hard to cope with.

But now I've had to add arbitration to my list of duties. My brother is young, fun-loving, careless, and thoughtless, and there is a wide breach in sympathy between him and father. Now when he is gone often and late and spends money recklessly, father magnifies these matters and sees sure destruction of character and the like, and lies awake at nights, brooding over the matter. But, instead of speaking to the boy, father pours it all out on me and I have to smooth things out. I can sympathize with the attitudes of both, but a scene with either taxes me to the limit. And how I hate these strained silences!

And I hate to think of what it is doing to me. Dr. Menninger, I never have "dates." Oh, I'm not socially ostracized. There are frequent feminine bridge parties and a very occasional party of unmarried people of both sexes. But I think I may admit that they do not satisfy me any more than they would satisfy any girl. And, really, how ironical. I am learning all the ins and outs of housekeeping when I'll likely never have a home of my own in which to use this knowledge.

And how I envy other girls' gaiety. How I wish I could be gay, frivolous, carefree, and without a single worry except what color my new party frock should be.

Dr. Menninger, I never could talk to any one this way. But writing to some one I don't know has not seemed hard. Please criticize and advise me frankly, even if it may hurt my feelings. I'm tired of commendation.

Thanking you for your time, I am

Sincerely yours

Feb. 24, 1931

My dear Miss:

I have read with an unusual degree of interest your letter of Feb. 9 addressed to me in care of the Ladies Home Journal.

As I read your letter I wonder if you haven't undertaken some responsibility which you have carried about as far as you can logically be expected to carry out. After all you are not the mother of your brother and sister and you are not the wife of the man for whom you keep house. Don't you think you might be doing them all a kindness if you would cast an increasing amount of responsibility upon them and devote an increasing amount of energy to the satisfaction of your own life?

It seems to me that it would be mentally healthy for all of you if you would do this. For a certain length of time after your mother's death I am sure you did the only thing that could be done. The beauty and unselfishness and discretion of your life shows very clearly in your intelligent and coherent letter. I get the impression that you are still laboring under certain notions of duty and responsibility which I am not so certain exist. You have a certain responsibility to yourself for the development of your social and educational and business and artistic life which are really much more important than your responsibility to a family all grown and perfectly able to take care of itself such as you describe.

Sometimes we labor under very mistaken notions of duty and responsibility, and do others, as well as ourselves, a certain amount of harm. I think you are quite justified in envying and desiring the gaiety which other girls have and I think you ought to give yourself a little more opportunity for achievement. I think you ought to begin to live your life for its own sake rather than in the sense of housekeeper and mothers, as you have been doing.

In the May (issue) of the Ladies' Home Journal I am going to cite a case of this general sort which may interest you but before then I hope that you will have begun to make some withdrawals from the present situation and be enabled to do more of what you want to do. It does not need to be done immediately or suddenly but you should progressively work in that direction, and remember that sometimes the kindest thing you can do in regard to those who depend on you so much is to decline to continue to act as their mother when you are in reality their sister.

Sincerely yours,

Ogden, Utah

Nov. 1, 1930

Dear Doctor:

I am a Journal reader and have just finished reading your article on mental hygiene in the October issue. In think this department or series of articles is highly beneficial to say the least. I have a problem which I should like to submit to you.

My only child, a son age 5 years, has a peculiarity in his disposition which I find almost impossible to cope with. For example I might ask him to do some simple thing such as wash his hands and he refuses instantly and I cannot persuade him to do it and it usually ends in me losing my temper and probably slapping his face (which I am extremely ashamed of). This happens more times when there is someone present than otherwise but it seems to be a sort of deep obstinacy and it sometimes occurs as often as three or four times a week though that is beyond the average. The extremely harsh physical punishment is the only thing that seems to bring him around.

I hope I have made the case clear enough so that you can tell me how to intelligently handle it.

Nov. 26, 1930

My dear Mrs.:

I'm glad indeed that you wrote me as you did on Nov. 1 in care of the Ladies' Home Journal. I think I can tell you exactly what the trouble is.

I think you are forgetting that your child, like yourself, has an ego. He too wants to be somebody. He wants to show you that he is somebody. Consequently, particularly when there is someone to witness, he stands on his own feet regardless of the fact that it is costing him pain.

You see there are many times it is much better to yield to the child than to force him to do something. You may be entirely correct in that the particular things should be done, but you are quite incorrect in attempting to force him to do it. In doing so you may accomplish your end because you are stronger than he is, but he resents it and he will hate you for it as long as he lives. His hate will be deeply buried, it may be unconscious. He may never show it toward you but he will show it toward someone. Don't give him the opportunity to develop that attitude toward you.

Instead I should try to show the child why I wanted that particular thing done. If you can convince him of it without browbeating him or without slapping his face or without being overbearing, he will be glad to do it. If you can't convince him of the way of the thing, if you do not succeed in showing him why it should be done and it is not a thing which will actually harm him or someone else, you had better let him persist in his unwise way until he has learned the lesson from someone else than you, by the bad results of his mistakes.

You see this in an entirely different attitude toward the child than you apparently have. You use the expression "this is the only thing that seems to bring him around." I am not at all sure that it is at all a good thing to want to bring a child around. You had better let the child bring himself around than try to bring him around. Your own wish for power is so strong, you see, that you take it out on the child and you have created in him an equally stubborn desire for power and he battles with you. Sooner or later he will be stronger than you are and so you had better look out. The way to look out is not to enter into any such contests as this.

I am quite sure that you would derive a great deal of benefit from reading some of the recent things on child culture. I can strongly recommend a book by Garry Myers, called The Modern Parent and another book almost as good by Blatz and Tott called The Management of Young Children. You may also be interested in a book that Mr. Crawford and I edited and in part wrote, called The Healthy-Minded Child, published by Coward-McCann & Co., new York City.

Sincerely yours,

P.S. Also let me recommend to you the magazine called Child Study published by the Child Study Association of America and the magazine called Parents. Of the two the former is the better but both of them are good.

Seattle Wash.

June 28, 1931

Dr. Menninger -- Dear Sir:

Please advise: My 9-year-old (just turned 9) granddaughter tells lies. We love her dearly. Her mother, my daughter, is the soul of honor -- lovely in character -- cultured -- excelled all other students in school -- fine musician -- likewise my other child is absolutely honest and a brilliant student -- beautiful.

My other granddaughter also is truthful and leads her classes -- is 7 -- has had two promotions in this year of school.

The 9 year old is average -- slightly above at least not below, very sensitive, learns music well. Minds always and at once. A great help about the home, and of social companions. But she is untruthful and is often gossiping against her playmates to other children and to her mother.

For example: She will go out and eat cake. Her mother will say "Who ate the cake, did you C.?" She will blandly say "no" and when pinned down will cry and declare that V. did it.

Her mother is very kind and never punishes her, just talks kindly. C. lies continually.

She did not like to take her medicine, "Did you take your medicine, C.?" "Yes, I took it," but she did not.

Her mother is so worried for fear she will grow up dishonest. In every other way she is good. She is dependable in all other ways -- attractive -- very trustworthy with baby.

Her father is a minister's son. His sisters used to deceive their father -- used to go to dances on the sly -- or pretend illness, so as not to go to church. Her father is honest so far as I know -- devoted to his family, industrious, a good mixer.

It is not fear of punishment surely. She attends Sunday school. Loves to read the stories of good little girls.

Please advise and thanks.

July 21, 1931

My dear Mrs.:

I have read with a great deal of interest your letter addressed to me in care of the Ladies' Home Journal.

In the first place, from your description I would say that your granddaughter is a lovely, little girl. However I think you may be placing too much responsibility upon her shoulders -- you say she is "a great help about the home, dependable, very trustworthy with baby." This may have the effect of making her over-conscientious in her anxiety to live up to adult standards.

Sometimes children tell fanciful stories with no intent to deceive. However in the case of your granddaughter I believe you are furnishing her with a quite powerful incentive for lying. She is trying to hold the approval of the elders in the family, which she feels she can do only by conforming to their exalted standards and demands. When she falls short of what she feels is expected of her, as any little girl is likely to do, she cannot bear to confess her shortcomings and thereby lose your love and confidence. Added to this is the fact that she has a younger sister who has had several promotions in one year in school and who is always truthful (i.e., has no temptation to tell lies) and that she, therefore, has a very strong rival for your good opinion which she values so highly. You say she does not fear punishment because her mother never punishes her, but as you can see, to a sensitive and affectionate child your disappointment is a most serious punishment. I would suggest that you lessen the tension she feels by paying little attention to her lying and at the same time make more allowances for her childhood and inexperience in living.

Sincerely yours,

Portland, Ore.

May 8, 1931

Dear Sir:

Please advise me. I am so disgusted with myself and so miserable. Until recently I didn't know there was such a thing as homosexualism and now that seems to explain my past and present unhappiness. It is too hideous.

My mother died when I was three. During childhood my craving for motherlove found an outlet in worshiping different women. I would "play" I was the loved child of whichever charming woman held my fancy at the time.

This unnatural make-believe continued through high school, where I had crushes on my teachers. I no longer pretended to be their child, of course, but wanted their friendship, their attention, even their love, more than anything in the world and was naturally very unhappy over real and imagined slights.

In college my infatuation turned to upper classmen, and I knew periods of exaltation and despondency over these "cases." It was late in my college life before I began to feel the normal interest in men.

After graduation from college there was a blessed period of five years -- blessed because it was free from what now seems so perverted an emotional life. I had the usual friendships with men, and married.

Now, after two years of comparatively happy married life the old curse is back. I have fought against it this time in view of my later knowledge of psychology. Yet, even while I tell my self how revolting it all is, my interest in this older, charming woman supplies me with a satisfaction I cannot explain. It seems the one absorbing thing in life. Infantile as it is, I carry on imaginary conversations with her, and she is constantly on my mind.

I feel my love for my husband disappearing. I am critical of him. Perhaps I should say that he is not passionate and we have had sexual intercourse only at rare intervals. I have told him this is not normal.

This is all revolting to me and I hate myself more every day. Is there something I can do to rid myself of this complex, or whatever it is? Am I going crazy? Sometimes I think so. Am I really that awful thing, a homosexualist? Be frank with me. I need it.

June 30, 1931

My dear Mrs.:

I have read with much interest your letter addressed to me in care of the Ladies' Home Journal.

I think you have probably made a correct diagnosis of yourself but I do believe that you understand the diagnosis. Homosexuality is a phase of psychological development thru which all people go. In the normal person it is relinquished or at least submerged in favor of a preponderant degree of heterosexuality. Why this has not occurred in your case or why it has not occurred to a more satisfying degree, I cannot say. I am sure, however, that it is not something for you to reproach yourself about but rather something for you to attempt to get rid of in the interest of a happier union with your husband and a better motherhood.

I think the best way to get rid of it is by submitting oneself to psychoanalysis and I would recommend that you go to any length necessary to have a consultation with a psychoanalyst ... Take his advice and work out the reasons for your clinging to this infantile emotional attitude.

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