Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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A question
Sunday December 03, 2006

Dear Alice Miller,

Lately I have come across your books and am blown away by the simple cause and effect that explains childhood abuse into adult problems. I am not a professional in this field but what you write resonates as completely true with me.

My reason for writing you is that I have some confusion. The examples in your books are people who have suffered clear and obvious trauma so that with help from a therapist (or an enlightened witness) could come to express their anger and hate at the injuries done to them once their eyes were opened. My eyes (I think) are now open but my history seems so dualistic.

I’m 43 years old, was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 1963 as the result from a wanted and planned pregnancy. My parents were 24 and 27 at the time and had been married for about two years, having been together (off and on) since my mom was 15. I have not known any of my grandparents growing up, they were either dead or lived abroad.

Until I was about five my parents were pretty okay as far as I remember. I am their first (of two) daughters and was allowed a lot of freedom to explore. The feeling from those years is that of a very capable, outgoing and happy child. When I started school and was expected to learn to read and write, the capable and confident disappeared and an insecure and confused child emerged. I had such trouble with this new learning and couldn’t understand at the time why suddenly here was something I could not master quickly and easily. I hated school also because my relationship with the other children was bewildering to me.

Also around this time my father started behaving aggressively. For no apparent reason he would become extremely angry with me, jerk me away from what I was doing, take me home, lock me in my room after a severe spanking (buttocks and legs) and then leave me there. My mother (who never came to my defence) was forbidden to talk to me, or make any kind of contact. If dinner time came around, I would not get food. Not that I wanted any, when I was in this situation, I wasn’t hungry at all. If I was lucky, my cat would be in my room and I would comfort myself with her presence.

Other times the aggression would not be directed at me specifically but my father would smash furniture or anything on the table if he had an outburst at dinner time. He would break these items with extreme violence and even throw them through our closed windows outside into the street. My sister and I were made to go outside to see what could be salvaged. Neighbours would look on. I felt shamed and scared, hated all those looking.

At any time my father had an outburst my mother would become hysterical, lose her self control. I hated that almost even more. I tried to stay as clear minded as possible as the threat of it all seemed great to me and I felt I had to really watch out. This continued until the age of about ten, as did my bed wetting at night. During my teen years I was totally non-rebellious. I did my homework, never took any drugs or even got drunk, (ever in control of my wits) home at the agreed time, never a problem from me.

At eighteen I had a kind of panic attack that felt like I was falling into a black hole and was unable to stop myself, I felt I was losing my mind. After this attack I suffered a bad depression for about a year and a half. I told only my mother about how I felt. I didn’t realize at the time it was depression because I was just unspeakably scared 24 hours a day, did not find any release or enjoyment anywhere, felt very confused and even had thoughts of suicide.

Towards the end of my twenties I finally began my process of healing when I started to talk about what had happened to me for the first time, also I got therapy. Until that time I just felt that considering the horrors my parents lived through during WOII, I had had a wonderful childhood (they told me too). Your books help me understand, but I cannot seem to find a situation you describe that is like mine was.

My father is an immigrant child of Jewish decent (his father). My mother lost her father when she was only several months old. My paternal grandparents had fled Germany after Hitler came to power. My grandfather severely mistreated my father. My father hated him (his mother he hated also) and later had no more contact with him. I’m jealous of this because it seemed so liberating to just go ahead and hate. But my father did so many wonderful things with me, was so proud of me, stood up for me in front of all the world. I loved that! How can I denounce this man?

My mother was always there for me when I was sad, I could tell her any problem, she would never get upset with me, would always listen to me and assuage my fears. How can I hate her when she did all this for me, even if she never protected me from my father’s aggression and very much leaned on me for support having lost her own parents early on?

It’s not that I have some idea that I should hate them. It’s just that they made me so miserable when I was little, but also made me feel happy and loved. It’s such a schizophrenic mix. When I read your books about all the sexual abuse done to small children, I feel these people are justly upset. As it is, somehow, the damage done to me seems so unintended. As if they couldn’t help themselves. As if it had nothing to do with me. I feel torn.

My parents are not religious, more liberal than anything else, open minded even, I’m interested in them as people, not because of a Fourth Commandment (I hope) but I have no idea how to have a relationship with them. They do not demand one. Am I wanting the impossible? My abuse was not like the horror you describe in your books or in the letters on your website, is there a possibility that I can be friends with my parents without harming myself? Can I solve this dichotomy?

Respectfully, M

AM: You write: "around this time my father started behaving aggressively. For no apparent reason he would become extremely angry with me, jerk me away from what I was doing, take me home, lock me in my room after a severe spanking (buttocks and legs) and then leave me there. Then you write: Am I wanting the impossible? My abuse was not like the horror you describe in your books or in the letters on your website" (AM: I DON'T AGREE WITH YOU), "is there a possibility that I can be friends with my parents without harming myself?" My answer is NO. It will be easy for you to understand my answer if you read my book: The Body Never Lies.

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