Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Spiritual ideology of "negative emotions"
Saturday January 05, 2008

Dear Alice,

All my life I have fought against both individuals and a society that seeks to project their expectations of 'normal' and 'acceptable' behavior and emotions onto me. For many years I thought my childhood was normal because I was neither aware that childhood repression took place nor could believe that it was conceivable that adult caregivers could treat an innocent child in such a horrific manner.

The first time I read one of your books, I can't even remember which one it was now, it was like someone had turned a light on in me and for the first time in my life was speaking the language of deep emotional truth that I felt like I had been waiting a thousand years to hear. People say 'your book changed my life' well yours did!

I have survived being given away by my real mother, being abused by adopted parents and family as well as having to be their caregiver. I have suffered twenty years of illness since leaving school and the development of post traumatic and anxiety disorders and in the strangest way these conditions speak a greater truth than any doctor I've met or a society that wants me to be a healthy productive member, or at least to pretend to be one. Because my illness and anxiety conditions, however uncomfortable, are the child inside speaking the truth so long denied.

During the last twelve years I have studied and taught Tai Chi and relaxation. I've even developed breathing exercises to help come down from the 'danger-threat' hyper arousal state. And what I've learnt is that the world of relaxation and new age gurus have absolutely as much denial as the rest of society. I recently listened to a relaxation cd promising total calm and relaxation and as I listened I thought 'my anxiety is a messenger from my past'. Rather than 'let it go' as suggested I thought: 'wouldn't I do better to listen to it and therefore the truth it has to tell me about a child part of me that is still very anxious, and for good reason.' I have yet to come across a cd that says 'if you have problems relaxing there's probably a really good reason for this so don't try to hard and don't beat yourself up over it'. The new age healing world tries to cover up painful truths and their messengers every bit as much as the world of conventional psychoanalysis. Greatest of the cover up lies of the new age world is the spiritual ideology that there are negative emotions of which the most dangerous is anger, that humanities problems are caused by the primal beast inside and it's rage and so this beast must be caged. The same view is held in conventional religion. Yet not once have I heard anyone in the spiritual world say 'why is this primal beast so angry?' I know from experience that if my true self had been locked in a cage forever and demonized it would be outrageously angry and with good cause.

You are one of the few beings on this planet that has had the courage to grasp a truth no one has wanted to hear
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A WRONG EMOTION, only emotions dealt with in a constructive or destructive manner. If you deny my anger then you also deny that which made me angry in the first place. Feelings and emotions are the psyche’s interface with reality and tell us both what is happening and if it if good or bad for us, cut off the emotional input and we can no longer decipher let alone process reality and reality ceases and becomes perception and conditioned beliefs. We see what we want to see, expect to see or have been taught to believe in.

I would also like to make an observation on the similarities between the beliefs of the abused child and just about all historical religious and spiritual belief systems. The abused child cannot conceive that what is happening to them is totally unjustified and inexcusable, they have an absolute need to explain it as well as give themselves a sense of hope, hope for an end in the near future. And what is the biggest mechanism for achieving this? Self blame.
The child says to itself that ' if it is my fault then it is justified and so less painful. If it is because I am dirty, guilty a bad selfish child then I have a chance to stop it by becoming a good, clean, selfless child and I am not powerless in this situation'. The child is certainly not allowed or able to blame the parent.

Now look at religion and spirituality and find me one that doesn't have built in somewhere the belief that all humanities suffering are self inflicted, due to our inherent sinfulness, our inability to control our primal feelings, to stop our rage and selfishness. It is always us that have let god or the gods down, we are always the bad children and so gods, the universes punishment is always justified. And to get angry at god, the great spirit or whatever is the ultimate taboo, never blame or get mad at the parent! I just think it's interesting, and probably very controversial, how many of the abused child's survival belief mechanisms match or mirror humanities spiritual beliefs.

I'm still on my journey, I still get mad at a world that continues to try to suppress any unacceptable feelings whilst routinely committing or ignoring the most appalling and destructive behavior. But it's nice to know that there are those who know the damage this causes.

Thanks for writing the truth. M. C.


AM: Thank you very much for your thoughtful letter. It is so clear and true and I think that it could help many people to understand some connections. If you once do want to have published it on our site please let us know, we will do this with pleasure.


I wrote to you some time back in response to your kind reply to my letter (above). At that time I did not feel comfortable with it being published on your site due to high anxiety levels at that time. I have since learnt that I have Asperger Syndrome, an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, and though my anxiety levels are no better I at least better understand the reason. If you feel it would still be of benefit to publish my letter i now feel happy for you to do so and would only ask you don't include my name ( although initials would be o.k.). M. C.

AM: Thank you for your permission to publish your former letter that I loved indeed. I can't understand why you think that you have an Asperger Syndrome. To me you are absolutely far apart from it because you are a feeling person. Otherwise you wouldn't have been able to write the letters you have written.

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