Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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The adult can try to feel
Tuesday December 27, 2005

Dear Dr. Miller,

Thank you for your wise and prompt reply. You are correct of course about the need to remember painful early abuse in order to overcome and eliminate depression. As one does that hard work, one feels anger and grief, but then afterwords quickly feels more vital and alive, less self-blaming. I have seen this healing pattern in myself and my patients countless times over the years, and your hard-won insights are consistently confirmed for me here in the States.

And you are also correct that 'Hope Springs Eternal' only when one loses sight of a most painful truth; that there was NO hope for the abused child deprived of an enlightened witness. When one finds oneself hopeful about one's older, living, now somewhat less-offending parents, one has indeed forgotten something important: that there is and was NO hope for another childhood, no second chance, that the worst already occured, and that what hope there is lies only within the adult who remembers that painful truth, not with the parents who offended.
That is why I work with abused children and their parents every day, and why that work is such is a good fit for me. The work allows me to remember the truth, to 'never forget' as the Jews said after the Holocaust. Because as you well know, to forget, to deny, to pretend, is to become subject to misplaced hope in a limited other, a hope that is bound to be disappointed. Indeed, it could be said (and I think you did!) that when one finds oneself hopeful about the offending parent, that the depression has already reappeared.

And I agree further with your profound observation that those painful truths are so often stored in the body. For me, it's lower back pain, pain that reminds me of many brutal early spankings and beatings. I also find discomfort in my mouth when I am hopeful about my parents, a feeling which prods me to remember my childhood, a time when my mouth was cruelly washed out with soap for doing nothing but being rightfully angry at my mother after she had hurt me.

As I remember these horrors, I become myself again, angry, sad and hurt, yet once again sure of myself and my perceptions of the world.

Finally, you might also find it of interest (and confirming of your important insights into the psychology of those in the helping professions) to know that coinciding with my feelings of depression when they arise are feelings that I should return for more psychoanalytic training! Talk about hope springing eternal! Yet each time I am able to remember and work through the fact of the early abuse, the need to get more analytic training or therapy disappears. I am once again able to feel content that it is I who know the truth of my life, not those in the Institute down the road.

Best wishes for the New Year to you and all those who have found this wonderful and most important
website,

D. L., Ph.D.
St. Louis

AM: Thank you for your response, you are absolutely right, it is your body that knows everything you need to know, analytical interpretations would only help you to build up new illusions. Everything you write makes sense to me. If the child was not allowed to see and say the truth it is not surprising that the adult prefers to be depressed than to feel the rage. The rage could bring the child into mortal danger. But the adult can try to feel, not everything all together but step by step. And you have the courage to try. Good luck!

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