A Rehabilitation of Alice Miller

Alice Miller, the radical Polish-Swiss psychoanalyst who broke with the Freudian drive theory that blames the child, is often herself accused of blaming the parents instead. Miller is further accused of preaching the truth, of Deutungsmonismus—finding evidence for your beliefs everywhere you look—and of not living up to her own ideals, noting that her own son was beaten by his father under her own watchful eye. Oh, the irony!

The truth is that Miller herself did not come to her insights untill she was well in her fifties. Her son Martin Miller was indeed beaten by his father with the apparent approval of his mother. Whatever the excuses, Miller did not stop the beatings.

But this fact has no relevance for the degree of correctness of her later theories. There is a reason why she broke with Freudian drive theory. There is a reason Miller broke with the psychoanalytical society: she spent decades thinking things trough and came to the conclusion that traditional psychoanalytical theorie protects parents and blames the child by default.

Miller could not support such theories any longer. And I believe she is right.

Miller spent a great deal of the last decades of her life exploring the biographies of philosophers, dictators and artists, like Kafka, Nietzsche and Hitler. She collected as much academic research on the childhood years people available to her. Many of her opinions are corroborated by other researchers.

In terms of Deutungsmonismus, Miller was afraid not to be understood and used the biographies of famous people to raise attention. Who can blame such an intelligent person, who believes to have found such an important insight that children are born innocent and without drives, to feel the urge to spread her ideas?

One intellectual critic even goes so far to say that, following Miller’s logic, traumatized parents ought not have children,

“[The] consequence of Alice Miller’s denial is that she was never able to state this logical and obvious next step: if you remain traumatized IN ANY WAY then it is inappropriate for you to have children.”

But in our reality we have endless shades of grey. (I suspect the author of building a logical wall to prevent himself from knowing his childhood pains.) A traumatized parent that takes the time for introspection may rear 1% less traumatized children, who will become 1% less traumatized parents. If such a trend continues then new generations of children continuously will become less traumatized parents.

Hence, Miller’s theories do not IN ANY WAY lead to the logical conclusion that traumatized parents should not have children. Miller’s path is that of a gradual cultural shift towards a better understanding of our childhoods. Traumatized parents should take time for introspection, evaluate the pain from their own childhoods and heal emotionally. Such healed parents will put a lower burden on their children. Over time, less and less trauma ends up being passed on.

Clearly Miller’s solutions work only in the long term. Someday we might no longer have traumatized parents, but plenty of happy children.

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