The Empathy Foundation Network

Growing empathy for a peaceful world

I've recently read Alice Miller's classic The Drama of Being a Child and found it riveting. Alice Miller's work on the psychological effects of childhood abuse and neglect, both physical and emotional, leads humanity's awakening to the truth about this taboo subject.

Robin Grille quotes her work frequently in Parenting for a Peaceful World. I will be reading more of her books and would be most interested to have discussions with people here about her work. I have posted the whole of a piece from her website called the Roots of Violence are Not Unknown . I have added some italics to the sections where she specifically describes the link between childhood treatment and empathy.

Miller's work is challenging. She makes it very clear that we need to face what happened to us as children in order to become free of the anger that is still inside us. She does not excuse parents, neither does she blame them. She insists that denial of the truth is detrimental to us personally and universally to humanity. Some of the discussion around feminism's excusing of mothers from responsibility is challenging for me. Some of the pieces written by others iI feel are blaming. Alice Miller herself I do not hear as blaming, rather as truthful. The more I read of her work the more I like it!

I have added her Roots of Violence - 12 points as a featured blog post too as I think it is such a clear statement of the case.

Alice miller's web address is www.alice-miller.com

This is one of a number of flyers on her website on key topics like this one Alice Miller defines Child Mistreatment, Child Abuse

love to all, Alice

The Roots of Violence are NOT Unknown

by Alice Miller

The misled brain and the banned emotions

The Facts:

1. The development of the human brain is use-dependent. The brain develops its structure in the first four years of life, depending on the experiences the environment offers the child. The brain of a child who has mostly loving experiences will develop differently from the brain of a child who has been treated cruelly.

2. Almost all children on our planet are beaten in the first years of their lives. They learn from the start violence, and this lesson is wired into their developing brains. No child is ever born violent. Violence is NOT genetic, it exists because beaten children use, in their adult lives, the lesson that their brains have learned.

3. As beaten children are not allowed to defend themselves, they must suppress their anger and rage against their parents who have humiliated them, killed their inborn empathy, and insulted their dignity. They will take out this rage later, as adults, on scapegoats, mostly on their own children. Deprived of empathy, some of them will direct their anger against themselves (in eating disorders, drug addiction, depression etc.), or against other adults (in wars, terrorism, delinquency etc.)

Questions and Answers:

Q: Parents beat their children without a second thought, to make them obedient. Nobody, except a very small minority, protests against this dangerous habit. Why is the logical sequence (from being a misled victim to becoming a misleading perpetrator) totally ignored world-wide? Why have even the Popes, responsible for the moral behaviour of many millions of believers, until now never informed them that beating children is a crime?

A: Because almost ALL of us were beaten, and we had to learn very early that these cruel acts were normal, harmless, and even good for us. Nobody ever told us that they were crimes against humanity. The wrong, immoral, and absurd lesson was wired into our developing brains, and this explains the emotional blindness governing our world.

Q: Can we free ourselves from the emotional blindness we developed in childhood?

A: We can - at least to some degree - liberate ourselves from this blindness by daring to feel our repressed emotions, including our fear and forbidden rage against our parents who had often scared us to death for periods of many years, which should have been the most beautiful years of our lives. We can't retrieve those years. But thanks to facing our truth we can transform ourselves from the children who still live in us full of fear and denial into responsible, well informed adults who regained their empathy, so early stolen from them. By becoming feeling persons we can no longer deny that beating children is a criminal act that should be forbidden on the whole planet.

Conclusion:

Caring for the emotional needs of our children means more than giving them a happy childhood. It means to enable the brains of the future adults to function in a healthy, rational way, free from perversion and madness. Being forced to learn in childhood that hitting children is a blessing for them is a most absurd, confusing lesson, one with the most dangerous consequences: This lesson as such, together with being cut off from the true emotions, creates the roots of violence.

www.alice-miller.com
© 2009 Alice Miller

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When I was teaching in early childhood settings we often talked with the children about "no hitting" and then practiced alternative ways to solve problems and resolve disagreement and conflict. However on many of these occasions children would share that their father or mother had hit them as punishment. When I asked why, the answer was usually "because I was naughty". When I asked what they had done that was naughty they mostly couldn't tell me. When the child shared that they had been hit the atmosphere in the group changed. There was a sort of mental holding of breath and a feeling of shock amongst the other children. Often then others would share that they had been hit too. I think a sort of unspoken knowledge emerged in the children at that point that parents could have chosen a better way, like we did in preschool. These times always left me with a strange and unsettled feeling. It is also interesting that the work "hit" feels so much worse than "smack" when they can be the same physical act.
As a parent I came from a tradition of "smacking" and initially thought that it was an OK way for a parent to sometimes respond to the "naughty child". I was also a very warm and loving parent and I thought that would balance it out. Once I started teaching I realised that "smacking" was totally un-necessary and that even though it might bang up against our own "smacking" conditioning, we can all find better ways to resolve conflict with our children.

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