Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Like the weather?
Saturday February 24, 2007

I am in my 50's and am now looking back at my own childhood and at my parenting. I recall, about 20 years ago, when my wife was expecting our first child, a friend of mine - who was then a young mother of two girls - said that parenthood is fun but try to remember one Golden Rule: never abuse the power you have as a parent. This always stuck in my mind although I do not think I really understood quite what she meant. Now I see that even 'good' parents do habitually abuse the power they have because it is so difficult to deny the feelings of power and certainty and rightness that being a parent of young children confers. Most of us do not, it seems to me, treat our children with a fraction of the respect that we give to even relative strangers because no one else but our children would put up with the arrogance we display to our children.
Now I am trying to get in touch with what I suffered as a child at the hands of a controlling mother and an absent father but it is very difficult to identfy the crimes: I do not think I was hit, or very rarely, and I doubt that I was sexually abused but I cannot recall recieving any respect or being the source of joy or even of pleasure. I think perhaps my mother might have felt some of these things - I do not know - but to acknowledge them would have implicitly began to equalise the relationship and so involve a loss of power. This has left me with a chronic lack of confidence and a lot of guilt and shame and anger and it is your work that has encourged me to try to confrount all this. But a big problem, it seems to me, is that what I suffered and inflicted is so ubiquitous it is invisible culturally and sometimes, as I try to feel my hurts, a voice inside tells me to stop feeling this because I may as well resent the weather - it is just in the nature of things.

AM: Thank you for your honest letter. No, it is not just in the nature of things. Otherwise we could not recover from our symptoms after having felt our truth. But it is, as you rightly say, common and ubiquitous. Almost everybody fears his or her parents and enjoys the absolute power he or she has over their own children. I hope that we are able to change this if we understand the catastrophic consequences of this dynamic (war, genocide, terrorism).

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