Alice Miller Autobiography Child abuse Hojas Susurrantes (Whispering Leaves - book) Trauma model of mental disorders

Nobody wanted to listen, 4

A supposed great friend

You could tell me that I had the folly to confess to casual acquaintances; that if I had opened my heart to my closest friends, say a compassionate woman, I would have been listened to. Sadly, that is not true. In the middle of my life I know that many people who in my twenties I thought were friends offended me even more than the Cineteca acquaintances. It took me a long time to digest this bitter drink, and only thanks to my discovery of Miller. For example, a close friend named Regina told me the following (I quote from my 1998 diary): ‘“You blame everything on people and your parents. No, Caesar, no. You don’t see yourself in the mirror. You are responsible”. That was yesterday on the phone so the memory is fresh. And she even told me that David Helfgott didn’t blame his dad!’

In my discussions I frequently refer to the film Shine about David’s life, as I did in the filmmakers’ gathering, to show an extreme case of soul murder: what psychiatrists stigmatise with the term schizophrenia. Regina didn’t read Gillian Helfgott’s book where the disturbed David told his wife ‘It’s all daddy’s fault’ talking about his mental condition. Not that Regina shared the New Age philosophy that would have dwarfed the philosophers of classical German idealism (the crazy things I heard at the Cineteca for example). However, her words that ‘one is responsible’ are very common cliches in today’s culture.

In the mid-1980s, without a career or profession to face society, I took refuge in the house of Teresa Moreno: the lady who, in the narrative part [of this book], told me that she never denied the mythopoetic imagery of her children. It was Tere who would introduce me to Regina. I had known Tere since 1977 through her husband: one of the chess fans with whom I played chess in the park. Tere accepted me in her house as a Mother Teresa would accept an evicted person. At least that was the image that my friends took to be true. I don’t want to tell the story of my friendship with Tere; I’m just going to talk about how a young man can be deceived by seeing something that never was.

Before I drank from the true water of communication, as I’ll show at the end of this book, I used to see mirages in the desert. In my desperation to find a friendly ear, I imagined that just by having a few conversations with someone I could open my heart to them. Tere, as I said, sold the idea that she was compassionate with the miserable. Lots of people slept at her house and she and I had long, seemingly profound conversations. Over time, I was closer to her than to her husband. I lived with the Jiménez family for eight months in 1985. More than a dozen years later, when my unpublished autobiographical project was on track, I gave my old friend a copy of my Letter and other intimate writings.

In the case of Regina, to whom I had also given a copy of the Letter, the aberration was that that woman didn’t feel compassion for the teenager I was, but for my parents! But Regina belongs to the humble class and has a low IQ. Following the aforementioned quote from my diary about Regina, I wrote: ‘Let’s see if Tere, to whom I will deliver the manuscript soon, has compassion. Let’s see…’ When Tere read my writing she commented about our friend Regina: ‘She’s like your parents: they are the type of people who, whatever their parents do, you have to honour them’. But when we talked about what she thought herself—oh my! What better than to quote my diary again. A couple of days before I lost my thirties, I wrote:

August 10, 1998.

It was yesterday when I said goodbye to them. Tere had compassion not for me but for my father, whom she had seen the day before and, as she told me, she was ‘thinking all the time about my writing’. That the publication of my book was going to be a shock for him and that it could bump off the poor dad. Tere asked me ‘if I could forgive’ my parents and that despite being the aggressors ‘they were also victims as children’. She hasn’t finished reading my manuscript yet but stayed a few pages before the end. If she had compassion for my tragedy, she said it indirectly: ‘I will continue reading it until I feel stronger’, and that two or three times her eyes had clouded when reading it. In the end, she said that every time I went to talk to her, I ‘left her devastated’. Compassion is truly a gift that very few people have. Tere had already shown signs of lack of compassion with Sergio, whom I mentioned in the conversation yesterday.

The latter is a long and dirty story, and I will have no choice but to bring it out into the open to assess the strange morals of someone I considered a great friend.

Sergio, who had had psychotic crises as a result of being martyred at home, had been an intimate friend of Tere. His twin brother took advantage of Sergio’s relationship with Tere to woo the latter while I lived with the Jiménez family: times when the marriage between Tere and my friend Jiménez was unravelling. When I discovered that Tere preferred the twin, putting Sergio aside, her image of a compassionate and welcoming mother let me down. What shocked me was an occasion when, according to Tere herself, someone—she didn’t specify that it was Sergio—had grovelled before her in a tremendous plea not to leave him, but she coldly continued on her way. It shocked me because I guessed that this someone was Sergio, who had been driven mad by his family. Although that happened over a decade before I started my psychiatry research, I still thought it a crime for Sergio’s own monozygotic twin and ‘mother Teresa’ to betray him in such a way. Sergio was in an extreme situation. It was him, not his twin brother, who needed help. Now, having completed my psychiatry research I know that, well treated, he would have had a chance of recovery. But Tere, the twin brother and their father did the opposite (the twins’ schizophrenogenic mother had already died).

But you can’t learn from another’s mistakes. Even with such brutal evidence I didn’t eradicate from my mind Tere’s public image as a compassionate friend. Only by the end of the century, when I wrote the entry from the diary above and Sergio had already died, did I wake up to the fact that Tere was not the person I assumed to be. For example, when I was writing my diary I omitted to tell something of great importance for me. After Tere told me that she cared about my parents if I published the manuscript, we went to eat. Throughout our meal, with great and more than great expectation I waited for Tere to tell me something significant about what she had read! Quite apart from her concern for my parents, I expected her to tell me something concrete about the tragedy that I tell in the Letter. How I remember Tere’s smiles and her kindness to me while we ate: that character that has captivated so many. But the long-awaited comment didn’t come…

That day Tere died in my heart. And from that day on, not only would I not seek her friendship, but I also eluded her invitations, via third parties, to go to her and her new husband, the twin brother. Not telling me anything about what was most important to me exposed Tere as someone who had never been a true friend. Six years later, the year I sat down to write the analytical part of this book, something unexpected happened. Tere caught me in an office talking on the phone and waited to talk to me. Once again, I quote from my diary:

February 20, 2004. As much as I wanted to avoid her, she waited while I spoke and I had to let her in. Despite being so gentle, she has no empathy. Without me touching the subject, she spoke about my Letter to mom Medusa. And without me touching the subject, she again worried about the image of my parents if I published it!

She doesn’t seem to realise that just talking to my parents makes her my enemy. She even said that what they did ‘was not with bad intention’ and that her ideal was that I abandon all literary projects and resentments, and that that would be my salvation. She used completely different words, but that was her message. The poor thing doesn’t know that telling someone who has a career as a whistleblower, like telling Solzhenitsyn not to write about the Red Terror, is insulting; and although I wasn’t offended in her presence, at home I saw the absurdity of her position. Hers is none other than all that millenary ‘wisdom’ that has had human beings trapped in the sixth day of history.

Every time I see more clearly why I lost so many years of my life. I had no knowledgeable witnesses. Tere is so cute that the fallacies of her speech aren’t noticeable when being with her. But they are paradigms of pedagogical attitudes, as Miller would say, the most harmful attitudes in the world. Not long ago, as she confessed to me yesterday, she spoke to my mother. Tere told me that, since I didn’t visit my parents, my mother had told her that I was ‘very strange’, that that was my character. Although she said it with no intention of offending me, here I got her by the ovaries [vulgarism for ‘I got her’, more common in Mexico as referring to male balls]. It is clear that Tere doesn’t see my tragedy. She denies it. Her advice is not aimed at bullies to change their ways. They are aimed at the victim to try impossible oblivion…

Once again, ‘poisonous pedagogy’ in action.

—impossible because of the null employment opportunities after I lost my profession since the times of the abuse. Tere is asking me that, while her son in Switzerland is studying with his Aryan girlfriend, I, who haven’t even had a real partner, must ‘forget’ my destiny. Her anti-empathy, so evident in the fact that she sees my mother and they are friends, speaks for itself. Not only Tere lacks compassion. Look at the dirty way she treated Sergio. What she told me yesterday corroborates what I thought of her. Hopefully I won’t see her again. She is still on my blacklist and I hope she will have a place in one of my books. After reading Miller I see that people like Tere have played the role of villains in my life. Before Miller, people like Tere confused me greatly and were the cause of my stagnation in life, of not making contact with the feelings of the attacked, tortured and destroyed teen I carry inside. But the light has already reached me, and thanks to having unmasked people like Tere.

Seeing these passages published from an intimate diary will seem cruel to some of my readers. It won’t seem cruel, on the other hand, that someone who I considered my great friend has visited, over the years and behind my back, the person who destroyed me. As I said, in a world where everything is turned upside down, it is not the cruelty of parents to their children that causes scandal, but the denunciation of that cruelty and its accomplices.

Tere’s words move me to add one more page against forgiveness and forgetting. Tere had asked me if I could forgive my parents and commented that they too had been victims. This hasn’t been the first time that I have received this little piece of advice. As we saw on previous pages I have heard it from other people, including my cousin Carmina. The folly of this demand to the victim is already answered in what I wrote in my diary: Tere should have asked my parents to examine their conscience, not the victim to forgive those who avoid any examination.

The belief that forgiveness has a healthy effect is axiomatic in all cultures, and it seems so obvious that it is taken for granted. But the truth is that forgiving an unredeemed parent is psychological suicide. Miller presents a devastating argument: at the behest of the therapist, a man abused in his childhood forgave his father—a sadist—and later he committed an inexplicable murder. This is because the hatred towards the aggressor still dwells, unconsciously, in the forgiver. Hatred cannot be exorcised by force of will. Unilaterally, forgiveness is impossible. Authentic forgiveness is feasible only if the aggressor recognises his fault and does something very concrete to make amends to his victim: bilateral forgiveness. I never tire of repeating that this is impossible as long as the aggressor insists that he acted well. Poisonous pedagogy (*), and I’d venture to say pedagogical attitudes in general, are based on this inversion of the most elemental psychological reality. Ultimately, the values of the world’s cultures towards the victim of parental abuse must be transvalued. Miller’s argument against forgiveness in several of her texts is compelling: and those who believe that one-sided forgiveness has a salutary effect would do well to study the lives of serial killers. To illustrate this argument in less extreme cases, I will mention something that appears in Susan Forward’s Toxic Parents. To her clients who come to her office saying that they have already forgiven their abusive parents, Forward demands that they have to ‘unforgive’ them until they make contact with their unconscious rage. Otherwise nuclear hatred is still there, and like the subject who committed an inexplicable murder, the natural reaction is to displace it towards substitute people: their children or the partner.

Ultimately, no one has come as far as I have. I am the first to do so in eleven autobiographical books so that the subject of soul murder becomes as didactic as possible before an ignorant world. My friend Tere was unable to understand this new literary genre at a time when I was just writing my third book.


(*) Literally translated from German, Schwarze Pädagogik would be ‘black pedagogy’.