Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen

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Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen
Born (1917-07-17)July 17, 1917
Gråsten, Denmark
Died June 12, 2012(2012-06-12) (aged 94)
Frankfurt, Germany
Alma mater University of Tübingen
Spouse(s) Alexander Mitscherlich
Awards 2001 Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
Scientific career
Fields Psychology

Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen (née Nielsen;[1] 17 July 1917 – 12 June 2012) or the "Grande Dame of German Psychoanalysis" as she was often referred to, was a German psychoanalyst [2][3] who focused mainly on the themes of feminism, female sexuality, and the national psychology of post-war Germany.


Margarete Nielsen was born July 17, 1917, as the youngest daughter to Doctor Nis Peter Nielsen and his wife Margarete (née Leopold). Most of Nielsen's young life was spent in Denmark until she moved to Germany. While in Germany, Nielsen devoted much of her time to studying literature and eventually received the highest possible certificate or "abitur" in 1937 from a private institution located in Flensburg. After studying literature she decided to follow in her father's footsteps and study medicine at the universities of Munich and Heidelberg. She passed the first state exam in 1944 and received a doctorate from the University of Tübingen in 1950.[5] In the following years Nielsen completed her psychoanalytic training at the London institute led by Anna Freud, Melanie Klein and Michael Balint.

Her professional work with psychoanalysis began at an anthroposophical clinic in the Swiss canton of Ticino, where she met her future husband Alexander Mitscherlich. The two married in 1955 and eventually returned to Germany. Once in Germany Nielsen took up work at a psychosomatic clinic her husband directed at Heidelberg, before moving to Frankfurt. In 1960, the couple became co-founders of the Sigmund-Freud-Institut dedicated to psychoanalytic research.

Contributions to Psychology

The Mitscherlichs worked alongside the protagonists of the Frankfurt School, in developing key points of post-war Germany's intellectual debates. The group offered psychoanalytic thought for explaining the causes behind Nazi Germany and the aftermath it had on German society, up to the present day. The first major book written by the Mitscherlirchs was titled Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern. Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens (The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behaviour). It was first published in 1967 and focused heavily on why the Holocaust, the war crimes, and the sentiment of guilt on the offender's part were not dealt with adequately in post-war German society.[6]

Margarete Mitscherlich's interest in feminism grew, as she became closer friends with German feminist journalist Alice Schwarzer. In November 1977, Mitscherlich confessed while being interviewed for the journal "Ich bin Feministin" ("I am a feminist"). Around this time, Mitscherlich began to take an active part in legal actions against anti-women depictions in popular German media. In 1985, Mitcherlich published Die friedfertige Frau. Eine psychoanalytische Untersuchung zur Aggression der Geschlechter (The peaceable sex: On aggression in women and men) which to this day is her most well known book. This book, dedicated to women's role in German politics, was followed by 1987 publishing of Die Zukunft ist weiblich (The future is feminine, 1987), where she pleaded for German values to become more feminine.

Until well into her nineties, Mitscherlich worked as a psychoanalyst, advising younger colleagues and commenting on political developments in the press. In the year 2010, at age 93, she published her final book Die Radikalität des Alters. Einsichten einer Psychoanalytikerin (The Radicality of Age. Insights of a Psychoanalyst) in which she reflects upon her own experience with aging.[8]

In 1990 Mitscherlich received the Ehrenplakette der Stadt Frankfurt am Main, followed by her 2001 award from the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and her 2005 award from Tony-Sender-Preis der Stadt Frankfurt am Main . Mitscherlich lived in Frankfurt Westend until 2012 where she died at age 94. To this day, Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen is known for her notability and her highly politicized nature of her work when many of her peers considered neutrality an essential element of psychoanalysis.


  • With Alexander Mitscherlich: Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern. Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens. 1967
  • With Alexander Mitscherlich: Die Idee des Friedens und die menschliche Aggressivität. 1969
  • With Alexander Mitscherlich: Eine deutsche Art zu lieben. 1970
  • Müssen wir hassen? 1972
  • Das Ende der Vorbilder. 1978
  • Die friedfertige Frau. 1985
  • Die Zukunft ist weiblich. 1987
  • Erinnerungsarbeit. 1987
  • Über die Mühsal der Emanzipation. 1990
  • With Brigitte Burmeister: Wir haben ein Berührungstabu. 1991. Hamburg. KleinVerlag.
  • Erinnerungsarbeit – Zur Psychoanalyse der Unfähigkeit zu trauern. 1993
  • Autobiografie und Lebenswerk einer Psychoanalytikerin. 2006
  • Eine unbeugsame Frau. Im Gespräch mit Kathrin Tsainis und Monika Held. 2007
  • Die Radikalität des Alters. Einsichten einer Psychoanalytikerin. 5th ed. 2010


  • Karola Brede (ed.): Befreiung zum Widerstand. Margarete Mitscherlich zum 70. Geburtstag. In celebration of her 70th birthday. 1987
  • Felizitas von Schönborn: Margarete Mitscherlich. Zwischen Psychoanalyse und Frauenbewegung. Ein Porträt. 1995
  • Ilse Lenz: Die Neue Frauenbewegung in Deutschland. Abschied vom kleinen Unterschied. 2008

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