The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting

Reviewed Publisher: 
New York: W.W. Norton. 207 pp. ISBN 0-393-06065-9.
Reviewed Title: 
The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting 2005
Reviewed Author: 

Dr. Alice Miller boldly goes where most people wouldn't dare. She raises to the surface the long-standing moral code that children shall honor their parents to live a long life (referred to as the Fourth Commandment in her book) and shows how adherence to this code may actually cause the very thing the commandment purports to prevent, a short-lived life. She illustrates through the lives of well-known authors the lingering effects of abuse, after studying their writings and other resources.

Miller's theory is grounded in the principle that early abuse by a parent often causes a disconnection between a child's experience and the consciousness of it. Her theory is that as long as the conscious mind has not validated the true experience, the body will manifest this truth, revealing it through symptoms or illnesses. The cure - for both psychoemotional and physical ills - is to bring the conscious mind and the body's memory into congruence through validation. Validation may be simply the individual acknowledging what truly happened or having an outside witness provide validation.

Dr. Miller points out that the risk of working in therapy for validation is that the therapy model is also entrenched in the Fourth Commandment. If the therapist is upholding the Fourth Commandment in their own personal life or as a cultural belief, it may be difficult to validate the patient, because in doing so, the therapist may unearth their own unhealed childhood past. So, it is possible that the person seeking validation may actually be discounted through such phrases as, "Your parents were doing the best they could with what they had" as opposed to, "I'm very sorry that it was so awful and you didn't receive what you needed."

Boldly, Alice Miller says that forgiveness may not actually provide healing. Instead, it may patch over and continue to deny what happened, instead of providing the needed validation. She is not opposed to sincere forgiveness, where the offending party sees what has happened and asks for forgiveness. But she opposes contrived forgiveness, where the offending party has made no changes.

Dr. Miller firmly believes that the true experience must be validated to facilitate healing because the body demands to be heard. She thinks it is time to question the Fourth Commandment as it relates to supporting an individual to be whole and healed. Fundamentally, it is impossible to contrive love for another when commanded to do so. Even worse, there is that threat imbedded within the command that one will not live a long life unless they do so, no matter what experience they have had with their parents. When validation is experienced, the individual will heal, and symptoms of illness will fall away. The body and the conscious mind are now aligned and no longer in conflict. The healed individual may then stop the perpetual cycle that passes through the generations, of trying to receive from others, including parents, partners and their own children, that which they did not receive and needed during their childhood. When a parent is whole and healed, they do not seek to have their needs met by their children.

In a similar fashion, Miller challenges the moral belief that one must behave in a certain way to be pleasing to God in order to receive his approval and love. This moral model more likely represents the unhealed model which has widely been experienced. Rather, because God is whole and healed, he does not need us to contrive our love or change ourselves to meet his needs.

The general theme of the book reminds me of the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes" in that there is a sense of fear around seeing reality - whether that reality is that the Emperor is naked or that the Fourth Commandment is problematic. Once we are willing to admit the truth, we no longer have to carry on with the lie and can move on to a more-accurate point of reference - which promotes healing.

Dr. Miller's concept of validation for healing is very applicable for healing traumas arising from the perinatal period. There are tools now available that may facilitate healing and provide the process of validation in a much shorter period of time than previous methods of therapy that may have taken months or years to bring healing. I learned of some of these new tools when I attended the 2005 APPPAH Congress's preconference workshop, Healing Pre- and Perinatal Stress Patterns Utilizing Energy Psychology Tools, given by Dr. Wendy Anne McCarty, Founding Chair, Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology Program, Santa Barbara Graduate Institute.

One of the principles for healing pre- and perinatal stress patterns that Dr. McCarty emphasized was the importance of recognizing and acknowledging the truth of what happened and was experienced by the baby, mother, and father. She emphasized that babies know the truth as "a primary knowing." Substantiating Alice Miller's theory, Dr. McCarty has often found in her practice that recognizing and acknowledging the truth was the key therapeutic intervention.

Building upon the validation principle, Dr. McCarty uses Energy Psychology techniques, such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). At the heart of EFT, the person acknowledges what is or what has happened, validates their experience of it, and creates a statement of their truth in conjunction with a statement of total self-acceptance. Then, they speak that statement while tapping certain meridian points on their body.

Dr. McCarty has experienced great clinical effectiveness with the combination of: Understanding the pre- and perinatal consciousness of the baby and imprinted stress patterns, acknowledging "the truth" and holding it in a compassionate and self-accepting way, and tapping the meridians to release the pattern. She has found the synergy of these components offers great elegance in healing stress patterns.

As I reviewed Dr. Miller's book and considered what Dr. McCarty had shared in the workshop, I appreciated the central theme in Dr. Miller's book, that "the body knows" and that an essential part of healing is acknowledging that truth.

Specific examples of pre- and perinatal themes are found on pages 71-72 and 112-113 of The Body Never lies. At Alice-Miller.com, Dr. Miller has specific information on the "helping witness."

Publication Date: 
05/2006