The Limits of Alice Miller

Edited January 10, 2015:

I will be writing about “what happened to Alice Miller?” later. And what happened to others. How do some brave pioneers of mental help thinking get stuck in frames of one-stop solutions?

With her theories, Alice Miller literally has changed my life for the better. The sentences in this Wikiquote link, amongst others, showed me what I could do to identify and repair my mental wounds … and that is another story.

A couple of years ago I reread her older books – and read her latest books – with a growing feeling of unease that first started niggling when I read “Open Letters” on her website.

Here is some information that confirms the unease:

Breaking Down Walls of Silence

Recognizing the effects of child abuse in the individual and society

Martin Miller’s book about his mother Alice
by Caroline Fetscher
by Barbara Rogers
a response to Alice Miller
by Barbara Rogers

Daniel Mackler:

Alice Miller in a Nutshell: A Brief Critique


In 1979 Alice Miller published “Prisoners of Childhood”—now known in the United States as “The Drama of the Gifted Child”—and in so doing broke new ground by siding radically with the child.  She traced the roots of emotional problems, which she labeled as “mental illness” (a term I dislike), to childhood conflicts, to childhood traumas, and often most specifically to abuses by parents.  She laid out her philosophy logically and elegantly, she didn’t mince words with psychological jargon, and she opened up a world of truth to millions of readers.  She offered people an enlightened witness to their pain and horror, and confirmed what so many felt to be true:  that their problems were not inherent, that their problems had real causes, and as such their problems had real solutions.  I feel she started a psychological revolution into the exploration of the causes and consequences of childhood traumas, and she set the bar several feet higher for the whole psychology field.
Why then is Alice Miller not more well-known in the psychology field?
Mostly the psychology field doesn’t take her too seriously because she doesn’t play their conventional game.  She avoids silly theories, she avoids confusing jargon, and she avoids making the hordes of irrelevant footnotes that so easily become the hallmark of small-mindedness.  But mostly she doesn’t play the game of letting parents off the hook, and that terrifies the norm.  It terrifies many parents themselves, because they are desperate to avoid looking at the damage they’ve done to their children.  It also terrifies those who want to defend their abusive parents, because you can’t read and absorb Alice Miller without looking seriously at the negative sides of your own parents.
This begs the question of why people want to defend their parents.  On the surface they might say, “I defend my parents because I love them, don’t want to view them negatively, and don’t want to hurt them.”  But the real reason is that they themselves want to avoid the pain of opening old wounds, and the pain of grieving these wounds.  Acknowledging what Alice Miller has said and applying it to one’s own life opens the door to a torrent of pain—the pain necessary for healing.  And so many people, and the psychology field in general, are simply pain-avoidant, at all costs.  Whole therapies and psychological theories (and of course psychiatric medications) are devoted to avoiding and bypassing the very pain, the necessary and healthy pain, that Alice Miller leads us right into.  As such, they dismiss Alice Miller.

And then we get to a place into which I cannot follow Mackler:

So your point is?

To take Alice Miller’s point of view to its logical conclusion, and not be blinded by her limitations.  Some of the points I stress, and feel she would have stressed had she been less limited, are as follows:

  • Don’t have kids until you’ve done all your inner homework. 
  • The only way to avoid replicating your unresolved traumas on children is to heal all these traumas fully before you have kids. 
  • Having children before you have completely healed your childhood traumas is a set-up for child abuse. It’s inevitable. And it’s wrong. 

Is it even possible to have done all one’s inner homework and be “completely healed”? In the same way that I don’t consider trauma a mental illness, I see myself in an unending process of self-insight and liberation that is a part of my life and will continue until I die … a process that could also be helpful to many who identify with “mentally healthy”. 

And I have been a part of a process of giving children a better life than parents had: My children are giving their kids more respect and freedom than I was able to give them, I could give them more than my parents gave me, and my parents gave us more than they were given … so there has been a gradual liberation from the generational chain of harm.

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