Alice Miller and The Drama of the Gifted Child
Alice Miller (1923-2010) was an influential and also controversial Swiss psychologist and psychoanalyst noted for multiple books on childhood and parental child abuse.
Her first book The Drama of the Gifted Child (also published under the titles Prisoners of Childhood and The Drama of Being a Child), as the Wikipedia page on her notes, “defined and elaborated the personality manifestations of childhood trauma.
“She addressed the two reactions to the loss of love in childhood, depression and grandiosity; the inner prison, the vicious circle of contempt, repressed memories, the etiology of depression, and how childhood trauma manifests itself in the adult.”
Miller writes: “Quite often I have been faced with patients who have been praised and admired for their talents and their achievements.
“According to prevailing, general attitudes these people — the pride of their parents — should have had a strong stable sense of self-assurance. But exactly the opposite is the case.”
Marilyn Wedge Ph.D. in her post The Drama of the Gifted Child summarizes:
“Miller’s main point in the book is that the gifted child—the child who is more intelligent, more sensitive and more emotionally aware than other children—can be so attuned to her parents’ expectations that she does whatever it takes to fulfill these expectations while ignoring her own feelings and needs.”
Losing your true self to please others
“In becoming the ‘perfect’ child of her parents’ dreams, the gifted child loses something very precious. She loses her true self. In becoming her parents’ ideal child, she locks away her true feelings in a kind of ‘glass cellar,’ the key to which is thrown away.”
“According to Miller, the gifted child in this type of situation stops growing. Because he cannot develop and differentiate his true self, he feels empty, emotionally isolated, and ‘homeless.’
“In adulthood, the child who has always tried to please his parents is constantly looking to others for approval.”
The Drama of the Gifted Child addresses narcissism
The basic idea of narcissism is being obsessively self-absorbed, always putting your own needs first, having poor empathy or appreciation for other people’s needs, and other qualities.
But what is behind someone operating that way?
Alice Miller writes in her book The Drama of the Gifted Child about childhood harm leading to compromised emotional life as an adult.
Abusive, narcissistic kinds of behavior by parents can lead to children experiencing the same wounds into adulthood.
Surviving an abusive childhood
Miller has been quoted about the word ‘gifted’ in the title:
“I had in mind neither children who receive high grades in school nor children talented in a special way.
“I simply meant all of us who have survived an abusive childhood thanks to an ability to adapt even to unspeakable cruelty by becoming numb… Without this ‘gift’ offered us by nature, we would not have survived.”
She writes about the compromised ability to love oneself:
“A little reflection soon shows how inconceivable it is really to love others (not merely to need them), if one cannot love oneself as one really is.
“And how could a person do that if, from the very beginning, he has had no chance to experience his true feelings and to learn to know himself?
“For the majority of sensitive people, the true self remains deeply and thoroughly hidden.”
“But how can you love something you do not know, something that has never been loved?
“They will shun their hidden and lost true self, unless depression makes them aware of its loss or psychosis confronts them harshly with that true self, whom they now have to face and to whom they are delivered up, helplessly, as to a threatening stranger.”
Miller says in looking at the origins of this loss of the self in the book, she chooses not to use the term “narcissism” – but explains:
“However, in my clinical descriptions, I shall speak occasionally of a healthy narcissism and depict the ideal case of a person who is genuinely alive, with free access to the true self and his authentic feelings.
“I shall contrast this with narcissistic disorders, with the true self’s ‘solitary confinement’ within the prison of the false self.
“This I see less as an illness than as tragedy, and it is my aim in this book to break away from judgmental, isolating, and therefore discriminating terminology.”
Photo above is from the self-guided course “DIY Self-Esteem” by Joanna Moore from page: Programs for Introverts and Highly Sensitive People.
Some related articles etc :
The narcissist, unmasked – Benedict Carey describes qualities that fit many celebrity level performers, as well as other professionals.
Narcissism: Having a God complex – “If it weren’t for me, there wouldn’t be any Paramount Studios.” Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
The Prodigy as Narcissistic Injury by Sam Vaknin, PhD
— Book by Sam Vaknin: Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Re-Visited
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