World-renowned therapist Alice Miller has devoted a lifetime to studying the cruelties inflicted on children. In The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects Of Cruel Parenting, Miller goes further, investigating the long-range consequences of childhood abuse on the adult body. Using numerous case histories gleaned from her practice, as well as examining the biographical stories of celebrated writers such as Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Friedrich Nietzsche, and others, Miller shows how a child’s emotional traumas, repressed humiliation, and bottled rage can manifest themselves as serious adult health problems. In discussing the lives of these literary giants, Miller explores the known or, in some cases, unknown traumas that haunted each author’s childhood. More important, Miller connects the writers’ painful childhoods with their later afflictions, which included depression, anorexia, cancer, and even insanity.
While examining everything from parental spanking to sexual abuse and emotional blackmail, Miller exposes the societal pressures that converge to harm children. She explains that we have so many societal mechanisms to prevent us from feeling anger or rage against our parents that we tend never to confront our own feelings. To combat the debilitating effects of such jarring and often contradictory emotions, Miller explores the benefits of using a therapist as an “Enlightened Witness” to reaffirm the patient’s repressed reactions to a forgotten childhood experience. Miller also discusses how institutionalized religion itself can contribute to the crushing guilt that prevents us from being healthy and conscious adults. She urges society to realize that the Fourth Commandment — “Honor thy father and thy mother” — offers immunity to abusive parents. Indeed, she argues, it is healthier not to extend forgiveness to parents whose tyrannical childrearing methods have resulted in unhappy, and often ruined, adult lives.
In a stirring rejection of the “Poisonous Pedagogy” that pardons even the most brutal parenting, Miller examines the cyclical nature of violence and abuse. Parents and guardians who abuse their children, both physically and mentally, leave them embarrassed and hurt. The inability of most children to properly express such feelings causes them to perpetuate the cycle by lashing out at their family, friends, and, above all, their own children, who will inevitably do the same. Throughout The Body Never Lies, Miller offers a calm and encouraging voice. Indeed, The Body Never Lies, through its illuminating and provocative insight, affords us a unique understanding of the immense healing powers of the adult self and the body. The following is a short excerpt:
“I think many people might feel the same way if they had someone say to them, ‘You don’t need to love and honor your parents. They did you harm. You don’t need to force yourself to feel things you don’t really feel. Constraint and enforcement have never produced anything good. In your case they can be destructive; your body will pay the price.’
This discussion confirmed my impression that we sometimes spend all our lives obeying a phantom that goes by the name of upbringing, morality, or religion. It forces us to ignore, repress, or fight against our natural, biological needs, and finally we pay for this with illnesses that we neither understand nor want to understand and that we try to overcome with medication. When patients undergoing therapy actually manage to achieve access to their true selves through the awakening of their repressed emotions, some therapists attribute this to the agency of a ‘higher power.’ By doing so, they undermine the trust we all have in ourselves from the outset: the trust in our ability to sense what will do us good and what will not.
… The reason such advice as ‘forgive your parents’ sounds so sensible is that we have heard it all our lives and have believed it to be sound. But it is not. It rests on fallacious assumptions. It is not true that forgiveness will free us from our hatred. It merely helps to cover it up and hence to reinforce it (in our unconscious minds). It is not true that tolerance grows with age. On the contrary. Children will tolerate their parents’ absurdities because they think them normal and have no way of defending themselves against them. Not until adulthood do we actively suffer from this lack of freedom and these constraints. But we feel this suffering in our relations with others, with our partners and our children. Infant fear of our parents stops us from recognizing the truth. It is not true that hatred makes us ill. Repressed, disassociated emotions can make us ill but not conscious feelings that we can give expression to.
… Of course, people who have been severed from their true feelings since early childhood will be dependent on institutions like the church and will let themselves be told what they are allowed to feel. In most cases it is very little indeed. But I cannot imagine that it will always be like this. Somewhere, sometime, there will be a rebellion, and the process of mutual stultification will be halted. It will be halted when individuals summon up the courage to overcome their understandable fears, to tell, feel, and publish the truth and communicate with others on this basis. Once we realize the immense amount of energy children can summon up in order to survive cruelty and extreme sadism, things suddenly start looking more optimistic. Then it is easy to imagine that our world could be a much better one if those children (like Rimbaud, Schiller, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche) could expend their almost limitless energies on other, more productive ends than merely fighting for their own survival.”
In his review of the book, Stephen Khamsi writes: “Our bodies, according to Miller, keep an exact record of everything we experience. Literally—in our cells. Our unconscious minds, moreover, register our complete biography. If emotional nourishment was absent during childhood, for example, our bodies will forever crave it. ‘Negative’ emotions, to take another corporal example, are important signals emitted by the body. If ignored, the body will emit new and stronger signs and signals in attempts to make itself heard. Eventually there is a rebellion. At this point, illness often results. The body is tenacious as it fights our denial of reality.”
In The Body Never Lies, Miller builds a broad cross section of portrayals of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzche, Friedrich von Schiller, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Rimbaud, Yukio Mishima, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Saddam Hussein, and Adolf Hitler. Each of these individuals sacrificed their truth in the unanswered hope that they would be loved by their parents, and almost all died in denial and isolation, tragically unable to admit to their own personal truths. These lives and these stories lend credence to Miller’s argument that moral laws lead to repression and to emotional detachment.
Miller not only provides fascinating studies of tragic figures and how their toxic relationships with their parents resulted in illness and early death, she also reveals a spectrum of common illnesses in the modern world that manifest out of a tense and negative relationship with parents and the blackmail injunction of the Fourth Commandment. Miller brilliantly explains how obesity (related to desire to escape from parents), anorexia (related to desire for communication), bulimia, asthma, anxiety, depression, self-mutilation, alcohol and drug abuse, cancer, and many more illnesses emerge in the human body as a direct result of hurtful parenting. The body emits these signs and signals in an attempt to make itself heard, tenacious as it fights our denial of reality. In Alice Miller’s The Body Never Lies, the reader is given the keys to understanding how to heal your body and your mind once and for all.
You can purchase your own copy of Alice Miller’s The Body Never Lies via Amazon. And for more brilliance from Alice Miller be sure to visit Alice-Miller.com. If you loved this book as much as I did you might also be interested in reading Miller’s equally brilliant and groundbreaking book The Drama Of The Gifted Child in the red link below.
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