Book Reviews: 4 Books by Alice Miller

The Drama of Being a Child

Alice Miller. (Virago, 1997, ISBN 1 86049 101 4)

 
Banished Knowledge
Alice Miller.(Virago, 1997)

 
Breaking Down the Wall of Silence
Alice Millen (Virago, ISBN 1 86049 347 5)
 
For Your Own Good
Alice Miller. (Virago, 1997\ ISBN 0 86068 899 2)


Alice Miller lives in Switzerland and has taught and practised psychoanalysis for over twenty years. Despite going through two processes of psychoanalysis herself she failed to discover the root of her distress. Then, in 1973, as a result of spontaneous painting, she became aware of her own abuse as a child. This caused her to question the validity of psychoanalytic theories and to resign from the International Psychoanalytical Association.

Reading these revised editions (each with a new introduction and some additional material) is to realise afresh just how significant Alice Miller’s contribution to our understanding of child sexual, physical and psychological abuse has been. And although I experienced something akin to unrelenting hammer blows as I read one book after another, she builds her case convincingly brick by brick, presenting us with a shocking indictment of what has been done to children throughout the ages and, indeed, what continues to be done.

In The Drama of Being a Child she has a chapter on ‘How We Became Psychotherapists’ which may have relevance to readers of Inside Out. Alice Miller implies that psychotherapists must have undergone emotional disturbance as children because, if our needs had been met we would never have developed the sensitivity necessary to practise. “The therapist’s sensibility, empathy, responsiveness and powerful ‘antennae’ indicate that as a child he probably used [these skills] to fulfill other people’s needs and to repress his own.” She continues, “I think that our childhood fate can indeed enable us to practise psychotherapy, but only if we have been given the chance, through our own therapy, to live with the reality of our past and to give up the most flagrant of our illusions….. It means being able to experience the resentment and mourning aroused by our parents’ failure to fulfill our primary needs.” She warns against the temptation to seek a parent among our patients. We may become beguiled by their rapt attention, their honest revealing of their inner world and their hanging on our every word.

Much of her writing is about the cost to society of violence against children. She believes, for example, that all prisoners committed to prison for acts of violence were themselves abused as children. She looks at tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Nicolae Ceausescu, showing the links between the horrors of their childhood and the horror they inflicted on the world. She shows how much misery could be prevented if the child’s creativity, vitality and integrity is allowed to flow freely, thus discovering their true selves, and not stifled by fulfilling the wishes of their parents. “People whose integrity has not been damaged in childhood…..will feel no need to harm another person or themselves.”
Who could disagree with that?

Mavis Arnold