Workshop presented at the IFS Conference in Providence, Rhode Island
Sunday, November 16th, 2014
Alice Miller: War Trauma and Betrayal Trauma
by Barbara Rogers
Part 1 is about my relationship with Alice Miller, my therapeutic journey, and how her son Martin contacted me four years after my break with Alice in 2008
This is the story of a friendship whose upsetting end taught me about war and genocide trauma in a shocking, utmost personal and painfully enlightening way. Alice Miller and I were unlikely friends: a Holocaust survivor — and a second generation German. Nonetheless, we were likely friends because we both were driven by a search for answers to the haunting question: how could the unspeakable crimes of World War II and the Holocaust happen. Alice Miller was 16 years old when World War II started; under the Nazi terror, she had to hide a Jewish identity from which she was estranged. As a Holocaust survivor, Alice was deeply motivated to find causes for the Holocaust — one of which she saw in the violent, authoritarian and inhumane methods of German child rearing. In "For Your Own Good," her second book, she unmasked these methods and also devoted a chapter to Hitler's childhood. For the first time, I read something about the Nazi horrors that deeply resonated with me.
Already before I read Alice Miller's books, I had raised my children differently than I had been brought up: without physical violence, trying my best to treat them respectfully and sincerely. When I read "For Your Own Good," Alice's brilliant unmasking of "black pedagogy" and her insightful, brave account of the effects of cruel parenting, I felt not only validated and supported in how I had treated my children, but also as if something I had always known deep inside connected with my conscious mind. Today, I would call this inner knowing a part: her thoughts had touched a part of me: an outraged part, filled with a passionate —NO— to my parents, —NO— to how they had treated me, and —NO— to how they had led their lives after the Holocaust and the war. This NO has guided my life in surprising and unexpected ways — years before I met it one day in a therapy session.
Through her books, Alice conveyed the message that childhood suffering affects our mental, emotional and physical health, and harms us and our lives. She inspired countless humans to raise their children without violence. I shared her passion to inform the public about the causes and effects of child abuse and neglect, so I supported her and worked with her, also for her website. I admired her for her activism on behalf of the rights and humanity of children. Today, physical punishment of children is outlawed in 39 nations around the world; Alice contributed to this development.
She also instilled hope that therapy was a way out of the prison of childhood and a tool for change. Trained as a psychoanalyst in Switzerland, Alice at first recommended in her books psychoanalysis as a helpful form of therapy. Her insights gave me hope that change was possible: Two years after I had read "For Your Own Good," I entered therapeutic work in Chicago in 1982 with a psychoanalyst, Allen Siegel, who felt close to and worked with the insights of Heinz Kohut. For our work, he searched for literature about second generation Germans, but he could not find anything. My encounter with him, a Jewish man, brought the Holocaust and Germany's history to the forefront of my thoughts and feelings. I was thirty-two years old.
Thirty-two years later, my therapeutic and life journey have come full circle as they have led me back, once again, into this harrowing time in a stunning way. In 2008, a painful break had ended my relationship with Alice, but I could not make sense of it — other than to detect that something was wrong and speak up about it on my website. What was wrong became clear only when I learned from Martin Miller what he had endured as Alice Miller's son. In shock, over and over again, I could only listen to him bit by bit; but with time, I grasped his significant insight how the traumas of genocide and war had impacted his mother. Appalled, in dismay and shock, my parts and I struggled to deal with Martin's revelations about his mother's abuse and her severe dissociation, also when I read his haunting book "The True Drama of the Gifted Child — The Tragedy of Alice Miller — How Repressed War Traumas Impact Families," which was published in Germany in the fall of 2013. Sadly, he has not yet found a US publisher.
Shaped by traditional psychoanalytic beliefs, Alice had disregarded adulthood trauma. Learning from Martin about his mother's adult history, which she had disowned and hidden behind a wall of silence, has galvanized me to the grave repercussions of childhood AND adult trauma for the human psyche. At this point, I know that genocide and war shatter human minds, souls and lives.
It became inescapable for me to face the consequences of genocide and war on three crucial people and relationships for me and my life: Alice Miller and my parents. Born after the war, in 1950, I grew up in Germany until I came to Chicago when I was 28 years old; it changed me and my life profoundly. I began to participate in life and connected with other people as I never had been able to before. It was a liberating, empowering experience and a wonderful gift of life. For the first time, people asked me about the past, what my parents and grandparents had done during the war. To have these conversations was painful, difficult — and yet relieving. It allowed me to truly face the facts about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany's evil crimes, which was staggering and mind-boggling, a blow to my trust in life and humanity. Alice Miller showed me a way out of that darkness: with her message about the roots and ramifications of child abuse and neglect; with her engagement for the human rights of children and their non-violent, respectful treatment; by promoting the possibility for change through therapy and the role of the therapist as an enlightened witness on the side of the traumatized child and the client in therapy — not the parents; with her encouragement to be true to our Selves — and that we don't have to fulfill parental expectations and demands, but are entitled to stand up to them, free ourselves from them, and walk our very own path. For me, Alice Miller will always signify all this.
During those initial eighteen months of therapy with Allen Siegel, I took a class at the University of Illinois called "Encountering the Holocaust." While I wrote papers at the end of each semester, responding to questions our professor had posed, I remember how anxiety crawled up and down my back. It was very frightening to break the silence of my childhood, my family and my country. For the first paper, I remember asking Professor Byron Sherwin if I could write about the impact of childhood on people and their lives — and if I could use Alice Miller's "For Your Own Good" to make my point; I was worried that he might think it was a crazy thing to do. Never will I forget how he looked at me with surprise and said: "I don't think thoughts are crazy; I am always interested to learn new things." And I will never forget what he wrote under the first paper that I handed in: "Excellent, moving, profound." No one had ever commented like this on anything I had written. It meant a life-altering encouragement to continue writing. Later, also Alice enjoyed and encouraged what I was writing; she valued and appreciated it emphatically.
In 2001, while I lived for the second time in Chicago, Alan and Naomi Berger published the book "Second Generation Voices: Reflections by Children of Holocaust Survivors and Perpetrators." My essay "Facing a Wall of Silence"
became part of the few German voices in that book; it dealt with part of my family history, which was public knowledge, yet had been concealed behind a thick wall of silence and idealization. My steps away from my family and how I had been formed grew deeper and stronger. At the end of my essay, I wrote: "The question which was so often put, defiantly and reproachfully, to my generation by our parents' generation: what would you have done, I can only answer with my life. I see my life as being in the service of overcoming silences, within me and around me."
("Second Generation Voices: Reflections by Children of Holocaust Survivors and Perpetrators")
When I expressed this in 2001, I never could have imagined where this deep calling would lead me. I also did not know how much IFS therapy, and the communication, which it nurtures with my inner world, would contribute to help me face what lay ahead.
(IFS stands for "Internal Family Systems" Therapy; if you want to learn more about it, go to the "Center for Self Leadership": http://www.selfleadership.org/the-larger-self.html and http://www.selfleadership.org/ )
Because of the Holocaust class, because of writing "Facing a Wall of Silence," and other experiences, I believed that I had dealt with some of the consequences of the war, also regarding my own family. Yet, what I have learned about Alice Miller brought home to me in a personally tangible, excruciating way how unaware I still was about the destructiveness of genocide and war, and how brutally they affect people and devastate them, their relationships and their lives — long after persecution and war have ended — even generations later.
The break with Alice was for me a most unexpected and grievous end of a long friendship that began when I had written a story about my childhood during my first therapy and sent it to Alice in 1984. She responded warmly and kindly; it meant so much to me. Later that year, I moved back to Germany with my first husband and our two children and lived there again for eight years before I returned to Chicago on my own in 1992. While I lived again in Europe, I contacted Alice and met her in Zurich in 1986; we talked for hours — we understood each other very well. Then, she was 63 years old, and I was 36 years old.
Through phone calls, and during visits to France, where she lived and where we spent time together, we talked more and got closer. During some difficult moments and changes in my life, she provided insightful support. We did an interview, published in Germany in 1988, when she left the psychoanalytic association. Although she talked about her orthodox Jewish origins and a few Holocaust experiences with me, she kept her background publicly concealed throughout her life; I had to walk a fine line in this relationship.
In 1989, Alice recommended a form of therapy writing that one could do without therapist, described in the book "Making Sense of Suffering" by Konrad Stettbacher. She recommended his therapy method very highly and claimed that this form of primal therapy had greatly helped, even healed her. I never met nor worked with this therapist; but the concept, written in four steps, was helpful for me: First, state the situation or problem, what is going on; then what you are feeling; in the third step, you question whatever comes to your mind: the situation, your feelings, how you were raised; in the final step, you voice your needs: what you would have needed as a child and what you need in the here and now. For several years, writing in these steps allowed me to do therapeutic work on my own. The fourth step was crucial for me — I began to voice and fulfill vital needs.
During a difficult time for me, when I had separated from my first husband in 1990, Alice withdrew from our relationship. It was clear that she did not want to deal with my inner turmoil and pain; we had no contact for several years. In 1992, I moved back to Chicago by myself, went to college, fell in love and married for a second time in 1995. Falling in love caused so much anxiety that writing therapy by myself did not work anymore; I needed to go back into therapy. At first, I returned to Allen Siegel, but after a dream in 1997, I began to work with Dick Schwartz and IFS therapy, as well as in Dance Movement Therapy with Gina Demos. As I had been doing therapy on my own, I liked Dick's concept of self-leadership and his encouragement of the client's Self to be in charge, as well as the Self's ability to reach and heal the troubled, suffering parts. It made sense to me and worked for me. I still remember what Dick said to me when I told him how I had been writing therapy: "You have been talking with your parts."
Towards the end of the nineties, Alice and I had contact again; we began to email and talk by phone more and more. Eventually, Alice asked me to be her therapeutic companion; she told me that she could not find anyone to be her therapist because she was so famous. As I knew of her mistrust, isolation, and history, I felt profound compassion and also honored. We had increasing, even daily contact, very long phone calls and a lively exchange of emails. When she could not sleep at night, she would often call me — we lived in different time zones — and I would comfort her and try to help her calm down.
In 2003, she influenced my sudden drop-out from IFS and DMT therapy; I will talk more about that later. In 2004, I published my book "screams from childhood" and started my website with the same name. In 2005 I took over the moderation of the forum "our childhood international," based on Alice's idea, where people share about their childhood traumas and therapy. Soon after, Alice asked me to help her with her website, which she had just begun. As her assistant, we discussed the emails, which arrived in her mailbox almost every day, and then both responded to many letters sent to her. I published our responses on her website, where she also had articles and essays accessible, which she herself, or other authors close to her beliefs, had written, including some articles of mine. While we worked together, I visited her in France every year. During all my trips to see her, I payed for everything myself and stayed in a hotel nearby. After her death, Alice had wanted me to take care of the German and English parts of her website; she had promised me money in her will for my work. When it became necessary to break away, it helped me that my work had been voluntary.
Toward the end of our relationship, I felt increasingly exhausted by her demands to be there for her and so frequently available. After the relationship ended, I felt as if my life-force had been sucked out of me; it was a great relief to be free from this depletion of my energy. Alice Miller's last look at me, standing next to her house in Saint Remy de Provence, remains unforgettable: it was so bitter, so reproachful. In one email, titled "A Miracle," Alice wrote: "Did I envy you (as my mother once envied me) for your accomplishments? This is indeed possible. Because obviously, I conveyed to you with my look the attitude of my mother, for whom EVERYTHING that I gave to her WAS NOT ENOUGH. Instead of thanking me for the rescue, she saw me as the murderer of my father. Instead of praising me for the achievements in the German class, she wanted to hit me. I am so glad that you stood up for yourself and thus could show me that my expectations of you, of your openness, had nothing to do with you, merely with my history and my mother, which I inadvertently and unconsciously imitated."
Unfortunately, Alice opened herself only for a moment to this reality. Soon after, I began to meet a reproachful, fierce, aggressive, irrational, paranoid Alice — and I had to account to myself that there was an insurmountable problem with Alice and our relationship. I was in shock. How could that be? Had she not done therapy? Where did these attacks come from? Who was this reproachful, condemning person? Finally, I wrote her that I did not deserve to be treated like this — and withdrew from our relationship and cooperation. Alice turned my withdrawal around, claimed that she had sent her email of termination first and accused me of lying. A while later, she attacked me even publicly on her website and slandered not just me but also IFS therapy — without a meaningful, rational explanation. Shock after shock. Utter disbelief. Some time later, she removed everything that I had written from her website, without an announcement or explanation for her readers. A friendship of many years, which I had been proud of and so highly valued, ended — and I was completely baffled.
My admiration for Alice, and my trust in her, had been unshakable — but now they were broken. Yet, I did not understand what had happened. Supportive comments by others and a discussion on the our-childhood-international forum helped me shed some light on a situation where it seemed at first that I had only myself to blame. It was impossible for me to conceive that I had been deceived and betrayed, also by her beliefs about therapy. Slowly, I realized that Alice had not done real therapeutic work — and that her ideas were not based on genuine therapy in a true therapeutic setting. She also had not had actual experiences with clients anymore after she stopped working as a psychoanalyst in 1980. Alice had avoided work with a competent therapist on an equal footing.
It had a powerful impact on me and my life that I could pick up my work with Dick Schwartz in 2008, after the break with Alice had left me reeling from pain, confusion and anxiety so that I could hardly sleep. After we had worked again for a while, by phone now, because I lived in Mexico, I told him that I wished I had not dropped out of therapy upon Alice's "advice," but continued my work with him; he was happy to hear that. I am deeply grateful to Dick that we continued my therapy work, after a break of five years, as if nothing had happened. It has given me a sense of trust in myself, in life and humanity that I otherwise might have lost after the crushing, initially incomprehensible break with Alice. After a few months of again doing IFS therapy with Dick, I wrote "escape from the fog of admiration" and published it on my website in 2009. It was my response to Alice's slander. Despite some meaningful feedback, I felt very alone with a dreadful experience that I still could not make sense of — other than that something was really, really wrong with Alice Miller, and that at least I had spoken up about it in "escape."
Out of the blue, in 2012, her son Martin Miller contacted me because he had read "escape" on my website; he wrote that his mother could neither understand what I had written, nor me. He shared some of his views about his mother and that he was working on a biography about her, after Alice Miller had died of suicide in 2010 because she had pancreatic cancer and suffered unbearable pain. Martin and I began an exchange about the experiences we both had with his mother. What he had suffered from his mother was utterly outrageous. The impact of what I learned greatly upset and distressed me; I still saw Alice as good, whereas Martin had made grim experiences with his mother throughout his life. I was horror-stricken and fell from one shock into the next.
When my incest part had wanted to work with a female IFS therapist, I began working with Jeanne Catanzaro in 2010, after I met her at an IFS training. She was at my side as I worked very hard in therapy, and also by writing therapy alone, to be able to communicate with Martin. "How could you be so blind?!" was the first, forceful accusation that a part roared at me. Other parts questioned everything about me and my life, and my goodness, as I had to recognize how destructive Alice Miller had been as a mother — and also how she had deceived me and her readers about vital facts concerning her withdrawal from Stettbacher and his therapy — about her life, and about her son.
Alice had rarely talked about her son; when she did, she had portrayed him contemptuously as a most difficult person, who, she claimed, was like his father. She felt attacked and persecuted by him. She never told me that Martin was trained and worked as a psychotherapist, incorporating some of her ideas about therapy. Martin shares in his book not only how his mother abandoned him as a child, but also how severely she betrayed him as an adult, especially when she guided him into therapy with an assistant of Stettbacher, who used this form of primal therapy, which — in difference to the written concept — involved an initial three week period, where clients were kept in a dark room with the therapist. Two therapists and a mother committed horrific betrayals during this alleged "therapy": The transcripts of the recordings of the son's therapy sessions were shared and discussed with his mother, who then used this information to exert influence on her son according to her beliefs and wishes. Martin describes further how the three of them also persecuted Martin by demanding that he no longer practice as a therapist and threatened to have his license revoked. This ordeal was a gruesome and traumatic experience for Martin; it made him completely desperate, confused and suicidal.
Two therapists who knew about confidentiality broke it; they also abused a client. And Alice Miller betrayed not only her son — but also her readers, whose unswerving trust in her would have been endangered had they known the facts. Martin Miller took Stettbacher to court and won his case; Stettbacher was also accused, by a female client in court, and by other sources, publicly — for example in a readers' letter in the German Psychology Today — of having sexually abused female clients. Later, I will talk about how Martin spoke up to his mother as he saw through Stettbacher. The Stettbacher fiasco happened in the 90ties, when I had no contact with Alice. Later, she once told me that she did not believe that Stettbacher developed this therapy concept, but an assistant of his: a young medical doctor, who took his own life. I read the same suspicion also on a German blog years ago. For a long time, my take on this was that Alice was brave to admit a mistake and let her readers know about it. But the appalling facts only emerged with Martin's book.
Martin is an excellent writer and conveyer of complex psychological contexts; he wrote a truthful, moving and clear book about his mother's life — and how much and how continually he suffered because of her. His book helped me not only understand my own experiences with Alice, but also that I was powerless against her deep dissociation, her deceitfulness, and her repression of her genocide and war trauma. Martin's openness and honesty granted me the truth, which I could not find by myself; I am deeply grateful to him that he wrote this courageous book.
It was mind-blowing to hear from Martin how much Alice had hidden from me — and from him, too — and how unscrupulously she had lied. She had never told me that she had sought help from a trauma therapist in Berlin because of her problems with her son. This work, which she broke off after only two weeks, had touched on her traumatic genocide and war suffering. Slowly, I began to comprehend how rigorously she had silenced her experiences during the Holocaust — and how astounding it was that she laid the blame for all her suffering solely at the door of her parents and son. In all our talks, I cannot ever remember her complaining about, or accusing, Nazi Germans and others who had persecuted her, blackmailed her, threatened her life and made it hell during the war.
What at first brought aghast horror, deep shame, self-blame, and outrage, when the break happened — and also when Martin contacted me — turned into relief, clarity and profound shock when I recognized the devastating consequences of genocide and war trauma. Full of compassion for Martin and his mother, I had to fully face Alice Miller's destructiveness. Now it became clear, why I had noticed a problem — even though I could not yet name it. Martin provided the decisive insights why I could not reach Alice, and why our relationship had to end. My exchange with him and reading his book awakened me to the extent of Alice's dissociation and mental confusion — and how completely she had denied how abysmally persecution and war had traumatized her. How could this be possible when she had written such enlightened books? How could someone, who believed to have done therapy successfully, remain so completely stuck in destructive character traits, or parts?
Alice hushed up her adult traumatic experiences; she never faced how they had impacted her. Particularly the Stettbacher fiasco must have meant a loss of confidence in herself — for which protective, destructive parts compensated. Change and growth would have been possible had she honestly dealt with this misguided path. But she dropped out of sincere therapy work, which would have addressed ALL of her life experiences — and instead declared herself to be healed.
Part 2 — Alice Miller and the Traumas of Genocide and War
The Holocaust was a genocide, which constitutes trauma beyond war, because it not only implies the horrors of war, but also the obliteration of the whole person, being scorned, forsaken, and betrayed by one's fellow citizens, by the world around. The victims of genocide suffer a disastrous sense of isolation and exclusion. A comment on the German amazon website about Martin's book says: "Not only 'war feelings' like fear, terror, sorrow and pain are connected with the Shoah, but the Shoah involves a debasement of the whole person and the devaluation up to "it would be best, if I did not exist!" Please, don't confound! War tortures and kills. Genocide exterminates. This makes an immense psychic difference for the victims and their children."
(Anette Lippeck, http://www.amazon.de/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A9OSYCTJVG9M9)
In 2003, after we had talked about the movie "The Pianist," Alice Miller emailed: "I myself cannot believe that I have survived all this and much more because Szpilman never had to deny himself. Today, I think that this was the deepest wound in my life. I received it twice, first from my mother, who did not want my life and wanted to kill me, so that I had to learn to deny myself. Then, I had to use this ability to avoid being taken to Treblinka, because my life was worthless for the rulers. The same all over again." Alice's statement speaks to the tragedy of her life and points to dissociation as a consequence of the denial of Self imposed on her.
The author Jeffrey Masson found out how dramatically Alice's Holocaust experiences were off limits when he tried to interview her. The interview went well until he asked Alice about her life in Warsaw and how this may have impacted her views — whereupon she blew up, broke out in tears, and told him: how could he join the long list of people who had abused her? He had no idea what she meant, and she would not explain; but from that moment their friendship suffered and never recovered.
(quoted from http://tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/32682/high-drama#comments)
Already early in our friendship, Alice shared some of her war experiences with me; but it seemed that she did not attach further importance to them. She was convinced that her anguish came from childhood trauma. She did not reflect about what war and genocide had inflicted on her or taken away from her. Martin mentions the Stockholm syndrome in regard to his parents' marriage; it seems to have also affected Alice in regard to the Nazi perpetrators, as she succumbed to the mechanism of understanding them — while she remained silent about what they had done to her. Even after the war, it did not feel safe for Alice to name the perpetrators that had turned her life into a nightmare of fear, terror and persecution. Her protective parts, which had helped her survive the war, dominated how she perceived reality: they blocked it out. In a Psychotherapy Networker webcast, Dick Schwartz talks about the multiplicity of the human mind and explains that "when somebody is traumatized, some parts become frozen in time, and others take on protective roles that distort their natural talents and can become destructive."
(Psychotherapy Networker webcast 2014, "The Trauma Revolution")
When Martin once asked his mother in her old age why she had concealed her Jewish identity from him, Alice responded that she was still afraid that she could be arrested one day because she had hidden her identity through forged papers, and that the Nazis would come and imprison her in a concentration camp. ("The True Drama of the Gifted Child," by Martin Miller, page 62 — only available in German: "Das wahre Drama des begabten Kindes")
More than fifty years after World War II, Alice had parts petrified in the time when the Nazis were murderous perpetrators — as well as in her life-long effort to conceal her Jewish identity.
Martin had to realize that his mother projected the fear and hatred meant for her war persecutors onto him; she persecuted and hurt him in inconceivable ways. It is mind-boggling how Alice could write book after book about protecting children and being on their side — yet, treat her own child with hideous cruelty, betrayal, madness and hatred. The extent of her dissociation and her hubris are scary and deeply disturbing. Martin was only able to break the wall of silence after his mother died. This silence affected him profoundly, unsettled him, cut him off from his Jewish and Polish roots, and from knowing who he was. The author Dan Bar-On, who was a professor of Social-Psychology at Ben Gurion University in Israel, writes in his book "The Others Within Us": "We need to know how to answer the question: Where do I come from? When surrounded by silence instead of answers, a difficult and basic dilemma arises."
Silence is a huge legacy burden for second generation children of genocide and war traumatized humans, whose parents don't talk about what they have been trough — either because it's too painful and horrible to talk about, or because they carry shame and guilt from what they did, or had to do, or witnessed. Not knowing about my parents' past meant for me to have no ground under my feet — and that I could not trust my parents because I did not know who they really were.
Martin, born in 1950, freed himself from his mother's pervasive commandment for silence, secrecy, lies and deceit by uncovering the past as much as he could, and by writing his book. It was a tremendous challenge because Alice had learned all too well to disguise what she did not want others to know about her. Martin shares in his book that in 2000, Alice Miller worked with the Berlin trauma therapist Oliver Schubbe because she wanted to change the relationship with her son. Amazingly, she released Schubbe from his obligation of confidentiality after her death. Alice wanted to do therapy with him because she experienced anxiety, strong guilt feelings and severe pain in her body, whenever she had contact with her son — she wanted to find out why. During this brief therapy, the war did come up; Alice worked in particular with her Warsaw war memories, which she had published in fictionalized form in her book "Paths of Life — Seven Scenarios" in 1998, where she wrote about experiences of her own, as if they had happened to another person. She invented characters and their conversations. But in this seeming fiction, I have recognized experiences of her childhood and life that Alice had shared with me.
According to Oliver Schubbe, those two weeks of therapy were not enough time to deal with her severe trauma from the Holocaust and the war. Alice's reason for dropping out was that her physical pain had decreased. But her relationship with her son never improved.
She made a fatal choice at that moment: against her son, against her Self — and for denial and delusiveness. The person who went into the world after that, even with her own website, vehemently repressed the truth and had a grandiose sense of superiority. Three years later, in 2003, she asked me to be her therapeutic helper — no therapeutic boundaries, no pay, and not a word, ever, about Oliver Schubbe. Full of compassion for her, I had no clue that I became involved in a wicked game of deception. It would have required sincere therapeutic work to find out what had gone wrong, not the adulation of a devoted supporter. Although Alice knew of course about dissociation, she refused the idea of parts and disregarded how to communicate with them. She was not curious at all about the IFS work I had done; she disparaged the process of unburdening. Focused on her childhood, she banned communication with her adult life experiences and all her parts; thus, she could not integrate her genocide and war traumas.
Alice had shared with me early on that she had survived the Holocaust with false papers; it was possible for her because she did not look Jewish. She also spoke fluent Polish, whereas her father only spoke Hebrew and could not have survived outside of the Jewish ghetto. Alice once told me that she had also managed to provide false passports for nine other people. She sounded proud of this accomplishment and of saving her own life, and the lives of others. I deeply admired her resourcefulness and courage. Initially, she talked more about her Holocaust experiences and shared things that the public did not know. Once, after such a conversation, she called me when I had arrived home and wondered why she had told me so much about herself. Then she added: "But it's up to you what you do with it." It was clear to me that I had to be very careful with this information, and certainly never could mention it publicly — or I would loose her trust. But I also felt that she gave me permission to talk about it at a certain point.
In the chapter "Margot and Lilka" in "Paths of Life," two women talk about their escape from the ghetto; in their statements, I see recollections of what happened to Alice, which is supported by Oliver Schubbe's account. The character Margot shares that, while other parents helped their children escape the Nazis and entrusted them to Christian families, her father was like a child, refused to see the danger and took no responsibility either for himself or anyone else. Margot tells Lilka: "When I decided to leave the Jewish ghetto and escape to Warsaw, I was nineteen, too, but I had to hide my plan from my parents. They would have stopped me from going."
The other character, Lilka, shares the following experience of how she arrived in Warsaw with a false identity: "On the way from the station to my lodgings, I saw Jewish families being herded along the streets with small bundles in their arms. My heart heaved with indignation, but I couldn't show it. I pretended that those poor hunted creatures were no concern of mine, and I imitated all those other Poles whose blank faces showed no sign of protest or dismay. As you know, all the barbarity in full view of everyone on the streets was tolerated in silence by most of the Polish population, as if it was something quite normal. So I learned to bite back my feelings as well. That afternoon, I banished them from my heart for a long time to come." "All those attempts to forget my own identity during the war had sort of put my feelings in cold storage." Alice later said that only with the birth of her second child, a daughter with down syndrome, did her feelings return.
When Martin was in his forties and in therapy, his mother finally shared some of her experiences of the war years with him. When the war started in 1939, Alice had to enter the ghetto of the small town where she lived with her family. Soon, she had a relationship with the underground organization, which gave her a connection to Poles outside of the ghetto. Thus, she could escape the ghetto and her ordeal of denial of self began: she changed her name. Alicija Englard became Alicija Rostovska, who survived the Holocaust and saved her mother's and her sister's lives, too.
Out of shear fear of death, Alice could not know anymore who she was, Martin writes. She had to impose on herself complete self-control. She was not only afraid to be recognized, but also afraid of her own aliveness, of not being able to control herself sufficiently. Men who walked the streets on the lookout for Jews they knew, or for people who looked Jewish, or had "sad eyes," were a constant, deadly danger. If they discovered people, they would take them to the Gestapo where they were shot. In "Paths of Life," the character Margot describes what Alice had told me in a conversation: how jewelry helped her pay off a blackmailer; another time, when she had nothing left to give anymore, she was on the way to the Gestapo together with another victim, who had some money. They could pay the blackmailer and got away at the last moment. Martin tells how once, when Alice got a haircut, a close friend from school recognized her; but Alice coldly had to tell her that she did not know her, and that this must be a misunderstanding — in order to avoid being turned in to the Gestapo. For about three years, Alice lived with the constant strain of mortal fear, of being discovered and of having to find new places to hide away when she or her mother were detected.
Although her mother looked Jewish, and made hiding her extremely difficult for her daughter, Alice still managed to find places for her. Alice emailed once: "My mother made me take care of her when she was 46 years old; several times, she put my life in mortal danger; and she addressed the worst reproaches against me on the day when I saved her life." Alice saved her sister's life by placing her in a convent and told me with dismay how her mother had thrown up her hands in horror and reproached her angrily: "If your father had experienced this, he would turn in his grave," when she learned that Alice's sister had been baptized to live with the nuns.
Alice worked as a teacher in the underground to earn money. Martin suggests that she also may have had to pay another price for her survival as she was a very beautiful woman. During the Warsaw uprising of the Polish resistance in the summer of 1944, Alice crossed the river Vistula with her sister to the Russian side, which was liberated territory. Until the end of the war, she worked as a nurse in a military hospital. She never talked about this experience with me, nor is it mentioned in "Paths of Life." She must have witnessed soldiers injured, mutilated, in pain and distress, dying — haunting images and a deeply traumatizing experience.
After the war, Alice received a grant and emigrated to Switzerland, studied at the university and got her PhD in philosophy, psychology and sociology. She married a Catholic Polish man, who had come along with her — and, frightfully, had the same name as her blackmailer during the war and was very antisemitic.
(Added September 2015: He not only had the same name — he was that man, Andreas Miller. In a new interview, Martin Miller shares now that Alice Miller married the Gestapo oppressor, who persecuted and blackmailed her during the Holocaust: New Interview with Martin Miller, 2015 — http://www.contemporarypsychotherapy.org/volume-7-no-1-summer-2015/interview-martin-miller/ )
This unhappy marriage lasted from 1949 until the divorce in 1974, when breast cancer motivated Alice to free herself. By then, she had been trained and worked as a psychoanalyst and undergone psychoanalysis twice. From then on, she lived her own, independent life. She began to write and to paint. Her first book, "The Drama of the Gifted Child," rejected at first by a psychoanalytic paper, became an international bestseller. Alice became famous, successful, and with time amazingly rich. Many regarded her as THE expert on therapy and how to treat children lovingly.
Her son Martin considers the years when she wrote her first three books as the happiest, most unburdened and freest time in his mother's life, when she was connected with her Self; only during this time did they have a good connection. As she wrote her first three books, he was her thoughtful, insightful sounding board and a very important supporter. But as Alice became famous, the ghosts of her war past raised their ugly heads; fame triggered the trauma of persecution; their relationship deteriorated. These talks though nurtured Martin's interest in psychotherapy; he changed profession and became a psychotherapist. When he would not follow Alice's ideas and suggestions, she cut him off. Martin suffered to the brink of suicide, as his mother never escaped these ghosts, nor recognized her destructiveness. Her arrogant, self-righteous demand to dominate and control close personal relationships destroyed most of them. Not only denial of Self and deception played a role in this, but also her conceit and her obsession to not reveal anything about herself and her life that she did not want others to know.
Alicija Englard, Alice's birth-name, was born in 1923 in Poland into a lost world: Jewish life in its various cultural and religious ways, as it then flourished in Poland and Europe — but was destroyed by virulent antisemitism and the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Her grandparents were orthodox Jews and lived in the small town of Piotrków Trybunalski. Her grandfather Abraham Englard was the wealthy owner of a household supply store; the beginning of her life, she spent in his apartment house where three generations lived under one roof. She would tell me: "Now, at the end of my life, it's eerily like it was at the beginning: Lots of people looked curiously into my crib, but I could not have real, close relationships with all these people who came and went. In my old age, because of my fame, I am again in a position where many people take notice of me — but I cannot have real relationships with them."
Her grandparents Abraham and Sarah Englard were deported and murdered in Treblinka in 1942. Alice did not share this about her grandparents with me, nor did she mention her childhood name, nor talk about the family members, who appear in Martin's book. But she talked often about how much she resented, from a young age, her orthodox religious origins. Because she was a girl, her grandfathers did not talk to her nor address her by her name, which made her feel invisible and unimportant.
After a year or two, the family moved to a place where Alice lived alone with her parents; when Alice was 5 years old, her sister was born. Her father, Meylech Englard, the second born of five children, was an obedient follower of his father and, like him, a very religious man. He had no professional training, worked in his father's store, and did not dare to protest against paternal authority. According to traditional practice, he married a woman his father had chosen for him, although he loved another woman. This marriage became an ordeal; there was no emotional closeness; they were strangers to each other. Alice's mother, Gutta Englard, is depicted by Alice and her cousin as a cold, emotionless, authoritarian, ambitious woman, who was not very intelligent, nor educated, and also not accepted by the family.
The four siblings of Alice's father lived very different lives: The oldest son, Fishel, had an illegitimate daughter and emigrated with her to Israel in the late twenties. Dora, the first of three sisters born after the two sons, married a doctor. They had a son and lived a liberal Jewish life in Warsaw. Dora and her family perished in the Warsaw Ghetto. The next sister, Franja, was married to a rich merchant in Berlin; they had three children. Alice and her family lived with them from 1931 until Hitler took power in 1933; then Alice's family returned to Poland. It was Nazi-Germany's first detrimental impact on Alice's life when she was 10 years old because Alice had loved life in Berlin. Her cousin Ala, the oldest daughter of Franja, told Martin how intelligent Alice was, and how quickly she spoke German almost perfectly. Ala added that if Hitler had not come into power, Alice and her family never would have returned to Poland. When I look at the decisive influence that the Chicago years of my adult life have had on me, I can imagine well how very differently Alice's life would have evolved could she have stayed in Berlin. It is a heartbreaking, harrowing realization.
The youngest sister of Alice's father was also called Ala; she was Alice's favorite aunt. Ala enjoyed many liberties: she visited the public school and moved back and forth between the pious and the secular world. Ala married Bunio in a marriage of love; they socialized mainly in the upper middle class of the liberal Polish-Jewish society. Their daughter Irenka, as well as Franja's daughter Ala, both Alice's cousins, were essential sources of information for Martin about his mother and her life; they knew Alice since childhood. Irenka told Martin that Alice was ashamed of her parents. Ala and her family also lived in Switzerland after the war; they took Martin Miller in as a baby when his mother rejected him soon after his birth and gave him away to an acquaintance. After two weeks, Ala got him, and he lived with her family for the first six months of his life. Irenka told him: "If we had not fetched you, you would have died."
("The True Drama of the Gifted Child," by Martin Miller)
Martin reports how he was diminished to a muted observer of his parents and their awful marriage; they spoke only Polish, which he could not understand as he spoke only Swiss German. Martin was sent away to a children's home when his sister was born, and abandoned there for two years. His parents never came to see him, even when school started. When he was beaten and sexually abused by his father, his mother looked away. She continued to abuse him throughout his adult life.
In order to write his book, Martin went to great efforts to talk to people who had known Alice, and he discovered a lot of hidden information about her life. I am deeply grateful to Martin for relating what he found so that a different and meaningful review of Alice's life has become possible. What surprised me is how differently people, who knew Alice as a child, pictured her, than she saw herself: they saw her as a resourceful and determined girl, who revolted against the stifling environment she found herself in and achieved some freedom for herself — as well as a mistrustful, arrogant girl, who spent a lot of time by herself, reading. Arrogance and mistrust, courage, determination and insistence, also insistence on being right, were important and decisive character traits — or parts — that I came to observe, too.
In her childhood, a vital way out was for the girl Alicija the time she spent with her aunt Ala, with Ala's husband Bunio and their daughter Irenka at their home, where she felt comfortable and good about herself, which she could not with her parents. Alicija was also strong willed and determined: She pushed through that she could attend a public school; she argued that she could not learn enough in the Jewish school, and that it would be boring. Regrettably, Alice did not honor her own rebellious, critical, independent spirit, which was imperative for saving her life and writing her books. The strength, boldness, providence and courage, which Alice Miller showed when she unmasked the abuse of parental authority and stood up to traditional psychoanalytic beliefs, are unparalleled; the roots can obviously be found in that rebellious girl. My —NO— part resonated deeply with her.
Alice was troubled in different ways by her parents' abuse and neglect; above all, she had to become their care taker in a process of emotional and physical parentification, which continued during the war. At the beginning of Alice's life, her mother had left most of the care to her father, whom Alice regarded for a long time as the good parent. But he had abused her as a little girl, also sexually. At times, she talked to me about this suffering inflicted by her father; she also mentioned enemas and hot glasses. A character in "Paths of Life" named "Sandra" referred to it: "When I was two, I was put on a table naked, and you put hot glasses on my body, first on my back, then on my chest. To make sure they stuck on my skin, you heated them over a burner. I was afraid the glasses would burn me. I pleaded with you to stop. But you didn't, and you never tried to reassure me. It was as if you had been forbidden to speak to me. I thought I was being punished for something, but I couldn't think what I had done wrong." In an email in 2008, Alice wrote that she could not recall a single human experience with her father, "nor with all these other men." She concluded: "What a hell was my life."
(email April 2, 2008)
The character Anika describes her mother in "Paths of Life" as someone who behaved in many ways like a child that had to be looked after, so that it became her main aim in life to make her mother happy. This character says to her mother: "And doing that meant organizing your life for you, to make sure that you were all right. But I never succeeded. I always felt guilty, obscurely obliged to be doing something for you, but I never knew what would have made you happy. The result was permanent stress, unremitting exhaustion, disappointment with myself, because I never achieved the goal I had set myself."
When Alice began psychoanalysis, she had hardly any recollections of her childhood, so she asked her mother for information. Alice often mentioned the letter written thereupon by her mother. It contained for Alice in a nutshell the horror of her relationship with her mother. This letter of her mother can be found in a disguised way in the "Anika" chapter in "Paths of Life" and I want to read it here: "When you were eight years old, we both took German lessons with a neighbor, a teacher at the local high school. One day he gave us an essay to write as homework. He was very approving about what you (Alice) had written, but he wasn't very complimentary about my efforts. Then you made a remark that really made me cross. Back home, I let off steam and threatened to give you a licking which you would not forget for the rest of your born days. You ran around the table, with me after you. But you were quicker and I couldn't get hold of you. So I put my coat on and left the house. When I came back in the evening, you just sat there looking at me. After a while it got on my nerves. You asked me what I was going to do next, and I said you'd better go to bed since I hadn't decided how I was going to punish you. One thing was for sure, though, I was going to talk to your principal about you and see what she advised. At last you went to bed. When I woke up the next morning and looked in on you, you were sitting up in bed and stared at me all wide-eyed and started asking interminable questions again. You said you hadn't had a whisk of sleep because you didn't know what was going to happen. As always, your constant questions irritated me, and I told you to get off to school. You said you might be afraid to meet your principal, and I said it served you right if you were scared—it was no less than you deserved. After that, I did not say a word to you for ten days. The punishment worked like a charm. You turned over a new leaf, stopped running off everywhere with your school friends, and stayed home with me. I needed your company because your father already had a mistress and I was lonely. After that incident, I never had trouble with you again." ("Paths of Life")
For Alice, this decisive episode of her childhood tied her inescapably to her mother, also during the war. Alice had the chance, when the war broke out, to get away with a cousin in his car. He already had Ala, Bunio and Irenka in the car with him; Bunio wanted Alice to come along. But Alice, sixteen years old, believed she could not forsake her family and refused to come along. Martin writes that she regretted this decision and believed that her whole life would have taken a different course had she come along. Late in her life, she shared with me and her cousin that she regretted having saved her mother and sister, who were not part of Alice's life after the war.
More and more, I see Alice's acting out against her son as parts gone astray, acting out the destructive inhumanity which they had absorbed. Also the devaluation of her by the world around became a part of her, directed also against her son. These mechanisms did not disappear after the war. She talked so much in her books about the true self and that she believed to have found it — but her son encountered terrible survival mechanisms, deeply ingrained into Alice.
Only once did she mention that her father had died in the Jewish ghetto of an illness. Martin thinks that Alice suffered guilt because she could not save her father; he was left behind in the ghetto. This guilt became another traumatic burden, which she projected onto her son. She attempted to "save" him by enrolling him, when he was in his thirties, without his knowledge and consent, into therapy with Stettbacher; when Martin protested, his mother reacted in a forceful and pushy way that he only saw through years later. As they discussed this conflict back then, Martin felt that his mother did not discern him and was talking to another person. He writes: "It became apparent to me with how much emotional fervency she urged me to enter this therapy — as if it was a matter of life and death — and how hurt to the core she was when I rejected her help and clearly justified my reasons. The more I refused, she more aggressive she became. Today I think: For her, it was really a matter of life and death, and she did actually talk to another person — with her father. Today, I see in this story not only a morally repulsive and hurtful attack by my mother, but I can also recognize in her behavior, thanks to my extended understanding of war trauma, an eruption of emotional, traumatic experiences from the war."
("The True Drama of the Gifted Child," by Martin Miller, page 134/135, my translation)
When Martin finally confronted his mother with facts about the fraudulent character and actions of Stettbacher, she remained calm and controlled. In her blinded perception, she regarded her son as another persecutor and acted with steely composure to get rid of him. Their relationship never recovered from this confrontation. Martin writes that his mother "forgot in her delusion that I was her son."
("The True Drama of the Gifted Child")
In the following years, she avoided talks about the Stettbacher problem with others; she told me that it hurt her too much to talk about it. She neither explored nor confronted what had happened; why she let herself be so deceived; why she had praised and recommended Stettbacher so highly. Instead, she put Martin down. Although she publicly distanced herself from Stettbacher and removed his name from her books, she never mentioned the role which her son, betrayal and abuse had played in this drama. She buried the truth — and, unbeknownst to her readers, they faced once again a wall that had written all over it "Thou Shalt Not Be Aware" — the title of Alice's third book.
Thanks to Martin's research and elucidation, it has become clear how rigorously her Holocaust trauma was off limits for Alice Miller. She believed herself to be healed and claimed in 2005, in her book "The Body Never Lies": "Looking back on my own life, I am astonished at the single-mindedness, the endurance, and the implacability with which my true self has prevailed against all external and internal resistance. And it continues to prevail, without the help of therapists, because I have become its Enlightened Witness." ("The Body Never Lies," page 213/214)
It is horrifying how she ignored how her war experiences had taken on a life of their own. Alice's life, even more so after she became famous, was dominated by parts stuck in trauma, acting out. She was convinced that her extreme parts were her "genuine feelings" that constituted the "true self." What Alice regarded as her therapy work, she did herself by writing; following in the footsteps of her psychoanalytical training, it focused on her childhood and what she had suffered from her parents, but blocked out what happened during her teenage and adult years. I have learned from her profound mistake how dangerous it is to silence and ignore adult trauma and its consequences on humans.
Many people express how vitally important Alice Miller's books were for them; they could realize how their childhood had impaired them and their lives; Alice's books will continue to provide this vital knowledge. Martin Miller's book takes her work a step further, into new territory; her son sheds new light, where his mother could not go: Through his book, his insights and with his life, he shows us how devastating the impact of genocide and war was not only on his mother, but also on the next generation. Although he attributes groundbreaking importance to his mother's first three books and initial insights, he thinks that we cannot do therapy alone, as Alice believed. Martin brings the physical, emotional and mental consequences of genocide and war trauma into our consciousness by sharing his mother's and his own history. It was especially hard for Martin because the fans, even followers of Alice Miller, like I once had been, do not wish to see their idol in a bad light.
I agree with Martin that his mother was destructively marked by her Holocaust and World War II traumas — they were the elephant in the room that Alice and I avoided talking about. When she asked me to be her "therapeutic helper," I did not know about her therapy work with Oliver Schubbe, nor the Stettbacher fiasco. She was not honest with herself, and not honest with me. As I realized this, I felt shocked, deceived and betrayed. Repressing and burying troubling adulthood experiences had become her way of life. In denial about her adult actions and traumas, she was caught in a vicious cycle of blaming her parents and son — the only people with whom she obviously felt safe to go on the attack.
Although it remains painful and disconcerting that I was so blind, I have learned through this difficult experience that it is a life-long challenge to care for our inner struggles, our parts, continuous integration and living in truth. "You are the one you have been waiting for," the title of Dick's last book, has been a comforting encouragement for me to be there for my all my parts, especially when I face difficult life experiences and changes. Therapy needs to help us address when we have made mistakes, carry guilt or have done wrong, even committed crimes as adults. Alice pretended to be healed and an expert on therapy. Pretending to be — who she was not — had become her way of life. A pattern, begun in childhood and dramatically strengthened by genocide trauma, was applied to challenging life situations to block out what she did not want to deal with and was determined to hide.
It is vital for the truth and the history of psychotherapy that Martin has revealed the deceit of Alice Miller — so that we recognize the broken human being behind her wall of silence. Certainly, childhood forms our brains decisively, and so do the teenage years. With another childhood, the war might have impacted Alice differently. Tragically, Alice's exclusive focus on her childhood in what she called her "therapy," imprinted by her psychoanalytic training, became a dead end street where parts raged against the wrong people. The main emotions that she shared with me were anxiety and anger, even fury. What her parts would have needed to share: their true pain and sorrow, terror, hatred, paranoia, their history, their rebellion; their desperate, hopeless, or self-righteous, grandiose beliefs — and the wider historic reasons — could not surface, were not heard, understood, nor questioned with compassion and unburdened.
Now I can see how many things we did not talk about, and how many traumatic adulthood experiences Alice kept out of her inner and outer communication. Although I understand how painful and difficult it is to address them, it seems presumptuous for her to announce to the world that she was healed, had come to terms with her past, and found the way out of suffering. Although Alice took amazing, brave actions to escape the Holocaust, the constant mortal fear, and the strain of having to hide who she was, must have engendered a profound sense of powerlessness in her, which brought out her overriding compulsion for control and denial.
Through her denial of her trauma, Alice Miller contributed to the disregard of the traumatic repercussions of genocide and war, as well as to downplaying, even negating, their effects on humans.
Alice was held hostage under the most perilous circumstances for years during the war. Her captors were the people around her. She always had to be afraid that someone would recognize her and deliver her to the Gestapo; the deep-seated fear of her captors dominated her life for years — and did not leave Alice after the war. The powerlessness to be herself and truthful had played havoc with her psyche. A way of life was forced on her that cut her off from the joy, freedom and love that she had known when she could be with others who were different from her parents. To deny so completely who you are, as well as what you want, must leave a disastrous mark on you. It took away Alice's trust in other humans. Would not many people, if not most people, who managed to survive what Alice Miller survived, become deeply distrustful of people, of humanity? Become unable to trust others?
Part 3 — Burdens of World War II and Betrayal Trauma
There was another reason for the elephant in the room: I grew up with two parents who spent decisive periods of their lives under the impact of World War II and the Nazi regime; they were broken by it. For the longest time, I did not realize how enormous and debilitating the burdens of war were on my life, too.
Silence, guilt, shame, loss, loneliness, feeling betrayed, hatred, idealization of silent and guilty ancestors, and war trauma are some of the German legacy burdens of two world wars, handed down from generation to generation — without being acknowledged, much less processed. For my generation, they resulted in confusion and in a lost connection with a moral core, and with our Selves. I grew up and lived among people who often condoned behavior or actions that are wrong or even evil. Eventually, I came to see that this atmosphere, among other things, had created a hole inside of me where I should have had a moral code or a conscience.
("Facing a Wall of Silence," http://www.screamsfromchildhood.com/silence.html)
I also did not know who my parents really were; they did not know it themselves. Outwardly, they seemed to function and appeared as "normal." But they were profoundly disturbed; today, I consider them insane; something atrocious had distorted their brains.
In 1935, my mother was ten years old — the age when she had to enter the "League of German Girls." During a formative time of her life, she was brainwashed for several years to believe in Hitler, his ideology and his goodness. Erika Mann describes in her book "School for Barbarians," published in 1938, the horrifying education under the Nazis: how girls were programmed for motherhood and service to Hitler, forbidden to study at universities, with hope of profession and education cut off — and how hatred was nurtured and brainwashed into them.
Hatred and anti-semitism were not just pumped by Nazi ideology into young people, but poisoned the minds of adults, too. Where did all that hatred and those horrid beliefs go after the war, when this madness was indisputably debunked as evil? In my observation, many of that generation learned to hide those beliefs, while they carried them latent within them for the rest of their lives. Some may have struggled with them, but many did not. Many Nazis even stayed in power and had high positions in West Germany after the war. Those who struggled had no one to turn to and speak about their inner experience.
Many Germans had enriched themselves by stealing the property of Jews who had left or been deported; this theft was declared legitimate under the Nazi regime. People had profited from the disfranchisement and the extermination of their Jewish fellow citizens, which contributed to the silence surrounding the Holocaust.
("Postwar Children" by Sabine Bode— only in German: "Nachkriegskinder")
Material gain and vicious brainwashing paved the way for Hitler's misuse of power and the Nazi crimes. Hitler's notorious program for young people had the infamous slogan: "My program for educating youth is hard. The weak must be chiseled away. I want young men and women who can suffer pain. A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp steel."
Brainwashing shifts something in people. If certain beliefs are pushed onto you, they don't disappear when the Nazi regime ends. It shocked me when I understood what it means to deal with being brainwashed as an adult. In the documentary "Wartorn" about PTSD of soldiers, a mother, whose son has committed suicide, looks at a photo of him and says, crying: "I hate this picture. It's the anger and the hate and the disillusionment, and the eyes — that's not my son. He doesn't think he is worth anything, and you see it, and he hates himself — my son — he started dying slowly, from inside, and eventually his inside soul died so completely. Then he put the gun to his head and killed the outside as well. That's what post-traumatic stress does to you: it kills you from the inside out…. My son could not escape the horrors of serving two tours in Iraq. He could not forgive himself for some of the things he did. And he thought of himself as a murderer and a bad person because he still had the urge to hurt people, kill people. The United States army turned my son into a killer; they trained him to kill to protect others. They FORGOT to untrain him to take that urge to kill away from him."
My father, born in 1913, was not a Nazi believer; he stood up against the exclusion of the Jewish members of his university corps. But as a German with nationalist beliefs, he served Hitler willingly as a soldier during World War II, also for three years in Russia. When I asked him once what it was like to come back from the war and to have served a monster, he answered: "It was so harrowing, you can never imagine it." After the war, he was physically ill and had nightmares for years. Already in my mother's womb, I was confronted with consequences of war: hearing his screams at night and being exposed to the reactions of my mother's body. She emerged from the war as a frightfully angry woman, who burst into terrible rages, acted out violently, and terrified me. My father did not beat us and extended compassion and joy at times — so we children adored him. His misogyny, fed also by Nazi beliefs, came out when I was a teenager and caused me great harm. My father was silent about the war; increasingly he ran away from himself and his family. When he was sixty-nine, he ended up in a psychiatric hospital for a year. From then on, he disappeared more and more into mental derangement until his death at age 84.
Born in 1950, I grew up during a time when the wall of silence about the war was insurmountable, like a fortress. In my childhood, I could not ask, nor talk about the war. In my family, idealization replaced any genuine, truthful examination of the past and coming to terms with troubling, criminal or evil adult actions — and the beliefs and feelings, which had brought them about. Oliver Schubbe writes that silence and fear block the mental and societal capacity to come to terms with the past. Buried and silenced traumas are grave burdens for human lives, also for the following generations. "How could I be so blind" was the question that had haunted me. But I had been blind. I was born after the war. There were no more bombs falling; Hitler was dead. Yet, the repercussions of World War II cast long and dark shadows on my childhood and life.
It was only in 1982, when I began therapy, that I allowed for questions about the war to come up, and began to ask them — but I got few answers. There were no real, open and honest conversations in my family about the war, or about any other so-called difficult subject. My essay "Facing a Wall of Silence" had dealt with a part of my family history that was accessible in books and archives. The personal histories of my parents during the war died with them; they remained silent. Only in the 1980ties did the wall around Germany's Nazi and war past begin to crumble. The first book that looked at my generations' secondary trauma burdens was written by Dan Bar-On; called "Legacy of Silence," it came out in 1989 — forty-four years after World War II ended. For two years, Dan Bar-On had travelled through Germany and talked with second generation Germans, who were children of perpetrators.
For her book "Post-War Children," Sabine Bode talked with Germans of my generation, born between 1950 and 60; these descendants of the war generation felt guilty for the mass crimes of the past, while their parents saw themselves consistently as victims. Many of my generation resented their parents for not facing their actions, beliefs and guilt about their participation during the Nazi time. Bode explains that feelings of shame and guilt found their place in the wrong generation and entered into psychotherapeutic literature under the terms of "deputy guilt" or "inherited guilt."
("Postwar Children" — only in German: "Nachkriegskinder," page 23/24)
And in his afterword to Martins' book, Oliver Schubbe writes how my generation is affected by transgenerational trauma and suffers from "constantly recurring blockages, vague anxieties, the feeling of rootlessness, recurring guilt feelings, depressive moods and the deep uncertainty to not know the cause of their problems."
("The True Drama of the Gifted Child," page 165)
My parents neither reflected on, nor discussed their experiences under Hitler. They did what most people in Germany believed: deny, repress and put it all behind. But the unresolved inner struggles festered in their minds, bodies and souls. Martin's insights and clarity touched me deeply. Now I comprehend in a highly personal way how manifold the consequences of war and living under Hitler were. Silence cut people off from honest communication with people around — and with their inner world. Although so much had changed for me through my life in Chicago and writing "Facing a Wall of Silence," it did not occur to me that I still repressed my curiosity, and even my compassion, to at least try to include conversations about the war in my talks with Alice. Instead, I accepted her implicit solicitation to not discuss the war beyond what she voluntarily told me.
How can humans deal with things that they have done and are ashamed of, that they regret, consider as wrong, even evil, which made them lose respect for and trust in themselves? How can humans address their belief to be a bad person and face the errors, failures and even crimes they have committed as adults? We cannot move ahead without developing a caring way of communication with our inner world, our parts, and their struggles, which allows us to look at the dark, troubling moments and times of our lives. We change when we extend compassion to our inner world and confront our childhood and adulthood experiences. If we communicate with all our parts, especially the confused, hopeless, suffering and self-damning ones, we gradually ease the burden of dissociation, heal our parts, and free them from the places and horrors, where they were stuck. Integration becomes possible. This process creates honesty and compassion for our ourselves — and it empowers change.
It is liberating to come to an understanding of our lives and a sense of clarity and peace that we never knew, where we can understand ourselves and make sense of our lives. Even if a tragic sense, remorse and mourning result from painful insights, even if we need to face shame and guilt — we can come to a place of acknowledging the truth and living in truth. When I was eighteen years old, I was involved in a car accident that took the life of another human being: I was driving my car, when a pedestrian, an old man, suddenly crossed the street, and I hit him with my car. This traumatic event has been a burden of guilt on me and my life — and also a strong motivation for my persistence in therapy. Never again did I want to depend on medication as I did then. When my anxiety had become so overwhelming that I could not sleep anymore for days on end, I was filled with tranquilizers and sleeping pills. Where I come from, the answer was medication, not therapy and communication. My answer has been to work in therapy, especially when anxiety has come up.
Hitler's and Nazi-Germany's crimes have burdened many Germans with guilt and shame; some people have acknowledged it, while others respond with denial and defiance, or whitewashing. Many people search for answers to burning questions about the Holocaust and World War II, among them the haunting question: What made Hitler evil? In "For Your Own Good," Alice Miller wrote a chapter about Hitler's childhood; she saw the origins of his evil destructiveness in his father's brutal, daily physical abuse. According to traditional psychoanalytic theory, which had forged Alice Miller's thinking, the major personality structures are developed by the end of adolescence and only minor personality changes occur in adulthood. ("Wounded Monster: Hitler's Path from Trauma to Malevolence," page 147; http://www.amazon.com/Wounded-Monster-Hitlers-Trauma-Malevolence/dp/0761824162)
In his book "Wounded Monster: Hitler's Path from Trauma to Malevolence," the psychiatrist Theo Dorpat also attaches importance to Hitler's childhood trauma and regards it as a contributing source for Hitler's hatred and madness. But Dorpat makes the important, divergent point that Hitler did not "love war and violence prior to World War I." ("Wounded Monster," page 116) After Hitler had participated as a soldier during nearly four years in fifty battles, his personality changed crucially.
Dorpat writes: "[Hitler's] intense attraction to war and violence began near the end of the war and about the time of his psychiatric breakdown in October 1918. The love of war and violence was an important aspect of the major transformations in his personality which occurred during and/or soon after his chronic combat trauma." Hitler expressed more than once his belief that military service transformed him, and Dorpat believes that he was tragically correct. From ex-servicemen like Hitler — men who were unable to settle down and who felt more at home in a uniform, the 'Freicorps' (private armies of German ex-soldiers), the Nazis, and scores of extremist parties recruited their numbers in post-war Germany. Historian Allan Bullock concluded that 'war and the impact of war upon the individual lives of millions of Germans were among the essential conditions for the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party.'
("Wounded Monster", page 117)
Dorothy Otnow Lewis, professor of psychiatry, wanted to know, already as a child, how Hitler became so cruel. Together with Jonathan Pincus, professor of neurology, she studied murderers on death row. They both wrote books about their studies: "Guilty by Reason of Insanity" and "Base Instincts: What Makes Killers Kill." They found three elements that occur consistently in the most violent offenders: brain injury; psychotic thinking, particularly paranoia; and a history of abuse. Theo Dorpat writes: "In October 1918, a British artillery shell exploded close to Hitler, partially burying him. He developed symptoms of hysterical blindness and mutism, suffered a psychiatric breakdown, and was hospitalized at Pasewalk military hospital, where he received psychiatric care for about a month. A review of the symptoms mentioned in his correspondence early in World War I; the symptoms he had at Pasewalk Hospital; and those he had after World War I, are the basis for my PTSD diagnosis."
(An Evaluation of the 'Analysis of the Personality of Adolf Hitler' written by Dr. Henry A. Murray in 1943)
Dorpat contributes Hitler's breakdown and chronic PTSD to the length of combat exposure and explains that prolonged and repeated trauma, or chronic trauma, occurs only in situations of captivity and the consequent helplessness of the victim. "Such conditions exist for soldiers in combat, in prisoner of war camps, in concentration camps, and in slave labor camps. For infantry soldiers, combat is a condition of captivity and enslavement. The infantry soldier is a captive; he cannot flee to the rear because he will be shot or hanged if he does. If he flees towards the enemy, he may be shot or captured." ("Wounded Monster," page 101) When I lived again in Germany after 1984 and had begun to change, I once listened to a conversation in my first husband's family about the war. It sounded amusing, until I became angry and said that my father had told me how gruesome war was and how horrible it felt to have the responsibility over life or death of other human beings. The atmosphere changed, and an uncle, who had been a soldier in World War II, told us how his unit was attacking Russian soldiers; outnumbered, they began to run away — when, from behind, their commanding officer aimed his gun at them and forced them to continue the attack. Many died.
The American historian Eric Dean writes in "Shook Over Hell": "One of the most enduring lessons of World War II in psychiatry was that 'every man has his breaking point…. Psychiatric staff determined that American troops would lose their effectiveness after a hundred days of intermittent exposure to battle, and that breakdown could be expected after about two hundred aggregate days in battle."
In the documentary "Wartorn," World War II veterans movingly recount for the first time in their lives how war traumatized them. One of them also says that everyone has a breaking point. And a soldier, who served in Iraq, says: "It's not just the soldier who is in combat who comes down with PTSD, it's the entire family." The wife of a soldier, who served in Iraq, comments: "Who he was, was left over there." A Medal of Honor winner says that 100 percent of soldiers suffer from PTSD. The directors of the documentary report: "…. the experience of war — and experiencing man's inhumanity to man — causes psychological damage." — "Anybody who engages in warfare is scarred forever."
Through Martin's highlighting of war trauma, I have become keenly aware that adults are also devastated by traumatic events, which I had not comprehended, as long as I was tied to Alice's beliefs. PTSD devastates soldiers, years after wars have ended. Every day, many veterans of war commit suicide; the suicide rate among the old veterans of World War II is especially high and troubling. More soldiers have died by taking their own lives than on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, or Vietnam. The VA reports 22 suicides of soldiers every day. An article called "Is PTSD Contagious" reports how also the families of soldiers suffer from PTSD symptoms as they live with men who have returned from war with PTSD. Fear and terror are contagious. The damage that war inflicts on the brain is pervasive. By now, I understand the anxiety, which has burdened me throughout my life, in a deeper and different way, as my eyes, my ears and my heart have opened to the ravages of war.
Dorpat sees some of Hitler's personality changes as magnifications of pre-existing character traits, such as his paranoid tendencies and rage attacks, which we would consider parts in IFS. Other changes, Dorpat writes, were qualitatively different from how Hitler had been before his psychiatric breakdown in 1918, such as his malevolence, increasing aggressiveness, and an attraction to violence. ("Wounded Monster," page 117 and 124) These may have been dormant parts that the brutality of war let emerge. Obviously, the war caused a dangerous, fatal shift in Hitler's inner system.
Theo Dorpat died in 2006; he had published his last book "Wounded Monster" in 2002. It is a fascinating and distressing read that leaves no doubt that Hitler's chronic war trauma turned him into the monster that shared with the German people feelings of being shamed, betrayed and anger after the loss of World War I and the Versailles treaty. Dorpat comments that Germany's major trauma was the humiliation and shame of its 1918 defeat; Germans called the Treaty of Versailles the "treaty of shame." Dorpat sees Hitler's amazing power of suggestion over the German masses as the coincidence of his personal traumatic experiences with the people's collective trauma over their defeat in World War I. ("Wounded Monster," page 117) The website about.com comments on Hitler: "After the psychiatric breakdown in October of 1918, while recuperating in a hospital, Hitler heard the news of the end of the war and of Germany's defeat. His anger and feelings of betrayal shaped his and the world's future. After the war, many in Germany felt betrayed by the German government for their sudden and unexpected surrender."
Which brings me to one legacy burden that I want to address specifically: "betrayal trauma," which I have come to see as one of war's most devastating, but rarely acknowledged afflictions. My first conscious encounter with betrayal that I still can remember occurred when I was in my mid-twenties and still lived in Germany, long before I thought or asked questions about the war. Around 1976, I had joined a telephone hotline where people in distress could call. One day, I talked with a man who asked me a lot of questions — but I could not turn the conversation around so that he would talk about himself. When I brought this up in the weekly group supervision session, the minister, who led it, asked me: "Can you not say no?" As I began to cry, my father came up. In a Gestalt-therapy conversation, I sat at times in my father's chair and spoke for him; what came up was the war: how terribly betrayed he felt, deprived of his life and the chance of having a professional career; how he had given the best years of his life to Hitler and the war. I cried a lot, was emotionally in turmoil for hours, and spent a bad night. A past, of which I had no conscious clue, had been triggered. My father had never mentioned to me that he felt betrayed — so, how did I know? Although the issue of betrayal had not been a topic for conversation, it had found its way into me. My loyalty and compassion for my parents, particularly my father, were boundless at that time; the thought of how my parents' unresolved burdens had affected me was light years away from my awareness.
When my work with Allen Siegel ended, I also felt terribly betrayed, but we could work with this feeling. It was my first lesson about what the free fall into the abyss of betrayal emotionally feels like. After experiences of betrayal in my first marriage and family of origin, which took me forever to face and deal with, my next encounter with feeling betrayed happened in 2003; I had been working for six years in DMT and IFS therapy. After a bad fall, my left foot was injured and walking had become difficult. Alice Miller saw this "physical symptom" as a message from my body that required me to fire my therapists because they were allegedly confusing me. For several months, I did not follow her "advice." But when a second divorce appeared on the horizon, and when I also had lost a frightening amount of money in the market, I spent a horrible night where I felt betrayed to the core of my being: cheated out of my dreams, wishes and hopes for my life, and my happiness. The power, the horror, and the pain of feeling betrayed completely overwhelmed me. As I lay awake through one of the worst nights of my life, I came to know that feeling betrayed is the most crushing and harrowing feeling.
The people to whom I then directed my outrage and sense of betrayal were my two therapists. The influence of Alice, who believed that our feelings constitute our true self, contributed to my confusion and blindness so that I neither considered this feeling as a part, nor communicated with it. I read the letters, which I had written to each therapist during the night, over the phone to them, because I was in Mexico, dropped out of both therapies, and cut off contact with both therapists. The force of my outrage was huge. They, and I, did not know what had hit me and our therapy work.
For sure, I had experienced betrayals in my life, notably incest by my father, the abandonment of my family, the fraud of the financial markets, and more. And I certainly had wanted a different life. But today, I see the emotional intensity as driven also by the deep-rooted denial of three generations that had not faced how they felt betrayed, and had silenced their feelings, also of mourning, sadness and grief. Already my father's father had been a soldier in World War I; he and his family were expelled from Alsace-Lorraine when Germany lost that war. My father was five years old. My mother and her family lost their estate and home in East Germany under the agrarian reform imposed by the Soviet occupation authority and fled to West Germany. My mother was twenty years old.
While I was crushed by the eruption of unacknowledged betrayal feelings of generations whose lives were marked by war, I could no longer see my feeling of being betrayed, and its excruciating pain, as a part. Yet, this was a feeling that needed to be befriended and examined with compassion, not acted out. As I have communicated with my parts about the war in new ways over the past two years, I have come to understand this explosion of accumulated and repressed feelings of betrayal as a legacy burden.
Jennifer Freyd writes in "Blind to Betrayal" about Nazi Germany: "Betrayal blindness is dangerous not just to individuals but to whole societies. By not being aware of our past betrayals, we not only are at great risk of repeating them, but betrayal blindness can result in wider betrayals. The best recent example of this is the happenings in Nazi Germany. There were betrayals on so many levels that led to the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust. Germans felt betrayed after World War I and attempted to deal with that betrayal, not by facing and disclosing the betrayal they felt, but by turning to what looked safe on the surface – a government and a regime that established power by increasing suspicion and distrust among its citizenry. Neighbors betrayed neighbors. Children betrayed parents. Aryans betrayed Jews. The pain of all these betrayals and the inability to face them led to a society based on fear and paranoia. This was the atmosphere that created the soil for the Holocaust—secrecy and blindness." ("Blind to Betrayal," pages 112/113; http://www.amazon.com/Blind-Betrayal-Ourselves-Arent-Fooled/dp/0470604409)
Where I come from, therapy was, and is, not accepted; feelings were killed and repressed, never listened to, neither explored and understood, nor comforted. Some moments of compassion from my father became such vital oases of comfort in the emotional desert of my childhood that I clung to them — and could not see my father realistically, nor what he had done to me, until I was fifty years old. When I was able to connect the abyss of feeling betrayed to the implications of the traumatic history of previous generations, I came to understand myself and my life in a new way.
My journey has felt tremendously validated as I realize how the horrors and madness of this time broke people: Alice Miller was broken by the constant threat of genocide, her fight for survival and her denial of self. My parents were broken by living under the Nazi regime and through World War II, which deformed them in critical ways. All three were also affected by years of being exposed to and brainwashed by Nazi ideology. Many people who were exposed to Nazi evil lost their integrity, truthfulness and their humaneness. It has been painful and shocking to become aware of their utter brokenness and insanity. Yet, it has justified for me in a reassuring, powerful way that I turned away from them and not only searched for answers to my desperate questions — but also found and embraced my own values, different from my parents and family.
I conceived betrayal in a deeper, clearer way when I read Jennifer Freyd's first book "Betrayal Trauma," which came out in 1998. ("Betrayal Trauma"; http://www.amazon.com/Betrayal-Trauma-Logic-Forgetting-Childhood/dp/0674068068)
To learn that the issue of forgetting sexual abuse and incest has to do with the betrayal of a relationship helped me understand why my brain had removed the memory of incest, when I was sixteen years old, from my consciousness. Jennifer's book meant an eye-opening awakening and a strong support to realize why humans can ban the memory of trauma from consciousness. In 2013, Jennifer Freyd's second book "Blind to Betrayal" came out, coauthored with Pamela Birrell. They show how betrayals occur in relationships, families, work places, institutions, societies — but are all too often ignored because it hurts so much to face betrayal — it breaks trust and ends relationships. They have no doubt that betrayal is "toxic and causes dissociation and dissociative identity disorder, memory loss, numerous mental health symptoms, instability of personality and relationships, and revictimization." ("Blind to Betrayal," page 113)
Freyd and Birrell inform us how vital communication is in order to deal with betrayal. It is often a long and painful struggle to become conscious of a betrayal when we have trusted — and at first believe we can never bear to know the truth. How can we put the free fall of betrayal into words? It is a challenging and terribly painful transformation to deal with betrayal. They attach great importance to the process of how inner and outer communication affect each other: once we accept what happened and find "good enough words," we can share our experience with others. When we disclose a betrayal to another person, we also disclose it to ourselves. They write: "This fact is really at the heart of one of the core aspects of dissociation, when individuals are able to not know of an experience that they have endured. One reason that nondisclosure to oneself (or not knowing) occurs is exactly because internal and external disclosure are so tied together. To the extent that it is not safe to disclose externally, it is not safe to know, or disclose internally, to oneself." ("Blind to Betrayal," page 116)
This insight about the relatedness of inner and outer communication resonates intensely with me, because "overcoming silences within and around me" has become vital for me and my life. As I could listen to my parts, even the most feared and rejected ones, my IFS therapy work helped me overcome the break with Alice Miller and integrate what I learned from the exchange with Martin Miller. Martin told me that, affected by war, we walk around with an inner emotional landscape of ruins that we are not aware of. Therapy means for him to clean it up by gaining a clear view of the destruction, which he as done for himself and helped me accomplish, too. So much that did not make sense, when the break with his mother had occurred, makes sense now, as I understand how genocide and war devastate and destroy humans, their lives and relationships. Decisive and traumatic adult experiences can profoundly change the human psyche and dangerously impact the brain to bring out dormant parts, or strengthen protective parts to dominate the inner system and engage in hurtful, destructive interactions with others.
With every life crisis, I have learned in the most urgent way how essential it is to communicate with ALL my triggered parts and ALL my life experiences in an open, honest, sincere and compassionate way. The insights of "Blind to Betrayal" mean a strong encouragement for my journey. IFS has given me the tools to nurture inner communication, allowing the dialogue between self and parts to thrive, so that the integration of painful life experiences can happen. On my journey, more and more life circumstances and opportunities have enabled me to engage in honest, meaningful outer communication and supportive relationships. People doomed by genocide and war trauma loose their connection with life, their true selves, and important relationships. It is an urgent warning of the momentous destructiveness of war. We all need to overcome the silence about what war inflicts on humans: it betrays them of their humanity and sanity.
4 — Part 4 — IFS therapy session September 2014 — Connecting with a hopeless exile
This is an excerpt of a therapy session, which happened at the end of September of this year as I began to write the text for this workshop. Different parts of mine had issues with what I was doing; I could not have prepared my text without helping these parts. As I have become acutely aware of war legacy burdens, parts of me have shared in new ways about their suffering in relation to the war past, as if a deeper understanding and compassion for the circumstances of my childhood could arise.
This is a compressed version of this therapy session focusing on a hopeless part.
Session: A big part has been keeping me awake at night. It is the feeling of being overwhelmed; this part says: 'I can't make it.' or 'We can't make it." This part has been in my life many times, in many moments. It's there now. This part is so strong. I have barely slept. It's a feeling of terror in my body.
I will try to get in touch with the part. What comes to my mind is a video that I watched yesterday, about a train conductor who had run over five people. He did not kill them, they threw themselves in front of the train, or crossed the train tracks too late. But they died and he was driving the train. He was traumatized. After the fifth death, he had to go into therapy. There is something about dealing with death that has to do with this part.
After I watched it, I felt that people are affected when they deal with death. Particularly causing somebody else's death. Like my car accident: the man crossed the street; he never looked; he walked faster; and when I tried to drive around him, he literally ran into my car.
When I feel this part, there is a trembling in my whole body. Right now it feels, as if I am back in this time, before the car accident, when the anxiety came. The feeling is in my arms and back, like pressure, and the restlessness, the nervousness, the anxiety are everywhere in my body. What I hear from this part, that comes now with tears, is that life is too difficult and this part does not want to live. The part says: "It's too much, too difficult."
My question to the part is: I know you are usually there when I enter new territory; so, why are you there now? What is frightening for you? The part says: You cannot write such a paper and do a workshop; it's too dangerous to go into life. Because so many terrible things happen.
I sense in this part a very profound discouragement to be engaged in life and to participate in life. It was like a crime for her to step outside of the boundaries that were there. The boundaries that I cross when I write this are HUGE (crying). You did not talk about the war. You did not think about if anybody was affected by it. The blindness with Alice Miller has been a very profound state of mind that I had.
The part says: "You are going somewhere, where I can't go with you, where I can't follow you. It's too frightening for me." The part is afraid to do something so alone, and that would not have been safe in my childhood. The part says: "You break so many boundaries — I have real trouble following you. We didn't talk about the war. We didn't talk about what people felt or may have been through."
It's like this part is obstructing what I am trying to do, always coming in, like a little nagging voice.
What I feel from this part is: You may not go there.
Now I really understand this anxious feeling because if you want to go somewhere, and someone is holding you back, you are not doing well. You can't be yourself.
I ask the part: tell me everything that is frightening. I will listen. The first thing that I hear is: I want to be a good person, and a good person does not talk about their family. And I ask the part: Where does that come from? Why do you believe that? And the part tells me a memory that my brother once told me. (I begin to cry) That he saw my mother crying and asked her: what's wrong? And she said: 'It's so terrible, I can't tell you.' So my brother said, he racked his brain, for days and weeks, what could be so terrible that you cannot tell your child about. (I continue to cry) And the part says, nobody talked about anything. Even when I knew that my father was insane and in a mental hospital — my mother demanded that I should not tell my brother. Yet, I did tell him; I felt, he had to know the truth. Also then, the anxiety came — that's when I entered therapy for the first time.
It was like THE law of the land: You don't talk about ANYTHING! The worse things are, the less you talk about them. There is despair now in this part, agony and hopelessness: How am I going to live if I cannot talk about anything? When nobody tells you anything?
It was very difficult and very hopeless to live there because I could not not understand anything. People had all this stuff going on — but nobody talked about it. My mother had a little display cabinet of glass, (more crying) hanging on the wall. She called it her little vitrine of treasures. There was a photo of her brother who died in the war. (long crying) There was a drawing of the house where she grew up, which she had to leave behind after the war, and stones from where she had lived and walked. There were little memories in there. But she was just angry all the time. (still crying)
I remember my father's photo album, with people who were his comrades in the war. I remember seeing the album and the photos — but to ask: What did you do? Where were you? Did you ever kill somebody? Did you loose somebody in the war? Who was he? What was he like? And do you miss him? Not in a million years. Nobody talked about what they felt, what they struggled with, their conscience as a soldier, or my mother in the Hitler-youth. Eventually, she had to wake up — so: what was that like? Not a single word. Nothing.
It was absolutely hopeless to communicate about anything. You were not meant to understand, to connect. This hopeless part is like a little girl who is living with these people, but she doesn't know what to do with them. She doesn't know how to connect with them. They frighten her; she does not understand them, nor what life is all about.
It's like you are three years old and you are going into an insane asylum where people are yelling, screaming, crying, and you walk through there, and you wonder: This is life? How am I going to live? I don't want to live. It's too difficult. I don't know what to do with these people.
This part feels debilitated. They did not cut off my arms, but they cut off my sense of perception, my sense of connecting in a meaningful way with the world around me. And when I am doing this paper now, I'm trying to make sense of certain things. But this part says: that's not what my life was all about.
This part saw that insanity — and felt hopeless. I am listening to the part and I am horrified — to NEVER, really NEVER, get an answer for anything — that is absolutely bizarre.
I feel really, really sorry for this part because that's not a good way to start life. It really isn't. And I feel so sorry for how hopeless the part felt. And it also helps me understand again more the anxiety that came when I was engaged, eighteen years old. With whom could I have talked? With whom could I have sat down and said: I have anxiety, and I don't know what to do?
I want to ask this part how it is to talk about this. And the part says: It's a relief that you begin to understand me.
I want to tell this part that I very much appreciate it, because for me this means an enormous encouragement to talk more with my children. (Crying) I'm not going to leave a legacy of silence. I won't do that. That is unbearable.
I want to say to this part that I get the image of being in an insane asylum, of being in a place where people were very troubled and traumatized, where you were very alone, and nobody explained anything to you, and you could not talk about anything. Your feelings and questions had no resonance. There was no orientation. What I learned from my parents about good and bad, it's crazy. Good was: to never say what you think; to never feel; to never have an opinion; to never contradict. And bad was: if you had a question; if you contradicted; if you didn't function like a robot. Nothing made sense. There was no moral clarity, no honesty, no orientation where I come from. There was just utter confusion.
This is a very young part. There is relief and gratefulness in the part that I have listened. I feel that this part is really sad now and mourning. There is also this longing to connect in the part. But she couldn't. The image that comes from the part is like you have this bird, and the bird wants to fly. Your wings are your desire for connection. And then every time you fly, somebody cuts off a piece of your wings. And in the end, you give up flying because you don't even know…. what is connection for? If it's just painful, and difficult, and doesn't make sense, and you feel hopeless all the time — why try anymore.
I ask the part what I can do for her, if she has a burden. Hopelessness is her burden. And that's a feeling in my body, like when you can hardly move, when your body feels very heavy and hopeless and tired. There is no life in there, no initiative, no joy, no wish to connect. So I ask the part what we can do with this burden. I need to get her out of the house first because it has to do with where she grew up. And I carry her out because she cannot walk.
Now, I am aware of the hopeless part as a lifeless, slumped, very sad creature that does not know how to connect with life; she feels that she cannot make it. She just wants to give up. I think this part needs to be in water, together with me, and I need to hold her and the water can relieve her of this burden. It's like this part is bleeding in the water; she is wounded. Now the wound becomes visible and can bleed and heal. This part appreciates that I am there and hold her. She needs a lot of rest and care, compassion and acknowledgment.
What she really wanted was to connect with life and with people. That's really what this part is all about. I think this part's journey is to be able to do that; to let this longing come alive in her; to not have to kill it all the time because it didn't work where she lived.
This is the end of my therapy session. And I want to end my reflections on "Alice Miller: War Trauma and Betrayal Trauma" by saying how very sad I have been preparing for this workshop. There have been times when I have cried and felt deep compassion: for myself and my life, my children, for Martin, and for Alice Miller and my parents — and for all humans and lives that have been terribly and mindlessly affected by the devastation of war — and still are.
essay "Facing a Wall of Silence" http://www.screamsfromchildhood.com/silence.html
published in: "Second Generation Voices: Reflections by Children of Holocaust Survivors and Perpetrators" by Alan and Naomi Berger
Psychotherapy Networker webcast 2014, "The Trauma Revolution"
Martin Miller: "The True Drama of the Gifted Child — The Tragedy of Alice Miller — How Repressed War Traumas Impact Families" — only available in German:
Alice Miller: "For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence"
comment to Martin Miller's book on the amazon.de review webpage:
Anette Lippeck, http://www.amazon.de/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A9OSYCTJVG9M9
Jeffrey Masson's comment about Alice Miller can be found under the article: "Private Drama — Alice Miller was an authority on childhood trauma, but she stayed mum about her own"
Dan Bar-On: "The Others Within Us"
and: "Legacy of Silence: Encounters with Children of the Third Reich"
Alice Miller: "Paths of Life — Seven Scenarios"
Alice Miller: "The Body Never Lies"
Erika Mann: "School for Barbarians — Education Under the Nazis;" published in 1938
Sabine Bode: "Post-War Children" — only available in German
Theo Dorpat: "Wounded Monster: Hitler's Path from Trauma to Malevolence"
An Evaluation of the 'Analysis of the Personality of Adolf Hitler' written by Dr. Henry A. Murray in 1943
Jennifer Freyd: "Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse"
Jennifer Freyd and Pamela Birrell: "Blind to Betrayal: Why We Fool Ourselves We Aren't Being Fooled"