Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk



Alternative Status System


The alternative status is a status which an individual ascribes to himself in order to feel more important than he is in his current or previous state of importance or lack thereof.   There are many concrete examples of this concept.  For example, a janitor may become an officer in an organization such as the Golf League of his town of residence or the President  of  the Board of Directors of a Synagogue.  She may be a retired teacher feeling useless and bored and strive to be the head of a religious institution's Sisterhood.

A tailor who believes himself to be less than his fellow religionists may choose to make himself known as a man who reads the Haftorah with expertise and be available and known as “The Expert” of Haftorah readers  in his Temple.

Some individuals change their names in order to sound more important and more sophisticated than they did with their birth names.  There is a humorous story about such an alteration:  A gentleman came to Paris and changed his name from the original to a classy French name:  Monsieur de la Fontaine.  A number of months later he moved to Germany and annexed the title of Herr Moses Wasserstrohm.  A citizen of that country was very inquisitive and discovered that he had originally come from Poland and that he was known in Stattel near Warsaw as Moische Pischer.

The majority of humanity has the need to feel worthwhile among  their peers.  Some folks have more need to be accepted and have some degree of worthwhileness, while others do not have that expectation as strongly and are unassuming and introverted.  This can already be seen in young children who want to be heard and seen by screaming or other means of gaining attention.  The class clown in the Yeshiva or the student in the public school who acts out gains attention by being the one who stands out, not because of his excellent grades which he cannot attain, but by the annoyances and laughter he can create among his age mates. The student creating such a commotion will surely be noticed and can readily attain the status of “entertainer” or “clown”.

There are innumerable cases in our society who have gained importance and recognition for statuses which they have obtained because of  unmet needs and yearnings to the position in life which was denied them at an earlier time.  Refugees who came to this country as children  frequently feel left out of the stream of  rewards.  Because of a language barrier, a culture barrier and a lack of finances they will for the most part strive much harder to attain the honors and the status which they could not at one time achieve.  We will here elaborate on two such situations.  A young teen who came over from Nazi Germany where he lost “all but his life” worked very hard to achieve.  In his life he became a very important person, known as a professor par excellence, having won many prizes, accolades and recognition from his peers and his fellow American intellectuals.  Nothing was enough for him and he never felt accepted from his peers, his fellow Jews, nor his colleagues.  In order to overcome his psychological pressures he went so far that he needed to produce incessantly, writing book after book to the exclusion of  all joy and contentment.  Outwardly he had changed his image, his status.  Internally he was always the fifteen year old who arrived by boat, penniless and homeless in Hoboken New Jersey.  Another example is a ten year old who had been brutally traumatized, and was an escapee from the gas ovens of Dachau, Buchenwald, Treblinka and other furnaces that were awaiting her Jewish playmates and elders.  The German gentiles never allowed her to forget the accusation:  “Du bist ein Jud” (you are a Jew), the heinous curse words that blemished and threatened her very existence.  When she arrived in this country she strove to erase the ominous connotation of that phrase.  She obtained many degrees while working and studying endlessly.  She also obtained much recognition.  She could not shake her thoughts of having arrived in a torn dress in Ellis Island waiting to be permitted off the boat.  In her adulthood she worked, her feelings never overcame those of the poverty stricken  ragamuffin whose psychological hunger did not permit her to retire even at an advanced age. “Du bist ein Jud”  would live with her into eternity.

A book by Gerhard Sonnert and Gerald Holton, published in 2006, was a thorough research study  of refugees who fled from Nazi persecution in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In spite of harrowing memories and traumas, they became extraordinarily successful in the USA and made  significant contributions in their new country.  The authors also noted the psychological damage that lingers among them as a result of  the persecution they suffered.    


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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