Polish Psychologist, Psychoanalyst and Author
Alice Miller, née Rostovski
Polish Psychologist, Psychoanalyst and Author
Don't ever dare to take your college as a matter of course - because, like democracy and freedom, many people you'll never know have broken their hearts to get it for you.
Do they not know that no less than one hundred percent of all seriously abused children are unwanted? Do they not know what that can lead to? Do they not know that mistreatment is a parent’s way of taking revenge on the children they never wanted? Shouldn’t the authorities do everything in their power, in the light of this information, to see to it that the only children who are born are wanted, planned for, and loved? If they did, then we could put an end to the creation and continuation of evil in our world.
Did I know that I had begun my life in a totalitarian state? How could I have? I didn’t even realize that I was being treated in a cruel and confusing way, something I would never have dreamed of suggesting. So rather than question my mother’s behavior, I cast doubt on the rightness of my own feeling that I was being unjustly treated. As I had no point of comparison of her behavior with that of other mothers, and as she constantly portrayed herself as the embodiment of duty and self-sacrifice, I had no choice but to believe her. And, anyway, I had to believe her. To have realized the truth would have killed me.
Contempt is the weapon of the weak and a defense against one's own despised and unwanted feelings.
Children who become too aware of things are punished for it and internalize the coercion to such an extent that as adults they give up the search for awareness. But because some people cannot renounce this search in spite of coercion, there is justifiable hope that regardless of the ever-increasing application of technology to the field of psychological knowledge, Kafka's vision of the penal colony with its efficient, scientifically minded persecutors and their passive victims is valid only for certain areas of our live and perhaps not forever. For the human soul is virtually indestructible, and its ability to rise from the ashes remains as long as the body draws breath.
But parents who have had to repress the fact of having been abused [which Alice Miller has admitted was the case with her at the time she was a mother of her young daughter] and who have never consciously relived it can become very confused in this regard where their children are concerned. They will either suppress their genuine feelings of affection for fear of seducing their child or they will unconsciously do the same to the child that was done to them, without having any idea of how much harm they are causing, since they themselves always had to distance themselves from their suffering.
Because I do not place blame on the parents, I apparently create difficulties for many of my readers. It would be so much simpler to say it is all the child’s fault, or the parents’, or the blame can be divided. This is exactly what I don’t want to do, because as an adult I know it is not a question of blame but of not being able to do any differently.
As I think back over my last twenty years' work, in the light of my present understanding, I can find no patient who ability to experience his true feelings was not seriously impaired. Yet, without this basic ability, all our work with the patient's instinctual conflicts is illusory: we might increase his intellectual knowledge, and in some circumstances strengthen his resistance, but we shall not touch the world of his feelings.
Apart from these extreme cases, there are large numbers of people who suffer from narcissistic disorders, who often had sensitive and caring parents from whom they received much encouragement; yet, these people are suffering from severe depressions. They enter analysis in the belief, with which they grew up, that their childhood was happy and protected. Quite often we are faced here with gifted patients who have been praised and admired for their talents and their achievements. Almost all of these analysands were toilet-trained in the first year of their infancy, and many of them at the age of one and a half to five, had helped capably to take care of their younger siblings.
Abortion can, indeed, be seen as the most powerful symbol of the psychic annihilation and mutilation practiced since time immemorial on children. But to combat this evil merely at the symbolic level deflects us from the reality we should not evade for a moment longer: the reality of the abused and humiliated child, which, as the result of its disavowed and unresolved injuries, will insidiously become, either openly or aided by hypocrisy, a danger to society.
A little reflection soon shows how inconceivable it is really to love others (not merely to need them), if one cannot love oneself as one really is. And how could a person do that if, from the very beginning, he has had no chance to experience his true feelings and to learn to know himself? For the majority of sensitive people, the true self remains deeply and thoroughly hidden. But how can you love something you do not know, something that has never been loved? So it is that many a gifted person lives without any notion of his or her true self. Such people are enamored of an idealized, conforming, false self. They will shun their hidden and lost true self, unless depression makes them aware of its loss or psychosis confronts them harshly with that true self, whom they now have to face and to whom they are delivered up, helplessly, as to a threatening stranger. In the following pages I am trying to come closer to the origins of this loss of the self. While doing so, I shall not use the term narcissism. However, in my clinical descriptions, I shall speak occasionally of a healthy narcissism and depict the ideal case of a person who is genuinely alive, with free access to the true self and his authentic feelings. I shall contrast this with narcissistic disorders, with the true self's solitary confinement within the prison of the false self. This I see less as an illness than as tragedy, and it is my aim in this book to break away from judgmental, isolating, and therefore discriminating terminology.
A child who has been breast-fed for nine months and no longer wants to drink from the breast does not have to be taught to give it up. And a child who has been allowed to be egoistic, greedy, and asocial long enough will develop spontaneous pleasure in sharing and giving. But a child trained in accordance with his parents' needs may never experience this pleasure, even while he gives and shares in a dutiful and exemplary way, and suffers because others are not as good as he is. Adults who were so brought up will try to teach their children this same altruism as early as possible.