18/11/2006

The Truth will Set you Free (by Alice Miller)

'The Truth Will Set You Free' is an intriguing, sometimes disturbing, and frequently thought-provoking book by Alice Miller. It's about childhood trauma and its effect on adult life, written for the layperson. It looks at the known effects of childhood abuse and neglect, and the denial of pain that continues right throughout adulthood, with violence often begetting more violence in a vicious cycle.

The book was very well-written, and mostly convincing too, with clear anecdotal and other evidence of the harm that people suffer when they are seriously beaten or otherwise abused and humiliated during their childhood. She also shows how those who, despite bad treatment, do best as adults are those who had someone to confide in, who respected them, believed them, and listened to them without judgement.

My only slight reservations were:

1) Miller's assumption that if serious abuse causes great problems in adult life, then even occasional yelling or spanking a child must also do so. This may possibly be the case, but it's not a logical conclusion based on the evidence she provides, which only covers severe and long-term neglect or abuse. After all, salt in large quantities is toxic, but a small amount is not; indeed, salt in tiny quantities is vital for life.

2) Her generalisations about severe and abusive religious training - a horror indeed, in some cases - implying again that almost any kind of religous upbringing is therefore harmful. This is the same logical fallacy as above.

Still - overall it was a refreshingly honest account with many interesting, if disturbing anecdotes, well worth reading by any parents, or indeed anyone involved in working with children. How sad that it will probably not be read by those who are already committing violence against their offspring.

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