Home Truths about Child Sexual Abuse: Influencing Policy and Practice - A Reader

By Catherine Itzin | Go to book overview

9

The newly recognised shattering effects of child abuse

Alice Miller


Introduction

Alice Miller's books about child abuse as it is perpetrated by adults and experienced by children, and its effects on individuals and society have attracted a large world-wide readership, and made her a major figure in present day psychoanalysis notwithstanding her renunciation of classic psychoanalysis (see Itzin, chapter twenty-one).

What - broadly - has been original and radical about Miller's work is to conceptualise many of the normal and routine practices of child-rearing as abusive and damaging, although they are not seen as such. This is reflected in the titles of her books: Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child (1981); For Your Own Good: The Roots of Violence in Childhood (1987); and Breaking the Wall of Silence (1992). Another of Miller's contributions has been her belief in the need, if therapy is to be effective, for the therapist to recognise and to bear witness to the pain of the child which inhabits the adult, and for the adult in therapy to experience the pain in order to become free of the effects of the child's experience and suffering associated with it.

When I approached Alice Miller through Joan Woodward, asking her to contribute a chapter distilling the core messages of her work, she responded immediately by fax, literally with the essence of her work condensed into a two page text headed 'The Newly Recognised Shattering Effects of Child Abuse'. That text is published here as her contribution to this book.

It should be read in the context of Woodward's chapter, and Bacon and Richardson's, both of which draw from Miller's work. Together these chapters represent what, in my view, is important to child sexual abuse prevention: that is, in explaining the contributing factors and causal relationships between violence and abuse experienced in childhood, and violence and abuse perpetrated in adulthood, as emotional and psychic processes; how childhood experience becomes replicated at both individual and societal levels; and the processes required at the level of the individual to break the 'cycle of violence and abuse'.

Catherine Itzin

-163-

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