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Article on Hitting Children -- "Every smack is a humiliation."
Alice Miller was trained as a psychotherapist. In 1979, after twenty years of practicing psychoanalysis, she decided psychoanalysis was not the best way to help people. She came to believe that it would be more helpful to write about the parent-child relationship. She wanted people to see how parents and teachers unintentionally damage children, even when they believe they are acting in the best interests of the child. She wanted people to see how the belief that hurting children is good for them has been perpetuated from one generation to the next.
Until her death in 2010 she was one of the most articulate children's advocates in the world.
|Every Smack is a Humiliation-- A Manifesto by Alice Miller
Few insights gained in the last 20 years are so securely established as the realization that what we do to children when they are small, good things and bad things, will later form a part of their behavioral repertoire. Battered children will batter others, punished children act punitively, children lied to become liars themselves.
In the short term, corporal punishment may produce obedience. But it is a fact documented by research that in the long term the results are inability to learn, violence and rage, bullying, cruelty, inability to feel another's pain, especially that of one's own children, even drug addiction and suicide, unless there are enlightened or at least helping witnesses on hand to prevent that development.
When laws prohibiting corporal punishment were launched in 1977 in Sweden, 70% of the citizens were against it. In the latest survey, 20 years later the figure has dropped to 10%, most of them fundamentalists. These statistics show that the mentality of the Swedish population has changed radically in the course of a mere 20 years. A destructive tradition, upheld and acted upon for thousands of years, has been done away with thanks to this legislation. Where is the rest of the world?
The claim that mild punishments (slaps or smacks) have no detrimental effect is still widespread because we got this message very early from our parents who had taken it over from their own parents. Unfortunately, the main damage it causes is precisely the broad dissemination of this conviction. The result of which is that each successive generation is subjected to the tragic effects of so called physical "correction."
Fundamentalists propagate beating children because they disavow their own painful experiences and are unaware of the fact that they are using children as scapegoats. It is imperative for us to launch this kind of preventive legislation in the major countries of Europe and the USA before the fundamentalists gain any further control of the political arena. It is designed to have a protective and informative function for parents. It does not set out to incriminate anyone.
Sanctions deriving from it could take the form of parents being obligated to internalize information on the consequences of corporal punishment, in much the same way as drivers of motor vehicles are required by state law to be familiar with the highway code. In the case of our children, the point at issue is not only the welfare of individual families-- the vital interests of society as a whole are at stake.
Physical cruelty and emotional humiliation not only leave their marks on children, they also inflict a disastrous imprint of the future of our society. Information on the effects of the "well-meant smack" should therefore be part and parcel of courses for expectant mothers and of counseling for parents.
Hitler, Stalin, Mao and other dictators were exposed to severe physical mistreatment in childhood and refused to face up to the fact later. Instead of seeing and feeling what had happened to them, they avenged themselves vicariously by killing millions of people. And millions of others helped them to do so. If the legislation we are advocating had existed the time, those millions would simply have refused to perpetrate acts of cruelty at the command of crazed political leaders.
(This text can be distributed and published by everybody to disseminate the information as widely as possible. Alice Miller)
|Notes from: For your own good:
Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of
Summary of what this book is about:
The ways we and our parents and grandparents were raised is abusive, humiliating and dehumanizing.
This kind of abusive child-rearing has been supported by the church, by the schools and nearly everyone in society for generations.
To be healthy we each need to become aware of how we were abused by our parents.
If we do not become aware of it and if we do not face the painful feelings which have been repressed, we are likely to turn into violent or self-injuring adults.
Leaders who have been responsible for mass deaths were abused as children.
Many adults want to believe their parents were perfect, flawless or "good parents." As children they accepted their parent's explanation that they were being punished, hurt, etc. "for their own good."
While growing up they were never allowed to express their resentment towards their parents or teachers when they were punished, criticized, humiliated and over-controlled. The expression of resentment was not permitted by anyone in society due to the "Honor they parents" trap.
Because their resentment could not be directed towards its natural sources, other targets were found. These targets first included animals and other children, then became other authority figures and minority groups.
As adults they continue to believe their parents were "good parents" and that the things their parents did were necessary, since it would be too threatening to think otherwise. They continue to protect their parents and their own image of their parents.
As these adults become parents themselves, the repressed resentment also becomes directed toward their children, who are powerless and dependent. [I would say the parents try to fill their unmet emotional needs through their children.]
Miller also writes that most traditional psychotherapists have not fully felt their own childhood pain, nor have they acknowledged how their own parents have hurt them, therefore they are not able to really be of help to their clients.
She says it is not helpful or practical to try to forgive someone before we have completely acknowledged how they have hurt us. (I would add that it is most helpful if confront them, rather than forgiving them unilaterally)
Some direct quotes:
"It is not the psychologists but the literary writers who are ahead of their time. In the last ten years there has been an increase in the number of autobiographical works being written, and it is apparent that this younger generation of writers is less and less inclined to idealize their parents. There has been a marked increase in the willingness of the postwar generation to seek the truth of their childhood and in their ability to bear the truth once they have discovered it." p 278
[+ some of us possibly have more time now to reflect on things we can support ourselves with fewer hours of work & society is generally richer. SH]
She then gives some examples of writers who have written about their own parents and says such writers are displaying "an authenticity and honesty unknown heretofore." Next she says:
"I see great hope as a step along the road to truth and at the same time as confirmation that even a minimal loosening up of child-rearing principles by enabling at least our writers to become aware. That the academic disciplines must lag behind is an unfortunate but well-known fact."
"In the same decade in which writers are discovering the emotional importance of childhood and are unmasking the devastating consequences of the way power is secretly exercised under the disguise of child-rearing, students of psychology are spending four years at the universities learning to regard human beings as machines in order to gain a better understanding of how they function. When we consider how much time and energy is devoted during these best years to wasting the last opportunities of adolescence and to suppressing, by means of the intellectual disciplines, the feelings that emerge with particular force at this age, then it is no wonder that the people who have made this sacrifice victimize their patients and clients in turn, treating them as mere objects of knowledge instead of as autonomous, creative beings. There are some authors of so-called objective, scientific publications in the field of psychology who remind me of the officer in Kafka's Penal Colony in their zeal and their consistent self-destructiveness. In the unsuspecting, trusting attitude of Kafka's convicted prisoner, on the other hand, we can see the students of today who are so eager to believe that the only thing that counts in their four years of study is their academic performance and that human commitment is not required.
"The expressionistic painters and poets active at the beginning of this century demonstrated more understanding of the neuroses of their day (or at any rate unconsciously imparted more information about them) than did the contemporary professors of psychiatry....
"Children who become too aware of things are punished for it and internalize the coercion to such an extent that as adults they give up the search for awareness. But because some people cannot renounce this search in spite of coercion, there is justifiable hope that regardless of the ever-increasing application of technology to the field of psychological knowledge, Kafka's vision of the penal colony with its efficient, scientifically minded persecutors and their passive victims is valid only for certain areas of our live and perhaps not forever. For the human soul is virtually indestructible, and its ability to rise from the ashes remains as long as the body draws breath.
"When Galileo Galilei in 1613 presented mathematical proof for the Copernican theory that the earth revolved around the sun and not the opposite, it was labeled "false and absurd" by the Church. Galileo was forced to recant and subsequently became blind. Not until three hundred years later did the Church finally decided to give up its illusion and remove his writings from the Index. (The Index apparently was a list of banned writings.)
Now we find ourselves in a situation similar to that of the church in Galileo's time, but for us today, much more hangs in the balance. Whether we decide for truth or illusion will have far more serious consequences for the survival of humanity than was the case in the seventeenth century. For some years now, there has been proof that the devastating effects of the traumatization take their inevitable toll on society--a fact that we are still forbidden to recognize. This knowledge concerns every single one of us, and -- if disseminated widely enough -- should lead to fundamental changes in society; above all, a halt to the blind escalation of violence. The following points are intended to amplify my meaning:
1. All children are born to grow, to develop, to live, to love, and to articulate their needs and feelings for their self-protection.
2. For their development, children need to the respect and protection of adults who take them seriously, love them, and honestly help them to become oriented in the world.
3. When these vital needs are frustrated and children are, instead, abused for the sake of the adults' needs by being exploited, beaten, punished, taken advantage of, manipulated neglected, or deceived without the intervention of any witness, then their integrity will be lastingly impaired.
4. The normal reactions to such injury should be anger and pain. Since children in this hurtful kind of environment are forbidden to express their anger, however, and since it would be unbearable to experience their pain all alone, they are compelled to suppress their feelings, repress all memory of the trauma, and idealize those guilty of the abuse. Later they will have no memory of what was done to them.
5. Disassociated from the original cause, their feelings of anger, helplessness, despair, longing, anxiety, and pain will find expression in destructive acts against others (criminal behavior, mass murder) or against themselves (drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, psychic disorders, suicide).
6. If these people become parents, they will then often direct acts of revenge for their mistreatment in childhood against their own children, whom they use as scapegoats. Child abuse is still sanctioned -- indeed, held in high regard -- in our society as long as it is defined as child-rearing. It is a tragic fact that parents beat their children in order to escape the emotions from how they were treated by their own parents.
7. If mistreated children are not to become criminals or mentally ill, it is essential that at least once in their life they come in contact with a person who knows without any doubt that the environment, not the helpless, battered child, is at fault. In this regard, knowledge or ignorance on the part of society can be instrumental in either saving or destroying a life. Here lies the great opportunity for relatives, social workers, therapists, teachers, doctors, psychiatrists, officials and nurses to support the child and believe in her or him.
8. Till now, society has protected the adult and blamed the victim. It has been abetted in its blindness by theories, still in keeping with the pedagogical principles of our great-grandparents, according to which children are viewed as crafty creatures, dominated by wicked drives, who invent stories and attack innocent parents or desire them sexually. In reality, children tend to blame themselves for their parents' cruelty and to absolve their parents, whom they invariably love [I would say 'need' - SH] of all responsibility.
9. For some years now, it has been possible to prove, through new therapeutic methods, that repressed traumatic experiences of childhood are stored up in the body and, though unconscious, exert an influence even in adulthood. In addition, electronic testing of the fetus has revealed a fact previously unknown to most adults -- that a child responds to and learns both tenderness and cruelty from the very beginning.
10. In the light of this new knowledge, even the most absurd behavior reveals its formerly hidden logic once the traumatic experiences of childhood need no longer remain shrouded in darkness.
11. Our sensitization to the cruelty with which children are treated, until now commonly denied, and to the consequences of such treatment will as a matter of course bring an end to the perpetuation of violence from generation to generation.
12. People whose integrity has not been damaged in childhood, who were protected, respected, and treated with honesty by their parents, will be -- both in their youth and in adulthood -- intelligent, responsive, empathic and highly sensitive. They will take pleasure in life and will not feel any need to kill or even hurt others or themselves. They will use their power to defend themselves, not to attack others. They will not be able to do otherwise than respect and protect those weaker than themselves, including their own children, because this is what they have learned from their own experience, and because it is this knowledge (and not the experience of cruelty) that has been stored up inside them from the beginning. It will be inconceivable to such people that earlier generations had to build up a gigantic war industry in order to feel comfortable and safe in this world. Since it will not be their unconscious drive in life to ward off intimidation experienced at a very early age, they will be able to deal with attempts at intimidation in their adult life more rationally and creatively. p 283-284
More direct quotes from Alice Miller's - For your own good.
When feelings are admitted into consciousness, the wall of silence disintegrates, and the truth can no longer be held back. Even intellectualizing about whether "there is a truth per se," whether or not "everything is relative," etc., is recognized as a defense mechanism once the truth, no matter how painful, has been uncovered. (pg 76).
People with any sensitivity cannot be turned into mass murderers overnight. But the men and women who carried out "the final solution" did not let their feelings stand in their way for the simple reason that they had been raised from infancy not to have any feelings of their own but to experience their parents' wishes as their own. These were people who, as children, had been proud of being tough and not crying, of carrying out all their duties "gladly," of not being afraid-that is, at bottom, of not having an inner life at all. (pg 81).
Since authoritarian parents are always right, there is no need for their children to rack their brains in each case to determine whether what is demanded of them is right or not. And how is this to be judged? Where are the standards supposed to come from if someone has always been told what was right and what was wrong and if he never had an opportunity to become familiar with his own feelings and if, beyond that, attempts at criticism were unacceptable to the parents and thus were too threatening for the child? If an adult has not developed a mind of his own, then he will find himself at the mercy of the authorities for better or worse, just as an infant finds itself at the mercy of its parents. Saying no to those more powerful will always seem to threatening to him. (pg 83/84)
Miller still uses the term "rights" rather than needs. (See Rights vs Needs) ; over uses the term "repetition compulsion"; uses a few too many psych terms - like dissociate; attacks people pretty hard- like her attack on psych. students.
|The Drama of the Gifted Child, Alice Miller - */
Originally published in 1979.
Preface: (1986) We are encouraged not to take our own emotional pain seriously. People are admired for their insensitivity to their own pain. It is a virtue in the Abrahamic religious culture (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) She calls this a disastrous cultural trait. (yep)
She says her knowledge and insights came not from her academic training as a psychoanalyst, but rather from "the child in me--condemned to silence long ago--abused, exploited, and turned to stone-- who finally found her feelings and along with them her speech..." p viii
"I was amazed to discover that I had been an abused child, that from the very beginning of my life I had no choice but to totally comply with the needs and feelings of my mother and to ignore my own." p viii
What she is talking about is subtle but extremely dangerous psychological abuse and she says that no one close to her was "capable of noticing or challenging this form of child abuse." p viii
"Had just one person understood what was happening and come to my defense, it might have changed my entire life." p viii
She calls her intellectual conceptual training as a psychologist "false, deceptive and disastrous." p ix
She got in touch with her repressed feelings first through art as an adult. She learned to follow her impulses.
"...the conventional methods of psychoanalysis block the creativity of patients as well as analysts." p ix
She says she wants to help others avoid the slowness of her own path of discovery and for this she has been thanked but also has received much hostility. p x
She realizes that her parents and teachers were not allowed to feel and thus they were convinced and believed what they did was right and passed along their dysfunction without "even the trace of a bad conscience." px
She realized she couldn't change her parents in the slightest, but felt compelled to try to help young parents avoid abusing their power.
She speaks from the child's perspective, because that is where her knowledge came from.
Her discoveries convinced her that:
Direct Quotes from The Drama of the Gifted Child
Our contempt for "egoists" begins very early in life. Children who fulfill their parents' conscious or unconscious wishes are "good," but if they ever refuse to do so or express wishes of their own that go against those of their parents they are called egoistic and inconsiderate. It usually does not occur to the parents that they might need and use the child to fulfill their own egoistic wishes. They often are convinced that they must teach their child how to behave because it is their duty to help him along on the road to socialization. If a child bought up this way does not wish to lose his parents' love (And what child can risk that?), he must learn very early to share, to give, to make sacrifices, and to be willing to "do without" and forgo gratification-long before he is capable of true sharing or of the real willingness to "do without." (pxiv)
A child who has been breast-fed for nine months and no longer wants to drink from the breast does not have to be taught to give it up. And a child who has been allowed to be egoistic, greedy, and asocial long enough will develop spontaneous pleasure in sharing and giving. But a child trained in accordance with his parents' needs may never experience this pleasure, even while he gives and shares in a dutiful and exemplary way, and suffers because others are not as "good" as he is. Adults who were so brought up will try to teach their children this same altruism as early as possible. (pxv)
Taking a closer look, we no longer find the meaning of the word "egoism" so clear-cut and unequivocal. It will be much the same when we examine "respect for others," which is often said to be missing in self-centered people. If a mother respects both herself and her child from his very first day onward, she will never need to teach him respect for others. He will, of course, take both himself and others seriously-he couldn't do otherwise. But a mother who, as a child, was herself not taken seriously by her mother as the person she really was will try to get it by training him to give it to her. The tragic fate that is the result of such training and such "respect" is described in this book. (pxiv)
A little reflection soon shows how inconceivable it is really to love others (not merely to need them), if one cannot love oneself as one really is. And how could a person do that if, from the very beginning, he has had no chance to experience his true feelings and to learn to know himself? For the majority of sensitive people, the true self remains deeply and thoroughly hidden. But how can you love something you do not know, something that has never been loved? So it is that many a gifted person lives without any notion of his or her true self. Such people are enamored of an idealized, conforming, false self. They will shun their hidden and lost true self, unless depression makes them aware of its loss or psychosis confronts them harshly with that true self, whom they now have to face and to whom they are delivered up, helplessly, as to a threatening stranger. In the following pages I am trying to come closer to the origins of this loss of the self. While doing so , I shall not use the term "narcissism." However, in my clinical descriptions, I shall speak occasionally of a healthy narcissism and depict the ideal case of a person who is genuinely alive, with free access to the true self and his authentic feelings. I shall contrast this with narcissistic disorders, with the true self's "solitary confinement" within the prison of the false self. This I see less as an illness than as tragedy, and it is my aim in this book to break away from judgmental, isolating, and therefore discriminating terminology. (pxvi)
As I think back over my last twenty years' work, in the light of my present understanding, I can find no patient who ability to experience his true feelings was not seriously impaired. Yet, without this basic ability, all our work with the patient's instinctual conflicts is illusory: we might increase his intellectual knowledge, and in some circumstances strengthen his resistance, but we shall not touch the world of his feelings. (pg xvii)
Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery and emotional acceptance of the truth in the individual and unique history of our childhood. Is it possible then, with the help of psychoanalysis, to free ourselves altogether from illusions? History demonstrates that they sneak in everywhere, that every life is full of them-perhaps because the truth often would be unbearable. And yet for many people the truth is so essential that they must pay dearly for its loss with grave illness. On the path of analysis we try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth. This truth always causes much pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom-unless we content ourselves with already conceptualized, intellectual wisdom based on other people's painful experiences, for example that of Sigmund Freud. But then we shall remain in the sphere of illusion and self-deception.
There is one taboo that has withstood all the recent efforts at demystification: the idealization of mother love. The usual run of biographies illustrates this very clearly. In reading the biographies of famous artists, for example, one gains the impression that their lives began at puberty. Before that, we are told, they had a "happy," "contented," or "untroubled" childhood, or one that was "full of deprivation" or "very stimulating." But what a particular childhood really was like does not seem to interest these biographers-as if the roots of a whole life were not hidden and entwined in its childhood. (pg 4)
Apart from these extreme cases, there are large numbers of people who suffer from narcissistic disorders, who often had sensitive and caring parents from whom they received much encouragement; yet, these people are suffering from severe depressions. They enter analysis in the belief, with which they grew up, that their childhood was happy and protected. Quite often we are faced here with gifted patients who have been praised and admired for their talents and their achievements. Almost all of these analysands were toilet-trained in the first year of their infancy, and many of them at the age of one and a half to five, had helped capably to take care of their younger siblings. (pg 5)
The Lost World of Feelings
One serious consequence of this early adaptation is the impossibility of consciously experiencing certain feelings of his own (such as jealousy, envy, anger, loneliness, impotence, anxiety) either in childhood or later in adulthood. This is all the more tragic since we are here concerned with lively people who are especially capable of differentiated feelings. This is noticeable at those times in their analyses when they describe childhood experiences that were free of conflict. Usually these concern experiences with nature, which they could enjoy without hurting the mother or making her feel insecure, without reducing her power or endangering her equilibrium. But it is remarkable how these attentive, lively, and sensitive children who can, for example, remember exactly how they discovered the sunlight in bright grass at the age of four, yet at eight might be unable to "notice anything" or to show any curiosity about the pregnant mother or, similarly, were "not at all" jealous at the birth of a sibling. Again, at the age of two, one of them could be left alone while soldiers had "been good," suffering this quietly and without crying. They have all developed the art of not experiencing feelings, for a child can only experience his feeling when there is somebody there who accepts him fully, understands and supports him. If that is missing, if the child must risk losing the mother's love, or that of her substitute, then he cannot experience these feelings secretly "just for himself"but fails to experience them at all. But nevertheless....something remains. (p10) "Recollection, Repetition, and Working Through." Take, for example, the feeling of being abandoned-not that the adult, who feels lonely and therefore takes tablets or drugs, goes to the movies, visits friends, or telephones "unnecessarily," in order to bridge the gap somehow. No, I mean the original feeling in the small infant, who had none of these chances of distraction and whose communication, verbal or proverbial, did not reach the mother. This was not the case because his mother was bad, but because she herself was narcissistically deprived, dependent on a specific echo from the child that was so essential to her, or she herself was a child in search of an object that could be available to her. However paradoxical this may seem, a child is at the mother's disposal A child cannot run away from her as her own mother once did. A child can be so brought up that it becomes what she want it to be. A child can be made to show respect, she can impose her own feelings on him, see herself mirrored in his love and admiration, and feel strong in his presence, but when he becomes too much she can abandon that child to a stranger. The mother can feel herself the center of attention, for her child's eyes follow her everywhere. When a woman had to suppress and repress all these needs in relation to her own mother, they rise from the depth of her unconscious and seek gratification through her own child, however well-educated and well-intentioned she may be, and however much she is aware of what a child needs. The child feels this clearly and very soon forgoes the expression of his own distress. Later, when there feeling of being deserted begin to emerge in analysis of the adult, they are accompanied by such intensity of pain and despair that it is quite clear that these people could not have survived so much pain. That would only have been possible in an empathic, attentive environment, and this they lacked. The same holds true for emotions connected with the Oedipal drama and the entire drive development of the child. All this had to be warded off. But to say that it was absent would be a denial of the empirical evidence we have gained in analysis. (p 11 & 12)
[Miller then lists several types of defenses, including projection and intellectualization and says: ]
All these defense mechanisms are accompanied by repression of the original situation and the emotions belonging to it, which can only come to the surface after years of analysis.
For I would
prefer to have these [asthma] attacks and please you,
In his 1941 book "Generation
of Vipers", Philip Wylie highlighted how slavishly
this culture worships motherhood, scorned how soldiers
spelled out "MOM" on parade grounds, and coined
the term "momism". The book enraged many, but
shook too few awake. Today, Alice Miller would show us,
in detail, how those soldiers - and most of the rest of
us - were, and are still craving the approval, affection
and love denied us by our parents in our childhood. We
are still caught in the illusion that we can somehow win
and/or earn the love from the source that so long
withheld it from us.
Jan Hunt's Alice Miller page: http://www.naturalchild.org/alice_miller/index.html
Jordan Riak's (Nospank.net) Alice Miller page http://nospank.net/milindex.htm
The Malama site on Alice Miller