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54 of 61 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Dead End for Healing, 16 Dec. 2009
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This review is from: The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self (Hardcover)
I began reading Miller, with The Drama of the gifted Child, several years ago and it lead me to embrace her ideas quite strongly for a time, believing that doing so would help me heal, deal with my emotions and move forward with my life. However, after much effort, I found that Miller's ideas are nothing but a dead end.

When I first began reading Miller I thought she has the answers I'm looking for and she seemed to provide solutions to many of my problems as well. Miller does actually say quite a lot of insightful things about child rearing and it's emotional impact on children (though not nearly as insightful as she would have her readers believe) but at the end of the day she does not give her readers any practical way to deal with their problems. All she really gives her readers is lots of meaningless moral platitudes about "facing the truth" and "moral indignation". She seems to believe that healing is a moral act, which I now know could not be further from the truth.

The fundamental problem I see with Miller is that she is overly moralistic, she seems to see every emotional issue in grandiose moral terms, which is ironic given that she writes about the emotional origins of grandiosity in this book. Because of this I think following Miller's ideas is likely to cause more problems than it solves. I think I, like many people, followed her ideas out of desperation, she said lots of things I wanted to hear, like "its not my fault, its all my parents' fault" but I now think this is part of the narcissistic cycle of blame and self-blame, which Miller only feeds; I think its only when you start to see the uselessness of blame at all that you start to move forward.

I found the book "The Narcissistic Family" by DonaldsonPressman and Pressman a far more practical, optimistic and helpful book than any of Miller's, and I highly recommend reading it instead(Its written for therapists so is a bit expensive but well worth it).
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 15 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Feb 2010 18:56:19 GMT
Last edited by the author on 17 Feb 2010 18:57:02 GMT
Phoenicia says:
Thank you for you review. I read some pages of the book by alice Miller here on the amazon site, and I must say, they gave me the creeps. Reading those pages felt like heavy weights trying to pull me down into somberness. Another reviewer remarked that the author was depressed herself, and I must say, her book sounds like she is. I looked up the book you suggested about the Narcissistic Family, and a chill ran down my spine when I read the first page of the excerpt. Spot on about what happened to me when I was a child. As this book focuses on treatment rather than how much we children have suffered, I think it will be much more helpful to me in recognizing the damage that has been done and how to repair it, without finding fault with my parents, as they were the victims of their own severe upbringing too.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Mar 2010 23:42:29 GMT
AMR says:
Thanks for the reply. Yes I agree with you about Miller's style, that it tends to be very serious and sombre and bring one down into that way of feeling and seeing the world. The book I suggested is not like that at all, the authors give me the impression that they enjoy life and aren't looking to condemn and blame people all the time. However I should say it is quite an expensive book and it is written for therapists but that many people use it as a self-help book as well and have found it very useful.

I think the fundamental message of The Narcissistic Family is that blame is irrelevant to the process of healing. It doesn't take a moral tone and say you shouldn't blame your parents but rather that it's not going to really help you get your emotions out, especially anger at your parents.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Jun 2010 22:01:42 BDT
I am baffled by your repeated use of the word moral in your review. I have read three of Miller's books now and don't recall ever seeing her use the word moral, or even discuss morality. Nor do I feel she really goes in for "blame". The only sense of wrongdoing she expounds is in the act of cruel child-rearing, and she blames societal mores for that rather than individuals.

Is it possible that your desire, and the desire of Phoenicia, is to do the very thing Miller discusses and escape the discomfort of recognising parental damage in your life? Denial looks exactly like your review; I find that curious and not coincidental.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Jun 2010 23:23:02 BDT
AMR says:
It seems that most people who read Miller's work fail to recognise that it is essentially a moral critique. I failed to recognise this myself for a quite a while but eventually it became clear. Its true Miller does not use the word "morality" very often, though the term "moral indignation" is a theme throughout her work. Miller mixes up morality with psychology so thoroughly that it's quite difficult for readers to see that there is so much morality in there. She moralises more by the emotive language she uses to condemn parents and society than by overtly critiquing moral norms. You use the word "mores", the dictionary definition of which is: "folkways of central importance accepted without question and embodying the fundamental moral views of a group." Thus you back my argument up.

Your assertion that I am in denial for the review I wrote I also find "curious and not coincidental" for this is an argument often put forth by Miller's devotees and the late Miller herself to defend any criticism of her work. Of course there is no way I can deny your assertion that I'm in denial, maybe thats the point but I'd prefer it if Miller' supporters could a least deal with the criticism leveled at her work rather than making personal assertions which have no evidence to support them other than the act of criticising Miller's work itself.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jun 2010 00:02:10 BDT
I used the term 'mores' in regards to Miller condemning social mores. I fail to see how Miller recognising the existence of social mores - and they DO exist - makes her argument "moral". That is like suggesting a psychological analysis of Catholicism would be automatically mystic. By no means is Miller's recognition of social mores "backing up your argument".

As for any issues of your potential denial, I made no "assertions" since I cannot know your family background. I offered the observation that denial of family dysfunction would look exactly like your review. That is, in itself, a form of evidence, much the same way as a serial killer having a history of torturing small animals or collecting pornography would be evidence, i.e. it is so commonly recognised by psychologists it has been absorbed into the mainstream of human behavioural studies. With nary a hint of "morality" in sight.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Jun 2010 01:01:34 BDT
Last edited by the author on 24 Jun 2010 01:04:53 BDT
AMR says:
Initially you denied that Miller's work even discusses morality that is why I was pointing out the meaning of the word "mores" to show that you were contradicting yourself. The first part of my first paragraph was a description of how I think Miller's work is essentially moralistic but you failed to address it.

To deal with the issue of denial, I never mentioned my family circumstance once in this review so how can you possibly claim that it is evidence that I'm denying what you claim. My review deals purely with Miller's work that's all. And the second part of your paragraph is too ridiculous to address meaningfully.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Jun 2010 18:01:18 BDT
Last edited by the author on 24 Jun 2010 18:07:03 BDT
Miller's work doesn't discuss morality. Miller's work discusses the damage done by the social mores of popular child-rearing. Mores and morality are not the same thing; if it was, the words would be interchangeable. Miller's discussion is a psychological one: she brings up the relevant more (e.g. slapping as punishment) and then discusses the psychological repercussions of being slapped. That is not a moral judgement; it is a clinical observation. The fact that she disapproves of said more does not make the work about morality, any more than a discussion about the science of animal slaughter and unneccessary suffering needs to be about right and wrong. Science can exist alongside principles. In fact it can guide them.

The serial killer metaphor is very far from ridiculous and is apt in this context. If a criminal psychologist was to make the observation that 98% of serial killers had a history of torturing small animals would this be a moral judgement? It is considered legitimate evidence - with nothing to do with "morality - simply because it occurs so often, i.e. it is measurable scientific data which goes too far beyond coincidence to be coincidence. A criminal psychologist can make the observation while deploring the torture of small animals. This would not make his clinical observation any less valid or significant, primarily because the science came first. It is substantiative.

Were you to show me evidence that any dictator, serial killer or rapist had a happy, well-balanced childhood I would accept that Miller's discussion might be about "morality", but there is no such evidence. Scientifically speaking, abusive childhoods make disturbed adults. Very abusive childhoods make very disturbed adults. This is neither moral nor imaginary, simply a fact. Miller making this observation is therefore not being "moral", whether she disapproves of it or not.

I can only repeat again that I made no assertions about your childhood. I can, if you wish, itemise the ways in which your review conforms to patterns of denial. Certainly your review offers no such examples of places where Miller's discussion is purely "moral", or even chiefly "moral". If you would care to offer such examples I would be more than happy to discuss them...

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Jun 2010 23:50:49 BDT
Last edited by the author on 24 Jun 2010 23:53:20 BDT
AMR says:
Ok that she discusses mores is not the reason why I think Miller's work is essentially moralistic, mores and morals are very closely related and I was merely pointing this out. However to say that Miller doesn't discuss morality but does discuss mores does seem to me to be slightly contradictory. Anyway the main reason, as I've already said, that I think Miller's work is essentially moral is because of the strident language she often uses to condemn parental practices and societal attitudes. She also uses the term "moral indignation" throughout her work to describe the anger one must feel at one's parents to begin healing. She describes as "crimes" many normal parental practices and in one of her most recent books actually stated that parents are criminals if they emotionally harm their children, intentionally or not. To me these are all moral stances not some "scientific" approach, which I think Miller's work has always been the antithesis to. If she used a purely "scientific" approach her work would be free of these kind of value judgments, but it is not, they are everywhere in her books. Miller's work is not taken seriously within academic psychology which to me is not surprising as her work is not in any way academically rigorous or objective. I think even Miller herself acknowledged that her work is not academic or objective as she always said she was "taking the side of the child" in her work.

To address your other points, I am not denying the impact that bad parenting can have on children emotionally, that presumption is way of the mark. I called the last part of that paragraph ridiculous because firstly, you were comparing me to a serial killer and secondly, it was completely irrelevant to your original claim.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Jun 2010 19:32:15 BDT
I can understand how you might consider the use of terms such as "criminal" to be moral ones. Nevertheless, you do appreciate, I'm sure, that it isn't possible for psychology to be thoroughly scientific in the way that, say, a study of bacteria might be. You can't put a family in a petri dish and leave them to stew and see what happens.

Any psychological study must involve a lot more analysis and conjecture than a lab study would do, which is why I have used the serial killer metaphor. Most of the studies of human behaviour have been done through a combination of what can be measured in a lab - such as the famous Milgram studies into torture (done at Yale in 1961) - or by the collating of large amounts of background history/personal experience.

Whereas Miller could certainly have written an 'academic' book, where she merely offered collated data without interpretation, that would not have been much use to man nor beast - and it certainly wouldn't have affected popular thought. All scientific data must be interpreted at some point, otherwise it is useless. Had Miller written a book merely on the strength of her own family, with no other evidence to support it, I would have accepted that she was unscientific, but this simply is not so. The fact that she has interpreted her data and reached conclusions is also entirely scientific. The fact that she passes judgements on those conclusions may be personal, but that still doesn't make them solely, or even chiefly, moral judgements. In order for her to qualify for your criticisms, she would have to make sweeping assertions without evidence, and write a set of biblical rules of behaviour with no other support other than her own concepts of right and wrong. She simply doesn't do this. You are expecting too much of any scientist - and definitely of any psychologist - if you expect them to be able to write about human behaviour without positing theories or offering opinions.

I find it strange and, again, symptomatic of the denial I raised earlier, that you use expressions like "She describes as "crimes" many normal parental practices", as if it may be taken as read that as long as a parent is confirming to "normal" practices no "crime" could occur. Unfortunately, historically, and to this day, many people have perpetrated great crimes against children doing things that might be perceived as "normal" in the context of their culture and times. Clitoridectomies are considered normal in parts of the world, but that doesn't make them right, scientifically sound or moral - but it does make them "normal". "Normal" doesn't mean much, and is proof of nothing but social mores.

Likewise, I find it odd that you can assert things like "in one of her most recent books [she] actually stated that parents are criminals if they emotionally harm their children, intentionally or not." Again, you are taking it as read that harming your children is somehow okay because people just do it. I'm assuming here that your emphasis would be on the 'unintentional' part? And that you feel if parents unintentionally harm their children that is somehow okay? Or, at least, definitely not criminal.

Whereas I can see you wishing to question this idea, I find it odd (and ironic) that you feel morally outraged by the unreasonableness of this assertion on Miller's part (I note you do not quote her actual comment; I would have preferred to see that, but we'll assume she did say it, for sake of argument). In fact, there are many ways unintentional harm of a child could be and would be criminal. If a parent microwaved a child (and that's been done) to dry her hair, would you not consider that criminal, even if it was done purely through negligence? Prosecuting that (it was actual case; the mother was prosecuted) is because as a society we consider some kinds of 'unintentional' harm to be inexcusable. So Miller is by no means suggesting anything that bizarre.

But I have to say, the one thing still lacking in your arguments is concrete PROOF. You are making these statements about what Miller does and does not say without giving exact examples of a moral prejudice. As I have said, I've read 3 of her books and never noticed her harping on about morality. If you want me to believe in her as some kind of religious zealot without real substance, I would like to see some concrete quotes where she says something that is clearly an issue purely of morality with no foundation in observable behavioural study.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jul 2010 23:03:17 BDT
AMR says:
I don't know what "data" Miller is supposed to have used that you describe, almost all Miller's work is based on her experiences as a therapist. I'm not saying that her arguments have to be "scientific", merely reasoned. Once again my assertion is that her morally strident use of language to condemn many widely used parental practices is not in keeping with a purely psychological work. A work of psychology needs to avoid these kinds of judgments to be taken seriously, otherwise it will appear that the author is bringing prejudice into her arguments rather than attempting to present clear cause and effects.

I merely used the word "normal" to mean widely used not to mean it is good or healthy. When I say "intentionally or not" I'm not saying there aren't exceptions, I'm saying that she labels as criminals parents who use widely accepted parenting practices and who presume they they are doing what's best for their children.

I'm not actually "morally outraged" about Miller's work and I have no idea where you got that idea, I'm merely stating my criticism of Miller's work. Also I'm not looking to provide "proof" of my arguments, I'm merely putting my arguments forward to reasonably open-minded people so they can decide for themselves their validity. Obviously staunch followers of Miller are going to need a lot more convincing and I am not really prepared to go reading through Miller's work again to find the "proof" that people like yourself need.
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