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Alice Miller

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I was recccommended the book, The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. I read it and am not impressed, but I don't have a background in psychology. Her main contention seems to be that suffering durring childhood due to bad parenting is responsible for most if not all of a person's problems latter in life. She even makes some historical claims based on it. She almost comes out and says that WWII would not have happened if the Germans had been kinder to their children! My gut reaction is that she has identified some valid points but has reduced them to overwhelming simplicity.

Does anyone have any knowledge of her? And can they give me some insight from an Objectivist perspective?

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  • 1 year later...

I too have read Alice Miller. I would agree with her claim that all acts of abuse and violence in adulthood are directly related to childhood experience, especially in the early months and years. However, Alice Miller cannot change all the normalised violence that is the hallmark of our "civilised" systems. The only thing that can ever change this is when enough of us come to our senses and realise the truth of our sick way of life. And that's not going to happen any time soon :fool:

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I havent read the book, but it seems fairly common in pop-psychology to take theories that are interesting and probably true in quite a few cases, and then blow them ridiculously out of proportion by claiming that theyre true in _all_ cases. This seems to belong in the same box as the Freudian Oedipal complex, the 'life scripts' of Eric Berne, the idea that "all rape is about power", and pretty much all of evolutionary psychology - its probably true for some people, but it would take a hell of a lot of evidence to convince me that its true in all (or even most) cases. The part about WW2 is especially ridiculous, if thats a fair interpretation of what she said. I suppose its true in some abstract sense that the world would be a more pleasant place if kids were treated better, but its a bit silly to hold "bad child rasising practices" as being the primary cause of WW2.

I would agree with her claim that all acts of abuse and violence in adulthood are directly related to childhood experience, especially in the early months and years

Is this meant to be a falsifiable claim? If, for instance, we found a mass murderer who had enjoyed a relatively happy childhood, would this be a valid counter-example? How does you deal with people who have had radical personality changes after adolescence (Patty Hearst being a well-known example).

Alice Miller cannot change all the normalised violence that is the hallmark of our "civilised" systems
What specific 'normalised violence' do you mean? Edited by Hal
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If, for instance, we found a mass murderer who had enjoyed a relatively happy childhood, would this be a valid counter-example? How does you deal with people who have had radical personality changes after adolescence (Patty Hearst being a well-known example).

The chances of finding a mass murderer who had a happy childhood are zero. All criminals, without exception, were severely psychologically traumatised as children.

What specific 'normalised violence' do you mean?

I'm referring to the way the vast majority of us are reared to deny our true feelings (especially anger) so we end up being alienated from our self and from others, with a weak sense of identity or Self. This is why Patty Hearst ended up so symbiotcially identified with her kidnappers, the SLA terrorist group.

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The chances of finding a mass murderer who had a happy childhood are zero. All criminals, without exception, were severely psychologically traumatised as children.

What about Ted Kaczynski? The biographical reports I've seen said that his home life was quite typical. He did recall being picked on at school around the 7th grade, but that's neither parental abuse nor the kind of significant psychological damage that you're talking about.

Edited by Kevin
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What about Ted Kaczynski? The biographical reports I've seen said that his home life was quite typical. He did recall being picked on at school around the 7th grade, but that's neither parental abuse nor the kind of significant psychological damage that you're talking about.

Its not in the interest of the Status Quo to deal with the FACTS of childhood, which is why the usual "biographical reports" avoid the source of violence in adults. Besides, most abuse of children goes on in secret, notwithstanding that we don't usually remember our earliest experiences.

but that's neither parental abuse nor the kind of significant psychological damage that you're talking about

Children who are targeted by bullies in school, or preyed on by adults with a hidden agenda (eg paedophiles) are very vulnerable because they are not properly cared for and protected by their own parents, or guardians. Whatever the reasons for this lack of parental care, bullied children do not come from psychologically healthy families, no matter how normal those families appear. Very often, they apppear all too normal!

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The chances of finding a mass murderer who had a happy childhood are zero. All criminals, without exception, were severely psychologically traumatised as children.

LOL. Wow. Care to give.. even the first lead to a shred of evidence for this assertion? Or maybe some definitions for your terms? For instance, what is a "criminal"? Anyone who breaks the law? What if it's a bad law? What is a "happy childhood"? Is one instance of trauma enough to turn a kid into a future mass murderer, or is there a certain ratio of trauma to happiness that a child can endure, and maybe just become a polititian or a used car salesman instead? Is it a certain type of trauma, or will any trauma do the trick, as long as it's "severe" enough?

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For instance, what is a "criminal"? Anyone who breaks the law? What if it's a bad law? What is a "happy childhood"? Is one instance of trauma enough to turn a kid into a future mass murderer, or is there a certain ratio of trauma to happiness that a child can endure, and maybe just become a polititian or a used car salesman instead? Is it a certain type of trauma, or will any trauma do the trick, as long as it's "severe" enough?

Yes, a criminal is someone who breaks the law. However, law makers themselves often break the law: George W Bush & Co., are a good example.

Good, i.e., sane, people do not obey bad laws.

A traumatic childhood is one that is routinely traumatic.

There are crooked politicians as there are crooked used car salesmen.

The worst possible trauma a child can suffer is emotional abandonment by its mother. This phenomenon is more common than most people realise.

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I too have read Alice Miller. I would agree with her claim that all acts of abuse and violence in adulthood are directly related to childhood experience.

The worst possible trauma a child can suffer is emotional abandonment by its mother. This phenomenon is more common than most people realise.

Really? So if you were to witness everyone in your family brutally tortured and murdered excert for your mom (who would go on to love you very much) that would be more traumatic than your mom emotionally abandoning you?

My mom died when I was 11 but I wouldn't call that the worst trauma that I had as a child.

So all acts of violence in adulthood are directly related to childhood experiance huh? I suppose that would mean that in all of human history not a single person who didn't have a bad childhood was ever "abusive" nor "violent". This of course would include all alcoholics and drug users too. No one EVER had a healthy childhood and then got hooked on drugs and abused someone......

Lots of unsubstantiated and as Hal said dubious claims here.

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Really? So if you were to witness everyone in your family brutally tortured and murdered excert for your mom (who would go on to love you very much) that would be more traumatic than your mom emotionally abandoning you?

Such acts of horrendous violence are extremely rare, thank god, so there's no comparison really.

My mom died when I was 11 but I wouldn't call that the worst trauma that I had as a child.
I'm sorry that your mother died when you were so young, but her death was a physical departure which is not the same thing as emotional abandonment.

So all acts of violence in adulthood are directly related to childhood experiance huh? I suppose that would mean that in all of human history not a single person who didn't have a bad childhood was ever "abusive" nor "violent". This of course would include all alcoholics and drug users too. No one EVER had a healthy childhood and then got hooked on drugs and abused someone......

Just look at the history of mankind: its replete with wars and violence and abuse of power - none of which is normal and natural, but sadly, all too normalised. And yes, you're right: No-one EVER had a healthy childhood and then got hooked on drugs - or for that matter, power, or money, or violence, or creating unnecessary wars etc etc etc...

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The worst possible trauma a child can suffer is emotional abandonment by its mother.

Such acts of horrendous violence are extremely rare, thank god, so there's no comparison really.

I don't follow this. You said the worst possible, but then refused to compare a possible (though rare) case of violence. if you don't consider to compare all cases, then what is your filter here?

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Adolf Hitler had an amazingly cushy childhood. The most traumatic thing was that his parents didn't want him to grow up to be an artist. He did extremely well in elementary school, but dropped out at 16 due to a lack of work ethic. His parents supported him as long as he wanted. All his racist tendencies came after the age of 18, when he went to Vienna.

Does the book say something different?

Edited by BNeptune
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There are crooked politicians as there are crooked used car salesmen.

Actually, the reason I picked those two as an example, is that I've heard people who have "Antisocial Personality Disorder" (which is what they now call the mental illness most serial killers are supposed to have) usually do good in jobs as used car salesmen and politicians, for some reason.

The worst possible trauma a child can suffer is emotional abandonment by its mother. This phenomenon is more common than most people realise.

You seem quick to make generalizations. You know, mere coorelations don't prove causality. It is true that the absence of a nurturing parent figure in infancy can actually cause physical damage to the brain, which often causes neurological/psychological problems when the child gets older. But still, it doesn't follow from that or a hundred thousand other examples of problems due to emotional abandonment that that is "the worst possible trauma a child can suffer."

Are you really suggesting that a "distant" or unatentive mother, who provides for all of her child's material needs yet neglects him emotionally causes more trauma than being molested, raped, beaten, abused, degraded, constantly threatened?... What I'm getting at is, aren't there countless types of "attention" that a parent can give to a child that are worse than emotionally abandoning him?

More importantly, don't human beings have free will? Couldn't a kid with a happy childhood choose to become a criminal, even a serial killer, for some some reason of his own when he's older, if that's what he wants to do? Haven't such simplistic strains of determinism as this been refuted time and again in psychology? Why does it keep showing back up?

Edited by Bold Standard
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  • 3 weeks later...

I wrote an informal review of Walker's novel The Color Purple for an English class way back in high school:

On Worms and Monsters

After reading partway through Alice Walker’s epistolary The Color Purple, I thought she wanted us to sympathize with the characters’ trials and tribulations. After finishing the novel, I realized that she intends for us to empathize with them, inasmuch as reading the clumsily written prose conveying Walker’s disgusting message is as painful as anything The Color Purple’s characters must endure. Well, that’s a big exaggeration, but the book is still painful to read.

In short, The Color Purple tells the tale of Celie, a black woman in the American South who struggles against the oppressive forces of racism and sexism, as well as her own demons resulting from childhood sexual abuse.

Problems abound in the structure and message of the novel. Celie’s use of poor grammar and construction makes the novel difficult to decipher at times, although I can forgive Walker here for what one must suppose is an attempt at “realism.” The biggest problems however lie in the relationship between Celie’s emotional, spiritual and psychological growth and the events of the story. At no times do these elements, which in a better novel would complement each other, ever integrate. While Celie obviously opens up and grows, she does little to drive the plot. In fact, we can capture the entire style and theme of the plot in a simple line Celie utters: “I’m pore [sic], I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t [sic] cook. . . . But I’m here,” as Walker endows Celie with these characteristics and these alone. Other characters, not Celie, drive her development: Shug shows Celie love for the first time, which magically gives the protagonist self-confidence (“For the first time in my life, I feel just right,” says Celie. By what means she “feel just right, we never find out.); Mr.___’s constant abuse gradually builds anger in Celie until she becomes defiant instead of passive (“You [sic] a low down dog is what’s wrong,” Celie exclaims, uncharacteristically; the reason for Celie’s transformation, Walker again keeps hidden). In the same vein, Celie’s rejecting God as white (“Well, us [sic] talk and talk about God, but I’m still adrift. Trying [sic] to chase the old white man out of my head.”), while obviously intended as a natural progression of the plot and Celie’s character development comes across more as forced propaganda. Similarly, Walker appears intent on undercutting Celie’s alleged heroism, as we see most obviously in Celie’s “rebelling” against Mr.____’s father by spitting in his water, an act which only serves to give Celie feet of clay. Walker unfortunately cuts down her minor characters as well, an approach exemplified in the lines “Harpo say [sic], I love you Squeak… She stand [sic] up. My name [sic] Mary Agnes, she say.” While Walker intends for this exchange to exemplify defiance in Mary Agnes’s rejection of a degrading name, it certainly lacks the power of any real heroic act, thereby rendering the characters’ images as ones of whining, not of heroism.

The worst aspects of The Color Purple however, lie in the books overall theme: the ugliness of humankind. With rare exception, all of Walker’s characters are either terrible monsters or sniveling worms. Even the heroes do nothing particularly heroic aside from not sanctioning or practicing direct evil. The message is too prevalent to be an accident on Walker’s part; in her view there are no heroes, nor values. There is only the horrible wail of the naturalistic caught in a nightmare universe of apathy and hopelessness and those “heroes” who struggle against it to achieve a superficial mediocrity. In fact, “superficial mediocrity” sums up The Color Purple nicely.

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