Alice Miller (_Drama of the Gifted Child_): 12 Points

Rohit Khare (
Sun, 11 Apr 1999 16:30:23 -0700

I know it's a cliche to seek one's palm-reading in the best-seller=20
section, but like so many I've found Alice Miller's nearly=20
20-year-old book _The Drama of the Gifted Child_ very eye-opening.=20
Over the last year, I've been spending a lot of time exploring what=20
it may mean to me, what it may say about the illusion of a "happy=20

In particular, I can trace a cycling pattern of grandiosity and=20
depression in my life -- and not purely organic (i.e. chemical). I=20
say it is because my work is so tied into my self-esteem, but why=20
should even *that* be? FoRK-archive even charts the cycle of=20
change-the-world proclamation and void-posting smiling, wry, mocking=20

=46oRK itself, in fact, is evidence of sickness: Miller's claim is that=20
the child viewed as an extension of the mother -- a child not=20
entitled to his or her own feelings without consequential changes in=20
parental love/mirroring -- fatally confounds admiration and love.=20
=46oRK, and all its associated phenomena (the nervous FoRKcon=20
organization, generosity, flitting from friend to friend like a=20
hummingbird, the compulsive self-exhibition, the utter need to be=20
"helpful" and become a part of other's lives) are a search for=20

And as soon as it is found -- an editor in love with my work, a book=20
published, a spec edited, an engagement billed -- it is blown away=20
like smoke. Part of it is the guilt-ridden completion process: I=20
mainly finish projects when faced with (potentially-self-conjured)=20
embarassment at non-performance. That corrodes the entire sense of=20
accomplishment. The other part is an inverted contempt: *of course* I=20
should be able to organize a workshop, write a paper, cook a=20
successful salmon, fly the world in a week. I don't know about=20
"others", but I'm not "average"; I can't be held to "lower" standards=20
-- only "I" can measure my own worth, and *always* find myself short.=20
So others' admiration is a short-term high, assiduously sought, to=20
mask the absence of self-center and self-love.

Much of this has only surfaced recently, once I have felt truly loved=20
as an adult for the first time. Namely, I am seeing its consequences=20
on those who have come closest to me. I can so easily extend the=20
withering ray of criticism to them, too. They may stay as long as=20
it's useful on balance, but precisely because voluntary love is the=20
opposite of kin, they can also retreat in what? disgust? exhaustion,=20
more like it. Maybe it will return, maybe it will remain there as=20
solid as the Brooklyn Bridge -- just unused, uncrossed, abandoned but=20
still standing proud for all to see.

This post is not about Adam. What a circular oxymoron! [Shut up, Tim!]

I was reading this web on Alice Miller at the Natural Child project,=20
and as I came across this page, it sounded exactly like Adam's (and=20
billions of others') philosophy, and I instinctively wanted to FoRK=20
it. But for whose benefit? I'm not assuming he's still reading this;=20
am I instead satisfied to FoRK this for my own use (the putative=20
origin of the list)? Or am I still only valuing it for its=20
outer-directed charms, like even the accidental posting a few weeks=20
ago of Toshiba LCD-repair part prices that even in its accident,=20
inspired someone to go act on it to buy insurance? Am I posting this=20
as a cry for pity? a beacon in the archives for Adam's return? to=20
assuage my lover that I am temperamentally unmoved by success? to=20
help some other silent FoRKer and thereby gain a few quanta of=20
admiration by proxy?

I can't feel something without externalizing it, committing it to=20
sterile bits. But I cannot grant myself time to write for myself'; a=20
journal is a dead letter to me. Only by putting a To: header on=20
something can I feel worthy enough to even speak up.


as a coda, I should at least put in one good word for the chip on my=20
shoulder: at least the episodes of grandiosity are genuine -- and may=20
very well be the additional push of the swing that energizes me to=20
actually make my mark. My work in grandiose periods really is rather=20
decent. It just doesn't get finished... but it's tantalizing enough=20
to bind me to my flaws ever more tightly.

So is the answer to balance myself, or bind myself to a team of=20
opposite predelictions? The co-dependent professional relationship I=20
had with Adam depended on his structure and coaching, even as I'd rip=20
out every word he'd contribute to a greater whole. I have no worries=20
for him -- he is indeed well-rounded and only chose to become a=20
pliant complement -- but I am finding myself at a wall trying to=20
accomplish even a quarter as much on my own.

{Of course, a lot of this is projected anxiety about my MS=20
comprehensive exam April 23rd -- the penultimate solo challenge of my=20
academic career.}

I can see so many faces right now -- I have met so many of you and=20
trust you individually and collectively -- that even now I attempt to=20
censor my whinging -- even to call it whinging is the wheel of=20
self-deprecation in motion! -- wondering why I am presenting such=20
pleadings to an eminent collection of Folks Who Know Better, who=20
expect better of me. I'm not even expecting any responses.

And yet those are examples of intellect-driven censorship of feelings=20
which Alice calls "gifted": too clever by half in perceiving others=20
needs and bending oneself pre-emptively to match. To not expect=20
responses is to cover over feelings of neglect and unimportance. To=20
feel an unabashed, full-throated cry is unseemly and impossible.

If I actually *do* receive responses -- as I have over the years so=20
many, many times on personal issues -- I start a guilt timer on how=20
long those go unanswered. I still wince over unanswered emails from=20
years ago, much less weeks. Extended family members have written from=20
the furthest corners of the globe, and even that mbox languishes. I=20
tell myself I'm busy, but not too busy to feel guilty every day, all=20
day. Running.

And then, at the end of it all, to confront parents who don't see=20
that fear at all. In the name of being "supportive", they see no=20
obstacles save conspiracy in my path and expect the world of me --=20
but insist I plan for the worst. And so I replay it again and again=20
on my friends, too.

Signs from a *happy* Sunday, believe it or not --
Rohit Khare

by Alice Miller, Ph.D.

Untold millions of people who have been in attendance when babies are=20
born (doctors, midwives, nurses, family members) have taken it for=20
granted that the newborn will cry out of physical necessity.=20
Amazingly enough, they did not perceive the obvious fact that the=20
face distorted with pain and the little creature's cries were nothing=20
other than the expression of psychic distress. Fr=E9d=E9rick Leboyer was=20
the first to ask the long overdue question of how babies must feel=20
when, after an often difficult struggle for survival, they are lifted=20
up by their feet and submitted to brutal routine procedures instead=20
of being comforted. He proved that if the newborns are treated with=20
great care, in keeping with their psychic state, they are able to=20
smile just minutes after being born and do not cry. It actually is in=20
the way the newborns have been treated, until very recently, that=20
society makes the first of its many contributions toward equipping a=20
person with destructive and self-destructive tendencies.

The contrast between the pain-wracked and the smiling faces of=20
newborns is all it takes for me to realize with horror what we have=20
done to our children out of insensitivity and lack of awareness. Yet=20
this contrast is also all it takes to awaken in me the hope that=20
someday in the future, we will be able to do away with the unwanted=20
seeds of violence.
If battered children such as Hitler, Eichmann, H=F6ss, etc. were and=20
are able to destroy human life on the monumental scale history=20
clearly indicates they did, then it is only logical to ask how=20
beneficial an influence children who are not battered or abused can=20
have on the world when they grow up.

The Twelve Points

=46or some years now there has been proof that the devastating effects=20
of the traumatization of children take their inevitable toll on=20
society. This knowledge concerns every single one of us, and - if=20
disseminated widely enough - should lead to fundamental changes in=20
society, above all to a halt in the blind escalation of violence. The=20
following points are intended to amplify my meaning:

1. All children are born to grow, to develop, to live, to love, and=20
to articulate their needs and feelings for their self-protection.

2. For their development, children need the respect and protection of=20
adults who take them seriously, love them, and honestly help them to=20
become oriented in the world.

3. When these vital needs are frustrated, and children are instead=20
abused for the sake of adults' needs by being exploited, beaten,=20
punished, taken advantage of, manipulated, neglected, or deceived=20
without the intervention of any witness, then their integrity will be=20
lastingly impaired.

4. The normal reactions to such injury should be anger and pain;=20
since children in this hurtful kind of environment, however, are=20
forbidden to express their anger, and since it would be unbearable to=20
experience their pain all alone, they are compelled to suppress their=20
feelings, repress all memory of the trauma, and idealize those guilty=20
of the abuse. Later they will have no memory of what was done to them.

5. Disassociated from the original cause, their feelings of anger,=20
helplessness, despair, longing, anxiety, and pain will find=20
expression in destructive acts against others (criminal behavior,=20
mass murder) or against themselves (drug addiction, alcoholism,=20
prostitution, psychic disorders, suicide).

6. If these people become parents, they will then often direct acts=20
of revenge for their mistreatment in childhood against their own=20
children, whom they use as scapegoats. Child abuse is still=20
sanctioned - indeed, held in high regard - in our society as long as=20
it is defined as child-rearing. It is a tragic fact that parents beat=20
their children in order to escape the emotions stemming from how they=20
were treated by their own parents.

7. If mistreated children are not to become criminals or mentally=20
ill, it is essential that at least once in their life they come in=20
contact with a person who knows without any doubt that the=20
environment, not the helpless, battered child, is at fault. In this=20
regard, knowledge or ignorance on the part of society can be=20
instrumental in either saving or destroying a life. Here lies the=20
great opportunity for relatives, social workers, therapists,=20
teachers, doctors, psychiatrists, officials, nurses, and bystanders=20
to support the child and to believe her or him.

8. Until now, society has protected the adult and blamed the victim.=20
It has been abetted in its blindness by theories, still in keeping=20
with the pedagogical principles of our great-grandparents, according=20
to which children are viewed as crafty creatures, dominated by wicked=20
drives, who invent stories and attack their innocent parents or=20
desire them sexually. In reality, children tend to blame themselves=20
for their parents' cruelty and to absolve the parents, whom they=20
invariably love, of all responsibility.

9. For some years now, it has been possible to prove, thanks to the=20
use of new therapeutic methods, that repressed traumatic experiences=20
in childhood are stored up in the body and, although remaining=20
unconscious, exert their influence even in adulthood. In addition,=20
electronic testing of the fetus has revealed a fact previously=20
unknown to most adults - a child responds to and learns both=20
tenderness and cruelty from the very beginning.

10. In the light of this new knowledge, even the most absurd behavior=20
reveals its formerly hidden logic once the traumatic experiences of=20
childhood no longer must remain shrouded in darkness.

11. Our sensitization to the cruelty with which children are treated,=20
until now commonly denied, and to the consequences of such treatment,=20
will as a matter of course bring to an end the perpetuation of=20
violence from generation to generation.

12. People whose integrity has not been damaged in childhood, who=20
were protected, respected, and treated with honesty by their parents,=20
will be - both in their youth and adulthood - intelligent,=20
responsive, empathic, and highly sensitive. They will take pleasure=20
in life and will not feel any need to kill or even hurt others or=20
themselves. They will use their power to defend themselves, but not=20
to attack others. They will not be able to do otherwise than to=20
respect and protect those weaker than themselves, including their=20
children, because this is what they have learned from their own=20
experience and because it is this knowledge (and not the experience=20
of cruelty) that has been stored up inside them from the beginning.=20
Such people will be incapable of understanding why earlier=20
generations had to build up a gigantic war industry in order to feel=20
at ease and safe in this world. Since it will not have to be their=20
unconscious life task to ward off intimidation experienced at a very=20
early age, they will be able to deal with attempts at intimidation in=20
their adult life more rationally and more creatively.

The introduction is excerpted from Pictures of a Childhood by Alice=20
Miller. New York: Penguin USA, new edition, 1996.
The 12 Points list was first published in Alice Miller, For Your Own=20
Good, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Second Edition, 1985, and in=20
Pictures of a Childhood, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1986.
=A9 Alice Miller, 1985, 1986, and 1996.
Excerpted and reprinted with permission.