How To Save Democracy

“The function all expressions of contempt have in common is the defence against unwanted feelings.”

– Alice Miller

I read something the other day that got the alarm bells ringing. It was a book called The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller.

In a nut shell Miller argues that our childhood experience – specifically how we learnt to hide our own feelings, needs, and memories in order to meet our parents’ expectations and win their “love” – fucks us up (I’m paraphrasing), leading to problems such as depression or grandiosity later on in life. She goes onto explain how left unresolved, our neuroses get passed onto our own children unconsciously.

She believes it’s possible that the trauma many of us have experienced may well have been passed down over generations. As in it’s not your parents’ fault you’re fucked up, but your great-great-great-grandad’s (that bastard!). 

Anyway, without getting sidetracked into the nuts and bolts of the book, the other unforeseen consequence of not properly respecting our children’s feelings, she argues, is that they will seek refuge from their painful past in ideologies such as Nationalism, Racism and Facism.

She notes, “The basic similarity of the various nationalistic movements flourishing today reveals that their motives have nothing to do with the real interests of the people who are fighting and hating, but instead have very much to do with those people’s childhood histories… Individuals who do not want to know their own truth collude in denial with society as a whole, looking for a common “enemy” on whom to act out their repressed rage.” 

Now bearing in mind she wrote this book 40 years ago she also said this, “The future of democracy and democratic freedom depends on our capacity to take this very step and to recognize that it is simply impossible to struggle successfully against hatred outside ourselves, while ignoring its messages within. We must know and use the tools that are necessary to resolve it: We must feel and understand its source and its legitimacy. There is no point in appealing to our goodwill, our kindness, and a common spirit of love, as long as the path to clarifying our feelings is blocked by the unconscious fear of our parents.”

So what can we take from all of this?

Well my thinking is that first, we should respect our children like adults, stop trivialising their emotions and show them the unconditional love that they need. And that second, in order to break the chain of neuroses that our great-great-great-grandparents passed onto us, maybe we should take ourselves to therapy to process our own unresolved childhood issues.

Anyway I’m curious to know what you think. Is all we need to do to secure the future of democracy resolve our daddy issues?

I look forward to reading your thoughts.


If you like to read more of AP2’s terrible ideas to save the world, then please visit his personal blog here at:

49 thoughts on “How To Save Democracy

    1. It’s an interesting idea at the very least. Although I think convincing millions to go to therapy for the sake of our democracy might be wishful thinking. Thank you for leaving a comment 🙏

  1. I’m am trying to break that cycle with my daughters- to love them the way God loves me- it’s difficult unless I remember how blessed I am with this. I hope I haven’t already made it impossible for them to know that I love them no matter what.

    1. I hear you jeffw5382. And thank you for sharing your thoughts so openly. I sometimes worry how my own issues might affect my children. I make a point of apologising to them whenever I make a mistake. I try to explain everything to them like an adult. And try my best to acknowledge their feelings at all times.

      We will never be perfect of course. But I do believe if we give them enough love they will grow up to understand that and forgive us for our flaws. It sounds like your heart is in the right place. I’m sure your daughters will see that.

      Wishing you the very best 🙏

  2. Well, damaged people lash out or punch in. And many argue that most of societies ills can be addressed by doing child-rearing well. And the Jesuits believe that if you have a child for the first seven years, then you can direct how they’ll grow.

    An interesting read. Things to think upon.

    1. Thanks Em. Lash out or punch in is a good way to put it. I suspect we must doing something wrong. I often see parents talking down to their children or getting angry at them for expressing their emotions (which never helps). I feel this kind of parenting can’t be good in the long run. My experience with my own kids is that they want nothing more than to be respected like adults. To have things explained to them. Even if they don’t fully understand the why I believe they appreciate it. Wishing you well 🙏

  3. That book sounds like just the one I would like to read right now . . . and I’ve been thinking about getting counselling. It’s true that bad parenting can be passed down the family line, especially when there is mental illness or some kind of addiction involved. My mother had a terrible upbringing, which reflected on my brother and I. I became so messed up that my sons suffered because of my behaviour/neglect. Thankfully, by the time my daughter came along (I was expecting her at the age of 43!), I wasn’t too bad and we have a close relationship. My sons are still very hurt though, and with good cause. I can’t go back, but I can seek help to get myself better.
    I very much agree that parents need to take children’s feelings seriously. I remember feeling very down as a teenager and my mother saying to me, “What have you got to be depressed about?” I felt belittled.

    1. Hi Lesley. I took a great deal from her book. It sounds like you would too. I’m sorry to hear about your family struggles but thank you for sharing. I think it’s so important we do (and if you’re thinking about getting counselling then I suggest you just go and do it. You have nothing to lose by doing so in my eyes). My dad suffered from certain inner demons passed onto him by his dad but I believe he did an amazing job at preventing those demons from being passed on to my brother and I (for the most part). And yes I sincerely believe we need to acknowledge our children’s feelings and encourage them to talk about them with us.

      Thanks again Lesley. I really admire and value your openness. Wishing you well 🙏

  4. Hi AP, as you know, often when I read your content I am driven to an alternative conclusion then the majority of your other posters. I think thats more a testament to your content and you as a writer then a negative, thats the spirit in which this is posted anyway.

    I believe, its B.S. Blunt? yes but here’s why. It’s an overcomplication of a simple issue, liberty. Liberty should be paramount to all, regardless of age, within reason. I concede that a young mind is easily influenced but are we willing to go to the extent that we should alter what adults think and say so as to affect younger minds? In doing so, dont we then teach that censoring others to induce the outcomes we want is not only justified but necessary?

    From your post: “Individuals who do not want to know their own truth collude in denial with society as a whole, looking for a common “enemy” on whom to act out their repressed rage.”

    What a dangerous sentiment, so essentially If I dont want to own my “truth” (whatever the hell that means) I am colluding with others to create an enemy and enact violence? It’s not only offensive to suggest this, that adults dont have the ability to use rationalization but it assumes, incorrectly that the “truth” is some universally accepted concept and we all most move toward it.

    I detest notions of thought police, or demanded acceptance of social constructs. Will your source be doing a follow up article on what the “truth” is or should be?


    1. Hey Karac. I enjoy being challenged to think differently and you’re right, that is the spirit under which I write. I only mean to challenge people’s thinking and have them challenge my own – so thank you. I would say though, there really is no need to take offence by what she has to say. It’s just her professional opinion. It’s worth pointing out she was a very well respected psychoanalyst and philosopher in her day. This book was seen as very important. I sincerely believe she stands for liberty. I think she believes for one to be truly free you have to first acknowledge and process your own past traumas. If we deny that “truth” we will inevitably, subconsciously, find a target against which to act out our regressed rage. That’s what I took from her words and I thought it made good sense.

      Anyway I’m not sure why we wouldn’t try to change the way we think as adults in order to make things better for our young kids? Trying to change minds and challenge perceptions isn’t about censorship. Quite the opposite. It’s about gaining greater understanding about ourselves and others and in doing so, helping one another grow.

      But if you disagree so vehemently I suggest you read her book. I believe, for that reason, it would challenge your thinking in a very healthy way.

      Wishing you well Karac, as always. 🙏

  5. Another thought-provoking read, AP. Kinda makes me (and I see others) want to divulge personal feelings about this. I won’t indulge today, but will say that it’s both awesome to blame my great great great grandpappy for my questionable parenting, and maybe not entirely accurate, since he could, in turn, blame his great great great grandpappy and so on. Therapy though, hell yes! We could all use a group session…or are we in one right now? I think I need a pizza now.

    1. Hi kj. How about a group therapy session with pizza? Now there’s an incentive to get people to face their demons! 😂

      I like the idea of blaming someone who is long gone so that I can forgive my parents – who are still alive – for their shortcomings. But ultimately if I’m still blaming someone I think I still have a problem. My parents weren’t perfect but they did their best. Of that I’m sure. I hope my own children will grow up to at least believe the same, even though I’ll have undoubtedly got many things wrong. Ultimately I believe we have to learn to extend forgiveness to them as well as ourselves – as hard as that maybe.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts as always kj. Wishing you the very best. 🙏

  6. Democracy requires mutual respect, a civil discourse, and when one portion of our population is treated as less than human, our democracy cannot thrive. The takeaway? “we should respect our children”.

  7. I think the author oversimplifies. I think the author is finger-pointing. I think the author is denying us our agency. Under her theory, I should be a fascist mess right now.

    Racism, fascism, homophobia, sexism, et al, are products of the human instinct to form tribes. It is all representations of other-ism, which is ultimately an instinctive defense of my community against the outsiders. This happens because your extended family shares more of your genes than anyone else. You are promoting your own genes. It also happens because you need your fellow pack member. You don’t need the pack member from the other troop of the pack or tribe. In a time of scarcity, they would compete for resources.

    I think humans have both bonobo (cooperation) and chimp (competition) behaviors ingrained into them. Which “wins” is the one that rewards you the most.

    You instinctively learn who your pack is. You absorb it by who surrounds you as you grow up and you mirror the behavior of your parents. That’s why the other-isms persist through the generations despite all efforts to the contrary.

    People who want to be leaders – and don’t care how they do it – know this. They pick up on small group differences and play on the instinctive other-ism in people who are vulnerable to such. Remember the role of scarcity? People who feel deprived are more likely to become rabid other-ists. Another factor is identity. If someone feels their identity or way of life is being threatened, that also brings out the other-ist in them. Sometimes, as Freud pointed out, the smaller differences can lead to the biggest conflicts.

    People learn. (Or at least most people could learn something new at one time or another.) Given motivation, anything that is learned can be unlearned. Your tribe can expand to being all humanity. Or even all conscious life. That’s not easily taught, rather one has to figure it out for oneself.

    There’s also an instinct to rebel against one’s elders. Every new generation inherits a different environment. Just look at the stunning changes in society from the invention of the birth control pill. Look at the changes brought about by television and the internet. Science, technology, art, and the rebels from the previous generation all make the world a bit different and the youngsters adapt.

    That is how progress on other-isms happens. Sometimes it is glacial but it proceeds nonetheless.

    1. I think you’re right to question the simplicity of her argument although I’d caution it’s easy to take what I quoted out of context if you haven’t read the book (which is much more to do with how our parent relationships affect us as adults.) I also think it’s a stretch to suggest she’s saying because you suffer from some from of neurosis you’re a facist. What I took from her argument was that for those who flat-out refuse to acknowledge their own neurosis (and where it really comes from) will inevitably, subconsciously, find some kind of target to act out that repressed anger on.

      Anyway I complexly agree with your arguments about tribalism and those who take advantage of it. I just thought her perspective was interesting and one suspects, for a number of very angry individuals, their anger is indeed misplaced. That perhaps therapy would be a better idea than storming the Capitol building? Of course it’s impossible to help someone who isn’t willing to help themselves.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I believe you raise a number of very important points. Wishing you well 🙏

  8. I’ve heard that grandfather theory before, from one friend, but he always said it’s not our great, great, great grandfather’s fault, but our actual grandfather’s fault that we are suffering. (He brought it even closer) !
    I protested at the time because my grandad was wise, kind, gentle and considerate. Why is it my lovely grandfather’s fault that I’m messed up? I don’t get it. Very intriguing post.Thanks.

    1. Thank you Sue. I’m told my grandad on my father’s side wasn’t the greatest person. I never knew him but dad never really talked about him. I believe he suffered as a result which in turn affected my brother and I. That said our father definitely tried his best to keep those demons at bay and I believe his heart has always been in the right place. I hope my own children will grow to understand the same should my own inner demons affect them. I believe we must learn to forgive our parents for their flaws regardless – we’ll never be free of those demons if we don’t. Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙏

  9. Instilling in my children the permission to feel whatever tugs at them from inside is the critical lesson that was never taught or achieved by many of us…and is something I strive to do right for them.

    1. I agree that’s critical. Letting them know what they feel is perfectly ok – if they don’t like something letting them know we understand how they feel but we still have to do things we dislike. Thank you 🙏

  10. It is naiive to think that there is single causation in any issue. However, showing unconditional love is key to many problems in homes and thus in society. Thanks for the food for thought.

    1. I completely agree. I just thought it was an interesting perspective that might help a shed a little more light. Certainly can’t argue with the argument for unconditional love. Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙏

    1. Good point. I tend to think two party democracies don’t function well. Seems to become about one party subverting the other instead serving the population. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙏

  11. I’ll throw in.. I have not read the book and it’s not a topic I’ve research, yet, I found in my experience helping care for family members passing away that this is true. I’m not sure how far out with that lens it goes.
    It could be, but other mechanism could be at play in larger areas.
    One example is kids being raised by helicopter parents and/or intent to boost self esteem end up with almost paralyzing anxiety most likely from picking up on anxiety that made the parents boost and helicopter parent. The contrary.. those parents likely had parents who chose work over kids with the ideology of being a financial provider and material success was more important than actual family.
    With some things, like hinted at like QAnon: the HBO series on it is fascinating because this appears to be created by people bullied especially on the internet. Who Q may really be is a socially awkward kid who is doing it because his father is controlling man who wants power over money.
    Individually, I do think it’s more of a shadowy side of parenting. Larger scale, there’s likely more at play. We’ll likely analyze the pandemic someday and find a lot of answers.
    In some ways I think some could be related to the Dawkins “selfish gene” where nationalism is covert racism just because self preservation makes people group with people more genetically similar. Not all, just ones in survival mode. Some band together in crisis, others segregate. Social stress (which could be learned) could be why.

    1. I like your thinking here and I agree about the link between survival (fear) and nationalism/racism. I wonder if, for those who never processed their own childhood trauma, whether they have found it difficult to get out of that survival state? Thank you for weighing in. I appreciate it. Wishing you well 🙏

  12. Hey AP!

    This is an excellent post.

    I couldn’t agree more with you. In his book, ‘Laws of Human Nature’, Robert Greene quotes Henry Kissinger’s comment following Nixon and the Water Gate Scandal. He said, “If only that man had been loved as a child, what a fine President he’d have made.”

    Trauma, especially childhood, stays on with us until we either resolve it or it consumes us.

    1. Hey Billy!!
      Thank you. “Trauma, especially childhood, stays on with us until we either resolve it or it consumes us.” So so true.
      Wishing you well buddy 🙏

  13. Hi AP2! I appreciate your direct way of presenting Miller’s work. The bulk of my professional work is guiding people towards conscious noticing of their unconscious loyalties. I believe the best way to create any change is within ourselves. That inside change then radiates out elsewhere (democracy in this case)! Therapy, coaching, and healing for everyone!

    1. Thank you Caroline. I hope I wasn’t too direct (this can be a flaw of mine sometimes). I agree with you completely – it is in awareness that find true healing. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ― Mahatma Gandhi. I’ll be sure to check out your blog. Wishing you well. 🙏

  14. Not quite the ‘unconscious bias’ that we’re expected to acknowledge and take responsibility for these days, but Alice Miller and her book are right at home in 21C loony land.
    I’m more with you when you talk about respecting our children and showing them unconditional love. Not so much when you talk about going to a therapist to sort ourselves out, but I’m guessing that was tongue in cheek?

    1. Well one suspects that for those individuals who felt angry enough to storm the capitol building that their anger was indeed misplaced and that therapy might have been a better alternative. But yes – the idea of trying to convince people like that they should give therapy a try is a little far fetched to say the least. Though I am a big believer in seeking professional help to resolve past traumas. I firmly believe if we don’t those issues will get passed on to others subconsciously. With this I agree with Miller. It’s worth pointing out she was a very well respected psychologist who was known for her books on child abuse. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Wishing you well 🙏

  15. I have no answer for democracy, but I believe that yes, how we were raised, how our parents and we were treated even if they and we can’t remember those times perfectly, definitely affects how we see the world and how we’ll interact with our own kids. If we were traumatized by something, chances are high it also traumatized the person involved. Example my 10 yr old whines and complains a lot, she’s 10. We just got back from spending a week with my mom. My dad died 2 months ago, and my mom is acting like everything is 911 emergency. I was so ready to come home. When my 10 yr old started to whine again, it reminded me of my mom, which brought up growing up, which wasn’t pleasant. My mom should’ve been on medication when I was s kid, bc she was something else. She made our lives difficult and she was mean and mean to our dad. So I couldn’t deal with my daughter after being a week at my mom’s house, but I was able to explain that to her later on what I was experiencing only because of books I’ve been reading. Most people can’t, I don’t think, unless they are really aware of what’s going on, but I wouldn’t have known why I was irritated with my daughter. But it wasn’t her, it was my childhood.

    1. I think it shows strength that you took the time to explain yourself to your daughter and what was going on. I believe in being open and honest with our children. That means apologising to them and owning up when we’ve let out past demons get the better of us. Simply explaining the why can help them to understand. I believe this also helps us to slowly resolve those inner issues. Thank you for taking the time to share you story. I admire your courage/openness to do so. Wherever I get angry and frustrated and snap I recognise it has nothing to do with my children’s actions but my insecurities as a dad/person stemming from childhood. Whenever I do I take the time to talk/apologise to my children about my actions. Wishing you well 🙏

      1. I don’t think I finished my thought originally. I’m sorry. Does that ever happen to you? You have so many things going on that sometimes you think you’re expressing one thing and then later on, realize you only presented part of it? Anyway the point of my example was that if I never realized what really irritated me (my childhood), then I would’ve traumatized my 10 yr old, and somewhere down the road she would have an experience with her own child where she would get upset, or irritated, or something with her kid bc whatever the incidence would be would somehow remind her of her interaction with me when I got upset bc she was whining and complaining and I never took the time to explain it really had nothing to do with her anyway. And so on and so forth.

      2. Yes that does happen to me. I regularly think of something I wish I had said or reframed differently.

        That’s exactly the point I believe Miller is making. If we’re not aware/haven’t resolved our own past traumas we are liable to pass it on. Thank you for sharing more of your thoughts. 🙏

  16. Of course, saving a democracy, if it’s being attacked by communists, will take more than just saying the right things to your kids. However, a child’s feelings are important. I did a post called “It’s not about the balloons” and basically it’s about how a child’s reaction might be an expression of something much deeper that was distressing them. Even though they’re saying they’re crying about their balloon that flew away; that was just the last straw. There were more issues going on. We need to take a child’s reaction seriously.

    1. Yes agreed. I think the point she’s making is more about the threat from within as opposed to outside forces like those representing communism. I believe she’s saying we need to get a handle on our own issues/demons that stem from childhood if we are to successfully fight evil outside ourselves. Either way I completely agree we need to acknowledge our children’s emotions. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Mary 🙏

    1. It’s more theoretical than anything. Good luck convincing however many millions to go to therapy to resolve their childhood issues. Still, I think the author makes a good point about our inability to fight hatred outwardly without first resolving it inwardly. So long as you harbour repressed anger, whether consciously or not, you will find an outlet for it. If we want to save the world, we must save ourselves first. I think there is a great deal of merit to that argument. I do think, if we are to stand a chance going forward, the mental health crisis needs to be resolved – And perhaps that should be our first priority? It makes sense that everyone’s top priority should be there own mental and physical well-being. After all you can’t adequately look after others without first looking after yourself. It’s certainly a topic that could serve as a future blog post. I’ll give it some more thought. Thank you for the suggestion. 🙏

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