FOR YOUR OWN GOOD - Alice Miller
5 [Pages 8-14 in the print edition]

Breeding Grounds of Hatred


FOR a long time I asked myself how I could go about giving a vivid and not purely intellectual portrayal of what is done to many children in their earliest days and the consequences this has for society. How could I best tell others, I often wondered, what it is people have discovered concerning the beginning of their life after having gone through a lengthy and laborious process of reconstruction? In addition to the difficulty involved in presenting this material, there is the old dilemma: on the one hand, there is my pledge of professional secrecy; on the other, my conviction that principles are at work here that ought not to remain the special knowledge of a few insiders. Furthermore, I am aware of the resistance on the part of the reader who has not been in analysis, of the guilt feelings that arise when cruel treatment is discussed and the way to mourning still remains blocked. What, then, should be done with this sad fund of knowledge?

We are so used to perceiving everything we hear in terms of moralizing rules and regulations that sometimes even pure information may be interpreted as a reproach and thus cannot be absorbed at all. We justifiably resist new exhortations if moral demands were frequently imposed upon us at too young an age. Love of one's neighbor, altruism, willingness to sacrifice -- how splendid these words sound and yet what cruelty can lie hidden in them simply because they are forced upon a child at a time when the prerequisites for altruism cannot possibly be present. Coercion often nips the development of these prerequisites in the bud and what then remains is a lifelong condition of strain. This is like soil too hard for anything to grow in, and the only hope at all of forcibly producing the love demanded of one as a child lies in the upbringing given one's own children, from whom one then demands love in the same merciless fashion.

For this reason, it is my intention to refrain from all moralizing. I definitely do not want to say someone ought or ought not to do this or that (for example, ought not to hate), for I consider maxims of this sort to be useless. Rather, I see it as my task to expose the roots of hatred, which only a few people seem to recognize, and to search for the explanation of why there are so few of these people.

I was giving serious thought to these questions when I came upon Katharina Rutschky's Schwarze Pädagogik (Black Pedagogy), a collection of excerpts from books on child-rearing, published in Germany in 1977. These texts describe all the techniques, which I refer to in this book as "poisonous pedagogy," that are used to condition a child at an early age not to become aware of what is really being done to him or her; they offer clear corroboration on a concrete level of the conjectural reconstructions I have arrived at in the long course of my analytic work. This gave me the idea of juxtaposing certain passages from this excellent but very lengthy book so that with their help readers can answer for themselves and on their own personal terms the following questions I shall be raising: How were other parents brought up? How were they permitted -- even forced -- to treat us? How could we, as young children, have become aware of this? How could we have treated our own children differently? Can this vicious circle ever be broken? And finally, is our guilt any less if we shut our eyes to the situation?

It may be that I am trying to attain something with these texts that either is not possible at all or is completely superfluous. For as long as you are not allowed to see something, you have no choice but to overlook it, to misunderstand it, to protect yourself against it in one way or another. But if you have already perceived it for yourself, then you don't need me to tell you about it. Although this observation is correct, I still do not want to give up the attempt, for it strikes me as worthwhile, even though at the moment only a few readers may profit from these excerpts.

I believe the quotations I have chosen will reveal methods that have been used to train children not to become aware of what was being done to them -- not only "certain children" but more or less all of us (and our parents and forebears). I use the word reveal here although there was nothing secretive about these writings; they were widely distributed and went through numerous editions. We of the present generation can learn something from them that concerns us personally and was still hidden from our parents. Reading them, we may have the feeling of getting to the bottom of a mystery, of discovering something new but at the same time long familiar that until now has simultaneously clouded and determined our lives. This was my own experience when I read Rutschky's book about the phenomenon of "poisonous pedagogy." Suddenly I became more keenly aware of its many traces in psychoanalytic theories, in politics, and in the countless compulsions of everyday life.

Those concerned with raising children have always had great trouble dealing with "obstinacy," willfulness, defiance, and the exuberant character of children's emotions. They are repeatedly reminded that they cannot begin to teach obedience too soon. The following passage by J. Sulzer, written in 1748, will serve as an illustration of this:

As far as willfulness is concerned, this expresses itself as a natural recourse in tenderest childhood as soon as children are able to make their desire for something known by means of gestures. They see something they want but cannot have; they become angry, cry, and flail about. Or they are given something that does not please them; they fling it aside and begin to cry. These are dangerous faults that hinder their entire education and encourage undesirable qualities in children. If willfulness and wickedness are not driven out, it is impossible to give a child a good education. The moment these flaws appear in a child, it is high time to resist this evil so that it does not become ingrained through habit and the children do not become thoroughly depraved.

Therefore, I advise all those whose concern is the education of children to make it their main occupation to drive out willfulness and wickedness and to persist until they have reached their goal. As I have remarked above, it is impossible to reason with young children; thus, willfulness must be driven out in a methodical manner, and there is no other recourse for this purpose than to show children one is serious. If one gives in to their willfulness once, the second time it will be more pronounced and more difficult to drive out. Once children have learned that anger and tears will win them their own way, they will not fail to use the same methods again. They will finally become the masters of their parents and of their nursemaids and will have a bad, willful, and unbearable disposition with which they will trouble and torment their parents ever after as the well-earned reward for the "good" upbringing they were given. But if parents are fortunate enough to drive out willfulness from the very beginning by means of scolding and the rod, they will have obedient, docile, and good children whom they can later provide with a good education. If a good basis for education is to be established, then one must not cease toiling until one sees that all willfulness is gone, for there is absolutely no place for it. Let no one make the mistake of thinking he will be able to obtain any good results before he has eliminated these two major faults. He will toil in vain. This is where the foundation first must be laid.

These, then, are the two most important matters one must attend to in the child's first year. When he is over a year old, and is beginning to understand and speak somewhat, one must concentrate on other things as well, yet always with the understanding that willfulness must be the main target of all our toils until it is completely abolished. It is always our main purpose to make children into righteous, virtuous persons, and parents should be ever mindful of this when they regard their children so that they will miss no opportunity to labor over them. They must also keep very fresh in their minds the outline or image of a mind disposed to virtue, as described above, so that they know what is to be undertaken. The first and foremost matter to be attended to is implanting in children a love of order; this is the first step we require in the way of virtue. In the first three years, however, this -- like all things one undertakes with children -- can come 'about only in a quite mechanical way. Everything must follow the rules of orderliness. Food and drink, clothing, sleep, and indeed the child's entire little household must be orderly and must never be altered in the least to accommodate their willfulness or whims so that they may learn in earliest childhood to submit strictly to the rules of orderliness. The order one insists upon has an indisputable influence on their minds, and if children become accustomed to orderliness at a very early age, they will suppose thereafter that this is completely natural because they no longer realize that it has been artfully instilled in them, If, out of indulgence, one alters the order of the child's little household as often as his whim shall dictate, then he will come to think that orderliness is not of great importance but must always yield to our whim. Such a false assumption would cause widespread damage to the moral life, as may easily be deduced from what I have said above about order. When children are of an age to be reasoned with, one must take every opportunity to present order to them as something sacred and inviolable. If they want to have something that offends against order, then one should say to them: my dear child, this is impossible; this offends against order, which must never be breached, and so on. . . .

The second major matter to which one must dedicate oneself beginning with the second and third year is a strict obedience to parents and superiors and a trusting acceptance of all they do. These qualities are not only absolutely necessary for the success of the child's education, but they have a very strong influence on education in general, They are so essential because they impart to the mind orderliness per se and a spirit of submission to the laws, A child who is used to obeying his parents will also willingly submit to the laws and rules of reason once he is on his own and his own master, since he is already accustomed not to act in accordance with his own will. Obedience is so important that all education is actually nothing other than learning how to obey. It is a generally recognized principle that persons of high estate who are destined to rule whole nations must learn the art of governance by way of first learning obedience. Qui nescit obedire, nescit imperare: the reason for this is that obedience teaches a person to be zealous in observing the law, which is the first quality of a ruler. Thus, after one has driven out willfulness as a result of one's first labors with children, the chief 'goal of one's further labors must be obedience. It is not very easy, however, to implant obedience in children. It is quite natural for the child's soul to want to have a will of its own, and things that are not done correctly in the first two years will be difficult to rectify thereafter. One of the advantages of these early years is that then force and compulsion can be used. Over the years, children forget everything that happened to them in early childhood. If their wills can be broken at this time, they will never remember afterwards that they had a will, and for this very reason the severity that is required will not have any serious consequences.

Just as soon as children develop awareness, it is essential to demonstrate to them by word and deed that they must submit to the will of their parents. Obedience requires children to (I) willingly do as they are told, (2) willingly refrain from doing what is forbidden, and (3) accept the rules made for their sake. [J. Sulzer, Versuch von der Erziehung und Unterweisung der Kinder (An Essay on the Education and Instruction of Children), 1748, quoted in Rutschky]

It is astonishing that this pedagogue had so much psychological insight over two hundred years ago. It is in fact true that over the years children forget everything that happened to them in early childhood; "they will never remember afterwards that they had a will" -- to be sure. But, unfortunately, the rest of the sentence, "the severity that is required will not have any serious consequences," is not true.

The opposite is the case: throughout their professional lives, lawyers, politicians, psychiatrists, physicians, and prison guards must deal with these serious consequences, usually without knowing their cause. The psychotherapeutic process may take years to work its cautious way back to the roots of the trouble, but when successful, it does in fact bring release from symptoms.

Lay persons repeatedly raise the objection that there are people who had a demonstrably difficult childhood without becoming neurotic, whereas others, who grew up in apparently favorable circumstances, became mentally ill.

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