President John F. Kennedy: Psychohistory and Psychological Profile

About the President John F. Kennedy, a psychoanalysis or psychological profile of his life.


Jack Kennedy was a weak and sickly boy who was plagued by a host of childhood diseases. According to his brother Robert, "When we were growing up together, we used to laugh about the great risk a mosquito took in biting Jack-with some of his blood the mosquito was almost sure to die." As in the case of Theodore Roosevelt, this boyhood weakness was later reflected in a desperate emphasis on physical fitness and competition. This tendency was encouraged by Jack's father, who taught his sons that 2nd-best was unacceptable. On one occasion, Joe Kennedy went so far as to send 2 of his children away from the dinner table because they had "goofed off" and lost a sailing race that day. "I can feel Pappy's eyes on the back of my neck," Kennedy told a friend when he was trying to decide about entering politics, and Papa Joe was always the driving force behind Jack's career. Even as President, Jack called his father at least once a day. The other dominant figure in Kennedy's life was his older brother, Joe, Jr. "Joe was the star of our family," Jack once said. "He did everything better than the rest of us." In the family structure, with Joe 2 years older than Jack, and then 5 girls before Bobby and Teddy, it was only natural that the 2 oldest boys should struggle for the leading position. They used to fight so fiercely at home that the younger children would run upstairs and hide, while the muscular Joe pounded away at his slender brother. The father insisted that no one interfere with these sometimes bloody struggles: Jack had to learn to fend for himself. Once, when the 2 boys were riding bicycles at each other they both refused to turn aside: Joe was unhurt, but Jack required 28 stitches. Though the brothers were friends at Harvard, and often ate together, the competition continued. Joe was in the habit of moving in on Jack's dates, with the kind words: "Get lost, baby brother." In later years, in the space race, in politics, and a dozen other areas, Kennedy stridently declared that 2nd-best was unacceptable. In taking this position, he was unconsciously recalling his own painful position as "2nd-best" in the Kennedy family. When his brother Joe was killed during the war, Jack was left to compete with a ghost. No matter how tough or successful he might seem, he could never fill his dead brother's shoes, and so he had to continue his struggle for the top. If Jack ever forgot about his own basic inadequacy, his mourning father was there to remind him. In 1957, when Jack was a U.S. senator and already widely discussed as a presidential possibility, a reporter went to Florida to talk with Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. As he was asked about his children, Kennedy happily ran down the list, obviously proud of their achievements. Then the reporter noted that Joe, Jr., had been left out, and asked Kennedy to comment on his eldest. The father's reaction "was a terrible thing to see. He sat there at the table weeping, unable to speak or to control himself for almost 5 minutes. It seemed to the rest of us like an hour. Finally, he pulled himself together and wiped his eyes but still he couldn't talk. He gestured toward his wife and said, 'She can tell you about him. I can't.'"

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