The Drama of the Gifted Child-Book Commentary
In Alice Miller's, The Drama of the Gifted Child, she sheds light on the search for the "true self". Miller writes that many of us lose ourselves in childhood because we learn to adapt to the needs and expectations or our parents, and hide our own feelings and needs in order to win their love and affection. She defines such children as gifted children in that they possess the ability to adapt to the needs of their parents by becoming numb to their own emotions. However, Miller believes that the true self can be reclaimed in adulthood through self discovery, and by acknowledging these needs which have been dormant for so long. If these feelings and memories are not realized as an adult, the cycle of abuse will continue on to the next generation. Self realization will allow the individual to see through the manipulation that he or she experienced in childhood, and will prevent the individual from manipulating others in the future (113). The progress of self realization lies in the ability and freedom to experience spontaneous feelings (60).
The danger of not discovering the true self through acknowledgment of the past is disillusionment. Adults who continue to live in the memories of their repressed childhood react to situations in the present according to fears and dangers that have occurred in the past. One example Miller used to describe this situation is the "grandiose" individual. Miller describes the grandiose individual as the person who is admired by everyone, and who in turn thrives on this admiration (33). The grandiose individual excels in everything that he or she undertakes, and measures him or herself in terms of achievement. However if the grandiose person were to fail at an achievement, he or she would fall into severe depression because of the failure to meet expectations of loved ones (34). In Miller's view, the grandiose individual confuses admiration and love (36). The individual continues to seek admiration, thinking that it will fill the void of love that the individual experienced during childhood; even though this desire will never be satisfied. Furthermore this insatiable appetite for gratification is a substitute for the feelings that the adult did not experience during childhood. These include the primary needs for respect, understanding, and being taken seriously (36). She believes this is why many successful and admired people often feel isolated, lonely, and unfulfilled (36). The confusion of the gifted child, in this situation, stems from the fear that being unsuccessful will remove feelings of love from the parent; and the now adult, does not realize that he or she set aside the primary needs of childhood for the parents, in order to fulfill expectations which may or may not have existed.
A key component to the self realization process is grieving. Miller writes that when a person grieves during the self realization process, the person is grieving for a lost childhood. Once the individual can begin this grieving process, the individual can begin to experience new feelings, such as anger, towards their parent. The adult must realize that it is acceptable to have these feelings, and that just because the individual experiences emotions that may seem undesirable, it does not mean the individual will lose the love of his or her parents. Miller states that we cannot change our past, but we can change ourselves. She believes that by looking inside ourselves, and the knowledge stored inside our bodies, we can regain the integrity that we lost in childhood (2). By following this path to self awareness, we can "leave behind the cruel, invisible prison of our childhood". According to Miller, most people do not achieve a path to self awareness because they choose to leave all of their memories in the past, and let their past actions continue to determine how they act in the future (2).
Therapy helps one to begin the search for the true self by allowing the individual to experience his or her own truth, and gain the ability to mourn feelings that were lost during childhood (14). Miller writes, "It is one of the turning points in therapy when the patient comes to the emotional insight that all the love she has captured with so much effort and self-denial was not meant for her as she really was, that the admiration for her beauty and achievements was aimed at this beauty and these achievements and not at the child herself" (14). In this moment of realization, it is as though the inner child of the adult has awakened from dormancy; and with this awakening comes all of the questions and demands that were repressed from early on (14). This self realization of who the adult really is, and the acknowledgment of past feelings, which may actually consist of grief and pain, are what expose the true self. The result of this moment is a new type of authority for the individual, and he or she may now realize that these basic needs no longer have to be ignored (14). Although the individual may not show immediate changes in his or her behavior, he or she has at least gained the ability to realize how these feeling affect his or her behavior, and can gradually make changes from this point (16).
Miller suggests that "in order to avoid unconscious motivated exploitation and disrespect of the child, we must first gain a conscious awareness of these dangers" (81). She believes the problem lies with disrespect of the child from a very young age (74). This disrespect stems from the power that adults continue to have over children (74). Miller states, "until we become sensitized to the small child's suffering, this wielding of power by adults will continue to be regarded as a normal aspect of the human condition...." (74). She expands this concept to state that these suffering children will learn to repeat this behavior on their own children when they become adults (74). Thus the cycle seems doomed to repeat itself until society becomes aware of this mentality, and sees the importance of becoming more aware of the needs of children (74). The reason that his behavior will repeat itself is that these adults are unconsciously aware of the cruelty that they experienced from their parents, and because they have not realized these emotions, they will unconsciously inflict it on others (75). As long as adults repress these memories, they will have no awareness of their past, and will have no way to avoid passing this behavior onto others (75).
I found Miller's discussion of the gifted child to be enlightening. My thoughts of this book immediately went to children who often take on the burden of the household in order to support the family, and believe they can fix the problem if they behave in a "perfect" manner. Many times children are saddled with burden of taking care of a parent's problem. In cases where the parent is dealing with a substance addiction, or domestic abuse, the child is often left with emotional baggage, and instead of sharing these emotions with the parent, he or she is often left trying to fulfill the needs of the parent, rather than dealing with his or her own emotional needs.
Pressure in the academic setting is also relevant to what Miller describes. Many times parents put children in a rigorous course of study because they want what is best for the child, often without knowledge of the needs and interests of the child. In these types of situations it is easy to blame the parent for the inability of the child to recognize his or her own needs, but in many cases, parents are reacting to how they were treated by their own parents. Whether the parent chooses to go against or agree with the parenting style that he or she experienced will manifest itself in the child. Parents are a product of their childhood, and are often times bound by their life experiences. I agree most with Miller's suggestion that parents should treat children more equally and be consciously aware of the needs of the child. Children are impressionable from a young age, and internalize the words of their parents, so it is important to be consciously aware of what the child is exposed to in the home.
Miller, Alice. The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self. New York: Basic Books, 1997.