I recently came across this book, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for True Self by Alice Miller. It was originally published under the title, “Prisoners of Childhood.” I was struck by the name and curious to learn more. It didn’t take long until this book knocked my socks off.
Narcissism versus Narcissist
Miller explains children have the need to go through a period of narcissism as a stage in development before they will develop “spontaneous pleasure in sharing and giving” (viii). If this process is disturbed, as with an insecure parent or other individual closest to the child, the child learns to respond to the insecurity intuitively. Eventually and inevitably, the child ends up equating this responsibility with his/her own security.
Grandiosity and Depression
“In fact grandiosity [i.e. being and needing admiration; needing to excel brilliantly] is the defense against depression, and depression is the defense against the real pain over the loss of the self.” (38)
In learning to tend to the feelings of another without the equal opportunity to experience one’s own jealousy, envy, anger, loneliness, impotence, or anxiety, Miller explains a child begins to identify with a false self — the self that is praised for its achievements. It’s not before long fantasies of grandiosity and/or depression set in as these children try to earn their worth in the world through what they do as opposed to finding worth in who they are inherently.
One of the quotes from Miller’s patients I found most moving came from a forty-year-old woman after experiencing a long depressive phase:
Nevertheless, for the first time I find life really worth living. Perhaps this is because, for the first time, I have the feeling that I am really living my own life. …I can understand my suicidal ideas better now, especially those I had in my youth — it seemed pointless to carry on because in a way I had always been living a life that wasn’t mine, that I didn’t want, and that I was ready to throw away. (58)
How powerful, to realize that which we’ve been striving for [i.e. the false self] is unattainable, undesirable and unnecessary!
If this pattern sounds familiar to you in your life, you might consider learning more by reading Miller’s work and discussing with a therapist. Reiki/energy work is a good way to work with and release underlying emotional patterns as well.
Awareness is the first step to any change; and there is no time that is too late to see clearly. Fear not — Whenever you get there, you’ve arrived right on time!
May you be well,