Psychiatrist Bram Bakker: ‘I’m in love again as a boy’

‘I confuse love partners with my mother, so it ends badly.’ But that great love will really come around, believes psychiatrist Bram Bakker. In any case, at 58, he is madly in love. Nice long read, this interview with this fascinating man.

At the end of last year, his mother, Greetje Nieuwenhuis (81), wrote him a letter in which she canceled all contact and forbade him to write back. Bakker has also had no contact with his father since then. He took his wife’s side.

‘In a newspaper interview I talked about some painful topics from my childhood. That my mother beat me and that I was sexually abused by an older woman when I was 14. They knew nothing about the abuse, but of course they knew about the beatings.

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My parents think it’s a mortal sin that I’ve talked about this kind of thing in public, you don’t do that. Of course my mother could have said, ‘We should talk about that, Bram.’ But unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. So there was that letter where she cut off all contact.

What now? Well, I’m waiting for a gesture, a first step from her. All my life I always had to fix things, I stopped doing that. I’m not sorry I’ve been so honest. I’ve been telling my clients for forty years to start a conversation with their parents, shouldn’t I be doing that myself?

Practice what you preach. So far all my attempts in this regard have failed. My mother is an intelligent woman. She would have made a good lawyer or judge. She would have liked to have been, but she was unfortunate to have a traditional father who wanted his sons but not his daughter to study.

I came home with a report of nines and tens and an eight, she said, ‘Sorm with the eight’

By the way, she did quite well as library director. I was the little boy who had to make up for everything: get high grades and go to university. When I came home with a report of nines and tens and an eight, she said, “It’s a sin with the eight.”

Because of my father, a man of twelve trades and thirteen accidents, we moved quite often. After each failure, he found work elsewhere and was therefore moved there. As a child, I hoped my parents would divorce because they often argued. But no, they’ve been together for sixty years.

Thanks to my mother, we never went bankrupt. Because of her income, but also because of her tight fiscal policy. Every Wednesday we searched the advertising brochures. Here the yogurt was for sale, there the buttermilk, somewhere else the bread, so we went to all the supermarkets.

‘She can’t talk about it. It used to be taboo for her’

She certainly hasn’t had an easy life, but she can’t talk about it. It used to be taboo for her. If I would talk about it, she would cry, get mad and walk away. But I want to know why our lives have turned out the way they have.

I look like her, but thankfully that changes as I get older. Twenty years ago I was a very annoying little guy, like my mother I was a perfectionist, compulsive, obsessive and competitive. But thanks to lifelong therapy and aging, I can now look at myself with some leniency.

I have to admit that I owe everything I am to my mother, without her I would not have become what and who I am. She is sharp and witty, with an opinion about everyone, but it should never be about her.

We think the same about most things in the world, we have the same view of society. My longing for a good mother is still there, I still crave a compliment from her that I never get.

‘Basically, behind the big waffle, I’m a boy who just wants a pat on the head’

Her influence on my love relationships has always been great: I confuse love partners with her – stop it. Whether I’m looking for a woman who looks like her or not at all – it goes wrong either way. Basically, behind the big waffle, I’m a little boy who just wants a pat on the head.’

Bram about his life’s mission

‘I can talk long and short about it. The short version is: let’s be kind to each other. Let us control less of the form in our dealings with each other, but more of the content. Look at each other more, see what is happening with the other, love each other.

For myself, I want to learn to set the bar less high. When I ran a marathon recently, I stopped halfway through, no more energy. If I had never done it before, I had to make it to the finish line, even if it was more dead than alive.

A few months ago I officially retired as a psychiatrist. I was tired of all the rules, protocols and regulations. I have come into conflict with this all too often because I do not distinguish between work and private life, which according to the profession is not allowed.

‘I decide who comes on the platform’

I am now in the process of establishing a platform on which all possible carers can offer themselves. There should be about a thousand, from psychotherapists to yoga teachers, from informal carers to exercise therapists. I decide who comes up.

The most important thing is that there is a good match between the requester and the provider. Competent does not mean competent. In other words: diplomas are not the ultimate goal. The important thing is proof of good behavior.

I want nothing more to do with health insurance and all their rules. There will be a pool where all participating aid providers contribute a portion of their income so that people who really can’t afford it get free help.

‘For example, many people can save their relationships by going to therapy’

But if people have money for expensive watches and cruises but not for therapy, they don’t need to knock on my door. Which is a shame, because many can, for example, save their relationship by going to therapy.

Couple therapy is the most underutilized form of treatment in the Netherlands. As for my future plans, I would like to write a novel about two academics who are completely lost in their relationship. Secretly it’s about myself and my women, you understand that’.

Bram about his turning point

The biggest change is that I stepped out of my role as the little boy who had to do everything right. Both in my personal and professional life. Because I was always rebellious in the media, but in the meantime I was very good: A nice steady job as a psychiatrist in various institutions and always tried to keep peace with my mother and partners.

In 2017 came a turning point: I left the mother of my two youngest children and fell in love with a very different woman, five good friends died in a short period of time – from cancer, ALS, suicide and euthanasia – and I had a brain disorder that had never been clarified, which meant that I was not only physically but also mentally ill. The new relationship also broke down.

When the smoke from all the misery had cleared a bit, I decided not to be a psychiatrist anymore, at least not officially registered. At the same time, my book Feeling Arm was published.

‘Tipping point after turning point, you could say’

In an interview as a result, I told the personal things from my youth, and my parents cut off contact. Tipping point after tipping point, one might say.

During that time I also broke a few taboos in my profession by being vocal to get to know yourself and that you as a psychiatrist are just as crazy as the people sitting across from you.

All in all, I have become a freer person now that I have replaced ‘should’ with ‘must’. My Calvinist roots are increasingly behind me.

After all these changes, I should finally get the ultimate big love as a reward. Maybe it will, now that I have met a beautiful, sweet woman through Facebook, divorced like me, with children and someone who did not know me and my reputation. It’s still early so I’m being careful but I’m in love.

My daughter, who I live with and who is very important to me, gave me the good advice: ‘Dad, no women for a while and especially not in this house.’

She is quite right.’

Photo (c) ANP

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