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April 27, 2010

Alice Miller has died (don’t feel too bad; she was 87) and if you’ve ever looked for someone to blame for the fact that we’re all navel-gazing nancies who fear our kids, try Alice Miller. Actually, that’s not fair. Miller, a psychoanalyst who did groundbreaking work that positioned parents as the main cause of lasting psychological dysfunction, was hugely important in focusing on the relevance of the parent-child relationship. It isn’t her fault we all took it way, way too far.

Miller’s basic idea wast that cruelty from parents–whether it’s actual physical abuse or more subtle neglect and criticism–leaves lasting scars and can be blamed for nearly every problem everyone has ever had later in life. She was known as sometimes too strident in her arguments, and her basic premise has always seemed to me a little too sweeping. Not that I don’t love blaming my parents for all my problems, because God knows I do. But you can see how this idea has led to a sort of cult of victimhood.

Interestingly, the New York Times obituary linked to above leaves one little tidbit to the end–that later in life she discovered that she herself had been abused as a child. For a psychoanalyst who preached against the cruelty of parents, this seems important enough to mention before the 15th paragraph, but hey, they’re the NY Times, and who am I? Anyway, so long, Alice. Here’s hoping you’re asshole mom isn’t waiting for you up there.

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