Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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We pay our loyalty to our parents with our depressions
Monday December 26, 2005

Dear Dr. Miller,

I am a clinical psychologist in St. Louis, and deeply indebted to you for your books and other writings.
Both my patients and myself have benefitted enormously from your excellent work over the years and I am grateful.

My parents, both successful medical professionals, never loved me, a fact that has taken me years to accept. Even after 15 years of good but flawed therapy, reading and rereading many of your books, a good marriage to an enlightened woman, and a successful psychology practice (doing psychotherapy and psychological evaluations with adults and children who have been abused), I am still vulnerable in times of stress to being terribly hurt by my parents.

I think it is because they are still relatively young (70), healthy, bright, articulate, charming and very much alive that they are able at times to fool me, tease me, get my hopes up, make me forget the truth.

While usually I know better and sense that I am about to be hurt so that I can protect myself, at other times I succumb to my wishes to be loved by them and am devastated all over again. I end up feeling stupid for getting fooled.

But I also realize I shouldn't blame myself for having been hopeful. I write this to let your readers know that as long as the offending parents are alive, it seems that hope indeed springs eternal, and this can be very painful at times, no matter how much therapy, education, love, wisdom, and courage and willingness to face the painful truth one has.

At those painful times where I have been hurt yet again after having my hope activated, I regress briefly, but then love, memory of the painful truth, a bit more grieving, your books, or all of the above, pull me back up, and the depression lifts.

But I'd be lying if I said I find it all easy. I don't. And the pain, even as a fully functioning adult, can be terrible at times, no matter how enlightened one has become.

Please know that there is a psychologist (and hundreds of his patients) in the middle U.S. deeply and positively affected by your work.

Best to you and your readers,
D.L.

AM: Thank you for your honest and thoughtful letter. You might be right, in some cases: when the parents are still alive and can show themselves (sometimes?) as kind, friendly, charming, it seems "that hope indeed springs eternal and this can be very painful at times". However, I don't agree with you that depression is unavoidable, even when the parents are alive.
I wonder if you have read my recent book: The Body Never Lies. A better title would probably have been: You Can't Fool Your Body. The problem is that in the eternal search of being loved by our parents, most of us can't give up the illusion that once, just now, at this moment perhaps, they will finally become loving. With this illusion we come in danger of betraying our bodies and the memory of the child. Because the body knows the history of the child we once were, it perfectly knows of the cruelty the child had to endure without being able to feel it. For it was too dangerous. Now, as adult, you could be able to feel the pain of the small, teased child of two successful parents if you had access to his suffering. But maybe that your still idealized image of your parents hinders you in getting this access. Ask the child inside you how they treated you when you were small, helpless, so totally dependent on their love. Where you never spanked or slapped? Do you know how it feels like? It is not necessary to fall again and again into the state of depression but protecting our parents from our rage of the once beaten, humiliated child blocks our feelings and thus MUST almost produce depression.
Try to imagine what you had felt if somebody had told you in your childhood that beating children is a crime (what it actually is). And if your parents are able to tease you now, try to imagine how they did the same to the defenceless child you once were. If you can feel the rage, the fear and the sorrow and if you dare to see the cruelty you had to endure silently without helping witnesses, your depression WILL disappear. Because by discovering and understanding the pain of the former neglected child you start to love and cherish him, perhaps the first time in your life.
Usually parents are less violent at 70 than at 30. If a client succeeds in his or her therapy to see their parents of THEN (not of today) and to feel the fear their body remembers they will no longer suffer today from panic attacks or addictions. They will understand their causes not only intellectually. But as long as we are compelled to protect our parents we pay our loyalty with our depressions. My last articles can be helpful if you want to understand this text more profoundly.

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