Alice Miller (psychologist): Wikis


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Alice Miller (born January 12, 1923) is a psychologist and author, noted for her work on child abuse in its many forms, including physical abuse, emotional abuse and child sexual abuse. Miller studied and wrote about the effects of poisonous pedagogy upon children and lasting into adulthood, and the resulting effects on society as a whole.[1] Miller was born in Poland and in 1946 migrated to Switzerland. She gained her doctorate in philosophy, psychology and sociology in 1953 in Basel. She studied and practiced psychoanalysis for the next 20 years. After 1973, she developed her own ideas about child development and psychology. She published her first three books in the late 1970s. In 1979, she stopped practicing as a psychoanalyst. She has continued to write and lecture on psychological issues. In 1986 she was awarded the Janusz Korczak Literary Award by the Anti-Defamation League. Her most recent book, Bilder meines Lebens ("Pictures of My Life"), was published in 2006; an informal autobiography in which the writer explores her emotional process from painful childhood, through the development of her theories and later insights, told via the display and discussion of 66 of her original paintings, painted in the years 1973 to 2005.[2][3]

Miller has two adult children. Since 2005, she answers some readers' letters and publishes articles, flyers and interviews on her website.[4][5]



The introduction of Miller's first book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, first published in 1979, contains a line that summarizes her 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.[6]

Miller became strongly disenchanted with her chosen field of psychoanalysis after many years spent in practice. Her first three books originated from research she took upon herself as a response to what she felt were major blind spots in her field. However, by the time her fourth book was published she no longer believed that psychoanalysis was viable at all.[7]

Drawing upon the work of psychohistory, Miller has analyzed writers Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka and others to find links between their childhood traumas and the outcome of their lives.[8] She maintains that all instances of mental illness, crime and falling prey of religious cults are ultimately caused by childhood trauma and inner pain not assisted by a helper which she has come to term an "enlightened witness". She extends this trauma model to include all forms of child abuse, including those that are commonly accepted (such as spanking) which she calls poisonous pedagogy, a non-literal translation of Katharina Rutschky's Schwarze Pädagogik (black pedagogy).[1][9]

In the 1990s Miller strongly supported a new method from Konrad Stettbacher, who was later charged with incidents of sexual abuse.[10] Miller came to know about Stettbacher and his method by the book of Mariella Mehr entitled Steinzeit. Having been strongly impressed by the story of the book Miller contacted Mehr in order to get the name of the therapist. Since then she has refused to bring forward therapist or method recommendations. In open letters, Miller explained her decision and how she originally became Stettbacher's disciple but in the end distanced herself from him and his regressive therapies.[11][12]

Miller blames abusive parents for the majority of neuroses and psychoses. In all cultures "sparing the parents is our supreme law" wrote Miller. Even psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and clinical psychologists are unconsciously afraid to blame parents for the mental disorders of their clients. According to Miller mental health professionals are also creatures of the poisonous pedagogy internalized in their own childhood. This explains why the command "Honor your parents" has been one of the main targets in Miller's school of psychology.[13]

Miller calls electroconvulsive therapy "a campaign against the act of remembering". She also criticizes psychotherapists' advice to clients to forgive their abusive parents. For Miller this can only hinder the way to recovery: to remember and feel the pain of our childhood. It is 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 to the once-mistreated child. She believes that forgiveness does not resolve hatred but covers 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 describes as having suffered severe parental abuse.[14]

A common denominator in Miller's writings is to explain why human beings prefer not to know about their own victimization during childhood: to avoid unbearable pain. She believes that the unconscious command of the individual, not to be aware how he or she was treated in childhood, leads to displacement: the irresistible drive to repeat traumatogenic modes of parenting in the next generation of children.[15]


The following is a brief summary of Alice Miller's books.

The Drama of the Gifted Child (Das Drama des begabten Kindes, 1979)

In her first book (also published under the titles Prisoners of Childhood and The Drama of Being a Child) Miller defines and elaborates the personality manifestations of childhood trauma. She seeks the truth about her own childhood experiences and in so doing defines the model that has become widely accepted in psychotherapeutic circles, such as the Tavistock Institute. She addresses the two reactions to the loss of love in childhood, depression and grandiosity; the inner prison, the vicious circle of contempt, repressed memories, the etiology of depression, and how childhood trauma manifests itself in the adult.

For Your Own Good (Am Anfang war Erziehung, 1980)

Miller proposes here that German traumatic childrearing produced Hitler and a serial killer of children named Jürgen Bartsch. Children learn to take their parent's point of view against themselves "for their own good". In the case of Hitler, he learned to take his parents' point of view against himself, against Jews, and against other groups of people. For Miller, the traditional pedagogic process is manipulative, resulting in grown-up adults deferring excessively to authorities, even to tyrannical leaders or dictators like Hitler. Miller even argues for abandoning the term "pedagogy" in favor of the word "support," something akin to what psychohistorians call the helping mode of parenting.

The key element that Miller elucidates in this book is the understanding of why the German nation, the "good Germans," complied with Hitler's abusive regime, which Miller asserts was a direct result of how the society in general treated its children. She raised fundamental questions about current, worldwide child-rearing practices and issued a stern warning.

Miller has communicated with leading education, psychology, and medical health establishments, as well as political leaders in many countries, to no avail.

Thou Shalt Not Be Aware (Du sollst nicht merken, 1981)

Unlike Miller's later books, this one is written in an academic style. It is her first critique of psychoanalysis, charging it with being similar to the poisonous pedagogies that she described in For Your Own Good. Miller is critical of both Freud and Jung. She scrutinizes Freud's drive theory, a device that blames the child for the abusive sexual behavior of adults. Miller also theorizes about Franz Kafka, who was abused by his father but fulfilled the politically-correct function of mirroring abuse in metaphorical novels, instead of exposing it.

The Untouched Key (Der gemiedene Schlüssel, 1988)

This book is partly a psychobiography of Nietzsche, Picasso, Kollwitz and Buster Keaton; (in Miller's latest book, The Body Never Lies published in 2005, she includes similar analyses of Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Schiller, Rimbaud, Mishima, Proust, and James Joyce).

According to Miller, Nietzsche did not experience a loving family and his philosophical output is a metaphor of an unconscious drive against his family's oppressive theological tradition. She believes the philosophical system is flawed because Nietzsche was unable to make emotional contact with the abused child inside him. Though Nietzsche was severely punished by a father who lost his mind when Nietzsche was a little boy, Miller does not accept the genetic theory of madness. She interprets Nietzsche's psychotic breakdown as the result of a family tradition of Prussian modes of child-rearing.

Banished Knowledge (Das verbannte Wissen, 1988)

In this more personal book Miller confesses she herself was abused as a child. She also introduces the fundamental concept of "enlightened witness": a person who is willing to support a harmed individual, empathize with her and help her to gain understanding of her own biographical past.

Banished Knowledge is autobiographical in another sense. It is a pointer in Miller's thoroughgoing apostasy from her own profession, psychoanalysis. She believes society colludes with Freud's theories in order not to know the truth about our childhood, a truth that human cultures have "banished." She concludes that the feelings of guilt instilled in our minds since our most tender years reinforce our repression even in the psychoanalytic profession.

Breaking Down the Wall of Silence (Abbruch der Schweigemauer, 1990)

Written in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Miller takes to task the entirety of human culture. What she calls the "wall of silence" is the metaphorical wall behind which society — academia, psychiatrists, clergy, politicians and members of the media — has sought to protect itself: denying the mind-destroying effects of child abuse. She also continues the autobiographical confession initiated in Banished Knowledge about her abusive mother. In Pictures of a Childhood: Sixty-six Watercolors and an Essay Miller says that painting helped her to ponder deeply into her memories. In some of her paintings Miller depicts baby Alice as swaddled, sometimes by an evil mother.[16]

I betrayed that little girl [...]. Only in recent years, with the help of therapy, which enabled me to lift the veil on this repression bit by bit, could I allow myself to experience the pain and desperation, the powerlessness and justified fury of that abused child. Only then did the dimensions of this crime against the child I once was become clear to me.[17]

See also


Miller's published books in English:

  • The Drama of the Gifted Child, (1978), revised in 1995 and re-published by Virago as The Drama of Being a Child. ISBN 1-86049-101-4
  • Prisoners of Childhood (1981) ISBN 0-465-06287-3
  • For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence (1983) ISBN 0-374-52269-3 (full text available on line at no cost)
  • Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child (1984) ISBN 0-374-52543-9
  • Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries ISBN 0-385-26762-2
  • The Untouched Key: Tracing Childhood Trauma in Creativity and Destructiveness ISBN 0-385-26764-9
  • Pictures of a Childhood: Sixty-six Watercolors and an Essay ISBN 0-374-23241-5
  • Paths of Life: Seven Scenarios (1998) ISBN 0-375-40379-5
  • Breaking Down the Wall of Silence: The Liberating Experience of Facing Painful Truth ISBN 0-525-93357-3
  • The Truth Will Set You Free: Overcoming Emotional Blindness (2001) ISBN 0-465-04584-7
  • The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting (2005) ISBN 0-393-06065-9, Excerpt

Miller's essays include:


  1. ^ a b Note: In For Your Own Good, Alice Miller herself credits Katharina Rutschky and her 1977 work Schwarze Pädagogik as the source of inspiration to consider the concept of poisonous pedagogy,[1] which is considered as a translation of Rutschky's original term Schwarze Pädagogik (literally "black pedagogy"). Source: Zornado, Joseph L. (2001). Inventing the Child: Culture, Ideology, and the Story of Childhood. Routledge. pp. 77. ISBN 0815335245.   In the Spanish translations of Miller's books, Schwarze Pädagogik is translated literally.
  2. ^ Miller, Alice (2006). Bilder meines Lebens. Suhrkamp. ISBN 3518457721.  
  3. ^ Alice Miller. "Bilder meines Lebens, Alice Miller, Paintings 1975 - 2005". "online gallery of paintings from the 2006 book"  
  4. ^ Child abuse and mistreatment
  5. ^ Readersmail incl. answers
  6. ^ Miller, Alice (2001). El drama del niño dotado. Barcelona: TusQuets. pp. 15.  
  7. ^ Capps, Donald (1995). The child’s song: the religious abuse of children. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster Knox Press. pp. 3–20.  
  8. ^ Miller, Alice (2005). El cuerpo nunca miente. Barcelona: TusQuets. pp. 37–41 & 48–50.  
  9. ^ Miller, Alice (1985). Por tu propio bien. Barcelona: TusQuets. pp. 17–95.  
  10. ^ Barbara Lukesch: Das Drama der begabten Dame: Alice Miller steht wegen eines Scharlatans vor einem Scherbenhaufen. First published in: Facts, 29th June 1995. (German)
  11. ^ [2] Alice Miller: "Communication to My Readers"
  12. ^ A Reaction To the Appendix To Alice Miller's Communication
  13. ^ Miller, Alice (1991). Breaking down the walls of silence. NY: Dutton/Penguin Books.   Miller’s critique of the commandment is expanded in her book The body never lies
  14. ^ this book is (legally) available online
  15. ^ Miller, Alice (1984). Thou shalt not be aware: society’s betrayal of the child. NY: Meridan Printing.  
  16. ^ [3] - a painting by Alice Miller
  17. ^ Miller: Breaking down the walls of silence, (op. cit.), pp. 20f

External links

Book reviews


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Alice Miller (born 12 January 1923) is a psychologist noted for her work on child abuse and its effects upon society as well as the lives of individuals.



The Drama of the Gifted Child (Das Drama des begabten Kindes, 1979)

  • The mother can feel herself the center of attention, for her child's eyes follow her everywhere. A child cannot run away from her as her own mother once did.
  • Clinging uncritically to traditional ideas and beliefs often serves to obscure or deny real facts of our life history.

Breaking Down the Wall of Silence (Abbruch der Schweigemauer) (1990)

  • Parents are indeed capable of routinely torturing their children without anyone interceding.
  • Hard as it is to believe, in the entire world there is not a single faculty in which a degree is offered in the study of psychic injuries in childhood.
  • Psychoanalysis does not distort the truth by accident. It does so by necessity. It is an effective system for the suppression of the truth about childhood, a truth feared by our entire society. Not surprisingly, it enjoys great esteem among intellectuals... Fear of the truth about child abuse is a leitmotif of nearly all forms of therapy known to me.
  • The danger does not lie with individuals, however criminal they may be. Far more, it lies in the ignorance of our entire society, which confirms these people in the lies that they were obliged to believe in childhood. Teachers, attorneys, doctors, social workers, priests, and other respected representatives of society protect parents from the mistreated child's every accusation and see to it that the truth about child abuse remains concealed. Even the child protection agencies insist that this crime, and this crime alone, should go unpunished.
  • It is the resentment of the past, we are told, that is making us ill. In those by now familiar groups in which addicts and their relations go into therapy together, the following belief is invariably expressed. Only when you have forgiven your parents for everything they did to you can you get well. Even if both your parents were alcoholic, even if they mistreated, confused, exploited, bet, and totally overloaded you, you must forgive.
  • The majority of therapists work under the influence of destructive interpretations culled from both Western and Oriental religions, which preach forgiveness to the once-mistreated child. Thereby, they create a new vicious circle for people who, from their earliest years, have been caught in the vicious circle of pedagogy. For forgiveness does not resolve latent hatred and self-hatred but rather covers them up in a very dangerous way.
  • In my own therapy it was my experience that it was precisely the opposite of forgiveness —namely, rebellion against mistreatment suffered, the recognition and condemnation of my parents' destructive opinions and actions, and the articulation of my own needs— that ultimately freed me from the past.
  • By refusing to forgive, I give up all illusions. Why should I forgive, when no one is asking me to? I mean, my parents refuse to understand and to know what they did to me. So why should I go on trying to understand and forgive my parents and whatever happened in their childhood, with things like psychoanalysis and transactional analysis? What's the use? Whom does it help? It doesn't help my parents to see the truth. But it does prevent me from experiencing my feelings, the feelings that would give me access to the truth. But under the bell-jar of forgiveness, feelings cannot and may not blossom freely.
  • I cannot conceive of a society in which children are not mistreated, but respected and lovingly cared for, that would develop an ideology of forgiveness for incompressible cruelties. This ideology is indivisible with the command "Thou shalt not be aware" [of the cruelty your parents inflicted to you] and with the repetition of that cruelty on the next generation.
  • The possibility of change depends on whether there is a sufficient number of enlightened witnesses to create a safety net for the growing consciousness of those who have been mistreated as children, so that they do not fall into the darkness of forgetfulness, from which they will later emerge as criminals or the mentally ill.
  • But who is there to help when all the "helpers" fear their own personal history? Bogus traditional morality, destructive religious interpretations, and confusion in our methods of childrearing all make this experience harder and hinder our initiative. Without a doubt, the pharmaceutical industry also profits from our blindness and despondency.
  • If one day the secret of childhood were to become no longer a secret, the state would be able to save immense sums that it spends on hospitals, psychiatric clinics, and prisons maintaining our blindness. That this might deliberately happen is almost too incredible a thought.


  • Someone who can understand rage as an inextricable piece of his/her self, never becomes violent.

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