on September 21, 2003
I read this book once, several months ago, and now I'm reading it again, more carefully. The first time, I found myself constantly fighting to continue reading in spite of what seemed to me to be Miller's unbearably arrogant self-righteousness. I fought my way past that, and past some of Miller's patently absurd opinions, because I believed in my gut that there was something extremely important to me (and to the world) buried in this stream of psychobabble. I found that Miller's concepts of childhood abuse and it's effects (and I mean childhood starting at one minute past-partum) were astoundingly insightful, although they didn't apply to me since my mother has always been unconditionally loving. I returned the book to the person who had recommended it and went on with my life as usual.
Elsewhere in these Amazon.com reviews, "A reader" claimed that, "For you to really use the material in this book, you must be willing to look into yourself and into your past. If your defense mechanisms are out in force (or if you don't realize that you even have defense mechanisms), then you will not be able to see what you have to do. (In fact, some of your defense mechnisms are there specifically to prevent access to the very content you need to get to.)
"A reader" nailed the problem. Last week I discovered, with the help of a therapist I recently started seeing, that my life is riddled with narcissistic patterns. When I asked if there was any literature I could read about "narcissism", I was dumbstruck when he said the best description is given in a series of books by someone named Alice Miller. When I went to a bookstore and leafed through the book I had already read several months previously, I was dumbstruck again to see the words "narcissism" and "grandiosity" and "depression" sprinkled through the pages. I had read the pages before, and I had thought I understood them, but they never really applied to me and I forgot them easily. I was in denial.
It's interesting that Miller's book was seemingly useless to me before an insightful therapist somehow made a crack in my defense mechanisms. However, I suspect that it was my first reading of Miller's book that propelled me into therapy (that led me back to the book). Now I wonder why a casual acquaintance loaned me that book in the first place. There seems to be more to the psyche than meets the eye. One wonders how far it goes.
On my first reading of "Gifted Child", I thought Miller seriously underestimated the potentially positive, and in some cases lifesaving, contributions to a person's growth attributable to social interactions beyond the immediate family or therapist. In general in "Gifted Child" as well as in "Thou Shalt Not Be Aware", Miller seemed to focus on destructive, cultish effects of social group interactions. I suspect that her ideas about social effects are incompletely developed and overly pessimistic. I base that suspicion on my own repeated interactions with ordinary people who willingly pay close attention to my words solely in order to understand my point of view, without passing judgement on me, and without being motivated by any overt or hidden agenda. That kind of interaction can be described as a "loving" one, in some sense, and I think Miller would not disagree. I suspect such interactions are not uncommon and are perhaps essential for both personal and societal health. We are a social species. I regret that Miller seems curiously unimpressed by that fact and uninterested in its implications. Childhood abuse is her main concern, and for excellent reasons. But a view of the world through pathologist's glasses can not be an unbiased view.
on June 15, 2004
I read this book based on the many strongly positive customer reviews, and I'm not sure I can add anything to the (mostly) eloquent advocacy already posted here, but I will try. Alice Miller has voiced EXACTLY, PRECISELY, and COMPLETELY the realizations I have experienced in the past 30 years of personal construction/reconstruction after a devastating childhood. God, what a RELIEF!!!!! She beautifully smashed open what I have found to be the most potent taboo in human society. In doing so, she has given me powerful validation -- I could not have imagined how powerful -- and a strong tool for recognizing therapists who simply cannot handle the parental issues I have so desperately wanted to deal with for 3 decades. (I had one therapist who did not realize she was -- literally -- curling up in fetal position as I began setting forth my "mother issues," and another [who had even gone through analysis] whose therapeutic manner curdled like milk; I could all but see her mind racing over the way she parents her own children, her subconscious fleeing at lightspeed, absolutely unable to really hear me over the noise in her own head.)
I have one academic critique: I suggest that many therapists are still holding onto unidentified and unresolved parental issues not only because they are so deeply afraid of their parents, but because they are so horribly afraid of BEING INADEQUATE PARENTS. I think we're up against something very biological here, the incredible drive to be good parents (I can only speak to this based on observation; I fortunately live in a time where I was able to choose not to have children that I would subsequently screw up with my own profound mental illness), hence the depth and entrenchment of the taboo against deep and close examination and criticism of the damage that parents do, accidental and otherwise.
This slim, impassioned, almost poetic volume has revolutionized my life already, and it has been only 24 hrs since I completed reading it for the first of what will be many times. I can also understand why some people would want to set it on fire.
Read it and decide for yourself. May it give you as much strength and hope in your struggle as it has given me. I am about to buy another 5 copies to distribute to friends.
on November 14, 2004
This is one of those books that are not for the faint of heart. So many books in the world that people think are incendiary or revolutionary, challenging and rechallenging our conception of free speech, religion, citizenship, science and technology, philosophy, economics and politics or spirituality have an attraction to us because of how they serve as metaphors for the painful realities of our personal lives under the illusions we create for public consumption, and the secrets of our inner selves we wish to uncover. We yearn to break free of something and embrace some inner truth; we just don't know what, and therefore call it some aspect of the outer world. The desires we have to be and have more than what we are, the feelings of not knowing who we truly are and never truly being loved- and the root causes of such feelings- are unveiled in this powerful, disturbing, life shifting and life-affirming book.
Alice Miller was one of the patron saints of John Bradshaw, the man whose work heralded the age of the Inner Child that became part of the pop-psychology lexicon of the 90's. Her perspective and conclusions, scientifically, sociologically and philosophically speaking, are practically undebateable. And without even needing the true case examples from her therapeutic practice to underscore her points (which she uses with striking and original clarity and precision across gender, racial, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic lines), her elucidation of her central thesis on the ignored emotional life of children- and the cost of having parents unequipped to give them the love they need- will undoubtedly make deep seated memories of your own childhood come to the surface.
Why does society have such automatic and irrational contempt for the egotist? Why do individulas run to prove themselves (or immediately start thinking of themselves defensively) as the antithesis, upon seeing anyone's character asessed in such a context? Why does even the WORD "self" conjure up confused and uncomfortable feelings when used in anything but a mind-numbing spiritual context with people? What do children need beyond basic nutritional and socioeconomic concerns, and what happens to them when they grow older but do not get it? How is it possible to have more material things and personal achievements than anyone, and still have less and less confidence in who you are?
This book can explain things about your adult life and relationships that you'd rather not have so easily and individually explained. And those who look to books like these to figure out what's wrong with their friends, lovers and parents will discover more about themselves than they may think they're ready to process. We all are not just ready but overdue for these kinds of life lessons.
Never has a writer, perhaps before or since, put the words "childhood" and "mourning" together in one thought, such that it can create a complete paradigm shift in how one sees oneself, and sees the opportunities for happiness one's world.
The fault levied on any psychologist on her level- and there are very, very few- is that this kind of thinking all but demands the kind of narcisstic modern solipsism she seems to diagnose as symptomatic of the illness. (She refers to the dynamic not as an illness, however, but a "tragedy"; keeping us again, I believe, in tune with the ancient Greek mythic/philosophical reference inherent in the old title for this book, "The Drama of the Gifted Child".) Such blanket criticism of psychology books in general could only be concluded with one of this quality from a misreading of the text; the kind of misreading that usually comes when she has hit a nerve the likes of which one didn't expect, may be afraid of and couldn't imagine beforehand. Nonetheless, taking our culture's preoccupation with the self into consideration, there is still nothing of lasting value one could do in the world without at least endeavoring to answer the existential questions of soul, love, freedom, loss and pain- and the true self- that this book demands you to do in a new way for practically the rest of your life.
I gave it four stars instead of five because it was too short. I didn't want it to end. And the idea that she could 1) prove her point, 2)deeply affect me by making me dream dreams that I've never dreamed before, 3)access undramatic but painful memories of childhood events that I forgot happened but have been behind more than half of the seemingly unrelated choices I've made in my adult life, and 4) feel a usually suppressed rage and grief give way to a new sense of purpose and a release of joyful energy and optimism- all in a little more than a hundred pages- still makes me queasy. In other words, read this as a five and a half star review! Then buy the book, put down the most recent bash on modern politics and the latest neo-spiritual mind candy on the bestseller's list, and begin a real journey.
on June 18, 2000
The title is a little misleading: It is not about "gifted children" in the sense we would think of it in the U.S.. The "gift" is the defense some children build to protect themselves from overbearing parents. A lot seems to be lost in the translation from German. A good book for making it's point, but written by a therapist for other therapists who suffer from the same syndrome. After making her point in the first few chapters the author wanders off into a confusing web of irrelevnce. This book is apparently an excerpt from a larger book. As far as it goes in explaining the suppressed personality problems it is good, and can provide a lot of insight for people who had overbearing parents, but provides little help with the problem.
on November 5, 2007
This is one of the best books ever written and one of the most powerful tools for one's self-discovery, to be free from narcissism. Miller has provided strong insights into this book, which encouraged and forced us to face the truth from our childhood, and why we hid our true selves as children.
We are all living in a narcissist society, and we have learned our narcissist traits to some degree. For us to get rid of these traits, we must seek to be free from the deadly emotional influences that shaped our lives. This book is one of the keys for which we will acquire to be free.
I would strongly recommend "The Drama of the Gifted Child" for those who seek for the truth about themselves.
on April 20, 2000
This book has one or two extremely important insights, however in the many years since the original hardcover publication they have become fairly widely disseminated. As a result, when I read this book, my reaction was "Is this all there is?". For today's reader, there is a lack of exploration of these insights and importantly, the summary of the book here on amazon.com is misleading in saying that it provides guidance on how to overcome the damage done in childhood. This last point is what I was looking for in the book and it says little other than suggesting a route to explore within traditional pyschotherapy.
on November 6, 2007
Alice Miller highlights in this book the importance of looking into one's own history in order to understand our psychological makeup and become free of behaviors that otherwise hinders us in being ourselves. I have come to understand irrational and debilitating aspects of my own behaviors, that stemmed from childhood traumas, and seen how these can be liberated once they are experienced emotionally. It is not done over night and not by just reading this book alone.
The book is however a great encouragement and at the same time through stories and examples gives an understanding of where to look and clues to some of the behaviors that previously were simply confusing and puzzling. I wished I had read this book 19 years ago, when I first encountered therapy as it would have been an added help in understanding the process that I had started on. Another powerful book on this subject is "The Narcissistic Family".
All in all a highly recommended book, as understanding the human 'machine' is vital in order to become free, as Gurdjieff would say.
on February 4, 1998
The title essay of this book well describes a far too common problem among gifted (intellectually, artistically, or emotionally) children. Because of their quick perceptions and sensitivity, they are deeply attuned to others' wishes, needs, and expectations, and tend to structure their lives around those rather than following the guidance of their "true selves." From my own experience, I completely agree with Miller's description of the problem, and of what in the child's psychological makeup leads to its occurrence. But I part company with her when she places the blame for the child's problems solely on "narcissistic parents." While such parents undoubtedly exist, I think that most parents are sincerely trying to do what's right for their children; they do harm out of ignorance or misguided beliefs rather than deliberate cruelty. For instance, a gifted child may be taught to belittle his/her gifts because the parent believes "humility" is important, not because he/she is selfishly trying to crush the child's spirit. Rather than blaming parents, I think it's more productive to acknowledge their desire to raise their children right, and educate them about the ways in which they may be unconsciously causing harm. And it's far more positive for an adult who recognizes this problem in him/herself to take action to honor the "true self," rather than getting hung up on "what my parents did wrong" and sinking into a victim mentality.
on June 1, 2004
I thought this book was insightful, concise, and truly illuminating. It truly changed my perspective on aspects of narcissism, its manifestations, and treatment. If you are interested in reading a stimulating, no-nonsense treatment of these topics, this is it.
on June 13, 2016
I purchased this book based on recommendations I read online. The book arrived only a few days after my order with standard shipping. I have experience with personal trauma and work in a helping profession that often requires skills to assist others with traumatic experiences. 'The Drama of the Gifted Child' was first published in German in 1979. The content is still relevant today. Upon reading this book, I discovered that Alice Miller was a psychoanalyst prior to writing this work. It is my understanding, that she left psychoanalysis in part because the framework defines trauma as repression rather than acknowledging the experience.
I have 6 years of experience within the psychoanalytic framework. It is interesting that I picked up this book while in the process of leaving the analytic process through alternative therapeutic processes. The book did not help with a decision. I read the first half while still actively involved in analysis and the second half after my break from psychoanalysis. In my opinion, some of the principles of the book are deeply rooted in the analytic tradition; the key difference was how childhood trauma is understood.
Importantly, Miller states:
"If a therapist promises unconditional love, we must protect ourselves from him, from his hypocrisy and lack of awareness." (p.45). Psychoanalysis, has been described as a 'dangerous method' with the belief that desire and love are the root of unconscious conflict. Miller argues only children require 'unconditional love'. From a therapeutic perspective--- it is possible to be able to move forward, mourn childhood loss and recognize our adult sense of self does not depend on love from others.
I would recommend this book to support understanding trauma. Furthermore, I think that it exemplifies the importance of professional boundaries in therapeutic relationships. Miller covers a range of topics in this short book. I will keep this book for a reference. My only critique is that sections of the book are written in an overly academic manner. However, the majority of the book is easy to follow with little background required.