Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Forgiveness - Flight from oneself
Sunday March 05, 2006

Honored Dr. Miller,
I just have finished reading „The Body Never Lies“ and believe that I now understand why you have been fighting so strongly against the concept of forgiveness in your latest books. For a long time, I actually believed that exactly this had helped me. But I am beginning to doubt it. Five years ago, I began a classical psychoanalysis, three times a week, on the couch, because I took out again and again strong aggressions on my children and could not control the rage, although I suffered because of this. I had no memories of my childhood, but had heard from my mother how she successfully taught me obedience during my first years of life. I did not succeed in this with my children; they did not want to obey, and that exasperated me. I was troubled by my harshness, also from the strong itching. In the analysis I felt at times rage at my mother, but my analyst helped me to understand that my parents had greatly suffered as children because they grew up as orphans in asylums with nuns and there had to take a lot of violence. Soon, I felt pity for my parents; I succeeded in forgiving them everything, because I could see them as victims, and I took up contact again that had been broken off. For a while, I was doing better, also with my children, but a year ago the itching got stronger and not long ago I received out of the blue the diagnosis “multiple sclerosis.” My analyst thinks that this has nothing to do with my childhood because it is solely a somatic illness; but I am asking myself now if I am not still carrying a lot of rage which I am constantly trying to suppress.

AM: You are by all means right when you ask yourself this question. You know from your mother that you were beaten very early; you can remember neither the emotional nor the physical pain of the little being that was forced to block out her suffering. But with the MS, the body can try to revive these pains, if something in the present triggers you about it (for example the feeling to not be understood in your greatest agony by anyone). If your analyst does not even consider this, try to find a therapist who is not afraid of your history. Maybe my Questions and answers list on my website can help you with this.
What your analyst has recommended is in my opinion exactly that which makes us ill, because it suffocates the justifiable rage. The reconciliation can bring some relief for a while because it weakens the agonizing guilt feelings. One feels like a good, therefore loved child if one forgives the mistreatments. But the body insists on the truth.
I myself did already everything as a child to understand my parents and have continued these attempts, like probably most analysts, for decades. But exactly this prevented me to discover the child who suffered torments through them. I did not know this child. Not in the least. I only knew the suffering of my parents, also of my patients and my friends, but never my own. Only when I gave up to understand my parents’ childhood (which they themselves did not want to know at all) became it possible for me to feel the whole extent of my pains and fears. Only then did I discover slowly the history of my childhood and began to realize my fate. And only then did I loose my physical symptoms, which had tried for so long to tell me, in vain, my truth, while I was listening to my patients and began to anticipate, only through their fates, what is happening to beaten children. I have comprehended that I betrayed myself. Like so many analysts I did not know, who I truly was, because I was fleeing from myself and believed that I was capable of helping others. Today I think that I only have to understand myself to be able to understand others, not the other way round.

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