” The lie runs as follows: We are a civilized, freedom-loving nation and we bring democracy and independence to the remotest corners of the earth. It was under this motto that the U.S. invaded Iraq, causing immense devastation while insisting that it was importing cultural values. Note that the torture was inflicted by U.S. soldiers that were well-drilled but also had a huge arsenal of pent-up rage.”
-Alice Miller in ” Free From Lies: Discovering Your True Needs” (W.W. Norton, 2009)
“The assumption I have is this: For most people, the idea that they were not loved by their parents is unbearable. The more evidence there is for that deprivation, the more strongly people cling to the illusion of having been loved. They also cling to their feelings of guilt, which provide misleading confirmation that, if their parents did not treat them well, it was their own fault. Depression is the body’s rebellion against this lie. Many people would rather die than [re-]experience the helplessness of the little child used by his parents for their own ambitions or as a whipping dog for their frustrations or hatred.”
-Alice Miller in ” Free From Lies: Discovering Your True Needs” (W.W. Norton, 2009)
With the Occupy Wall Street movement growing worldwide, legal action is gearing up against the more egregious abuses by New York police. A class action suit is pending on behalf of hundreds arrested on Brooklyn Bridge, and the district attorney’s office is investigating assault charges against two supervisors: Anthony Bologna for pepper-spraying several women, and Johnny Cardona for punching a protester in the face – both actions, lawyers say, that would lead to swift arrest if anyone but cops had taken them.
Then there are the GOP presidential debates. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the United States’ executioner-in-chief, was introduced at a recent TV debate as having presided over 234 executions. The Republican audience cheered. When asked how he felt about such blood-lust, he said: “I think Americans understand justice.”
In another debate, Ron Paul (the libertarian) was asked whether a man with a life-threatening illness but no health insurance should be allowed to die. “Yeah!” shouted the audience. Life is sacred, it seems, but only for the unborn.
Such barbarity always has been a part of the American mind, as evident in Manhattan and Washington as it is in the Deep South. But now, in the wake of 9/11 and the Bush-Cheney administration, it seems to have reinvigorated long-forgotten and thought-to-have-been disgraced conventions such as torture of enemy prisoners. And the Republican party is embracing it with a vigor that is inconceivable.
“People worldwide were horrified at the perversions practiced on Iraqi captives by American soldiers in the first years of the Iraq War. Finally the lie was exposed by the media. The lie runs as follows: We are a civilized, freedom-loving nation and we bring democracy and independence to the remotest corners of the earth. It was under this motto that the U.S. invaded Iraq, causing immense devastation while insisting that it was importing cultural values. Note that it transpired that well-drilled soldiers not only had bombs but also a huge arsenal of pent-up rage.”-Alice Miller in ” Free From Lies: Discovering Your True Needs” (W.W. Norton, New York, 2009)
Why this hatred? Where is empathy? Why are such stooges as Perry and George W. even considered for the presidency in America? What happened to the well-spoken intellectuals and emotionally well-adjusted presidents such as Lincoln or FDR or Ike?
Miller, who died in 2010 at 87, would say that all of this was highly predictable and largely caused by the physical abuse and neglect of infants and young children as sanctioned in earlier decades-and now-by some hospitals, but mostly by society, “expert” therapists, and religious authorities.
Miller was an influential figure in the world of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Her first book, “The Drama of the Gifted Child” (1979), sold millions worldwide. She described how a child’s need for love was often exploited by parents in order to meet the parent’s own unmet needs. Unable to express their true feelings and in fear for their lives at the barbaric actions of the “giant”-like humans who they depended upon for food, shelter and love, these children grow up unhappy and depressed. Most of all, they live their whole lives out of touch with their real selves, because they learned in infancy to be quiet and not express their needs in front of their erratic parents or their lives could be in jeopardy.
In “For Your Own Good” (1980), she introduced the concept of “poisonous pedagogy” to describe the child-rearing practices that were so prevalent in Europe, especially before World War II. She believed that the pain inflicted on children – “for their own good” – was unconsciously the parent re-enacting the trauma that had been inflicted on them when they were children. Thus the cycle of trauma continued down the generations. She emphasized that while infants and very young children cannot consciously remember those beatings or neglect resulting in lack of food or care, their brains, which were still growing always remember having to control their rage, repress their own needs in favor of their parents’ needs, and the isolation of facing that giant monster alone.
“In the ‘Body Never Lies,’ I point out that in 21 states, children and adolescents at school are legally beaten, humiliated and exposed to sadistic treatment and, hence, to real-life torture. The religions endorse this practice, so that [the youths] can ‘become God-fearing individuals of the kind the Good Lord needs and can love.'”
“No individual who has been brought up in a nonviolent manner at home could ever mock and maltreat defenseless captives. We know this from the history of World War II, that drafted soldiers were capable of showing a human face, even in the extremely stressful situation that warfare represents.”
Because she lived well past 9/11, she was able to address modern-day issues. She wrote in one of her last books, ” Free From Lies” :
“Inside every terrorist cowers the humiliated child they once were, a child that has only survived through the complete and utter denial of his or her feelings of helplessness. But this denial creates an inner void. Very many of these people never develop a capacity for normal human compassion. Accordingly, they have few if any qualms about destroying human life, neither that of others nor of themselves.
In a lecture entitled, Childhood Trauma, presented to the YWHA in New York City in 1998, http://www.child-abuse-effects.com/emotional-abuse-effects.html , she said:
“Today we can see the damage lesions in the brains of abused or neglected children on the computer screen. Studies on abandoned and severely maltreated Romanian children revealed striking lesions in certain areas of the brain. The repeated traumatization led to an increased release of stress hormones, which attacked the sensitive tissue of the brain and destroyed newly-formed neurons. The areas of their brains responsible for the ‘management’ of their emotions were 20% to 30% smaller than in other children of the same age. It would be logical to conclude that this damage can result in any child (not only Romanian) who suffers such abandonment and maltreatment.”
Still today, the world’s toddlers “stand helpless and trembling before the unpredictable, incomprehensible violence of their parents, who thus avenge themselves unconsciously for the suffering of their own childhood.
“We only need recall our feelings in response to 9/11 to have some idea of the intensity of those sufferings,” Miller wrote.
“The statistics (see Olivier Maurel, La fessee, Editions La Plage, 2001) tell us that 90 percent of the people living on this planet are firmly convinced that beating children is all for their own good.
But, we do not arrive in this world with a brain fully formed. It develops only in the first [five to 12] years of life. The things, good or bad, done to the child in that period leave lifelong traces. Our brains store the complete physical and emotional memory of everything that has happened to us. Children learn by imitation, not from the well-meant words addressed to them in later stages of life.”
“Unfortunately, most of us prefer not to see these connections, adhering instead to our childhood strategy of denial. We must grow out of the old system geared to punishment retaliation and the eradication of evil in others. Of course, we must not neglect our safety. But we have no other option than to search for different forms of communication–based on respect rather than potential humiliation-from the ones imprinted on us in childhood. The humiliation of others will never be an effective solution in the long term, Instead it will spawn new violence, both in parenting and in politics.”
Her last sentence has been spoken and written countless times since 9/11, but has had no effect. The only answer sought by U.S. authorities and, so far, condoned by a cowed, ignorant populace has been to avenge 9/11 and start a resource war with Iraq, instead of learning how the harsh Treaty of Versailles after World War I only enabled Hitler to start World War II.
In fact, Miller often writes about Hitler’s history of childhood humiliation because it allowed him to rally those who had been through a similar experience. He had so completely internalized the intimidating postures and attitudes of his sadistic father that his audiences trembled like little children when he ranted and raved in the way his father had done. That sadism later conjoined with the latent sadism of millions of other [Germans raised under the socially and religiously condoned adage of ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’] to give him the “legitimization” he required for his schemes.
Under Hitler even converted Jews were murdered. There was no refuge for them, just as there had been no refuge for the young Adolf. Sadism was declared the supreme principle. Author Daniel Goldhagen describes in “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” how some people did everything they could to obtain positions that would enable them to torment others.
Does this sound a bit like Guantanamo Bay, especially before 2004? Just as the commoners (mostly those without white skin) and Muslims are being slowly set up as scapegoats in the U.S., Jews were designated as nonpersons, creatures of lower orders by Hitler. His father treated him as an inferior being that he could deride, mock and abuse with impunity.
“To my mind,” Miller wrote, “terrorism is the product of hatred born of despair and there is an almost universal refusal to acknowledge that this hatred is not inborn….Once an ideology sanctifies this hatred, those time bombs are bound to explode. The only thing different is the enemy.”
The motive is the urge to avenge the humiliations experienced in childhood.
Perry’s number of executions were cheered at the GOP debates. And the GOP seems to be made up mostly of conservative Christians.
Miller wrote that “People brought up cruelly willingly submit to dictators and cheer them on when they supply them with an enemy they can execrate. In democratic states it is by no means unusual for them to elect an egocentric, slovenly exploiter if his attitude reminds them of their fathers. All he needs to do is assure them is that with God’s help his absurd enterprises will turn out well. In their blindness people allow themselves as allegedly “free” citizens to be governed and used by such politicians because they learned this kind of tolerance in childhood.” Does this also sound a bit like George W., claiming he slept well each night after consulting with God about war and torture decisions?
The ideologies or religions drawn upon to turn people into naïve unseeing subjects are completely immaterial, Miller writes. “As we know, almost any kind of idea can be used to change people abused in childhood into mindless marionettes serving the purpose of the power holders. Even if the exploitative character of these revered leaders is exposed this has hardly any effect on the admiration of their adherents. [The dictators] symbolize the good father they longed for but never had.”
This is one of countless things Occupy Wall Street, which now has spread worldwide, is fighting.
“Religious groups are only too willing to supply the ideologies justifying the cultivation and projection of that hatred. Humiliation is a poison that is all but impossible to counteract.”
“Why is it that in the last 2000 years no representative of the church has modeled his behavior on that of Jesus Christ?” Miller writes. “Why has the church never spoken out against corporal punishment for little children? The church preaches-and practices-compassion for adults, but expressly denies those blessings to children.”
But it’s not just the blind faith of U.S. Christians, she says. “If the Bible and the Quran had clearly prohibited cruelty to children, we could look to the future with an easier mind. Unfortunately, leading religious authorities obstinately refuse to countenance new and vital information about the dangers this involves for the infant brain. They have not the slightest intention of speaking out in favor of respectful treatment of children, because, like intimidated children and like Luther, Calvin and many philosophers before and since, they are primarily concerned to protect and elevate the immaculate image of their own mothers. But this is their idealized image of a mother who did the right thing instead of mercilessly thrashing her children.”
“Lutherans had and still have no way of knowing that as a child Luther had been ferociously flayed by his mother. Today, 400 years later, many of them are confirmed in their ignorance by so-called authorities. It is only the terminology that has changed. We no longer speak of the devil with respect to parenting, instead it is the ‘genes’ that are to blame.”
“The almost universal injunction to forgive our ‘trespassers’ encourages such self-betrayal,” writes Miller. Religion and traditional morality constantly prize forgiveness as a virtue and even in numerous forms of therapy by non-Christian or atheistic, highly educated people, it is erroneously recommended as a path to “healing.” “But it is easy to demonstrate that neither prayer nor ‘positive thinking’ are able to counteract the body’s justified responses to humiliations. I would be suspicious if a therapist promised me that after treatment and because of forgiveness, I would be free of undesirable feelings like rage, anger or hatred. What kind of person would I be if I could not react with hatred to injustice, at least temporarily. Would that not be an amputation of my emotional life? If therapy really has helped me, I should have access to ALL my feelings for the rest of my life.”
“Those experts who merely prescribe medication are helping to cement that fear and also are blocking their patients’ access to their own feelings, thus depriving them of the liberating potential in [such a] discovery.”
And that is Miller’s prime directive and desire. She advocates laws making physical and verbal abuse of children illegal so that each human has access to every emotion and urge and does not have to repress any of them deep within a closet inside his mind.
Besides the lesions science has discovered on the brains of very young, abused children, Miller writes that religion and society still ignore other scientific findings-that newborns are innocent. There is nothing that “needs” “beating out of them.”
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton filmed a group of mothers holding and feedling their babies. More than 20 years later he filmed those babies holding and feeding their own babies. “Astoundingly, they all held their babies in exactly the same way as they had been held by their mothers, although they had no conscious memories from those early years. One of the things Brazelton proved was that we are influenced in our behavior by our unconscious memories. And those memories can be life-affirming and affectionate or traumatic and destructive.”
In the 1970s, the French gynecologist Frederic Leboyer demonstrated that babies delivered without force and given a loving reception showed no signs of distress. He showed that the 1950s procedure of immediately separating babies from their mothers was destructive because it delayed production of the “love hormone” oxytocin, which enables the mother to intuitively understand signals emitted by the child and to care for the baby with empathy.
From Miller’s book: “Leboyer’s works have philosophical, psychological, and, ultimately, religious implications, because he discovered that newborns are innocent. But the notion still persists that punishment-especially corporal punishment that goes by the name of ‘physical correction’-is both effective and harmless, although we now know that physical punishment actually creates lesions or malformations within the infant or young child’s brain–thus, actually creating evil.”
Separately, Miller writes: “Beaten children live in constant apprehension, fearing the next blow. This interferes with many of their normal functions. Later, they may be unable to defend themselves when attacked or they may retaliate excessively in a state of shock caused by [the release of unlimited, previously locked away emotions] limitless fear. Anxious children find it hard to concentrate, both at home and at school. Their attention is directed at the behavior of their parents or teachers instead of at what they are doing for homework. Adult behavior appears totally unpredictable to them, so they constantly have to be on their guard. They lose all trust in their parents.”
And they lose sight of what THEIR individual needs are. In effect, a parent who uses his or her kid to fulfill his or her own needs, steals that child’s soul.
For Miller, the best therapy is a “helping witness,” who will stand by a maltreated child, providing support and giving him or her the feeling of not being “bad” and of deserving kindness. The witness, who need only be a sympathetic teacher or neighbor, leads the child or shows the child for the first time that there is “something like love in this world,” Miller writes with emphasis.
Ninety percent of parents in the world do not understand that for a child without “helping witnesses” the parents ARE the whole world and no amount of well-meaning words spoken by religious leaders, parents or teachers will change what children have learned by imitating their parents in early life.
Logic of Repression
“This is the logic of repression, which has no difficulty in dealing with contradictions,” Miller wrote in her 2009 book. “The purpose is not to find out the truth but to preclude the resurgence of old wounds or scary, unknown new emotions involving ‘dangerous’ freedom, emotions, or sexuality, which had been condemned by their parents.”
“Weapons manufacture and ultimately war are the ideal scenes in which they can vent the murderous rage stored in the organism but never consciously experienced. But this rage is vented on people who have no part in its genesis while denial and idealization are pressed into service to spare the true culprit.”
“In warfare, everything is permitted. The image of the enemy suffices to divert the pent-up hatred and the blind destructive rage without those [condemned] feelings of hatred against one’s parents never needing to penetrate into the conscious mind.”
A U.S. pilot in the Gulf War of 1990-91 was asked what he felt upon returning from an air raid. His answer was “gratification” at having done a good job. “Was that all?” the journalist asked. “What else was I supposed to feel?” the pilot responded. “If his feelings hadn’t been frozen for years he might have sympathized with the fear, helplessness and rage of the people he had been bombarding, he might even have sensed the former helplessness of the small boy exposed to a rain of blows. Then he would have appreciated the connection between humiliation at an early stage and the satisfaction of being able to threaten others and no longer be a helpless victim.”
“Wars are tolerated because there are countless people for whom both their own lives and those of others are worthless and execrable. These people have never been able to develop a love of life, because they never had a chance to,” Miller wrote.
“This is the logic of repression: I refuse to acknowledge what my parents did to me and to others, I forgive them blindly I prefer not to look any closer, not to condemn them and not to question them. Since my system (my body) knows what happened, although I have no conscious memory of it as long as my feelings are blocked off, I feel the urge to repeat the crimes (destruction of life) without noticing it.
Wars offer us, free of charge-though with costs in the long run-a tremendous scenario, an ideal opportunity to rid ourselves of the emotional pressure that has dogged us since childhood, [that you live] either by destroying or being destroyed.”
“Even the most effective weapons will never halt the production of new and even more terrible weapols, nor will they do away with destructive hatred as long as this hatred is deflected onto substitutes, disguised by ideology. If we want to protect life on this planet, then we must challenge this dangerous blindness wherever we encounter it,” Miller writes.
“What I have in mind is information that confirms the bodily knowledge of the children and focuses their subjective experience. The chilrdn themselves are the essential factor, their feelings and legitimate needs. When children realize that parents are actively interested in the feelings aroused by their spankings, they will experience relief and somethinglke justice.
The operative factor is NOT forgiveness, but the removal of SECRETS and isolation that have divisive effect. The aim is to establish a new realationships based on mutual trust and to break down the isolation.
“Knowledge of the truth is the only thing that can protect us from perfect self-destruction.”