When I was in graduate school, Alice Miller's book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, was required reading. It's a little book, not more than 150 pages, yet it carries a big punch.
Clinical Psychology grad students, like med students, are apt to diagnose themselves with whatever illness they are studying at the time. Depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, I had it all. As I read Miller's book I was amazed to learn I was an abused child. My parent's benign neglect, according to Miller, was more harmful than I had realized even with years of therapy.
If you blame your parents for your problems, or even if you don’t, be sure to read this fascinating obituary of Alice Miller, a psychoanalyst whose focus on family dysfunction started it all. Her work alerted therapists to the problem of child abuse, but it also offered adults the opportunity to blame their difficulties in life on their upbringing.
Back then, in grad school, as I absorbed this information I also had to learn to move beyond
the blame game and take responsibility for myself. After all, my
parents gave me a great deal that was positive as well as hurtful. Plus, where was the hope? What was going to change my life from one of chronic frustration to self-actualization? A person has the choice to paint themselves as a passive victim or take self-action and make the best of what we have.
As a therapist I assure my patients that exploring their experiences in childhood is not about blaming the parents for their woes. It is to examine their reality, the good, the not so good, the downright harmful, so that they can accept, forgive, if necessary, and move beyond it.
Whether you are a fan of Alice Miller or not, she stirred the pot,
got people talking and helped many, myself included, to have the
courage to face the dark side of our childhoods. On a larger, important scale, Dr. Miller
did a great deal to alert society to the hidden danger of child abuse
and our responsibility to help children too young to take
responsibility for themselves.