by Alice Miller, Ph.D.
Untold millions of people who have been in
attendance when babies are born (doctors, midwives, nurses, family
members) have taken it for granted that the newborn will cry out
of physical necessity. Amazingly enough, they did not perceive the
obvious fact that the face distorted with pain and the little creature's
cries were nothing other than the expression of psychic distress. Frédérick
Leboyer was the first to ask the long overdue question of how babies
must feel when, after an often difficult struggle for survival, they are
lifted up by their feet and submitted to brutal routine procedures
instead of being comforted. He proved that if the newborns are treated
with great care, in keeping with their psychic state, they are able to
smile just minutes after being born and do not cry. It actually is in
the way the newborns have been treated, until very recently, that
society makes the first of its many contributions toward equipping a
person with destructive and self-destructive tendencies.
The contrast between the pain-wracked and the
smiling faces of newborns is all it takes for me to realize with horror
what we have done to our children out of insensitivity and lack of
awareness. Yet this contrast is also all it takes to awaken in me the
hope that someday in the future, we will be able to do away with the
unwanted seeds of violence.
If battered children such as Hitler, Eichmann, Höss,
etc. were and are able to destroy human life on the monumental scale
history clearly indicates they did, then it is only logical to ask how
beneficial an influence children who are not battered or abused can have
on the world when they grow up.
The Twelve Points
(This section is also availble in French
For some years now there has been proof that the
devastating effects of the traumatization of children take their
inevitable toll on society. This knowledge concerns every single one of
us, and - if disseminated widely enough - should lead to fundamental
changes in society, above all to a halt in the blind escalation of
violence. The following points are intended to amplify my meaning:
1. All children are born to grow, to
develop, to live, to love, and to articulate their needs and feelings
for their self-protection.
2. For their development, children need the
respect and protection of adults who take them seriously, love them, and
honestly help them to become oriented in the world.
3. When these vital needs are frustrated,
and children are instead abused for the sake of adults' needs by being
exploited, beaten, punished, taken advantage of, manipulated, neglected,
or deceived without the intervention of any witness, then their
integrity will be lastingly impaired.
4. The normal reactions to such injury
should be anger and pain; since children in this hurtful kind of
environment, however, are forbidden to express their anger, and since it
would be unbearable to experience their pain all alone, they are
compelled to suppress their feelings, repress all memory of the trauma,
and idealize those guilty of the abuse. Later they will have no memory
of what was done to them.
5. Disassociated from the original cause,
their feelings of anger, helplessness, despair, longing, anxiety, and
pain will find expression in destructive acts against others (criminal
behavior, mass murder) or against themselves (drug addiction,
alcoholism, prostitution, psychic disorders, suicide).
6. If these people become parents, they
will then often direct acts of revenge for their mistreatment in
childhood against their own children, whom they use as scapegoats. Child
abuse is still sanctioned - indeed, held in high regard - in our society
as long as it is defined as child-rearing. It is a tragic fact that
parents beat their children in order to escape the emotions stemming
from how they were treated by their own parents.
7. If mistreated children are not to become
criminals or mentally ill, it is essential that at least once in their
life they come in contact with a person who knows without any doubt that
the environment, not the helpless, battered child, is at fault. In this
regard, knowledge or ignorance on the part of society can be
instrumental in either saving or destroying a life. Here lies the great
opportunity for relatives, social workers, therapists, teachers,
doctors, psychiatrists, officials, nurses, and bystanders to support the
child and to believe her or him.
8. Until now, society has protected the
adult and blamed the victim. It has been abetted in its blindness by
theories, still in keeping with the pedagogical principles of our
great-grandparents, according to which children are viewed as crafty
creatures, dominated by wicked drives, who invent stories and attack
their innocent parents or desire them sexually. In reality, children
tend to blame themselves for their parents' cruelty and to absolve the
parents, whom they invariably love, of all responsibility.
9. For some years now, it has been possible
to prove, thanks to the use of new therapeutic methods, that repressed
traumatic experiences in childhood are stored up in the body and,
although remaining unconscious, exert their influence even in adulthood.
In addition, electronic testing of the fetus has revealed a fact
previously unknown to most adults - a child responds to and learns both
tenderness and cruelty from the very beginning.
10. In the light of this new knowledge,
even the most absurd behavior reveals its formerly hidden logic once the
traumatic experiences of childhood no longer must remain shrouded in
11. Our sensitization to the cruelty with
which children are treated, until now commonly denied, and to the
consequences of such treatment, will as a matter of course bring to an
end the perpetuation of violence from generation to generation.
12. People whose integrity has not been
damaged in childhood, who were protected, respected, and treated with
honesty by their parents, will be - both in their youth and adulthood -
intelligent, responsive, empathic, and highly sensitive. They will take
pleasure in life and will not feel any need to kill or even hurt others
or themselves. They will use their power to defend themselves, but not
to attack others. They will not be able to do otherwise than to respect
and protect those weaker than themselves, including their children,
because this is what they have learned from their own experience and
because it is this knowledge (and not the experience of cruelty) that
has been stored up inside them from the beginning. Such people will be
incapable of understanding why earlier generations had to build up a
gigantic war industry in order to feel at ease and safe in this world.
Since it will not have to be their unconscious life task to ward off
intimidation experienced at a very early age, they will be able to deal
with attempts at intimidation in their adult life more rationally and
The introduction is excerpted from Pictures
of a Childhood by Alice Miller. New York: Penguin USA, new edition,
The 12 Points list was first published in
Alice Miller, For Your Own Good, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux,
Second Edition, 1985, and in Pictures of a Childhood, Farrar,
Straus, and Giroux, 1986.
© Alice Miller, 1985, 1986, and 1996.
Excerpted and reprinted with permission.
Reprinting of any part of this article is
allowed only by the express written permission of Alice