[Written in late 2009.]
Although I have already written a sixteen thousand word essay analyzing the work of Alice Miller—my favorite writer in the psychology field—over the years several people have asked that I create a shorter, more concise, easier-to-read version. I have finally done so—and have gone in a few new directions too…
Before I begin the new essay, I want to make a few background points. I wrote the longer essay in 2006. A few months after I wrote it someone passed it along to Alice Miller herself, and she read it—and criticized it harshly on her website. She labeled parts of it “highly confusing,” she argued that I was taking her words out of context, and she stated that my motivation was to confuse her readers. However, by putting my name on her website she generated a significant amount of attention for my essay, because within hours a horde of people googled my name, found the essay, and read it for themselves. (Several wrote me complimentary emails.) The next day, however, Alice Miller realized her “error” and removed my name from her website, calling me “Mr. X.” instead, presumably to make it more difficult for people to find the essay and judge my words for themselves.
Meanwhile, the concise essay…
What makes Alice Miller excellent?
In 1979 Alice Miller published “Prisoners of Childhood”—now known in the United States as “The Drama of the Gifted Child”—and in so doing broke new ground by siding radically with the child. She traced the roots of emotional problems, which she labeled as “mental illness” (a term I dislike), to childhood conflicts, to childhood traumas, and often most specifically to abuses by parents. She laid out her philosophy logically and elegantly, she didn’t mince words with psychological jargon, and she opened up a world of truth to millions of readers. She offered people an enlightened witness to their pain and horror, and confirmed what so many felt to be true: that their problems were not inherent, that their problems had real causes, and as such their problems had real solutions. I feel she started a psychological revolution into the exploration of the causes and consequences of childhood traumas, and she set the bar several feet higher for the whole psychology field.
Why then is Alice Miller not more well-known in the psychology field?
Mostly the psychology field doesn’t take her too seriously because she doesn’t play their conventional game. She avoids silly theories, she avoids confusing jargon, and she avoids making the hordes of irrelevant footnotes that so easily become the hallmark of small-mindedness. But mostly she doesn’t play the game of letting parents off the hook, and that terrifies the norm. It terrifies many parents themselves, because they are desperate to avoid looking at the damage they’ve done to their children. It also terrifies those who want to defend their abusive parents, because you can’t read and absorb Alice Miller without looking seriously at the negative sides of your own parents.
This begs the question of why people want to defend their parents. On the surface they might say, “I defend my parents because I love them, don’t want to view them negatively, and don’t want to hurt them.” But the real reason is that they themselves want to avoid the pain of opening old wounds, and the pain of grieving these wounds. Acknowledging what Alice Miller has said and applying it to one’s own life opens the door to a torrent of pain—the pain necessary for healing. And so many people, and the psychology field in general, are simply pain-avoidant, at all costs. Whole therapies and psychological theories (and of course psychiatric medications) are devoted to avoiding and bypassing the very pain, the necessary and healthy pain, that Alice Miller leads us right into. As such, they dismiss Alice Miller.
But how do they get away with dismissing her?
Easily, as follows: They say: a) that she’s unscientific (as if they and their theories are!), b) that she has an ax to grind (convenient way to absolve abusive parents), c) that she makes the same point over and over again (she often does, from book to book, but at least the point she makes is excellent!), d) that she doesn’t cite enough outside sources (yes, she does cite her own past books a lot, but at least she’s citing someone with a good point of view), and, e) that her work is not peer reviewed (and thank god for that, because in the published psychology field she’s almost peerless!). In short, they attempt to render her irrelevant by ignoring her—with the most cruel tool of all: silence.
Look in the indexes of most of psychology books in the bookstore and you’ll see how little her name appears—especially when compared to her more dissociated counterparts, like Freud and Jung and Fromm.
You say that her works repeat themselves?
Yes, unfortunately. She came up with one great idea, and then repeated it over and over with only slight variation. If you want to get the essence of Alice Miller’s point of view it’s only really necessary to read the first chapter of “The Drama of the Gifted Child.” That sums it all up beautifully. She originally wrote and published a version of that first chapter in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, and then re-crafted it for publication in her book. Although she has since abandoned psychoanalysis and most of psychoanalytic theory and jargon (a good call, as far as I’m concerned), I don’t see that her basic premises developed much further over the years. Many of her books read like repeats of earlier books. I feel that her first three books (“Drama of the Gifted Child” , “For Your Own Good” , and “Thou Shalt Not Be Aware” ) are by far her three best, and there’s not much point, unless you have a lot of time or are simply curious, to read the rest.
Yes, some people say they started reading Alice Miller by delving into such books as “Breaking Down the Wall of Silence” or “Banished Knowledge,” and found them wonderful, and I’m not surprised. I’d say that if you started by reading almost any of her books (except perhaps “Paths of Life”) you’d be reading a better psychology book than almost anything else in the field.
So you really only have to read the first chapter of “Drama” to understand her?
Well, to get the basic essence of her point of view. But if you’re really in a rush and don’t have too much time to read much more of her work, I’d also read her chapter on Adolf Hitler in “For Your Own Good”—where she explicates Hitler’s adult atrocities in light of the abuse and traumas he suffered as a child. It’s pure brilliance—psychological logic at its finest—her best case study by far. It also has a far-reaching philosophical and psychological point: that evil is not inherent. If the world’s worst monster’s evilness was created by child abuse and lack of mirroring, then the evil in everyone else must, by default, be the same—resulting from nurture, not nature. She took a lot of heat for writing that chapter—especially since she is of Germanic origin and originally wrote it in German. Very politically incorrect stuff—yet vitally important.
So what is your criticism of her—what is your perspective?
My main criticism is that Alice Miller does not adequately apply her point of view to herself—and does not take her point of view to its logical conclusion. Let me start again by stating her point of view as logically as I can:
- She notes correctly that people’s emotional problems in adulthood can be traced to root conflicts in their childhood.
- She points out that in most cases abusive parents are the essential cause of these conflicts.
- She then points out just how wrong and inappropriate abusive parenting is—and she doesn’t mince her words here. She sides with the child, and the essence of her point of view blames the parent, even though she shies away from the word “blame.”
- Next, and this is a key point, her writings make it clear how people who do not resolve their childhood conflicts, their childhood traumas, will in some way or other, directly or through metaphor, inevitably repeat these traumas on others, primarily their own children. This is the essence of the repetition compulsion, a Freudian concept which she respects highly. (And which I respect too, because my observation is that it’s totally correct, though perhaps not exactly in the way Freud intended it.)
Here, however, is where Alice Miller’s problem appears. She fails to take her theories to the next appropriate level.
And the next level is?
The next level is that if parents will inevitably damage their child if they have not yet resolved their own childhood conflicts, and that damaging the child is wrong, then it is logically wrong for people to have children until they’ve resolved their own childhood conflicts. Simple as that. Don’t have kids until you’ve healed yourself first.
And Alice Miller doesn’t believe that?
No, she doesn’t. Throughout her work she gives her tacit approval to people to become parents—to have children—before they have healed their traumas. In fact, in many places throughout her books (and I go into detail on this point in my longer essay) she just assumes that people will have children before they’ve done their full inner homework. In this way she considers it inevitable that people will abuse their children. Yes, she encourages parents to try to heal their conflicts and become better parents, but she absolutely refuses to tell people not to have children until they’ve done their inner homework first. And to me that is a major cop-out—and a major flaw in her logic—because it goes against her whole point of view. Instead of siding with the child she sides with the parent. She tacitly says that a certain amount of child abuse is acceptable. Which it isn’t.
But why doesn’t she take her point of view to its logical conclusion?
Firstly because it’s totally politically incorrect to speak of the inappropriateness of people having kids, and secondly because she herself had two kids herself before she ever even looked into her own childhood history! In various places in her books she writes about having had these children, and in other places she writes about having not delved into her childhood history until decades after raising them. The essence of what she’s implying is that in many ways she was (and still is) an abusive parent. But she never comes out and says it, presumably because it’s too painful for her to face. And by not facing it she cripples the application of her own theory.
And what are the consequences of this?
Well, one big consequence is that it makes a lot of people feel much safer reading her work! (There are many parenting websites that love Alice Miller. And her book “For Your Own Good” is often located in the “Parenting” section of bookstores.) Certainly many people who are parents feel let off the hook by reading her work, because she is really telling them it’s okay to abuse their kids—that some abuse is inevitable. Interestingly, when I was a teenager my mother had “The Drama of the Gifted Child” in our home, and I’m almost sure she read it. (I myself didn’t read it until I was in my late 20s.) And my mother was a very abusive and inappropriate mother in many ways—an alcoholic, a drug user, and a subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) sexually perverse woman. But also, my mother was herself an abused and neglected child, which I’m sure is why she liked reading Alice Miller. It gave her support. My mother’s parents had too many children, her father was rigid and authoritarian and perverse and grandiose (and a respected and published psychologist!), and her mother was extremely passive and neglectful and broken and let her father get away with all his cruel nonsense. My mother spent a lot of time criticizing and critiquing her own inappropriate parents, but was infinitely less assiduous at criticizing and critiquing her own inappropriate parenting. In fact, in the very midst of studying her own childhood horrors she was quite happily (and presumably unconsciously) replicating some version of them on me! And Alice Miller, because of her theoretical flaws, makes this easy for a parent to do.
So are you saying that if Alice Miller took her theories more to their logical conclusion that parents would feel less comfortable reading her work?
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
Hmm. But are you really just criticizing your mother by criticizing Alice Miller? Like Alice Miller is a scapegoat for your mother?
Yes and no. Some of my criticisms of abusive parents in general of course arise from my anger at my mother (and father) in specific. (My father was abusive in his own way too—drugs, rage, violence, narcissism, neglect.) If I had never been abused I would probably have less motivation to critique Alice Miller. That said, I deal with my specific criticisms of my parents elsewhere—and just haven’t done much public expression of that. I have saved most of my criticisms of them—and I have a lot—for my private life, my self-therapy. But the majority of my criticisms of Alice Miller are separate from my criticisms of my parents. I recognize quite fully that Alice Miller has not abused me, not one iota. My parents were my primary abusers. Alice Miller has not hurt me at all. Even if she is like my parents in some ways, she didn’t damage or warp my soul or personality, whereas my parents did. The reason I come to criticize Alice Miller is not because I have any anger or vengeance toward her as a person, but because I wish to do my part to set the theoretical record straight—for the sake of all abused children.
So your point is?
To take Alice Miller’s point of view to its logical conclusion, and not be blinded by her limitations. Some of the points I stress, and feel she would have stressed had she been less limited, are as follows:
- Don’t have kids until you’ve done all your inner homework.
- The only way to avoid replicating your unresolved traumas on children is to heal all these traumas fully before you have kids.
- Having children before you have completely healed your childhood traumas is a set-up for child abuse. It’s inevitable. And it’s wrong.
But isn’t what you’re saying a bit extreme?
Extreme, yes, for a blinded, traumatizing society hell-bent on not looking within. But not extreme if you understand the basic points of view of Alice Miller and then add them up to their logical conclusion. Then it’s perfectly natural.
But can people really fully heal their childhood traumas?
Yes, I believe so. If our core is perfect and healthy—which it is—then the rest of us, given hard work and the right environment, can become perfect and healthy once again. Alice Miller, however, does not seem to believe so.
Are you fully healed from your childhood traumas?
No, not yet, but getting closer by the day.
But what if it takes people decades to heal from their childhood traumas? If everyone followed your guidelines wouldn’t that prevent the world from having children, and wouldn’t the species go extinct?
First, I think that if everyone logically followed my prescription and devoted themselves to healing their childhood traumas, a massive groundswell of healing momentum would ensue, and it would NOT take people decades to heal from their childhood traumas. At present it probably will take decades, though, because there’s almost no societal or interpersonal support for healing fully from childhood traumas. Nowadays if you try to heal fully—or even partially—from childhood traumas you do so almost entirely on your own: without allies, and with the hatred and resistance and dismissal of society. And that is extremely difficult—and certainly much harder than doing it in the midst of allies.
So, second, if everyone followed my guidelines I believe that healing from childhood traumas would happen much more quickly, and that the species would not go extinct. In fact, the species would have a chance to evolve into something much less traumatized, and much more healthy and beautiful. But either way, this species is not going to go extinct as the result of people struggling to heal childhood traumas. It’s a million times more likely to go extinct because of unresolved childhood traumas. Just look around: look at the abuse we’re perpetrating on the world because of our unhealthiness. Our insanity is ruining our environment.
But in the meantime, doesn’t your point of view prevent people from having children?
Yes, and what’s so bad about that? If you really get my point of view—which is the essence of Alice Miller’s point of view—you will not really want to have children until you’ve healed your childhood traumas, because you won’t want to abuse your beloved future progeny!
Also—and this is a point that Alice Miller doesn’t make—having children is a fantastic way to avoid ever really dealing with the totality of your childhood traumas. Having children, and even trying to do a proper job raising them, is such an intense and all-encompassing task that it doesn’t really leave the proper time and energy required to do the work of deeply healing childhood wounds. Children make the ultimate psychological diversion. It’s much easier to project unresolved psychological material onto children—and act it out on them—than it is to grieve that material.
So, again, my point of view: for all these reasons, avoid having children until you first heal from childhood traumas. And if you never have children, well, all the better, because by devoting yourself to the inner journey you give yourself your best chance to heal, you don’t ever have to carry the burden of having brought a perfect child into this world and having abused him or her. And of course you don’t contribute to overpopulation…
Any other points you want to make about Alice Miller?
Well, she’s an amazing person, even if she, in her partial blindness, hates what I have to say. (But from what I’ve observed, she hates anyone who criticizes her, be their criticisms legitimate or not.) Yes, she’s had her problems over the years, such as falling under the sway of manipulative therapists—even after writing the book “Thou Shalt Not Be Aware,” which directly addresses the dangers of manipulative therapy—but she’s still so far ahead of her time. She’s far more psychologically advanced than the average therapist born fifty years after she was born. (She was born in 1923.) I really am eternally grateful to the work she’s done, because she gave me the chance to build on her shoulders.
[Alice Miller passed away on April 14, 2010.]
What is healing? Is it happiness? Is it completeness?
We cannot heal from childhood traumas. We cannot reattach the severed arm that got severed 12 or 52 years ago as we cannot change the past.
Besides, there is nothing wrong if our species goes extinct.
You said: “But either way, this species is not going to go extinct as the result of people struggling to heal childhood traumas. It’s a million times more likely to go extinct because of unresolved childhood traumas.”
If a disastrous atomic bomb or something similar doesn’t detonate, history has shown that misery overpopulates the planet (e.g. baby boom) and on the other hand, highest state of consciousness does not desire perpetuation of misery, aging, diseases, slavery and problems. Even to the least extent.
Maybe we can’t heal all of our traumas, but I know we can heal a lot, and we can change and grow profoundly. And under ideal circumstances (which I’ve never found) I think we could all heal all our psychological traumas….at least ideally!
Thanks for your informative blog on AM.
I read few books by AM and found them enlightening as many in these books. However, I also find that considering parents abuse and mistreatment the SOLE cause of violence in our society is an interesting and valid hypothesis at best and perhaps a theory about violence that however needs corroboration. It should not be taken as an ideology. The difference being that an Ideology explain “everything” while a Theory explains only what can explain (ie it must be corroborated by evidence, research, data, etc etc). AM uses a biographical methods analyzing personalities of dictators, poets, writers, artists, intellectuals, etc. These analysis are certainly very interesting, profound, persuasive and seems to prove the hypothesis. However, in science this is also called “pick-and-choose”: how do we know we are considering all the evidence relevant to corroborate the hypothesis? Can we generalize from these “gifted” children to the entire population? Can we generalize from the ’20 of the nineteenth century to the ’20 of this century? Also, AM heavenly relies on letters she received from readers. Again, these are certainly important and interesting bios with lots of qualitative information about traumatized children. However, again, this is a largely a “biased” ie non-representative sample of people ie only people who read AM’s book and felt impressed by her writings actually wrote to the author and perhaps very few disagreed and their letter were discarded as I learnt from you.
My points above are methodological in nature and do not diminish the important of AM’s works in my mind. However, I try not to take them as an ideology but rather as a potentially important hypothesis and theory on the causes of human violence.
What type of sampling or trial size and with a double-blind randomized assignment would you like to satisfy conclusively and beyond any scintilla or shadow of doubt? There is overwhelming and conclusive evidence that continuous repressed rage and dissociation has its roots in early deleterious attachment as well as evidence now of predisposition. if not ameliorated epigenetically vis a vis healthy deepening reciprocal attachment and attunement post utero, during particularly the third trimester as excessive levels of the mother’s affective stress (e.g. cortisol) crosses the placenta failing in contrast to transform into sufficient amounts of cortisone and thus effecting how the brain myelinates. Our implicit-procedural memory, wired through early attachment, will largely determine the trajectory of of the limbic-hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis (LHPA axis) into the autonomic nervous system. Essentially this is translated into, “Do I feel (interoceptively) safe to engage with you and others or is my sympathetic-adrenal system adaptively mobilized for fight/flight defensive behaviors or worse parasympathetic withdrawal/shutdown or dissociation.” All acts of systemic expressed rage and violence and varying types of dissociation are definitely and inarguably traced to early roots of childhood trauma.
Beautiful that you found something resonating with you in her books.
Most of her claims can be verified by yourself. They are not so much claims about outer reality but they concern your inner reality. It is possible to come to the point where you SEE that it is true in your own subjectivity (and I am not speaking about blind belief). It is similar to feeling vaguely uncomfortable and later noticing that all that time your foot hurt because there is a heavy and spiky stone on it. You won’t doubt that there will be relief when the stone is removed.
After devouring a lot of the psychoanalytical literature out there and a few of Miller’s books I find this critique to be an enlightened one.
I completely agree that Miller was on to something and she succeeded at rethinking parental accountability but dentists/doctors aren’t always able to cure themselves. Miller’s theories do serve a great purpose in terms of assigning responsibilities in the chain of abuse, the recognition of the victim and the toxic environment that surrounds abuse as a socially sanctioned/warranted/approved fact of life.
To me, there are two aspects missing:
– first the recognition of the hidden pattern behind the compulsion for procreation: “do we want to have children to do a good job as parents in order to expiate our own wounds? are we not simply falling victims of the moral command to honor our parents by locking in and latching on to the system that made us what we are in the first place? Isn’t idealized parenthood just another socially approved delusion?
– second: are we not children first and parents second? isn’t our responsibility to get psychologically ready for the parental challenge before embarking on it? Don’t we have the right to review our personal history and family mythology before “creating” yet another iteration of it?
Truth and awareness will set us free – blind forgiveness and empty forgetfulness will condemn us. Parents need not be perfect but their image and their influence must be put into perspective if we want to evolve. Blame and guilt are unnecessary in the light of truth but the truth is harsh as it is dear.
I have not finish to read this assay yet. But I really impress by your point. you have foresee to know her self also is a abusive mother.
I appreciate what you have done for the abused children.
I read most of Alice Miller’s books and after 1 year of meditation about the issue i conclude the she was almost completely wrong. Her paradigm is a huge defense, nothing more.
hi andrea — could you be more specific of how you think her paradigm is wrong? daniel
I suggest you go back and meditate some more! *Do not come on here and leave one little vapid paragraph stating that you concluded that her paradigm is completely wrong and nothing but a defense mechanism without elaborating as to why?
I’m looking for educating myself more on the topic of childhood trauma etc. to put my past in better context, and I wondered what would be some good sources for that. I’ve read “The Tao of Fully Feeling” by Pete Walker and it was a wonderful book. In his books he consistently sides with the inner child, and the book I mentioned even received praise from Alice Miller. I just bought “The Drama of the Gifted Child”, but as it seems like you have some critiques against her I wondered if there are any better books that you recommend?
We will always find holes to prick in those who live even a scintilla contradictory lives to that which they espouse However, arguably she is the most insightful and empathic psychoanalysts of the 20 Century. Her voluminous works that proceeded her first publication for starters. One of her most brilliant was her 2005, The Body Never Lies, the lingering effects of cruel parenting.
I recommend you go back a bit and read Dr Arthur Janov’s The Primal Scream, an extremely useful adjunct to the work of Alice Miller.
Does anyone have any info on Ruth Ward, the woman who translated Miller’s works?
I’d like to write or get in contact with her.
hi jay—i have no idea, but maybe someone here does. out of curiosity, what makes you interested in ruth ward? all the best—daniel
Write to Alice’s publishers. They may agree to pass your letter on to Ruth or to her agent.
Thank you. It is a release to read your article. I have read few books from A. Miller.
I agree with you and I want to add something that you might have written in the long version.
I think it is impotant as well that professions involve with childern (teacher, babysitter, MD, therapist…) should do a work on themselves before they start their job. It should be compulsory. Same for anybody (friend, grandparent, uncle, cousin…) that babysitt children.
fully agree. said that online and to counsellors, teachers and play leaders so often I’ve turned blue. none of them agree, although psychiatric training and some clinical courses do make it compulsory.
Does Miller give any consideration to those parents who were in fact abused / neglected as children who make an educated, informed decisions not to treat their children in the same way? Not every ‘abused’ child turns out to be an abusive parent – fact.
Unfortunately, perhaps the uneducated among us may repeat historical patterns due to simply not knowing any better. However, there are a good deal of parents who go on to lead perfectly happy, healthy lives and are excellent parents; despite having suffered as children.
No wonder Social Services give parents such a hard time and insist on removing children at the drop of a hat… not to mention we are still dealing with the issue of forced adoption in the UK.
Legislation and Social Services practices need to change dramatically in order to better safeguard both children and parents.
When viewed in Alice Miller’s paradigm almost every attempt at childrearing is abusive, although if you are consciously counteracting the effects of your own upbringing it’s a different flavor of abuse. That’s sort of the problem with the paradigm; it works well in cases of actual rigid abuse, but it can be applied to pretty much anything. It would be nice if she gave more examples of the right things to do. Not everyone in our society has the option of undergoing psychotherapy.
Thank you very much for this summary. Alice Miller has been, and still is, my one and only enlightened witness that made me able to take myself and my past seriously, to grieve and to heal. Based on her theories, I started writing a book about the late Libyan dictator Gaddafi and the reason why many of the Libyan people adored him, I hope to have it published in about 2 years.
Have just read much of this and have a few things to say.
I am a mother of four teenagers and in early twenties. Three boys and one girl.
I discovered Alice Milller as a result of discovering AJ MIller. aka Jesus to many people around the world about 5 years ago.
I still read Alice Miller when I feel stagnant in my work to discover my true self but AJ Miller is the one I go to for daily consumption.
He clearly states in his parenting videos available on you tube divine truth channel Q and A that the injuries we have inside us are already impacting our life and are already creating damage to all life around us.
Having children if we truly have a desire to give our love to another is a loving desire. This desire is especially loving if we have some understanding that children that we conceive are Gods children. We only made their spirit body and physical body. God made their soul.The real personality.
If we realize, often through the help of someone like Alice Miller ,that we have desires inside us about having children that are not loving, ie we want someone to love us, then surely acting on the desire to have children but with a growing desire to experience the emotions that inevitably arise in the process, ie, we want to be loved would be the perfect way to heal ourselves and to give the opportunity for children to self actualize and to experience the gift of free will on earth.
My experience is that if I would not have had children and become slowly more and more sensitive to their pain as a result of my own unfelt pain I would never have had the motivation strongly enough to deal with my own childhood trauma.
Awareness and desire is the key here not hard and fast rules about having or not having children.
AJ Miller answers this in much greater detail in his parenting interview with Justin Crick
I agree with you! I always known that something was wrong with me and that I had something inside of me very deeplucky that was answered still hurting, but it was after having my two children I started to be more aware of my issues , our kids are like a mirror and They gave a very strong motivation to go deep and deeper… but I think that since now we are in 2017 it should be mandatory to fix our unhealed traumas before having kids.
I agree with everything Yehudi says on this post. This argument that we should not have children until we have worked through all our childhood issues is illogical firstly because it can only happen in a dictatorship and I am pretty sure none of us want this. This mindset is pretty self punishing and therefore I suggest is a result of a punishing environment in childhood. If we were a child/ teenager we would freely forgive our parents if they admitted their faults and we could feel their sincerity and saw the changes that this sincerity brought even if at times we needed to feel our rage at them. They would grant us our anger and help us see that this was exactly where we needed to go to free ourselves. As I said i have four young adult children and they know they have permission to seek out the painful truth within their relationships and connect it to the pain in their relationships with both me and their dad. This is bringing us all slowly closer. The more sincere I am about my own unloving behaviour, the errors in my “definition of love” and the more humble I am to just feeling them and not acting upon them the quicker it all happens.
So cool that God created our souls to be able to let go of everything as long as we are willing. The willingness must come from the soul, the heart, not just the mind. Freewill is still one of the greatest gifts on the planet. The freedom to choose our way and to learn from our mistakes must be granted to everyone. God has provisions for the mistakes we, or our parents made. Its all about faith and desire.
.I was quite shocked to find this recently….http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/books/.premium-1.604326 .
I know Alice Miller is one of your inspirations, but did you know of this? “The Trauma of a Gifted Child Whose Mother Was Alice Miller” Martin Miller believes his mother, the late, world-famous psychologist Alice Miller, was a great theorist, subjected him to emotional neglect and abuse. Now he’s written a book about it.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/books/.premium-1.604326“
Sharia, I was a bit shocked as well! However, in no way does this invalidate or diminish her sincerity and TREMENDOUS insights and gifts that she brought. The world would be that much more emotionally -psychologically immature and bankrupt without them. However, it does indeed point to the seemingly inexorable fact that the intensity of the struggles, battles and cognitive dissonance within her – not visible outside her circle – were huge.
First of all, thank you for a great introduction to Alice Miller and all the other excellent articles you’ve written.
My thoughts are something like this:
– According to your way of thinking, taking Miller to her logical conclusion would seem to imply that anyone who has been traumatized should isolate himself from society until he has healed. Not having children would be a good place to start but certainly not the place to end. After all, Miller herself gives the evil Hitler as an example of what can happen (though she did point out that he could have used his experiences in a positive way, too, eg. in artistic expression – he had a choice re: what to do with his abuse) and he never had children.
(In fact, isolating oneself from society might not even be enough because the person could always take out his abused past on animals, insects etc.)
– You seem to be making the assumption that pain and suffering is bad and should be avoided. It would be better for a child not to be born at all, not to exist, rather than to suffer pain and abuse at the hands of his parents (or teachers, bosses in the workplace, totalitarian leader…) Yes, children are especially vulnerable, and especially to the imperfections of their parents; however, society is full of the vulnerable in all their different guises and they are all liable to be abused by those who haven’t done their emotional healing.
I wonder how many abused children/adults would actually prefer not to have been born at all? Is it not likely that they might be more likely to reflect that life is still worth it, the good and the painful together, and even that much good can come out of suffering – empathy, compassion, altruism…?
– You seem also to be making the assumption that children who have parents who have healed from their traumas will be happier, better adjusted, and not need/be less likely to need to undergo healing of their own. First of all, I wonder if there ever was such a child who never suffered at the hands of his parents. Moreover, I don’t agree that a lack of suffering as a child is a prerequisite for a “good” ensuing life. Or that it offers protection/preparation for adult life ahead. In fact, sometimes we meet people who haven’t suffered so much and their insensitivity can be astonishing. Often we hear of people who have raised themselves to great heights precisely because of what they have endured.
– You seem to be suggesting that human perfection is the ideal, and that anything less makes life not worth living (and us not worthwhile beings). This makes me wonder if that might not be something that was instilled in you by your own parents, as it was in so many of us. Here I would comment that a) as other people have already commented here, life is a process, healing is a process, we are becoming rather than being, and that perfection is never attained, and b) perfection is not even the ideal. Rather, responding appropriately, ethically, with “goodness” to what life metes out to us is the ideal and meanwhile all we can do is try – and that this is not just good enough but the best there is.
– It can certainly seem that the world is in a big mess and that so much is wrong. That way of thinking almost led me to conclude that it would be best if I lived in a cave somewhere. Then I realized that even living in a cave and lighting a fire to cook food would be having a “negative” impact on the environment. Clearing land to plant crops is condemned by the extreme environmentalists. They only have praise for animals, plants, and inanimate objects which are all integrated into the food chain and enable the status quo to continue uninterrupted. The logical conclusion of the utopian ideas of all those who shout “overpopulation” is not “less people” but “no people.”
– Suffering is exactly that – it hurts. And yet, I venture to suggest that it’s an integral part of being human, of being creative, of being a partner in trying, struggling to make a better world. Animals don’t have this dilemma because they have no choices to make. Being human is tough – but I think most of us realize that it’s worth it.
If I’ve misunderstood your ideas, it was not intentional. I just felt that for my own sake if for nothing else I had to come up with some kind of response to a very strongly-stated position, one that challenges life as we know it.
Thank you, I like the points you made because they open a space for us to live even if we’re not perfect. I didn’t know that this was bothering me in Daniel’s perspective, and now that you’ve pointed it out I see that this idea of perfection is what I was uncomfortable about, because as you explain it is anti-life.
I agree with you, we are going to cause harm from time to time no matter how hard we try not to, mistakes are part of life, and the only way to be perfect and to do no harm at all to the life around us is to be dead. So I find relief in this way of looking at life, and the fact that we cause harm does not diminish in my eye the satisfaction we can get from also making life more beautiful from time to time.
Tell us what happened to you as a child. You seem to be very badly hurt, miserable, full of anger and spite, very negative to any ideas about working with pain for others. Whoo, what happened to you that you are so against Alice’s understanding and discoveries?
??? I’m not at all resistant to working through pain, or against Miller’s ideas. I don’t know how you got those ideas – maybe tell me why you think that way?
What I was trying to say is that life doesn’t have to be put on hold while one heals because of all the reasons I mentioned. I think such a concept, that one shouldn’t “pass on” the abuse until one has reached perfection/enlightenment/whatever it’s called is not just unrealistic but also fundamentally flawed. It assumes that Utopia is the ideal without even examining the implications of that. Not that I’m discounting Utopia as the ideal – but I think that the striving toward it is what gives life meaning and is the motivating force between most/all of what is good in the world.
Pain has its place, in other words, and all of us are “victims” of it. Which in no way means that it should be actively courted! That’s a gross distortion of what I wrote.
“very badly hurt, miserable, full of anger and spite, very negative to any ideas about working with pain for others… against Alice’s understanding and discoveries”
I’m baffled too, I don’t know how Jack Rainbow reads these things into your comment. Not my impression at all, in fact quite the opposite.
Thank you! It’s never nice being called spiteful even if the accuser seems to present being hurt or miserable as some kind of justification for ending up that way – and I don’t agree that being hurt is a justification for hurting others.
I also want to “stick up for” parents who might end up feeling that they’re being accused of having children for selfish reasons. And what if a person has done their emotional healing and for whatever reason has no money – should that person, too, refrain from having children because it’s “not fair” to bring a child into the world when one can’t afford x,y, or z? Where does one draw the line?
I am one of I believe many parents who is determined to do things better for my children than my parents did for me, and I get so much satisfaction from consciously doing just that. I think that each time we make such a breakthrough eg. by talking rather than hitting even though we were conditioned as children to use physical punishment, the world becomes a better place, and that’s a good way to live. Not perfect, but good, and good enough.
You’re welcome, and thank you again for helping me identify the part of Daniel’s reasoning that’s been putting me off, this idea that we should live without damaging anything, without having any negative impact on anything at all. Which I don’t see how to do without giving up living altogether.
With the hope that you will find it useful for yourself and for communicating with others, though I already like the way you are expressing yourself, I want to mention the work of Marshall Rosenberg, which has been improving my life immensely. It’s on YouTube if you’re interested, lots of videos of workshops he’s done.
> “You seem to be very badly hurt, miserable, full of anger and spite, very negative”
Pot meet kettle!
YOU seem to be the hurt one, lashing out at others. You judge others (harshly) while pretending not to. Do you do it “for their own good,” like an abusive parent?
Real pleased to have a response from you, Trevor. Please kindly email me a copy of your original comment to which I was responding and I will get back to you and we can discuss it.
Yudis, you say regarding Daniel, “You seem to be making the assumption that pain and suffering is bad and should be avoided. It would be better for a child not to be born at all, not to exist, rather than to suffer pain and abuse at the hands of his parents (or teachers, bosses in the workplace, totalitarian leader…) Yes, children are especially vulnerable, and especially to the imperfections of their parents; however, society is full of the vulnerable in all their different guises and they are all liable to be abused by those who haven’t done their emotional healing.”
I am not going to attempt an answer on behalf of what Daniel might retort. I have come from a severely abusive childhood. I disagree with Daniel insofar as a blanket statement that no one should have any children until they have sufficiently accessed/healed their own childhood traumas. This indeed would account for most probably 90% of the human population, However, the perpetuation of unexplored trauma, pain and suffering, directly transferred from essentially babies (i.e., “adults”) onto their newborns is the guarantee of the spread of the greatest (although unspoken) pandemic that does indeed threaten Not only the survival of the human species but the systematic degradation and destruction of the environment/planet as a whole! Should a much smaller human population whose reduced size – would in fact be a consequence of a civilization that first and foremost had the desire as well as the capacity for accessing their own deeper emotional/psychological awareness to underlying childhood traumas towards the goal of fuller conscious (adult) integration prior to procreation be the goal? Inarguably yes! Now, in no way am I implying the holding up an idealistic candle of “perfection” of “X” amount of proper therapy until the decision to have children or not! However, I am implying that the drive and or felt urgency to do extensive exploration of one’s own and one’s spouse’s underlying psychic trauma of “child rearing beliefs” – hardly or rarely questioned, let alone in therapy examined- MUST be actively promoted and serve as the symbol and bedrock prior to ANY decision to have children. Otherwise, we will indeed continue to subject our children and children’s children to the unnecessary transference of avoidable psychic wounds and trauma!
The quote I excerpted from you above in the beginning not only assumes the inevitability of some degree of unavoidable pain and suffering transferred/perpetuated on our children but passively (unconsciously) gives it your blessing. That is NOT acceptable! It is precisely attitudes like this that obfuscates not a luxury but again a dire Necessity for much of the “adult” human population and multi-millions who decide upon children to first systematically and sufficiently that is, with fully having the tools of awareness beforehand to reflect upon, emotionally gain access to, integrate and be able to consciously communicate (not unconsciously through transference upon their spouse, and then upon their children) the roots of their own pain and suffering that they were made to bear and invisible layers of repressed shame, guilt and anger that unavoidably must otherwise be transferred under the name of “child rearing”, i.e., “For Your Own Good” and “Thou Shall Not Be Aware” onto their children.
Thanks a lot for your review of Alice Miller’s work. I have started reading her books last year, when I finally realized how much of my life had been conditionned by the traumas I had experienced in my chilhood. They have helped me a lot, especially since I am hoping to become a mum soon, and I for sure do not wish to inflict on my child the violence and humiliation my mun inflicted on me. Although I will try to do my best, as others have said before, I do not believe that it is ever possible to heal completely, and I am well aware that unfortunately, I will probably abuse my own children in certain ways.
I was wondering if you had read Jean Liedloff’s book “The continuum concept”. Although the aim of the book is not to heal childhood traumas, she gives some very useful and sensible hints to follow to try and minimize the abuse perpetrated on children. This is the kind of book that gives me hope that child abuse is avoidable if you are lucky to be born in a place where the child’s needs are respected from birth. With Alice Miller´s books I knew what behaviour I should not reproduce on my child, but with Jean Liedloff’s book, I finally learnt what are the needs of the child, and what he expects of his caretakers. And this is very reassuring to know not only what you cannot do to your child, but also what you should do for him to develop as a happy healthy adult. If you have read the book, I would be interested to know what is your opinion.
Thanks a lot.
hi angelique — greetings and thanks for your words. i haven’t read jean liedloff — or i don’t think i have. though i have heard of her over the years. although i don’t know what she said because i haven’t read it, my suspicion is that if she had children (or even if she didn’t) she probably underestimates the real needs of the child and as such is, though probably far less than most writers on the subject, an apologist for inappropriate parenting. i think if people really get the deeper needs of the child they would be far more hesitant to have children or suggest that it’s basically ever okay, especially in this totally screwed up modern world….. all the best — and thanks again for your comment — daniel
Thank you for a hopeful and realistic view on this work. It resonates completely with me.
Unfortunately I must agree that you might never heal fully. But, it would be possible to heal if we had a mental health profession with the courage to face its own corporal punishment issues. Here is a copy of one of the last posts I made on Alice Miller’s website in 2006. I wrote it under the name I was given which I since changed to Jack Rainbow. Here is the URL:-
This is the text:
Surviving Childhood Corporal Punishment
Sunday January 29, 2006
From: “Duncan Mcdermott”
Is anyone interested to Correspond with me about Corporal Punishment and its consequences?
I’m a Corporal Punishment Survivor aged 55. Throughout my life I’ve struggled to avoid the acting-out inevitable with this kind of conditioning, sometimes succesfully and sometimes not. I’ve had difficulties with alcohol and have been unable to maintain a stable long-term partnership.I had hundreds of hours of 1 2 1 counselling as well as group work. I studied to become a professional counsellor but was obliged to relinquish this ambition when I discovered that the counselling profession is institutionally resistant to exploration or change in respect of Corporal Punishment issues. I could not bring myself to join a profession which uses clients to act out on whiklst talking earnestly about empathy and ethical responsibilities.
I’m very fond of Alice Miller’s books. They tell me what I already knew but hadn’t realised. if only I had found a way to block my feelings entirely, as most professionals have, I could by now have become a well-paid professionalist jackass.
Would anyone like to correspond with me about this or any other Corporal Punishment issue? For example, the islamic terror currently ravaging humanity has its roots in the islamic terror childhood where beating is common. There is the personal question of how Corporal Punishment continues to affect me, much as I tried to pretend otherwise, forty years after the last beating I sustained. There is the question of how to help Survivors of Corporal Punishment by building a therapeutic understanding which is issue-specific. An issue-specific approach is necessary because there is such a virulent common assumption that Corporal Punishment is legally, contextually or culturally justified and the victim is to blame whereas the Survivor of Sexual Abuse does not suffer this insult, the law at least assumes the Survivor of sexual abuse to be entirely innocent of complicity and the fear that they might be in some way to blame is not thus so grotesquely reinforced. There is the question of how and why the mental health profession utterly fails the Survivor of Corporal Punishment. Anyone have thoughts or feelings about these issues they would like to raise with me?
In the event that mental health professionals might reply to the issues I’ve raised, I ask they do so as equals, without talking down to me. I ask them to avoid their usual pretence of having ‘resolved’ their own Corporal Punishment issues and to make a full and honest disclosure, as I have done, as the first step in reconnecting their blocked feelings.
Corporal Punishment Survivor
AM: Thank you for your honest letter, I hope that many readers of my books will want to exchange their experiences with you. Maybe you can once let us know if my hope was realistic. Your action seems to me necessary, especially in your country, where the politicians still maintain that there exists anything like “reasonable ” beatings, and where they refuse to learn the simplest thing that the child’s brain is use dependent; it means that children learn in the first 3 years of their lives violence and brutality or kindness and love.
Jack, I am a survivor as well, if you like to correspond on this topic and related let me know.
It is indeed a wonderful goal to heal before having children. I think, however, that Alice Miller is in line with reality. Considering the fact that it is not happening any time soon, it would be wise to support parents in healing themselves even once they do have children. My book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, is exactly about that (it is in 15 languages). It gives the tools for aware and loving parenting through understanding the mirroring process. Like Jean Liedloff’s book, it emphasizes strong closeness that by itself almost forces the healing to occur.
“It gives the tools for aware and loving parenting through understanding the mirroring process. Like Jean Liedloff’s book, it emphasizes strong closeness that by itself almost forces the healing to occur.”
What is meant, briefly, by “the mirroring process” and “strong closeness”, please? Are you talking about what you do with clients in counselling?
What makes sense about Janov’s “Primal Therapy” is that he seems to have sound-proof rooms and empathetic therapists who will let you cry as deeply as you are able, too. In many therapist offices you have to worry about sounding too loud to neighboring offices and/or triggering the therapist who, more often than not, has not gone down the rabbit-hole s/he expects you to.
Janov also seems to be more “real medicine”-oriented now in terms of monitoring vital signs during sessions.
He also seems to be more “gentle,” encouraging folks to take time, NOT scream or punch pillows just to abreact. He thinks gentle sobbing, for example, goes deeper that “performance screams.”
Still, I’m put off by his absolutisms: only his Institute, only his therapy, only abject soundings into the depths will cure us. Plus it’s no longer just early childhood. He talks about in utero traumas. What next: sperm and egg “consciousness”?
If his therapy is correct, why can’t it be replicated elsewhere? What good is a polio vaccine that only the rich or independently-wealthy can obtain?
Art’s “emotional cure” has its attractions. The trouble is, he has no control group. He has no comparison to, say, a “placebo” therapy. What if some therapists just told patients they were good, held them when they cried, and said, “Go out there an get ’em, Tiger!”?
Is a therapy effective if you still are doing it after 50 years?
Does he really think new experiences have no effect? Doesn’t nothing ever change for the unloved child who is later loved?
The cult-like aspect troubles me. It’s like AA folks canonizing every thing Bill W ever said, forgetting he changed over time…like welcoming drug addicts to meetings. Do people think, with all the subsequent medical and psychological advancements, that Bill would not have changed his outlook and healing methods?
I don’t like CBT like I don’t like “meds-only” therapies. They both ignore feelings. And I’m not talking about surface feelings; the deeper ones. For example, a lot of men feel more comfortable showing anger because they fear being vulnerable. Yet often times, anger gives way to tears as the grown “king of the corporate world” gets in touch with his childhood pain and feelings of impotence. Just like Citizen Kane died alone, pining for his beloved sled, the one he’s happily ridden when younger.
Arthur Janov (“primal scream”), like Alice Miller, stresses the importance of feelings. The problem I have with him is that Art apparently thinks only HIS therapy at HIS institute can free people.
Even if true, how many on Earth can afford to move to California? How many would have to work at soul-crushing jobs while there? Plus he admits his views and practices per Primaling have changed (sometimes radically) during the past 50 years.
I’m reminded of the short story wherein a surgeon keeps trying to remove a birthmark from his “nearly perfect” wife. He keeps going and going until he literally kills her with his pursuit of perfectionism.
Why do so few therapies stress “good enough” living? Is it a financial scam a la Scientology to con adepts to spend more-more-more money to feel ever-closer to “perfection”? Is that perfection really just the experience of being loved?
I think many childhood traumas resulted from not having someone (the archtypical “granny”?) hold and soothe us when suffering. No manual was needed, dictating how long we needed to be held, at what room temperature, with x-amount of force. Being held and kissed and rocked was enough.
That is, most mental ills were cured instinctively by caregivers soothing us “naturally.” Yet so many therapies, like Art’s, sound like cults. Like only he can cure. Only his techniques work. And just when you think you’re cured, there’s more work to be done.
It sounds unreal and unhealthy. And YET: there is a certain absolutist “appeal” to someone like me…raised in a strict religion like Catholicism. It, too, taught that no amount of perfection was enough. There were always new sins to atone for. New acts of contrition. And mind-warping messages that Jesus loved us “Just like we are” despite being heathen sinners constantly hectored to wear hair-shirts.
I agree with Christopher Hitchens. God seems like an abusive parent: arbitrary, vindictive, narcissistic, vengeful. He is irregular when dispensing love and a serial-killer when it comes to meting out merciless punishment.
I wish someone offfered “good enough living” therapy without sounding naive or hippy-dippy. You know, like advice to find what makes you happy and do more of it. Avoid nay-sayers. Etc.
I suppose the problem with that is if you didn’t experience consistent love as a child it’s hard to know what or who to trust. The key, I think, is for therapists to sincerely note your pain while being able to build up our true, positive, loving selves. In my own experience, I found either pie-in-the-sky “walking affirmation billboards” or cynical “Great Santinis” who mask their sadism with “tough love” dictums.
I hate “sink or swim” advocates because they tend to ignore all the dead bodies. They also are blind to people often going into shock to cope. Such shrinks don’t see that patients can act like performing seals by simply not feelling. Wounded people can be like combat vets: performing extraordinary acts while emotionally numb.
I’m not going to therapy or counselling either, mostly because I have lost faith in other people even being aware of emotional cruelty, and secondly because I can;t afford it.
Now I just rely on myself to take interest to look at my emotions, but it’s easier said then done.
The more I ignore my feelings, the deeper I spin into addiction and the more I fear my emotions, it’s like it reinforces itself.
But I guess Alice Miller was right, it’s this fear of just taking a look at what is behind my symptoms that prevents me from realizing things about my life emotionally.
And until I just take a look and realize I have nothing to fear, I paradoxically, go on to fear dangers that are not even there?
It only goes to show what early abuse and beatings do to someones emotions and mind, even after decades I still fear my parents emotionally in the sense that I still somewhat fear to justify the anger and resentment I feel against them.
If you don’t find any therapists or an enlightened witness, I wish you lots of good luck in looking at your emotions by yourself. Logically the end goal is being able to stick by our emotions on our own, but since our emotions have such a difficult history behind them we could do with some support from these enlightened witnesses, and Alice Miller helped me tremendously by being my enlightened witness when she finally exposed the truth for what it is.
Alice said often what you needed to start the ball rolling was state WHAT happened. Trying to figure out WHY often led to “understanding” abusive parents. Whether a driver intended to run you over or not, YOU till have a broken leg to deal with.
It’s also hard to “emote” alone. Kids cry best when they are held, comforted, and feel safe. How are abused kids, punished for emoting, grown into adults going to easily express feelings they spent their formative years stuffing?
We all need help. Not all of us guess. Some tend to say we need nothing, the better to continue stuffing their own pains.
It’s fun to do some things alone. More often, it’s “funner” to do things with people we love, who love us.
I think it’s a pretty strong criticism of the book when your mother owned (and read?) a copy but still inflicted harm. It proves that reading this book will not necessarily make you a good parent, some other conditions are necessary. It could be that she didn’t understand or agree with the concepts or maybe failed to practice them, but this is a grey area.
Books can be guides or excuse-makers.
Reading MEIN KAMPF will not, in itself, make you into a monster. On the same hand, quoting the Bible doesn’t make you righteous. Just because a parent “reads” Alice doesn’t mean they are as introspective, caring, etc. as she was.
Micheal you will be shocked to know that the bigger irony is that Alice Miller was an abusive mother herself. I was very shocked to learn it a few moments ago.
.I was quite shocked to find this recently….http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/books/.premium-1.604326 . I know Alice Miller is one of your inspirations, but did you know of this? “The Trauma of a Gifted Child Whose Mother Was Alice Miller” Martin Miller believes his mother, the late, world-famous psychologist Alice Miller, was a great theorist, subjected him to emotional neglect and abuse. Now he’s written a book about it. read more: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/books/.premium-1.604326“
you’re postponing having kids until after you finish your ‘working through.’ how will you know when you’re done? it isn’t clear to me how we can tell we’ve finished grieving and stuff. i don’t want to harsh your mellow or anything, but gaining freedom from all your little neuroses seems like the type of elusive goal that always seems *just* out of reach.
i.e. one could accidentally spend years telling themselves that they’re almost there (and indeed move incrementally closer to their goal every week), yet wake up one day a decade later and realize they missed the most important opportunities of their lives due to their pursuit of the unattainable. Especially when it comes to having kids…
so i guess do you think it’s possible to fully eliminate every trace of your abuse to the point that you really don’t pass any of it on to your kids? i doubt that anyone can completely erase the footprint of their parents’ abuse, no matter how good their therapist is. i’d really like to hear your feedback about this point. if ‘total freedom’ is in fact unattainable (as Miller implies), it leaves the big question of “where do i stop, and what next?”
well, actually i’m not planning on having kids at all. the world is too screwed up and overpopulated. i think shooting for full healing is a great goal — and if lots of people did it, and didn’t have kids, the face of the world would change. then maybe i’d change my point of view a bit.
thanks for posting! daniel
The important thing is that the public generally are alerted to the fact that they have no chance whatever of getting to see a mental health professional, counsellor or whatever, who is not acting out their personal issues. Counsellors are sup[posed to have ‘supervision’. This means meeting to discuss their clients’ and their own issue usually once a month with another jackass qualified in ‘supervision’, but who is inevitably acting out their issues also. Counselling is OK on a late developing emotional issue, like maybe getting over a physical illness, bereavement or work redundancy. For deeper earlier developing emotional trauma, counselling is worse than useless, it is destructive and invalidating. This is a message central to Alice’s work and she has been very clear about it. The problem becomes apparent for those of us trying to ‘heal’ so that we can ‘move on’ with out lives when we have to accept that it is not possible to work through emotionally all the issues driving us unconsciously and we thus have to examine why we cannot , why we must live in the shadow of what was done to us by parents, teachers and other adults in our childhoods. Does anyone here think going to a CBT therapist for help with very early developing childhood issues would really be helpful? Does anyone really believe its possible to heal without a therapist who knows the emotional road well enough?
I second this,
Nothing left to say really except for maybe that we are not “free” to feel our emotions, as long as we allow ourselves to be controlled by our “internalized parents”. We need that emotional space, and what happens mostly is that we feel guilty for putting our of feelings before that of our parents (or other people, councillors in this case).
My mother constantly expects me to deal with and listen to her anxieties and worries, it drives me nuts inside, but I feel guilty for ignoring her. So I push my own emotions aside, and listen to her and her troubles, but in the process, I neglect my own emotions and troubles, and get used to ignoring myslf again, as I have learned to do so well in childhood.
The vicious cycle starts all over again, and the only place I really feel “free” to be myself is in extreme addiction. Only now have I realized that my mom is refusing to take responsibility for her own emotions, and involves me in her self deception, while I pay the price for it out of guilt and compassion.
But now I can see that enough is enough, now I put myself first and I no longer feel guilty for doing something as simple as listening to my emotions.
Maybe it would look simple to a person who from birth were allowed to be themselves with all of their emotions.
Compared to me, who had to always change myself to please my parents and meet their expectations in the hope that I would be finally validated, all along denying the pain that I am being manipulated all because my parents refuse to deal and take responsibility for their own childhood pain.
As Alice Miller said, this so called “love” takes a toll on everyone involved. Now I would rather ignore my mother when she expects me to take care of her emotions again, it sends the message to her that she is responsible for her own emotions, and then usually the chaos fades away and she leaves me alone. It’s win-win.
Compared to previously when we both were racked by anxiety, stress and a sense of not being able to “be yourself”?
Have you done deepwork, as in Primal Therapy, or the work of Theresa Alexander Shepherd?
I haven’t really had the chance to do it.
Here in the UK if you’re seeking so called “mental health” services at the NHS, all you pretty much get is CBT, because it’s cheaper for the government.
Before that I did counselling, but as you expect it only scratches the surface, and even when I showed my counsellors how my parents just plain wronged me, she still told me to take a “balanced view” of the situation, and that I couldn’t see my parents “good intentions”?
Unless I have the money to seek therapy outside of the NHS, privately (which I don’t), I just use Alice Miller’s books to guide me, but even then, it only touches the intellectual level most of the time.
Until I feel “ready” to listen to my feelings, that’s when the real change happens, and that’s when I start to notice all the little ways in which I have learned to invalidate, ignore and neglect myself, simply because this is how my parents taught me to treat myself for their convenience.
Fortunately, I have found one “enlightened witness”, a person who also knows about Alice Miller, and who is interested in my emotions and my childhood, but I can only do this over email, I have no real enlightened witnesses in real life, I tried it with my friends, but they are stuck in the exact same rut I am?
Until I can afford therapy, I trust myself that I listen to my emotions as much as possible, and continue to read Alice Miller when I feel that I need some guidance again.
But I agree with you, I absolutely despise the “short term” mentality present in CBT and counselling, you’re absolutely right, how the hell can anyone expect to face such unpleasant and difficult emotions when the very person who is supposed to provide that help, has never even dared to touch these emotions?
Where the hell could you expect to find a place where you feel “safe” or supported enough to even start facing these feelings step by step?
I have lost complete faith in any sort of mental health services here in the UK, and I think that I have done the right thing to not go on a wild goose chase for the right therapist, for the time being, I can face my emotions, but I honestly do wish I had a good therapist, so that it would be much easier to stop myself from falling back into addiction and self deception from time to time.
How has it gone at your end? Found any good therapists?
My experience of therapy in the UK is much the same as yours – if you’re poor you are offered the insult of CBT which is a dangerously invalidating procedure. I was offered a 6 week short counselling programme at the local MIND with an Integrative trained counsellor, but left after 3 weeks holding a lot of unexpressed feelings which he was unable to discuss with me because of his own difficulties around the same issues as mine. He stated that he was concerned to avoid bringing his personal feelings and issues to the counselling and could therefore not make any value judgements., for example that any particular behaviour to a child is either wrong or right. He was of course, unable to make a judgement in terms of what had been done to him either. He was unable to judge that it was wrong of his parents to have assaulted him, for example. He had theorized his feelings almost to extinction. He was attempting to prevent me also from making judgements about my parents because of the feelings such a topic awakened in him.Can you say how you felt when your counsellor took your parent’s side against you by advising you to take a balanced view?
This is what pisses me off!!
Your counselor should not have gotten a job in counselling if he is unable to do something as simple as providing a space to for their client to explore their emotions.
I think he didn’t want to do two things:
1) He remains “neutral” to what you suffered, so that his superiors don’t fire him from his counselling job.
2) He obviously had an abusive childhood himself and hasn’t fully come to terms with this before becoming a counselor and providing people with the false hope that he could help other people overcome their abusive childhoods.
So in these two ways he is skirting his responsibility, and in all honesty, he should not be working there in the first place.
But I’m not surprised really, childhood abuse and emotions are always pretty much ignored in favor of empty theories in psychology.
I thought about becoming a counselor myself, but I am already put off from my own experiences of seeing one. My next hope is becoming a psychotherapist, but ultimately I want to achieve what Alice Miller has done, but I don’t know which way is best?
Of course all of this is useless if I can’t face my own childhood myself, then I become like these counselors we both used to visit.
Offering false hope to my clients that I could finally help them find a way to deal with the emotions the have avoided all their lives.
“Can you say how you felt when your counselor took your parent’s side against you by advising you to take a balanced view?”
I went to counselling in the hope that my counselor could finally recognize the way in which my life pretty much came to a halt, as a result of my parent’s treatment, and then as a result of my denial of my difficult, but very important emotions.
I hoped that I would finally be able to feel all those emotions I was so scared of feeling for YEARS. I hoped that this time, I wouldn’t be alone with such scary feelings, I hoped I would have my counselor by my side to guide me through these feelings.
But all those hopes were CRUSHED, when my counselor insisted at every turn, that my parents meant me no harm and always wanted the best for me, no matter what they did.
Even when I showed her that I suffered from this treatment, even when I was distressed, my parents were innocent.
So really, my counselor offered nothing new, as I already had such a mentality since I was 12.
I was utterly disappointed in building such an immense false hope, and from then on I just had to go my own way, luckily, I found Alice Miller.
But all of this just pisses me off really :(.
The vast majority of counsellors have done grossly insufficient emotional work. In the trade it is considered of the utmost importance to keep one’s personal issues separate from the client’s. However, their feelings are still operating inside them when I or any other client speak about our deep issues. I have observed with amusement thier struggles to remain impassive and listening as their own issues arise in them as mine have in me. The counselling then becomes a battle, a struggle by the counsellor to maintain separation and my struggle to be listened to impartially and empathically. The counselling at that point becomes for the client a horrible experience – the counsellor is repressing his feelings just as the client’s parent/teachers did – and there is no spare room to let those feelings out to a man who is gripped by his own trauma. Forget about having children, the big problem is to train the counselling profession adequately and stop their assholery. The foundation of the destructive relationship between client and counsellor is the counsellor’s FEAR.
Jack, this is so true! The level of technical training or the school of thought the counselor subscribes to is of limited importance – the real issue is whether the counselor has done his/her own work and can keep his/her own crap out of the road! Sure, they are taught this intellectually, but I think Alice’s most important point is that intellectual understanding counts for almost nothing when it comes to emotional healing. The counselor has to be there in the way that the parents were not, to be available and literally need nothing from the client. This is never quite totally possible, but the counselor needs to at least be able to honestly recognize when his/her issues arise and to put them aside or else consider them as information about what the client is trying to communicate. Any time the counselor reacts unconsciously out of his/her own needs, the counseling becomes harmful.
There is no means of ‘putting aside’ my feelings, Steve. My feelings are either conscious or they are not. When I listen to others speaking of their deep hurts from the past, my own feelings are frequently surfaced. All I can do is make sure that I understand and am aware of my feelings in the context of helping someone else, that these feelings are very familiar to me, that I have surfaced my hurts many, many times. Although for a counsellor to cry when the client brings up deeply traumatic and painful feelings is considered acceptable in the trade, or even encouraged as “congruence”, in actuality it usually means there is cross identification happening and the counsellor is crying primarily for himself. When this happens the counsellor is no longer able to help and the client is on their own. Adequately deepworked counsellors do not cry with the client, they are too busy standing by to help them bring everything to the surface with a soft question, reassurance that its OK to let it out, or just a nod of encouragement. Professional bodies like the BACP are there for the counsellor at every turn to support them in their professionalist denial.
> “gaining freedom from all your little neuroses”
A little harsh, no?
I think the problem is too many of us didn’t have a good “granny” around to hold and comfort us when we suffered. That simple act heals sooooo much. When you don’t get that simple, timely help we tend to seek a sort of Eden-like perfection.
I have trouble with Janov because he not only says we have to go deep-deep-deep, he now thinks we need to deal with stuff in-utero! If we spend all our time digging into the Past, we never live NOW. We never get good, new experiences to counter and replace sad ones in the Past.
I’ve repeatedly asked him what he considers “good enough” living. He never defines it.
He reminds me of the husband in the short story, THE BIRTHMARK. He finds a small blemish on his otherwise perfect wife and keeps trying to remove it until he inadvertently kills her.
Or like the character in Joyce’s, A LITTLE CLOUD who worried he’d never be successful like his peers. Trying to find the perfect job, mate, car, house, etc.– he learned he’d never really “live.” He was holding himself back. The author never mentions who put the internal brakes on.
Why don’t more shrinks promote “human” living. Like Harry Stack Sullivan’s “buddyship”? That is, find some good folks to go through life with?
Of course, when you’re wounded it’s hard to find, much less trust, “healthy” people.
Thank you for your comments, Rico, they make more sense to me than anything else I remember reading on this page, and I find your perspective very helpful.
I think you are mainly correct, Rico. I also have no idea how to define a good enough state emotionally to have children. I’ve spoken to several survivors of corporal punishment who say they will never have children because they don’t feel able to control the unconscious feelings that drive their behaviour.
-sorry, missed to check for notifications below my comment, so this one is just for that, hope I´m doing it right 🙂 –
I agree with what you say that it’s best to resolve your own trauma issues before having children. I have two children and they have suffered from my repeating patterns from my childhood. As I have been resolving my trauma issues from childhood, they have become more healthy and secure – there is a marked contrast in them and as I resolve my issues I become a better parent. I’m afraid many of us were not aware of how our parents abuse affected us and therefore were not aware of what we needed to address before having children. Sometimes the act of raising children is a catalyst for such recovery. This is hard for you to hear because of your own childhood abuse. Life is not black and white and we can’t always control these things. I don’t believe your point of view on this topic is rooted in reality. It is Pollyanna thinking.
greetings. you wrote: “Sometimes the act of raising children is a catalyst for such recovery.” i agree that this is true — i often hear parents say this. but i see this as people using their children for their own growth…..and then using this as a rationalization to justify their having had kids in the first place. that’s not to say that parents can’t learn things and become better parents as the result (and that this isn’t good — because it is certainly better than not learning!!) but to me it doesn’t justify less conscious people having kids.
also, what you write is not hard for me to hear — and i’ve heard it a lot. i think the issue is that we don’t agree. and i see it as easy and risks being dialogue-ending to say “you can’t see it because you were abused.” that said, i am glad that you posted. good dialogue anyway. all the best, daniel
I don’t think you are correct in stating she repeats herself. Most of her books do break new ground, for example Breaking Down The Wall of Silence in which she seriously criticises the mental health professions for their refusal to acknowledge the truth of their own childhood experiences resulting in their frightened Silence. I found that book to accord almost exactly with my own experience of the Mentally Sick Profession. Be careful of defining healing as something you complete because nobody ever gets perfectly healed, sweetie, not even mother Teresa. I think she did enough in raising awareness that many now wish desperately she had not becasue its brought all their difficult stuff to the surface and threatens them professionally.
I highly agree, and I couldn’t have said it any better!
I have Breaking Down the Walls of Silence too, and definitely goes in on psychoanalysis, politics and the media.
Her newest books like the Body Never Lies and Free from Lies are invaluable to me personally. Of course you could argue that she talks about the same thing over and over, but that’s not true.
She looks at the child abuse issue from new angles and perspectives with each book. Each book views the issue through a new lens. But the topic at hand, the causes and explanations don’t really remain the same, because she keeps adding new explanations with every book.
So I also don’t agree that Alice Miller doesn’t tread new ground in her other books…
I honestly think it’s a disservice to say that, seeing as to how valuable they could be to a person? At least they are to me, I literally still to this day keep reading her books to “digest” them whenever I need more understanding. Because they simply contain very valuable information.
She phoned me once, (must have been 2001). I was confused by a senior BACP counselling jackass. I could not understand what the creature meant by seeming to blame the child.. I asked her in my letter via Virago: “Is he a corporal punishment survivor, do you think?” Then a couple of weeks later she phoned me, out of the blue. “Hello, is that Jack Rainbow?” she asked in a little shrill voice. “Speaking.” I said. The little voice said, “Its Alice Miller.” She said in respect of my complaint about the jackass: “Of course he is! Of COURSE HE IS!” Somehow she spoke in capitals. So now I know, every bullshit counselling jackass I ever wasted money on and was confused by was a corporal punishment survivor, mostly working out their own corporal punishment issues on me.
Woow that’s remarkable!
You’re quite lucky to be able to speak with Alice Miller before her death.
I wish I could still talk to her or send her reader’s mail to get more help with dealing with my questions and feelings. But her books do that more than enough already.
And you’re also right that a lot of counselors and psychologists are caught up by “poisonous pedagogy”, the forgiveness “trap”, the “positive thinking” trap and just plainly suffer from denying and repressing their feelings at the expense of your healing?
Thank god I haven’t wasted anymore time with unhelpful counselors and therapists.
I mean I have been to a counselor once, and I revealed my feelings. But she still blamed ME for what my parents done to me. And I foolishly stayed for a long time with her because I was too afraid to leave and find a new therapist. And also because I was waiting for my therapist to change, rather than rely on myself and my own feelings to cause change?
Ahh god, I have so much more to say…
But well thank you for your wonderful story, it’s amazing!
And good luck with the rest of the stuff too! 🙂
If you can find even one counsellor who takes the side of the child and condemns the parent’s behaviour, please let me know. Counsellors are taught they must not agree with the client in making value judgements, they can say your parents were indeed abusive, but they are not allowed as a counsellor to state that such behaviour is wrong, for example. This common denominator of excusing and not judging abuse as wrong because it permanently damages the child means that they are usseless in helping the survivor of corporal punishment. We who were beaten as children are never able to see the offenders brought to justice, we are never likely to have the satisfaction of seeing those who hated and tormented us punished. This is not true for survivors of other forms of abuse who often see perpetrators of abuse punished. The punishment is not a healthy thing, perhaps (maybe I don’t want my abusers punished, I just wanted them to understand that what they did crippled me for the rest of my life), but it does mean society is on the side of the child, on our side, in those cases. We are still, as adult survivors of corporal punishment, not able to have what was done to us acknowledged even as not loving, let alone as wrong doing. A counsellor telling me it was abuse is, in the face of such massive societal condemnation of the child, therefore worse than useless, it supports the childbeater. Except for this blog, I don’t know of anywhere in society where I would be even allowed to makes such comments and not be insulted as wanting “a pity party”.
Have you not heard of Jordan Riak?
He is a very prominent advocate against spanking and child mistreatment, you should check him out man?
And also I agree with you about the uselessness of counselors…
They never validate what you are saying, they always try to keep “neutral”. In fact, my own counselor also denied my suffering? She never acknowledged that my parents caused me harm? Instead she tried to explain to me the various ways I was guilty of causing such a reaction by my parents? The damage this did, was that I was even further alienated and mistrustful of my own perceptions and feelings? Thankfully Alice Miller has written about this “neutrality” in Free From Lies…
I also made the mistake into thinking that counselors would not be ruled by theories and “treatment plans” and would listen to my story?
Because I never wanted to go to a psychoanalyst/therapist, because I knew that they would not be interested in the facts of my life and my story. But instead would keep the “lid” shut, by distracting and blaming me with their theories? They are more interested in “setting me straight”, rather than listen to me?
And I agree with you that people who downplay this abuse, are effectively on the side of the perpetrator.
And that this widespread denial and repression only tells us that a lot of other people went through the same thing as us, they just don’t recognize it as abuse? They keep denying their feelings of hurt that indicate that they were in fact abused?
And about the issue of parents acknowledging the abuse…
Well even if our parents did completely do a U-turn and recognize, acknowledge and understand what harm they did to us.
Then it doesn’t really change much, we still have to go through all that fear, pain and anger, but the difference is that we are not alone and we can be sure that our feelings are right this time?
My mom was able to acknowledge what she did to me, and I made her understand everything about it. But I still have to go through all those feelings? I think the main problem I have with general society is that like you said, there are very few people who want to look back and accept such unpleasant feelings?
Every time you open up this issue, people want to close the door on you?
It really depends if the people around you are “enlightened witnesses” or people still in the grip of their own repression…
And in most cases, people are drowning deep in their repression…
If ever you make a statement about corporal punishment or its effects and the response is angry, spiteful and ignorant, please give me the url and I will reply to the person validating and re affirming what you have said.
Thank you for your support Jack.
Actually recently I have been on YouTube spreading Alice Miller’s flyers on videos related to child mistreatment. And I have also engaged in some discussions.
There were some people who were on my side, but there were also other people who tried to absolutely deny what I am saying? Sometimes even attacking me in anger?
If you want I could give you my second email address, and you could message me there, so that I could send you some links in the future?
Here it is:
Sorry for the wacky sounding email, I made it when I was 13 years old :P.
Also recently. The Wikipedia page for Robin William’s childhood has been edited?
All talks of his misery in his childhood has been edited out?
Here take a look…
This is the old page:
And this is the new page:
And thank you Jack, you’re a real help. 🙂
I am working my way through Alice Miller’s books. They are very powerful, lucid and profound. In the present day we know that child abuse is rife throughout the world.To my sadness though, I have discovered that she herself was a very poor mother, and an example of many of the terrible acts and behaviour that she so abhors in her writings. This does not invalidate what she says at all, but it undermines her as a person . To be truly effective you need to be the role model in your daily life that you wish iothers to emulate, otherwise your words become yet more theory and merely another intellectual excersise.
I feel her books ( I have read 3 now) are fantastic, but the fact that she was an abusive mother and was unable to prevent the abuse of her son by her husband shows that she was unable to process her own abuse effectively. This shows how important it is to retain a critical appreciation of another person’s ideas. For me it is what you put into practice in your daily life that is
crucial; who at heart you are and how you behave towards babies, children and adults that matters.
Poor Alice Miller did amazing work in pioneering the unveiling of extreme cruelty met out to children , but she failed to live up to her findings. No wonder she was unable to cope with criticism in her lifetime. I am sure she had to be tough to write about her subject given the huge cover-up by even fellow therapists, but to be a truly great woman she too should have been a good mother. After all it’s not so very hard to be loving and kind to your children!
I see what you’re saying.
But what I don’t agree with is a few things…
First is the idea that she couldn’t take criticism well? When did she do that? And why does she have to prove her theory to anyone?
Isn’t is up to people if they agree with her or not?
I guess you have read Martin Miller’s book right?
I will read it in the future too.
Also wasn’t AM like 50 years old or something when she first started to look at her emotions, changed and started writing her books? So before all that she probably was an abusive mother I reckon. I remember her saying that she expected her children to also be able to repress their feelings before she was in touch with her feelings. (The Body Never Lies: Drugs and the Deception of the Body)
And to be honest, personally for me, AM doesn’t have to be a complete “good” role model or something? I don’t follow Alice Miller the person, but I agree with, and use her ideas?
I feel that the mere fact that she made all those books and made all those discoveries at quite a late age of around 50 shows how much we could achieve if we were open to our emotions? We could use all that energy we waste on repressing our feelings on useful things that nurture us?
I am still very young, and I hope to do a lot of work in this field as well, I got my whole life in front of me to do this, and I will put it to good use. 🙂
Are you a truly great woman?
hi jack and anonymous and joy,
i’ve been enjoying this thread, lots of good stuff here. but i don’t see how asking joy if she’s a “truly great woman” is relevant for good discussion. to me, that question borders on personal attack. i think it’s fair for her to write what she did assessing/critiquing alice miller, because alice miller set herself up as an authority on the subject of child abuse and didn’t let on how rotten she was a parent. and about her not taking criticism well, from all i’ve heard she was worse than that: she could be brutal. i’ve heard that from people on her forums and from her son. and my experience of her was similar — she certainly didn’t take my criticism well at all.
i don’t mean to cut off this discussion, i just didn’t like reading what i saw as something bordering on a personal attack.
“…she was worse than that: she could be brutal. i’ve heard that from people on her forums and from her son. and my experience of her was similar — she certainly didn’t take my criticism well at all.”
I have read as much as I could of what Barbara Rogers had to say about Alice Miller and how “brutal” she was…
But I feel that Barbara is just constantly accusing AM for something or the other? She even accused her of being a bully? I mean really?
I could understand why Martin Miller would be angry with his mother, because of what she had done to him before she discovered her emotions.
Also about her taking criticism…
I still think that AM’s ideas have been criticized and dismissed a lot, just like the spanking debate always has been shut down by “pro spankers”.
But I just feel that in the end people will decide for themselves what ideas they agree with.
I am not blindly following AM’s ideas for example, or the person she is.
I just use her ideas because I agree with them.
And she didn’t really advocate for people to blindly agree with her either, but that’s exactly what Barbara Rogers implies when she criticized AM in her article “escaping from the fog of admiration”.
Also about AM taking your criticism DM, I have read this reader’s mail that I believe is about you…
By the Daniel, can I please know which of Alice Miller’s books you have used for your critique of her?
Like have you read all of her books or just some of her books?
hi jdoe — i was clear in my longer essay which books of hers i read — all, except, i believe, the last couple. i read part of one of them, but when i was writing my critique, i believe, they weren’t out yet. as for barbara rogers’ critiques, i’m not really sure. i haven’t followed this.
Well I will check out which books you have used for your review later on.
Also I kind of disagree that Alice Miller repeats herself in her books.
I mean sure it’s the same viewpoints and ideas, but I see her looking at it from new perspectives and in a different light each time.
For example in The Body Never Lies it was all about how our body reacts to repression.
In Breaking Down the Walls of Silence, it is more about how psychoanalysis, the media and politics play into repression.
Anyways, thank you man.
Its none of your business, it was between me and the Truly Great Woman. Do not try to butt in on my relationships with others as your parents and teachers did to you, and do not interfere with my interventions. Stick your nosy punishing, intrusive, boundary-less inner parent right back where it came from, buster.
well, if it weren’t my blog it wouldn’t be my business, but i felt your question to Joy (from 2 months ago) bordered on a personal attack. and since it is my blog (whether i like it or not) i feel a responsibility to say something. i may, however, have misconstrued the meaning of your question to Joy — however, from your response to me, which again comes across as a personal attack, it does suggest that my initial sense may have been correct. daniel
I’m sad to see such aggressive (in my opinion) comments from Jack Rainbow as well, because I think it disrupts the discussion.
WILL YOU butt out and allow this lady to make her own response. A feature of group behaviour is that if someone raises a difficult issue ( and it IS a difficult issue for her) then they tend to gang together against him to “protect” the person who raised it. That is what you are doing. So stop your acting out, sit down and let time pass for her to process my question. Your behaviour is extremely unconscious, very aggressive and stupid, clever though you believe it to be. Your behaviour tells me that personal boundaries were not respected where you learned how to
behave yourself. Being sad results from being hurt in some way and I have not hurt you, so stating you are sad is another stupid lie.
Jack Rainbow, are you angry, because you’d like to be understood?
jack — i see you as having difficulty seeing you come across. again, you’ve written another aggressive post that gets into personal attack. discussion is fine, personal attack is not. here is my dilemma. i don’t want to get into mediating or moderating this kind of behavior. i don’t have the time or energy for it. i ran a web forum some years ago where some of this happened, and i had some more energy for it then. not now. so basically if you can’t be more respectful i have to figure out what to do. i hope you can be more respectful. i don’t want to have to ban you, because i think you do contribute some good ideas, but please stick with the ideas and not the personal attacks. daniel
Another point I find important, is how she says that unexpressed anger from abuse in childhood can stay in us a long long time. As far as I understand what actually stays is a set of unmet needs, the frustration from those is what causes anger. If this is correct then merely expressing anger isn’t going to bring as much healing as identifying those unmet needs so that they can then be satisfied. And a key need among those would probably be the need for empathy, for most people. Does this make sense to you?
Marc, I do think the feelings stay. Whatever couldn’t be felt & expressed (thus, couldn’t be processed) remains, waiting for resolution, for its implied “next steps.” This stopped/interrupted process is a wound that will get triggered by similar situations throughout life, with the original feelings ballooning up as automatic reactions to the present stimulus. How we respond to those feelings will determine whether we make use of the opportunity to heal Now, or whether we resist the feelings and end up passing along baggage to someone else or overlaying more trauma, ourselves.
With unresolved trauma, it’s about re-engaging it when it’s restimulated by something in the present. It’s just a matter of “having” the feelings (re-engaging the frozen energy of the fight/flight response that got interrupted, bringing it to resolution by letting it flow through its process.) It’s what would have happened at the time if we’d had the support in the moment, or if our subsequent signals (various forms of “acting out” as children) had received an optimal response. We would have done our feeling & healing right then or at any number of points along the way, if that instinct to heal had been recognized, supported, and simply allowed.
But anyway, I do think it’s the feelings ABOUT those unmet needs you mention. And yes, it could be the pain of an unmet need for being accurately understood, supported, seen, recognized, accepted unconditionally….
The salient feature of unmet needs and unexpressed emotion (not always anger) I painfully discovered, is that most of it is unconscious and driving my behaviour.
You are painfully mistaken. Feeling is everything. I suspect from your insistence that ‘unmet needs cause anger’ and that identifying and meeting those unmet needs would bring “healing” means that you have not fully contacted those feelings arising in your abuse experience. Nobody ever has all their needs fully satisfied. Hoping for “empathy” from others means you are seeking a solution from other people. To fully contact my feelings might indeed illustrate the extent and details of what needs remain unmet in me, but in re-experiencing and expressing those feelings I can remove them from the unconscious where they have been pustulating for 55 years and they will no longer drive my behaviour. It is not your ideas about your unmet needs that drive your angry or antisocial behaviour, it is the feelings which still smoulder unconsciously inside you. That is the healing process, releasing and no longer holding those feelings is what frees us from them.
Exactly, it’s the repression and denial of those feelings which makes us ill.
Even if we do have unmet needs, we can mourn these if we feel our feelings.
But if we keep denying our feelings, they will just fester in the body.
teacup, Jack Rainbow, JDoe,
Two years later I understand better the points you made about feelings, so I’m hoping the following will benefit people reading this who are interested in healing childhood trauma:
Indeed there were strong feelings in myself that I had been repressing. What brought them out was an intense romantic relationship, and I’ve learned by listening to the Loveline radio show (many episodes from 1998 to 2001 are on YouTube) that this is often the trigger because apparently the attachment mechanism that bonds us mammals to our parents in childhood gets reused in later life to bond us to our mate and our children.
As Peter Levine explains in his work, it was useful to re-enact some of the original experiences and give them an ending where instead of being frozen and powerless, I successfully move my body and take action to save myself.
It was also very useful to make fuller contact with myself as a young child. It’s as if my emotional self, the other half to my intellectual self, is still living inside myself, and I had been mostly unaware of his presence and ignoring him. It helps to think of any feelings I sense, as messages that he sends me about what he needs, so that me, the adult half, can get that for him (i.e. for myself). I now think that what can remain for years is the emotional memory of past events, accessible to my inner child / emotional half but maybe not directly accessible to my intellectual / adult half.
The added benefit of conceptualizing myself as these two halves is that when I am getting overwhelmed by feelings, for example pain and hopelessness, looking at these strong feelings as those of this small child (it helps to look at photographs from back then) rather than my own elicits compassion for him, which brings me relief from the overwhelming feelings (when I’m feeling compassionate I don’t feel hopeless anymore), which then allows me to comfort him (using the physiological cues Stephen Porges describes, such as skin to skin contact and giving myself a hug).
All this has brought me lasting relief, so again, I hope it will bring you peace too 🙂
I appreciate your critique, I am reading Alice Miller’s books and having this overview along with the comments on this page is helping me understand better. I also appreciate and share your desire to do everything possible to help children and to bring about a better world.
My focus is on maximum effectiveness and the following point seems important for this goal. From Alice Miller’s For Your Own Good:
“The child will overcome the serious consequences of the injustice he has suffered only if he succeeds in defending himself, i.e., if he is allowed to express his pain and anger. If he is prevented from reacting in his own way because the parents cannot tolerate his reactions (crying, sadness, rage) and forbid them by means of looks or other pedagogical methods, then the child will learn to be silent.
If there is absolutely no possibility of reacting appropriately to hurt, humiliation, and coercion, then these experiences cannot be integrated into the personality; the feelings they evoke are repressed, and the need to articulate them remains unsatisfied, without any hope of being fulfilled. It is this lack of hope of ever being able to express repressed traumata by means of relevant feelings that most often causes severe psychological problems. We already know that neuroses are a result of repression, not of events themselves.”
What I take away from this matches what I’ve found valuable in the work of others such as Marshall Rosenberg: yes, what happened is important and those facts are unchangeable, but we can still heal, by finding our way to our feelings about what happened and by expressing them.
Especially if we learn to express them fully and accept responsibility for the part of our feelings that comes from our interpretations, in addition to the part that comes from what others do. This would be the difference between “He is a horrible person!” and “I’m angry because I see what he did as unfair, and justice is very important to me.”
Because, as far as I can tell, another way in which we are taught to repress our feelings in this society is by making others responsible for the whole of what happens to us, without recognizing that part of it is up to us, how we take what others do.
Thanks again for your work!
Many of us are unable to take it as you insist. We do not understand what to do with the feelings. Look again at the process by which you arrived at your understanding. Be very careful that you are not allowing yourself to be responsible for what they did to you, rather than how you work with your feelings. You do not have responsibility for your feelings, that is an emotionally repressive mechanism. You have responsibility for your behaviour to others How would you advise we take being, for instance, beaten until we scream and scream and scream? How did you take it?.
I also agree with Marc that it’s the repression from the feelings that causes illness.
My parent’s for example weren’t really that bad or sadistic, it’s not that I still blame myself. But it’s just the facts from what I remember…
But what they did to me still caused harm, and still made me flee into my repression to survive? And this repression still to this day is wrecking my life? That is why corporal punishment or even “innocent”, “mild” spanking can do life long damage by activating the “mechanism” of repression in a child?
It’s almost like playing Russian Roulette…
And when we are blamed for what our parents did to us, this makes us blame ourselves for our feelings behind that repression, and just keeps us further trapped in that repression?
That is why it is important to not guilt trip a person for their feelings?
Like you said, it is the actions that come out of those feelings that should be judged, not necessarily the feelings…
Did your parents love you, do you think?
I did have some good times with my parents and some moments of love.
But overall, what I mainly remember from my childhood whenever I look back at it.
Is just the sheer abuse of power my parents were perpetrating at me, how they neglected me, the beatings, the shouting matches, the way they instilled so much fear into me, the huge amount of guilt they instilled in me and much more of course…
And when I remember that, then I think to myself that my parents thought they loved me, but they honestly don’t even love themselves?
And I don’t love my parent’s for what they did to me, and the lifelong consequences it brought with it? You know, the repression that made my life horrible?
So I could only “love” my parents now, if I want to lie to myself…
If I want to still deny what happened and what they did to me?
I realized I only wanted to love my parents out of hope, rather than that I have genuine feelings of love for them?
But when Alice Miller wrote the Drama of the Gifted Child, she was far from “healed” and she just started on this journey of discovering herself and her feelings.
She even said that she had fears of publishing a book like For Your Own Good, because of the taboo of accusing parents. That is why I don’t read Alice Miller’s earlier books so much, I read her later works like the Body Never Lies, Free from Lies etc.
Because I feel that they are more advanced, and that she more or less has concluded everything. Not only that, but there are far, far more insights in her other books than the Drama of the Gifted Child alone. So I don’t agree that the Drama of the Gifted Child is all you need to read. But I do agree that the first chapter is perhaps the briefest nutshell of her views.
I used to think that the Drama of the Gifted Child was all I needed, but I still felt that it wasn’t enough and so I bought more books. When I compare the Body Never Lies with the Drama of the Gifted Child now, there is like a huge difference between them. The Drama of the Gifted Child is more or less summarized in a couple of paragraphs in the Body Never lies. (In terms of grandiosity and depression only, which was more or less what the Drama of the Gifted Child was about) And it feels like all the pieces of the puzzle are more or less coming together in terms of the “theory”.
I think that if someone would stumble upon Alice Miller for the first time, I would recommend them to read the Drama of the Gifted Child, and then the Body Never after as soon as possible. I even think that the Drama of the Gifted Child is quite bare bones, it still doesn’t explain why people have addictions for example. Or for example it hasn’t addressed the roots of violence and hate. I found the Body Never Lies, far, far more helpful than the Drama of the Gifted Child actually. And I would highly recommend it to anyone
She even said in the Body Never Lies, that even when she had an inkling of the truth when she wrote the Drama of the Gifted Child. She was still on this mission of trying to make other people love her, her friends, partners etc. But she realized that you can’t force this love to come in the first place. It will only establish itself naturally over time, you can only love if you are able to feel all your feelings, even the negative ones. You can only be the person you are, you can never really please someone else enough. It’s never enough. But we do, because we hope that if we finally do the right thing, or say the right thing, that other people will finally give us the respect, love and attention denied from us when we were kids.
This is why we have “false selves”, we become the person other people want us to be, so that we can finally conquer the love, respect and attention for ourselves that we crave so much. But since it’s not really ourselves, it is never really enough and we feel that we have to strive for more. We hope that we will get more next time, perhaps we divorce and look for a different partner. Or perhaps we buy more fancier clothes to make others respect us more. Or maybe we need more money. Or we fall hopelessly in love, believing that this person will give as all we need in life. All our lives, we hope that we get what was denied us by our parents.
“Some parents can only love the mask their children wears.” And hence some people (grandiose ones) can only love the “mask” you wear, your false self. Not your emotions and feelings, not who you really are. And so we can see how lonely people can be if they live their lives without ever getting to really know themselves or others.
And not only that but she has even addressed her lenient attitude towards parents that she had when she wrote the Drama of the Gifted Child. And she even recognized why people love that book so much, because it does let parents of the hook for their cruelty.
All in all, I would say that personally. I find the Body Never Lies the most practical book in terms of an actual solution. Which means to “listen” to your body’s symptoms and signals like anxiety whenever you ignore your emotions. But of course each and every one of her books are valuable in their own right. and they are more or less the same because they address the consequences of child abuse in a different light each time.
For example, in the Drama of the Gifted Child, it was about grandiosity, the false self and depression. In Breaking Down the Wall of Silence, it was about what neglected and mistreated children do whenever they hold power over us (dictators).
So in my opinion what is left of therapy and healing? I think that we need to feel our feelings which we have denied for so long, and trust what they tell us. And in this way a picture about our lives start to form, and we no longer neglect or mistreat ourselves, we learn that our needs and feelings are legitimate and serious. And quite horrifyingly we will discover the ways in which our parents perhaps always neglected and mistreated us.And how morality “guilt trips” us into not feeling this anger against our parents in the first place.
Each and every time we do the opposite, we fall into depression and we create a void within ourselves. This void is the void of the absence of any authentic feelings you have.
And to trust these huge scary feelings, we need someone who listens and sides with us. Who does not tell us that it is wrong to be angry at your parents, or that you should be grateful to your parents, in short all these moral values which make us feel guilty and forbid us to feel this anger and rage in the first place. But this anger and rage will express itself somewhere else, where it is not “forbidden”. Actually it will be acted out, instead of felt emotionally. From boxing to wars, to self harm and self hate. Everything BUT feel it. Because the more we feel it, the more we discover that we are really angry at our parents, for the most part, and everyone fears this because they have never fully felt their fear against their parents. And thus never gotten rid of this fear.
We don’t need someone who tells us to forgive and forget, or to lose ourselves in all kinds of theories and “spirituality” (cough cough Eckhart Tolle :P)
But since everyone more or less is afraid of their own parents and their feelings, finding people like this is so hard in the first place. So we have two choices, we either keep searching for this kind of person. Which is supposed to be a therapist, but even these kind of therapists are hard to find. Or we do the best we can to feel these feelings and understand them the best we can in the meantime.
Also Daniel, I think that it is inevitable that child abuse and it’s consequences are going to become less taboo and more mainstream. Over time society will start to take childhood more seriously, because it affects us for our entire lives. Even if some people want to pretend that it doesn’t. I am also quite optimistic and hopeful about this world wide campaign to end corporal punishment. At least it’s a start, and it shows that there are people out there who have grown up completely different from most of us.
All of this is new. If we would speak against our parents in the 18th century we would be hanged probably. In those ages it was normal to break a child’s will and make it completely obedient, obedience was a virtue. Parents are to be respected at all times, while a child could be treated like a dog if their parents wanted to. “Spare the rod spoil the child”, all that nonsense.
So the forward “momentum” is there, we just need to reach out to each other. And in time the issue of childhood will become less and less taboo than it already is.
Dwayne, that was remarkably and beautifully articulated. If 10% of the planet could be as clear and courageous the survivabilityof the human species would gain a new foothold.
No-one is perfect. No parent is perfect. Perfection is not required.
There is no blame; there is only responsibility. Most parents do a better job than their own parents, for which one can be thankful. All children love their parents, irrespective.
Most of us can heal ourselves (with help) to the extent to have lasting peace within. Forgiveness of all relatives based on some understanding of their lives is a necessary part of this deal. Buddhism calls it detachment.
But one can only forgive what one has admitted to in one’s own psyche, or what one has become aware of by properly facing the psychic pain within.
By forgiving you’re only avoiding facing and grieving your pain. Being aware of it is not enough.
Secondly, there’s a difference between an imperfect parent who makes human mistakes and admits to them and doesn’t make one’s children obey by breaking their will, and the imperfect parent who’s incapable of loving oneself unconditionally, because one hasn’t healed one’s traumas, thus isn’t able to love one’s children that way deep down.
Also, no, most parents DO NOT do a better job than their parents. That thinking is very dangerous. Trauma doesn’t resolve itself in a constructive way. It goes DOWN like an avalanche. Till it stops somewhere with… suicide, infertility, early death and so on. Or even causing genocides, wars like in Hitler’s case. Stress finally destroys the last generation.
Your response is very honest and true, Mr Doe. Please, why do you always put a question mark, its like you are frightened. Your parents never loved you, that much is very obvious.
I can’t see my comment on the website which you replied to?
I don’t know what’s wrong with the site at the moment.
Could you please quote what my comment was that you replied to?
I totally agree with you. Alice Miller helped me feel and face some very unpleasant truths and feelings. However, I also see that my parents did better than their parents. Sure it is important to not deny the pain you went through as a child, but blaming others is not helpful.
I mean, she portrays Adolf Hitler as a victim of his parents. So I suppose he was culprit and victim at the same time, depending on how you look at it? Thinking in terms of culprits and victims will only provoke anger and depression, not a very useful viewpoint.
That does not mean that I want to deny that most parents are pretty shitty. But I find Thich Nhat Hanhs viewpoint more helpful: Your parents are part of yourself. Heal the parent in you and you might be able to heal the parent outside of you.
Maxine, You are unerringly and resplendently perpetuating the pedagogy of Blame, Guilt and Blindness! Please spare us or at least those who have embarked upon a more courageous and conscious path than that you are cementing and spewing here!
“..Sure it is important to not deny the pain you went through as a child, but blaming others is not helpful.”
That is precisely, brilliantly and unconsciously moralizing and blaming! You are behaving at least by your words here like a child who is fearful of lashing out, “blaming”, ridiculing, whatever adjective you prefer for fear of being punished or making sure you project your wise words of wisdom so they can take pause, breathe within and not commit such transgressions.
“Heal the parent inside you so you may be able to heal the parent outside you”
Ah! Once again the deft application of well intentioned, well meaning words of advice and wisdom which in truth is merely the thin veil masking the reassurance of fobbing off feelings, of not gaining access and the reassurance of continued blindness and repression of perhaps your own lack of access and most assuredly your projection upon others!
Greetings from another lifelong Alice Miller fan! Of course, she is no more perfect than anyone else, and I think does really exemplify my belief that while you can heal from childhood trauma and loss, you can’t make it as if it never happened. I was fortunate enough to have gotten started on my healing path well before I had my first child, and it made a huge difference – I can easily see I could have been quite abusive if I had not been to therapy, as I was aware of a towering rage that I experienced when I felt I could not control my son, who liked to wake up in the middle of the night and kept us both up many nights crying and fussing when we wanted to be sleeping. Not sure I’d read Alice yet, but I think I did sometime before that. It occurred to me that I must not have been the only person having this experience, as I was a healthy young man with a supportive partner who grew up in at least a reasonably loving home and had a good education and so forth, not to mention having had some quality therapy. It was very easy to see how bad a parent I could have become in other circumstances, and it eventually led me to become a therapist and ultimately an advocate for abused and neglected kids.
And yet I certainly did some things to my kids that I regret, some consciously, some less so, some I am probably not even aware of. Should I not have had kids? I don’t really think so. My boys are not perfect, but they have a very different kind of consciousness and awareness of themselves that I and most people lack as young adults, and in fact, most probably never achieve. And I have confidence that they, having seen their mom and me challenging ourselves and traveling this difficult path of self discovery, will continue to explore and examine their lives and make yet further improvements on what we were able to offer them. The oldest is, predictably, the least self-aware, but we learned as we went and I think did pretty well by them, including perhaps the most important modification of how I was raised: we encouraged them to let us know when they were not happy with us, and did not leave such discussions unresolved. I think that creating an environment where feelings were openly discussed, where negative feelings and even on occasion bad behavior were acknowledged and accepted as fact, but not sanctioned or denied, set up a process whereby my kids are prepared to do their own healing from whatever damage we may have done. And I never claimed to them that I was a perfect parent or knew what I was doing – I let them know when I was struggling and that I didn’t have all the answers.
So I don’t think I agree that no one should have kids before they have completed their healing, because I do believe it is a lifetime journey for all of us, and it’s never really complete. But I do think folks need to at least START that journey and have both feet committed and on the path before they start raising kids. If they can be honest and humble, and listen to what their kids have to say when they’re not happy, traumatized parents (and that means almost everyone) can raise healthy kids, who can help raise an even healthier generation next time. If those who are on the path don’t have kids, the only ones left are the ones who are totally unconscious, and I fear very much for a world where that is the case.
Thanks again for a great essay.
I’ve rewritten this comment a couple of times now, because I’ve been where you are now, and wanted to share with you what has changed my mind, but I think you’ll find out for yourself when you’re ready.
You might not like hearing this, but you have to accept that you will never be able to fully “heal” from your childhood trauma. There will forever be a hole that wasn’t filled, and lifelong therapy may make this hole smaller, but it will never fully disappear. The “healing process” is about finding the tools to live with the damage, not make it go away. And I know this is a tremendous difficult thing to accept, I still can’t do it myself.
When I read your post I hade this image in my head. I saw a ghost like child, covering a man’s eyes with his hands. The man doesn’t want to remove the child’s hands because he knows that the child will die if he does, and the man thinks he himself will die if the child dies. But the man doesn’t understand that the child was never alive to begin with.
I think your view on promoting the information that people shouldn’t have children before they’re healed, comes from this ghost like child, which represents your childhood hope; that things could have been different “if only..”. “If only Alice Miller had promoted that view, your mother would have gotten her life together first, and then you maybe would have had a happy childhood, then you wouldn’t have suffered and wouldn’t still be dealing with the consequences.”
By holding onto this view of full healing and not having children, you’re keeping your childhood hope, for a better past, alive.
I appreciate you sharing your point of view. I guess I just see things differently. In fact, I do see things differently. I just say to myself, “never say never…” Meanwhile, I am not at all sure that i will never be able to heal my traumas. That’s why i can’t accept what you say. Perhaps I won’t heal them fully, but I would never say never…..and I would never put it down at a theoretical absolute…..especially considering the progress I’ve made and have seen others make.
all the best to you—-
What is your interpretation of healing? What do you think it means to fully heal?
just a moment to write — have to hop a plane to tasmania today….hmm…….. full healing: resolution of all trauma, all grieving done, full knowledge of self, self-actualization……
i think i address this in a lot more detail on the essays on this page: http://wildtruth.net/on-my-basic-pov/
also, i think i write a lot more about this in my book toward truth…just more detail on the same themes…
wishing you the best!
A child hopes for a better present. A child has much less awareness of past that adults. To say ‘I’ve been where you are now’ is never true, not even partially. Bits of a story might seem familiar to you, but you’ve never had exactly that mix. I’ve had counsellors who said that sort of thing to me and I know now it was a lie. Its an arrogance and it has been used too many times to avoid deep listening. Starting your sentence with “You might not like hearing this” is a strict admonitory statement, meaning I don’t care if you don’t like it. What is driving this admonitory persona?
Daniel, thank you for a very interesting and thought provoking essay. I’ve said many times that people should be licensed to have children which is a sort of variation on your theme–my own parents would have faiIed the test unfortunately. And so it goes.
In my observation, it seems a fair number of people who were harmed in some way by their parents, either through abuse or neglect have children to heal themselves. I know two couples in particular where the husband/fathers hated or hate their own fathers and wanted to reproduce to experience a sort of childhood do-over. Note–the choice to procreate is to gain some benefit for themselves. What I see in their parenting is a willful refusal to actually parent in a healthy way–it’s more as if they see their wounded selves in their own child and indulge the child’s behavior to an extreme failing to teach or guide or set limits because to do that triggers some resentful feelings around their own past. In daily practice neither of these people seem particularly happy with this experiment, in any case, promoting the very cascade of misery throughout their family that they hoped to extinguish.
I also wanted to add that I get so much from your videos. You have a lot of what I suspect is hard earned wisdom and I think it’s fantastic that you are sharing it with the world. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in therapy and I would have considered myself blessed to work with someone who is as intelligent, insightful and courageous as you. As you said in one of your videos–hurt people generally know what they need if only they can find the right person to listen. I’m sure you were the right person for a lot of your patients. Keep on doing what you are doing–I look forward to a book from you that blazes new territory for those of us healing from trauma.
I’ve said many times that people should be licensed to have children which is a sort of variation on your theme.
thanks Stella. Good to hear from you — and I appreciate what you write. It makes sense……sadly. Nice to connect!!
Don’t have kids until you’ve done all your inner homework.
The only way to avoid replicating your unresolved traumas on children is to heal all these traumas fully before you have kids.
Having children before you have completely healed your childhood traumas is a set-up for child abuse. It’s inevitable. And it’s wrong.
This makes me so sad, but its true in this sense. I somehow was able to unravel and overcome a lot of heartbreak and abuse that I have experienced. But it felt like unravling and dissolving the heartbreak of aeons within my family line. I fell pregnant before I had a chance to complete my healing and I’ve been a good mother and I’ve made mistakes and I’m proably still making mistakes I’m not aware of. This makes me sad, yet I know my child is so so so much more free and happy than I was as child. It requires an tremendous amount of lucidity and ability to be in the present to be capable of the perfect parenting you describe. Is it possible? Some say yes, some talk of Nirvana. Yet I don’t think this way of being is encouraged to coexist with our or any culture/ society, which requires repression and opression in order to exist. What you talk of would lead to an utopian society (if you could even call that) that has never existed on this planet before.
I would like to belief, that in a mental and emotional evolution, the work I have put into my healing will be continued by myself as well as by my child, so that further down the track we reach this goal of utopia. Otherwise humanity would just die out like another species, but a mad and mentally wounded one (would that be tragic?). We need to take responsibility for how we act and what we inflict upon another. We each need to take responsibilty for our own healing. And we need to grow comfortable with our vulnerability and mortality. Everything else leads to heartbreak and destruction.
thanks Tamy. good to hear what you share. you said, “What you talk of would lead to an utopian society (if you could even call that) that has never existed on this planet before.” Yes — that’s what i’m hoping and working for…………… Daniel
Your critique presumes that people are aware that they need help/healing. My abusive mother still maintains she did everything right and in our best interest. Once you are conscious of the pain, you’ve already come so far in not repeating the abuse. I wasn’t fully healed when I had my son but I didn’t repeat any of the abuse because I was conscious of how my childhood had hurt me. Healing will likely take me way longer than my child rearing days will give me and I’m grateful I had a child when I did.
certainly being aware that one needs help/healing is a great leap forward…but it’s not enough to stop a parent from abusing their children. it’s just that generally the abuse takes a different form, often more subtle, often less intense, but in my experience still definitely there.