Unconditional Love and the True Self

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If a person is able, during the long process, to experience the reality that he was never loved as a child for what he was but for his achievement,success, and good qualities…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…

-The Drama of the Gifted Child
By Alice Miller

Like most avid readers,a trip to a bookstore, to me, is an art in exploration. On some visits I find nothing new and on other visits a book jumps right at you. I normally browse the self-help/psychology section of a bookstore as psychology is both an area of interest and a career.  I wasn’t particularly looking for a book but Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self begged to be browsed. As I skimmed through the pages I felt compelled to read it. I bought it and read it.

The gifted child Miller refers to in this book isn’t necessarily someone with superior IQ, but that child who at a very young age seems too mature to be true. She is that child who is self-reliant, well-behaved and able to understand the adult. She is the child that deliberately makes life easier for the parent.  Often, we praise such children, amazed at their maturity, hence reinforcing the child’s behavior to her detriment. The gifted child then learns the art of repressing her feelings in order to continuously experience the love of the parent.

The book explores this history of un-feeling and of transforming oneself into what is acceptable and lovable to the world, in the process becoming someone that merely plays a role. It explores how the child learns to put on a mask, a false self, to gain love. Miller further expounds on this by discussing the the two possible outcome of such a childhood, namely: Grandiosity and Depression. She explores these two outcome thoroughly and builds to what I believe is a cycle of these effects. She explains that a Grandiose or Depressed parents is a parent that came from a similar household and who is also only capable of parenting as s/he was raised. What was haunting about this book was how close it was to both describing my own life and my own situation. It was both enlightening and painful to be confronted with my life’s truth.

The book, to those who had a similar family background, is in some ways a painful read. It is not short in telling the reader that a grandiose or depressed individual was unloved and is constantly in search of that love. But what I found at the end of the book was a sense of peace and acceptance. Miller’s book is psychoanalytic in its perspective of human development, but is not necessarily without merit. To those who can relate to the book, this is a gold mine, for she speaks one clear truth: That the gifted child, in order to find her true self, must accept wholeheartedly that she was never loved unconditionally by her parents and she cannot regain it back from other people.

Accepting this truth would free us from compromising who we are for the sake of the other. Accepting this would allow us to make better relationships. Accepting this would help us be free of the self we made ourselves to believe and allow the journey to discovering who we truly are outside the roles and the constant hunger for another’s love.

As a psychologist, I would not say that Miller’s two types of outcomes are set in stone. The trajectory of a child’s development may, after all, change should there be an intervention somewhere along the line. However, her book shouldn’t be taken lightly for its perspective. Rather, it is a wonderful guide to helping a person journey towards recovery—towards self-discovery.

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