Roots of reparative therapy – Philip Wylie and megaloid momworship

For WWII and post war mom blamers such as Edward Strecker and Philip Wylie, moms were not just responsible for individual immaturity in their sons, they were, by extension, the ruination of democracy. Strecker (who referred to this book by Wylie in his book) made that case very directly in his book, Their Mothers’ Sons, which I reviewed briefly Monday and Tuesday.
In his book, Generation of Vipers, Philip Wylie aims his rhetorical gun at just about everyone; mother blaming was not his sole purpose. However, to best understand why mother blaming could take root so deeply in American culture, one needs to review Wylie’s chapter in Generation of Vipers, titled “Common Women.” I will give a few portions here.

Wylie apparently thought Freud cogent on matters of mother blame, writing:

Freud has made a fierce and wondrous catalogue of examples of mother-love-in-action which traces its origin to an incestuous perversion of a normal instinct. That description is, of course, sound. Unfortunately, Americans, who are the most prissy people on earth, have been unable to benefit from Freud’s wisdom because they can prove that they do not, by and large, sleep with their mothers. That is their interpretation of Freud. Moreover, no matter how many times they repeat the Scriptures, they cannot get the true sense of the passage about lusting in one’s heart–especially when they are mothers thinking about their sons, or vice versa. (p. 185)

Wylie thinks mothers and sons are just sickening, creepy close. Americans however, are behaviorally oriented, he says. Since American men are not actually sleeping with their mothers, they can excuse their stifling emotional closeness. Wylie says instead that it is the thought that counts — men are too concerned about their moms, to the point of worship. He continues:

Meanwhile, Megaloid momworship has got completely out of hand. Our land, subjectively mapped, would have more silver cords and apron strings crisscrossing it than railroads and telephone wires. Mom is everywhere and everything and damned near everybody, and from her depends all the rest of the U. S.  Disguised as good old mom, dear old mom, sweet old mom, your loving mom, and so on, she is the bride at every funeral and the corpse at every wedding. Men live for her and die for her, dote upon her and whisper her name as they pass away, and I believe she has now achieved, in the hierarchy of miscellaneous articles, a spot next to the Bible and the Flag, being reckoned part of both in a way. She may therefore soon be granted by the House of Representatives the especial supreme and extraordinary right of sitting on top of both when she chooses, which, God knows, she does. At any rate, if no such bill is under consideration, the presentation of one would cause little debate among the solons. These sages take cracks at their native land and makes jokes about Holy Writ, but nobody among them–no great man or brave–from the first day of the first congressional meeting to the present ever stood in our halls of state and pronounced the one indubitably most-needed American verity: “Gentlemen, mom is a jerk.”

Mom is something new in the world of men. Hitherto, mom has been so busy raising a large family, keeping house, doing the chores, and fabricating everything in every home except the floor and the walls that she was rarely a problem to her family or to her equally busy friends, and never one to herself. Usually, until very recently, mom folded up and died of hard work somewhere in the middle of her life. Old ladies were scarce and those who managed to get old did so by making remarkable inner adjustments and by virtue of a fabulous horniness of body, so that they lent to old age not only dignity but metal. (pp. 185-186)

According to Wylie, moms stifle men and reduce them to compliant boys.

Mom had already shaken him out of that notion of being a surveyor in the Andes which had bloomed in him when he was nine years old, so there was nothing left to do, anyway, but to take a stockroom job in the hairpin factory and try to work up to the vice-presidency. Thus the women of America raped the men, not sexually, unfortunately, but morally, since neuters come hard by morals. I pass over the obvious reference to the deadliness of the female of the species, excepting only to note that perhaps, having a creative physical part in the universe, she falls more easily than man into the contraposite role of spiritual saboteur. (pp. 187-188)

Much of the chapter is a full on attack on what Wylie perceives to be the ways of mom, comparing her at various times to Hitler and Satan, with most societal evils laid to rest at her door. Along the way, Wylie returns to the greatest achievement of mom, emasculating sons.

“Her boy,” having been “protected” by her love, and carefully, even shudderingly, shielded from his logical development through his barbaric period, or childhood (so that he has either to become a barbarian as a man or else to spend most of his energy denying the barbarism that howls in his brain – an autonomous remnant of the youth he was forbidden), is cushioned against any major step in his progress toward maturity. Mom steals from the generation of women behind her (which she has, as a still further defense, also sterilized of integrity and courage) that part of her boy’s personality which should have become the love of a female contemporary. Mom transmutes it into sentimentality for herself. (pp. 195-196)

Wylie goes on to develop the concept of mom as barrier to manhood (I imagine Wylie is god at the Mankind Project). The close-binding-intimate (CBI mother) mom of Irving Bieber, direct influence on Nicolosi and NARTH is a psychiatric incarnation of Wylie’s momistic mom. As an aside, Bieber was described in saintly tones during my brief sojourn in the NARTH wilderness with presentation after presentation blaming smother mothers and inept, cranky dads for the “condition” of homosexuality. Wylie, predating Bieber, ridicules men but blames moms for his plight.

The mealy look of men today is the result of momism and so the pinched and baffled fury in the eyes of womankind…we will first have to make the conquest of momism, which grew up from male default. (p. 197, 203)

In reparative drive theory for male homosexuality, the relationship with the father becomes more of a focus. Cultural and early psychiatric opinion focused on mom the usurper, but reparative therapy extends the fault lines to include the weak or aggressive but surely distant father who allows mom to conquer the triad of mother-son-father, with the son becoming the defensively detached pre-homosexual. The Strecker-Wylie-Nicolosi fix is simple and if you don’t understand why or how it works, trust them, they know.

Roots of reparative therapy – Momism as a root of homosexuality

Yesterday, I quoted the bookjacket of Their Mothers’ Sons by Edward Strecker which proposes smothering mothering as a culprit for the failure of boys to become men. Today, I want to quote a bit more from the book, specifically in reference to homosexuality. Of course, Strecker sees mom as being at root of the gay.

First,  I provide Strecker’s basic diagnosis of the sad lot of sons who find themselves in mom’s grips. Strecker’s laboratory was war. He lamented that over 3 million men dodged the draft or were discharged for psychiatric reasons during World War II. Strecker acknowledged for all people there is a inner battle between self-preservation and fighting for the greater good. Some men became valient fighters, even accepting with grace their wounds, whereas others wilted in the face of the demands of war. Why the difference? According to Strecker, it comes down to maturity. He wrote:

Why did the desire for self-preservation defeat one group of men, the their discredit, and not the other? The answer in ninety percent of the cases can be given in one word, IMMATURITY. The majority of men who failed, like the majority of men who fail for the same reasons in ordinary life, were IMMATURE. (p. 21; emphasis in the original).

So what causes immaturity?

You guessed it.


Strecker wrote:

Maturity is not an inborn trait; it is not hereditary. It is the result of early background, environment, training, and unselfish parental love…Given the opportunity of having known when he was eight to twelve years old, any one of the men who failed in his opportunity to serve in the armed forces because of neuropsychiatric tendencies, and, particularly, of having known his mother, a competent psychiatrist could have forecast with reasonable accuracy the boy’s future immaturity. In the vast majority of case histories, a “mom” is at fault. (p. 23).

For Strecker, immaturity, and therefore mom, is also at root of homosexuality. While he does allow for “biological deviations” as involved in homosexuality, he also implicates “mom and her wiles.” Strecker provides a letter from a teen who calls himself a “sissy” and a “mother’s boy.” The young man also describes homosexual attractions. Strecker’s then diagnoses the causes of the boy’s homosexuality from his letter.

The essential parts  are there, and unedited, and a study of them shows two familiar types of silver cords – “you will never find anyone quite as pretty and worthy of you as mom,” and “sexual intercourse is a horrible affair in which the husband is the beast.” Mom, as the paints her in his letter, in undoubtedly the ‘pretty addlepate’ who by her actions and what she has said and implied has poisoned the boy’s mind against normal, mature heterosexual living. In various ways, mostly devious, he has been made to know that no girl could measure up to his mom, so he veered away from the normal companionship with girls that a part of every high school boy’s life. Sex was degrading, unnatural, undesireable — his mom had told him so. Naturally, when completely entwined by these two silver cords, his normal, healthy masculine instincts were stifled. The result — a tendency toward abnormal sex life.

Strecker also points to mothers who really wanted girls as another force behind some homosexuality. He then invokes one of the many psychoanalytically based theories by suggesting that some men remain in love with mother past their childhood which results in overwhelming guilt. This guilt is then transferred to other girls and women as an adult. Thus,

heterosexuality in a complete way is impossible for him to achieve and he may turn to homosexuality in his need for some sex outlet, as the lesser evil. (p. 131)

Lesbians are almost ignored but not quite. Strecker saves some blame for dad:

All the same forces operate against the daughters of immature fathers — pops — as well as against the sons of moms. The pop who mentally seduces his daughter may implant a tendency toward lesbianism.

Strecker concludes:

I want to repeat that while innate factors often go into the making of homosexuality, yet the environmental influence is strong enough so that moms and pops are to blame. (p. 132)

Dr. Strecker provides no references or evidence for his statements beyond the letter from the young man. Readers are apparently expected to believe him because he is a psychiatrist and an advisor to the armed services. Strecker puts much more weight on mothering than current reparative therapists do, but, in my view, Strecker, writing in 1946, would fit in quite well at the 2011 NARTH conference.

Roots of reparative therapy – Momism and psychiatry in the 1940s

For our amusement and for a book I am completing this summer, I am looking into multiple roots of reparative therapy. As I noted recently, reparative therapy finds parents to be the root of homosexuality in children. Mother blaming has a long history in psychoanalysis. Reparative therapy doesn’t spare the mother but adds father for his special share of responsibility.

One of the most famous cases of mother blaming is Bruno Bettelheim’s reference to “refrigerator mothers” as culprits for autism. Bettelheim’s diagnosis was not based on empirical research but his own experiences in Nazi concentration camps, or at least that is what Bettelheim claimed. In any case, a couple of generations of professionals were trained to believe that autism was mom’s fault.

On the other side of the spectrum from the refrigerator mother was “Mom.” Philip Wylie coined the word “momism” to refer to overprotective mothers in a chapter of his 1943 best seller, Generation of Vipers. I will have more from that book later this week.

Wylie was a journalist who didn’t like soft moms, or soft men. Psychiatry was quite supportive of Wylie at the time, at least in the person of Edward A. Strecker. Strecker was a consultant to the Army and Navy through World War II and blamed mothers for men dismissed from the services for psychiatric reasons. Not only was mom the blame for individual pathology, but her failures threatened democracy and nation security. Here is the description of Strecker’s 1946 book, Their Mothers’ Sons

Their Mother’s Sons (From the book jacket)

This is a book about Mother, the great American “Mom,” and what she is doing to the young men of America. In its pages a world-famous psychiatrist describes in unforgettable terms a new American tragedy – the millions of young men in this country today who live in confusion and emotional chaos, condemned by millions of well-meaning and unthinking “Moms” who will not cut the apron strings between them and their sons.

During the past war, Dr. Strecker served as special consultant to the Secretary of War, and to the Surgeon Generals of the Army and Navy. In casualty hospitals, both overseas and at home, he viewed the incredible neuroses of vast numbers of American young men. At the induction centers and in the screening areas, he learned the case histories many thousands of so-called psychoneurotics. Now, in this book, he crystallizes his thinking into a timely warning concerning a system which condemns enormous numbers of men to a miserable, maladjusted life – simply because “Mom” has never weaned her son emotionally.

During the past war, 1,825,000 men were rejected for military service because of psychiatric disorders. Another 600,000 were discharged for neuropsychiatric reasons. And at least 500,000 attempted to evade the draft and all war responsibility. The handwriting of “Moms” looms large and plain.

Influenced by Sandor Rado, Irving Bieber and Elizabeth Moberly, Nicolosi extends the blame to the father with his version of reparative therapy. The overbearing, overprotective mother looms large in reparative therapy and appears to be an idea with a long history of tapping into collective fears and insecurities.