FOR YOUR OWN GOOD - Alice Miller
[Pages xxi-xxv in the print edition]

Preface to the Original Edition

THE most psychoanalysis is able to do -- according to a typical reproach -- is help a privileged minority, and only to a very limited extent at that. This is certainly a legitimate complaint as long as the benefits derived from analysis remain the exclusive property of a privileged few. But this need not be the case.

The reactions to my first book, Prisoners of Childhood: The Drama of the Gifted Child and the Search for the True Self,* convinced me that resistance to what I have to say is no greater outside the psychoanalytic community than among members of the profession -- in fact, the younger generation of the lay public shows perhaps even more openness to my ideas than do my professional colleagues. Reflecting on this, I realized how essential it is to make the insights gained from analysis of a few available to the public at large rather than hide these insights away on dusty library shelves. Thus, I decided to devote the next several years of my life to writing.
* Published in hardcover in 1981 by Basic Books, New York, as Prisoners of Childhood; now available in paperback under the original title, translated from the German: The Drama of the Gifted Child. This is also the title of the British edition.

I am primarily interested in describing everyday situations occurring outside the psychoanalytic setting that can, however, be more fully understood if viewed from a psychoanalytic perspective. This does not mean applying a ready-made theory to society, for I believe I can truly understand a person only if I hear and feel what he or she is saying to me without hiding or barricading myself behind theories. Depth psychology practiced both on others and on ourselves provides us as analysts with insights into the human psyche that accompany us everywhere in life, sharpening our sensitivity outside as well as inside the consulting room.

On the other hand, the general public is still far from realizing that our earliest experiences unfailingly affect society as a whole; that psychoses, drug addiction, and criminality are encoded expressions of these experiences. This fact is usually either disputed or accepted only on a strictly intellectual level. Since the intellect fails to influence the area of the emotions, the practical world (of politics, law, or psychiatry) continues to be dominated by medieval concepts characterized by the outward projection of evil. Can a book help to bring about knowledge of an emotional nature? I do not know the answer, but the hope that my writings will set an inner process in motion at least for some readers seems reason enough to make the attempt.

Although the numerous letters I received from readers of Prisoners of Childhood were of the utmost interest to me, I was unable to answer them all personally. Hence this book. My inability to reply directly to my readers was partly due to other demands on my time, but I also soon realized that when it comes to presenting my thoughts and experiences of recent years I must go into a great deal of detail, for there is no body of existing literature I can refer to. From the professional questions of my colleagues and the general human questions of those affected by the problems I described (which are not to be understood as mutually exclusive), two distinct issues emerged: the extent to which my interpretation of the nature of early childhood deviates from the psychoanalytic drive* theory, and the need to distinguish more clearly between feelings of guilt and of sorrow. Related to the latter issue is the urgent and frequently asked question raised by concerned parents: Is there still something we can do for our children once we have realized to what degree we are victims of the repetition compulsion?
* The author prefers to have Freud's word Trieb translated as "drive" instead of "instinct" (the choice of Strachey, Freud's official English translator), which she considers misleading. -- Trans.

Since I do not believe in the effectiveness of giving prescriptions and advice, at least when unconscious behavior is involved, I do not consider it my task to admonish parents to treat their child in ways that are impossible for them. Instead, I see it as my role to convey relevant information of a vivid and emotional nature to the child in the adult. As long as this child within is not allowed to become aware of what happened to him or her, a part of his or her emotional life will remain frozen, and sensitivity to the humiliations of childhood will therefore be dulled.

All appeals to love, solidarity, and compassion will be useless if this crucial prerequisite of sympathy and understanding is missing.

This fact has special implications for trained psychologists, because without empathy they cannot apply their professional knowledge in a beneficial way, regardless of how much time they devote to their patients. The same is true for parents; even if they are highly educated and have sufficient time at their disposal, they are helpless when it comes to understanding their child so long as they must keep the sufferings of their own childhood at an emotional distance. On the other hand, it is possible for a working mother, for example, to grasp her child's situation immediately, provided she has the necessary inner openness and freedom.

Thus, I see it as my task to sensitize the general public to the sufferings of early childhood. Addressing the child in my adult readers, I attempt to accomplish this in two different ways. In the first section of the present work I describe "poisonous pedagogy," the methods of child-rearing practiced when our parents and grandparents were growing up. It is possible that many readers will respond to my first chapter with feelings of anger and rage, which can turn out to have a very therapeutic effect. In the second part I recount the childhoods of a drug addict, a political leader, and a murderer of young boys, all of whom were subjected to severe humiliation and mistreatment as children. In two cases in particular, I draw upon their own accounts of their childhoods and later fate, trying to bring the reader to listen to their shattering testimony with my analytic ear. All three histories bear witness to the devastating role -- of child-rearing, its destruction of vitality, its danger for society. Even in psychoanalysis, especially in its theory of drives, we find traces of traditional pedagogy. I first planned to devote a chapter to this theme, but its scope forced me to make it the subject of another work, soon to appear.* There I stress the distinctions between my ideas and specific psychoanalytic theories and models more clearly than in my previous writings.
* Du sollst nicht merken appeared in Germany in 1981 and will be published in the United States under the title Thou Shalt Not Be Aware.

This book is a product of my inner dialogue with the readers of Prisoners of Childhood: The Drama of the Gifted Child and is to be understood as a continuation of that work. It is possible to read it without knowing the earlier book, but if the subjects discussed here evoke feelings of guilt in the reader rather than of sadness, then it would be advisable to read the earlier work as well. It is important and helpful always to keep in mind in reading my present work that when I speak of parents and children I do not mean specific persons but rather certain conditions, situations, or questions of relative status that concern us all, because all parents were once children and most of those who are children today will one day be parents themselves.

In conclusion, I should like to express my gratitude to several people without whose assistance this book could never have been written, at least not in its present form.

I first became fully aware of what pedagogy really is by experiencing its complete opposite in my second analysis. Therefore, my very special thanks go to my second analyst, Gertrud Boller-Schwing, the author of an extraordinary book about her experiences with institutionalized patients, The Way to the Soul of the Mentally Ill. Being was always more important to her than behavior; she never tried to "train" or instruct me, neither directly nor "between the lines." As a result of this experience, I was able to learn a great deal in my own very personal way and to become sensitive to the pedagogical atmosphere surrounding us all.

Countless conversations with my son, Martin Miller, played an equally important role in this learning process. Again and again, he forced me to become aware of my unconscious compulsions, internalized during childhood and stemming from the upbringing common to my generation. His full, clear account of his experiences is partially responsible for my own liberation from these compulsions, a liberation that could be achieved only after I had developed an ear for the sophisticated and minute nuances of the pedagogical approach. Before writing down many of the ideas developed here, I discussed them thoroughly with my son.

Lisbeth Brunner's assistance in preparing the manuscript was invaluable. She not only typed it but reacted spontaneously to every chapter with interest and empathy, thereby becoming my first reader.

Finally, I had the good fortune of finding in Suhrkamp's Friedhelm Herborth an editor who showed a profound understanding of my concerns. He never saw fit to do violence to my text and suggested only those stylistic changes that left the original meaning fully intact. His circumspect treatment of my words as well as the respect and understanding he showed for another person's ideas had already impressed me in his labors on my first book. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have received this unusual treatment.

It is thanks to Siegfried Unseld's enthusiastic response to The Drama of the Gifted Child (Prisoners of Childhood) and to his energetic efforts on my behalf that my works did not disappear on the list of a technical publisher but were able to reach a wider circle of "patients," i.e., of the suffering people for whom they were actually written. Since the editors of the German professional journal Psyche rejected the first of the three studies making up Prisoners of Childhood and since other publishers were not particularly interested in my work at that time either, it was Suhrkamp's sympathetic reception that made publication in Germany possible.


The young child which lieth in the cradle is both wayward and full of affections; and though his body be but small, yet he hath a reat [wrong-doing] heart, and is altogether inclined to evil. ...If this sparkle be suffered to increase, it will rage over and burn down the whole house. For we are changed and become good not by birth but by education. ...Therefore parents must be wary and circumspect ...they must correct and sharply reprove their children for saying or doing ill.
A Godly Form of Household Government (1621)

The gentle rod of the mother is a very soft and gentle thing; it will break neither bone nore skin; yet by the blessing of God with it, and upon the wise application of it, it would break the bond that bindeth up corruption in the heart. ...Withhold not correction from the child, for if thou beatest him with the rod he shall not die, thou shalt beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from hell.
JOHN ELIOT, The Harmony of the Gospels (1678)

It is quite natural for the child's soul to want to have a will of its own, and things that are not done correctly in the first two years will be difftcult to rectify thereafter. One of the advantages of these early years is that then force and compulsion can be used. Over the years children forget everything that happened to them in early childhood. If their wills can be broken at this time, they will never remember afterwards that they had a will, and for this very reason the severity that is required will not have any serious consequences.
J. SULZER, "Versuch yon der Erziehung und Unterweisung der Kinder" [An Essay on the Education and Instruction of Children] (1748)

Such disobedience amounts to a declaration of war against you. Your son is trying to usurp your authority, and you are justified in answering force with force in order to insure his respect, without which you will be unable to train him. The blows you administer should not be merely playful ones but should convince him that you are his master.
J. G. KRUGER, "Gedanken yon der Erziehung der Kinder" [Some Thoughts on the Education of Children] (1752)

It was constantly impressed upon me in forceful terms that I must obey promptly the wishes and commands of my parents, teachers, and priests, and indeed of all grown-up people, including servants, and that nothing must distract me from this duty. Whatever they said was always right. These basic principles by which I was brought up became second nature to me.
RUDOLF HÖSS, Commandant at Auschwitz

What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.

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