FOR YOUR OWN GOOD - Alice Miller
6 [Pages 14-23 in the print edition]

This is supposed to be proof of an innate predisposition and thus a refutation of the importance of parental influence.

The Sulzer passage helps us to understand how this error can (and is meant to?) arise on all levels of society. Neuroses and psychoses are not direct consequences of actual frustrations but the expression of repressed traumata. If primary emphasis is placed upon raising children so that they are not aware of what is being done to them or what is being taken from them, of what they are losing in the process, of who they otherwise would have been and who they actually are, and if this is begun early enough, then as adults, regardless of their intelligence, they will later look upon the will of another person as if it were their own. How can they know that their own will was broken since they were never allowed to express it? Yet something one is not aware of can still make one ill. If, on the other hand, children experience hunger, air raids, and the loss of their home, for instance, but in such a way that they feel they are being taken seriously and respected as individuals by their parents, then they will not become ill as a result of these actual traumata. There is even a chance for them to remember these experiences (because they have had the support of devoted attachment figures) and thus enrich their inner world.

The next passage, by J. G. Kruger, reveals why it was (and still is) so important to pedagogues to combat "obstinacy" vigorously:

It is my view that one should never strike children for offenses they commit out of weakness. The only vice deserving of blows is obstinacy. It is therefore wrong to strike children at their lessons, it is wrong to strike them for falling down, it is wrong to strike them for wreaking harm unwittingly; it is wrong to strike them for crying; but it is right and proper to strike them for all of these transgressions and for even more trivial ones if they have committed them out of wickedness. If your son does not want to learn because it is your will, if he cries with the intent of defying you, if he does harm in order to offend you, in short, if he insists on having his own way:
Then whip him well till he cries so:
Oh no, Papa, oh no!
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. Therefore, you must not desist until he does what he previously refused out of wickedness to do. If you do not pay heed to this, you will have engaged him in a battle that will cause his wicked heart to swell with triumph and him to make the firm resolve to continue disregarding your blows so that he need not submit to his parents' domination. If, however, he has seen that he is vanquished the first time and has been obliged to humble himself before you, this will rob him of his courage to rebel anew. But you must pay especial heed that in chastising him you not allow yourself to be overcome by anger. For the child will be sharp-witted enough to perceive your weakness and regard as a result of anger what he should deem a meting out of justice. If you are unable to practice moderation in this regard, then yield the execution of the chastisement to another, but be sure to impress upon the person not to desist until the child has fulfilled his father's will and comes to beg you for forgiveness. You should not withhold your forgiveness entirely, as Locke justly observes, but should make it somewhat difficult of attainment and not show your complete approbation again until he has made good his previous transgression by total obedience and has proven that he is determined to be a faithful subject of his parents. If children are educated with befitting prudence at a young age, then surely it will very rarely be necessary to resort to such forceful measures; this can hardly be avoided, however, if one takes children in to be reared after they have already developed a will of their own. But sometimes, especially when they are of a proud nature, one can, even in the case of serious transgressions, dispense with beatings if one makes them, for example, go barefoot and hungry and serve at table or otherwise inflicts pain upon them where it hurts. [Gedanken von der Erziehung der Kinder (Some Thoughts on the Education of Children), 1752, quoted in Rutschky]

Here, everything is still stated openly; in modern books on child-rearing the authors carefully mask their emphasis on the importance of gaining control over the child. Over the years a sophisticated repertory of arguments was developed to prove the necessity of corporal punishment for the child's own good. In the eighteenth century, however, one still spoke freely of "usurping authority," of "faithful subjects," etc., and this language reveals the sad truth, which unfortunately still holds today. For parents' motives are the same today as they were then: in beating their children, they are struggling to regain the power they once lost to their own parents. For the first time, they see the vulnerability of their own earliest years, which they are unable to recall, reflected in their children (cf. Sulzer). Only now, when someone weaker than they is involved, do they finally fight back, often quite fiercely. There are countless rationalizations, still used today, to justify their behavior. Although parents always mistreat their children for psychological reasons, i.e., because of their own needs, there is a basic assumption in our society that this treatment is good for children. Last but not least, the pains that are taken to defend this line of reasoning betray its dubious nature. The arguments used contradict every psychological insight we have gained, yet they are passed on from generation to generation.

There must be an explanation for this that has deep emotional roots in all of us. It is unlikely that someone could proclaim "truths" that are counter to physical laws for very long (for example, that it is healthy for children to run around in bathing suits in winter and in fur coats in summer) without appearing ridiculous. But it is perfectly normal to speak of the necessity of striking and humiliating children and robbing them of their autonomy, at the same time using such high-sounding words as chastising, upbringing, and guiding onto the right path. The excerpts from Schwarze Pädagogik which follow indicate how much a parent's hidden, unrecognized needs stand to profit from such an ideology. This also explains the great resistance to accepting and integrating the indisputable body of knowledge about psychological principles that has been built up in recent decades.

There are many good books available describing the harmful and cruel aspects of traditional methods of child- rearing (by Ekkehard von Braunmiihl, Lloyd de Mause, Katharina Rutschky, Morton Schatzman, and Katharina Zimmer, to mention a few). Why has all this information brought about so little change in the attitudes of the public at large? I used to try to address the numerous individual reasons for problems resulting from child-rearing, but I now believe that there is a universal psychological phenomenon involved here that must be brought to light: namely, the way the adult exercises power over the child, a use of power that can go undetected and unpunished like no other. Seen superficially, it is not in the best interest of any of us to expose this universal mechanism, for who is willing to relinquish either the opportunity to discharge pent-up affect or the rationalizations that enable us to keep a clear conscience? Nevertheless, making these undercurrents of our behavior known is crucial for the sake of future generations. The easier it becomes by means of technology to destroy human life with the touch of a button, the more important it is for the public to understand how it can be possible for someone to want to extinguish the lives of millions of human beings. Beatings, which are only one form of mistreatment, are always degrading, because the child not only is unable to defend him- or herself but is also supposed to show gratitude and respect to the parents in return. And along with corporal punishment there is a whole gamut of ingenious measures applied "for the child's own good" which are difficult for a child to comprehend and which for that very reason often have devastating effects in later life. What is our reaction, for example, when we, as adults, try to empathize with the child raised according to the methods recommended by Villaume:

If a child is caught in the act, then it isn't difficult to coax a confession from him. It would be very easy to say to him, so- and-so saw you do this or that. I prefer to take a detour, how- ever, and there are a variety of them.

You have questioned the child about his peaked appearance. You have even gotten him to confess to certain aches and pains that you describe to him. I would then continue:

"You see, my child, that I am aware of your present ailments; I have even enumerated them. You see, then, that I know about your condition. I know even more: I know how you are going to suffer in the future, and I'll tell you about it. Listen. Your face will shrivel, your hair will turn brown; your hands will tremble, your face will be covered with pustules; your eyes will grow dim, your memory weak, your brain dull. You will lose all your good spirits, you won't be able to sleep, and you'll lose your appetite, etc." It is hard to find a child who will not be dismayed by this. To continue:

"Now I am going to tell you something else. Pay attention! Do you know what the cause of all your suffering is? You may not know, but I do. You have brought it on yourself! -- I am going to tell you what it is you do in secret...."

A child would have to be extremely obdurate if he did not make a tearful confession.

Here is another path to the truth! I am taking this passage from the Pedagogical Discourses:

I called Heinrich to me. "Listen, Heinrich, I am quite concerned about the seizure you had" (H. had had several epileptic seizures). "I have been searching in my mind for a likely cause but can come up with nothing. Think about it: do you know of anything?"

H.: "No, I know of nothing." (He could hardly know of any- thing, for a child in this condition does not know what he is doing. In any case, the question was only meant to lead up to what follows.)

"It certainly is strange! Did you perhaps get overheated and then drink something too quickly?"

H.: "No. You know I haven't been out for a long time unless you have taken me with you." "I can't understand it-I do know a very sad story about a lad of around twelve" (that was Heinrich's age); "he finally died."

(The author now gives a description of Heinrich himself, but with a different name, and frightens the lad.-- V.)

"He also had spells without warning, the way you do, and he said it was as though someone were tickling him violently."

H.: "Oh, dear! I'm not going to die? That's the way I feel too." "And sometimes the tickling seemed as if it would take his breath away."

H.: "Mine too. Didn't you notice that?" (From this, one can see that the poor child really didn't know what the cause of his misery was. )

"Then he began to laugh very hard."

H.: "No, 1 become so frightened 1 don't know what to do." (The author has invented the laughter, perhaps to hide his intention. I think it would have been better to adhere to the truth.-- V.)

"This all lasted for a while until he was finally overcome by such hearty, violent, and uncontrollable laughter that he smothered and died."

(I related all this with the greatest equanimity, paying no attention to his responses. 1 tried to make my facial expressions and my gestures lend what 1 was saying the appearance of friendly conversation.) H.: "He died of laughter? Can someone die of laughter?"

"Yes, indeed; that's what I'm telling you. Haven't you ever laughed very hard? Your chest becomes constricted, and the tears come to your eyes."

H.: "Yes, I've had that happen."

"Well, then, just imagine if that had lasted for a very long time; would you have been able to stand it? You were able to stop because the cause of your laughter stopped having an effect on you or because it didn't seem so funny any more. But in the case of our poor lad there weren't any external circum- stances that made him laugh; what caused it was the tickle of his nerves, which he couldn't stop by an act of will, and as long as that lasted, his laughter lasted too and in the end caused his death."

H.: "The poor lad! -- What was his name?"

"His name was Heinrich."

H.: "Heinrich -- !" (He looked at me aghast.)

(Nonchalantly) "Yes! He was a merchant's son in Leipzig."

H.: "Oh! But what made it happen?"

(I had been waiting for this question. Until now I had been walking about the room; now I stopped and looked him straight in the eye in order to observe him closely.)

"What do you think, Heinrich?"

H.: "I don't know."

"I'll tell you what caused it." (I said what follows in a slow and emphatic voice.) "The boy had seen someone doing harm to the most delicate nerves of his body, at the same time making strange motions. Our lad, without knowing that it would harm him, imitated what he had seen. He liked it so well that by this act he caused an unwonted agitation of the nerves of his body, thus weakening them and bringing about his death." (Heinrich blushed violently and was visibly embarrassed.) "What's wrong, Heinrich?"

H.: "Oh nothing!"

"Do you think you are about to have a seizure again?"

H.: "Oh, no! Will you permit me to leave?"

"Why Heinrich? Don't you like being here with me?"

H.: "Oh, yes! But--"


H.: "Oh, nothing!"

"Listen, Heinrich, I'm your friend, isn't that true? Be honest. Why did you blush and become so upset upon hearing the tale of the poor lad who came to such an unfortunate and untimely end?"

H.: "Blushed? Oh, I don't know--I felt sorry for him."

"Is that all?--No, Heinrich, there must be another reason; your face betrays it. You are becoming more upset. Be honest, Heinrich; by being honest, you make yourself pleasing in the sight of God, our Heavenly Father, and all men."

H.: "Oh, dear--" (He began to cry loudly and was so pitiable that tears came to my own eyes--he perceived this, grasped my hand, and kissed it passionately.)

"Well, Heinrich, why are you crying?"

H.: "Oh, dear."

"Shall I spare you your confession? Is it not true that you have done what that unfortunate lad did?"

H.: "Oh, dear! Yes."

This second method is perhaps preferable to the first if one is dealing with children of a gentle, sensitive character. There is something severe about the first one in the way it almost assaults the child. [1787, quoted in Rutschky]

Feelings of resentment and rage over this devious form of manipulation cannot surface in the child here because he does not see through the subterfuge. At the most, he will experience feelings of anxiety, shame, insecurity, and helplessness, which may soon be forgotten, especially when the child finds a victim of his own. Villaume, like other pedagogues, takes pains that his methods remain undetected:

One must observe the child closely but in such a way that he does not notice, otherwise he will be secretive and suspicious, and there will be no way of reaching him. Since a sense of shame will always impel the child to try to conceal this sin, we are not dealing with an easy matter here.

If we constantly spy upon a child, especially in secret places, it can happen that we catch him in the act.

Send the children to bed early. When they have just fallen asleep, gently pull aside the blanket to see where their hands are or whether you can detect any other signs. Again in the morning before they are fully awake.

Children, especially if they have a feeling or suspicion that their secret behavior is wicked, are timid and evasive with adults. For this reason I would assign the task of observing the child to one of his friends, and in the case of a girl to a girl friend or faithful maidservant. It goes without saying that these observers must already be familiar with the secret or must be of such age and character as to render its disclosure innocu- ous. These persons would now perform their observations under the

guise of friendship (and it would indeed be a great act of friendship). I would advise, if you are quite sure of them and if it is necessary to their task, that these observers sleep in the same bed with the little ones. In bed, shame and suspicion are easily cast off. In any case, it will not be long before the little ones betray themselves by word or deed.

The conscious use of humiliation (whose function is to satisfy the parents' needs) destroys the child's self-confidence, making him or her insecure and inhibited; nevertheless, this approach is considered beneficial:

It goes without saying that pedagogues themselves not infrequently awaken and help to swell a child's conceit by foolishly emphasizing his merits, since they are often merely large children themselves and are filled with the same conceit....It is then important to eliminate this conceit. Undisputedly, it is a fault that, if not combatted in time, becomes ingrained and, combining with other egocentric traits, can be extremely dangerous for the moral life, quite apart from the fact that conceit which rises to the level of excessive pride is offensive or ridiculous to others. Moreover, conceit frequently hinders a pedagogue's effectiveness; the conceited pupil believes he already possesses the good qualities the pedagogue teaches and expects of him or at least considers them easily attainable. Warnings he deems signs of exaggerated apprehensiveness; words of censure, signs of a peevish severity. Only humiliation can be of help here. But how should this be applied? Above all, not with many words. Words are surely not the way to establish and develop moral behavior or to eradicate and remove immoral behavior. They are effective only when part of a more thoroughgoing procedure. Detailed and direct instructions and long homilies, acerbic satire, and biting mockery are the least efficient paths to our goal; the former produce boredom and indifference, the latter bitterness and low spirits. Life itself is always the most convincing teacher. The conceited pupil should be led into situations where he is made aware of his imperfections without the pedagogue having to say a word. Someone who is unduly proud of his accomplishments should be assigned tasks far beyond his abilities and should not dissauded if he attempts to take on more than he can handle; halfhearted measures and superficiality should not be tolerated in these attempts. If someone who boasts of his diligence slackens in class, this should be sternly but briefly pointed out to him, and his attention should even be called to a missing or incorrect word in his written assignment; just be sure that the pupil does not suspect any special intent here. It will be no less effective if the pedagogue often brings his charge into the presence of what is great and noble. Hold up to a talented lad the examples of living or historical figures who possess far more splendid talent than his and who have used their talent to accomplish admirable deeds; or hold up as examples those lacking in any especially brilliant mental powers who have nevertheless achieved far more by means of a sustained iron discipline than has a frivolous talent--here too, of course, without explicit reference to your charge, who will of his own accord make the comparison privately.

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