Alice Miller's true self would have supported her son with this difficult book
It is immensely painful to read Martin Miller's book and to discern the repercussions of Nazi-Germany's lunatic and murderous persecution on the lives of Alice Miller and her son. In consternation must I conceive the tragic self-denial, which was — through the German occupation of Poland, through virulent antisemitism and World War II — burdened onto Alice Miller as an extremely destructive torture and life-long stress. And with great compassion do I experience Martin Miller's struggle to save his dignity and humanity from an abyss of cruelty and betrayal, for which he carries no guilt, and where his mother's true self got lost.
With great empathy, Martin Miller has described his mother's gruesome history as a victim of years of brutal, constantly life-threatening persecution. Thus, he has written a pioneering book about the effects of war trauma, which is especially shocking because many people are so familiar with his mother — the world famous childhood researcher and successful writer, who wrote extensively and with passion about the causes and effects of traumatic childhood suffering. Alice Miller has given tremendous support to countless readers to dare new paths: in their lives, in therapy and as parents; for this, she will remain unforgettable in countless people's memory, also in mine.
It is heartbreaking to learn about Alice Miller's suffering — and at the same time how much horrible suffering this meant for her son Martin. He wrote this book as his mother's son; her true self would have encouraged him to share his history and insights. Alice Miller released the trauma therapist Oliver Schubbe from his obligation of confidentiality; thus, she wanted that we hear about the burden of her war trauma, which she herself though did not further look at and process.
Reading this biography, one is inescapably confronted by the devastation unleashed by Nazi Germany and World War II; Sandra Konrad's book "Everyone has their own Holocaust: The ramifications of the Holocaust on three generations of Jewish Women" also movingly reports about this. Martin's biography goes beyond his mother's works because he takes war trauma seriously. It has opened my eyes, on a very personal level, for these traumas and brought hauntingly to my mind how important it is to notice and acknowledge the ravages of war on the human psyche of the victims, even still generations later. Today, we know that more veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq die from suicide than soldiers on the battlefield. Yet, we have only barely begun to perceive how the destructiveness of war damages the human psyche, also of later generations.
Martin Miller's book has helped me, not only to understand my own experiences with Alice Miller, but also that I was powerless against her deep dissociation and repression of her severe war trauma. Thanks to the therapeutic work that I could do with empathic therapists in the USA, I could take care of the wound which the break with Alice Miller had ripped open in my soul. The openness and honesty of her son have now granted me the truth, which I could not find by myself. I am deeply grateful to Martin Miller that he wrote this courageous book.
His mother — respectively what some would call a "false self," or what I would call a "part" — searched more and more for admiration — but not for the truth. Above all, in the Stettbacher incident she would have owed not only her readers the truth, but also all those who turned full of trust with questions about therapy to her, even years after the Stettbacher debacle. An enormous betrayal happened there, committed by two therapists that knew about confidentiality and broke it. It was also a grave betrayal of a mother not only against her son — but also of Alice Miller against her readers. If they had known the truth, which Martin Miller shockingly and agonizingly shares with us — then this unswerving trust in Alice Miller would have been endangered, probably even broken. Thus, we owe to Martin Miller the decisive enlightenment about this story, which was hidden, and would almost have perished, in the fog of admiration. Personally, thanks to Jennifer Freyd's book "Blind to Betrayal," I have gained an even clearer understanding of the fatal role of betrayal as it encroaches upon human relationships and destroys them.
Some statements stayed agonizingly with me, among them that Alice Miller had to give up her life as a child, ten years of age, in Berlin after two happy, liberating years. Her older cousin Ala said about this: "If Hitler had not come into power, she certainly never would have returned to Poland with her family." How differently would Alice Miller's life have proceeded if she had not been at the mercy of this hell of deadly fear, persecution and blackmail, which would dominate and torment her and her life for the next twelve years in increasingly harrowing, devastating ways. Martin Miller's biography about the life of his mother Alice Miller makes this unforgettably and upsettingly clear; it has brought deep mourning for me. Martin Miller writes: "The more my mother strived to escape the excruciating ghosts of the war, the more the past manifested itself as lived presence. And during the last years of her life, this past was directed more and more against her own son." Alice Miller's true self never would have wanted this, but would have supported the truth, an open, honest exchange and report about her life, this book and enlightenment about war trauma.
© Barbara Rogers, October 2013
At this time, Martin Miller's book "The True 'Drama of the Gifted Child.' The Tragedy of Alice Miller — How Repressed War Traumas Impact Families" is only available in German:
Martin Miller: "Das wahre ,Drama des begabten Kindes'. Die Tragödie Alice Millers – wie verdrängte Kriegstraumata in der Familie wirken." Kreuz-Verlag, Freiburg, 2013. 176 Seiten, 17, 99 €.
Read also Caroline Fetscher' review: "The Mask of the Children's Rights Activist"