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.
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 Amazon.com:
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