Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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I can finally listen to myself, can feel, think and speak up
Tuesday September 04, 2007

Dear Alice Miller,

I am angry and also sad because I worry that I might have to leave my therapist. I have been with him for two years and I have made progress that was not possible before. I'm not sure what I will do after, but the following is what I plan to address with him. I have become attached to my therapist and I don't attach to people easily. I'm sure the sadness will be terrible if I must leave, but it may be necessary. I think the relationship with the therapist is the thing that has been the most helpful to me. Now I worry that I may have found him while operating 'blind'. Or perhaps he is getting weird because it is too stressful for him to deal with me because of the trauma or maybe he sometimes just doesn't know what to do. I wonder what you think about what I plan to tell him.

1. On Monday I listened to you without interruption at your insistence. I really need to say some things to you now without interruption.

2. I am angry with you and I want to tell you why. First, let me say that I see and understand that you may be scrambling for ideas to help me at times. Like when you tried to force radical acceptance on me back in February when I had to conduct business in the middle of a flashback. That only made things worse and it took quite some time to get over it. I was very angry with you then, too, but this is different. This is different because you stated to me that an internal family system approach is something that you believe in personally and that you think all people are like this to one degree or another. This creates a problem for me because if this is some deeply held belief of yours, then our basic beliefs are now clashing in a very big way.

3. Here’s why: I feel and understand that you want me to believe that I have an internal perpetrator. I don’t understand this in the same way that you do and I don’t see this difference as a matter of semantics. What you seem to see as an internal perpetrator is actually two things.

The first thing it is -- it is the feeling of anger. I have a right to be angry and I have learned how to glean important and helpful information from that feeling when I acknowledge my right to have it. It is only destructive if it is denied, ignored or ‘released‘ in a manner that has nothing to do with its origin. When I was feeling my anger and learned from it, you said you were worried that I was ‘identifying with it‘. I refused to ‘get rid of it’ just because you seemed to want me to. I learned something very valuable because I listened to myself. Anger is normal. I don’t care if it is politically incorrect. I don’t care one little bit. My duty is to myself and if I am angry, then I am angry. Period. This is not due to some ‘internal perpetrator’ or any other ‘imaginary part’. It is simply me and I’m fine with it. I can’t be responsible for how you feel about it.

The second component of this supposed internal perpetrator, is feelings and memories. New memories and the fear of the horror they will bring is simply not the same thing as an internal perpetrator. They are simply memories and fear. I can’t imagine anyone going through something like this and not being afraid. I would doubt if such a person has all of their faculties.

4. Now that I have explained that, I would like to explain why your idea of an internal family system makes me so angry. A concept like this is destructive. If I am forced to believe that I have a ‘part’ that is my father, then this will very effectively block my anger. I hope you can see how this would be so. After all, some of the healthy goals of therapy for me are to achieve self-acceptance and a better self-esteem. How could I do that if I were to go around imagining that I am partly a child abuser and a pedophile instead of putting the blame where it rightly belongs? I am neither of those things and you know that very well. This would be a very distorted and unhealthy belief. There is a very big difference between getting angry and really expressing it -- and being a criminal. I seem to have grown a spine and I’m not going to pathologize it. Having said that, I am MILES AWAY from perfect. That’s because I’m a human being, not because I have a part that is my father. When I fuck up -- it’s all me. My father doesn’t fuck up FOR me and I can handle that responsibility, but only because I have compassion for myself for the terrible circumstances HE AND MY MOTHER CAUSED that had a devastating impact. I am responsible for my behavior and they are responsible for theirs. I’m not going to allow for any sharing of responsibility with him. Seeing myself as a family system would force that to happen and I won’t allow it because it’s simply wrong. It’s just another way to blame the victim. It is an incredibly crafty and manipulative way to do it, but I am perceptive enough to see through things like this. Having a wounded child inside is not a reason to construct entities that simply do not exist in an attempt to explain a person's normal feelings. Frankly, I find it bizarre.

5. And that brings me to my main point. It brings me to where the betrayal is. An internal family system with a perpetrator is just another way to allow society to protect abusive parents and shame the child and I’m having none of it. To me this is a powerful statement because I am a parent and one of my precious and innocent children was injured by someone like my father. This happened ON MY WATCH. I would NEVER, EVER, EVER suggest that my child adopt some ideology that would deceive him into sharing responsibility for that. NEVER. That would be an act of violence against my child and a crime against all of humanity. It is unconscionable and such a concept OUTRAGES me. That’s because I’m not like my parents. I don’t need to be. They don’t LIVE in me, only their memory and the corresponding emotions do. The bottom line is -- I’m not going to let you, or anyone else chop me up into little parts. It just ain’t happenin’.

6. To sum up, I see an internal family system as a cop-out and an elaborate and convoluted construct. Much worse than that, it feels like a betrayal for the reasons I have described to you. To know that this is the way you seem to prefer to see me, only leaves me feeling that you don’t really want to see me at all. This makes me feel horribly betrayed. I trusted you and depended on you. I believed that you had the capacity to side with the child. If you cannot do this, then I cannot face my memories with you. The anger I felt after our appointment has informed me of all of this that I have said here. It hurts me to think that I may not be able to work with you anymore, but if this is how you need me to be, then the real question here is, “Why?” Please ask yourself if you accept this way of thinking as a means of protecting yourself or your own parents. If this relationship is not healthy for me, then that is something I need to know and you should be honest with me about this.

Tell me -- are you grasping at straws here, looking again for some way to provide me with more or 'better' help? You said yourself that I am making some improvement and I agree. And do you know what has always helped me the most? It wasn't any concepts or ideas. It was just you. You, the person who was on my side. You, the person who cared about me and could tolerate my pain with me and not leave me. I just want you again -- without all the baloney. Is that still possible given that I mean every word that I have said here? I really need to know if you can truly 'see' me as I really am or if some strange ideology will stop you.

AM: I can hardly believe that this letter was written by the same person who waited a few months ago that your mother would read your writings, appreciate their contents and finally fathom what your parents did to you. Instead of doing that she said "Shame on you." You seem to grow up so quickly because you allow yourself to feel and to understand your rage. Should it turn out that your therapist is unable to grow at the same speed, you don't have to wait for him to do so. It is your life and your freedom to talk which you can now enjoy, and I think that nobody's limits can hinder you to use your eyes, your brain, your heart the way they need to be used. You are so right with rejecting confusing theories, and your arguments are absolutely convincing to me. Thank you for sending us your splendid letter.

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