Hey there! I know what you are thinking: “Second Alice Miller post in a row… We are losing her”. You know, I studied architecture, I have no clue about psychoanalysis or any kind of analysis really. For all I know, Alice Miller might be the equivalent of Paulo Coelho (exciting at first and repetitive, boring, vague, not-that-original once you turn 16). However, reading those two books -The Drama and For Your Own Good– for me has been very revealing.
Here is a quote from the back of the book:
Why are many of the most successful people plagued by feelings of emptiness and alienation? This wise and profound book has provided thousands of readers with an answer—and has helped them to apply it to their own lives.Far too many of us had to learn as children to hide our own feelings, needs, and memories skillfully in order to meet our parents’ expectations and win their ”love.” Alice Miller writes, ”When I used the word ’gifted’ in the title, I had in mind neither children who receive high grades in school nor children talented in a special way. I simply meant all of us who have survived an abusive childhood thanks to an ability to adapt even to unspeakable cruelty by becoming numb… Without this ’gift’ offered us by nature, we would not have survived.” But merely surviving is not enough. The Drama of the Gifted Child helps us to reclaim our life by discovering our own crucial needs and our own truth.
What I find extremely fascinating and scary at the same time, is the simple and matter-of-fact way that Miller links world violence to a violent upbringing on a personal level. She uses many examples to demonstrate the ripple effect that one’s own trauma has to society as a whole. Individual raised violently will become violent adults and lead violent lives. What is so striking though, is the fact that we do not realize the abuse and violence that we go through.
From one generation to the next, people tend to follow the blueprints their own parents used to raise them. Every once in a while, someone will have an epiphany and realize that not everything our parents did was good and try to break the circle. Unfortunately, this “epiphany” often comes in the form of trauma revealed through therapy or through readings or even by talking with people with similar experiences. I said “unfortunately”, but what Miller stresses out is the fact that if we do not realize the abuse we have been through, and if we do not allow ourselves to experience the pain, we won’t be truly able to break the cycle.
By now you have obviously understood that this is not a happy or feel-good read. It is, in fact, the exact opposite. It is a book that will make you revisit your childhood and re-examine those “happy and uneventful childhood years”. Luckily, I have a mother who studied psychology exactly in an attempt to understand and break such cycles, therefore I was able to read the book in a relatively calm state. However, I did manage to discover things about myself and why I react to certain triggers the way I do. And even more, I discovered and understood in more detail what my parents and their generation have gone through. It is hugely important to take a look at the past, at our parents, at their parents before them, in order to be able to change the future. As Miller says in the book again and again, it is important to really feel the anger/rage/pain that comes with the past, instead of just intellectualizing our experiences. That’s of course hard. No one wants to feel pain. But if we won’t pass this threshold, we won’t be able to move forward, Miller insists.
Discovering how toxic our past has been (even in the sense of generations way back) is scary exactly because in many cases we live in total ignorance. Either we were conditioned to believe that what is happening is happening for “our own good”, either everything happened in such a young age that we had to internalize the experiences to survive -cause the pain would be to much- or we just don’t have information about what happened in previous generation. For example, many holocaust survivors do not like to talk about their experience and understandably so. As a result, it was hard for the following generations to make sense of why they behaved the way they did.
I said that the book is not a feel-good read. However, it is written in such a way that you will be turning page after page and won’t want to put it down. It is full of stories of people, that Miller goes on to explain and further analyze. This way the book has a great balance of “easy” text and more in depth parts. You can listen to the whole book here if you want or you can get a used copy at Better World Books (I don’t get any money from them, by the way. I just love cheap books that don’t waste more trees to be made).
I was not planing on making a second post on Alice Miller, but with the recent shootings, ISIS attacks and even more shootings plus quite a few incidents or regular people being selfish, rude, snappy and downright abusive to strangers on the street, I think the world needs to heal today more than ever. We need to figure out our own issues, we need to help out others figure out their issues, so that kindness finally prevails. Raising kind, empathetic humans is so much more important than raising success-driven smart-asses (pardon my language). We have enough of those already and look were they got us.
Rant over. Now go listen to the book.