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The Untouched Key: Tracing Childhood Trauma in Creativity and Destructiveness


Why does God allow such suffering? Why is life so harsh? How can we make life better, make the world a better place?
We all ask these questions from time to time. These days, with TV and other media shouting to us endlessly of the cruelty and suffering in the world, we now more often than ever ask the question:

Why? Why, God, why don’t you stop it, make it stop?

In 1990 Dr. Alice Miller, a Swiss psychologist of Polish-Jewish origin,  published her fifth book on the Why­–why children grow up to become monsters, creating mass murder and unspeakable suffering in others.

The Drama of the Gifted Child, For Your Own Good, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, Pictures of a Childhood, and finally The Untouched Key, these are her books many of us are familiar with.

To want to read these books, one must have become desperate to understand the Why. And in reading them, we come to see how cruelty administered to a child becomes the child’s story, a story they must keep telling and re-telling, on the stage of life, in their treatment of others.

This is what they did to me, they say. Look, let me show you.

In the lives of many children, one thing saves them: somewhere in the family or the neighborhood, there is one person who is whole, who is healthy, and who teaches that abused child that they are Good, they are Worthy, they are capable of Great Things.

Good. Worthy. Capable of Great Things.

These concepts stick in the downtrodden child’s mind forever, till they die. And they believe in themselves because somewhere, sometime, an adult person believed in them.

They take that as God’s word–if that person told them they are Good and Worthy, then they absolutely must be.

All the negatives, the beatings, the mindless cruelties, they all fail under the greater weight of one adult person’s warm and approving smile and supportive words.

Good outweighs bad, and nowhere in life is that shown to be more true than in the case of an abused child who, against all odds, continues to believe in themselves.

Alice Miller looks to the famous, the faces and names we all know. She finds the vicious, the murderers, the tyrants, the Stalins, the Hitlers, and there is no shortage of such people in our history books.

She then goes about the delicate and brilliant business of showing us clearly how we create monsters.

I have often, through my life, pondered the oddness that we humans, with our big brains, are the only creatures who exercise unimaginable cruelties upon our own tender, powerless offspring. And on the offspring of others, be they human or animal.

What is wrong with us? Are we redeemable?

Miller takes us on a long journey, in all her books, walking alongside such individuals as Picasso. Why did his art feature parts of bodies? What made him create pictures so unlike anyone else?

I won’t spoil the story for you but I will just say that, when he was a small boy, a most traumatic natural event occurred which left its mark on him with such force that it drove his creativity all his life.

There was an earthquake in Malaga one night. Out of that earthquake comes Picasso’s need to say the unsayable, as Miller herself puts it. Unable to find words, he takes up his brush. He shows us. Over and over.

First of all, he was a genius. To start with. So the impact of monstrous events, out of all human control, to a small boy with such a fine mind, would create lasting impact that he would, naturally, feel desperate to share with the world.

There was a big earthquake a few days ago in Indonesia. I read about it in a vague way. We are swamped with nightmare situations nowadays, in full color and motion, so it’s hard for a reporter to move us anymore.

So there’s a big earthquake. What does that mean, really?

If you read The Untouched Key by Alice Miller, you will discover precisely what it means, when you are a little kid and the world is collapsing all around you, in the dark, at night, and your mother is about to give birth and the house has fallen down and you are all running for your lives.

December 25, 1884. Picasso was three years old.

Out of that night came a lifetime of unique creativity as he, over and over, tried to tell us his story, his unforgettable story.

She goes on to tell the story of Stalin, Hitler, Nietzsche, and others in a way that shows us precisely why they did what they did. Why millions suffered agonizing lives and deaths at their hands, or they spent their lives in a dark view of life and the world, full of pessimism, all the more potent for the genius minds that spread it around.

This book is small, fascinating, and the pages turn themselves as you swallow it up, hungry for the next thing, the next ray of light shining from her words, drinking in her verbiage and her vast sympathy and comprehension for the human child, powerless to protect itself against those entrusted to love, kindly teach and support it in the world.

No animal treats its children as we do.

And therein lies the only answer we need to the great Why we are always asking.

The answer lies within.

Not God’s work, but the work of humans, acting on their children.

Look up her books on Amazon!


Here is her photo, which I found on Wikipedia. Born, 1923. Look her up. A great woman.

Alice Miller (psychologist).jpg


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