June 7 at 7:52am ·
Alice Miller - The Drama of Being a Child.
OVER the years, I have been reluctant to make any revisions in my first three books—The Drama of Being a Child, For Your Own Good, and Thou Shalt Not Be Aware—because I did not wish to disguise my own life history. But today this wish has taken second place to others that, in view of the enormous readership of the Drama, now seem more important. Most of my readers find themselves confronting their own life histories as they read my books, and I did not want an anachronistic language to stand in the way of that encounter. This book was written seventeen years ago in keeping with the precepts of psychoanalysis, precepts that I have long since moved beyond and today regard as misleading. I therefore have had to revise the text thoroughly, salvaging those parts I still regard as valid and useful while clarifying certain points more than I was able to in 1978.
Since the publication of the Drama, many people have written to me saying that they can trace the moment of their own personal awakening to their reading of the book. It seems to have given them the key to long locked doors, behind which lay the path to their own life histories. Pent-up tears could finally be wept. The strength and similarity of these reactions, despite the diversity of the cultures in which they originated, made it clear to me that the Drama touched upon a universal human tragedy that could not be traced exclusively to Western civilization. I also came to see that this tragedy could not be undone in a single generation.
The tragedy is that of early psychic injuries and their inevitable repression, which allows the child to survive. In a broad sense, it is the tragedy of almost everyone: As children we strive, above all else, to accommodate our parents' demands - spoken and unspoken, reasonable and unreasonable. In the process, we blind ourselves to our true needs and feelings. In our adult lives, this is like trying to sail a ship without a compass. Not knowing who we are, what we feel, and what we need, even as grown-ups we remain subject to the expectations placed upon us from the very beginning of our lives, expectations we fulfilled not for love but for the illusion of love. Without that illusion, we could not have survived childhood.
Sadly, the situation has changed little for today's children. The strong - indeed, growing - interest in the Drama proves as much. What has changed are the avenues available to adults to resolve their problems. Today anyone who is motivated can have access to their repressed childhood history. This is new.
The original Drama expressed the hope that we would one day be able to remedy the repression of feeling and memory with the help of psychoanalysis. This hope has once and for all proved to be an illusion. Indeed, psychoanalysis was specifically created by Freud to conceal childhood injuries, and it continues to serve its purpose well.
Freud dealt with his fear of his childhood traumas by making endless unverifiable speculations, and by denying the possibility of a verifiable access to childhood reality. By doing so, he retarded progress in our knowledge of ourselves, and in effective therapeutic work, for a hundred years. Out of his renunciation of the truth he created dogma. Around the question of child abuse and its consequences, he wove a strict taboo. In psychoanalytic circles, one was obliged to accept the credo that psychic illness had its origins in "instinctual conflicts." Everyone, including the most famous analysts such as Spitz, Balint, Winnicott, Kohut, and others (but not John Bowlby) complied with this taboo. As a result, they could not bring to fruition the discovery of child mistreatments they made in their work. And as they did not have the courage to move beyond the framework of psychoanalysis, they sacrificed the truth for their positions within the Psychoanalytic Association. Sandor Ferenczi, who insisted on the validity of his own experience with patients, was ostracized and branded psychotic.
C. G. Jung, though he did dare to break with Freud, took refuge from his own concrete life history in a world of symbols and suppositions. This decision would not have had any consequences for others if it had remained Jung's private business. But Jung disguised his fear with the help of theories that are still held in high esteem by his followers. His ideas are used today to treat disturbed people in a misleading and dangerous way - people who are told, for instance, that violence is a normal part of our nature, a part of our "shadow," and that we only must learn to "deal with it." With such a theory the confused drug addict and criminal must become even more confused and violent, because he is being betrayed once again. For it is only the suppression of justified rage in childhood that makes a person violent and blind. Nothing else. But to admit this fact would mean to recognize the failures of parents who once (more or less violently) suppressed this rage. If the Jungian "therapist" fears his own parents more than anything else, he uses Jung's theories to sidestep the truth and feels supported in so doing by the whole Jungian community, based on its master's authority. I insist on disclosing the roots of this "therapeutic" indoctrination, because the damage caused by them is absolutely avoidable as soon as the truth can be faced.
Similar "solutions" to personal dilemmas at the expense of patients and students can be found among other recalcitrants, like Wilhelm Reich, who went on to found their own school of thought. I discuss them in my books (see Miller 1984,1990b,1991).
The repression of injuries endured during childhood is the root cause of psychic disorders and criminality. The price of repression and denial in childhood, however necessary to the child, is the symptoms of the adult. A difficult childhood, even the most cruel, doesn't automatically create a criminal. Taking examples like Hitler, Stalin, and others, I could prove that it was not the cruel childhood alone but rather the total denial of this suffering and the flight from murderers. We now know that and we also know how repression can be resolved, via the release of feelings that became blocked at the
time of the original trauma. During this process, the unconscious memories of repressed events, which often drive a person to destructive actions, can be transformed into conscious memories chat remain available to us in the future and allow us to fulfill our real needs in a peaceful way. The blind acting-out comes then to an end.
People undergoing these therapies not only help themselves but are true pioneers, helping others to learn from their exploration about unnoticed, often unconscious, psychic and physical assaults on children—a knowledge that our "collective unconsciousness" has kept secret for thousands of years. These adults will no longer have to escape from something that happened a long time ago, because they no longer have to deny the fact that what is so hard to believe did actually happen.
Our true, repressed life history is stored up in our body, which attempts to recount it and to be listened to, by way of symptoms. This is in fact for our own well-being, as denial is highly destructive to the adult. Demands to forgive and other moral issues do not reach our cells. Cells can, indeed, be manipulated and betrayed by drugs over a certain period of time. In the long run, however, they can only cope with the truth. As soon as the truth can be slowly explored, thanks to the conscious experience of once-repressed feelings, the language of symptoms becomes superfluous. They often simply disappear.
I have described the path to my new insights in Pictures of a Childhood (1986), The Untouched Key (1990), Banished Knowledge (1990), and Breaking Dawn the Wall of Silence (1991). In 1988, I officially broke away from psychoanalysis by resigning from the Swiss and the International psychoanalytical associations. My first three books, originally published in Germany between 1979 and 1981, mark the beginning of this development, for it was only as I was writing them that I began systematically to explore childhood, including my own. Thanks to my work on those books, to my spontaneous painting, and later to the exploration of my own childhood, I could see what, despite my critical attitude toward the drive theory, had remained concealed from me during the twenty years of my analytical practice. It was not easy to escape from the labyrinth of psychoanalysis. It took me fifteen years to accomplish this liberation process: from 1973, when spontaneous painting allowed me vaguely to sense the truth, until 1988, when I was finally able to articulate it completely.
For those who are reading my work for the first time, I would like briefly to address several theoretical and practical issues.
According to prehistorians, humans coexisted peacefully for five million years. Had this not been the case, they would have been unable to survive for that long. Warlike activities are said to have begun only ten thousand years ago, along with the transition, in the Neolithic period, from gathering and hunting to farming.
Since there are no warlike phenomena in nature - and, until a relatively short time ago, there were none in our history - we are not genetically programmed to withstand mistreatment as children. Animals kill their young if they don't want to care for them, but they don't torture them for years. For millions of years in the course of evolution, we have been programmed to offer loving care and protection to our new-born infants, and nature has equipped our young to receive only positive treatment. We do not have a natural mechanism for coping with mistreatment, nor can we erase it from our bodies, as everything that takes place in our lives remains registered in our cells as information. Nature gives us only the ability to anesthetize ourselves when the mistreatment becomes unbearable. Our organism protects itself against the threat of death with the help of repression and denial. We forget the beatings and the disdain, or else we maintain that they did us some good - and go on to engage in the same practices with our children. The protective mechanism used by the child thus becomes fateful for the adult and for our species, for repression leads - out of pure ignorance - to the destruction of our own children and our fellow human beings and to the acceptance of abuse as a normal way of life. It is the dangerous inattention to the childhood truth stored in our cells that makes us act destructively even though we do not really want to do so.
During the early 1980s, a number of nurses working in psychiatric clinics wrote me that reading my books helped them in their work with their patients but that they had to hide this fact from their superiors for fear of losing their jobs. Child abuse was at that time still a taboo subject in psychiatry, even though so many patients had an appalling story to tell. No one wanted to hear it -psychiatrists least of all.
In recent years, numerous books on the subject of child abuse have become available, and numerous concepts have been developed toward healing the consequences of childhood trauma. At last, even the psychiatric establishment has had to recognize that child abuse and its consequences do, indeed, exist. Sadly, however, the old blinders have been kept on, defenses against the whole truth remain almost intact, statistics and classifications are bandied about - anything to deny the fact that all patients suffer from the results of injuries to their psychic integrity during childhood.
In the United States, for instance, it was known in the 1970s that many Holocaust survivors - and, later, Vietnam veterans - were continuing to suffer from psychic aftereffects of the traumatic experiences they had repressed years before. This phenomenon was labeled Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. When the facts about child abuse became better known in the eighties, a link was made between these patients and adult survivors of child abuse; then, in the early nineties, all these people were deemed to be suffering from "Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." They were lumped together in a way that suggested, first, that people who manifested long-range damage from childhood mistreatment were rare, and, second, that their experience was essentially the same as that of people who suffered severe trauma as adults. This association is misleading in two ways: It sidesteps the fact that childhood mistreatment is the primary cause of every kind of psychic disorder, and it implies that the same therapeutic methods can be applied to all trauma victims, regardless of the age at which the injury was sustained.
Even when the number of patients who reported having been mistreated as children turned out to be very high - much to the surprise of psychiatrists, who until recently had denied such a possibility - it did not occur to members of the psychiatric profession to look for a new and more far-reaching system of therapy Such patients were placed in groups and treated in accordance with the principles used for patients suffering from post-traumatic disturbances, in the belief that empowerment by the group and the chance to recount the trauma in detail would be sufficient to free them from its consequences. Apart from the fact that only a small percentage of people can remember and articulate early childhood traumas, such therapeutic methods inevitably prove illusory for all trauma sufferers, except perhaps in the case of essentially stable people who have experienced an isolated trauma in their adult years. The reason such groups are ineffective is that they ignore the specific damage done to the child's whole growing system, especially to his ability to feel and remember. Without having conscious, personal experience of this damage, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals tend to see all trauma survivors as one special category of human being and to look for a method to treat "them" and their sickness.
Some recent movements in the United States have divorced treatment from psychiatry and its limitations. Because of their moralistic and religious leanings, however, which disregard natural laws, they can offer little real help. The so-called recovery movement, for instance, is based on techniques borrowed from Transactional Analysis and Neurolinguisric Programming - the latter of which is more or less an attempt to unlearn ingrained patterns of behavior via manipulatory exercises, ignoring the emotional information these patterns have to offer us. The recovery movement is also infused with spiritual and religious concepts, such as forgiveness and a Higher Power, that seem to be necessary because, ultimately, the techniques offered are of no use and can be of no use. But whether a Higher Power helps in individual cases depends on individual belief, and in that sense what is offered is, at best, old wine in new bottles. Consequently, this movement does not lead to personal freedom and autonomy but rather to group-dependency and conformity, as evidenced by the similarity in the vast literature on the subject of recovery. I think that religious concepts become necessary when real procedures for self-help are lacking, either because they are unknown or just feared precisely because of their effectiveness, radical nature, and revolutionary power.
I am constantly approached by readers with doubts and queries about various "new therapies." My own reading has led me to the conclusion that many of these "new" concepts are essentially recycled old intellectual theories. What they offer are techniques of mental and physical manipulation of one's feelings and one's true history. Many also continue to move within the framework of traditional morality that protects parents at any cost. These characteristics are clearly evidenced in the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Step Program, which has become a model for many others. In all of these "therapies," flight from the concrete facts of one's own personal history is—despite all assurances to the contrary—an integral part of the program. This flight from the facts is further disguised and mystified by a shared "spiritual" vocabulary.
Thus the proponents of the recovery movement offer little help when it comes to repressed childhood feeling and memory. Indeed, they circumvent its emergence with abstraction, preferring, for example, to talk about the "dysfunctional family" rather than confront specific instances of abuse by parents. This is probably because they still fear their own parents, without knowing that they fear them, or why. If they have never themselves experienced the terror of the defenseless child they once were, then why should they be convinced it even exists? This avoidance and denial can be seen in their fidelity to traditional morality, something that any effective therapy could, and should, be able to do without. The indictment of the parents by the child - the victim - cannot be bypassed if the full impact of one's childhood injuries is to be felt. Equally crucial is the retrospective condemnation by our adult selves of the abuse perpetrated by our parents. Only then can we ensure that the victim does not one day become the perpetrator, repeating the cycle of abuse with his or her own children.
A well-known musician, for instance, can assure an interviewer that he has forgiven his father for his brutal upbringing, because in spite of it - or maybe even because of it - he has become successful. The interviewer is delighted with the musician's admirable moral position. His fans are delighted, too, and his record business goes well. But all this success, even in combination with religion, doesn't help him overcome his childhood fears. Otherwise he would not be compelled in his shows to repeat unconsciously the traumas of his childhood; most of his gestures and body stances on Stage seem to depict scenes in which a child is being frightened by sexual molestation and violence. The musician seems to be trying unsuccessfully to discharge his fear, using music and body language to display what were quite possibly the actions of a molesting father. But as long as he insists in denying and not feeling the truth, this effort must be undertaken repeatedly. Alternatively, he may find a child to whom he will do what has been done to him, perhaps in a less brutal manner, and will label this behavior "love," as his father once did. As long as he believes that his father did him no harm, he is likely to remain in danger of repeating his father's deeds.
Therapies that purport to work on feelings have become fashionable today, in contrast to the more intellectually oriented schools of Freud, Jung, and Adier. As far as I can see, however, this "work" has as its primary goal not the experience and recognition of reality but a short-term emotional discharge. It is, of course, a relief to release powerful feelings. But as long as that release is not accompanied by a recognition of the true situation, which makes the intensity of the feelings both comprehensible and legitimate, and as long as the truth is avoided, as is the practice in many programs that preach forgiveness, then the old, self-destructive patterns of behavior cannot be resolved.
The same applies to so-called body work. The artificial reawakening of the physical memory of traumatic situations by means of special breathing techniques or massage cannot bring lasting resolution of the effects of such traumas, although it may bring short-term relief. The reawakening of traumas exclusively at the physical level is useless, and often dangerous, if they are not integrated into one's entire life history. Only then can bodily sensations be understood and resolved. If we do not work on all three levels - body, feeling, mind - the symptoms of our distress will keep returning, as the body goes on repeating the story stored in its cells until it is finally listened to and understood.
Therapy brings permanent benefits only when the truth about the past is made accessible and remains accessible for the rest of our lives. Only if we remain open to our constantly evolving feelings - today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow - and have the tools to understand them can we claim health, clarity, and independence for ourselves. Claim them, and maintain them. Only thus can we keep our feet on firm ground, and not be dependent on drugs, gurus, groups, or theories that teach us how to change our past.
An extreme example will illustrate just how dangerous the consequences of the denial of the past can be. The New York Times reported (July 11, 1993) that over the last five years neo-Nazi groups in America, with the help of a number of teachers, have succeeded in casting doubt on the reality of the Holocaust. As many as 22 percent of the school-children interviewed believed that eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust were lies. And this is in America, where there is not even the burden of guilt that exists in Germany. The reality of the events in Europe from 1940 to 1945 is, of course, so terrifying that today's children can be forgiven for wanting to deny it; an unscrupulous teacher would have to do little to strengthen their doubts. But such a rewriting of history will inevitably have horrendous consequences in the future, as people are forced to learn once again, from the deaths of more millions of people, what they could have learned from the past.
In a similar way, Freud did not want to believe that parents ever torture their children, even though his own discoveries clearly proved that some parents do. But relativizing, glossing over, or distorting a terrible reality can lead neither to individual healing nor to successful resolution of political problems. It can succeed only in deepening darkness, perpetuating ignorance, and aggravating the symptoms of our ills, both social and individual.
Many writers try to escape the pain of their own childhood by preaching forgiveness, discipline, goodwill, "spirituality" to themselves and others, as though these practices could extinguish the truth stored in the body. But the body can't be deceived; it knows our true story very precisely. Intellectual generalizations cannot help us gain access to the secrets with which we have unconsciously lived for decades. Those secrets have first to be articulated via our feelings, because as infants who had to repress our pain and helpless rage, we were incapable of thinking: we could only feel. Using hypnosis to recall memories, without consciously experiencing the strong emotions and without understanding the justified outrage of the child we were, is thus of no help either.
Other approaches focus on simply discharging feelings in order to be rid of them. If we don't have the courage to face the feelings we have repressed, however, they will continue to block our development and threaten our physical health. We must experience them, integrate them in the context of our whole life history, and remain open to the emergence of new feelings; otherwise we will continue to be shut off from the information they have to give us. As children, we had no choice but to learn the skills of repression in order to survive. As adults, we can - and must - welcome and assist in the breakdown of that repression if we want to live our lives more freely and meaningfully and avoid subjecting our own children to what we repressed long ago but still carry in ourselves.
Readers of Drama sometimes write to me describing actual physical reactions they have had while reading the book. I find these accounts encouraging, because they indicate that these people have not been sidetracked into intellectualizing; instead, the very process of reading the book has made their experience accessible, so that they can begin to find out what actually happened to them. One reader described how he had a sudden attack of stomach cramps while reading a particular passage and threw the book down in a rage. Only when an outburst of tears made clear to him the connection between his stomach cramps and the passage he had been reading, and when he allowed himself to experience the attendant feelings, did his cramps disappear. He could then pick up the book again.
Some physician authors who have worked with people suffering from life-threatening illnesses have tried to help them get well by talking to them about their "emotional problems." This so-called love medicine does in some cases appear to provide temporary relief. I can imagine that it would bring a measure of hope to a cancer patient, for example, to hear for the first time that her illness has something to do with her soul, with her thoughts and feelings. But just to tell a person that her emotional life is involved in her cancer is not enough. If she is not encouraged and helped to discover her own, specific history, if she does not learn to feel a full range of emotions and to give up her illusions and self-betrayal, discussing her emotions cannot help the process of healing. Hope will most likely either vanish or become a useless shield against recognizing the progress of the disease.
What very ill patients usually hear are calls for forgiveness, affirmations, and meditations. They are told to have positive thoughts" and to be loving and brave - all the traditional demands that the child once placed upon herself in order to protect her parents by concealing their abuse and that have brought on her illness. If we are not allowed to feel and express what happened to us, our lives become senseless.
Most cancer patients live - and die - upholding an idealized image against the painful truth of their past. They are proud of being resolute and altruistic, not demanding anything for themselves. It is only their illness that strives to express the almost extinguished hope of being listened to and understood. Nobody wants to know that history, however; it might remind the doctors, the nurses, and the hospice volunteers of their own painful, buried past. The patient herself is unaware of how hungry she is, how she is longing not only for affection but also for the truth; and she doesn't realize that she herself is the only person who can redeem her from her plight, from her dangerous self-denial.
Doctors would be able to help many more people regain health if they were better informed, if they knew that a person can recover even from serious illness if he is ready to live with his past instead of dying in opposition to it - and if he has the tools to begin to do so. I know of a man who had been brought up in an atmosphere of constant terror mingled with hypocrisy, yet he was too afraid and too deeply indoctrinated with moralistic and religious ideas to allow himself to feel the desperate rage this mistreatment had left buried within him. Although his parents had died several years earlier, he was still so frightened of them that the only way he could express his unspoken, unconscious rage was to turn it against himself and develop lung cancer. As his parents had done before, he was unconsciously rejecting himself and his life, although consciously he did everything he could to recover, including adhering to a raw-food diet. The regimen he followed brought him a total recovery from the cancer. Unfortunately, however, the weight of his unconscious despair was stronger than his conscious wish to heal. He gave up the diet very soon after his recovery, even though he believed it had helped him almost miraculously, and developed another kind of cancer, which eventually caused his death.
This example is not intended to indicate that raw food is useless in righting cancer, but is instead meant to show that in order to decisively counteract a life-threatening disease, with whatever means, you must be determined to save your life - the only one you have - because you really want to live it, on the unconscious as well as the conscious level. To feel your legitimate rage is, in fact, a powerful and effective weapon. It is not destructive; feelings that are not repressed, that are instead consciously experienced, never kill anyone.
In fact, most illnesses are nothing other than a language permitted the abused child, as represented by the adult body. How else is the truth of a tormented, unwanted, and betrayed child to find an outlet in our society? Unfortunately, however, it still seems forbidden to understand this language. Scientists work diligently on the immune system in the hope of finding a way to fool it once and for all and in so doing keep the inner truth of the patient hidden forever.
However, an illness can be a signal, an alarm, a way of reminding us of a very early state of distress. If we are willing to face this distress, to look for its reasons, we don't need the indirect language of the immune system and we can be cured, also without medication. The medical/health authorities will hardly support us on this path, because they are yet unaware of its existence.
The drug addict takes the risk of becoming a criminal and socially discriminated only to avoid facing the truth stored up in his own body. He tries again and again to deceive his cells with increasing amounts of these substances. Because society as a whole, including most professionals, ignores or denies the reality of his suffering, he will be confronted with "solutions" that pretend to help him but don't provide any real help. Some professionals maintain that free access to heroin can reduce crime, and that the oral use of methadone, a drug substitute, can diminish the risk of AIDS because contamination by a dirty needle can then be more easily avoided. Even if these assumptions turned out to be true, the crucial problem of the addict (the physical drive to numb oneself) and the actual causes of this plight are totally overlooked in such considerations.
Every kind of addiction is a way of escaping from the memories of one's own painful life history. And every addict can overcome the addiction if she or he is really ready to confront their memories. The manipulative resources of the health care system do not help. As long as a person prefers to live in constant misery rather than face his own history, nobody can help him. But as long as someone remains uninformed of the other options available, we cannot know what she might be able to do once society stops encouraging her blindness. It is not just the will to free oneself from addiction that can really liberate a person, as is maintained by Alcoholics Anonymous; it is the will and the determination to find and resolve the causes of ones addiction, which always lay hidden in childhood.
Society offers us a rich palette of respectable alternatives to letting ourselves feel or recognize the damage our confused, and confusing, parents did to us - the havoc they wrought in our developing and highly fragile organisms. With the help of the genetic theory or sophisticated speculation, we can try to evade these simple but painful facts. For example, we can refute the idea of causality as an old-fashioned, mechanistic way of thinking and dress up our denial a "new," "scientific" paradigm for the postmodern world, based on the "philosophy" of the Twelve-Step Program. Or we can keep our memories at bay by declaring war on logic and becoming devotees of the irrational. We can abandon the individual self (that is, abandon our own feelings and history) and strive to attain Nirvana or merge with "The Whole" as we sit in meditation. We can write volumes of prose and thereby confuse more millions of people. We can travel the world using the authority conferred upon us to prevent the faithful from practicing birth control, so that even more unwanted children will be born, children who will later be neglected and abused. We can mobilize whole nations to fight against one another; we can wage wars and raise the flag of victory. And why not? To confuse others is, after all, easier - far easier - than to feel the terrible confusion of the helpless child we once were. Flight from the past is our way of life, and millions gratefully accept its rewards. Given the choice, who of us wouldn't prefer to go on fleeing from our history? But for some, flight no longer functions. people want to find out who they are and how they became what they are.
The consequences of such flights from reality have barely begun to be investigated. Fortunately, however, the laboratories, which receive no research grants from the state, are to be found in each and every one of us. Our courage and daring in g the prosaic facts of our personal history, in which we previously been blindly enmeshed, will ultimately us with the understanding we need. Once we can see the truth for ourselves, we will no longer be misled by pseudo-knowledge.
In the years since the original Drama was written, I have come to understand many things that I either did not see at the time or, as I must concede today, covered too peripherally. I would like to summarize some of those points here, as well as to refer those who wish to find out more about these themes to my later works:
1. Earlier in my life I tried very hard to understand and make clear to others the motivation of parents who injure their children. As a result, I gave the impression that the effort to understand the parents' point of view should be part of any therapy. The opposite is in fact true. If we attempt to understand the feelings of those who injured us, we will lose contact with our own feelings, the very feelings that are crucial to recognizing our injuries and healing them. Feeling our own pain, and not that of our parents, is essential to the successful outcome of any therapy. Without a clear perspective on this (a perspective that was lacking in the original version of the Drama), we cannot help ourselves. Nor can we help our parents. But they can help themselves, if they are willing and ready to feel and resolve their plight on their own and not at the cost of their children.
2. My own experience has taught me that the enactment of forgiveness—which, sixteen years ago, I still believed to be right—brings the therapeutic process to a halt. It blocks the unfolding of feelings and perceptions that are impossible to experience at the early stages of therapy, but that, with an increase in inner strength and resilience, can eventually be faced. Some memories surface years after the beginning of therapy when we have finally become strong enough to face them. This fruitful surfacing of new memories must not be hindered by the closure that forgiveness would produce (see Miller, 1993).
3. Simply talking about our feelings is useless and gets us
nowhere, yet many people spend years in traditional therapy doing just that, without undergoing the slightest change. The fact that they don't even realize this is happening makes situation even more tragic. To gain access to our own truth, we must experience and articulate our feelings in the context of the inner dialogue. For those who seriously want to remedy the consequences of childhood traumatization, all traditional methods are useless, misleading, and potentially dangerous, for they strengthen our intellectual defenses against feeling and prevent the disclosure of repressed memories, even when the therapist or analyst encourages the patient to "talk about the trauma" of being abused, sexually or otherwise.
In intellectual therapies, suspicions, assumptions, or suggestions given by therapists cannot be checked for accuracy or confirmed. They may be right or wrong, but even if they are right, the knowledge will be ineffective in the patient's search for healing. Only our feelings and body sensations, of which we become aware during our therapy, can make us certain of what really happened to us. Only with their answers can we retrieve repressed memories and integrate the knowledge so won, although reliable information from family members can provide additional confirmation. In some misguided therapies, people can come to false or uncertain conclusions on the basis of intellectual processes, but these conclusions are not memories. The term "false memory" is misleading and, in fact, self-contradictory (see Miller 1990a).
4. "New" methods that claim to work with "feelings" but actually employ traditional morality and ideology prevent us from seeing our reality. The most they can offer is short-term relief. If the therapeutic process stops short of the integration of the whole truth, then we will continue to be dependent on groups and "Higher Powers." After the initial feeling of euphoria, the return of depression can be held at bay by devoting oneself to winning over new converts, but these new converts will, in turn, need potential followers. This, incidentally, seems the most likely explanation for the exponential increase in devotees, irrespective of the weakness of the ideas (see Miller 1993).
5. It is a great mistake to imagine that one can resolve traumas in a symbolic fashion. If that were possible, poets, painters, and other artists would be able to resolve their pain through creativity. This is not the case, however. Creativity helps us channel the pain of trauma into symbolic acts; it doesn't help us resolve it. If symbolic revenge for maltreatment received in childhood were effective, then dictators would eventually stop humiliating and torturing their fellow human beings. As long as they choose to deceive themselves about who really deserves their hatred, however, and as long as they go on feeding that hatred in symbolic form instead of experiencing and resolving it within the context of their own childhood, their hunger for revenge will remain insatiable (see Miller 1990a).
6. The mistreatment of children is not the inevitable fate of humankind, as I believed at the time the Drama was written. It can be prevented by repairing the damage done in our own childhood, through effective therapy. Parents who have confronted the pain of their past will not mistreat their children.
7. The prevention of child abuse is possible with greater public awareness. Much unnecessary suffering could be prevented if, for example, recent discoveries about the importance of bonding between a mother and her newborn child (through eye and body contact) were more widely disseminated. Bonding gives the child greater security and safety for its later life by triggering in the mother a hormonal release that takes place only at that time and only in the presence of the newborn and that better establishes her love for the child. A woman who has bonded with her child in the first moments of becoming a mother will be in less danger mistreating him and will be better able to protect him from both her own past and that of his father. The experience of her love the child and the child's love for and helpless dependence her can help motivate her to resolve her repressed pain. If she does not do so, the destructive power of her unconscious can still continue to operate and to harm the child.
8. I am often asked why some people who were abused as children do not in turn abuse their own children. I have addressed this question in my books Banished Knowledge and Breaking Down the Wall of Silence, where I have tried to plain the crucial role of the "helping witness" in childhood and the "enlightened witness" in adulthood. I do not know of anyone, however, who, having been abused in childhood, did not then behave in a destructive (or at least a self-destructive) way in adulthood, as long as she continued to deny the abuse she had to endure.
9. I have often been confronted by readers and therapists with the problems created for survivors of abuse by proponents of the so-called False Memory Syndrome and by the activities of groups that support "falsely accused" parents in their attempts to suppress the reports of their adult children. I think these efforts on the part of parents, authorities, and lawyers are motivated not only by the desire to defend their innocence and by financial self-interest but also, and above all, by a much deeper reason: the fear of their own repressed history. The reports of survivors who have discovered the truth after a long period of denial or dissociation are seen as a threat both because they blame and accuse and because they trigger the past in others. They present a challenge to the power of repression. Parents, judges, and attorneys may ask themselves, consciously or unconsciously, "If this is true, if such terrible things happened to Ann and to Mary, and they didn't know it for decades, then how can I be certain that I am not hiding a similar story inside myself?" Only by believing that these things did not happen, by believing instead in the "false memory" theory, can they continue to live as they did before.
10. Finally, I would like to make it clear that the term "the inner child," which is frequently ascribed to me, does not in fact originate with me but was taken from Transactional Analysis. I regard the term as misleading and consequently have employed this metaphor only in a very particular context. Specifically, I spoke of the "child within me" when I described the importance of painting in my life in a book that incorporated some of my pictures (see Miller 1986 and 1995). I will cite the relevant passage here:
The child within me ... appeared … late in life, wanting to tell me her secret.
She approached very hesitantly, speaking to me in an inarticulate way, but she took me by the hand and led me into territory I had been avoiding all my life because it frightened me. Yet I had to go there; I could not keep on turning my back, for it was my territory, my very own. It was the place I had attempted to forget so many years ago, the same place where I had abandoned the child I once was. There she had to stay, alone with her knowledge, waiting until someone would come at last to listen to her and believe her. Now I was standing at an open door, ill-prepared, filled with an adult's fear of the darkness and menace of the past, but I could not bring myself to close the door and leave the child alone again until my death. Instead, I made a decision that was to change my life profoundly: to let the child lead me, to put my trust in this nearly autistic being who had survived the isolation of decades.
We are all prisoners of our childhood, whether we know it, suspect it, deny it, or have never even heard about the possibility. The realization that we can free ourselves from the consequences of old wounds will gain ground as more people prove it can be done. Inevitably, resistance to following this path is great, as we all fear our repressed past and the experience of how helpless we once were. We have had good reason to be afraid; if we did not, there would have been no need for repression. Yet the more we encounter our fear and dare to see its causes, the more it decreases.
I have no doubt that one day, thanks to new therapeutic methods, all attempts to evade the truth by means of ideology will cease to have a purpose. They will be unnecessary, as soon as the truth is accessible to every one of us. The new therapeutic concepts work when they are based on the laws of nature and do not take refuge in moralistic beliefs that ignore these laws. Men and women have the ability to process their experience, if their integrity has not been damaged. Even those with psychic injuries can recover that ability.
If they make use of these new methods people can one day come to realize, among other things, that nationalism was a means of legitimizing their hatred. They will realize that although this hatred had very real and terrible causes, it actually had nothing to do with countries, flags, songs, or wars. They will see its real source in the cruelty with which they grew up. They will no longer find it necessary to persecute and destroy other nations in an effort to regain the self-confidence that was once annihilated in them. They will realize their true needs—what they rightfully long for, the needs that are our birthright. They will allow themselves neither to be consoled by vague promises of eternity nor to be talked out of their rightful needs. Instead, they will want to reclaim their lives and create in the here-and-now that which they so tragically missed in their own childhood: truthfulness, clarity, and respect for themselves and others.
Translated by Simon Worrall
( copyright fully respected - integral reproduction, italics included )