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

Rohit Khare (
Sun, 11 Apr 1999 23:41:45 -0700

That's exactly what she's arguing against: that the cycle of reward
*and withholding* is the true cause of damage. The world does not
judge you good or bad by your works; to be oriented in the world
means to accept this nonjudgmentalism. It seems much purer to achieve
of your own accord than to achieve because it's what some Skinnerian
behavior box machine requires you to.

That's exactly the point: overachievment can be a Phyrric victory. I
consider myself an overacheiver/perfectionist, and in your own way, I
think you are too. Great ends don't imply great means. At the same
time, I wonder how much more productive I might be if I were wasting
fewer cycles in self-diagnostic checks because I'm so confused as to
what is really meaningful for my life.

I should admit that, I, too find her to be too strident, too
socialist, but I think she may have a point that many forms of
overachievement could be concealing a deeper hurt.

That's really remarkable in the context of her analytic experience
and much wider reading. I think it's different when the behavior
extends into conscious years... and yet, for me, even events up to
years old are inaccessible... until I left home and went to college
classes in 1986 (11)

I agree. She goes too far in associating the consequences with
*destructive* acts. It doesn't have to be outer-directed destruction;
the life you ruin could be your own. Or, even more likely, the life
let drift away in frustrated, exhausted, misplaced anger.

Or something entirely constructive, like an obsessive sculptor,
writer, or politician.

I don't think you got her whole point: that cycle-breaking outcome is
only possible with a "witness", either another family member who
accepts the expressions of hurt and rage, or an "enlightened"
off-premises witness. Even a single intervention of a stranger
walking by can have lifelong ameliorative effects. Just once, at
least, the child has to see an adult take their needs seriously and
joyfully. If it's physical abuse, it might be crystal-clear in a
single episode; in a corrosive sense of "performance-orientation",
any adult's expectation of success compounds the loss -- actual
success and actual praise serve only to further undermine the sense
of self-worth.

For myself in particular, death has very, very little meaning. No one
I love has died, or even been seriously injured. That makes me very
lucky -- but it means I have no way to wrap my head around
'not-being'. I care deeply about my parents, but I'm uncomfortable
understanding quite what that means in practice. We have drifted so
far apart...

But nothing ensures happy endings in real life.

I also have a hard time believing in long-term psychosomatic disease.
And yet, there is enough evidence to treat it a a plausible, if
inexplicable, phenomenon. In other words: the fast-food diet made me
fat: but what injury made me eat this way:

1) I eat everything on my plate. (direct causation: maternal
complaints about starving kids in India... which I realized quite
vividly and felt personally guilty for, to live in such splendor
here). 2) I put enough on my plate to finish everything in the pot
(indirect causation: to prevent any paternal squabbling about
leftovers. It was a matter of peace, and if I didn't help, Dad would
be 'forced' to finish it all himself. Mom, of course, took both
stances: stop overeating, and finish my food I slaved so hard over).
3) faced with choice -- any choice -- take a little of everything.

That last is a real doozy. I suppose it is rooted in some deep fear
that the one dish I don't sample may be "better." And I do it
repeatably: even if it's the same restaurant, the same buffet, I try
a little of everything. I also consume everything that comes with a
choice: an entire bread basket, all the tortilla chips (whether it's
just me or split four ways -- so inelastic is my stomach). In a menu,
I am forced to choose among the N choices in front of me, resorting
to dollar values to break ties. I can't decide for myself, "mmm... I
want chinese chicken salad", and pick the right restaurant. I'm at
the mercy of the choices shown me.

It's like only being able to take multiple choice tests. Never
writing an essay response because no one cares to hear your logic,
only your decision.

I hate that, and yet I do it all the time: leaping at every
opportunity Life deigns to offer me, and then lamenting my
overcommittal, still afraid the next project, the next trip, the next
dish, will make me happy.

Or, more to the point, refusing the next X will make person X
unhappy. It's the guilt that's killing me: the guilt of late
homework, the guilt directed at clients, at colleagues, at
institutions, at editors, at whatever. My life is dripping with
guilt, which I'm only fitfully recognizing as irrational and of my
own creation.

For example, I cooked a salmon to bring to dinner at Jim and Julia's
Saturday. I was mortified I was 40 minutes late, screwed up in a ball
of anxiety, even nuking the fish to get it done quicker. I got there
and they were peachy fine with the deal, even still working on the
salad. Everyone was happy, but the knot took a long while to unravel.
And then today I drove them to another party and again overestimated
my speed and got held up answering an important phone call from a
friend and then backtracking to download the driving map and then
even still forgetting the gift and then going to pick Julia up a full
ten minutes late -- to be greeted with a very light-hearted,
genuinely happy-bemused "Oh, I figured on 10 minutes as soon as Jim
said you were in the loop! :-)".

I laughed, too. 10 minutes didn't kill anyone. We arrived exactly on
the dot, which itself was twenty minutes early. And no matter how
lovingly I know the remark was meant, I'm climbing up the walls
trying to do anything I can to avoid feeling like I let them down
again. This is silly, and it will ruin me if I can't "get a grip."

In her case, advocate legistlation. Her manifesto against spanking
cites a Swedish ban on corporal punishment, even in private, as
opposed 70-30 when passed, but 10-90 twenty years later. Opinions can
change dramatically.

Japan, to me, would be the counterexample I'd like her to explain.
It's a culture of ruthless bullying, forced expectations, and
intense conformity, yet fairly low sociopathy. How is such rage being
repressed? In corporate drinking?

Her mantra is NOT "all victims become persecutors" but rather "all
persecutors were once victims".

Good night,