Archive for December, 2010

On Alice Miller’s “For Your Own Good”

PSYCHOLOGY: This book is an elegant description, with lavish case examples, of how and why psychotherapy works to unearth the innate goodness in human beings. And how trauma, even the normal trauma of loving upbringing, all too easily leads to masking of our humanity.  Alice Miller’s words are in quotes herein, and my own comments outside of the quotes or in brackets within quotes. She emphasizes the need for safe expression, witnessing, or feelings and thoughts. “To heal our wounds, we eventually need two “knowing witnesses”—the therapist and our body, whose language will warn us the moment we abandon our truth.” (p xi)  Miller focuses especially on why not everyone—in fact most people—do not become a mass murderers despite grave wounds. “Hitler never had a single other human being in whom he could confide his true feelings: he was not only mistreated but also prevented from experiencing and expressing his pain; he didn’t have any children [of his own]who could have served as objects [for siphoning off and socializing] his hatred; …his lack of education did not allow him to ward off his hatred by intellectualizing it. Had a single one of these factors been different, perhaps he would never have become the arch-criminal he did.” Miller is in no way excusing Hitler: only refusing to demonize him or any other criminal. (p xvi) She explains that the balancing act of child-rearing is in dealing humanely with “obstinacy, willfulness, defiance and the exuberant character of children’s emotions.” (p 10) “The conscious use of humiliation…destroys the child’s self-confidence” especially when delivered “Feigning friendliness” to the child…meaning only showing the positive intent of parenting, but not being thoroughly honest with our own defensiveness, fright, hate, rage, etc. (pp 21, 23) The “predictable submissiveness” which then develops is actually “the loss of (the child’s) capacity for spontaneous feeling.” (p24)  “Crying as a natural reaction to pain is suppressed…” (p25) with witting [or unwitting] rejection by the parents of the child’s experience.  I would point out that even kindness disempowers someone who needs more time to experience their loss, as in my young patient/client who was finally able to say to his cheery, upbeat mother ‘I’m not done being sad yet’ with the result that his mom learned to tolerate his sadness, and he was then able to digest his emotions, and not act out with violence in school. “The results of this struggle against strong emotions are so disastrous because the suppression begins in infancy, i.e., before the child’s self has had a chance to develop.” (p 27) “Once the child’s intelligence has been stultified by [active or unwitting suppression, he/she] can easily be manipulated.” (p34) so that “As an adult, … will often allow himself to be manipulated by various forms of propaganda since he is already used to having his “inclinations” manipulated and has never known anything else.” (p45) Indeed: as are we all, as adults, too easily manipulated because, out of touch with our true emotions, we are also out of touch with our intuition. Caught in the vice of unchallenged ideas swallowed whole, we are imprisoned against using our emotions wisely even if they reach they surface. “When terrorists…(harm innocents) … in the service of a grand and idealistic cause, are they really doing anything different from what was once done to them?” (p66)  TO COUNTER THE SUPPRESSION and inability of adults to direct themselves in healthy fulfilling ways psychotherapy steps in to encourage “…free expression of resentment against one’s parents…[and others]. It provides access to one’s true self, reactivates numbed feelings, opens the way for mourning and—with luck—reconciliation.” “Pain over the frustration one has suffered is …(not) harmful. It is a natural, human reaction.” (p259)  It is only the lack of understanding of that frustration that is toxic. “Hatred is a normal human feeling, and a feeling has never killed anyone.” “(p281) [See my website www.surfyoursoul.com , A New Glossary of Emotions and book “Celebrate Your Emotions” for more on the path from anger to wellness] Alice Miller appeals for the healing power of psychotherapy to be not just directed at victims, but also at offenders, who were once victims themselves… “Even the worst criminal of all time was not born a criminal.” and “Living out hatred is the opposite of experiencing it.” (p197)… and then at the seemingly well-functioning majority “… (to) we realize how many pent-up feelings and aggressions people who function well and who behave unobtrusively must live with and the toll this takes on their health…” She pleads “Psychotherapeutic treatment is not inexpensive … but is it less expensive to lock (someone) up for the rest of their life?” (p231) Or, I would add, to suffer the untold trillions of costs that untreated emotional stress takes on worldwide human health and potential? It’s easy to argue that side of the treatment question, but I too struggle with such expenditures in my own family, justifying, resisting, or not. But to continue with Alice Miller’s words, “Everyone must find his own form of aggressiveness in order to avoid letting himself be made into art obedient puppet manipulated by others.” (p265) At the same time, as the children’s film “Where the Wild Things Are” shows, finding the fair limits to anger expression is a challenge at the opposite end, as “Judith” tells Max “It’s your job to make me happy, so if I want to eat you, you have to say, ‘OK Judith, whatever makes you happy.” Yes, allowing anger versus training it is quite the challenge, and tragically being to extreme in either direction creates violence of thought or action.



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Nature is moral, religions are reminders

NATURE/SPIRITUALITY  [Report] Franz de Waal, awesome researcher into bonobos and their great likenesses to humans (e.g. flatter faces, and over and above chimpanzees by far, bonobos, like humans, are more disposed to make love, not war) now has research to document also the goodness—morality—of other primates than bonobos. Chimps show compassion, remorse, and grief (e.g., a whole troop not eating for a day in response to the death of a troop member). Capuchin monkeys will choose to gain a treat that leads to their friend/neighbor monkey also being given a treat rather than just randomly, or even preferentially choosing any treat. De Waal says that nature is moral, that religion does not create morality, but that religion may be needed to help maintain and foster natural morality. Apparently, this annoys both atheists and religious fundamentalists alike. [opinion] I couldn’t agree more heartily with Dr. de Waal. I have long said that the Ten Commandments are reminders to do the right thing, and function as an antidote to human creativity. Too easily, we word-based, symbol-based humans can make up new rules: wrong rules, ugly rules, stupid rules. Does this mean that our fellow creatures are more moral than we? Hmmm. Good question. Religions everywhere, found in every culture, try to help people come back to the natural, balanced path. Our fellow creatures don’t need religion. Or do they? Honestly, I am always preaching some degree of ethics and manners to my horse, other horses, the barn cat, and various barn dogs. I do this preaching by way of using emotions [see my book “Celebrate Your Emotions” at my website http://www.ssurfyoursoul.com ], words (to help me focus), imagery (to better communicate the territory I am addressing) and of course sounds (growls, ssst’s, clicks, etc). Am I being a religious leader to my animal friends? And they to me? Hmmm.


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