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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2000
Alice Miller shows us the roots of our own pain and struggle by explaining how methods of child rearing (what she terms "poisonous pedagogy")brought about the behaviour of Adolf Hitler and others. A difficult book to read, because of the pain it evokes, but truly enlightening as it shows how all cruelty, wars, destruction of our environment, criminality, and terrorism actually stem from the abused child's need to deal with its childhood and the way it was treated by parents, teachers, ministers and other care givers, all for its "own good".
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2010
An absolutely extraordinary look at how the mind of a child is formed and influenced and the part played by both verbal and physical coercion. This book has become more influential than any other over the years - I read it first some twenty years ago - and influenced how I raised my children, how I treat other people, and the direction of my work and sense of purpose. Genuinely life-changing, Alice Miller's classic reflects a simple truth that consumer society ignores to all our detriment - children, and the society we raise them in, most decidedly make the future (politics, survival of the species and all) in which we will all live or die together. Is there any more important subject?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2008
Alice Miller digs into the psycho-history behind the mental-illness cases she deals with, turning her lights on the legacy of parent education from medieval through early-modern times. And to a large degree Miller lays the blame for traditions of mental illness on Christian theology. If children were presumed to be born evil, then the struggle to raise them could be something like exorcizing demons. How should a God-fearing parent proceed? The examples Miller cites from parenting literature are many and disturbing. In a 1740s "Essay on the Education and Instruction of Children", J. Sulzer, argues that the first necessary step was for children to learn that the world of adults had an established order, which could not be altered by wailing protests or selfish demands. Second, they must learn to obey the authors of that order:
"The second major matter to which one must dedicate oneself beginning with the second and third year is a strict obedience to parents and superiors and a trusting acceptance of all they do. These qualities are not only absolutely necessary for the success of a child's education, but they have a very strong influence on education in general. They are essential because they impart to the mind orderliness per se and a spirit of submission to the laws. A child who is not used to obeying his parents will also not willingly submit to the laws and rules of reason once he is on his own ..., since he is already accustomed to act in accordance with his own will. Obedience is so important that all education is actually nothing other than learning how to obey." (p.12)

Perhaps Miller aims indiscriminately at religion in general. She is focused on cases of abuse, like a policeman who sees crime all day. Her call for compassion is not the whole answer for parents, but it is crucial for a saner world.

--author of Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 August 2014
Before I criticise Alice Miller's (AM) book let me say first that it is very well written with avoidance of unnecessary jargon. Also, her condemnation of abusive and selfish child-rearing methods should be welcomed by everyone.
She puts forward the theory that adult neuroses and antisocial behaviour (including the holocaust) is due to 'toxic pedagogy'. This is the abusive manner in which child rearing has often been done with a lack of respect for the child as an autonomous person. This abuse is repressed and forgotten by the child who often idealises his/her parents and upbringing. The child's anger emerges in adulthood and is directed to their children or, in the case of Hitler, to the Jews.
My objection is that AM's theory is not presented as a hypothesis or conjecture to be criticised and tested, but as a fact. I think this renders it unscientific. In case anyone thinks that a scientific basis is not possible here, AM asserts twice that her observations are lent scientific validity by the fact that they can be made repeatedly and can be verified or refuted even by non-professionals. I also think that in such an important area a scientific basis is essential.
What is AM's scientific approach? Presumably, it is her experience in analysing clients. But we are given no detailed description of her methodology. Two hundred years ago, the great Scottish philosopher David Hume established two important results:
1. No amount of positive evidence can justify a universal theory.
2. No amount of positive evidence can make a universal theory probable,
Theories, such as the one presented in this book, cannot be accepted unless they are subject to severe, critical testing. i.e. tests designed to find any flaws in the theory.
The only example presented by AM which she considers to be a test is her analysis of Hitler. Instead of presenting one example of a dictator who committed vicious crimes, far more examples would need to be examined and especially of those abused in childhood who became benefactors of mankind e.g. Abraham Lincoln.
AM also rejects any idea of an innate contribution to abusive behaviour. But on what basis? To discount the contribution of genes to violent behaviour, extensive studies would have to be undertaken using identical twins, non-identical twins and adopted children. I am not aware that AM carried out such studies or referenced them in formulating her theory.
My feeling is that the 'toxic pedagogy' theory (like so many similar ones) is a result of confirmation bias; i.e. a failure to take Hume's lessons on board. Any plausible theory in any field will find lots of confirming evidence, but this proves nothing.
I am very sceptical about psychological explanations of history (the holocaust in this case). I think they are inherently irrationalist, as seen in AM's view that wars can only be prevented by better child rearing and not by politics (although she sees her view as being the rational one). Often, people adhere to theories and the emotions follow from the theories in my opinion. Hitler pursued two policies, consciously held, in implementing the holocaust:
1. Martin Luther's nasty policy of dispossessing the Jews and putting them to useful work for society;
2. The equally nasty social darwinist view that inferior races will perish in the conflict of states.
I do not think that the toxic pedagogy theory contributes anything better as an explanation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2010
This book confronts our culture's tendency to rationalize raising children in a manner that is convienent for the parents, but often not in a manner that is in the best interests of children. Sometimes I feel you need to take the author with a grain of salt, but she's basically spot on.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2003
When you listen to the music of Bach, one is consistently amazed at its beauty and power regardless of the piece's length, instrumentation or meaning. And we are amazed, even if quietly so, because Bach always seems to have reinvented music by rediscovering what the language truly is; spiritually reexplaining the music we have grown up hearing--even if it's other classical or cerebral jazz--as one of many dialects. Hearing a masterpiece of Bach's affects us in the end only slightly differently than anything he ripped off in an hour or two for his church chorus before or after. To our souls, the fact that he introduced us to the hidden language of beauty is equally if not more important than even the greatest example of the poetry that, via the language, he created.
Change that metaphor to the jazz of Coltrane, the plays of Shakespeare, the art of Picasso, the universe view of Einstein or what ever you like; this is the effect one feels when reading the psychological work of Alice Miller. This being my fourth book of hers I'm in the middle of reading, I don't bother with rating them according to which is better or worse; each one clearly and eloquently reveals a different facet of the diamond that is the tortured but beautiful soul of Western civilization, and perhaps all of humanity. Alice Miller puts us in touch with the obviously LOST language of the soul of the human child. And she does it to such a degree that you feel that language begin to speak YOU once again, the way it did when you were three or four years old, with every incredible common sense discovery she shares about the actual nature and genesis of culture and its many beliefs. All of her books do this. This is perhaps the paradox that will never cease to amaze you with all of her work, and especialy this one.
With FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, Alice Miller shows you the nature, origins and source of human evil. What made Hitler and Eichmann Hitler and Eichmann; how it relates to the secret psychological pains of common people in 1930's and 40's Germany, 19th century England, and every other society and time; what, hiding behind religion and moral philosophy, nearly murders the soul of children--and is still sanctioned by Western culture as integral parts of "child-rearing". The clarity with which you will see the mystified world in which we live behind the smoke and mirrors of complex philsophies, contradictory historical perspectives and socio-political theories, is simultaneously invigorating and disheartening. You see the degree to which the simplest, most obvious explanation for evil has been so painfully ignored, and the sad, sad reasons as to why; but Miller's writing style and genius makes you feel hope after doing so. Instead of feeling as if your soul has been murdered, even after seeing forgotten aspects of your own childhood slowly and unexpectedly reappear before your eyes like a polaroid picture developing on certain pages and chapters, you feel as if it has simply been frozen against your will--and now you are armed with the technology to thaw it out and discover who you truly are.
Alice Miller with FOR YOUR OWN GOOD gives us the behavioral anatomy of evil in human history via charting both the history and psychological effects of "poisonous pedagogy": inferior and abusive child-rearing practices that become so unconscious to a people as to become definitive of a culture. Evil is demystified with this book, and as such begins to immeidately lose its power and becomes what theologians of every religion have (unsucessfully) tried to wish it into being for millenia: nothing more than the shadow--the absence--of goodness.
Read this book of hers in particular, and you will never say some version of "the children are our future" quite the same way again.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 August 2009
In my opinion almost everybody can benefit from reading this book. I think it is probably one of the most important non-fiction books written in the last 100 years. This book gave me interesting insights into myself, my parents, western society and certain historical events.
A must read for anybody who has regular contact with children.
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Alice breathroughs with pickaxe and shovel to emerge through the madness.

German historical archetypes are illuminated as attachment gone wrong. Political violence against others (Hitler) physical violence against others (Kurten) and violence against the self (Christianne F) arises as recompense.

Childhoods ruptured with violence entails a retreat into a self created Fortress. Miller describes how the strap hits the outer skin forcing the child to escapes inside. The body becomes the object, the beating becomes another body being hit.

This becomes the outer shell as the child retreats inside. The hardened man/woman emerges from a chrysalis of pain. Miller analyses Kurten the serial killer drawing on his violence family background, Christiane F as a retreat into oblivion to escape a life of pain and Hitler self described in Mein Kampf.

The writing is lucid, thought provoking and not couched in academese, the obtuse syntax to obfuscate meaning so beloved of continental philosophy. Miller aims to strip pretence and show the rawness of human emotions.

This book deals with the complexities of human existence within our current moral malaise. It calls for a moral order based on the simple relationship between emotional caretakers and children to be given a new vital place. It is the bedrock upon which everything rests. Alice hit upon the key fundamental question and answered it.

It provides the insights to create the catalyst for the greatest cultural and moral revolution ever undertaken.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 15 July 2005
This book gives an excellent insight into many people's childhood, including myself's. The book is well written but seems to re-cover the same ground on many occasions. If read sympathetically, this book can encourage people to search out for the real causes of their adult distress and to come to terms with it, and also to understand the root causes of the problems that many people have.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 1999
This is an account of how childhood experiences lead to disastrous adult behaviour, notably in Hitler's case. The same disasters are to be found in every serial killer, pedophile or grievous bodily harmer ...
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