Nietzsche's Childhood Bereavment

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“Such pain...makes us more profound”
(Nietzsche, 1888 as cited in Kauffman, 1982, p.681)

Nietzsche is described as one of history’s most scrutinized philosophers (Schutte, 1984). Yet, much of the literature concerning Nietzsche fails to consider the impact his fathers death may have had on his development, and thus work. Theorists propose situational factors (Raveis, Siegel and Karus, 1998) act as predictors of children who may experience complex bereavement extending into adulthood (Dowdney, 2000).This essay aims to employ these study’s as framework to analyse Nietzsche’s vulnerability to complex bereavement, and the impact this may have had on his emotional development and consequently on aspects of his work. We concur with Nietzsche, that, perhaps it is through such pain “a psychologist without equal” (Nietzsche, 1886 as cited in Golomb, 1989, p.13) was borne.

Keywords: Nietzsche; childhood bereavement; adjustment; depression; somatisation disorders

To what extent did Childhood Bereavement Impact the Emotional Development and Work of Nietzsche? It has been suggested to understand Nietzsche’s philosophy one must first understand his life (Kauffman, 1974). However, the vast body of Nietzsche literature often fails to discuss the impact of his father’s death. The aim of this essay is to employ the work of Ravieis’ et al (1998) and Downdey (2000) as a theoretical framework to analyse whether situational factors surrounding Ludwig’s death left Nietzsche vulnerable to complex childhood bereavement, a term which refers to bereavement with poor adjustment outcomes (Downdey, 2000). We present research proposing parental death increases risk of childhood disorders (Berk, 2010) and extant Nietzsche literature to discuss whether the depression and ill health Nietzsche endured (Kauffmann, 1974; Krell, 1996) was partially derived from complex childhood bereavement. We briefly examine the impact of bereavement on Nietzsche’s work, particularly his published views on women. We concur with Nietzsche - perhaps the experience of suffering contributed to his profound thought. To review factors surrounding Ludwig Nietzsche’s death one need only peruse the introduction of any Nietzsche biography. What appears often neglected is Nietzsche’s perspective of a paternal bond characterised by tenderness (Krell, 1996). Early autobiographical sketches described Nietzsche watching his father draft sermons and his father entertaining him on the piano (Nietzsche as cited in Middleton, 1996). Then in September 1849 his “beloved father suddenly became mentally ill” (Nietzsche, 1877 as cited in Kauffman, 1974, p.22) and died the following year (Pletsch, 1993). The sadness of Ludwig’s death was expounded by Nietzsche’s brother’s death six months later (Chamberlain, 1998). After which, Nietzsche’s mother relocated the family to Naumburg, where he resided with his mother, grandmother, two aunts and sister (Krell, 1996). While grieving is expected of bereavement, children who experience complex bereavement display deleterious adjustment and an increased risk of impairment extending into adulthood (Dowdney, 2000). A substantial body of research aimed at understanding consequences of parental death during childhood (Rosenblatt and Elde, 1990; Baker, Sedney & Gross,1992; Siegel, Karus, & Raveis, 1996) support the theory that situational factors such as the bereaved child’s age and gender, and the gender of the deceased parent may increase the risk of problematic adjustment (Raveis et al, 1998). Research has demonstrated that children 5 years and younger seem particularly vulnerable to poor adjustment (Worden, 1996; Elizur & Kaffman, 1983). Further, research suggests boys increased risk of psychopathology (Fristad, Jedel, Weller & Weller, 1993; Lifshitz, Berman, Galili & Gilad, 1977) and a gender match of bereaved child and deceased parent is a strong predictor of poor adjustment (Berlinsky, &...
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