155 of 157 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2002
Just so readers won't be misled by one of these reviews, (one wonders if the reviewer even read the book) please understand what Alice Miller means by "gifted" in her own words: "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." The reviewer who says "we will ever know exactly what makes gifted people gifted" and "that's the fun of it" clearly the foggiest idea about what Alice Miller means when she uses the word "gifted," which makes his or her review ridiculously irrelevant. There's nothing "fun" about being "gifted' in the sense that Alice Miller is writing about! As for this incredible book, no one has written more clearly or insightfully about child abuse than Alice Miller and if anyone knows about what makes children "gifted" (in her special use of the term), it's Alice Miller. People who review books should at least read the book they review, and should at the very least, if they have read it, understand what the writer has written. If you have been abused, whether overtly or by the poisonous pedagogy of our various societies, this book is healing balm to your soul. Read it and may it help you stand up for yourself and be healed.
62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
Alice Miller's "Prisoners Of Childhood; The Drama Of The Gifted Child," was originally published in 1981. A later revised and updated edition, "The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self" is now available with a new Foreward by Dr. Miller. I read this book over 20 years ago, and recently reread it. I find that it is just as relevant, wise and perceptive today as it was then. Dr. Miller was a practicing psychoanalyst, who gave up her work with patients to write books, for the layperson, primarily dealing with early childhood abuse. In her Forward, Miller continues to disavow psychoanalysis. Although I am not in agreement with her on this, she continues to be one of my heroes.
Dr. Miller, who writes an elegant and easily understandable prose, discusses here the issue of children raised by a narcissistic parent(s). She explains that this book is not about high I.Q. children, but about those who were able to survive an abusive childhood because they developed an adequate defense system. At a very early age the child intuitively apprehends the parent's needs. Since the parent, especially the mother, is the child's soul source of survival, the child strives to please, fearing disapproval, or abandonment. Thus, the child sublimates his needs for the parent's. Roles reverse and the child frequently takes on the parent's responsibility as emotional caregiver. This impedes the growth of a child's true identity, and a "loss of self" frequently occurs. The child adapts by not "feeling" his own needs, and develops finely tuned antennae, focusing intensely on the needs of the all important other. Ms. Miller writes, "An abused child, (emotionally), does not know it is being abused, and in order to survive and avoid the unbearable pain, the mind is provided with a remarkable mechanism, the 'gift' of 'repression,' which stores these experiences in a place outside of consciousness." Although, later in life, these "prohibited" feelings and needs cannot always be avoided, they remain split off and the most vital part of the true self is not integrated into the personality. The results are often depression, and tremendous insecurity.
Alice Miller makes her readers aware of the unexpressed sufferings of the child and the tragedy of the parent(s) own illness. As she frequently states, "any parent who abuses a child," knowingly or otherwise, "has himself been severely traumatized in his childhood, in some form or another."
Gifted children are often the products of emotional abuse by a narcissistic parent. However, if the child's great need for admiration is not met, for his/her looks, intelligence or achievements, he/she falls into severe depression. Miller says one can only be free from depression "when self-esteem is based on the authenticity of one's own feelings and not on the possession of certain qualities."
Children need a great deal of both emotional and physical support from the adult. According to Miller, this adult support must include the following elements in order for a child to develop to his or her full potential: "Respect for the child; respect for his rights; tolerance for his feelings; willingness to learn from his behavior."
Miller also writes about the "origins of grandiosity as a form of denial and its relationship with depression." Another interesting chapter deals with the "process of parental derision" and how it results in humiliation and possible psychic trauma of the child.
Alice Miller's extraordinary book, along with consistent psychoanalytic psychotherapy, enabled me to understand my past, modify behavior, forgive, and finally, best of all, to heal. I cannot recommend "Prisoners of Childhood: The Drama Of The Gifted Child" highly enough.
64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 1999
Miller concicely depicts the damage done by child abuse. I find myself coming out of the pages to meet myself. If the book were any stronger it would have to be sold by prescription.
76 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 1999
This is the translation of the original text of this book; the currently available paperback is a version that Miller rewrote during the mid-90's to conform with her current views. Miller broke with psychoanalysis after her first 3 books (Drama of the Gifted Child, For Your Own Good, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware) and her first post-psychoanalytic book was Banished Knowledge. Later, after a few more books, she went back and rewrote Drama of the Gifted Child. Although I think Miller's move away from psychoanalytic categories was a good one, and I loved Banished Knowledge, I feel that this version of Drama of the Gifted Child is better than the newly rewritten one, and I regret that this version is only available now in hard cover. My recommendation is to read this version, either via purchase or through a library (which may have the old version in the now-out-of-print paperback) and then read Banished Knowledge to see where she went. But if you do read this book, just be prepared not to speak to your mother for a while, as you may not want to. (BTW, For Your Own Good is also excellent, although I personally found Thou Shalt Not Be Aware a bit tough to get through).
156 of 176 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2000
This is one of those books that are not for the faint of heart. So many books in the world that people think are incendiary or revolutionary, challenging and rechallenging our conception of free speech, religion, citizenship, science and technology, philosophy, economics and politics or spirituality have an attraction to us because of how they serve as metaphors for the painful realities of our personal lives under the illusions we create for public consumption, and the secrets of our inner selves we wish to uncover. We yearn to break free of something and embrace some inner truth; we just don't know what, and therefore call it some aspect of the outer world. The desires we have to be and have more than what we are, the feelings of not knowing who we truly are and never truly being loved- and the root causes of such feelings- are unveiled in this powerful, disturbing, life shifting and life-affirming book.
Alice Miller was one of the patron saints of John Bradshaw, the man whose work heralded the age of the Inner Child that became part of the pop-psychology lexicon of the 90's. Her perspective and conclusions, scientifically, sociologically and philosophically speaking, are practically undebateable. And without even needing the true case examples from her therapeutic practice to underscore her points (which she uses with striking and original clarity and precision across gender, racial, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic lines), her elucidation of her central thesis on the ignored emotional life of children- and the cost of having parents unequipped to give them the love they need- will undoubtedly make deep seated memories of your own childhood come to the surface.
Why does society have such automatic and irrational contempt for the egotist? Why do individulas run to prove themselves (or immediately start thinking of themselves defensively) as the antithesis, upon seeing anyone's character asessed in such a context? Why does even the WORD "self" conjure up confused and uncomfortable feelings when used in anything but a mind-numbing spiritual context with people? What do children need beyond basic nutritional and socioeconomic concerns, and what happens to them when they grow older but do not get it? How is it possible to have more material things and personal achievements than anyone, and still have less and less confidence in who you are?
This book can explain things about your adult life and relationships that you'd rather not have so easily and individually explained. And those who look to books like these to figure out what's wrong with their friends, lovers and parents will discover more about themselves than they may think they're ready to process. We all are not just ready but overdue for these kinds of life lessons.
Never has a writer, perhaps before or since, put the words "childhood" and "mourning" together in one thought, such that it can create a complete paradigm shift in how one sees oneself, and sees the opportunities for happiness one's world.
The fault levied on any psychologist on her level- and there are very, very few- is that this kind of thinking all but demands the kind of narcisstic modern solipsism she seems to diagnose as symptomatic of the illness. (She refers to the dynamic not as an illness, however, but a "tragedy"; keeping us again, I believe, in tune with the ancient Greek mythic/philosophical reference inherent in the old title for this book, "The Drama of the Gifted Child".) Such blanket criticism of psychology books in general could only be concluded with one of this quality from a misreading of the text; the kind of misreading that usually comes when she has hit a nerve the likes of which one didn't expect, may be afraid of and couldn't imagine beforehand. Nonetheless, taking our culture's preoccupation with the self into consideration, there is still nothing of lasting value one could do in the world without at least endeavoring to answer the existential questions of soul, love, freedom, loss and pain- and the true self- that this book demands you to do in a new way for practically the rest of your life.
I gave it four stars instead of five because it was too short. I didn't want it to end. And the idea that she could 1) prove her point, 2)deeply affect me by making me dream dreams that I've never dreamed before, 3)access undramatic but painful memories of childhood events that I forgot happened but have been behind more than half of the seemingly unrelated choices I've made in my adult life, and 4) feel a usually suppressed rage and grief give way to a new sense of purpose and a release of joyful energy and optimism- all in a little more than a hundred pages- still makes me queasy. In other words, read this as a five and a half star review! Then buy the book, put down the most recent bash on modern politics and the latest neo-spiritual mind candy on the bestseller's list, and begin a real journey.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2004
I do not understand how another person who wrote a review here, could have read this book. The book has nothing to do with "gifted" (as in really smart) kids, as the reviewer seems to think. Miller is an expert at helping us to become aware of, and overcome, the trauma that all children endure - - just by virtue of being children in our society, and having imperfect parents. (No parent is perfect.) Her use of the word "Gifted" - - means that all children have the "gift" of survival and the ability to love their parents, regardless of the mistakes that ALL parents make. Her use of the word, "Gifted" also means that children have the gift of suppressing painful experiences, while they are children, and powerless to do otherwise. This book can be invaluable in unlocking the pain that every adult carries, within the child that dwells within us all. To ignore this pain, hidden or not, is to live a life that is not as full and rewarding as it could be. Like a rose bud........beautiful perhaps........but not as beautiful and fragrant as when it is in full bloom. "Gift" yourself with this book. Bloom. I did, years ago, on the advice of someone who loves me; and, I have given this book - - this GIFT - - to every person that I love.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2006
It is unsurprising that Alice Miller's Drama of the Gifted Child has met with a certain amount of hostility from both the psychiatry and psychotherapy establishments. After all, she frowns both on the use of drugs and cognitive-behavioral techniques as treatments for anxiety--especially in children. She even suggests that those who would use such remedies may have unaddressed psychological problems of their own. What's worse, she appeals to no empirical studies (double-blind or not) in reaching these conclusions; in fact, a reader might be reluctant to conclude from this book that Miller would even be capable of assessing the value of a careful scientific study of this or that anti-anxiety treatment. So, as I've indicated above, this book is often very frustrating. But Miller's work is also quite valuable, at least in my opinion. Like Freud's contemporary Wilhelm Stekel, Miller may not be a systematic theoretician, but her extensive clinical experience has provided her with several important insights that I believe may be useful, particularly to parents of anxious children.
I suppose it's fairly obvious by now that there can be many causes of anxiety. Legitimate dangers, sleep deprivation, repressed thoughts or desires, negative reinforcements coincident with pleasurable activities, isolation, and lots of other things can factor into fearfulness. Similarly, we now know that various drugs, meditation techniques, cognitive "re-learning," and gradual desensitization can all help combat these feelings, at least sometimes. It's often forgotten, though, that there are other, simpler techniques that people often use, knowingly or unknowingly, to calm themselves or others down. They may turn on the TV, take a walk, call a friend or even have some ice cream. Perhaps the most common palliative used by parents to allay their children's anxieties is one that comes very naturally. We hug them, sit them on our laps, tell them we love them to pieces, and so on. Most parents don't need to be taught these techniques: we come by them almost biologically. It is interesting to note, however, that this most basic of anti-anxiety medicines is, to a certain extent, inconsistent with all the others because it indicates complete acceptance of the sufferers' current condition. While desensitization, meditation and the rest suggest a certain level of dissatisfaction with the anxious individual, at least in his/her present state, the concentrated care provided by the simple comfort-giver is pure and unconditional. It says "I love you, and I'm fine with you no matter what." There's no rush to distract, improve matters, make things different. Furthermore, Miller suggests that many of those advocating other means to improved mental health are themselves frantic: in the case of stressed parents, it may be that their children are spooking them because they're unable to deal with their own unresolved anxieties. And this may be a result of the fact that their own parents didn't manage things quite right when they were kids.
While Miller's book isn't specifically a how-to book for parents, but rather a general primer on the importance of looking into one's own childhood for clues to one's current psychological make-up, I believe there are important lessons for parents here. Her position seems to imply that when a `gifted' (i.e. sensitive) child is frightened, perhaps won't go to school, is afraid of the dark, or can't be alone, rushing in with `cures' may just make things worse. The results of such attempted interventions will be familiar to many parents: "You know that you have to go to school." "But I can't go to school, my head hurts too much!" "What do you think is so horrible about school anyways?" "I don't know!" "Well, you must not be breathing correctly or you'd feel better." "I CAN'T!" Etc. Miller's work suggests the merits of an alternative approach: that of acceptance--not only of the child, but even of the condition itself. What she has noticed in her adult patients (and herself) is that where that sort of unconditional acceptance was lacking in childhood, the life of the grown-up is likely to have been difficult, or worse. A feeling of dissatisfaction, incompetance and unhappiness may have haunted the adult.
What will be amazing to some (and, surprisingly, what Miller doesn't really go into in her book) is how nicely this apparently basic lesson works for both kinds and their parents during the child-rearing years. A number of our friends, (some, like me, freaked out pseudo-therapists themselves) have discovered along with us that in many cases, if we will do no more than sit quietly with a troubled child, making no attempts to distract her, guide her meditations, help her breathe, convince her of the harmlessness of the feared item, or otherwise re-tool, within minutes, everything will be fine. Not only our children, but we too have to "let it be." If we can just look our kids in the eye, tell them how much we love them, and wait out these storms with them, we'll be amazed how unlikely they are to actually fall to pieces. In any event, Miller illustrates quite scarily that if we can't do this, we're failing in basic parenthood, and our children will suffer as adults. For what it's worth, this has been an important lesson for me. In spite of her anecdotal approach, I believe Alice Miller is on to something that not only will be helpful for many unhappy individuals, but that many parents desperately need to learn.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2005
Good parent versus Bad parent. Gifted child versus tormented child. The lines are so thin. After reading the brilliant MY FRACTURED LIFE I began exploring the concepts of narcissism. PRISONERS OF CHILDHOOD presents very clear reasoning and some ground breaking philosophies and studies. In addition to MY FRACTURED LIFE and PRISONERS OF CHILDHOOD, recommended reading also might include THE WIZARD OF OZ AND OTHER NARCISSISTS, TRAPPED IN THE MIRROR, and CHILDREN OF THE SELF ABSORBED.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2007
Prisoners of Childhood: the Drama of the Gifted Child and the Search for the True Self (hardcover) is one of the earliest writings of Alice Miller available in English translation. Her insights are quite profound, and her perspective is unique in self-help, popular, and psychoanalytic works. She explores the psychological adaptations that children choose in order to preserve the love of their parents, which they so desperately need in order to survive. Indeed, she argues, the cost of such adaptations is the loss of the true self - the child, who clings to idea of parental love, loses the ability to know itself, its needs, its feelings and its desires. There is hope, however. When that child emerges from its first family into the world, the true self begins to assert itself - and these assertions manifest in the form of depression, and grandiosity (to name a few). This book inspires individuals to connect to their true self's assertions - and to use these messages, in a meaningful way, to inspire a true connection with itself. In all, her message is that the self does not die; it longs for a listening and attentive ear to discover and honor it.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2005
A book which goes straight to the essence of much of today's suffering...narcisistic disturbances as not one amongst many disturbances, but the one underlying them all.It is a book for everyone, and most especially for young parents, as the newborn child makes us live again all our unresolved stuff. This book should be recommended as educational material as it enlightens parents to choose not to repeat their own stories with their children. Excellent.