Saturday, April 7, 2018

We Must Become Our Own Enlightened Witness -- If We Want to Liberate Ourselves

Hi Sylvie,

I've just finished reading your book "A Dance to Freedom" and I just wanted to reach out and thank you sincerely. I've read all of Alice Miller's books and have always wanted to know if there were other people out there who "get it".

I've been in therapy with three different people in my life, a total of almost 20 years and I'm done with therapists. I'm finally free now (at 51) to dive into my childhood and early years without anyone trying to correct my true feelings and make me feel like it's all my fault.

So, thanks to your book, I'm able to do this now. It's only been a week of working every day for an hour or so with my past and honest feelings, but I've been able to start to really understand where my hurt, anger, rage, incredible loneliness, and sadness come from without a therapist trying to 'correct' me. I'm finding my body loves being able to express the rage and express it at the real culprits.

It can't say it's much fun, but it's fun simply because I feel free now to do this. I'm no longer beholden to any group, or person, or even society. I'm single, live alone, and have the time for this deeper work.

Some of the connections (connecting the dots) I've been able to make have been amazing. I want to tell somebody about them, but I really feel I'll be misunderstood and I can't bear that now. I'm too raw at the moment, but I hope one day to share with you my story, if you're interested.

I do think now that society is very hypocritical and incapable of dealing with strong, true feelings. Parents and family are sacrosanct, even today. I'll share one thing I realized:

An adult can live for years, decades even, with an abusive violent spouse and we call it a crime. We sympathize with the victim and offer them counseling and a sympathetic ear. A child may live its whole childhood and teenage years with an abusive, violent parent and we treat it as something part of his past which the child luckily survived. How much more frightening it must have been for the child than the adult. The child is truly and completely defenseless and dependent for its very survival (unlike the adult). It is almost too painful to contemplate, which is exactly why people don't want to make the connection (!)

I've said enough. Thank you for reading my email and thank you for your generous hard work.

All the best,

W

P.S. Your book is sorely needed. If it weren't for your book, I still wouldn't know quite what to do with all of the information I received from Alice Miller. Alice Miller is the tops, don't get me wrong, she had true courage and absolutely brilliant psychological insight. She called a spade a spade.


Hi W,

Thank you for writing and for reading my book!

I keep getting target by sociopaths -- some proclaim to be psychologists -- trying to regress me into the state of the wounded child -- to gain control over me and discredit my book -- they feel threatened by my book because it exposes their lies and the fraud that they are.

It was so nice and refreshing to read your e-mail.

To help people gather the courage and strength to stand alone and find their own autonomy, free to be, to feel their authentic feelings, take them seriously and listen to what their inner self is telling them without waiting for permission from or approval from people standing in symbolizing their parents or their childhood caregivers --- this is why I wrote my book and makes it all worth it when I get e-mails like yours saying my book is helpful to them.

Congratulations on your courage to let go of your therapists and embark on this journey of self-discovery all by yourself without an enlightened witness by your side.

No one should have to be alone when going through the intense or overwhelming feelings of the child we once were without an enlightened witness present.

But more and more every day I come to the conclusion that finding a true enlightened witness is near to impossible. And we must become the enlightened witness to the child within us and liberate the little boy or little girl in us at her/his own speed without someone casting themselves in the parent role -- rushing us or making us feel guilty or wrong for not moving at their speed or the way they think we should.

Yes, I will be more than happy to read your story when you are ready to share it.

I could not agree more with these words you wrote: “I do think now that society is very hypocritical and incapable of dealing with strong, true feelings. Parents and family are sacrosanct, even today. I'll share one thing I realized:

An adult can live for years, decades even, with an abusive violent spouse and we call it a crime. We sympathize with the victim and offer them counseling and a sympathetic ear. A child may live its whole childhood and teenage years with an abusive, violent parent and we treat it as something part of his past which the child luckily survived. How much more frightening it must have been for the child than the adult. The child is truly and completely defenseless and dependent for its very survival (unlike the adult). It is almost too painful to contemplate, which is exactly why people don't want to make the connection (!)”

Reading your words brought to mind these words Alice Miller wrote in her book For Your Own Good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence:


No one seriously doubts that inmates of a concentration camp underwent terrible suffering.  But when we hear about the physical abuse of children, we react with astonishing equanimity.  Depending on our ideology, we say, “That’s quite normal,” or “children have to be disciplined after all” or “That was the custom in those days,” or “Someone who won’t listen has to be made to feel it,” etc.  An elderly gentleman I once met at a party told me with amusement that when he was a little boy his mother had swung him back and forth over a fire she had lighted especially for the purpose of drying his pants and breaking him of the habit of wetting them.  “My mother was the most wonderful person you’d ever want to meet, but that’s the way things were done in our family in those days,” he said.  Such lack of empathy for the suffering of one’s own childhood can result in an astonishing lack of sensitivity to other children’s suffering.  When what was done to me was done for my own good, then I am expected to accept this treatment as an essential part of life and not question it.

This kind of insensitivity thus has its roots in the abuse a person suffered as a child. He or she may be able to remember what happened, but in most cases, the emotional content of the whole experience of being beaten and humiliated has been completely repressed.
This is where the difference lies between treating an adult and a child cruelty.  The self has not yet sufficiently developed for a child to retain the memory of it or of the feelings it arouses.  The knowledge that you were beaten and that this, as your parents tell you, was for your own good may well be retained (although not always), but the suffering caused by the way you were mistreated will remain unconscious and will later prevent you from empathizing with others.  This is why battered children grow up to be mothers and fathers who beat their own offspring; from their ranks are recruited the most reliable executioners, concentration-camp supervisors, prison guards, and torturers.  They beat, mistreat, and torture out of an inner compulsion to repeat their own history, and they are able to do this without the slightest feeling of sympathy for their victims because they have identified totally with the aggressive side of their psyche.  These people were beaten and humiliated themselves at such an early age that it was never possible for them to experience consciously the helpless, battered child they once were, In order to do this, they would have needed the aid of an understanding, supportive adult, and no such person was available.  Only under these circumstances would children be able to see themselves as they are at that moment---namely, as weak, helpless, downtrodden, and battered---and thus be able to integrate this part into the self.

Theoretically, a child beaten by his father could afterwards cry his heart out in the arms of a kind aunt and tell her what happened; she would not try to minimize the child’s pain or justify the father’s actions but would give the whole experience its due weight.  But such good fortune is rare.  The wife of a child-beating fathers shares his attitude toward childrearing or is herself his victim---in either case, she is rarely the child’s advocate.  Such an “aunt” is, therefore, a great exception, because the battered child is very unlikely to have the inner freedom to seek her out and make use of her.  A child is more likely to opt for a terrible inner isolation and splitting off of his feelings than he is to “tattle” to outsiders about his father or mother.  Therapists know how long it sometimes takes before a child’s resentments, which has been repressed for thirty or forty or even fifty years, can be articulated and relived.

Thus, it may well be that the plight of a little child who is abused is even worse and has more serious consequences for society than the plight of an adult in a concentration camp.  The former camp inmate may sometimes find himself in situation where he feels that he can never adequately communicate the horror of what he has gone through and that others approach him without understanding, with cold and callous indifference, even with disbelief,* but with
few exceptions he himself will not doubt the tragic nature of his experiences.  He will never attempt to convince himself that the cruelty he was subjected to was for his own good or interpret the absurdity of the camp as a necessary pedagogical measure; he will usually not attempt to empathize with the motives of his persecutors.  He will find people who have had similar experiences and share with them his feelings of outrage, hatred, and despair over the cruelty he has suffered.

The abused child does not have any of these options.  As I have tried to show in the example of Christiane F., she is alone with her suffering, not only within the family but also within her self.  And because she cannot share her pain with anyone, she is also unable to create a place in her own soul where she could “cry her heart out.”  No arms of a “kind aunt” exist there; “Keep a stiff upper lip and be brave” is the watchword.  Defenselessness and helplessness find no haven in the self of the child, who later, identifying with the aggressor, persecutes these qualities wherever they appear.

A person who from the beginning was forced, whether subjected to corporal punishment or not, to stifle, i.e., to condemn, split off, and persecute, the vital child within himself will spend his whole life preventing this inner danger that he associates with spontaneous feelings from recurring.  But psychological forces are so tenacious that they can rarely be thoroughly suppressed.  They are constantly seeking outlets that will enable them to survive, often in very distorted forms that are not without danger to society.  For example, one person suffering from grandiosity will project his own childish qualities onto the external world, whereas another will struggle against the “evil” within himself.  “Poisonous pedagogy” shows how these two mechanisms are related to each other and how they are combined in a traditional religious upbringing.

 In addition to the degree of maturity and those elements of loyalty and of isolation involved in the case of a child, there is another fundamental difference between abuse of children and of adults.  The abused inmates of concentration camp cannot of course offer any resistance, cannot defend themselves against humiliation, but they are inwardly free to hate their persecutors.  The opportunity to experience their feelings, even to share them with other inmates, prevents them from having to surrender their self.  This opportunity does not exist for children.  They must not hate their father---this, the message of the Fourth Commandment, has been drummed into them from childhood; they cannot hate him either if they must fear losing his love as a result; finally, they do not even want to hate him, because they love him.  Thus, children, unlike concentration-camp inmates, are confronted by a tormentor they love, not one they hate, and this tragic complication will have a devastating influence on their entire subsequent life.

*William G. Niederland’s book Folgen der verfolgung (The results of Persecution) (1980) presents a penetrating analysis of the uncomprehending reception given former inmates as reflected in psychiatric diagnoses.”

You can read more in the link below if you like:

 Wishing you courage and strength and all the best to you too,


 Sylvie