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Society has Protected the Adult and Blamed the Victim

When Galileo Galilei in 1613 presented mathematical proof for the Copernican theory that the earth revolved around the sun and not the opposite, it was theological heresy and therefore labeled by the Church as "philosophically false and absurd". Galileo was forced to recant his statement and became blind as a result. Almost three hundred years later the Church finally decided to give up its illusion and remove his writings from the Index.

Today we find ourselves in a situation similar to that of the Church in Galileo's time, but for us today much more hangs in the balance. Our decision for either Truth or Illusion will have more weighty consequences for the survival of humanity than was the case in the seventeenth century.

It has been scientifically proven in the last few years that the devastating results of the traumatizing of children are inescapably thrown back onto society. This knowledge concerns every single person and must - if spread sufficiently - direct basic changes in our society, especially the stopping of the blind escalation of violence.

The following points will attempt to clarify what is meant here:

  1. Every child comes into the world in order to grow, to develop himself, to live, to love, and to articulate his needs and his feeling for self-preservation.
  2. In order to be able to develop themselves, children need the help of adults who are aware of their needs, who protect them, respect them, take them seriously, love them, and honestly help them to orient themselves.
  3. When these vital needs of the child are frustrated and the child, instead, is abused for the needs of the adult - beaten, punished, maltreated, manipulated, neglected, or betrayed, without the interference of a witness - then the integrity of the child will suffer a lifelong hurt.
  4. The normal reaction to hurt should be anger and pain. However, that anger remains forbidden to the child in a hurtful environment, and the pain would be unbearable in a child's loneliness. The child must then suppress his feelings, repress the memory of the trauma, and idealize his aggressor. He does not know later what has happened to him.
  5. Disconnected from their original cause, feelings of anger, helplessness, confusion, longing, distress, anxiety, and pain force destructive actions against others (criminal behavior or mass murder) or against oneself (drug addiction, prostitution, psychic disorders and suicide).
  6. The victims of the aggressors' vengeance are often their own children, used as scapegoats. Their persecution in our society is still legitimate, even held in high esteem, so long as we define it as education. Tragically, parents beat their own children in order not to feel what their own parents had done to them.
  7. An abused child will not become either a criminal or mentally ill if at least once in his life he meets a person who clearly realizes that it is not the beaten, helpless child, but his environment which is crazy. To this extent, the knowledge or ignorance of society (in the person of relatives, social workers, therapists, teachers, doctors, psychiatrists, officials, nurses) can save or help to destroy life.
  8. Till now, society has protected the adult and blamed the victim. We have been assisted in our blindness by theories, conforming to the educational patterns of our great-grandparents, in which children were seen as creatures ruled by meanness and destructive drives, inventing deceitful and fanciful events, and offending or desiring sexually their innocent parents. In truth, each child tends to take the blame and responsibility for the cruelty of his parents due to his constant love for them.
  9. Thanks to the use of new therapeutic methods, we are now able empirically to verify that all the repressed traumatic experiences of childhood are stored up and they affect one unconsciously for one's whole life.
  10. In the light of this newly achieved knowledge, every absurd behavior reveals its logic as soon as childhood traumatic experiences no longer remain in darkness.
  11. The increase in our sensitivity to the generally denied cruelty in childhood and its effects will bring to an end the violence passed on from generation to generation.
  12. People whose integrity in childhood has not been hurt, who received from their parents protection, respect, and honesty, will be, in their youth and later, intelligent, sensible, empathic, and highly sensitive. They will have a joy of living and will feel no need to harm another person or themselves nor to commit murder. They will need their strength to protect themselves but not to attack others. They would not be able to do otherwise than to respect and protect those weaker, and thus their own children, because they have experienced exactly this and because exactly this knowledge and not cruelty is stored up in them.

Afterword from For Your Own Good by Alice Miller.

© Alice Miller 1983.

Italian translation