The Rape of Alice Miller
I’m gonna trick ya.
But play along, won’t you? Maybe you’ll find it interesting.
Here we go!
For months, I’ve been very interested in the tools Molyneux uses to guide his followers down a path that starts with the typical ambivalence young people feel about their families and ends with total rejection of both families and friends. Molyneux’s own writings, podcasts, and personal encouragement are part of it, to be sure. And there is, of course, Christina’s authority as a “trained psychologist.”
Alice Miller and the abused children of FDR
But if you spend any time on the FDR site, it won’t be long before you hear about the writings of psychologist Alice Miller. Miller began writing books about childhood abuse in 1979. Her central teaching is that childhood abuse is far more pervasive than we admit, the number of behaviors that fall into the “abuse” category are far greater than we know, and our current treatment paradigm for abuse victims can be far more damaging than the original abuse itself.
I’m not quite sure what to make of her as a psychologist. I certainly don’t think she’s in the same crackpot camp as some of Molyneux’s other psychology influences, but I get the impression her work has been used to do as much harm as good.
For example, there is a psychology triangulation of sorts going on at FDR. If the subtleties of Molyneux’s absolutist “first principles”-based discarding of your parents are lost on you, or you don’t quite grasp the deep “insight” of Christina’s “it all starts with the family” theories, then perhaps a world-renowned psychologist can be used to convince you that yes, oh yes, you were very badly abused.
The two things that concern me about Miller are her zealotry and her attempt to popularize her ideas. Perhaps the latter is the result of the former–you see, despite the fact that her work has been around for decades, her theories still haven’t made a significant impact on mainstream psychology. In fact, from my limited perspective, she hasn’t seemed to warrant enough attention from psychologists even to refute her theories–she seems to be mostly disregarded.
Perhaps Miller was so overzealous in stating her case–even when she didn’t have true clinical research to back it up–that mainstream psychology became leery of her. So she began writing books for the public. Who knows? I’m just speculating.
Despite all that, it really is too bad Miller hasn’t been given more credit for the awareness she has raised. I’ve come to believe that a great thing happened in the 80s when society began coming to terms with formerly hidden abuse–childhood, spousal, etc. I think Alice Miller’s dogged determination to enlighten everyone is part of the reason why. One cannot question her courage.
But seriously…everybody has been abused?!
Daphne Merkin of the New York Times wrote an informative and compelling review regarding the good-idea-taken-to-extremes tendencies of Miller. The review is entitled If Only Hitler’s Father Had Been Nicer and is an examination of The Truth Will Set You Free, one of Miller’s books.
All of Miller’s popular works fit nicely into the post-Freudian/pop psychology zeitgeist of the 80s when “all families were deemed dysfunctional until proved otherwise,” as Merkin puts it.
Merkin describes some of Miller’s dabbling in psychohistory (incidentally, another concept favored by Molyneux which, as a result of theorists like Lloyd deMause, also frequently veers into crackpot-ism) and Miller’s sometimes overreaching claims, which tend to suggest that nearly everyone is an abuse victim.
Merkin sums up the good and bad of Miller’s work this way:
The pity of it is that we end up dismissing the message along with the messenger. Miller’s excesses–the bombast and imperiousness, the fanatic refusal to make distinctions along a continuum of harmful child-rearing–have served to diminish her perspective to one of easily parodied alarmism.
The problem I have with Miller popularizing her work instead of working within the scientific community is that (in addition to sidestepping true research) she uses marketing to make it sound almost enviable to be an abuse victim. Consider. Her seminal book Drama of the Gifted Child was originally published with the title Prisoners of Childhood.
["Prisoners of Childhood" interactive game: Quickly download a copy of Molyneux's "On Truth" and count the number of times he uses the word "prison" to describe childhood. Stop either when you get to 100 or begin to wonder how many of Molyneux's "original" psychology ideas were lifted from Miller. Then come back here.]
Why did Miller change the title? Simple. Because it sucks to be a prisoner and it’s awesome to be gifted. As one reviewer put it, anyone looking in a bookstore for help with their troubled life would see that new title and say “That’s me! I’m gifted. I have drama!”
Merkin captures that impulse this way:
What self-respecting narcissist of a reader wouldn’t want to be a member of a club predicated on a rarefied sort of victim status, in which underlying depression was warded off by ”increased displays of brilliance”?
The perfect victimhood soufflé
So now the average visitor to FDR–typically, a very bright young person going through the nearly always difficult process of individuating from his/her family–is served a perfect soufflé of Stefan’s theories, his wife’s theories, and the theories of a justifiably famous psychologist. Discovering that you’re the gifted victim and hating your parents for it never felt so…right.
New members are so busy focusing on their own giftedness and the revelation of the true, miserable drama of their own families, they barely have time to notice that all FDR members are being served exactly the same soufflé and every family has committed more or less exactly the same crimes against children.
So, if you are a recently defooed parent and you’re trying to understand out how Alice Miller figures into all this, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.
In fact, here’s what one parent posted–as she was searching the forum for answers–about the negative impact of this soufflé on her family.
Can anyone tell me about Alice Miller? Her books are being used to make the cult members realize what parents do is always wrong. Early on is when Molyneux gets them to start blaming the parents for their own problems.
That is how he initially gets them away from family and friends. Alice Miller’s books makes you hate your parents…. it is so generally written that it can be applied to anyone that reads it. Someone with problems will find fault in their parents by reading her books. Stop blaming yourself, but blame the parents….. That is the message I get…..
Even when I read her book I started to question my mother, grandmother, just about anybody that raised me….. I am not denying that some have an abusive upbringing and go through a lot during growing up. But us “normal” parents, or those with “normal” parents that try to do the best we/they can, in the best interest of the child, get put down and accused of emotionally abusing our kids….
Yeah…..looking back, I know that my parents tried their best, I felt unloved at times (who doesn’t?) was mad because she ignored me and went to work instead of playing with me (!)….….my mom is not a psychiatrist; she did the best she can. I will not blame her for my problems. I think love for others is helping in that matter. I love my parents, grandparents, with that love I have in me, I can forgive and understand.”
Well, if it did, then I succeeded in my attempt to trick you!
You see, the parent who wrote that particular troubled post wasn’t talking about Molyneux at all!
This person was actually talking about a suspected cult leader named Wayne Allen Geis. Where the original poster wrote the name “Geis,” I simply replaced it with “Molyneux.” You’ll find the verbatim quote in this thread on a forum completely unrelated to libertarianism or Molyneux.
Why did I try to trick you? To demonstrate just how easy it is for gurus who may have an ulterier motive to (mis)use Miller’s theories for their own ends. You can see the danger more clearly when you consider how two widely differing “friendly advisors” such as Molyneux and Geis can both use the work of Miller in amazingly similar ways to achieve their desired result (which is always, of course, to convince you that you must separate from your family).
Geis’s and Molyneux’s “communities” have many differences. Geis claims to run an acting school and he uses a method called “The Process” to help his followers “grow” as actors. Since his community has nothing to do with logic, philosophy, and ethics, etc., the thinking is spiritual and a lot fuzzier than you’ll find on FDR.
On the other hand, Geis ends up sleeping with a lot of his victims, which means he’s probably having a lot more fun than Molyneux.
So there’s that.
Cult expert Joe Szimhart looked into Geis’s operation and detailed his findings here. Geis’s essential ploy is this:
Bait: Each one of the students approached Geis for personal instruction in acting, singing, and theater arts.
Switch: Geis quickly maneuvered each one into a therapeutic relationship that included his diagnoses based on the diagnostic manual used by psychiatry. Each one came to believe that it was necessary for Geis to help purge them of all the negative influences in their lives from family, other schools and society. Each one felt compelled to confess or otherwise reveal their innermost feelings, memories, and secrets to him and the group if he so directed. Each one came to believe that Geis had their best interests in mind even if it required total submission and giving more money than they first imagined. A few believed that having sex with Geis would, as he promised, somehow improve their enlightened status as performers.
Different dog. Same fleas.
In the thread I linked to above, you’ll also find a Joe Szimhart comment on how Geis exploits Miller’s work:
As for why Geis or anyone else who lives through malignant narcissim finds Miller’s book useful, it is a way to legitimize selfish needs to feel important. Of course, only the naive and manipulated would think that Gies truly understands Miller’s intent. Geis and JZ* live in a world apart, insulated from peer review and reality testing by grandiosity. Miller earned her reputation among peers in the field of mental health professionals…Miller’s powerfully written book can easily mislead the self-diagnosing reader.
* JZ Knight is a leader of yet another suspected cult.
Do Szimhart’s words have a similar application to Molyneux?
As you’ve seen in this article, I do struggle with my own ambivalence about Alice Miller. Her work is of inestimable value in revealing the tremendous impact a child’s perception of their upbringing can have in their later lives. Still, as one reviewer put it:
‘The Drama of the Gifted Child’ is a powerful book and it is worth reading even after 20 years. It is not a scientific book in the sense that it contains testable findings, it presents a practitioner’s conclusions gained from personal experience. You may call it an informed speculation, or an interim report from ‘the search for the true self’ as it is subtitled.
When Miller’s work is treated as true science by someone trying to self-diagnose, the outcome is unpredictable at best.
When it is rapaciously plundered by self-styled gurus with no clinical training, it can destroy lives.
Want to know what Miller thinks about gurus?
You can and it’s pretty interesting. She wrote a section called “Gurus and Cult Leaders, How They Function” in her book Paths of Life.
I offered the opinion in an earlier post that if FDR is indeed a cult, it is probably not by Molyneux’s design or wishes. Moreover, I suspected that Molyneux (and leaders like him) gain control not by intentional manipulation but as an indirect result of their fervent, unshakeable reverence for their own beliefs. (Surely you must see that the world operates exactly as Molyneux says. How could you not, unless there were something…wrong with you?)
I was unaware that Miller had figured all of this out a decade ago.
In the following passage, Miller describes the internal processes of gurus. It makes me a little uncomfortable, as she starts by referring to the “unconscious manipulation” of parents, an assertion that often takes her over-the-top in her theories. There is an element of truth, however, in that we all unconsciously try to influence each other at one time or another.
But the passage is fruitful because it points out how gurus fall into the same pattern. Does it apply to Molyneux? I’ll leave that to you but, if so, I’m struck by the strange reciprocity at work here here–Miller’s theories on gurus may actually apply to those gurus who use her other theories to control their groups!
The thing that concerns me most about cult groups is the unconscious manipulation that I have described in detail in my work. It is the way in which the repressed and unreflected childhood biographies of parents and therapists influence the lives of children and patients entrusted to their care without anyone involved actually realizing it. At first glance, it may seem as if what goes on in cult and cultlike therapy groups takes place on a diffferent level from the unconscious manipulation of children by their parents. We assume that in the former instance we are in the presence of an intentional, carefully planned, and organized form of manipulation aimed at exploiting the specific predicament of individuals.
In my view, however, this allegedly conscious exploitation can also be traced back to unconscious motives, Terrible as the consequences were, I do not believe, for example, that the two initiates of “feeling therapy” discussed earlier actually set out to establish a totalitarian regime. It was the power they gained over their adherents that made them into gurus. And this is what I have in mind when I refer to the unconscious aspects of manipulation. In the end they themselves became the victims of a process with an inexorable logic of its own, a process they were unaware of because they had never given it any thought.
Thus they sparked off a conflagration they were unable to control, much less extinguish. First, they learned how to reduce people to the emotional state of a helpless child. Once they had achieved that, they also learned how to use unconscious regression to exercise total control over their victims. From then on, what they did seemed to come automatically, in accordance with the child-rearing patterns instilled into them in their own childhood.
Regardless of how you classify FDR, Miller is suggesting (and I believe her) that Molyneux may have been swept up into FreeDomain Radio as much as any of his True Believers. The most ardent first member of the “community” is probably Molyneux himself.
And Alice Miller remains one of his most powerful tools.
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