Q.  I read your article on “forgiveness” in a recent Brain Bulletin. I also finished the book “The Body Never Lies” by Alice Miller. She made a comment about how honoring your parents can be misunderstood with resulting dire consequences. How could that be? 

A. My guess is that Alice Miller was attempting to address the way in which some have interpreted the admonition to “honor your parents,” even when those parents have been or are being currently abusive (mentally, emotionally, sexually, physically, spiritually, financially, or you name it). As I recall, Miller’s conclusion was that individuals abused in childhood can attempt to “honor” their parents only by recourse to repression and emotional detachment (because you cannot build up a relaxed and trusting relationship with parents you still fear consciously or unconsciously). At times, this same admonition has been used as a way to control one’s children and/or to sweep bad behaviors under the carpet. In adulthood some children believe thathonoring their parents means continuing to accept abuse when seeing their parents and/or speaking with them electronically. The result? The children allow their brains and bodies (leased for use while on this planet) to be battered in any number of unhealthy and dysfunctional ways.

In a perfect world, healthy functional parents would take great pains to protect their children and avoid abusing them in any manner whatsoever. This is not a perfect world. Honoring abusive parents may simply involve acknowledging the position they hold in your generational inheritance and refraining from exhibiting ugly or abusive behaviors toward them—while at the same time reducing or limiting time spent with them and sometimes stopping all contact with them if they are continuing to exhibit abusive behaviors.