Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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The vision of a revolution
Tuesday June 02, 2009

DEAR MS. MILLER -- I thought you might be interested in an essay I have published on my MySpace site and have been circulating through the internet. My name is Bryan Eden and I am a singer-songwriter and psychotherapist living in New York City. In both my music and my work with clients I champion people's struggles to recover their real selves in order to claim the inner peace and joy they deserve.
I have walked though decades of darkness and agony to heal the pain of my own abuse, and my victory in doing so has filled me with a vision that humanity as a whole will conquer this fundamental problem and fulfill it's potential for peace, love and happiness. Your pioneering work is a major turning point and herald of a new day. Words cannot express my gratitude for what your words have done for me and for the millions you are helping and will help. So I will simply say thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Here is the text of my essay. I hope you enjoy it and that it bolsters your optimism that the darkness we face will not last forever and that the long, slow dawn of healing has already begun.
BEST REGARDS -- BRYAN EDEN


ENDING CHILD ABUSE: THE NEXT SPIRITUAL REVOLUTION
DEAR FRIENDS -- I am writing to you about the future of spirituality and the hidden holocaust of suffering that cries out for our next great awakening. Humanity's progress toward peace, love, prosperity and happiness is being held captive by an invisible plague of cruelty and violence. This scourge of the soul is ruining billions of lives and perpetuating the pain of war and injustice from generation to generation. In the name of love and life we must open our eyes and see what has never been seen before.
The darkness I refer to is the world's permission for adults to treat children with physical and emotional cruelty. There is a catastrophic lack of awareness in billions of parents of a child's fundamental rights: to be loved, to be understood, to be respected and taken seriously and to be protected from emotional and physical abuse. The overwhelming majority of adults -- even those with good intentions -- simply do not understand how they act out their own emotional problems on their offspring. What we call Christ -- primal innocence and pure love -- is crucified billions of times in every new generation. And yet we still "know not what we do."

To illustrate this I will share the story of what happened right in front of my door last night. I live on a quiet side street in the Astoria section of New York City. It was 11 p.m. and I was in the back of my apartment watching television when I faintly heard a child screaming and crying. I quickly went to the front window and saw a very young boy -- about five years old -- standing on the sidewalk next to his stroller.

Alongside him was my landlady, an 85 year old Greek immigrant. She was trying to comfort him but it was obvious that he was absolutely distraught and terrified. Fearing that something was terribly wrong, I quickly pulled on my shoes and went outside to see if I could help. My landlady explained that she had been with the boy for 10 minutes. He had been abandoned on a dark sidewalk in New York City. I knelt down next to him and gently put my hand on his shoulder. In between heart-rending sobs he kept repeating "where's my Mommy, where's my Mommy"? Beyond this he couldn't say anything or answer any questions about what had happened. I told him that everything would be all right and that we would find his Mommy for him.

I was just about to go back inside and call the police when I heard the sound of a woman's laughter. I looked up the street and about fifty yards away saw a woman and a young girl walking toward us. They were pointing at the boy and laughing. When they reached us I asked if she was the boy's mother. She said yes, and I assumed the young girl was his older sister. My initial shock over the woman's abandonment of her son and her casual laughter at his suffering was replaced by a deep, slow-rising anger. In my soul I knew I needed to deal with this cruelty head on.

"Why are you laughing?" I cried, passion filling my voice. "Do you think this is funny? Don't you see that your son is terrified?" Completely unfazed, she replied that the boy had refused to push his stroller any further and so he had to be taught a lesson. For his own good.
Standing with my hand on the boy's shoulder I confronted her, outrage fueling my words. "This was a hateful thing to do! You left him alone and defenseless on a dark street in New York City. What were you thinking? This wasn't for his own good -- this was you being a bully, not a loving mother."

The woman looked at me with hate and fury in her eyes. "Who are you to interfere with what I do? This is my child and I will do as I see fit!" I had seen that searing hatred before, in similar situations. Parents who are stopped from behaving sadistically toward their children inevitably redirect their hatred at the child's rescuer. Once I was physically attacked by a father who had stuffed his son in the trunk of a car -- "to teach him to behave" -- and was about to lock him in. Another time I was spit on by an enraged woman and her boyfriend when I intervened in their beating her young daughter. In daylight on Broadway hundreds of people had walked past the screaming child and the powerful blows -- such is our unconscious numbness and our cultural taboo about coming to a child's rescue. These examples illustrate the lack of widespread outrage and the tacit social permission that allows both gross and subtle abuse to damage children around the world.

The words of anger and protection with which I answered seemed to rise from the center of my being. "Who am I?" I said. "I am the voice of love. Everyone must protect children from their parent's hatred. And you must NEVER do anything like this again. You have to get some help and get control over this." She seemed quieter somehow, chastened. I'd seen that before too. Often a loving yet strong confrontation can bring an enraged, bullying parent back to reality. For the moment.
I touched the boy on his head, gently, and then stepped aside and allowed his mother to buckle him in. One last time I said -- "You must never do anything like this again." Then they moved up the street and disappeared into the night.

We cannot afford to comfort ourselves with the illusion that the disturbing abuses I have described are rare. They are not. We also must not hide behind the lie that "normal people" don't do things like this. They do. An epidemic of physical and sexual abuse is occurring in all cultures and societies. In fact, the hideous growth of three practices -- the use of children as soldiers, the use of children as suicide bombers and the rapid growth of childhood slavery and prostitution -- still fail to stimulate outrage on a worldwide scale. Why does humanity as a whole act like the numb passersby abandoning a beaten child on Broadway? Could it be that we learned that attitude of resignation and helplessness in painful experiences of our own?

What is difficult-- but absolutely essential --to grasp is how the virulent plague of mistreating children occurs not only physically and sexually, but on the emotional level also. Parents almost universally act out on their children the painful treatment they themselves once received. For example, I had a friend who was belittled by his father and physically beaten by his older brother. This was a man who truly loved his own children, was gentle and kind in nature, and who had been practicing Buddhism for over twenty years. However, he could not stop himself from belittling his own daughter in the same way he once had been. And he was ashamed of how he permitted his daughter, in her anger over being shamed, to physically beat her younger brother -- again, in the way he had once been beaten.

His essential kindness, and the self-awareness developed from his meditative practice and Buddhist beliefs, did not enable him to overcome this destructive pattern. It was only when he became fully aware that he was duplicating on his own children the painful experiences he had suffered -- and released the anger and pain of those original traumas -- that he could successfully stop his abusive pattern. In the 21st Century very few parents are doing the work of emotionally "clearing" themselves of their early traumas and difficulties. And so the cycle of pain is passed down the generations.

The failure to protect our children from our own problems creates a reservoir of rage, fear and heartbreak in each succeeding generation. And it is this crushing burden of stress, carried in our bodies and unconscious minds, that prevents our natural love and creativity from solving the collective problems of poverty, injustice and war. A world peopled by adults who had been lovingly and respectfully treated as children would be incapable of sustaining our history of war. It is as simple as that.
Past spiritualities assigned the origin of our emotional pain , negative attitudes and destructive behaviors to causes such as Original Sin, the karmic repercussions of past lives, or the intrinsic inability of the self to satisfy its desires. If a spiritual/religious path is a form of medicine, the accuracy of the diagnosis will greatly effect the completeness of the cure. I believe that there is both more love and more truth in the notion that the real source of people's pain and destructive behavior lay in their unhealed childhood wounds. The greatest tragedy of human existence is that innocent children are the victims of mistreatment that the overwhelming majority of parents do not mean to inflict.To repeat the words of Jesus on the cross -- "They know not what they do."

The spirituality of the future must be a force for awakening the masses to the reality of how children are treated -- and the path to correcting this. The sacredness of understanding, respecting, loving and protecting children must in time motivate a worldwide spiritual movement.

The spiritual revolutions of the past seized the imagination of the masses and embedded new attitudes in cultures and societies because something in them spoke to core human needs. In the case of Christianity, it was the need to fulfill our natural instincts for peace, love and brotherhood. In the case of Buddhism, it was the need to release our minds and bodies from fear and tension and heal our hearts and our world through the power of compassion.
By standing up for our own children and the children of the future, we will heal ourselves and save the world. Despite the darkness of current conditions, I am confident and certain that humanity will achieve this. There are two simple truths which ultimately will prove me right.
First, the strongest human urge -- even more powerful than self-preservation -- is the instinct to protect our young. Even parents who knowingly or unknowingly hurt their children would not hesitate to sacrifice their lives to save their child. We need a mass spiritual movement with a clear set of teachings that will harness this sacred instinct and transform how we treat our children once and for all.

Second, we must realize that every child enters the world with an open heart. Each new generation is a clean slate and a fresh start. A world awakened to childrens' real needs and healed of the plague of abuse will be blessed by billions of children who are ready to receive our enlightened love.

The spirituality of the future will and must emphasize the need for conscious parenting . It will champion the right of children to be free from violence and nurtured in the service of their unique selves . When these words -- "the cycle of pain stops with me" -- reach the heart of humanity in the way that "love thy brother" and the Buddhist vows of compassion have , we will emerge from our long , dark night of the soul.

With our natural love and creativity freed from the shackles of unnecessary pain , the resolution of our collective problems will become easier than ever before . A second Renaissance will dawn as the inner pathway to our sacred selves -- and the connection to the mysterious force that unites us all -- opens wide . HOPE, FAITH AND LOVE -- B E




AM: Thank you very much for your letter and the essay. Among the many letters I have received from therapists who seem to know exactly how they can make people free and happy you are one of the few exceptions who fully understands the dynamic of vielence through child abuse that I described in my books and articles. I can thus easily share your vision of a spiritual revolution but without the Christian and Buddhist models. In both of them NOBODY EVER raised a voice against the habit of beating small children and even today nobody is doing this. The fear of the small child of being punished by their parents for the slightest rebellion against unjustice seems to stay in almost all adults. It is universal because religions put this fear in concrete by forbidding the child to protest against parents. How do you feel about tha fact that on the whole planet we can't find even only one university where the issue of child misstreatment and its effects in the adult's life would be tought and discussed? What can be done in your opinion to overcome this fear, to enable people to give up their denial about their own cruel upbringing called education and so to become empathic parents? I think that there is no any other option than to feel our own truth. Try to get my two new books that will soon come out at Norton.

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