Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Message from SB
Monday September 19, 2005

Dear Dr. Miller:

I am a grateful reader of your books. I have read all of them and read each of them approximately at the time they were first published. I value your courage and your willingness to confront "popular" ideas about childrearing. I must tell you that my father and mother were both highly educated people who always claimed to value "education." Yet their child-rearing practices were abusive and coercive, particularly in trying to make me, their son, into the kind of person I was not and could never be. I am horrified that Western society (I am an American) is still pervaded by such misguided and coercive practices.

I started in therapy (as a late adolescent) before your first books appeared because of apparent problems with self-confidence and depression, and I have tried to incorporate your various works into my therapy as guideposts as they have been published. I always knew I was suffering from some kind of parental abuse, but it took me many years to figure out the particular dynamics because my parents hid what they did from the world so carefully. They were masters at public relations when it came to parenting. Indeed, they claimed they were better parents than most when in fact they were emotionally abusive and coercive.

Raised (I know now) by two extraordinarily narcissistic parents, I am still beset by one big issue that, with all respect to your extraordinary efforts, you do not seem to address at any length in your books. This issue is "the workplace."

In my own case, my educational credentials are relatively strong: a BA from a so-called prestigious American college and a professional postgraduate degree. In particular, however, I felt pressure from my parents to take the professional degree, after struggling for several years after college with the so-called "career" issue. Even at that time, I felt coerced and abused by my parents' narcissistic preferences for what I should do with my life.

My current therapist (whom I have been seeing for about a dozen years) claims I am perpetually undermining myself in the workplace. My own perspective is that I have trouble applying for jobs because I think I am somehow in the "wrong" field. Accordingly, I often end up in jobs that I am forced to take because of financial pressures. It becomes a vicious cycle, because the jobs I am forced to take are often completely inappropriate, or worse yet, actually demeaning or humiliating. Consequently, I have become more and more alienated from the job marketplace.

I cannot seem to find the way out of this cycle that causes me so much distress and suffering -- but my therapist repeatedly insists that I am being attacked from within by shameful and abusive "messages" from childhood. And when a job environment is truly abusive, he claims that I am magnifiying the abuse beyond what it really is.

But this places me in a kind of excruciating tension with my own therapist, whom I have always looked to as an ally. We often argue (or, more accurately, I feel misunderstood) when it comes to how I should feel about the marketplace and my attempts at shaping a career. I am feeling more and more desperate as I approach middle-age, because above all else I had wanted a career at which I felt highly motivated.

Do you have any thoughts or advice for those who know that the family drama has distorted their lives, but they must still deal with the realities of the workplace and finding an appropriate career? And how can a therapist support someone in his/her career aspirations if the therapist is skeptical of the patient's perceptions of a workplace?

Thank you once again for all of your books and your devotion to the hidden truths about Western culture and childhood. If you are unable or unwilling to answer this question directly, I would deeply appreciate it if you would give some further attention to workplace issues on your website or elsewhere.

Sincerely,
SB (regrettably, a pseudonym)

A.M.: I think that reading the two books written by Marie-France Hirigoyen (about stalking the soul and stalking in the workplace) could be very helpful to you. Also, if your therapist can enable you to FEEL (and not only understand intellectually) how it was for you as a small child to live for years with your abusive parents. If you never felt these strong feelings, maybe you have to experience them now in the workplaces without recognizing the source of their intensity. By knowing emotionally what your body is telling you, you will slowly overcome the effects of early endured abuse.

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