Please know that these blogs are but brief looks at material that is covered in numerous books and articles. My intent here is to just keep pointing us all in directions that will increase our self-understanding and potential for healthy changes in our lives. I will be sharing the names of resources as we go along for you to explore further just as I am doing.
I have known of the work of Alice Miller, particularly her book The Drama of the Gifted Child, for the past 20 years, and yet not until this past year did I stop and intentionally study her work. I knew that therapists working with the inner child model quoted her and had built some of their work from hers. As I continued to write about codependency, I knew it was important for me to keep reading and learning. Alice Miller is one of the resources I studied, and I was thrilled to learn what she says and how it applies to codependency.
Alice Miller never uses the word “codependent,” but the “gifted child”‑ the child who is sensitive, intelligent, alert, and attentive – shares many characteristics with the codependent. But first a bit more background:
Alice Miller was a psychoanalyst who developed her material from both her professional and personal understandings. The Drama of the Gifted Child was first published in German in 1979 under the title Prisoners of Childhood. It was published in English in 1981 as The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self. This subtitle is so powerful and telling as far as I am concerned. Many of us now know that recovery from codependency is in fact the finding and developing of our True Self.
Miller maintains that in very early childhood some parts of our true self were split-off from us as a result of the way we were treated by our primary caretaker. Our feelings and needs were not attuned to and responded to by that caretaker. We were not mirrored and echoed by them. Instead, we learned to attune to the feelings and needs of our primary caretaker and to try to respond to what we believed they needed and wanted from us. Those needs of the primary caretaker for our mirroring of them were at an unconscious level within them and likely to have come from the parenting they received.
As a result of these experiences, we developed a strong capacity to attune to the feelings and needs of others and to respond to those feelings and needs as best we can. In doing this, we disconnected from our own feelings and needs. I see this as the very early seeds of focusing on the external and not our internal. And because we were not mirrored by our primary caretaker, we are unable to see and know our self. We thus developed a false sense of self vs. a true sense of who we are and how to respond to both our self and others in healthy ways.
Ways to help our selves with this false self vs. true self will follow in later blogs.
Deeper Roots: A look at Attachment Styles