As Alice Miller (1933-2010) states in her seminal book Free From Lies children learn by imitating their parents and much of this imitating is due to unconscious learning.
To illustrate this Miller refers to a study in which mothers were observed holding and feeding their babies and, the ways in which they did so were recorded.
Many years later, when these babies themselves became mothers they, too, were observed holding and feeding their own babies.
It was found they did so in the same particular ways they themselves had been held and fed by their mothers.
The explanation for this could only be that they had unconsciously learned the particular ‘style/method’ of how to hold and feed babies from their mothers when they were babies (the learning had to be unconscious as, being babies at the time of this learning, none had any conscious memory of it). They had remembered how they were held and fed on an unconscious level only; this is referred to by psychologists as implicit memory.
In simple terms, suggests Miller, such unconscious imitation of parents tends to lead those who are predominantly shown warmth, affection, and respect (by their parents) as children growing up into individuals who treat others with warmth, affection, and respect whereas those who are treated coldly, un-empathetically and without respect (by their parents) as children tend to grow up into individuals who treat others coldly, un-empathetically and without respect.
Miller’s View On Environmental Factors Versus Genes In Connection With The Development Of Nefarious Behaviour
In connection with man’s inhumanity to man, Miller strongly asserts that those who grow up into adults capable of terrible and heinous acts against their fellow man behave in such a way, not because of genetic inheritance, but because of severe maltreatment by parents during childhood and a lack of love. In extreme cases, Miller propounds, children treated cruelly over long stretches of their childhood may even become serial killers or malign dictators – indeed, Miller states, she has never researched such an individual (i.e. serial killer or malign dictator) who was shown ‘lots of love’ by their parents during their childhood.
Miller believed that if children have been brought up extremely cruelly they may be protected from becoming cruel to others in adulthood if they are able to express the pain of their childhood to what she terms a ‘helpful listener’ who is able to validate his/her emotions in relation his/her adverse childhood experiences; indeed, Miller’s view was that such VALIDATION was crucial – see my article entitled: Childhood Trauma – The Vital Importance Of Having Our Traumatic Experiences Validated.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)