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.