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 individual’s 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
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 paediatrician, 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.
A Study Into Factors That Reduce The Risk Of The Intergenerational Transmission Of Childhood Trauma
Participants in a qualitative study that involved the use of in-depth interviews) conducted by Briana A. Woods-Jaeger et al. (2008) confirmed that the negative effects on their behaviour that their own childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and that these behaviours, in turn, negatively affected their children. For example, one parent in the study explained how the effect of their childhood trauma had led to them to develop negative expectations where both they and their children were concerned whilst another parent divulged that their experience of childhood trauma had distorted their view of what is acceptable or normal behaviour. A third parent described how the fact that their child had grown up in a similar environment to that in which the parent had grown up (i.e. economically deprived, dangerous and crime-ridden) exposed him (the child) to the same kind of ACEs to which she (the parent) had been exposed.
Nurturing and support
Aspirations to make children’s lives better than theirs (the parents’ live) had been
Helping to prepare their children to cope with ACEs they may experience
Recommended Ways Of Breaking The Intergenerational Transmission Of Trauma:
The authors of the study made the following suggestions that could help children avoid the ACEs that their parents regrettably had to live through:
- increase community awareness about ACEs
- create and develop a supportive community
- provide easily accessible education for parents as well as support, including mental health services. Indeed, parents in the study drew attention to how poor their poor mental health could affect their children; for example, the parent may be too depressed to get out of bed or feed themselves properly leading to the child being neglected. In relation to this, you may wish to read my article entitled: A Study Into The Main Effects Of The Mentally Ill Mother On Her Children.
Briana A. Woods-Jaeger et al. Promoting Resilience: Breaking the Intergenerational Cycle of Adverse Childhood Experiences
Health Education & Behavior 1–9 2018 Society for Public Health Education
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).