The Body Never Lies

  1. Robin Grille
  2. Stephen Khamsi
  3. Norm Lee
  4. Lucien X. Lombardo
  5. Barbara Rogers
  6. Promotional flyer by the publisher
  7. Tiffany Fox

Robin Grille, psychologist, author of: Parenting for a Peaceful World

Few authors have championed the cause of the wounded child in all of us as Alice Miller has. In her latest masterpiece, The Body Never Lies, Miller’s prose is, as ever, fearless and refreshingly direct. Miller breaks new ground as she tackles the most toxic cultural assumptions head-on, seeking to undo centuries of damage done to children by the most pervasive and most insidious of religious dogma. This book is as confronting as it is deeply liberating – it points the way to healing and greater love through uncompromising emotional honesty. Although this book is accessible and important for any reader, it is essential for counsellors and psychotherapists who wish to cultivate their capacity for true empathy.

Stephen Khamsi, Ph.D, May 11, 2005

Swords and Knives A review of Alice Miller’s The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effect of Cruel Parenting.

There is an unwritten law, an unacknowledged commandment, that adults may exploit children in extreme ways and in accordance with their needs and neuroses. There is, moreover, a social taboo against recognizing any of this. Parents are protected while children are sacrificed.

Tragically, much of psychology is comprised of nonsense and noise…rats, statistics, medications. So we are fortunate to receive the rare and exceptional work of Alice Miller. Her most recent volume, The Body Never Lies, continues one of psychology’s most important collections.

Dr. Miller’s chief concern has always been childhood suffering, its denial, and the lasting effects on individuals and on societies. The focus of her current book? The denial of real emotions—the tension between what we really feel and what we “should” feel—and the enduring effects on the body. Real feelings are direct and visceral, and real feelings conflict with morality. The author’s hope is to reduce personal suffering, isolation and tragedy.

Our bodies, according to Miller, keep an exact record of everything we experience. Literally. In our cells. Our unconscious minds, moreover, register our complete biography. If emotional nourishment was absent during childhood, for example, our bodies will forever crave it. “Negative” emotions, to take another corporal example, are important signals emitted by the body. If ignored, the body will emit new and stronger signs and signals in an attempt to make itself heard. Eventually there is a rebellion. At this point, illness often results. The body is tenacious as it fights our denial of reality.

Dr. Miller was moved to write this book after she heard about a mother who deliberately used medical preparations to provoke illness in her children, which ultimately resulted in death. This condition is known by the psychiatric community as Factitious Disorder by Proxy (FDP), and is more widely known as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MBP). Most commonly, MBP is a pattern in which caretakers—usually mothers—deliberately induce physical problems in their preschool children, present their ailing offspring for medical attention, and then deny knowing anything about the cause of the child’s malady. This is, of course, a most egregious example of an all-too-common betrayal.

What betrayal? We know that child abuse and child neglect are pervasive and destructive. And we know that violence toward children is stored within them and, later in life, they will turn the violence on themselves—in depression, drug addiction, illness, suicide, or some other form of early death. And, according to Tears for Fears, “when life begins with needles and pins, it ends with swords and knives.” Sometimes these swords and knives are directed at other people—sometimes at whole nations.

In The Body Never Lies, Miller pays particular attention to the Fourth Commandment—the edict that one must honor one’s parents, no matter their conduct. For thousands of years, this commandment—in concert with our personal denial of early maltreatment—has led us toward repression, emotional detachment, illness and suicide. This Commandment, suggests the author, is a species of morality “that consigns our genuine feelings and our own personal truth to an unmarked grave.” While many of the Ten Commandments remain valid, the Fourth Commandment is diametrically opposed to the laws of psychology.

To illustrate her ideas, Miller provides brief portrayals of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzche, Friedrich von Schiller, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Rimbaud, Yukio Mishima, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Saddam Hussein, and Adolf Hitler.

What do these writers, dictators, serial killers and others have in common? They all lived their lives in accord with the Fourth Commandment. They honored their parents, even though and even while their parents did them harm. Each individual sacrificed their truth in the unanswered hope that they would be loved, and each died in denial and isolation, tragically unable to admit to their own personal truths. These lives and these stories lend credence to Miller’s argument that moral laws lead to repression and to emotional detachment.

And what about these unlived emotions? Emotions have a basis in reality—they are reactions to neglect, abuse, or a lack of nourishing communications. “Negative emotions” are important signals emitted by the body in attempts to make itself heard. The banished emotions reassert themselves—real needs and feelings make their return to the body.

Sadly, many of us were unloved, neglected and abused. The remedy? While there are no simple answers, we do know that the body is healed when one admits to personal truths and to real feelings. But how do we admit to such truths and to such feelings? We need to feel our pain and our powerlessness so that we can, paradoxically, become less pained and more powerful. We need to admit to our “negative” emotions and change them into meaningful feelings. And we need to see through poisonous pedagogy in order to embrace and to embody integrity, awareness, responsibility, and loyalty to oneself. Our greatest personal task is to learn the difference between love and attachment…to extend our love when it’s right, but to break off attachments when they are destructive. Our greatest therapeutic task is to locate an enlightened witness—a mature and helpful individual, who can be fully present without judging, is indispensable in this process of psychological integration and personal liberation.

Techniques of converting “negative” emotions into “positive” emotions will fail. Why? Because these manipulations reinforce denial, rather than leading to honest confrontations with one’s authentic emotions. And forgiveness, Miller reminds us, has never had a healing effect. Preaching forgiveness is hypocritical, futile, and actively harmful. Harmful because the body doesn’t understand moral precepts. One may rightly forgive their parents if they realize what they’ve done, though, if they apologize for the pain they’ve caused.

Still, Miller retains a hopeful view of the future. While society at present always sides with the parents, individual bodies are fighting against the lies. It’s possible that our collective body may rise up and lead to a future society built on conscious awareness. First, though, we must jettison our “fundamentalist faith” in genetics and, I would add, pharmaceutical “miracles.” With the help of a witness, each damaged individual needs to move through infantile fears and reject the illusion that our parents will save us. When we finally experience our real truths of being unloved, neglected and beaten; when we internally separate from our parents; when we experience love for the worthy child we once were…only then our bodies can experience rest and relief, and only then can we get on with the important business of real life.

Stephen Khamsi, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco.

Norm Lee, May 2, 2005

Of Moms and Moses A Review of Alice Miller’s book, THE BODY NEVER LIES: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting

For I would prefer to have these [asthma] attacks and please you, rather than displease you and not have them.
—Marcel Proust, in a letter to his mother

In his 1941 book “Generation of Vipers“, Philip Wylie highlighted how slavishly this culture worships motherhood, scorned how soldiers spelled out “MOM” on parade grounds, and coined the term “momism”. The book enraged many, but shook too few awake. Today, Alice Miller would show us, in detail, how those soldiers – and most of the rest of us – were, and are still craving the approval, affection and love denied us by our parents in our childhood. We are still caught in the illusion that we can somehow win and/or earn the love from the source that so long withheld it from us.

We have to break free of our (internalized) parents’ grip on us, that of the biblical injunction, “Honor (obey, worship,) thy father and thy mother.” Until then we, in a sense, feel and behave and think like the little children we once were; we cannot grow up. Worse, because as children we weren’t accepted and loved for who we were, parents repeatedly punished us in attempts to force us into the imaginary mold they had prepared for us, i.e., what a child should be. Dr. Miller’s message is that our bodies bear a detailed record of every childhood hurt and humiliation inflicted, every spank and slap, insult and indignity. And until or if those internal, psychic wounds remain unhealed, we can expect to continue to pay the terrible price in physical illnesses. Powerless to do otherwise, we suppressed our true and good authentic selves to win the love our emotional survival depended on.

Dr. Miller writes with astonishing and penetrating truth about the connections between childhood suffering at the hands of parents, and the physical consequences of obedience to the Fourth Commandment. The Biblical law, “Honor thy father and thy mother” is here challenged as the source of widespread – even universal – life-long suffering. As children we attempted to free ourselves from our feelings of fear, insecurity and confusion thru repression and dissociation/self-alienation. Whatever the cost (abandonment of our true selves), we persisted in loving and trusting our parents (we hardly had a choice) and strived to earn their approval, (and (thus) to please the Greater Parent in the Sky.)

Today, what stands between our bodies and the healing of those injuries is the hold the Fourth Commandment has on our minds. As we lie and breathe, the fear of parental rejection/punishment lurks within that fear. It has to be brought to consciousness and examined before healing can take place. We walk carrying a sack full of personal history, the burden of wounds inflicted by all the punishment and indignities that have ever happened to us. Until we heal those internal wounds, we daily pay a terrible price in suffering, much of it physical illness, and make others pay as well. Those others are most often our own children. The claim so often heard, “I got spanked and I turned out OK,” cannot be upheld when it is understood how the denial of physical and emotional injuries are connected to present illnesses.

There are three sections to this book: first: illustrations from the lives of famous literary people; second, efforts made at overcoming traditional morality, i.e., effects of 4th Commandment; and third, an in-depth case study of truth suppression as manifested in anorexia. Alice Miller has expounded at length in earlier books about dictatorial megalomaniacs like Hitler and Stalin who directed their hate and violence toward others. In this book she shows how we direct ours toward ourselves. Examples are taken from the biographies of well-known people: Franz Kafka, Dostoevsky, Checkhov, Schiller, Rimbaud, Proust, Virginia Wolfe, James Joyce, et. al. Shown are the efforts of their respective parents to make them over into the child they wanted, and the consequences in the victims’ lifelong illnesses and early deaths.

Dr. Miller repeatedly emphasizes the tragic effects, in the form of physical ailments, of the body’s life-long yearning for parental love and affection. She touches on the way this suppression is expressed in religion: the command to love God, on pain of punishment when we fail to do so; the absurdity of inventing a parent-like creator, perfect and omnipotent, who craves our love. It is an odd god, an immensely dependent god, a Big Daddy who, if given the love demanded, will reward with an eternity in blissful heaven. (And the teenage suicide bombers of the Middle East are promised the bonus of 72 virgins to sweeten the deal.) Inasmuch as the Great Father is not loved, even worshipped, the alternative is agonizing punishment from now to the “end” of eternity.
We have to liberate ourselves from the propaganda imposed on us – and enforced on us on pain of punishment – by conventional morality. This book calls for a higher morality, as it applies to parenthood. We cannot truly love our parents, she asserts, until we are liberated from the infantile attachment, the idolatry, that trapped us in childhood.

Dr. Miller wants the reader to understand and accept that parents who abused us do not deserve our love and honor, regardless of a Moses-imposed commandment to do so. As we all must know, love is one thing that cannot be enforced. Like Sgt. Joe Friday, the body, in its wisdom, rejects illusions. It accepts only the facts, as higher morality is inherent not in the mind, but in our bodies. She takes to task all those friends and relatives and preachers and therapists who say, “Forgive your mother, forgive your father; they did the best they knew how. She changed your diapers, he sacrificed for you, and above all they loved you.” Miller will not hear it: forgiveness is a crock and a trap, laid to continue the dependency, and preserve the hope, that somehow, sometime, we will finally bask in the love that was so long ago denied us. Reading Alice is like hearing someone whisper, “I know the secret you are hiding in your past, the feelings of hurt and fright and shame and humiliation at the abusive treatment you suffered at the hands of your parents. And I’m asking you – urging you, challenging you – to come out of that dark closet and face up to it.”

In the valley where I live, the #1 fear at whatever age is parental punishment. And among adults, it’s primary defense is Denial. Behind the denial of childhood mistreatment lies the fear of punishment, therefore acknowledgement or recognition of it in adulthood can approach terror. But the price for denial is paid in physical as well as mental illness. When aware of it we see it everywhere: the suffering in the bodies and minds of strangers and of those dear to us. But we must begin with ourselves, confronting the punishing parent within.

Lucien X. Lombardo, May 3, 2005

Some observations of Alice Miller’s The Body Never Lies

In The Body Never Lies Alice Miller continues her analysis of the links between our experiences in childhood and their impact and value in our lives as adults. In this book she courageously explores two themes central to our individual, relational and political health: the connections between our adult body, mind and spirit and childhood, and the religious and cultural prescription to love and forgive our childhood oppressors found in the Fourth Commandment’s mandate to “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother”.

I say Alice Miller is courageous because in this book she is willing to directly challenge the accepted wisdom of millennia based in our most cherished and powerful beliefs. By applying a child-centered perspective, Alice Miller’s analysis of biographies and writings of well-known literary figures and everyday human experience unflinchingly turns our comfortable world on its head. In doing so, Miller provides a straightforward and powerful understanding of the transition from childhood to adulthood based in liberation psychology and authentic relationships centered on facing the emotional truth of childhood experiences.

Alice Miller describes the behavioral and relational ‘truth’ of childhood experience, both positive and negative, that neuro-biology and research on impacts of exposure to violence in childhood and adult health are demonstrating is stored in the body, in the cells and the neurons and their connections. No matter how much we deny, redefine or push from our memories the hurtful and damaging feelings of powerlessness and diminished human dignity we experienced in childhood at the hands of adults, the body does not forget. No matter how much we let moral precepts or normative social expectations tell our minds otherwise, the body knows the truth and reacts. When the ‘truth’, the subjective feelings and emotions linked to our experience (as Alice Miller uses the word ‘truth’) is denied, the body rebels, and illness in our body and in our relationships develops. When the ‘truth’ of our experience is acknowledged, confronted unapologetically and in an authentic way, our body and our relationships gain new health.

As always, Alice Miller’s insights into the value and contribution of childhood experiences to our adult lives allow us to see where we previously were blinded, to hear where we were previously deaf, and to speak in voices that were previously silent.

What can we see when we learn that childhood experience stored in the body? We can see our adult health in the liberated and free expression of empowering love experienced in childhood. We can see bodily and relational illness as a reflection of the battle for the authentic self to escape from the oppression of the mandate to honor and love those who have hurt us.

What can we hear when we listen to the voice of childhood experience and its power in our adult lives? After reading The Body Never Lies we can, if we are fortunate to have positive enlightened witnesses direct their words to us, hear voices that confirmed our individuality and human dignity in our childhoods, voices that recognized our authentic selves and our subjective, emotional, experience based ‘truths’, and permitted us to express those truths in our bodily health and relationships.

All too many of us, however, can also hear those voices that forced us to silence our authentic selves and to belittle, deny and repress our ‘truths’. Confronting the power of ‘poisonous pedagogy’, we hear those voices that drained the ‘truth’ of our feelings and emotions into their wills and wishes. We hear the voices of those who transformed our feelings of hurt and powerlessness, our truths, into the love and honor that our social and religious principles mandate we give our parents.

In our bodies and the voice of our bodies the reality of physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect is stored. We cannot escape it, even when we become adults. When we do not hear the voice of this childhood truth, we struggle in inauthentic relationships and ill health as adults. Often, we pass such problems on to another generation. Alice Miller opens our ears to these abusive voices so that we can challenge them with the voices of our truth.

What does Alice Miller help us to say and do? The Body Never Lies empowers us to speak ‘our truth’. We must feel and act on an understanding that we need to be and can be ‘enlightened witnesses’ to others and ourselves. Forgiving those who do not recognize the harm they caused us does not cleanse the body, because the ‘truth’ of the hurt remains unacknowledged. The lie of forgiveness remains in the body.

Alice Miller helps us to see the power and freedom in authentic communication, the frank exchanges that we desire. This is something that the traditional morality of therapy, religion and parenting expectations often hide in the disguise of ‘honor thy father and mother’ even when they dishonor you, the child. Alice Miller gives us way of understanding and acting that permits us to unflinchingly remove the disguise.

Though Alice Miller does not directly do so, The Body Never Lies offers us the possibility of rewriting the Forth Commandment from a Child-Centered Perspective. The new commandment would emphasize the parental duty to foster and respect the authentic personhood of children rather than the children’s duty to submit to parental domination and personal self-denial.

If God had understood how Moses felt about his abandonment, perhaps parents would have a duty to be ‘enlightened witnesses’ for their children. Perhaps if God had recognized that God had a childhood, and perhaps if God had created Adam and Eve as children instead of adults, if God set their goal as the expression of self-knowledge and watched their progress, instead of forbidding them knowledge, perhaps the Fourth Commandment passed to Moses would have read:

Parents should honor and empower their children, so that they, their children and their children’s children will live their own truths over long and authentic lives!

Then what would pass from generation to generation would be ‘real love’ and attachment based on the truth of experience rather than the façade of love based on guilt and attachment based on a morality of domination and control. Power would not mean, “to dominate and control”, it would mean, “to empower”. If we could apply to our own lives the understanding of the meaning of childhood experience that Alice Miller provides in The Body Never Lies, the personal, relational and political health of ourselves, our children, and all with whom we come in contact can be improved.

Lucien X. Lombardo, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University.

Barbara Rogers, author of “Screams from Childhood

Alice Miller’s “The Body Never Lies” is a provocation for those who are intent on denying that there is a relationship between how children are being treated and how they, later as adults, live their lives. They will fight against this book with those sad beliefs, which they learned in their childhoods and never questioned or left behind. But for those, for whom these connections are a fact and who are willing to explore their own past, their own lives and childhood suffering, this book provides great relief, even liberation.

On her life journey of research and writing, Alice Miller has gained great inner freedom and strength. In `The Body Never Lies’, she courageously questions traditional morality and inspires us to face the often life long pain that children suffer through their parents. Her profound insights into this vital relationship create a truthful vision of man and his coercion to be destructive and self-destructive. Her visionary humanity leads the way into a new era, where the source of needless human suffering is movingly and powerfully recognized.

Like in an invisible jail, the fourth commandment confines many people into untruthful relationships with their parents, from which they often suffer. Abused and disrespected in childhood, they strive, still during their adult lives, to reach and even please cruel parents, who do not wish to understand and support them, who do not care about their well-being.

As long as they are under the spell of this commandment, they also often suffer in similar ways in other close relationships, denying their truth and reality like they had to as children with their parents. But there is a powerful witness to the suffering we endure through hypocritical, painful relationships—our body. Although we are trained to follow those moralistic expectations to honor our parents, no matter how they have treated us as children or treat us now as adults—the body refuses to do so. Again and again, it tries to communicate the tragic experiences that we carry hidden inside, in the unconscious. Alice Miller invites us to listen to and understand our bodies and ourselves with love by moving away from the destructive commandment that we must honor those who cause us harm and hurt us.

Promotional Flyer, by the publisher

“Alice Miller’s arguments are lucid, closely reasoned, and utterly convincing.”-Elaine Kendall, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Alice Miller makes chillingly clear to the many what has been recognized only by the few: the extraordinary pain and psychological suffering inflicted on children under the guise of conventional childrearing.”-Maurice Sendak, author of “Where the Wild Things Are”

“As Alice Miller knows and makes so clear, the body remembers all the pain and suffering of childhood. Readers will find much in this book that resonates with their own experiences and learn how to confront the overt and covert traumas of their own childhoods.” Philip Greven, professor emeritus, Rutgers University and author of Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse

“In her brilliant book, Alice Miller uses famous people’s lives, like Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf, to teach us all a concept that is common in all of our lives—that unhealed trauma creates illness. I loved this book.” –Mona Lisa Schulz, M.D., Ph.D., author of The New Feminine Brain and Awakening Intuition

A Promotional Flier from the Publisher

Since her revolutionary break with the study of child trauma on the adult person in the late 1970s, explicated in such groundbreaking works as The Drama of the Gifted Child, Prisoners of Childhood, and The Truth Will Set You Free, Alice Miller has stood at the forefront of psychotherapy’s research into the legacy of childhood trauma on adult behavior. Her fascinating, deeply compassionate books offer case studies of both ordinary individuals and accomplished geniuses in order to examine the effects of cruel parenting on an individual’s long-term happiness. THE BODY NEVER LIES [W. W. NORTON; MAY 23,2005; $23.95] is Miller’s most lucid and compelling work to date, providing extensive evidence that only by acknowledging the wrongs done to us as innocent children can we move toward living as fulfilled and healthy adults. To do otherwise — to ignore the truth in order to protect our families and conform to society’s norms — wrecks not just the soul but the physical body itself.

Our daily responses to the world may be divided into the physical and emotional, yet these two categories are not autonomous. Our health is frequently damaged by long repressed feelings of emotional trauma, anger about being spanked or otherwise, these are hurts that we may have never consciously processed because to do so might break social mores. Over the decades since childhood, feelings of humiliation, rage, and powerlessness can fester if we insist on remembering a happy upbringing; untreated, these feelings will eventually manifest themselves in fatal illness. Such was the case, Miller shows, with such filially pious and brilliant authors as Arthur Rimbaud, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust. Rimbaud’s suffering under a malevolent and unsupportive mother drove him to the drug addiction, restless traveling, and bottomless self-loathing that finally caused him to give up writing and turn to business; he died at thirty-seven of cancer. Wolf committed suicide after accepting that her step-brothers’ childhood molestation of her was her fault — the result of her own sexual fantasies according to Freudian theory. A suffocating mother kept Proust from publishing his masterwork In Search of Lost Time until after her death, for fear its incisive indictment of bourgeois values would offend her; an asthma victim since childhood, he died just two months after its publication.

All of these authors died too young, refusing to acknowledge that their feelings of resentment toward their parents were legitimate, that society’s embrace of the fourth commandment — “Honor thy father and thy mother” — might be fallible, even wrong. Miller goes on to consider the commonplace manifestations of childhood trauma in contemporary society, from substance abuse to anorexia nervosa. Most urgently, she presses us to seek understanding, nonjudgmental therapeutic treatment, lest we, too, inflict the crimes of our elders on future generations.

THE BODY NEVER LIES is a book of healing, and its message continues the important research that earned Miller worldwide fame in her best-selling original work, The Drama of the Gifted Child. In all her writing, Miller proves herself a courageous, pioneering mind in exploring the most taboo of psychological subjects — cruel parenting. Her work is remarkable for its brilliant insight into the psychology of some of the greatest thinkers of Western history and its intimate portrayal of more ordinary individuals’ long-term damage from child abuse, from her patients’ to her own. Offering systemic analysis of how to approach therapy and live outside the traditions of a society governed by the fourth commandment, THE BODY NEVER LIES is necessary reading for all individuals committed to leading an enlightened and compassionate existence.

Tiffany Fox, amazon review, March 17, 2006

This book changed my life

After coasting through the past ten years in a fog of depression, emptiness, and unfulfilling relationships, I started seeing a counselor who recommended this book to me. I’m not exaggerating when I say it changed my life. Ever since I can remember, I have idealized my parents and my childhood, never realizing the myriad subtle ways that my narcissistic parent denied me expression of my true feelings and my real self. Storing up all those feelings ever since infancy, in an effort to win the parent’s love and protect them from one’s true self, has a poisonous effect on the body and the mind. As much as we try to hide those true feelings, they make themselves known through various kinds of suffering, both emotional and physical. This is the premise of Miller’s book.

Once we are allowed to give voice to those true feelings, and offer some attention and compassion to our real self – rather than the facade we have created to please others, namely our parents – then that self no longer has to cry for attention through the suffering of our bodies and minds. A whole new world of experience, expression, and life has opened up to me now that I have been able to acknowledge all the rage, grief, desperation, and need to be heard that I was never able to articulate before. Now I can be unafraid to be myself, and feel my feelings good and bad, without fear of abandonment. I highly recommend this book and Miller’s other offerings to anyone dealing with depression, difficulty communicating to others, or feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction in their life.