Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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A year later
Saturday April 19, 2008

Dear Alice,
I wrote to you over a year ago describing how my sister and I had been sexually abused as children, and how I had slowly uncovered these memories and feelings by working with a therapist (“With Thanks for your books“, Feb. 21st 2007). You perceptively said that it would be wonderful if the skin complaints that had caused me such distress would totally disappear, but that I might have to let go of my wish that my late mother and I could have had reconciliation before she died.
My sister suffered from many symptoms including alcoholism and anorexia. Last summer she died. Her body finally gave up after years of self-torture and self-starvation. She was in her early 50s when she died but she looked like an emaciated old woman. I had tried to get her to talk, to interest her in your books, to make real use of the councillors and therapist that her doctor referred her to, but over the last few years she seemed increasingly withdrawn and difficult to contact. She had recently married a man with as many problems as she had, with a similarly traumatic childhood, and they seemed to drag each other down. She avoided meeting me, unless it was in a public place with other people present, so in the last couple of years I took to writing her letters, although she seldom responded.
All her life she extended great kindness to anyone in distress, and to animals. For years she ran a sanctuary for wounded animals, who she nursed with great care and devotion. It seemed to me that the care and attention she could be directing to the wounded little girl she used to be had been channelled into helping injured animals. I told her this in my last letter, but she never replied. She was kind and humorous and I miss her very much, but her policy for dealing with the past was based on denial and suppression, and her life was the proof that it does not work. In the final months of her life she talked briefly about the way our late farther had abused her for many years, but she would still make excuses for him, and seemed to cringe when I expressed anger towards him.
Since she died, I have felt wave after wave of rage towards my father, and towards my mother and grandmother for failing to stop the abuse which went on under their noses for so many years. Although I am no longer in contact with the therapist I used to see, I sometimes sit in a darkened room and start to talk to my parents as if they are there (they are both dead). Many feelings come up, but they always culminate in furious rage towards them, until I feel limp and exhausted. The images that come up during these sessions, and also sometimes on the edge of sleep, can be incredibly violent. I have a recurring image where I am small and helpless and being abused by my father, and then my perspective shifts, and I become a huge, enraged bear, looming over him and literally tearing him to shreds, before very gently picking up the little child and cradling him in my arms.
My rage towards my mother has been harder to bring into focus, because she could be very kind and generous. However, when I see things from the perspective of a little child, I realise how unquestioning my mother and grandmother were of anything my father did. Although my father’s worst abuses took place in secret, my mother and grandmother were fully aware of his furious and terrifying rages, and the way he would hit my sister and I, and spank us on the bare buttocks in ways which I now realise gave him sexual excitement. This should have brought my mother and grandmother to our defence, but they did nothing. They seemed to be locked into a view that my father was head of the family and could do no wrong. When I think of the pain and devastation that could have been avoided if they had come to our defence, I boil with rage at their passive acceptance of what happened, and their unquestioning compliance with what he did.
Most of my life, I felt that I suffered from two curses. One is the skin problems that I have described before. The other is that I was drawn to sexual fantasies that included violence towards women, usually spanking or caning. I describe these fantasies as a curse because I always felt deeply ashamed of them, and of the thought that I harboured violent feelings towards women. The fantasies were not murderous, like the rage I feel towards my father. They were always about extracting tears and remorse and the words “I’m sorry” from women for some nameless wrong they had committed. Since I have felt some of the rage I feel towards my mother for not protecting me when I was little and helpless, these violent fantasies have started to fade, and the rashes on my skin have almost disappeared. It seems that all my life I wanted someone to say “I am deeply sorry for exposing you to such abuse when you were in my care, please forgive me”. Now I am slowly facing the fact that this can never happen, that there will never be justice for the little boy I used to be, or for my sister.
With Best Wishes, R.

AM: Thank you for your wise letter. The fact that the rushes on your skin are disappearing shows that you are on the right path to yourself. Of course, you wanted your mother to validate your suffering but you know now that this will never happen, even if she still were alive. However, now it is you who can and DOES validate your plight, and this is what you eventually need the most for your future.

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