Depression / Guilt / Expectations / Repression / Affirmation / Self-confidence / Independency | Alice Miller, 1978

Depression / Guilt / Expectations / Repression / Affirmation / Self-confidence / Independency | Alice Miller, 1978
 Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Shells and Flowers , 1938

“Depression as Denial of the Self Depression consists of a denial of one’s own emotional reactions. This denial begins in the service of an absolutely essential adaptation during childhood and indicates a very early injury. There are many children who have not been free, right from the beginning, to experience the very simplest of feelings, such as discontent, anger, rage, pain, even hunger—and, of course, enjoyment of their own bodies.”

“Tragic and painful state of being separated from his true self, to which doctors
refer offhandedly as depression.”

“Many people suffer all their lives from this oppressive feeling of guilt, the sense of not having lived up to their parent’s expectations. This feeling is stronger than any intellectual insight they might have, that it is not a child’s task or duty to satisfy his parent’s needs.”

“In such cases the natural needs appropriate to the child’s age cannot be integrated, so they are repressed or split off. This person will later live in the past without realizing it and will continue to react to past dangers as if they were present. People who have asked for my assistance because of their depression have usually had to deal with a mother who was extremely insecure and who often suffered from depression herself. The child, most often an only child or the first-born, was seen as the mother’s possession. What the mother had once failed to find in her own mother she was able to find in her child: someone at her disposal who could be used as an echo and could be controlled, who was completely centered on her, would never desert her, and offered her full attention and admiration. If the child’s demands became too great (as those of her own mother once did), she was no longer so defenseless: she could refuse to allow herself to be tyrannized; she could bring the child up in such a way that he neither cried nor disturbed her. At last she could make sure that she received consideration, care, and respect.”

“This role secured “love” for the child—that is, his parents’ exploitation. He could sense that
he was needed, and this need guaranteed him a measure of existential security.”

“Behind manifest grandiosity, there constantly lurks depression, and behind a depressive mood there often hide unconscious (or conscious but split off) fantasies of grandiosity. In fact, grandiosity is the defense against depression, and depression is the defense against the deep pain over the loss of the self.”

“Most people do exactly the opposite. Without realizing that the past is constantly determining their present actions, they avoid learning anything about their history. They continue to live in their repressed childhood situation, ignoring the fact that it no longer exists. They are continuing to fear and avoid dangers that, although once real, have not been real for a long time. They are driven by unconscious memories and by repressed feelings and needs that determine nearly everything they do or fail to do. The repression of brutal abuse experienced during childhood drives many people to destroy their lives and the lives of others”

“Individuals who do not want to know their own truth collude in denial with society as a whole,
looking for a common “enemy” on whom to act out their repressed rage. ”

“[The mutually dependent child] cannot rely on his own emotions, has not come to experience them through trial and error, has no sense of his own real needs, and is alienated from himself to the highest degree. Under these circumstances he cannot separate from his parents, and even as an adult he is still dependent on affirmation from his partner, from groups, and especially from his own children. Unless the heir casts off his ‘inheritance’ by becoming fully conscious of his true past, and thus of his true nature, loneliness in the parental home will necessarily be followed by an adulthood lived in emotional isolation.”

“And yet the truth is so essential that its loss exacts a heavy toll, in the form of grave illness.”

“Even as an older child, she was not allowed to say, or even to think: “I can be sad or happy whenever anything makes me sad or happy; I don’t have to look cheerful for someone else, and I don’t have to suppress my distress or anxiety to fit other people’s needs. I can be angry and no one will die or get a headache because of it. I can rage when you hurt me, without losing you.”

“The once-beaten children still living inside adults often fear being punished if they dare to truly SEE, without illusions, what their parents did to them in their first years of life. Once they understand that this danger no longer exists, they can liberate their life.”

“Accommodation to parental needs often (but not always) leads to the “as-if personality.” This person develops in such a way that he reveals only what is expected of him and fuses so completely with what he reveals that one could scarcely guess how much more there is to him behind this false self.”

“It is most noticeable when they describe childhood experiences that were free of pain and fear. They could enjoy their encounters with nature, for example, without hurting the mother or making her feel insecure, reducing her power, or endangering her equilibrium. It is remarkable how these attentive, lively, and sensitive children, who can, for example, remember exactly how they discovered the sunlight in bright grass at the age of four, at eight were unable to “notice anything” or show any curiosity about their pregnant mother, or were “not at all” jealous at the birth of a sibling. It is also remarkable how, at the age of two, such a child could be left alone and “be good” while soldiers forced their way into the house and searched it, suffering the terrifying intrusion quietly and without crying. These people have all developed the art of not experiencing feelings, for a child can experience her feelings only when there is somebody there who accepts her fully, understands her, and supports her. If that person is missing, if the child must risk losing the mother’s love or the love of her substitute in order to feel, then she will repress her emotions. She cannot even experience them secretly, “just for herself”; she will fail to experience them at all. But they will nevertheless stay in her body, in her cells, stored up as information that can be triggered by a later event.”

“Often a child’s very gifts (his great intensity of feeling, depth of experience, curiosity, intelligence, quickness-and his ability to be critical) will confront his parents with conflicts that they have long sought to keep at bay by means of rules and regulations. These regulations must then be rescued at the cost of the child’s development. All of this can lead to an apparently paradoxical situation when parents are proud of their gifted child and who admire him are forced by their own repression to reject, suppress, or even destroy what is best, because truest, in that child.”

“The child within me…appeared…late in life, wanting to tell me her secret. She approached very hesitantly, speaking first to me in an inarticulate way, but she took me by the hand and led me into territory I had been avoiding all my life because it frightened me. Yet I had to go there; I could not keep on turning my back, for it was my territory, my very own. It was the place I had attempted to forget so many years ago, the same place where I had abandoned the child I once was. There she had to stay, alone with her knowledge, waiting until someone would come at last to listen to her and believe her. Now I was standing at an open door, ill-prepared, filled with an adult’s fear of the darkness and menace of the past, but I could not bring myself to close the door and leave the child alone again until my death. Instead, I made a decision that was to change my life profoundly; to let the child lead me, to put my trust in this nearly autistic being who had survived the isolation of decades.”

Alice Miller, Prisoners Of Childhood: The Drama of the Gifted Child and the Search for the True Self, 1978

“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.”

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