Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Traditional moral among professionals.
Saturday July 01, 2006

Dear Alice Miller,

I’ve been digesting the following for more than a week I think.

A couple of words got stuck from a Readers’ mail on this web (the one from June 19 “The System of Lies”): “lies they have been told early in their lives”, “the lies of our moral system” gave me an aha-experience I think.

I have read all your books except one and reread them time and again. Have also read Stettbacher, Jenson and Bosch. I am now reading “Trauma and Recovery” by Judith Herman Lewis and have skimmed Jennifer Freyd’s “Betrayal Trauma”.

Something in the last two books has made me confused, feeling uncomfortable, despite a lot of awareness in them… I haven’t been able to put the finger on what it was, but when I read that Readers’ mail I suddenly thought I had got it. Although Herman is very brave I think she is still caught in traditional moral, which means caught in the commandment “You shall honour thy father and thy mother…”

She writes (p. 52) about “developmental conflicts of childhood and adolescence, long since resolved are suddenly reopened. Trauma forces the survivor to relive all her earlier struggles over autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.” As if all things would be difficult or a struggle if a child was really respected and loved! I doubt it would be like this, if the child hadn’t been abused in one or another way.

She also writes on the same page that a child has to learn “to control her bodily functions and to form and express her own point of view.” But this is also traditional moral I think. With the purpose to hide what actually was done to the child.

On the next page (p. 53) she also writes: “Unsatisfactory resolutions of the normal developmental conflicts over autonomy leaves the person prone to shame and doubt /…/ Unsatisfactory solutions of the normal developmental conflicts over initiative and competence leaves the person prone to feelings of guilt and inferiority.” This also is to hide what the child actually has been exposed to and that there are clear reasons for conflict, there would be no, or much fewer conflicts for the child and struggles with developing if the child was met with respect and got its needs filled I think. I think I have difficulties to put what I feel very strongly inside in words.

On page 64 she also writes about “struggling with the same developmental issues of aggression and self-control as his pre-school child. The trauma of combat had undone whatever resolution of these issues he had attained in early life /…/ Women traumatized in sexual and domestic life struggle with the similar issues of self-regulation.”

Using the words “self-regulation” and “self-control” as if there is something evil in the child that has to be controlled and regulated actually! But does it come from something inside, something inherited? Or from things the child actually has experienced? I think it is the latter. And think so the more I read you and other Readers’ mails on this cite and communicate these thoughts with others, articulate them and put them in print. To put it in print makes them more real.

That we as adults need to control ourselves is another question. Probably we need that! On us one can have much higher demands, and shall have higher. We have a responsibility for what we do and say to others, all of us, no matter how much or little power we have. In fact the one with more power perhaps also have more responsibilities?

This was actually no real questions to you, just some thoughts I got and wanted to forward, fast and spontaneously written a very warm summers-day.

Yours sincerely
M. J.

AM: Thank you for your letter. I am glad that thanks to this mailbox you gained more awareness concerning the traditional moral in the language of professionals because to make this clear was my purpose when I decided to open this page. Psychoanalysts now go so far to admit that some patients were not "loved enough" in childhood. But they are still far away from recognizing that most of us had to survive TORTURE when our creativity was stifled so that our parents could finally obtain the obedient child they apparently needed. In their language many therapists avoid to be "judgmental" and you can feel in this hesitation the fear of a small child that could be punished for "talking back".

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