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on 14 February 2005
Alice Miller's "Drama Of The Gifted Child," was originally published as "Prisoners Of Childhood; The Drama Of The Gifted Child," in 1981. I read the book over 20 years ago, and recently reread it. I find that it is just as relevant, wise and perceptive today as it was then. Ms. Miller was a practicing psychoanalyst, who gave up her work with patients to write books, for the layperson, primarily dealing with early childhood abuse. In a new Forward, Miller continues to disavow psychoanalysis. Although I am not in agreement with her on this, she continues to be one of my heroes.

Ms. Miller, who writes an elegant and easily understandable prose, discusses here the issue of children raised by a narcissistic parent(s). She explains that this book is not about high I.Q. children, but about those who were able to survive an abusive childhood because they developed an adequate defense system. At a very early age the child intuitively apprehends the parent's needs. Since the parent, especially the mother, is the child's soul source of survival, the child strives to please, fearing disapproval, or abandonment. Thus, the child sublimates his needs for the parent's. Roles reverse and the child frequently takes on the parent's responsibility as emotional caregiver. This impedes the growth of a child's true identity, and a "loss of self" frequently occurs. The child adapts by not "feeling" his own needs, and develops finely tuned antennae, focusing intensely on the needs of the all important other. Ms. Miller writes, "An abused child, (emotionally), does not know it is being abused, and in order to survive and avoid the unbearable pain, the mind is provided with a remarkable mechanism, the 'gift' of 'repression,' which stores these experiences in a place outside of consciousness." Although, later in life, these "prohibited" feelings and needs cannot always be avoided, they remain split off and the most vital part of the true self is not integrated into the personality. The results are often depression, and tremendous insecurity.
Alice Miller makes her readers aware of the unexpressed sufferings of the child and the tragedy of the parent(s) own illness. As she frequently states, "any parent who abuses a child," knowingly or otherwise, "has himself been severely traumatized in his childhood, in some form or another."
Gifted children are often the products of emotional abuse by a narcissistic parent. However, if the child's great need for admiration is not met, for his/her looks, intelligence or achievements, he/she falls into severe depression. Miller says one can only be free from depression "when self-esteem is based on the authenticity of one's own feelings and not on the possession of certain qualities."
Children need a great deal of both emotional and physical support from the adult. According to Miller, this adult support must include the following elements in order for a child to develop to his or her full potential: "Respect for the child; respect for his rights; tolerance for his feelings; willingness to learn from his behavior."
Miller also writes about the "origins of grandiosity as a form of denial and its relationship with depression." Another interesting chapter deals with the "process of parental derision" and how it results in humiliation and possible psychic trauma of the child.
Alice Miller's extraordinary book, along with consistent psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has assisted many to understand their past, modify behavior, forgive, and finally, best of all, to heal. I cannot recommend "The Drama Of The Gifted Child" highly enough.
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on 28 November 2007
This book is written with very deep insight, compassion, eloquence, clarity and power. Alice Miller speaks of the vital importance for us to discover our own personal truth that puts us in touch with our true self. As Ms. Miller states it can be very painful to discover our real feelings since many of us have repressed hurt feelings from childhood trauma that we have buried and we have hid these feelings not only from our parents but from ourselves as well.

What I have learned from this remarkable book is that we hide these feelings from our parents so they will `love' us, but it's not our true self that they love since it is these hidden feelings that are the manifestations of who we really are. In its place we give our parents an image of ourselves so as to make them happy. This fulfills their needs but we hide our own since we fear that the expression of our own needs will lead to parental rejection and correspondingly to a loss of their love.

When we hide and suppress these childhood unacknowledged needs then the basis of all our future relationships will be determined by these unrequited needs and they become the unconscious motivations that drive us throughout our adult lives.

It is only by getting in touch with these lost needs that we can begin to discover those missing parts of ourselves. This is just the beginning to true "self discovery" that is, it is the beginning to discovering and becoming who we truly are so that, eventually, we can become who we are truly destined to be.

A fine book indeed.
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on 9 August 2007
Alice Miller highlights in this book the importance of looking into one's own history in order to understand our psychological makeup and become free of behaviors that otherwise hinders us in being ourselves. I have come to understand irrational and debilitating aspects of my own behaviors, that stemmed from childhood traumas, and seen how these can be liberated once they are experienced emotionally. It is not done over night and not by just reading this book alone.

The book is however a great encouragement and at the same time through stories and examples gives an understanding of where to look and clues to some of the behaviors that previously were simply confusing and puzzling. I wished I had read this book 19 years ago, when I first encountered therapy as it would have been an added help in understanding the process that I had started on. Another powerful book on this subject is "The Narcissistic Family".

All in all a highly recommended book, as understanding the human 'machine' is vital in order to become free, as Gurdjieff would say.
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on 19 February 2011
This is the best book I've read whilst trying to understand my anger and learn to maintain loving relationships. It it also one of the shortest. If you like highlighting key paragraphs in your self-help books, then you'll need to make sure your high-lighter is full, because it will get almost constant use!
She presents a very clear idea. Your pain is entirely related to the your childhood. (Be it disrespect, criticism, anger, being ignored, pushed too hard etc). You are acting out this anger now on auto-pilot, without acknowledging where it came from. You can not move-on until you have studied your childhood and FELT (not intellectualised) the pain you felt.
This may not be rocket science, but she presents her argument far more precisely and powerfully than anyone else, and gives some very useful examples to help you uncover the many experiences of your childhood you have locked away. It is even more vital to read and digest if you are becoming a parent.
I'm a convert. I'm reading it a 2nd time (and this time find myself highlighting many of the paragraphs that escaped the first time).

ps. The title threw me a little with the word 'gifted'. It is not about 'wonder / chess / violin playing brain boxes', it is about every child, and how the 'gift' of childhood gets hidden.
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on 21 May 2011
The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self, Revised Edition (Paperback) Alice Miller

This book is translated, and so some of the key words sound at first as if they mean less, or other than first appears. Read through it. We are setting our children up from day one. It had better be a good set-up, or they will not know how to set up their own children for whole and successful lives.
It is not only the content that is excellent but also her writing style. It is objective and not sentimental like lots of books on psychological topics. It reveals repetitive patterns that you learnt during childhood and that you pass on to your children and also experience it with your partner. Most people have a kind of "dark room" where they unconsciously hide negative feelings that only their children will experience.

Abuse comes not only in the form of black eyes or broken arms or incest. Abuse comes in forms that we thought were "love" but turn out to be traps.

Read it. Read it. Read it. Think!
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on 2 February 2003
This is one of those books that are not for the faint of heart. So many books in the world that people think are incendiary or revolutionary, challenging and rechallenging our conception of free speech, religion, citizenship, science and technology, philosophy, economics and politics or spirituality have an attraction to us because of how they serve as metaphors for the painful realities of our personal lives under the illusions we create for public consumption, and the secrets of our inner selves we wish to uncover. We yearn to break free of something and embrace some inner truth; we just don't know what, and therefore call it some aspect of the outer world. The desires we have to be and have more than what we are, the feelings of not knowing who we truly are and never truly being loved--and the root causes of such feelings--are unveiled in this powerful, disturbing, life shifting and life-affirming book.
Alice Miller was one of the patron saints of John Bradshaw, the man whose work heralded the age of the Inner Child that became part of the pop-psychology lexicon of the 90's. Her perspective and conclusions, scientifically, sociologically and philosophically speaking, are practically undebateable. And without even needing the true case examples from her therapeutic practice to underscore her points (which she uses with striking and original clarity and precision across gender, racial, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic lines), her elucidation of her central thesis on the ignored emotional life of children--and the cost of having parents unequipped to give them the love they need--will undoubtedly make deep seated memories of your own childhood come to the surface.
Why does society have such automatic and irrational contempt for the egotist? Why do individulas run to prove themselves (or immediately start thinking of themselves defensively) as the antithesis, upon seeing anyone's character asessed in such a context? Why does even the WORD "self" conjure up confused and uncomfortable feelings when used in anything but a mind-numbing spiritual context with people? What do children need beyond basic nutritional and socioeconomic concerns, and what happens to them when they grow older but do not get it? How is it possible to have more material things and personal achievements than anyone, and still have less and less confidence in who you are?
This book can explain things about your adult life and relationships that you'd rather not have so easily and individually explained. And those who look to books like these to figure out what's wrong with their friends, lovers and parents will discover more about themselves than they may think they're ready to process. We all are not just ready but overdue for these kinds of life lessons.
Never has a writer, perhaps before or since, put the words "childhood" and "mourning" together in one thought, such that it can create a complete paradigm shift in how one sees oneself, and sees the opportunities for happiness one's world.
The fault levied on any psychologist on her level- and there are very, very few- is that this kind of thinking all but demands the kind of narcisstic modern solipsism she seems to diagnose as symptomatic of the illness. (She refers to the dynamic not as an illness, however, but a "tragedy"; keeping us again, I believe, in tune with the ancient Greek mythic/philosophical reference inherent in the old title for this book, "The Drama of the Gifted Child".) Such blanket criticism of psychology books in general could only be concluded with one of this quality from a misreading of the text; the kind of misreading that usually comes when she has hit a nerve the likes of which one didn't expect, may be afraid of and couldn't imagine beforehand. Nonetheless, taking our culture's preoccupation with the self into consideration, there is still nothing of lasting value one could do in the world without at least endeavoring to answer the existential questions of soul, love, freedom, loss and pain- and the true self- that this book demands you to do in a new way for practically the rest of your life.
I gave it four stars instead of five because it was too short. I didn't want it to end. And the idea that she could 1) prove her point, 2)deeply affect me by making me dream dreams that I've never dreamed before, 3)access undramatic but painful memories of childhood events that I forgot happened but have been behind more than half of the seemingly unrelated choices I've made in my adult life, and 4) feel a usually suppressed rage and grief give way to a new sense of purpose and a release of joyful energy and optimism- all in a little more than a hundred pages- still makes me queasy. In other words, read this as a five and a half star review! Then buy the book, put down the most recent bash on modern politics and the latest neo-spiritual mind candy on the bestseller's list, and begin a real journey.
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on 6 November 2007
This is one of the best books ever written and one of the most powerful tools for one's self-discovery, to be free from narcissism. Miller has provided strong insights into this book, which encouraged and forced us to face the truth from our childhood, and why we hid our true selves as children.

We are all living in a narcissist society, and we have learned our narcissist traits to some degree. For us to get rid of these traits, we must seek to be free from the deadly emotional influences that shaped our lives. This book is one of the keys for which we will acquire to be free.

I would strongly recommend "The Drama of the Gifted Child" for those who seek for the truth about themselves.
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on 1 April 1998
Miller's book is concise and straightforward, asserting that parental expectations for children--however benign or well-meaning--inevitably suppress the child's real self, leading to the ongoing "dramatic" performance of an identity throughout the child's life that is not driven by his/her own feelings. The lists of common behaviors that might be signs of this drama are helpful, and provoke moments of self-recognition that can be both painful and illuminating. My one reservation about Miller's argument is that this suppression of children's true selves is often demonstrated using examples of truly abusive parents, including several accounts of incest and violence. This undermines her overall understanding of the drama tendency as an almost universal property of family life.
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on 13 August 2011
I found this book extremely interesting and thought provoking. Miller's wonderful insights and complex ideas make this a fascinating read, really opening your eyes to how utterly complex your early years actually are, and how greatly they effect your future life and self.

It really got me thinking deeply about my own childhood and certain views or characteristics I have naturally adopted from my own parents. This book also allows you to think about your parents and then your grandparents from a new perspective, opening your eyes to how your own parents are a product of their childhood and so on, and how this has affected you through the generations.

Although I am extremely glad I bought this book, I must express that I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated whilst reading it. This book isn't a self help book as such, rather one to open your eyes to the complexity of childhood, but Miller shares all her ideas about how deeply your parents affect you, to then not give you any kind of insight into how you would actually combat these childhood problems or learn to combat your childhood memories on route to connecting with your "true self". Throughout the book, although I found myself fascinated by her insight, it doesn't help you to tackle the problems faced in this book in any way. After reading the book, you're left realizing how your childhood might have negatively affected you, but are still none the wiser to how you would actually go about personally trying to move on from and deal with a problematic childhood.

Despite this, anyone thinking of buying this book should go for it. You won't be disappointed. It is fascinating and definitely a book I will read time and time again.
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on 5 January 2011
The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self

This book was recommended to me by my therapist of 6 years. It is a fascinating and truly enlighting read if you want to learn and understand how you came to be the person you are now. This book reads as if had been written just for me - it's my story and you may think, possibly yours too. It explains how from the very second of being born, we are influenced by our first experiences, good ones resulting in a pretty rounded, confident and happy people; bad experiences as in my case, result in so many life problems, for example, mental health disorders (you are often mis-labelled as in my own case, i am listed by my psychiatrist as having rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, chronic depression, anxiety states, borderline personality disorder and atypical anorexia). In actual fact, when you are dedicated to sticking out sometimes very painful therapy, you actually find that these labels are wrong. You are who you are because of your very earliest influences and experiences. I couldn't put this book down - it was like looking in a mirror and seeing myself. It will have you smiling and crying all on the same page! It is the most amazing book i have ever read and has helped me understand so much better why i am who i am and then using that knowledge with your therapist, you can get your life back, you can be 'normal', it's ok to be angry, sad, jealous, happy, even ecstatic - these are all normal emotions which have been stunted in your early years by either abuse or neglect of any sort. Reading this book has given me back my life. I have turned from being a shy, very introverted, unhappy, frightened woman with extremely low self-esteem, to now, being confident, happy, and that's really ok, i value my needs and refuse to get into abusive situations. I don't think i could ever bear to part with this book, although i know people that have been involved in my mental health care would be interested to read it, but i'm afraid they'll have to purchase this book for themselves 'cos i'm not letting go of my precious copy! Extremely highly recommended. Happy reading!
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