Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Hitting is not Loving
Wednesday February 01, 2006

From: Duncan Mcdermott

With reference to M in Canada's post of Mon 30 Jan:

The session that decided me to end for ever the pretence that mainstream counsellng or therapy has anything useful to offer took place well over 5 years ago. My counsellor was an adept of the Integrative Approach, which allows its believers to make personal disclosures whereas psychoanalytical beliefs do not. Like M in Canada, I am a Survivor of Corporal Punishment and that is what I have usually presented with in counselling. I was vaguely aware that this man who was supposed to be helping me must also be a Survivor of Corporal Punishment since he was about my age. One day, I asked him if he had been beaten as a child. He said that he had been caned by his grandmother who did most of the childraising while his parents were away working. He hastened to add that his grandmother had been 'nevertheless very loving'.
I was very confused by this contradictory statement, having been assured throughout my childhood by adults and even my peers, that my parents were very loving, my teachers did not enjoy beating me, they were not angry with me but were desperate to help me. The chronic and severe beatings I suffered at home and at school were simply an expression of the great love and concern which my teachers and parents had for me. I had long since concluded that they were liars.But now, forty years later, here was this fully qualified and experienced counsellor, registered with all the appropriate professional bodies and ably supervised by other highly qualified professionals, telling me that hitting is love.
After a silence while I thought about all this, I asked him if the beating was loving as well as all the other things his grandmother did for him. He didn't answer me directly but simply repeated that his grandmother was, overall, very loving, he had no doubt that she loved him. I remained cynical and withdrawn for the rest of the session.
The following week when I greeted him at the start of the session, I was aware that there was something going on. Perhaps I was getting signals from his body language, the feeling of awkwardness seemed very strong.
After we'd sat down, he blurted out: "Duncan, I must say, from what we were talking about last week, that I have to accept that perhaps my grandmother did not love me, after all."
Again, I had to stop and think carefully, trying to allow my feelings to surface.
"No," I said eventually, "I think she did love you, but when she was beating you something dark and very dirty from her own childhood was controlling her actions, and then she did not love you. Hitting is not loving."
"Good point" he said, like a quizzmaster awarding merit to a bright contestant.I said that from my point of view as a child, I could never feel loved by people who hit me although they might actually feel loving towards me; their behaviour destroyed any possibility of love by making me frightened of them.
And this idea that hitting is somehow loving has arisen so many times since then, its like I find myself either thinking or actually saying "Hitting is not loving" almost every day.
Hope this detail of my personal history has helped clarify.



AM: You are right, Duncan, that hitting is not loving; the perverse assumption that it is, I consider as a lie. It comes from the bible and is still held in high esteem, so that children believe what they have been told. As adults they tell their children the same and so we cultivate violence and lies in every new generation. But I don't agree with you when you say that the grandmother WAS LOVING in all the moments when she was not hitting the child. It is possible that she was able to play with the child in a way that both of them enjoyed but this has nothing to do with love. When you love a person you care about him, you don't want to damage him, to make him suffer, to humiliate him, to destroy his future. A loving person CAN'T hit a defenseless child; it is even impossible to any decent person to do it. Only in our perverse tradition many don't realize that hitting children is a barbaric habit that excludes every feeling of love.

What you were writing reminds me of psychoanalytical interpretations that stay always on the side of the parents and leave the child in the patient alone and abandon him all over again. Children can't resolve the puzzle, they ask themselves: why is the person who pretends to love me so cruel with me? When your analyst was already close to the truth (by saying: my grandmother actually didn't love me), you wanted to give him a consolation. It is hard to realize that we were not loved at all—but it is only the truth that is really helpful.

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