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Alice Miller Autobiography Child abuse Film Hojas Susurrantes (book) Holocaust

Nobody wanted to listen, 3

Offended by casual acquaintances

Some would say that Gerardo, from whom I would also distance myself, didn’t tell me anything about my manuscripts because, as a relative, he didn’t want to commit himself. But there have been other filmmakers who have nothing to do with my family and who behaved worse when I brought up the subject of what happened to me as a teen.

In 2003 I used to go to some get-togethers of filmmakers, all of them older than me, who met at noon on Sundays at the Cineteca café in Mexico City. One of those Sundays Elsié Méndez, Fernando Gou and his wife [none of them swarthy by the way] offended me in such a way that I didn’t visit again those gatherings that I hadn’t missed since I met them. Elsié was infuriated by my feelings of outrage at the abuse of minors: she felt threatened. But laughing at one’s suffering during puberty, which she usually does in social gatherings, is a way to avoid pain and to mourn behind walls. As Miller has said, that was the nonsense Frank McCourt did in Angela’s Ashes, which even before I discovered Miller irritated me. In his autobiography McCourt never spoke out against his parents or the culture that tormented him. Rather, and like Elsié, he laughs at his past: and precisely for laughing at the tragedy of his childhood he has been applauded in a world steeped in poisonous pedagogy. I confess that what irritated me the most about Angela’s Ashes when it was released were the reviews I read when I lived in Houston: they praised the author’s non-judgmental stance.

Contrary to popular belief, laughing at extreme parental abuse doesn’t cure the internal injury that the abuse caused. The diametrically opposite heals: crying. The raucous anger at the aggressors with which I used to express myself in the gathering is also curative. Miller has said that if Sylvia Plath had written aggressive letters to her abusive mother—remember my Letter—she wouldn’t have had to commit suicide. I lost years of my life by not prosecuting my parents and their society, as I do now. Before I found a knowledgeable witness to guide me into the forbidden territory of healthy hatred, the guilt complex kept me from getting ahead in life. It took entire ages for me to denounce the cruelty of my parents. But in our world it is very common that it’s not cruelty towards children that causes anger, but the denunciation of that cruelty.

For example, seeing my anger at my parents, both Elsié and Mr. Fernando jumped on me to protect their parents from their unconscious anger. Like everything belonging to Alcoholics Anonymous, Mr. Fernando has avoided thoroughly confronting the figure of the father. In Neurotics Anonymous, which I had attended only once twenty years earlier, I witnessed the victim publicly venting out in free associations. I don’t object to this catharsis, but both groups completely omit the elementary: devising social engineering scenarios to eliminate domestic violence towards the child who, already grown up, takes refuge in drinking or neurotic defense mechanisms to mitigate his pain. Part of this pedagogic attitude, understood as ‘educating’ the victim (‘poisonous pedagogy’) instead of social engineering, can be illustrated by the question that Rocío, Fernando’s wife, asked me about my parents:

‘Have you forgiven them already?’

This woman, whose nose was broken by her father, reversed reality with her question. Her negative photographic vision has to do with the false feelings of guilt that prevent us from putting the criminal father on the dock. Whoever is not under the influence of poisonous pedagogy asks the natural question and directs it to the aggressor, not to his victim: Have you already asked your daughter for forgiveness? Society not only ignores that unilateral forgiveness is impossible; not only does it not penalise parental abuse but, seeing the reverse reality, it turns its weapons against the victim who complains about the unredeemed parent. We can already imagine what effect it would have to ask a Russian Gulag survivor if he has already forgiven Stalin’s willing executioners while they still believe they did the right thing.

If the filmmakers of the gathering reflected on the films that they comment on Sundays, they would realise the absurdity of their position. Consider the documentary S-21: La Machine de Mort Khmère Rouge by Rithy Pahn, shown at the Cineteca itself. In this shocking testimony a survivor of the genocide of the 1970s in Cambodia tells the camera that while some dupes speak of forgiveness and forgetfulness, it is not possible to do so while the executioners of two million Cambodian civilians, including young children, not only are not sorry. They don’t even acknowledge that they made a mistake! The same can be said of unrepentant parents who are not aware that they have harmed their child. Unilateral forgiveness is so artificial, feigned and illusory that, at the time when I argued at the Cineteca, Mrs. Rocío didn’t visit her father, who was dying of cancer. But yes: she and her friends demand unilateral forgiveness from me. The ‘Have you forgiven them already?’ tacitly implies that Rocío had unilaterally forgiven her father, something she didn’t do in real life. Commenting on the heated discussion that Sunday, Pancho Sánchez, the author of several film books who presides over these gatherings, told me alone that those who say they have no resentment towards their aggressors were hypocrites.

That impossible forgiveness that a society blind and deaf in psychological matters demands in unison is one of the main features of what Miller calls poisonous pedagogy, and it will be a subject to which I will have to return later. Nowadays, when I openly express my resentments towards my parents—as in the gathering of film fans—I am unable to take it out on others. If I had been given a lesson at school against an absorbing mother’s behaviour, perhaps I would have made contact with my feelings and not wanted to spill them on Elvira [recounted in the previous section]. But school, society, including my educated relatives, see to it that those feelings never surface. But they are there, in the psychic core and eventually they erupt either against the aggressor in the form of an accusatory epistle—a direct and healthy hatred—or against substitute objects: a displaced and insane hatred.

I must clarify that in a meeting with other film fans at the Cineteca my testimony was very well received, and even a lady encouraged me to ‘get it all out’ as the best therapy. It was only at the table that gathered some individuals who had been mistreated in their childhoods when resistance arose. Like my sister Korina, they did this to avoid feeling their own pain. The only way to convey the intensity of the emotions in the discussion that day is to quote my personal diary, even if I have to correct the syntax and rewrite some passages in addition to omitting some insults (not all). Bear in mind that the films that I saw then were pure anti-German propaganda filmed by Jews: something that, as we shall see in The Grail, I didn’t know at the time.

October 26, 2003

Today the damaged ones attacked me. Some of the things I heard were beyond incredible: ‘You have to blame yourself for everything that happens to you; otherwise you have no power over your life’. Elsié believes that she has a power that she doesn’t have. And Fernando the same.

When I came up with my favourite arguments to refute them, suitable arguments for moviegoers—Sophie’s Choice, a movie that everyone saw, and the girl raped by her father—the incredible happened: the victims were blamed. Elsié commented: ‘They are already thinking about how it was possible that they went like lambs to the slaughterhouse’. That is to say: there are no culprits. Regarding Sophie, they denied my thesis that the only thing she could do was what she did: commit suicide. As to the other case, they said that the girl could perfectly rebuild her life as an adult. In other words: no people are destroyed.

Fernando was more aggressive. When I said that only those who get to the core of pain pull the dagger out of their hearts and that the approach of those in Alcoholics Anonymous was epidermal, he replied that I was ‘arrogant’, and that Alcoholics Anonymous was about ‘reducing the ego’ in the sense of not seeing your pain but that of others. This is just the opposite of my autobiography, which, while I see things like the Gulag, the starting point is my own life. The way Fernando spoke of the ego was like saying that you have to forget in order to forgive.

Pancho, the only one who was not a victim of beating at puberty, didn’t attack me. Reason? He lacks an idiotic defence mechanism that I unintentionally triggered with my observations. Now I will have to stop seeing them because I see that, with that mental block, a genuine friendship couldn’t prosper. I’d have to go just to listen and shut up when the victims are blamed, something I’m not willing to do. The funny thing is that I unwittingly provoked them so that Rocío and Elsié would talk about the most horrendous stories of parental abuse in their lives. Even Fernando said that when he told his father that he wanted to study oratory, he replied: ‘You stutterer are not good for that!’

All three, damaged. Fernando, remember, was an alcoholic for many years. He was extremely pissed off that I said I had found the dagger in my heart—the internalised parents—and the way to pull it out, and that I doubted Alcoholics Anonymous, analysts, and psychiatrists could pull it out (‘arrogance’). The one who surprised me the most was Elsié, because on another occasion she had understood Fernando’s repression about his pain and today she changed sides. When I mentioned the case of Sor Juana, everyone came out that she, not the archbishop and Miranda, was the winner! I told them about Juana’s self-immolation and they said that the world remembers her. This reasoning is so stupid that it is not worth refuting.

Octavio Paz wrote a great book about how an archbishop and a confessor cornered Juana de Asbaje.

A real pandemonium of the status quo reaction was triggered today by my attackers. In a soliloquy that I just threw on the street, I realised that the hatred towards the victim—reminiscent of Dr. Amara, the psychiatrists, and the serial killer Miller speaks of—is because they cannot bear the pain of having been themselves victims. Not wanting to see their total helplessness, they come out with ‘I’m over it’, ‘You have to forgive’, ‘You have to forget’ and so on. The worst thing is when they repeat the social clichés, the most nefarious of all, like the one that those stagnated in life haven’t wanted to get out of their victimising stance. I tried to refute them with the case of the Eschatology cult [see the first article in Daybreak] in which I was and chess: that only when I wasn’t aware of the role my parents played did I get stuck and was a looser. That made Fernando angry, who told me things that hurt me, and Elsié and Rocío supported him.

But here’s their story…

Elsié was married when she was almost a child and her abusive father told her: ‘Just one piece of advice: always say yes to your husband’. Already married she cried and cried and didn’t know why. She had two horrendous marriages in which she was beaten. She repeated the patterns of a battered woman with her husbands, she couldn’t get rid of them: something had her ass hooked to them. Rocío’s father broke her nose at age twenty because she dared to confront him with a ‘Why?’ when her father told her ‘You won’t speak to that boy again’ (Fernando). When his father got home, all her siblings shit out of fear. He always beat them undeservedly. They continued with their public confessions but the essential is understood: they told horror stories and cannot see another victim who now wants to make a literary career on the subject. It is painful for them and for Fernando who, although he didn’t say many things due to male circumspection, it is clear that his father crushed him.

The funny thing is that both Rocío (‘have you forgiven them yet?’) and Elsié (credulous of psychoanalysis) and Fernando (credulous of Alcoholics Anonymous) have as a defence mechanism the New Age bullshit that one is ‘the arbiter of one’s own destiny’. Everything has to do with not facing the pain: especially the pain that impotence in childhood was total: the opposite of the lies of the New Age. Ah! I had forgotten to say that Elsié came out with a BS similar to that of Arnaldo Vidal about his brother Juan Carlos, who told me that ‘it made him very comfortable to be sick’. Elsié told me that David Helfgott wanted to stay as a child.

Juan Carlos Vidal, an acquaintance of my family and grandson of the famous Victor Serge, became a mentally-ill lad because of the behaviour of his parents. Helfgott also became ‘schizophrenic’ for the same causes. The filmmakers knew the latter case very well from the movie Shine. The grotesque thing about their position is that if I took them to an asylum, they would say that all diagnosed as schizophrenics found it very comfortable to stay as children.

That’s why Elsié and Fernando get hooked into victim-blame philosophies like psychoanalysis and AA: it is their defence mechanism to believe that they had more power than they actually had. Remember, Caesar, how twenty years ago it bewildered me in Neurotics Anonymous when they talked about ‘selfishness’, and that because of that ‘selfishness’ the poor devils who went there were in bad shape. Whoever presided over that place blamed herself and the rest of the group for their emotional state. I never imagined when I left in the morning that this would be the last day that I go to the gatherings at the Cineteca. The way Elsié and Fernando spoke today was to repeat the social slogans that ‘negative thinking’, mine supposedly, hurts; and rosy glasses heal. And by the way, two of Rocío’s sisters didn’t marry and don’t see their father.

There’s something esle. Both Elsié and Rocío had helping witnesses: their own siblings. But they condemn those who didn’t have them: Caesar, Helfgott, Sor Juana. Also, they don’t want to see that there is a stark difference between the pain of a woman like the one in the movie Sophie’s Choice—I used this example many times—and other pains. Fernando got pissed off and said that the pains cannot be compared. Neither he nor Elsié know that there is a limit of resilience in human pain. If that limit is crossed, the mind breaks down.

In the section on Shine of my previous book I spoke about the latter: an argument that I brought up in one of the previous gatherings but that Mr. Fernando ignored.

Their ravings—that Sor Juana emerged triumphantly; blaming Helfgott, and denying that only suicide could detonate Sophia’s mountain of pain—are clear proof that my arguments were devastating. They had to come out really crazy when I put them on the defensive. Another thing. If someone comes to Alcoholics Anonymous in trauma, the worst thing they can tell him is that he has to ‘get down on the ego’. His damage is in the ego, not in an inflated ego as Fernando believes, but in a wounded ego. The climax of yesterday’s psychotic breakdown were Elsié’s words: ‘You have to blame yourself’ for everything that happens to me in order to ‘have control over life.’

The New Age doctrines are so absurd that they would even lead us to blame the passenger victims of a plane crash. It is so unnecessary to spend ink in refuting them that I better continue with my diary:

Another breakdown: when I mentioned the example of Auschwitz Rocío jumped up claiming that the prisoners in concentration camps had control in some way, meaning that those who survived were the good guys. It is this type of psychotic breakdown in the face of my arguments that makes it unjustified to return to sit at their table. But yes: I will nail them in my books…

October 28. I’ve been thinking more about what happened on Sunday and discovered a thing or two. Both Fernando and Elsié are in cults. I was ignorant of it, so I didn’t realise that saying that Alcoholics Anonymous therapy was ‘skin deep’ was going to cause anger and rage from the cultists. Likewise, when I spoke of Sophie’s pain, they came out with the idea that ‘pain can be an incentive for life’. As if any pain and Sophie’s were the same!, who was made to choose, in front of her children, which of them went to the gas chambers: the fateful ‘Sophie’s choice’.

As I said, what bothers this trio the most is the impotence in the face of evil and the criminal will of the Other. In order not to feel their pain (‘blame oneself’, ‘reduce ego’, ‘forgive’, ‘pain can be a spur for life’) they insulted me. Elsié, it hurts me to say it because at the time she hurt me, told me that self-pity was the worst, and that one had to get out of that victimising position. I felt very bad when, following that line, these idiots blamed the prisoners of the concentration camps. And by the way, Fernando’s bilious zeal when speaking of the ‘Higher Power’, an entity that is instilled in them in Alcoholics Anonymous, was very similar to my old father’s zeal when speaking of God. It is clear that it is the zeal of a cultist.

A few words about self-help groups in general and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in particular are worth it. In short, it is not enough that some people are willing to listen to our problems, even our deepest demons, as is done in such groups. The victim of abuse must have an enlightened witness: someone who doesn’t come up with idiotic defence mechanisms in the face of tragedy. Now, the difference between the hearing of an enlightened witness and a simple audience such as Alcoholics Anonymous is abysmal. I know a subject who was in AA whom I had to distance myself from because, although he overcame his alcoholism, he displaces hidden anger on his friends. Likewise, there are AA people who transfer their alcoholism to bulimic behaviour, or become addicted to gambling because their psychic damage was never addressed. They are called ‘dry alcoholics’. The dry guy I distanced myself from, for example, once he got over his alcoholism took refuge in chess. He never processed his pain. Divorced and with two small daughters living with their mother, this mature man displaces his anger on others. Alcohol is a balm for pain that the mind is unable to process. Alcoholics Anonymous will have saved him from that false balm, but not from his pain.

Mr. Fernando got very angry when I said that AA therapy was skin deep. But that is exactly what these types of therapies are. Only the enlightenment that comes from an ‘accomplice witness’—a better translation than ‘knowledgeable witness’, one of Miller’s terms [she wrote in German]—along with writing about our lives, can result in true psychological healing.

The key to the keys, Caesar, is that you cannot argue with people who blame the victims of the concentration camps. Exercising such violence to reality hides an infinite aversion to the fact that there is Evil in the world and that we have no control over the evil acts of others. But I’m going to leave these people alone. It’s already eighteen pages of my diary. It’s so sad that I can’t make friends in a world like this…

Remember that, in those days, those movie fans and I watched Hollywood films and knew nothing about the malicious anti-German propaganda or the Jewish question. Independently of that, the disagreement at the Cineteca hurt me in such a way that I promised myself that this would be the last time I would behave cordially with those who, in the future, offend me with poisonous pedagogies. During the 2003 discussion I was still reticent to speak out all of it. I didn’t respond to the filmmakers as vehemently as, alone, I did in my diary, but rather respected social conventions. But respecting them leaves the offended with an irresistible desire for revenge, as we will see in the next few pages.

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