menu/ SHAME + VIOLENCE

synonyms for shame

- humiliate

- reject

- neglect

- ridicule

- disrespect

- abandon

- dishonor

- slight

- demean

- insult

- taunt

- put down

- beat

- abuse

- punish

- hurt;

- loss of face

- soul-murder

- worthless

- prejudice

- racism

- numb

- dead

- cold

- hell

- joyless

- suffering

- poverty

antonyms

- pride

- confidence

- dignity

- self-esteem

- self-respect

- self-love

the sequence of events leading to violence

Punishment leads to shame which then leads to anger, then rage, and finally violence. Like a broken record, this tragic song plays itself over and over again each day. For example, I just read in a recent letter to Ann Landers (22 May 1997):

"One prison psychologist told of an inmate who, as a child, forgot to feed his father's dogs one day. His father beat him, stripped him naked, fastened a dog collar around his neck and tied him in the backyard with the dogs. As the boy sat crying and shivering in the backyard, he saw his mother and sister watching from the house, also crying but too frightened to intervene."

"Later, as an outlet for his rage, the boy killed the dogs. The boy grew up to become a rapist, the only outlet he could find for the rage he felt toward the women in his life who had witnessed his humiliation and done nothing to help him."

The presence of shame is the absence of love or the loss of love, and leads to the destruction of self-esteem. When you shame a person, it hurts. Shaming is the purposeful assault on the soul, that inner spirit which animates the person. When shamed, the victim marshals its resources to protect the soul.

Normally, an individual has sufficient self-esteem to survive most attacks, and has the ability to change or exit the situation. However, in situations where self-esteem is insufficient, persistent and severe attacks may reach the inner core of the soul, leading to the response of rage and violence.

Concomitant to such situations, is the physical and psychic pain which can be so overwhelming that the mind protects itself by automatically and unconsciously numbing itself, resulting in an individual that cannot feel.

When the assault is extreme and inescapable, as may happen in child abuse, the result can be soul murder, leaving a sociopath, a physical body inhabited by a dead soul, a living machine that can kill or maim without feeling or remorse. Nourishing the soul begins in childhood In order to thrive, children must receive love, attention (lots of it!), understanding and encouragement from others.

Love nourishes self-esteem, and builds the child 's capacity for self-love. With the ability to love, life becomes joyful and full of happiness. Without the ability to love, life becomes hell, full of suffering and pain.

Shame deadens the feelings of being human, and leads to rage.

The sources of love for the self are love from others, and one's own love for oneself. Children who fail to receive sufficient love from others, fail to build up reserves of self-love, and the capacity for self-love, which enable them to survive the inevitable rejections and humiliations which even the most fortunate of people cannot avoid.

Without feelings of love, the self feels numb, empty, and dead.

To be overwhelmed by shame and humiliation causes the destruction of self-esteem. Without a certain amount of self-esteem, the self collapses and the soul dies.

The soul needs love as vitally as the lungs need oxygen; without it, the soul dies, just as the body does without oxygen.

But a joyless life is a synonym for hell. A man who does not love and cannot love, is in effect, condemned to hell. His entire environment, from which - without love - he is cut off, is without enjoyment for him, and thus the world he "lives" in is a source of emptiness and emotional suffocation for him. Both the world and the self are experienced and perceived emotionally as being dead, inanimate, without a soul--without feelings.

Since the sense of aliveness and humanness that comes from loving includes a vulnerability to pain, only those who are capable of risking pain can experience joy.


Emotional health is not the absence of pain. It is the capacity to bear painful feelings when they occur, without letting them stop us from loving others and continuing to feel worthy of love ourselves.


A person can expose himself to the vulnerability of loving another person only if he has enough self-esteem to protect himself from the devastation he would suffer if that love were not reciprocated. He cannot afford to give to another the love which he cannot give himself. If he has taken the chance and lost, the results can be immediately and devastatingly lethal, to others and to himself.

Without love (by which I mean here love for oneself), the self collapses, the soul dies, the psyche goes to hell. Men will quickly and ferociously attack others, even kill them, if they think it will prevent their own souls from being murdered. What they immediately discover when they commit a violent act, however, is that this strategy is self-defeating. And that is why so many murderers finally decide to end their own lives as well."

In other words, to love something or someone is to enjoy it, or him, or her. and where there is joy, there is love. Conversely, where there is no love, there is no joy (this is the condition called hell, in theological language). And the cause of lovelessness (the incapacity for love) is joylessness (in incapacity for joy); and vice versa.

The chief causes of the incapacity for love and joy are shame (the lack of self-love, which inhibits love of others, and stimulates hatred toward them, and fear of them, instead); and guilt (the presence of self-hate, which inhibits self-love, and stimulates fear and condemnation of one's own hostile and destructive impulses and wishes).

Among the clinical and behaviorial syndromes caused by shame are paranoia, narcissism, sociopathy, selfishness, sadism, and revenge; whereas guilt causes, among other things, depression, penance, self-punishment, self-sacrifice, martyrdom, and masochism.

We need to change our attitudes toward taking care of each other, instead of regarding it as shameful if men have a need to be helped by each other (and, more shameful yet, by women).

But - and this is the crux of the matter - this same emotion, shame, that motivates the ambition, activity, and need for achievement that is necessary for the creation of civilization also motivates violence.

Other related quotes:

"What is hell ... it is the suffering of being unable to love." as put by Father Zossima in F. Dostoevsky's: The Brothers Karamazov (I,VI.3.i)

"The deadliest form of violence is poverty." Gandhi

"Mankind takes no notice of him. He rambles and wanders unheeded. In the midst of a crowd; at church; in the market . . . he is in as much obscurity as he would be in a garret or a cellar. He is not disapproved, censured, or reproached; he is only not seen. . . . To be wholly overlooked, and know it, are intolerable." as noted by John Adams on impoverished individuals, from: Discourses on Davila, Works (Boston: Little Brown, 1851) Vol VI, pp. 239-49.

"Moral poverty is the poverty of being without loving, capable, responsible adults who teach you right from wrong; the poverty of being without parents and other authorities who habituate you to feel joy at other's joy, pain at others' pain, satisfaction when you do right, remorse when you do wrong; the poverty of growing up in the virtual absence of people who teach morality by their own everyday example and who insist that you follow suit. In the extreme, moral poverty is the poverty of growing up severely abused and neglected at the hands of deviant, delinquent, or criminal adults."

Copyright © 1997 by Duen Hsi Yen

encouraging words

In order to create an effective learning environment, it is necessary to know the language of encouragement. This refers to a nonjudgemental empathy and caring about how a particular student feels, choosing the words or phrases that he or she finds encouraging. If the student looks more discouraged after what you said, then try saying something else!

When they smile and their eyes brighten up, you know you are reaching them. Likewise, you too will smile and your own eyes will also brighten up! Hey, let's all have some fun here! I compiled the following while teaching at various schools in Hawaii. I simply asked my classes to tell me what kinds of encouraging words they would like to hear from me.

When a student makes a presentation, I would ask my class to help out and express their appreciation. With this kind of dialog, I was able to quickly learn about the culture of students of diverse backgrounds.

- Wow!

- Great job!

- Now you've got it!

- Awesome!

- Outrageous!

- You have a lot of talent!

- Superior!

- Fantastic!

- Very much improved.

- Right on!

- Outstanding!

- You're the best!

- Nice job.

- I'll take that.

- That's a commendable job.

- Wonderful.

- Fabulous!

- You can do it!

- Good going!

- You're great!

- That's thoughtful of you.

- You're good at this.

- Good job.

- Good work.

- Keep up the good work.

- Clever!

- Correct!

- I liked the way Mat cleaned his desk.

- Incredible!

- Impressive!

- I like the way Mark raised his hand.

- Nice work.

- I'm proud of you.

- Now that's creative!

- Bravo!

- Applause.

- It's been a pleasure to be with you.

- You are very precious!

- That's so funny!

- Terrific!

- Thank you.

- I can see you enjoy learning.

- Great! Good cooperation.

- You were very courageous.

- That was fun.

- I like your enthusiasm.

- Great!

- You really outdid yourself.

- Artistic!

- You are very intelligent.

- I appreciate the encouragement!

Copyright © 1995-2000 by Duen Hsi Yen

cruelty or tenderness

By Alice Miller, Ph.D.

Untold millions of people who have been in attendance when babies are born (doctors, midwives, nurses, family members) have taken it for granted that the newborn will cry out of physical necessity. Amazingly enough, they did not perceive the obvious fact that the face distorted with pain and the little creature's cries were nothing other than the expression of psychic distress.

Frédérick Leboyer was the first to ask the long overdue question of how babies must feel when, after an often difficult struggle for survival, they are lifted up by their feet and submitted to brutal routine procedures instead of being comforted. He proved that if the newborns are treated with great care, in keeping with their psychic state, they are able to smile just minutes after being born and do not cry.

It actually is in the way the newborns have been treated, until very recently, that society makes the first of its many contributions toward equipping a person with destructive and self-destructive tendencies. The contrast between the pain-wracked and the smiling faces of newborns is all it takes for me to realize with horror what we have done to our children out of insensitivity and lack of awareness.

Yet this contrast is also all it takes to awaken in me the hope that someday in the future, we will be able to do away with the unwanted seeds of violence. If battered children such as Hitler, Eichmann, Höss, etc. were and are able to destroy human life on the monumental scale history clearly indicates they did, then it is only logical to ask how beneficial an influence children who are not battered or abused can have on the world when they grow up.

the twelve points

For some years now there has been proof that the devastating effects of the traumatization of children take their inevitable toll on society. This knowledge concerns every single one of us, and - if disseminated widely enough - should lead to fundamental changes in society, above all to a halt in the blind escalation of violence. The following points are intended to amplify my meaning:

1. All children are born to grow, to develop, to live, to love, and to articulate their needs and feelings for their self-protection.


2. For their development, children need the respect and protection of adults who take them seriously, love them, and honestly help them to become oriented in the world.

3. When these vital needs are frustrated, and children are instead abused for the sake of adults' needs by being exploited, beaten, punished, taken advantage of, manipulated, neglected, or deceived without the intervention of any witness, then their integrity will be lastingly impaired.

4. The normal reactions to such injury should be anger and pain; since children in this hurtful kind of environment, however, are forbidden to express their anger, and since it would be unbearable to experience their pain all alone, they are compelled to suppress their feelings, repress all memory of the trauma, and idealize those guilty of the abuse. Later they will have no memory of what was done to them.

5. Disassociated from the original cause, their feelings of anger, helplessness, despair, longing, anxiety, and pain will find expression in destructive acts against others (criminal behavior, mass murder) or against themselves (drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, psychic disorders, suicide).

6. If these people become parents, they will then often direct acts of revenge for their mistreatment in childhood against their own children, whom they use as scapegoats. Child abuse is still sanctioned - indeed, held in high regard - in our society as long as it is defined as child-rearing. It is a tragic fact that parents beat their children in order to escape the emotions stemming from how they were treated by their own parents.

7. If mistreated children are not to become criminals or mentally ill, it is essential that at least once in their life they come in contact with a person who knows without any doubt that the environment, not the helpless, battered child, is at fault. In this regard, knowledge or ignorance on the part of society can be instrumental in either saving or destroying a life. Here lies the great opportunity for relatives, social workers, therapists, teachers, doctors, psychiatrists, officials, nurses, and bystanders to support the child and to believe her or him.

8. Until now, society has protected the adult and blamed the victim. It has been abetted in its blindness by theories, still in keeping with the pedagogical principles of our great-grandparents, according to which children are viewed as crafty creatures, dominated by wicked drives, who invent stories and attack their innocent parents or desire them sexually. In reality, children tend to blame themselves for their parents' cruelty and to absolve the parents, whom they invariably love, of all responsibility.

9. For some years now, it has been possible to prove, thanks to the use of new therapeutic methods, that repressed traumatic experiences in childhood are stored up in the body and, although remaining unconscious, exert their influence even in adulthood. In addition, electronic testing of the fetus has revealed a fact previously unknown to most adults - a child responds to and learns both tenderness and cruelty from the very beginning.

10. In the light of this new knowledge, even the most absurd behavior reveals its formerly hidden logic once the traumatic experiences of childhood no longer must remain shrouded in darkness.

11. Our sensitization to the cruelty with which children are treated, until now commonly denied, and to the consequences of such treatment, will as a matter of course bring to an end the perpetuation of violence from generation to generation.

12. People whose integrity has not been damaged in childhood, who were protected, respected, and treated with honesty by their parents, will be - both in their youth and adulthood - intelligent, responsive, empathic, and highly sensitive. They will take pleasure in life and will not feel any need to kill or even hurt others or themselves. They will use their power to defend themselves, but not to attack others. They will not be able to do otherwise than to respect and protect those weaker than themselves, including their children, because this is what they have learned from their own experience and because it is this knowledge (and not the experience of cruelty) that has been stored up inside them from the beginning. Such people will be incapable of understanding why earlier generations had to build up a gigantic war industry in order to feel at ease and safe in this world. Since it will not have to be their unconscious life task to ward off intimidation experienced at a very early age, they will be able to deal with attempts at intimidation in their adult life more rationally and more creatively.

- from Pictures of a Childhood by Alice Miller

information for parents

By Alice Miller

"Wise" old King Solomon wrote, "He who does not beat his son does not love him". And for thousands of years, children have been beaten because their parents were convinced that this was the right way for them to become responsible adults.

In the past few years, however, we have learned that these parents were wrong and that physical punishment, however slight, produces only negative results. Though short-term obedience may come of it, the child will, over the long term, become aggressive, violent, suicidal, physically sick, or subject to psychic disorders, unless an enlightened witness comes to his rescue and prevents this cycle of events.

A wide range of research results are today available that demonstrate this link. (It is worth noting that King Solomon's son, Rehoboam, became an oppressive dictator who narrowly escaped being stoned to death for his cruelty.)

There is no such thing as a harmless slap or spanking. Both are forms of physical violence that involve humiliation and abuse of power. They damage the healthy self-esteem of a child and disregard their right to dignity. For this reason, it will hopefully soon be illegal to beat a child, at least in over one hundred countries that have signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Many people have trouble understanding this. In that they themselves were beaten as children, they believe that physical punishment is very normal and useful. Our parents believed the same thing, because they were brought up that way as well, and could not know the later consequences of their acts. Many did so because they thought it was right and because it was the only way they knew.

Today's parents, however, must be clearly informed of the recent discoveries so that they do not continue simply out of ignorance.

Anyone driving a car must know the rules of the road, otherwise they may inadvertently hurt or even kill other people. It is crucial that parents know that, for example, shaking a baby can cause irreversible brain damage. To avoid child mistreatment due to a lack of awareness, parents will receive this information sheet.

Many parents have the best intentions and really want to love their children, but are inhibited by their own upbringing. They have the right to be informed before it is too late.

Copyright © 2003 Alice Miller

prologue: thou shalt not know

When I was a child, the story of Creation was for me above all the story of the forbidden fruit. I could not understand why Adam and Eve should not be allowed to have knowledge. To me knowledge and awareness were wonderful things. So I failed to see the logic behind God's decision to forbid Adam and Eve to recognize the essential difference between good and evil.

My childhood stubbornness on this point lost none of its vigor when I later encountered other interpretations of the story of Creation. At an emotional level I simply refused to see obedience as a virtue, curiosity as a sin, and ignorance of good and evil as an ideal state. To my way of thinking, the apple from the tree of knowledge promised an explanation of evil and hence represented redemption - good as opposed to evil.

There are countless theological explanations for the motives behind God's inscrutable counsels, but in all too many of them I see a terrorized child trying hard to interpret the mysterious actions of the parents as good and loving, even though the child cannot fathom them - indeed, has no possible chance of fathoming them.

The motives behind them are unfathomable even for the parents themselves, hidden away as they are in the dark recesses of their own childhood. I have never understood why God would tolerate the presence of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden only if they remained ignorant and why they were punished so severely for their disobedience.

I never felt any yearnings for a Paradise where obedience and ignorance are the conditions for beatitude. I believe in the power of love, but for me love is not synonymous with being "good" in the sense of being obedient. Love has something to do with being true to oneself and one's feelings and needs. And the desire for knowledge is part of that.

God obviously set out to deprive Adam and Eve of this loyalty to themselves. But why? My conviction is that we can love only if we are allowed to be what we are: no pretense, no disguises, no façades. We can genuinely love only if we do not deny ourselves the knowledge available to us (like the tree of knowledge in Paradise), if, instead of fleeing from it, we have the simple courage to eat the apple.

I still find it difficult to summon up any kind of tolerance when I hear it said that children have to be beaten to make them "good" and to ensure that God will take pleasure in them. The story of Creation has long prevented us from opening our eyes and recognizing that we have been misguided. I can remember as a child causing my parents embarrassment by asking questions they found difficult to answer.

I bit back the questions that were on the tip of my tongue. But they come back again and again, and I intend to make use of my freedom as an adult to let the child within finally ask the questions she always wanted to ask. Why did God plant the Tree of Knowledge right in the middle of the Garden of Eden if He didn't want the two people He had created to eat the fruit?

Why did He, the almighty God who created Heaven and Earth, lead His creatures into temptation and force them into obedience? If He was omniscient, He must have known that in creating humans He had made beings who would be curious by nature and that He would be forcing them to be untrue to their nature. Why might He have done that?

And what would have happened if Eve had not partaken of the fruit? There would have been no sexual union, so Adam and Eve would never have had any children. Would the world have stayed barren and empty? Would Adam and Eve have lived forever, alone, without children? Why is having children bound up with sin? Why is the act of giving birth so painful? How are we to understand that God planned these two human creatures to be infertile, although the story of Creation talks of how the birds and the beasts are actively enjoined to go forth and multiply?

God must have had a concept of reproduction. Later we are told that Cain married and had children. But if there was no one else on earth except Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, where did his wife come from? Why did God reject Cain for displaying jealousy? Had He not forced him to be jealous by giving obvious preference to Abel?

Whenever I asked these questions, I aroused indignation for having the temerity to query God's omniscience and omnipotence and for dismissing the information I did get as illogical and inconsistent. Usually the response was evasive. I was told not to take the Bible so literally, that it was symbolic. Symbolic of what? I asked, but got no answer.

Or I was reminded that the Bible contains much that is fine and true, something that I had never denied; but I did not see why I had to accept the things I found illogical. Children want to be accepted and loved, so in the end they do as they're told - which is precisely what I did. But that did not mean that I had lost the need to understand.

Unable to fathom God's motives, I set out more modestly to inquire into the motives people might have for so readily accepting these contradictions. With the best will in the world I could find nothing evil in what Eve did. If God really loved those two he wouldn't want them to be blind, I thought. Was it really the serpent that seduced Eve into a desire for knowledge? Or was it God Himself?

If an ordinary mortal were to show me something desirable and then say I must not desire it, I would find that positively perverse and cruel. But when it came to God, one wasn't even allowed to think such things, much less say them out loud. So I was left alone with my reflections, and my search for enlightenment from books was equally fruitless.

Then I made a simple discovery that put the contradictions in a whole new light. The Bible was written by men. We must assume that those men had been through some unpleasant experiences at the hands of their fathers. Surely none of them had had a father who took pleasure in their inquiring minds, realized the futility of expecting the impossible of them and refrained from punishing them.

That was why they were able to create an image of God with sadistic features that did not strike them as such. God as they saw Him devised a cruel scenario in which He gave Adam and Eve the tree of knowledge but at the same time forbade them to eat its fruit - that is, to achieve awareness and become autonomous personalities.

He wanted to keep them entirely dependent on Him.

To me, a father who takes pleasure in tormenting his child is sadistic. And punishing that child for the effects of his own sadism has nothing to do with love, but a great deal to do with Poisonous Pedagogy (the Bible is full of it). This was how the authors of the Bible saw their "loving" father.

In his Epistle to the Hebrews (12: 6-8), Paul makes it clear that it is chastisement that bestows the certainty of being the true sons of God and not bastards: "But if ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons."

I can imagine that people whose childhoods were lived in an atmosphere of respect, without physical punishment and humiliation, will believe in a different God when they grow up - a loving, guiding, explaining God, giving them an example they can live by. Either that or they may do without an idea of God altogether, preferring to get their bearings from human models they can look up to as embodiments of love in the true sense of the word.

This book is the expression of my identification with Eve. Not with the infantile Eve palmed off on us as a kind of Little Red Riding Hood, easy prey to an animal's cunning temptation, but with an Eve who saw through the injustice of her situation, rejected the commandment "Thou shalt not know," set out to understand the difference between Good and Evil and was prepared to assume responsibility for her actions.

In these pages I offer the insights that have become accessible to me since I found the courage to listen to what my body was trying to tell me and in this way to decipher the meaning of the very beginning of my own life. The journey back through childhood to that beginning enabled me to discover and describe the subtle mechanisms of denial that operate in us but that we rarely perceive because the commandment "Thou shalt not know" gets in the way.

I sincerely believe that we not only have the right to know what is good and what is evil; we have the duty to acquire that knowledge if we hope to assume responsibility for our own lives and those of our children. Only by knowing the truth can we be set free. Only in this way can we free ourselves from the fears and anxieties we knew as children, blamed and punished for sins we did not know we had committed, the fateful fear of the sin of disobedience, that crippling anxiety that has wrecked so many people's lives and keeps them in thrall to their own childhood.

Given the right help, we as adults can free ourselves from that terrible spell. We can procure vital information and realize that we are no longer forced to search for some profound logic in everything our educators and religious instruction teachers passed to us as the gospel truth - and which was nothing other than the product of their own anxieties.


You will be amazed at the relief you will feel when you step out of that stifling role.


Then, at last, you will claim your right to face reality head-on, to reject illogical justifications, and to remain true to your own history.

Copyright © 2003 Alice Miller

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