LECTURE NOTES ON ALICE MILLER (With great appreciation to Susan Stewart)


Born in Poland in 1923. Took her Ph.D. in 1953. Was a "good girl," an overachiever in her parents' eyes.
Her father: kind but weak. Didn't really protect her. Her mother was the powerful one in the family.
She was brought up in the germanic tradition of authoritarian childrearing, probably in Germany around the time of World War II.
Began writing prolifically only after really getting into art. First book published around 1979-80. "Five years after I started painting, I started writing books. The freedom that came from playing with colors, more and more gave me freedom to question what happened twenty years ago. It helped me see how hostile society is toward children."
Miller questions Freud's Oedipal triangle and psychosexual theory. Dedicated her second book to Freud, then went on to question him more and more. Doesn't question repression, but his statement, that it's not so important that abuse be literal. It may even be a fantasy. You can work with it either way.
Freud in 1896 acknowledged the presence of child abuse in many patients. Confided it to Fliess. Later Fliess' son revealed that Fliess had been molesting him all along.
Miller: The incident itself is crucial. Have to take it at face value. Has longlasting effects. In 1987 she made a formal declaration in German equivalnt of Psychology Today that she quit being a psychoanalyst. Said the drive theory caused great harm.
Has been living and practicing in Switzerland for 25 years. Did not realize she had been abused as a child until after two analyses.
"My child of long ago was abused, exploited, and turned to stone. I was amazed to discover that I was an abused child. That from the loquacity of my life I had no choice but to comply completely with the wishes of others.... Repression stopped me from recognizing this.
"Had just one person come to my defense...it might have helped me to recognize my mother's cruelty for what it was.
"My parents had experienced something similar in their own childhood, but had come to view this as for their own good...."


Views childhood as the key to understanding a person's later life.
Believes society's ills are largely caused by sick family situations. "The stockpiling of nuclear weapons is only a symbol of bottled up feelings of hatred and of the inability to perceive and articulate human needs."
Appears to draw from the object-relations theorists in some of her ideas, such as her formulation of narcissism.

Defines abuse more broadly, more drastically, to include spanking, "putting a child in its place", children to be seen and not heard, etc.
We must become aware of how society sanctions child abuse. Spanking, humiliation, can damage child for life.
Many of today's accepted ways of childbearing are in fact abusive.

Recall from Freud: The investment of libido in an object, another person, or some aspect of oneself. Concentration of mental energy on an emotion, idea, or line of action.
Miller especially refers to it in relation to mother and child.

A kind of inner freedom and vitality when the child is allowed to develop. This is normal. Part of how we learn to take care of ourselves. Babies' narcissism -- how the world relates to themselves.
Mother's narcissism -- how the baby relates to her. Parent centers the child's life on her own needs.

UNHEALTHY NARCISSISM: When mothers who are psychologically unhealthy --the child is someone who is at their own disposal, someone who can be completely controlled.
The child is required to meet the needs of the adult caregiver.
The mothering one is dependent on an echo from the child to satisfy his or her needs.

When our needs are not met in our earliest years, neurosis will develop. Parts of neurosis lie in enforced repression of the child's having been traumatized, and prohibition of expression regarding anything that happened.

FALSE SELF develops when the child is not given a chance to express herself truly. We play roles to keep our parents' love. An idealized picture that is not the true person. A reflection of what we think others want. Submits to the demand of parents, "Do it because I say so."
Child cannot develop a true self if not allowed to live it -- not allowed to question or express what we really feel. Certain behaviors are acceptable, while others are not.
A narcissistic disturbance results when child doesn't get enough respect and nurturiing. Complies with, "Do it because I say to," but inside there's a rebellion which will come out later.

REVIVAL OF INTROJECTS: Part of own false self
If a child perceives that in order to gain love from the parents he or she must be a certain way, whether the quality is positive or negative, it is introjection

List what qualities I have that my mother has
List " " that my father has.

Society, parents, analysts, are all responsible for suppressing instinctual wishes, our inner spirtuality, in the service of narcissistic needs.

LOVE VS. RESPECT. Many children today, says Miller, are loved but not respected. We do not listen to their desires and dreams.

POISONOUS PEDAGOGY. Humiliation, hurt feelings, making light of childhood suffering, sexual abuse.
We often rationalize this by saying that it's "for the child's own good."
Any of these coupled with the necessity to repress them can contribute to neurosis. Certain kinds of spanking, humiliation, etc. can damage a child for life.
Does not teach the child to be giving and caring, but greedy and spoiled. This can be a vicious cycle that continues for countless generations.

WE MUST REDEFINE WHAT "NORMAL" IS. What we see as normal in childrearing practices sometimes is not.

CURIOSITY. Children are usually very curious before they start school. Drops as we go through school.Maybe down to 20% by high school.
By third grade, lots of concern about rules and fitting in. When children are trained to be accommodating, their own voices will be silenced. The group becomes very powerful.
Keeps dropping until age 60 or 65 and then starts going up again. After retirement, a new chance to explore.

Defines it as a weapon of the4 weak and a defense against one's own despised and unwanted feelings.

In an interview in 1982 in OMNI, she says that experriments have conclusively shown that what you lwrn from punishment is basically:
1) How to avoid punishment by lies, and
2) How to punish our own inner child.
We learn that we're not intelligent enough, rich enough, etc. She declares, "I hope to change this belief that punishment can be effective." She thinks some of our laws reinforce keeping the child down, being hurtful to the child.

The grandiose person is constantly preoccupied with gaining acceptance from others; needs to excel at everything.
"I'll overfunction in the organization or the marriage." Supposed to always be "up" as well as being an overachiever. But then some of that grandiosity can fall into depression when the grandiose intentions don't materialise.
Depression: Feeling empty, futile, disconnected. (Constantly concerned with what feelings one 'ought' to have.)
Is the right action wsomething we ought to do?
Almost impossible to determine if you've never been allowed to have your own true feelings.

Reversal: From "I need you" to "you need me."
Changing passive suffering into active behavior: As soon as a man needs me, I lwll leave him.
Projection onto others: I see you as feeling toward me what I feel toward you.
All these mechanisms are accompanied by repression of the original situation and the emotions involved with it.

Trying to fill all another's needs inevitably lets them down, because I'll never be able to fill all another's needs.

"THE SEDUCTION OF THE CHILD" -- the seduction is not only sexual; it can include indoctrination of the other's values, and the child's upbringing. We must become aware of how the society sanctions child abuse.

ADVOCATE: AN UNDERSTANDING ADULT: A child can avoid becoming a criminal if he or she meets at least one other person who is not cruel to him. Can learn to recognize cruelty for what it is.
If there is one advocate who can validate that abusive events really happened, it can make a big difference.

Sometimes called the AUTHENTIC WITNESS. Someone in the child's life who will believe what the child tells. All adults need to be able to hear and say, "I hear what you're saying, and recognize that it's real for you."
People who were abused and traumatized during childhood and had someone to turn to who was sympathetic, someone other than their primary caregiver, become artists. Those with no one to turn to become tyrants.
Miller is trying to become an advocate for the inner child.

HITLER was constantly mistreated by his father, and was emotionally abandoned by mother. Was beaten almost efery day of his life as a child. He learned to be obedient and accept daily punishment with compliance. Most of Germany at that point -- iron hand, children subbservient, etc. Germany was used to that kind of poisonous father figure.

-------H E A L T H Y P A R E N T I N G--------
we must see "children as creatures not to manipualte or change but as messingers"

SUPPORT: There needs to be someone who always sides with the child in the sense of saying, "I'm with you as a loving person even if I don't accept this behavior."
In early stages, when the child needs to be empathized with. Central parental task. TRUE SELF will grow out of that acknowledgment and appreciation.
The child has to be abole to find a way, a place to feel her own feelings, recognize them, then act on them. In later life, this is also part of therapy.
If the self feels validated, then we can determine both the behaviors that are appropriate and those that are not, and not have to act out the inappropriate ones. It's important to learn to separate our sense of self from our behavior in spedific situations.

-------T R E A T M E N T------
Believes that conventional psychoanalysis duplicates the power relationship of childhood. On one side, the superior person --psychoanalyst -- on the other the powerless chient. Thus the authoritarian structure of childrearing is preserved.
If the analyst says, "The parents were disturbed but well meaning," then he is siding with the grownups.
An alternative: Whatever you want to do is fine with me.
First, person must go get in touch with their inner child's rage, pain, etc. Get beyond the denial which is pervasive in many families. "We're a happy family. We don't have any problems."
If the child thinks the parents were well meaning, she can't feel her pain. (It's difficult sometimes for child to testify in court against parent who hurt them badly.
In therapy, avoiding pain causes blockage.

MOURNING. For our lost inner child, that you didn't get to be a kid.
Therapietic method --she developed her approach from that of Swiss therapist J. Konrad Stettbacher. A sort of primal method.
The goal is not to bring about adult reconciliation with still-living parents. Rather, we need to come to terms with our own introjects.
You have to go through the pain and feel it in order to find your true self --what's under all that other stuff.
You can, for example, have a dialogue with your inner child.
As transference develops, person may start acting out instead of being compliant. Taking risks (Can I risk and not feel guilty if I fail?)
The therapist with the patient cannot try to be too rational. For a while the adult needs to feel that the child inside is validated, no matter how irrational the feelings may be.

Miller's advice to therapists: First try to discover your own childhood. Then take the experience seriously.
Steps in Stettebach's therapy:
1) Describing the situation and one's sensation
2. Experiencing and expressing emotion
3. Querying the situation (confronting and examining all the facts and details)
4. Examining these.
Miller thinks women's self-help incest groups are very positive.
The Drama of the Gifted Child(
For your own good
Thou shalt not be aware
Pictures of a childhood
The untouched Key
Banished knowledge