Alice Miller (1923 – 2010), the world renowned psychologist and psychoanalyst, theorized that many victims of childhood trauma are unconsciously driven to deny and repress the psychological damage done to them by their parent/s as if the knowledge were to fully permeate their consciousness it would result in overwhelming and unbearable emotional pain (to read my related article : Why Children Idealize Their Parents, click here).
And, according to Miller, when such individuals become adults, the negative feelings associated with the unresolved trauma are :
2. Directed inwards against the self (e.g. self-harm, depression, addictions). This is also known as internalization.
3. Directed at their own children (by repeating the abusive parenting that they themselves originally experienced).
In this article, it is the third response above (when negative feelings associated with unresolved trauma are directed at the individuals own children) that I wish to expand a little upon :
Alice Miller’s view on how abusive behaviour can be passed on from one generation to the next can be elucidated by the following quote :
‘Children who are lectured to, learn how to lecture; if they are admonished, they learn how to admonish; if scolded, they learn how to scold; if ridiculed, they learn how to ridicule; if humiliated, they learn how to humiliate; if their psyche is killed, they will learn how to kill – the only question is who will be killed: oneself, others, or both.’
– Alice Miller
Photo Above : Alice Miller
In the same book from which the above quote is taken, For Your Own Good (the title is ironic, obviously), Miller proposes that even when parents genuinely believe they are acting for the child’s ‘own good’, beneath the surface of consciousness lurk darker motives; she provides seven examples of these motives which I summarize below:
1) To displace the feelings of humiliation they (the parents) experienced as a result of their own parents’ behaviour onto their own children (to reiterate – this need not be conscious and frequently occurs on an unconscious level, according to Miller).
2) A drive to vent repressed emotions.
4) An idealization of their own parents’ behaviour (the underlying thinking be along the lines of: ‘it [their parents’ way of bringing them up] never did me any harm…’ (to read my related article on why children idealize their parents, click here).
5) Fears about allowing the child freedom
6) The need to eradicate in one’s child behaviours/feelings/attitudes that remind the parents of aspects of themselves they fear and have repressed
7) Revenge for the emotional damage they suffered at the hands of their own parents (again, most frequently this occurs on an unconscious level).
Views Of Dr Saul Krugman
Another expert in this field, Dr Saul Krugman (1911-1995), an American pediatrician, echoed Alice Miller’s view in 1989 when he stated that many individuals who were abused in childhood do not consider themselves as victims and that this attitude is frequently found in those who go on to abuse their own children and contributes in part to the explanation to the question of how the intergenerational cycle of abuse is (sometimes unwittingly) perpetuated.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).