R.I.P. Alice Miller

Psychoanalyst Who Laid Human Problems to Parental Actsis Dead at 87. “Dr. Miller caused a sensation with the English publication in 1981 of her first book, “The Drama of the Gifted Child.” Originally titled “Prisoners of Childhood,” it set forth, in three essays, a simple but harrowing proposition. All children, she wrote, suffer trauma and permanent psychic scarring at the hands of parents, who enforce codes of conduct through psychological pressure or corporal punishment: slaps, spankings or, in extreme cases, sustained physical abuse and even torture.

Unable to admit the rage they feel toward their tormenters, Dr. Miller contended, these damaged children limp along through life, weighed down by depression and insecurity, and pass the abuse along to the next generation, in an unending cycle. Some, in a pathetic effort to please their parents and serve their needs, distinguish themselves in the arts or professions. The Stalins and the Hitlers, Dr. Miller later wrote, inflict their childhood traumas on millions.” (New York Times obituary)

Miller stopped practicing psychoanalysis, convinced that the relationship between the analyst and patient replicates the oppressive and abusive parental relationship. Of course, Freudians would say that that is a product of the patient’s ‘transference’ to the analyst of their attitudes toward powerful figures from their formative years, and that working with the transference forms the basis of the analytic ‘cure’. But Miller felt it was a real and inescapable power relationship as well, or instead. Reading Miller, for many, connected them with notions of victimhood and oppression in their lives and irrevocably altered their attitudes toward rearing their own children.