Alice Miller: Breaking Down the Wall of Silence

Alice Miller

Alice Miller was born in 1923. She received her PhD from the University of Basle and worked as a psychotherapist in Zurich, Switzerland for 20 years. Since 1980, she has been the intellectual warrior leader for abused children around the world.

Her initial motivation was to understand Adolph Hitler. She believes there is a direct link between child abuse/domestic violence and world peace. To this end, enlightened/helping witnesses are the key:

The absence or presence of helping witness in childhood determines whether a mistreated child will become a despot who turns his repressed feelings of helplessness against others or an artist who can tell about his or her suffering.

Painting by Alice Miller

In time, she confronted her own issues of child abuse. Her 15 year (1973-1988) path to “liberation” began with spontaneously articulating her emotions via painting. After she allowed herself to feel pent-up emotions, she was able to extricate herself from her pain:

I was not out to paint beautiful pictures; even painting good pictures was not important to me. I wanted only to help the truth burst forth.

Her narcissistic, self-righteous mother was “prone to fits of towering rage” and “incapable of reflection.” She describes her childhood as “a totalitarian regime.” Dr. Miller needed what she calls an enlightened or healing witness to help her recognize and to protect her from her mother’s “terrorism:”

If but a single person [her father, for example] had understood at the time what was going on and had come to my defense, my entire life would have taken a different course.

Yet, the world would not have the power of her work to advocate for abused children. We wouldn’t have an intellectual framework for recovery. The irony is that many abused children become inordinately gifted people who, like Dr. Miller, make a huge difference in the world. This is why I am so certain that we can and will break the cycle of domestic violence and abuse that is passed like DNA from generation to generation.

First, however, we must heed her call to break down the wall of silence and to hold parents accountable for child abuse. At the same time, we must confront our past and begin the recovery process:

If we deny the wounds inflicted on us, we will inflict those same wounds on the next generation.

I have been stunned to realize how many of the people I write about on my Life Rafts page have relied on Dr. Miller’s ideas to heal from the trauma of abuse experienced as children and/or adults.

Dr. Miller’s extensive body of work includes 13 books. I encourage you to visit her site because it contains a wealth of information including synopses of her books and reviews and excerpts for many of them.

From time to time, I will review these books in the Great Books section of this web site.  Most are still in print and available at

The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting

The Truth Will Set You Free: Overcoming Emotional Blindness and Finding Your True Adult Self

Breaking Down the Wall of Silence: The Liberating Experience of Facing Painful Truth

The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self

Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries

The Untouched Key: Tracing Childhood Trauma in Creativity and Destructiveness

Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child

For Your Own Good; Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence

Related Reading:

Dr. Miller’s Obituary in the New York Times, April 26, 2010

6 responses to “Alice Miller: Breaking Down the Wall of Silence

  1. Pingback: Steps and Exes by Laura Kalpakian « Anne Caroline Drake·

  2. So much admiration for this woman!! And for yourself for sharing these, I’m getting a lot out of these posts. Again thank you.

  3. Thank you. Jane Fonda is a HUGE fan of Alice Miller. She and Eve Ensler are great friends who work together quite closely to end violence against women and children.

    We’re all breaking down the walls of silence, eh?

    Sending hugs,
    Anne Caroline

  4. I think it’s great so many of these women are breaking the silence. For me I’ve always felt so alone in this, I did know it was happening but I think people are often to shy to speak about it. Hats off to all of us I say 🙂

  5. Pingback: Book Review: The Prayer Box | Anne Caroline Drake·

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