Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Spiral of Violence: Alice Miller on Child Abuse as the Foundation of Social Violence

Earlier today, I wrote, 

Perhaps, in fact, there’s a line of continuity between slapping children in the face and sexually abusing them, and refusing to see Jewish citizens outside our window being carted off to gas chambers. 

Since at least one reader of my posting has questioned the relevance of the use of corporal punishment by the pope's brother to "anything," I'd like to offer the following reflections from the website of the noted Swiss child psychologist Alice Miller:

Humiliations, spankings and beatings, slaps in the face, betrayal, sexual exploitation, derision, neglect, etc. are all forms of mistreatment, because they injure the integrity and dignity of a child, even if their consequences are not visible right away. However, as adults, most abused children will suffer, and let others suffer, from these injuries. This dynamic of violence can deform some victims into hangmen who take revenge even on whole nations and become willing executors to dictators as unutterably appalling as Hitler and other cruel leaders. Beaten children very early on assimilate the violence they endured, which they may glorify and apply later as parents, in believing that they deserved the punishment and were beaten out of love. They don't know that the only reason for the punishments they have ( or in retrospect, had) to endure is the fact that their parents themselves endured and learned violence without being able to question it. Later, the adults, once abused children, beat their own children and often feel grateful to their parents who mistreated them when they were small and defenseless.

This is why society's ignorance remains so immovable and parents continue to produce severe pain and destructivity - in all "good will", in every generation. Most people tolerate this blindly because the origins of human violence in childhood have been and are still being ignored worldwide . . . .

For those interested in the manifold, demonstrable connections between violence inflicted on children and societal expressions of violence by children who endured violence in their formative years, I highly recommend Miller's work.  A bibliography is available on her website.