This quote was written by Alice Miller, a world renowned child abuse expert. She was at the forefront of those who recognised and demanded a changed approach to child abuse and its aftermath in adulthood.
She was initially a Psychodynamic practitioner until she concluded that psychodynamic theory blamed victims for the abuse perpetrated against them. This created the precedent for all psychological theories to blame the victim for the abuse. It has only been in recent decades that this has begun to change.
Alice also was highly critical of different world religions that preached forgiveness. This forced people into suppressing their trauma and anger. She believed that much of that anger was displaced onto other people and was the cause of abusive parenting, anger in society, eating disorders, drug addiction, depression, and in the extreme was responsible for violent leaders.
Alice also contended that our society forces people to suppress the truth.
When I first started hearing the early discussions on child abuse in the 1980s, I was a very young adult, fresh out of school and home. What I was hearing appalled me. People were describing the way I had been treated as a child. My mother, herself a counsellor, had always kept a strong narrative about what wonderful parents they were and how I “overreacted” to things.
As these forms of abuse were becoming more widely discussed, my parents adopted the attitude of laughing off these claims. They mocked what they called the “blame it on the parents” brigade. The message was strong. Nothing happened here.
As time went on I found a deep need to get away from my family. The perfect opportunity presented itself in a posting in Europe. While I was living in Europe I was able to distance myself from my mother’s controlling narrative and began to see what had actually been going on in my childhood. I was able to dismiss much of her narrative as not true. I was shocked to realise the extent of my mother’s lies.
My mother died only a few short years after I left Australia. Her death was the release I needed to properly explore my childhood abuse.
In the wake of my mother’s death, I realised the impact my parent’s behaviour had on my siblings as well. Without my mother’s camouflaging narrative, I was able to see my sibling’s dysfunction. I dysfunction I finally decided almost ten years ago to step away from. I realised their dysfunction was not healthy for me.
As time wore on, I was able to access memories of events in my childhood. The pressure on me to hide them was immense. This pressure came from my siblings and from the church.
I became more aware how much society in general calls on people to hide their stories of abuse.
It was during this journey that I decided to go back to university and get my counselling qualifications.
I see the damage trauma in childhood does to adults.
I see the damage being largely them not being heard, or not being allowed to speak out their trauma.
When children act out, or lose their focus on school, or become incredibly withdrawn we as adults need to ask what is happening. We need to do that through a trauma lens. Instead of racing to judge and punish, we need to ask what has happened to trigger this.
Judging from the stories of the adults I have counselled, the answer would be that trauma has happened. It may be trauma from family. It may be trauma from outside the family. It may be emotional, physical, sexual. It may be because that child lives with a coercive controller parent in a terrifying Domestic Violence situation. It may be because the broken Family Law Court system places children with that coercive controlling parent who continues to abuse them.
What is the message in all this?
If you are adults, don’t rush to judge children who apparently misbehave. If you are a teacher, educate yourself about the impact of trauma on a child. If you are a parent, ask those questions in a non threatening way. You may not be abusing your child, but someone else might.
If you are an adult survivor of childhood trauma. Let your story be heard. Sometimes the safest place to do that is with a counsellor who is properly trained in trauma therapy.
Tell your story. Don’t suppress it. The person or people who abused you have done the wrong thing. Don’t protect them. Protect yourself. Get qualified counselling help and express the trauma that has happened to you.
If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your childhood trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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I leave you with the following words by Alice Miller.
These answers to the question posed me by my readers show how they have attempted to find the way to their own truth. Initially they recognize the lifelong denial of their reality and sense for the first time the pent-up though justified anger caused by the threats they were exposed to – beatings, humiliation, deceit, rejection, confusion, neglect, and exploitation. But if they manage to sense their anger and grief at what they have missed out on in life, almost all of them rediscover the alert, inquisitive child that never had the slightest chance of being perceived, respected, and listened to by the parents. Only then will the adult give the child this respect because he/she knows the true story and can thus learn to understand and love the child within.
To their great surprise the symptoms that have tormented them all their lives gradually disappear. Those symptoms were the price they had to pay for the denial of reality caused by awe of their parents.
Unquestioning adulation of parents and ancestors, regardless of what they have done, is required not only by some religions but by ALL of them, without exception, although the adult children frequently have to pay for this self-denial with severe illness symptoms. The reason why this is the case is not difficult to identify, though it is rarely taken into account. Children are forced to ignore their need for respect and are not allowed to express it, so they later look to their own children to gratify that need. This is the origin of the Fourth/Fifth Commandment (“honor your father and mother”).
This intrinsic dynamic is observable in all religions. Religions were obviously created not by people respected in childhood but by adults starved of respect from childhood on and brought up to obey their parents unswervingly. They have learned to live with the compulsive self-deception forced on them in their earlier years. Many impressive rituals have been devised to make children ignore their true feelings and accept the cruelties of their parents without demur. They are forced to suppress their anger, their TRUE feelings and honor parents who do not deserve such reverential treatment, otherwise they will be doomed to intolerable feelings of guilt all their lives. Luckily, there are now individuals who are beginning to desist from such self-mutilation and to resist the attempt to instill guilt feelings into them. These people are standing up against a practice that its proponents have always considered ethical. In fact, however, it is profoundly unethical because it produces illness and hinders healing. It flies in the face of the laws of life.