Resolving the Effects of Child Mistreatment

by Alice Miller

Resolving the Effects of Child Mistreatment
Thursday November 16, 2006

Since the publication of “The Drama of the Gifted Child” in 1979, I have regularly received letters from readers, who tell me their story and ask many questions in regard to it. I often had the need to react to these meaningful life accounts and felt great regret that I could not fulfill this need, mainly because of limitations on my time. I also had the wish to share with others these important testimonies, reports of the victims of child abuse; but I was not allowed to do this because the texts were addressed to me in confidence.
Only in the middle of 2005 did I have the idea to establish a mailbox on my website on the Internet so that I may publish there, with the permission of the authors, letters of general interest and my answers. These letters tell about often-inconceivable agonies of people, mistreated in childhood who never realized, despite years of therapy, that they had been abused. They suffered numerous illnesses, blamed themselves for the cruelty they had to endure, and only when they read my books could they allegedly feel the suffering of their childhood for the first time. Some of them found here the key to understand their whole life and with it also the way out of their panic fears, depressions and addictions.
These people are now understandably confronted with many questions that they had avoided so far. My answers to these questions try to help them in this new situation to find orientation and people, who can support them as empathic, knowing witnesses to use the acquired knowledge optimally.
Thus, the once abused human beings found here a platform, which enabled them to express themselves freely and, together, to look for ways of liberation from the tragic consequences of the abuses they suffered.

We cannot resolve the effects of mistreatment in therapies that evade the facts and confine themselves only to the analysis of the psychic realities. But we can liberate ourselves from the consequences if we are prepared to face emotionally the truth of our childhood, to give up the denial of our suffering, to develop empathy for the child that we were and to thus understand the reasons for our fears. In this way, we free ourselves from the fears and guilt feelings that were burdened upon us from the earliest age. Through the knowledge of our history and our feelings, we get to know the persons that we are, and we learn to give to them what they vitally need but never received from their parents: love and respect. This is the goal of the uncovering therapy: The wounds can be scared over if they are tended to and taken seriously; but the existence of the scars should not be denied.
What I still assumed when I wrote “The Truth Will Set You Free” and “The Body Never Lies” has been fully confirmed by the readers’ letters: Not only a limited group of people suffers from childhood injuries to the soul – but the majority of the world population. Yet, there are only few who want to be aware of it because the fear of the former helplessness of the beaten child detains them from this knowledge. For I take it for granted that WE ALL, with very few exceptions, were beaten in childhood, in most cases very early on (cf. “For Your Own Good”). A beaten child anticipates punishment for every expression of discontent or discomfort. This anxiety may remain unconscious (because its causes were never discovered and never processed), but it can operate very effectively, accompany people throughout their lives as well as determine their entire behavior.

Next, I quote my answer to the question of a reader from August 27, 2006 regarding what I mean by „uncovering therapy” that proved itself to be effective for myself and others.
“I call a therapy uncovering when it helps the clients to get to know their suppressed, painful childhood history with the help of the awakened feelings and dreams so that they no longer must be afraid of the dangers, which threatened them for real in childhood, but which don’t threaten them anymore today. The clients are then no longer in need to unconsciously fear and repeat that which happened to them in the most tender age, because they now know their childhood reality and can react to it with rage and mourning in the presence of the therapist as their empathic witness. They stop to neglect themselves, stop to blame themselves and to harm themselves through all kinds of addictions because they could develop empathy for the child who suffered severely from the parents’ behavior. If later in the lives of these adults dangers should occur, they will be better equipped to confront them because they can better understand their old fears.
“This way of proceeding differs from all forms of treatment that involve practicing new behavior or improving one’s well-being (through yoga, meditation, positive thinking). In all these cases, the issue of childhood is shunned. I trace the fear of this issue, which is noticeable everywhere and can easily be detected, back to the fear of the once beaten children, the fear of the next hit – should they dare to see through their parents’ cruelty. And this fear is so prevailing as most people had to grow up with beatings (psychological but also above all physical, which are still considered as harmless and necessary) without being allowed to defend themselves.
“It can also be seen in psychoanalysis, which to this day side steps and blinds out the abuses suffered in childhood. Its theories were already constructed on the basis of this fear of the parents. Thus the clients as well as the analysts remain, sometimes for decades, stuck in a labyrinth of conceptions and suffer permanently from guilt feelings because they supposedly made it so hard for their parents to understand the “disturbed” child. Often, they don’t know and also may not find out that they were severely abused children.
“If a therapist enables this knowledge depends on what she knows about her own life and her first years. To help to clarify these questions, I have created the FAQ list, which can provide orientation for the person looking for the right, well informed therapist.”