Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Resolving the Effects of Child Mistreatment

Above a Alice Miller, Painting.

Click on the Painting to go to her gallery

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.”

Source: Alice Miller's website

FAQ: How to find the right therapist

I know how difficult it is to find the right therapist but I still believe that it is possible if you know what you need. So I try to answer here to some questions that may encourage you to check the attitude of the candidate for your therapist but please take this text as a draft and don't hesitate to make comments or additions. (I decided to speak on the therapist as a "she" but of course both genders are here meant.)

1. What do I need to overcome my plight?

You need an empathic, honest person who would help you to take seriously the knowledge of your body, a person who already succeeded to do the same for herself because she had the chance to have found this kind of help that you are looking for.

2. How can I know if a therapist is this kind of person?

By asking many questions.

3. This idea scares me. Why don't I dare to ask questions?

As a child you were probably punished for asking questions because they might have shaken your parents' position of power. Your questions were often ignored or you were given lies instead of true answers. This was very painful. Now, you are afraid that this might happen again. It CAN happen that you will not be understood or that your questions trigger the fears and defences of a therapist but you are no longer the helpless child without any options. You can leave and look for another therapist. The child could not leave, so it tried to change its parents, some people do it (symbolically) their whole life. But as an adult you have options. You can, with the support of the forum, recognize the lies, the poisonous pedagogy and the defences. You must only take seriously what you hear, not deny your uneasiness, and not hope that you will be able to change this person (the parent) later. You will not. She will need therapy herself, and this shouldn't be your job as long as YOU pay the honorary.

4. I feel guilty because of my mistrust. If I can't trust I will never find what is good for me.

Your mistrust has a history and your need for SPECIAL understanding too. Your caregiver didn't deserve your trust and the child felt this very strongly because its body knew the truth. It couldn't develop trust. Now, trust your body signals, it is the silenced child who is speaking, who starts to talk and needs your truthfulness. If you don't feel well with a person, take your feelings seriously, don't push them away, try to understand these feelings. Once you feel really, deeply understood by someone your body will let you know this immediately and very clearly, it will be relaxed without any special exercises.

5. What do I risk by asking questions from the beginning?

Nothing. You can only win. If the answer is hostile or very incomplete or defensive you can gain much money and time by leaving. On the other hand, if the answer you got is satisfying you will feel encouraged to ask more. And this is what you should do.

6. Which kind of questions am I allowed to ask?Quel genre de questions suis-je autorisée à poser ?

Whatever you need to know. But above all don't forget to ask the candidate for your therapist about her childhood and her experiences during her training. Where did she got her training, what was helpful to her, what was not? How does she feel about the defeats, does she have the freedom to see what was wrong or does she protect people who damaged her? Does she minimize the damage? Was she beaten as a child? How does she value this experience? Is she really aware of its consequences on her later life or is she denying its importance? Does she avoid the confrontation with her own pain? In the last case she will do everything to silence you, not always visibly.

7. Is it a good sign if she tells me that she has read Alice Miller's Drama ?

It doesn't say anything. Ask you how she FELT about For Your Own Good and the other books, ask also about her critics. What helped her personally, what didn't? What is in her opinion the main healing factor? Is she capable of deep feelings or does she prefer an intellectual analysis to keep distance? This you may even find with primal therapists who make you feel the helpless child for years and years so that they can "help" you but without being themselves able to feel on a deeper level. Then you may end up in a dependence on them and on your feelings of a helpless, unchangeable rage against your parents without being able to free yourself for what YOU really need. A good therapist must help you to find and fulfil YOUR OWN needs, neglected for such a long time, needs for free expression, for being understood, respected and taken seriously. When you begin to look for fulfilment and protect the child the rage and hatred will leave you, they will fade. They are alarm signals of your repetition of parental neglect and contempt, they have not the therapeutic quality we are so often told they have.

8. Am I not intrusive when I ask so many questions?

Not at all. You have the right to be sufficiently informed and she must have the courage, the awareness and the honesty to answer you in a proper way. Otherwise she is not the right person for you.

9. With this position, am I then looking for an ideal that doesn't exist?

I don't think so. You see on the forum ourchildhood.int that honesty, awareness, compassion, courage, and openness DO EXIST. Why should these qualities not be expected from your therapist?

By Alice Miller

Source: FAQ: How to find the right therapist

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