Alice Miller (psychologist)
Miller extended the trauma model to include all forms of child abuse, including those that were commonly accepted (such as spanking), which she called poisonous pedagogy, a non-literal translation of Katharina Rutschky‘s Schwarze Pädagogik (black or dark pedagogy/imprinting).
The introduction of Miller’s first book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, first published in 1979, contains a line that summarizes her core views:
|“||Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery and emotional acceptance of the truth in the individual and unique history of our childhood.||”|
In the 1990s, Miller strongly supported a new method developed by Konrad Stettbacher, who himself was later charged with incidents of sexual abuse. Miller came to know about Stettbacher and his method from a book by Mariella Mehr titled Steinzeit (Stone Age). Having been strongly impressed by the book, Miller contacted Mehr in order to get the name of the therapist. From that time forward, Miller refused to make therapist or method recommendations. In open letters, Miller explained her decision and how she originally became Stettbacher’s disciple, but in the end she distanced herself from him and his regressive therapies.
In her writings, Miller is careful to clarify that by “abuse” she does not only mean physical violence or sexual abuse, she is also concerned with psychological abuse perpetrated by one or both parents on their child; this is difficult to identify and deal with because the abused person is likely to conceal it from themselves and may not be aware of it until some event, or the onset of depression, requires it to be treated. Miller blamed psychologically abusive parents for the majority of neuroses and psychoses. She maintained that all instances of mental illness, addiction, crime and cultism were ultimately caused by suppressed rage and pain as a result of subconscious childhood trauma that was not resolved emotionally, assisted by a helper, which she came to term an “enlightened witness.” In all cultures, “sparing the parents is our supreme law,” wrote Miller. Even psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and clinical psychologists were unconsciously afraid to blame parents for the mental disorders of their clients, she contended. According to Miller, mental health professionals were also creatures of the poisonous pedagogy internalized in their own childhood. This explained why the Commandment “Honor thy parents” was one of the main targets in Miller’s school of psychology.
Miller called electroconvulsive therapy “a campaign against the act of remembering.” In her book Abbruch der Schweigemauer (The Demolition of Silence), she also criticized psychotherapists‘ advice to clients to forgive their abusive parents, arguing that this could only hinder recovery through remembering and feeling childhood pain. It was her contention that the majority of therapists fear this truth and that they work under the influence of interpretations culled from both Western and Oriental religions, which preach forgiveness by the once-mistreated child. She believed that forgiveness did not resolve hatred, but covered it in a dangerous way in the grown adult: displacement on scapegoats, as she discussed in her psycho-biographies of Adolf Hitler and Jürgen Bartsch, both of whom she described as having suffered severe parental abuse.
A common denominator in Miller’s writings is her explanation of why human beings prefer not to know about their own victimization during childhood: to avoid unbearable pain. She believed that the unconscious command of the individual, not to be aware of how he or she was treated in childhood, led to displacement: the irresistible drive to repeat abusive parenting in the next generation of children or direct unconsciously the unresolved trauma against others (war, terrorism, delinquency)., or against him or herself (eating disorders, drug addiction, depression).