Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Thank you for being my enlightened witness
Saturday April 21, 2007

Dear Alice

I am a 46-year-old Australian woman, the eldest of 4 children. I’m married and without children of my own. I am reading your book The Body Never Lies and a lot of things have fallen into place for me which I feel an urgent need to share with someone who understands. I have been in therapy for 3 years now and it is helping me a lot, and I’ve read a few books, including The Drama of the Gifted Child, but I always had the feeling that my mother isn’t as bad as some of these others I’ve read about and so I’ve got no cause to complain – there must still be something wrong with me since I haven’t coped; I feel as bad as these others who had been physically and sexually abused as children without as much cause.

I was born first and my mother always wanted to blame someone else for her problems. The scapegoat was usually me, or my Dad. She kept wanting to leave him, and she eventually did when she had 3 children and was pregnant with the 4th, when I was 6. This separation was “Dad’s fault” and anything we kids did wrong was because we took after Dad. An attempted reconciliation when I was 12 failed, and this has always been seen as being my fault, because I wasn’t happy in a foreign country in a new school. Only now can I see that to blame the breakdown of a marriage between 2 adults on a 12-year-old girl is ridiculous, and dangerous.

Reading The Body Never Lies has been a huge step forward for me. I can see now that neither of my parents are interested in me, they have never listened to me and aren’t interested in me as a person or in what I have to say about myself, and I have learned early to think carefully about what I want to say and either not say it or say it in as few words as possible before I lost their attention completely. My job is to listen to them and support them, and to look after everybody else in the family.

You book is helping me to understand that “being listened to” is a need that all children have, and that not supplying children’s needs is a form of abuse, and is probably the reason why I was, and still am, the only one in the family who keeps getting sick. My hayfever, asthma, constant colds and flu, stomach problems, tonsils out when I was 4, ear-canal problems…. the long list is a result of stress, not because I am a substandard human being. I have also just realised that the “beltings” we received as children, and being sent to the bathroom to await punishment, were as much a form of humiliation as the constant criticism and negativity. Other people have been treated the same way by their parents, with the same kind of results. It is like I have been given permission to feel that it is not my fault, that there is not something unfixable wrong with me. I have good reason to not want to see my parents, and to not love them.

I can’t thank you enough for sharing your hard-won insights with us.

CR

Well, that was quite difficult to write, although I am usually good with words. I’m glad I did though, and you have my permission to publish it on the website.

AM: Not to be listened to in childhood teaches us not to listen to ourselves in adulthood. But your body speaks a very clear language, and you seem to be determined to listen now. As soon as you dare to do it, you will feel the rage about what you had to endure, and it is this rage and the knowledge that it brings that will make all the difference.

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