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August
Are These the Deep, Dark Secrets of Those Who Can’t Quit a Cruel President?


“Poisonous pedagogy” is what the late, world-renowned Swiss psychotherapist Alice Miller called dominant Western methods of child-rearing. That label has always been hard to swallow.

We’d rather deny it. We’re assuming it’s getting better. But Miller was deadly serious.

But are the extremes of this pedagogy what lie beneath the cult of a cruel president?

Miller’s writings were extensive and important, including For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence (1990), Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child (1998), and The Truth Will Set You Free: Overcoming Emotional Blindness and Finding Your True Adult Self (2001).

In each she challenged what was considered “normal” parenting in past generations.

Miller called for a total revision of the methods we use and how we view children. She described how parents, who haven’t dealt with the effects of the poisonous pedagogy of their own parents, project their ideas, feelings, and dreams on their children.

Children then learn that to survive they must honor and obey their parents while repressing memories, feelings, and attempts to be themselves. They must learn to conform, suppress their curiosity and emotions, and become intolerant, even afraid, of deviations from what they’ve learned.

This parenting, we sincerely believed, is “for their own good.” In order not to face the pains, humiliations, disappointments, tragedies, and abuses of our own up-bringing, we won’t look deeply at the issue, but refuse to take our own childhood feelings and experiences seriously.

As a result, we become unaware of what really happened. We’re convinced that anything we went through was good for us, character-building, or necessary training to get along in the real world.

“My childhood wasn’t that bad.” “I turned out okay,” we respond, even if our childhood was frankly abusive.

Our culture still tends to teach children to blame themselves as if adults are innocent and children born guilty. And as the magnitude of child abuse in our culture continues to come to the surface, we prefer to deny it.

We learned to defend our parents and blame ourselves for any negative things they have done and our inabilities to rise above them.We want to protect parents, to let them off the hook.

We want to say they were well-meaning, even if they were screwed-up. We want to tell adult children that they must forgive their parents.

And the worst Commandment - used to support the illusion that parenting is just fine and children need to get over it - Miller adds, is “Honor your father and your mother.”

So, as adults we deal with depression, surprising amounts of anger, self-defeating internal messages, low self-esteem, and patterns of actions through which we constantly attempt to prove we’re really not stupid, insignificant, abandoned, or worthless.

We’re still not supposed to add to “Well my parents did the best they could (given their own upbringing),” the realization that actually they might have been incapable of giving us all we needed as children.

Parents so needed their children to fulfill their own unmet childhood needs that they couldn’t love them unconditionally, couldn’t let them grow in their own ways, couldn’t always fully be there, couldn’t take children’s feelings seriously, or couldn’t affirm, respect, and believe their children.

And when children learn to suppress their feelings, they learn not to feel what’s really going on around them. They often become violent.

Let’s not blame violence on TV. Children who have really been loved and protected, Miller asserts, are uninterested in violent movies and video games!

The child who was hurt and humiliated, maybe not by parents but at school, will seek an object to hate and on which to take revenge. The abuser was always abused. Violent people were brought up violently.

And often they were also taught to deny their histories. These memories are unbearably painful and one way not to feel the pain of childhood is to hurt or kill innocent people.

This is not to blame parents. They don’t get much help either.

Much of the mainstream thinks this is the way it should be as long as parents don’t go to extremes. It doesn’t take alternative ideas seriously.

It just doesn’t want to face the hurts many of us felt as children. Parents are left to pass along the methods of their parents, though they often improve them somewhat. And fixing this through permissiveness will not be the answer either.

Parents are given little support. They’re taught to rely on an inadequate consumer-driven nuclear family model that’s guaranteed to exhaust them. They’re told to discipline children by hitting, yelling at, and humiliating them.

But Miller is blunt. Research, she said, proves conclusively that no one learns anything positive from punishment. They only learn how to avoid more punishment through lies, pretense, and diversion. They also learn how to punish a child later.

Little children are naturally tolerant. They think it’s wrong to be hurt. It makes sense to them that people who are hurting or left out should be helped.

They have a sense of fairness. They don’t object to showing affection to others of either sex.

They expect human beings to cry out when they’re in need. They look intently at others until they’re told not to stare.

They expect the best of other humans until they’re taught not to trust. They laugh more, cry more, observe more, and dream more.

They do things that are inefficient, unproductive, and outside of box defined by our Capitalist society. The world is theirs for exploring and loving.

Children aren’t naturally homophobic either. They don’t naturally think that sexuality is dirty.

They aren’t naturally racist. They have to be taught this.

Childishness, of course, ends. We call it growing up.

And it continues to end sooner than ever as we push younger and younger children to be like us adults -- the adults who seek to buy fulfillment, use addictive coping mechanisms, are unhappy with their looks, and read books to improve their self-esteem and the many things they don’t like about themselves.

When children enforce on each other the prejudices and inadequacies they were taught by grown-ups, we call it peer pressure.

Not surprisingly, this poisonous pedagogy installs and enforces homophobia and prejudice against LGBTQ people. As generation after generation moves away from its methods, we’re slowly also moving away from the search for others to blame for society’s problems.

Still, we’re seeing those who won’t face the deep personal hurts of their parenting. They couldn’t bear to tell the truth about their parents.

They might be right-wingers, ultra-conservative evangelists and politicians, anti-gay leaders, or others who prefer to blame LGBTQ people. They say, “I was hit, hurt, etc. and I turned out okay.” Anti-LGBTQ efforts are less painful to them than feeling the pains of their childhood.

There’s probably no anti-LGBTQ person who has fully faced their own up-bringing. One way to avoid doing so is to focus hate, prejudice, arrogance, and disgust on LGBTQ people.

So, I’ll bet, that’s what their problem is. It’s not LGBTQ people or the others they scapegoat.

It’s their inability to face their childhoods. They really need therapy.

© 2019 Robert N. Minor

Other Issues, Books, Resources

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Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org

 



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