I read this book years ago, the Dutch translation of the German original and I have recently ordered this revised English version. Whatever the language, this book is extraordinary and if I had to choose one of the trauma books that made the most impression on me this would be it. The book was written in 1979 and I must admit I like this specific way of writing, the Dutch translation having quite a formal tone, and quite a poetic way of writing in English (with sentences like ‘If a woman is to give her child what he will need throughout his life…’). It’s also a very short book and can be read quickly, but the impression stays. Alice Miller is one of the first authors who wrote about the potential harm of any type of trauma, not only physical and sexual, but also psychological abuse, and the great emotional pain and struggle these can bring later on in life. With this she paved the way for the concept of developmental trauma and cPTSD. She writes about what was called ‘black pedagogy’ (see the wiki page on this here) in the Dutch edition of the book, about the practice of letting a baby cry, to teach them not to cry during the night (amongst other things). This was a practice that was recommended to young parents until well into the 1990’s, and I have personally felt the effects of it. Originally, this book was called ‘the drama of the gifted child’, the gifted referred to a phenomenon that Miller witnessed in adults who had been praised as children. She writes that from the praise and admiration they received, according to the way of thinking in that time, these adults should have had a strong stable sense of self-assurance. The opposite seemed to be true. She saw that for each of these ‘gifted children’, there had been an emotionally insecure parent who needed the child to be a specific way to hide their own insecurity behind an authoritarian facade. The child responded intuitively and unconsciously to the needs of the parent and took on the role (the false self) it had been assigned to in order to secure parental ‘love’ and thus survival, while at the same time repressing its own needs. Miller sees this as a ‘hiding of parts of the self that were not tolerated and came up with the phrase, searching for the true self, which has also been used by Ingeborg Bosch for example. Miller also acknowledges the fact that many therapists were in this situation, the therapist’s sensibility, empathy, responsiveness, and powerful ‘antennae’ indicate that as a child, the therapist probably used to fulfil other people’s needs and to suppress his own.
Alice Miller: ‘Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery and emotional acceptance of the truth in the individual and unique history of our childhood’.
I find this a very powerful statement. I feel that Miller’s thoughts are not complete though, and feel that the work of Ingeborg Bosch comes closer to how I understand now how trauma works. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has read about trauma, it’s one of the early works on emotional trauma and that in itself makes it special.