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The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller
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“Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery and emotional acceptance of the truth in the individual and unique history of our childhood.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“The grandiose person is never really free; first because he is excessively dependent on admiration from others, and second, because his self-respect is dependent on qualities, functions, and achievements that can suddenly fail.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“The art of not experiencing feelings. A child can experience her feelings only when there is somebody there who accepts her fully, understands her, and supports her. If that person is missing, if the child must risk losing the mother's love of her substitute in order to feel, then she will repress emotions.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“Without realizing that the past is constantly determining their present actions, they avoid learning anything about their history. They continue to live in their repressed childhood situation, ignoring the fact that is no longer exists, continuing to fear and avoid dangers that, although once real, have not been real for a long time.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“Many people suffer all their lives from this oppressive feeling of guilt, the sense of not having lived up to their parents' expectations. This feeling is stronger than any intellectual insight they might have, that it is not a child's task or duty to satisfy his parents needs. No argument can overcome these guilt feelings, for they have their beginnings in life's earliest periods, and from that they derive their intensity and obduracy.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“The true opposite of depression is neither gaiety nor absence of pain, but vitality—the freedom to experience spontaneous feelings. It is part of the kaleidoscope of life that these feelings are not only happy, beautiful, or good but can reflect the entire range of human experience, including envy, jealousy, rage, disgust, greed, despair, and grief. But this freedom cannot be achieved if its childhood roots are cut off. Our access to the true self is possible only when we no longer have to be afraid of the intense emotional world of early childhood. Once we have experienced and become familiar with this world, it is no longer strange and threatening.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“One can only remember what has been consciously experienced.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“People who, as children, were intellectually far beyond their parents and therefore admired by them, but who also therefore had to solve their own problems alone. These people, who give us a feeling of their intellectual strength and will power, also seem to demand that we, too, ought to fight off any feeling of weakness with intellectual means. In their presence one feels one cannot be recognized as a person with problems just as they and their problems were unrecognized by their parents, for whom he always had to be strong.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“Child abuse is still sanctioned — indeed, held in high regard — in our society as long as it is defined as child-rearing. It is a tragic fact that parents beat their children in order to escape the emotions from how they were treated by their own parents.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“Where there had been only fearful emptiness or equally frightening grandiose fan­tasies, an unexpected wealth of vitality is now discovered. This is not a homecoming, since this home has never before existed. It is the creation of home.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth, a truth that may cause pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom. If we choose instead to content ourselves with intellectual “wisdom,” we will remain in the sphere of illusion and self-deception.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“the function all expressions of contempt have in common is the defense against unwanted feelings. Contempt simply evaporates, having lost its point, when it is no longer useful as a shield—against the child’s shame over his desperate, unreturned love; against his feeling of inadequacy; or above all against his rage that his parents were not available. Once we are able to feel and understand the repressed emotions of childhood, we will no longer need contempt as a defense against them. On the other hand, as long as we despise the other person and over-value our own achievements (“he can’t do what I can do”), we do not have to mourn the fact that love is not forthcoming without achievement. Nevertheless, if we avoid this mourning it means that we remain at bottom the one who is despised, for we have to despise everything in ourselves that is not wonderful, good, and clever. Thus we perpetuate the loneliness of childhood: We despise weakness, helplessness, uncertainty—in short, the child in ourselves and in others. The contempt for others in grandiose, successful people always includes disrespect for their own true selves, as their scorn implies: “Without these superior qualities of mine, a person is completely worthless.” This means further: “Without these achievements, these gifts, I could never be loved, would never have been loved.” Grandiosity in the adult guarantees that the illusion continues: “I was loved.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“We become free by transforming ourselves from unaware victims of the past into responsible individuals in the present, who are aware of our past and are thus able to live with it.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“they are aware of having been misunderstood as children, they feel that the fault lay with them and with their inability to express themselves appropriately.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“Only the never-ending work of mourning can help us from lapsing into the illusion that we have found the parent we once urgently needed—empathic and open, understanding and understandable, honest and available, helpful and loving, feeling, transparent, clear, without unintelligible contradictions. Such a parent was never ours, for a mother can react empathically only to the extent that she has become free of her own childhood; when she denies the vicissitudes of her early life, she wears invisible chains.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“These people have all developed the art of not experiencing feelings, for a child can experience her feelings only when there is somebody there who accepts her fully, understands her, and supports her. If that person is missing, if the child must risk losing the mother’s love or the love of her substitute in order to feel, then she will repress her emotions. She cannot even experience them secretly, “just for herself”; she will fail to experience them at all. But they will nevertheless stay in her body, in her cells, stored up as information that can be triggered by a later event.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“For one is free from it only when self-esteem is based on the authenticity of ones own feelings and not on the possession of certain qualities.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“Depression as Denial of the Self Depression consists of a denial of one’s own emotional reactions. This denial begins in the service of an absolutely essential adaptation during childhood and indicates a very early injury. There are many children who have not been free, right from the beginning, to experience the very simplest of feelings, such as discontent, anger, rage, pain, even hunger—and, of course, enjoyment of their own bodies.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“No one can heal by maintaining or fostering illusion. The paradise of preambivalent harmony, for which so many patients hope, is unattainable. But the experience of one’s own truth, and the postambivalent knowledge of it, make it possible to return to one’s own world of feelings at an adult level—without paradise, but with the ability to mourn. And this ability does, indeed, give us back our vitality. 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. In therapy, the small and lonely child that is hidden behind her achievements wakes up and asks: “What would have happened if I had appeared before you sad, needy, angry, furious? Where would your love have been then? And I was all these things as well. Does this mean that it was not really me you loved, but only what I pretended to be? The well-behaved, reliable, empathic, understanding, and convenient child, who in fact was never a child at all? What became of my childhood? Have I not been cheated out of it? I can never return to it. I can never make up for it. From the beginning I have been a little adult. My abilities—were they simply misused?”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“The child must adapt to ensure the illusion of love, care, and kindness, but the adult does not need this illusion to survive. He can give up his amnesia and then be in a position to determine his actions with open eyes. Only this path will free him from his depression. Both the depressive and the grandiose person completely deny their childhood reality by living as though the availability of the parents could still be salvaged: the grandiose person through the illusion of achievement, and the depressive through his constant fear of losing “love.” Neither can accept the truth that this loss or absence of love has already happened in the past, and that no effort whatsoever can change this fact.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“Narcissistic cathexis of the child by the mother does not exclude emotional devotion. On the contrary, she loves the child as her self-object, excessively, though not in the manner that he needs, and always on the condition that he presents his "false self." This is no obstacle to the development of intellectual abilities, but it is one to the unfolding of an authentic emotional life.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“child. This ability to grieve—that is, to give up the illusion of his “happy” childhood, to feel and recognize the full extent of the hurt he has endured—can restore the depressive’s vitality and creativity and free the grandiose person from the exertions of and dependence on his Sisyphean task. If a person is able, during this long process, to experience the reality that he was never loved as a child for what he was but was instead needed and exploited for his achievements, success, and good qualities—and that he sacrificed his childhood for this form of love—he will be very deeply shaken, but one day he will feel the desire to end these efforts. He will discover in himself a need to live according to his true self and no longer be forced to earn “love” that always leaves him empty-handed, since it is given to his false self—something he has begun to identify and relinquish.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“The automatic, natural contact with his own emotions and needs gives an individual strength and self-esteem. He may experience his feelings—sadness, despair, or the need for help—without fear of making the mother insecure. He can allow himself to be afraid when he is threatened, angry when his wishes are not fulfilled. He knows not only what he does not want but also what he wants and is able to express his wants, irrespective of whether he will be loved or hated for it.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“Hesse, like so many gifted children, was so difficult for his parents to bear not despite but because of his inner riches. Often a child’s very gifts (his great intensity of feeling, depth of experience, curiosity, intelligence, quickness—and his ability to be critical) will confront his parents with conflicts that they have long sought to keep at bay by means of rules and regulations.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“What is unconscious cannot be abolished by proclamation or prohibition. One can, however, develop sensitivity toward recognizing it and begin to experience it consciously, and thus eventually gain control over it. A mother cannot truly respect her child as long as she does not realize what deep shame she causes him with an ironic remark, intended only to cover her own uncertainty. Indeed, she cannot be aware of how deeply humiliated, despised, and devalued her child feels, if she herself has never consciously suffered these feelings, and if she tries to fend them off with irony.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“I've spoken of the patient Peter who was obsessively forced to make conquests with women, to seduce and then to abandon them, until he was at last able to experience how he himself had repeatedly been abandoned by his mother.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“•  The child has a primary need from the very beginning of her life to be regarded and respected as the person she really is at any given time. •  When we speak here of “the person she really is at any given time,” we mean emotions, sensations, and their expression from the first day onward. •  In an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for her feelings, the child, in the phase of separation, will be able to give up symbiosis with the mother and accomplish the steps toward individuation and autonomy. •  If they are to furnish these prerequisites for the healthy development of their child, the parents themselves ought to have grown up in such an atmosphere. If they did, they will be able to assure the child the protection and well-being she needs to develop trust. •  Parents who did not experience this climate as children are themselves deprived; throughout their lives they will continue to look for what their own parents could not give them at the appropriate time—the presence of a person who is completely aware of them and takes them seriously. •  This search, of course, can never fully succeed, since it relates to a situation that belongs irrevocably to the past, namely to the time right after birth and during early childhood.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“As soon as he is regarded as a possession for which one has a particular goal, as soon as one exerts control over him, his natural growth will be violently interrupted.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“They recount their earliest memories without any sympathy for the child they once were,”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
“We discover that we are no longer compelled to follow the former pattern of disappointment, suppression of pain, and depression, since we now have another possibility of dealing with disappointment: namely, experiencing the pain. In this way we at last gain access to our earlier experiences—to the parts of ourselves and our fate that were previously hidden from us.”
Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self

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