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Alice Miller: The Body Never Lies. Norton 2005

Alice Miller: The Body Never Lies. Norton 2005


An outspoken, forceful, deeply human and disturbing book. Continuing her work on childhood traumas and their systemic effects later in life, the bestselling author and rebellious thinker describes in this book what see perceives as "the lingering effects of cruel parenting" (as the book's subtitle puts it). The point of the book is to demonstrate that "one specific and extremely well-established behavior norm - the Forth Commandment - frequently prevents us from admitting to our true feelings, and we pay for this compromise with various forms of physical illness." (p. 19)

The book argues for the rights of the infant and the child at the expense of parents. Miller sees the cause of children having been sacrified for a wrong type of morality that asks children to love parents irrespective of their deeds and defects in upbringing. Miller's case is the case of children and the true feelings we carry hidden in our bodies in adulthood as molded by our childhood.

Miller does not waver in the face of the monumental phenomenon she is unveiling. She is out there to challenge "the attitude displayed by the entre population of the world with regard to child abuse and cruelty to children. Such behavior is at best regarded as an involuntary 'lapse from grace', committed by parents who, though they have the best intentions, are simply overtaxed from time to time by the burden of bringing up a child. In the same vein, unemployment or overwork are quoted as the reasons that a father gives his children a slap,or marital tensions are cited as the reason a mother has beaten her children with a hanger until it breaks. Such absurd explanations are the fruits of the morality we live by, a system that has always taken the part of the adults and left the children to fend for themselves as best as they may." (p. 95)

At times one feels Miller is going too far. But is she? The effects of cruel parenting she reports through the famous lives like those of Dostoevski, Schiller, Rimbaud, Virginia Woolf and Yukio Mishima, as well as her analysis of many ordinary lives, leave little doubt in my mind that even if some specific arguments or positions she puts out might not be welltaken, the overall perspective Miller describes is indeed revolutionary, bypassed and astonishingly challenging. It seems to me she is right in claiming that unsuccessful, uncaring and implicitly cruel upbringing does have a tremendous human cost that as a society we have not faced head-on. Parenting does remain a tabu and a matter of personal choice that makes it hard to address as a key source of human tragedy.

There are two side-arguments to Miller's discussion that are important on independent grounds. One is the claim that "the body sticks to the facts" (p. 33) - "Bodily functions like breathing, circulation, digestion respond only to the emotions we actually feel, not to moral precepts." (p. 33) Another important point argues for the significance of "an enlightened witness". "It is possible to find out one's truth in the partial, non-neutral company" of a "(therapeutic) companion" that serve the needs of the child within (p. 23). 

Kirjoitti Esa Saarinen, 26.07.2008

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