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Alice Miller (12 January 1923, Lwow, Poland – 14 April 2010, Saint-Rémy de Provence, France) was a psychologist and author of Jewish descent,[1][2] who is noted for her work on child abuse in its many forms, including physical abuse, emotional abuse and child sexual abuse. Miller studied and wrote about the effects of poisonous pedagogy upon children and lasting into adulthood, and the resulting effects on society as a whole.[3]

Life and work

Miller was born in Poland. In 1946 she migrated to America.[citation needed] She gained her doctorate in philosophy, psychology and sociology in 1953 in Basel. She studied and practiced psychoanalysis for the next 20 years. After 1973, she developed her own ideas about child development and psychology. She published her first three books in the late 1970s. In 1979, she stopped practicing as a psychoanalyst. She continued to write and lecture on psychological issues after that. In 1986, she was awarded the Janusz Korczak Literary Award by the Anti-Defamation League for her book Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child.[4] Her final book, Bilder meines Lebens ("Pictures of My Life"), was published in 2006; an informal autobiography in which the writer explores her emotional process from painful childhood, through the development of her theories and later insights, told via the display and discussion of 66 of her original paintings, painted in the years 1973 to 2005.[5][6]

Miller had two children. Between 2005 and her death in 2010, she answered some readers' letters on her website, where there are also published articles, flyers and interviews in three languages.[7][8] Miller died on April 14, 2010, at her home in Saint-Rémy de Provence, France.[9]


The introduction of Miller's first book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, first published in 1979, contains a line that summarizes her core views:

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.[10]

Miller became strongly disenchanted with her chosen field of psychoanalysis after many years spent in practice. Her first three books originated from research she took upon herself as a response to what she felt were major blind spots in her field. However, by the time her fourth book was published, she no longer believed that psychoanalysis was viable in any respect.[11]

Drawing upon the work of psychohistory, Miller analyzed writers Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka and others to find links between their childhood traumas and the course and outcome of their lives.[12] She maintained that all instances of mental illness, crime and falling prey to religious cults were ultimately caused by childhood trauma and inner pain that were not assisted by a helper, which she came to term an "enlightened witness." Miller extended this trauma model to include all forms of child abuse, including those that were commonly accepted (such as spanking), which she called poisonous pedagogy, a non-literal translation of Katharina Rutschky's Schwarze Pädagogik (black or dark pedagogy/imprinting).[3][13]

In the 1990s, Miller strongly supported a new method developed by Konrad Stettbacher, who himself was later charged with incidents of sexual abuse.[14] Miller came to know about Stettbacher and his method from a book by Mariella Mehr titled Steinzeit (Stone Age). Having been strongly impressed by the book, Miller contacted Mehr in order to get the name of the therapist. From that time forward, Miller refused to make therapist or method recommendations. In open letters, Miller explained her decision and how she originally became Stettbacher's disciple, but in the end she distanced herself from him and his regressive therapies.[15][16]

Miller blamed abusive parents for the majority of neuroses and psychoses. In all cultures, "sparing the parents is our supreme law," wrote Miller. Even psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and clinical psychologists were unconsciously afraid to blame parents for the mental disorders of their clients, she contended. According to Miller, mental health professionals were also creatures of the poisonous pedagogy internalized in their own childhood. This explained why the command "Honor thy parents" was one of the main targets in Miller's school of psychology.[17]

Miller called electroconvulsive therapy "a campaign against the act of remembering." In her book Abbruch der Schweigemauer (The Demolition of Silence), she also criticized psychotherapists' advice to clients to forgive their abusive parents, arguing that this could only hinder recovery through remembering and feeling childhood pain. It was her contention that the majority of therapists fear this truth and that they work under the influence of interpretations culled from both Western and Oriental religions, which preach forgiveness by the once-mistreated child. She believed that forgiveness did not resolve hatred, but covered it in a dangerous way in the grown adult: displacement on scapegoats, as she discussed in her psycho-biographies of Adolf Hitler and Jürgen Bartsch, both of whom she described as having suffered severe parental abuse.[18]

A common denominator in Miller's writings is her explanation of why human beings prefer not to know about their own victimization during childhood: to avoid unbearable pain. She believed that the unconscious command of the individual, not to be aware how he or she was treated in childhood, led to displacement: the irresistible drive to repeat traumatogenic modes of parenting in the next generation of children.[19]


The following is a brief summary of Miller's books.

The Drama of the Gifted Child (Das Drama des begabten Kindes, 1979)

In her first book (also published under the titles Prisoners of Childhood and The Drama of the Gifted Child), Miller defined and elaborated the personality manifestations of childhood trauma. She addressed the two reactions to the loss of love in childhood, depression and grandiosity; the inner prison, the vicious circle of contempt, repressed memories, the etiology of depression, and how childhood trauma manifests itself in the adult.

For Your Own Good (Am Anfang war Erziehung, 1980)

Miller proposed here that German traumatic childrearing produced Hitler and a serial killer of children named Jürgen Bartsch. Children learn to take their parent's point of view against themselves "for their own good." In the case of Hitler, he learned to take his parents' point of view against himself, against Jews, and against other groups of people. For Miller, the traditional pedagogic process was manipulative, resulting in grown-up adults deferring excessively to authorities, even to tyrannical leaders or dictators, like Hitler. Miller even argued for abandoning the term "pedagogy" in favor of the word "support," something akin to what psychohistorians call the helping mode of parenting.

The key element that Miller elucidated in this book was the understanding of why the German nation, the "good Germans," were compliant with Hitler's abusive regime, which Miller asserted was a direct result of how the society in general treated its children. She raised fundamental questions about current, worldwide child-rearing practices and issued a stern warning.

Thou Shalt Not Be Aware (Du sollst nicht merken, 1981)

Unlike Miller's later books, this one is written in a semi-academic style. It was her first critique of psychoanalysis, charging it with being similar to the poisonous pedagogies, which she described in For Your Own Good. Miller was critical of both Freud and Carl Jung. She scrutinized Freud's drive theory, a device that, according to her and Jeffrey Masson, blames the child for the abusive sexual behavior of adults. Miller also theorized about Franz Kafka, who was abused by his father but fulfilled the politically-correct function of mirroring abuse in metaphorical novels, instead of exposing it.

In the chapter entitled "The Pain of Separation and Autonomy," Miller examined the authoritarian (e.g.: Old Testament, Papist, Calvinist) interpretation of Judeo-Christian deism and its parallels to modern parenting practice, asserting that it was Jesus's father Joseph who should be credited with Jesus's departure from the dogmatic Judaism of his time. Miller's views were similar to those in Jack Miles's 1996 Pulitzer Prize winner, God: A Biography, questioning man's representations and character of God rather than the existence or deity of God.

The Untouched Key (Der gemiedene Schlüssel, 1988)

This book was partly a psychobiography of Nietzsche, Picasso, Kollwitz and Buster Keaton; (in Miller's later book, The Body Never Lies, published in 2005, she included similar analyses of Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Schiller, Rimbaud, Mishima, Proust and James Joyce).

According to Miller, Nietzsche did not experience a loving family and his philosophical output was a metaphor of an unconscious drive against his family's oppressive theological tradition. She believed that the philosophical system was flawed because Nietzsche was unable to make emotional contact with the abused child inside him. Though Nietzsche was severely punished by a father who lost his mind when Nietzsche was a little boy, Miller did not accept the genetic theory of madness. She interpreted Nietzsche's psychotic breakdown as the result of a family tradition of Prussian modes of child-rearing.

Banished Knowledge (Das verbannte Wissen, 1988)

In this more personal book Miller shared that she herself was abused as a child. She also introduced the fundamental concept of "enlightened witness": a person who was willing to support a harmed individual, empathize with her and help her to gain understanding of her own biographical past.

Banished Knowledge is autobiographical in another sense. It is a pointer in Miller's thoroughgoing apostasy from her own profession—psychoanalysis. She believed society was colluding with Freud's theories in order to not know the truth about our childhood, a truth that human cultures have "banished." She concluded that the feelings of guilt instilled in our minds since our most tender years reinforces our repression even in the psychoanalytic profession.

Breaking Down the Wall of Silence (Abbruch der Schweigemauer, 1990)

Written in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Miller took to task the entirety of human culture. What she called the "wall of silence" is the metaphorical wall behind which society — academia, psychiatrists, clergy, politicians and members of the media — has sought to protect itself: denying the mind-destroying effects of child abuse. She also continued the autobiographical confession initiated in Banished Knowledge about her abusive mother. In Pictures of a Childhood: Sixty-six Watercolors and an Essay, Miller said that painting helped her to ponder deeply into her memories. In some of her paintings, Miller depicted baby Alice as swaddled, sometimes by an evil mother.[20]

I betrayed that little girl [...]. Only in recent years, with the help of therapy, which enabled me to lift the veil on this repression bit by bit, could I allow myself to experience the pain and desperation, the powerlessness and justified fury of that abused child. Only then did the dimensions of this crime against the child I once was, become clear to me.[21]

See also


Miller's published books in English:

Miller's essays include:


  1. Cowan-Jenssen, Sue (31 May 2010). "Alice Miller obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Note: In For Your Own Good, Alice Miller herself credits Katharina Rutschky and her 1977 work Schwarze Pädagogik as the source of inspiration to consider the concept of poisonous pedagogy,[1] which is considered as a translation of Rutschky's original term Schwarze Pädagogik (literally "black pedagogy"). Source: Zornado, Joseph L. (2001). Inventing the Child: Culture, Ideology, and the Story of Childhood. Routledge. pp. 77. ISBN 0815335245. In the Spanish translations of Miller's books, Schwarze Pädagogik is translated literally.
  4. Lawson, Edward H.; Mary Lou Bertucci (1996). Encyclopedia of human rights. Taylor & Francis. p. 943. ISBN 1560323620.
  5. Miller, Alice (2006). Bilder meines Lebens. Suhrkamp. ISBN 3518457721.
  6. Alice Miller. "Bilder meines Lebens, Alice Miller, Paintings 1975 - 2005". "online gallery of paintings from the 2006 book"
  7. Child abuse and mistreatment
  8. Readersmail incl. answers
  9. William Grimes, "Alice Miller, Psychoanalyst, Dies at 87; Laid Human Problems to Parental Acts" (Obituary), New York Times, 2010 April 26.
  10. Miller, Alice (2001). El drama del niño dotado. Barcelona: TusQuets. pp. 15.
  11. Capps, Donald (1995). The child’s song: the religious abuse of children. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster Knox Press. pp. 3–20.
  12. Miller, Alice (2005). El cuerpo nunca miente. Barcelona: TusQuets. pp. 37–41 & 48–50.
  13. Miller, Alice (1985). Por tu propio bien. Barcelona: TusQuets. pp. 17–95.
  14. Barbara Lukesch: Das Drama der begabten Dame: Alice Miller steht wegen eines Scharlatans vor einem Scherbenhaufen. First published in: Facts, 29 June 1995. (German)
  15. [2] Alice Miller: "Communication to My Readers"
  16. A Reaction To the Appendix To Alice Miller's Communication
  17. Miller, Alice (1991). Breaking down the walls of silence. NY: Dutton/Penguin Books. Miller’s critique of the commandment is expanded in her book The body never lies
  18. this book is (legally) available online
  19. Miller, Alice (1984). Thou shalt not be aware: society’s betrayal of the child. NY: Meridan Printing.
  20. [3] - a painting by Alice Miller
  21. Miller: Breaking down the walls of silence, (op. cit.), pp. 20f

External links

Book reviews

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