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For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence Paperback – November 14, 2002
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Miller explores the backgrounds of extreme cases of self-destructive and violent individuals to further her theories on longterm consequences of abusive childrearing. Her conclusions about what creates a drug addict, a murderer, even a Hitler, stray far from psychoanalytic dogma about human nature. Miller paints a jolting picture of the violent world each generation helps shape when traditional upbringing, with its hidden cruelty, is perpetuated. She also offers a way out by striving to resensitize the child in the adult, to unlock an emotional life frozen in repression.
“This is a book of extraordinary importance, for it makes as clear as a beacon light the root causes of violence as a consequence of our misguided child-rearing practices. For Your Own Good should be read by all who are troubled by what has happened to our world and to our children. I cannot sufficiently stress the importance and urgency of reading [this book].” ―Ashley Montagu
“A shattering, frightening [book], and eventually one of the most illuminating and life-view-changing works I have ever read . . . I challenge any thinking and feeling person to read this book [and] not in turn be changed or altered.” ―Church World
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Due to my relatively new status as parent to a toddler and having known many people both internally within my immediate and distant family and externally amongst close friends and associates who've suffered under excessively harsh parenting, I am often drawn to child psychology literature and any other psych lit that will help me understand how to interpret the more negative aspects of their adult behavior. Throughout this enormous and daunting quest to find answers, the same narrative keeps popping up: various forms and levels of abusive parenting which include, but are not limited to yelling, slapping, hitting, spanking, verbal harshness, manipulation, humiliation, abandonment, various forms of parental instability, etc. are the primers for poor, criminal and/or self-hating expression.
Most of the literature (via independent books and/or articles published by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Pediatric Association) I've read over the years seem to agree on the causes of poor behavior, but Swedish psychologist Alice Miller's book "For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence" complete the "bad behavior" theory in a way that I've not seen in any other child psych lit. Her book puts a very real face on what abusive parenting produces and even ties it into the Holocaust by extensively examining how Adolph Hitler was raised (neurotic, weak, compulsive and unstable mother and an excessively verbally, mentally and physically abusive father), how Germans were raised for generations under similar conditions and how abusive parenting contributed to an entire nation going along with the heinous acts that were to make WWII infamous. Of course this is the extreme outcome of abusive parenting, but the author taps into more common outcomes as well (e.g. criminal behavior; self-hating behavior in the form of addictions to drugs, alcohol, food, etc.; personality disorders which include compulsions, chronic depression, chronic anger, OCD, Narcissism, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and other sociopathies; and finally re-enacting the very abuse they suffered at the hands of their parents onto their own children or others because they either believe that the harsh discipline they endured was necessary and normal or because they are subconsciously lashing out due to their own unexamined weaknesses and pain).
This is the first book by Alice Miller that I've read, but it will not be my last. It's absolutely essential reading even if you think your brand of discipline is harmless... chances are it's not. I would encourage all parents to read For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence and continue reading child psych literature from respected and scientific sources, especially if you have very young children between the ages of infancy and 5 years old as those are the most crucial years in child development (emotionally, mentally, physically, educationally, etc.) and what happens in those years will set the stage for the rest of one's life.
It is difficult to read this book, not because her language is difficult, but because it tugs at my heart strings. You (if of European descent) may experience it likewise.
If you experienced abuse as a child, this book may be difficult to read simply because it is so truthful. I bought it months ago and have only been able to read a few pages at a time. Every page, however, is filled with my own penciled notations because it seems like she wrote the book just for me! She writes about the history of child abuse, its insidiousness and how it still gets hidden behind euphemisms like "discipline." Just as critical, she explains how corporal punishment permanently harms a child, sometimes causing problems in all aspects of their lives. It is a very powerful, well-written book.