Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Thank you
Tuesday July 04, 2006

Dear Alice Miller:
Fifteen years ago, at age 46, I went suddently into a deep, severe depression and it took me three years to come up to the surface again. I had always been cheerful and full of humor, so the depression was a terrible shock in the beginning.

Apparently, it was a case of 'delayed, post-traumatic stress syndrome', after events I had been through during the Pinochet coup in Chile, in 1973. And yes, I could agree that a large part of my troubles had to do with the coup and my years in exile, where I used to behave as a brave soldier, never crying, always showing a big smile and being there to confort others.

But deep inside I also knew that a lot of my pain and sorrow had to do with much older wounds, with things from my childhood which I had never understood, and which no one had been able to explain to me...

I was living in Sweden at the time the depression started, and after a while I was lucky to get therapy - a weekly encounter for almost two years with a nice Swedish psychologist lady whom I felt I could trust. She became my co-pilot on the long journey, and slowly, slowly I entered the dark forest of my childhood. As I started to understand - only small glimpses of understanding in the beginning - I became more and more eager to go forward, to learn more, to learn faster, and I started to read everything I could find about psychology, self healing, childhood trauma, etc. But I couldn't agree with most of the authors. Although in a sense I knew that yes, my parents had been bad to me and I had suffered injustice as a child, still, it was also very clear to me that my parents couldn't help it either... so... what to do?
And then, finally, I found your books "The drama of the gifted child" and "Thou shalt not be aware" --- and then I understood. Yes! Yes! Yours was the tone I was missing in all those other books, your tone when you speak with strength and authority about the many ways children get abused... while at the same time showing your infinite compassion and sorrow for the abusing parents... who might even be doing things in best faith and with the best intentions... or simply because life itself made things become difficult and a child did not get what she needed at a crucial moment...

And that showed me the way to confront my mother, who had given me so much pain during a long life: I simply went to her and told her: "please, mother, I need to tell you about things that happened when I was a child and which hurt me a lot then. I am not accusing you of anything, I know you did your best, I am not asking you to appologize, I know that in many cases you weren't even aware of the fact that I was hurting inside. But I simply need to tell you, to let you know that it happened."

In the beginning, she didn't want me to. She became very defensive, very rigid in her chair, saying that agggg... she could feel another argument coming up... hadn't we had enough of those already? And besides, she would never have dreamt of going to her mother and complain about long forgotten kid's stuff when her mother was old! One simply doesn't do that!

But I insisted, softly, saying yes, I understand this might not be very pleasant for you, but I simply have this urge to tell you, to let you know... it is part of my therapy... I just need you to know, to listen...Please help me.. do this for me...

And then she accepted, and I told my story ... and it wasn't about very terrible things, really. No one had beaten me, I never went hungry, I got lots of praise for my good grades at school... my drama (a life long drama, no-one till that moment had been able to understand why I saw it as such) was in small episodes like that time when I was about ten and wanted to set up my pirate camp in the middle of the jungle (probably to get away from her overprotecting nagging) ... on the floor in my own room, i.e. I wanted to put the matress on the floor, a blanket on top, my plastic pistols and teddy bears (native bearers) at my side, and sleep there all night, in stead of in the bed, dreaming that I was far away in the jungle where she couldn't reach me.
I begged and begged for many days until finally I got permission to do this "crazy thing" on a saturday night.

And my trauma? Well, while I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, mother had lovingly made my bed on the floor, with clean, pink sheets and everything! She had totally violated my poor little jungle camp leaving her mark on every detail! And the worst thing: I was so afraid of her reactions, that I never dared to rip those sheets off again during the night... It was a long night, and I have never forgotten how horrible it had been, and I never got any understanding from my friends when I told them the story. They said they wished they had such a loving mother as mine, I was an ungrateful bitch...

By the time I had finished telling her my sad little stories, mother had shrunk in her chair and with the tiniest, most helpless voice she asked me: ... "And if I did all the terrible things you say... how can you love me after that?" And I just embraced her and told her that she was the one who had given me life. Period. That was enough for me to love her. I didn't ask for more. And inside I felt that I had finally got a glimpse of my real mother: a small, pityful creature, who had to twist the world and the people around her into her model of the perfect mother... or else no-one would love her... Poor woman! How lucky I am to have avoided that fate!

And from that moment on, we could finally have a more or less normal adult relationship.

So, Alice Miller, again I say: Thank You! With all my heart. Your books made the difference for me. They made it possible for me to find my own voice and tone...

A big hug

W. A.

AM: Thank you for your letter. If your body is happy with this outcome it may be okay to you. However, don't forget the small child who had to accept so much violation. Should you have any problems with your body in future don't hesitate to remind yourself with empathy of the small child, totally alone with the tremendous pain, who speaks so clearly in your letter with these words: "She had totally violated my poor little jungle camp leaving her mark on every detail! And the worst thing: I was so afraid of her reactions that I never dared to rip those sheets off again during the night... It was a long night, and I have never forgotten how horrible it had been, and I never got any understanding from my friends when I told them the story. They said they wished they had such a loving mother as mine, I was an ungrateful bitch.."

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