Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Exploitation of unmet needs
Monday February 19, 2007

Dear Alice,

I read in one of your latest books that after years of work you came to realize that one of your deepest needs was to communicate with others (I couldn’t find the quote, so this may be my interpretation of what you wrote). I’ve been seeing that same need in myself, to the point of realizing that a strong driving force in my life has been the interest in mastering things that would be useful to others (I’m a scientist and a university professor). Now I see that behind that there was a deep desire to be listened to, to get attention. And a wild dissatisfaction, because the price I pay for that attention was always too high, and because the real need was that of being listened to and attended to even when I don’t have anything helpful to offer the others, especially when I don’t have anything “interesting or useful” to say.

I feel I’m finally seeing the product of what you described as “poisonous pedagogy”, the exploitation of a basic (unmet) need of the child to make helpful, pliable, productive citizens of us. More insidious than any other form of exploitation because it's embedded in our own brain and disguised as a "noble and respectable aspiration". And since we are constantly unhappy, we keep striving to get the one thing that when offered to the others will gain their love.

I would love to hear your comments on this.

With much respect, B. G.

AM: As a child, you get love from your parents if they are free to love you. If they are not (for whatever reason it might be), you can't make them loving through your achievements. However you may try, whatever you may do for them – it will never be enough. But as an adult, you can learn to recognize your actual needs, to take them seriously, to try to fulfill them. Then you will discover with surprise that meanwhile you yourself became the loving person you were always longing for.

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