How to feel rage?
Friday October 16, 2009
Dear Alice Miller,
My wife and I have been closely reading your books for about 25 years. It was my wife who introduced me to your work, and it took a few years for me to digest the truth of the fact that my parents had not done everything for my own good–that in fact, they were competitive with me, emotionally driven by their own needs in their relations with me, authoritarian, often incapable of reason, intrusive in my life, relentlessly disdainful of my expressions of creativity, very insecure, emotionally and, at times, physically punishing, willing and seemingly eager to humiliate me, vigilant in their determination to assign blame and guilt on others and none on themselves, incapable or unwilling to protect me from an older brother bully who could even tyrannize them, and incapable of loving me– if love can be at least partially described as caring for, respecting, and understanding the needs of the tender spirit of a child. Though I know this is all true, I haven’t been able to feel the rage that must reside in me as a result of this experience since the time they both got sick and died.
I had a very interesting dream that seems to confirm this perception of my childhood experience. The dream came shortly after starting to read your book, From Rage to Courage. In the dream, I had been playing piano in a recording session (I teach English as a Second Language now but played piano professionally for 25 years before that) with members of the first all-original music group I’d ever been in–a group that, for a time was like a family to me. I felt good, in the dream, about having been asked to play with them. After the recording session, two members of the group who I liked very much were talking, and I asked one what he had been saying. With a somewhat embarrassed look, he said that he had been saying that I had once told him that the accepted rule in my family was that everyone hate each other. That is all I remember of the dream. But that is what it was like, though I had never seen it so clearly or so succinctly put. I actually feel that that “rule” was an authentic description of the emotional world of my family.
I’m writing specifically to ask you for a clarification of your understanding of the role of psychosomatic symptoms–some of which I’ve endured for at least 35 years: the back and neck pain, fortunately, are now rare; the 6-year-long headache that coincided with my mother’s decline with Alzheimer’s recurs only rarely and much milder; but a strange sensation of iciness, dryness, burning, and, at times, itching on parts of my scalp has plagued me off and on for many years. The unpleasant feeling can begin when I am in contact with someone I am very comfortable with, like my wife, who truly has been an “enlightened witness” to my story–or with people I’m uncomfortable with; or when I’m alone relaxing, playing or listening to music, or reading a book. When that sensation comes over me with other people around, I want to withdraw because I think they will see some humiliating sign of the symptom and think less of me. And when I am alone–doing something I consider to be a genuine expression of myself: reading, playing, listening to music, or even writing this letter– the icy, burning sensation makes me question the authenticity of what I’m doing, making me think: I wouldn’t feel this way if what I were doing were true to myself–which leads to a kind of depressed inertia.
In trying to eliminate these symptoms, I’ve read John Sarno’s books (Divided Mind, Mindbody Prescription). And his insight into the emotional cause of back and muscle pain relieved me of that malady. But as the symptoms moved to other parts of the body (something he accounts for as the “symptom imperative”), I wasn’t able to eliminate the symptoms as effectively. Basically, his “cure” is the patient’s knowledge that the symptoms are the result of repressed emotions, and that the mind uses the symptoms as a distraction from the unwanted repressed feelings of rage and sadness. Once the person suffering from psychosomatic symptoms knows that the symptoms are a distraction, the distraction (symptoms) no longer serves its purpose and gradually, or even suddenly, disappears.
Sarno seems to have developed this approach in light of his own interpretations of psychoanalytic theories–the most questionable of which is his belief in a primitive, rage-filled “id”. Rather than attribute the repressed rage within us to abusive parenting, he describes the “id’s reservoir of rage” as a universal, pre-existing condition of human nature.
I feel more strongly now that my symptoms are tied to feelings from my childhood that I still haven’t consciuosly felt. But do you think that there is a significance, reflecting one’s childhood history, in the location and nature of one’s symptoms? If so, what convinces you of that? Also, is the mind/body trying to “speak” to our conscious selves, through symptoms, of that which we have repressed? Or are symptoms the result of physical and chemical changes activated in our various bodily systems by the mind’s extreme efforts to repress childhood emotions?–are the symptoms physical reactions to repression but not decipherable reflections of what is being repressed? I’ve read The Body Never Lies, but was just hoping you could clarify these points for me.
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter and for the kindness and courage that fill your books, helping so many like my wife and me.
AM: You are writing: ” Though I know this is all true, I haven’t been able to feel the rage that must reside in me as a result of this experience since the time they both got sick and died.” Can it be that once, when you will allow yourself to feel this rage and to FULLY recognize that it is indeed understandable and justified your symptoms may disappear? You are mentioning John Sarco who apparently heals people’s pains with telling them to feel their rage and direct it against their misleading brains. There is indeed a big, healing power in feeling the rage that was hidden for decades at the cost of our body. But I think that the advice to hate our brain is still misleading. Our brain is okay, it was the treatment of our parents that was often brutal, which was absolutely NOT OKAY. If we dare to feel the JUSTIFIED rage against our tormentors the back pain may disapper for good. Our brains know very well what made us suffer and will not let itself become confused because we want to protect our parents whom we still fear as we did it in our childhood.