The Drama of "The Drama of the Gifted Child"
March 6, 2013 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions for coming to terms with childhood neglect.

Yesterday I started reading "The Drama of the Gifted Child" and after a dozen pages I just lost it.

I imagined the book might provide some insights, be a bit helpful, not, well, fuck. I had no idea. The words have some magical power to reduce me to a sobbing mess every few paragraphs. Even writing this has me welling up.

Never have so few words been so overwhelming, but then I've never read such words that seemed forged in the anguish of my own soul. The author held up a mirror and showed me things I didn't know were there. She spoke for me, to me.

I had no idea.

Where do I go from here? Where is the path through all of this? What lies on the other side?
posted by trinity8-director to Human Relations (15 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Are you currently in therapy? Because I don't know if the folks here on AskMe are going to be able to help you unpack this.
posted by Specklet at 1:00 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OK - It's going to take time and it's going to take therapy. Depending on how f'ed up your family of origin was, it's going to take years of hard work, digging deep and painful recollections. You have to be willing to learn from your therapist. She is not going to have all the answers, but if she's good, she'll have the right questions.

I am on the other side. For 2 decades, I thought that forgiveness was the answer. I struggled because I didn't want to forgive.

The fact is, I didn't have to forgive, I just had to change, to grow. I became a better, saner, less depressed person and it didn't matter anymore whether I forgave or not.

Sounds like you might have a long road ahead of you.

Be gentle with yourself on the journey.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:11 PM on March 6, 2013 [11 favorites]

posted by Wordwoman at 1:16 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely therapy and talking with those who have been through this.

Through professional therapy and constructive conversations with others, I have begun to challenge my old behaviors, to learn that the emotional numbness, off-putting humor, anxiety, and the incessant self-critical stream of thoughts passing through my mind are only remnants of a malfunctioning and outdated defense mechanism that may have preserved my life and sanity as a child, but now only serves to cause harm to myself and others. To know that although I may have operated on these for decades, I can begin to change at any time I choose.

To admit to myself that the wounds have healed, the tears have dried, the quiet terror has receded, and the shouts have long faded, but there is a dark furnace shut away in the depths of my own being which only burns to keep these alive today.

To forgive those responsible, and to ask for forgiveness for the intentional harms I have caused in retaliation, both to those responsible and to the world at large. But most of all, to forgive myself and to allow myself to be human, perfectly flawed and slightly damaged in my own unique and beautiful way.

To know I am not alone in my experience and my pain, and so I am not alone in my ability to not only move beyond my broken childhood, but to see the good in me and in those responsible. To take an honest and thorough inventory of who I truly am, and then cast away the defects to better harness the strengths I possess.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:16 PM on March 6, 2013 [12 favorites]

That book had me almost walk up the walls for a few days. What I did in a form of self-therapy was to write half a dozen of accusing letters to my parents over the time span of two days, trash them all, and then send a final, edited one...which was received relatively well. But that was not even the point: the therapy was to write all that stuff...

The book rocked me hard, but somehow, as I gave it time to work on me, it didn't create a total train wreck. I'm sure this differs between persons, but...

I'd give it a lot of time, really careful consideration, and I would certainly not read more in one session than one reasonably can be expected to deal with.

Good luck.
posted by Namlit at 1:20 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah. Therapy seems like a good idea to start working through all this and to help you decide what it means to you.

Personally, I'm a big fan of the multiple intelligence model, perhaps not in the non-g intelligence sense, which the research hasn't really supported, but more in the sense that there are huge correlations between "giftedness" in certain areas and learning disabilities in others. At the end of the day, you are your own person now, today, no matter what labels people applied to you as a child or what your parents wanted you to do. You're going to have to define yourself in your own terms, shaped by your childhood but not bound by it. This isn't going to happen overnight, and you'll wreck yourself if you don't go slow, but if you work with someone that you trust and who can help you, this exploration could well become a positive thing for you.
posted by zachlipton at 1:23 PM on March 6, 2013

Best answer: The pain is part of the understanding, I think, but it fucking hurts.

If working with a therapist isn't feasible for you right now (but I would do whatever I could to make it possible) some healing, comforting books I might recommend are Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron and There Is Nothing Wrong With You by Cheri Huber.

Alice Miller changed my life, but reading her work was like having a wound debrided or a poorly healed arm rebroken for resetting---helpful in the long run, but super hard in the moment.

MeMail if you'd like to talk. I'll be thinking of you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:29 PM on March 6, 2013 [16 favorites]

2nding Sidhedevil's recommendations of Pema Chodron and Cheri Huber. Both authors are worth following Miller. I would go with (at least at some point) Chodron's When Things Fall Apart.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:42 PM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Join some gifted parenting lists. Lots of people who join to help their child wind up coming to terms with themselves and their own childhoods.
posted by Michele in California at 2:23 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had the same reaction to that book. I think part of why it is so intense is that one of the lies parents tell children in abusive homes is that what is going on is normal and okay. Realizing that it is not normal or okay is a HUGE change in perception, and causes a lot of pain.

It does get better though.

Here's the peace I've come to:

The fact is, you were neglected and abused. That's a fact. It's terrible to experience, it's stigmatized in our society, you were likely blamed by your family for it, and now you don't get a lot of sympathy from people who haven't experienced it. Quirks you have as an adult because of it are not excused the way they would be if you came from a disadvantaged but non-stigmatized background (like being from a developing country, etc.). You have been affected, and it's like an invisible disability that few understand. It hurts a lot and leaves scars. You had a crappy childhood and don't get another one. It sucks.


It does get better. You will NEVER be in that environment again. You will never have to endure that again, and however old you are, you have lots of life ahead of you to enjoy, create, give and receive love, and change the world in a positive way. You are ALIVE. The people who hurt you are entirely optional in your life. They don't get to hurt you anymore. They don't even get to see you anymore if you don't want them to. You don't have to forgive anyone. You can do whatever the FUCK you want with your life.

There are lots of people who have been where you are now (myself included) who are way past that. I don't cry reading those sorts of books now. I know what happened, I know it sucked, but it's not a huge part of my consciousness these days. I have a life full of really fantastic, awesome things, nearly unrecognizable from the way it once was.

Pema Chodron, Cheri Huber etc. don't really do it for me, although I have read their books and I know they have helped a lot of other people. My taste for post-Alice Miller reading is Kate Bornstein's Hello, Cruel World. It's intended for teens, but I think it's really great for anyone coming to terms with something terrible and wanting to find a way to make it in the world nevertheless.

Dear Sugar, the Awl, Cary Tennis and other advice columns also address this a lot. Reading their archives may lead you to some really great writing about how to move on after a tough childhood.

Also, look up Complex PTSD and sites about recovering from trauma. You may or may not see yourself (or your abusers) in those diagnoses, but you were certainly traumatized by your childhood experiences. Reading about narcissism and borderline personality disorders may or may not help you understand your abusers (depending on your situation).
posted by 3491again at 4:01 PM on March 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Hi trinity8, Alice Miller constituted a huge breakthrough for me as well. I was already feeling pretty broken when I found her work, so reading her stuff was experienced as more of a badly needed liberation for me.

You become the expert at giving yourself what YOU need, is where you go from here. It's like all these unresolved consciousnesses are awake inside you now. Honor their repressed existence by allowing yourself to feel their pain, and then endeavor to take the lead, using their lessons to treat yourself better. Personally I found that writing out any excerpts that resonated with me from many of Miller's books quite therapeutic for a while.

My path through it led to me tenaciously making meaning of WTF had been happening in my family unit. My post-Miller reading took me through books on the dynamics of alcoholic families (John Bradshaw, for one), child abuse, trauma, and PTSD. I balanced this out with a healthy re-invigoration of re-defining my spirituality (read many books from the streams of my ethnic heritages) and creative exercises. That's MY path though (to provide a datapoint). Naturally, yours may vary as you tailor yourself a recovery from realization that best-fits you. You are now the primary expert on just what it is you need to continue healing from.

The fact is, I didn't have to forgive, I just had to change, to grow. I became a better, saner, less depressed person and it didn't matter anymore whether I forgave or not.

QTF. IME forgiveness only seemed to keep me stuck on an old tape. "Forgiving" abusive family members seemed to invite their toxic behaviors back in again without consequence. Using my anger to actually power my way through some difficult changes proved to be a much more worthwhile endeavor. YMMV.

I like to think I'm just about on the other side now --at least, on the other side of needing to look back at the road behind me so much. Some of the latest challenges lay not in reconciling the past but embracing the new future, with all of this new knowledge integrated. For me, it has been quite literally a brave new world. Wherever you're coming from, know that people have survived their own version of Miller's mirror before and gone on to thrive. On the other side is going to be a space for to you to shine too, however you decide to :) Hang in there!
posted by human ecologist at 7:20 PM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I haven't read this book, but from what you've written it sounds kind of like I'm in a similar boat. It's taken me years to admit that my childhood and adolescence weren't just slightly odd because of my own behavior. My parents (specifically my mom) actively antagonized me and put me in situations that caused me continuing pain -- and then belittled my efforts to understand these same situations. Example: taking me to a museum, making fun of my massive snake phobia by raising my hopes for "something cool" and then shoving me towards a 30-foot anaconda, then encouraging the people around us -- people we didn't even know -- to laugh at me as I sobbed. I was 10.

I'd suggest you start with some more generalized talk therapy first, just to sort of have someone help guide you as you get all (or most) of your thoughts on the table. It seems like this is all fairly new for you -- or at least much more than you had on your plate before you started this journey.

But down the road a bit, when you've gotten to a point where you can lump some of your thoughts and feelings and goals into more specific groups (e.g., "I have problems with motivation, because I feel that my best efforts were routinely ignored" or "I would like to work on trust issues"), you might look into eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR. It's very vaguely like hypnosis, and it sounds like total woo, but it has been shown to be effective in a variety of situations.

More specifically, it is typically used in PTSD situations. Now, this is part of why I suggested you start with more generalized therapy: half of your problem will almost certainly be giving yourself the agency to say, "Yes, I WAS abused, regardless of whether that took an emotional or physical form." You need to be very comfortable with this self-determination; you will almost certainly run into people (clinicians or not) who either minimize/ignore the impact these experiences have had on your life, or have a fairly narrow definition of what Therapy A or Treatment B should be used for. (I trust my psychiatrist; she's the only clinician I'm currently seeing. She kind of hints that the definition of "trauma" involves something much more serious than whatever I went through. But she is still very respectful and follows my lead, which is the most important thing.)

EMDR works by helping you "go back" to the point at which some event or action changed the way you thought or reacted to that kind of stimulus. The idea is that you've been stuck at that point and haven't been able to move past it. EMDR uses binaural sounds to confuse the sides of your brain so you can kind of reprogram yourself to react to these situations in more productive ways. It's really good at helping break down destructive reactions and patterns.

My husband grew up with a (mostly) single mom who was a functioning alcoholic. Nothing truly terrible happened, but he did spend many weekends playing quietly in his room while waiting for her to wake up. He went through EMDR in his early 30s and came out with a much better perspective on all of that. But his willingness to discuss what he went through in therapy ended up making a HUGE impact on me in my own endless parental struggle. The more similarities I saw between my mother's nameless crazy actions and what he went through because of his family's substance abuse, the more I realized how wrong things had really been in my own life.

****NOTE: THIS IS REALLY ONLY FOR PROS. THIS WORKED OKAY BUT MY HUSBAND IS AT BEST THE STUART SMALLEY OF EMDR: A FREQUENT CONSUMER.**** So a few months ago he asked me if I wanted to see what it was like. He found a binaural recording online and guided me through a visualization of a time when I felt really good with my mom or parents -- happy and cared-for. It was kind of shocking to realize that I honestly couldn't think of any time my mom had been more than simply "nice." Then he told me to visualize what it would feel like to know that my mom was loving and taking care of me in that situation. It was a very simple image: me, very small and in long braids, sitting at the lunch counter where my dad used to take me on Saturdays... feeling like they were really listening to me.

From my own perspective, and from the POV of a close friend to whom I tend to blather all of my earthly woes (that mostly have to do with my insane mother), I have actually felt a change in how I've related to my mom. I've been much more likely to let her crazy roll off my back and not let it bother me. I've also been much more willing to take her actions as her best effort, inconsistent and insufficient as it is, instead of immediately jumping to the assumption that she is being malicious on purpose. And I've been much more patient with her when she goes off into her single-minded way of dealing with things, which in turn makes her much less likely to fly off the handle because I've snapped at her or given her the stink-eye.

I don't envy you these difficult times. But I feel SO much more complete now that I've integrated these thoughts and feelings, and I bet you can get to that point too. I hope you find ways to be gentle with yourself as you discover new ways of looking at your life.
posted by Madamina at 7:26 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't go alone! It's really good to have solid people around you when you start making breakthroughs like this, as you may be quite vulnerable for a while. Safe, safe, safe is the watchword. You're not alone. Personally, I frickin loved the Cheri Huber book, in fact I can tell you it's the only book I've ever read that's ever made a (at least until now) permanent (and positive) change in how I see myself. Great stuff.

Try as best you can to be really great to yourself, so as not to be overwhelmed by the grief. This is not the kind of thing you have to get nailed down before you go to sleep tonight. Give it time and as much kindness as you can muster.
posted by facetious at 8:49 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here is the thing I like to say: the worst has already happened.

In my experience, there isn't another side; instead there is more insight and compassion, for myself and others, and a greater awareness of G_d, as I traverse a repeating orbit through my days and emotions.

I find a great deal of comfort and companionship in CoDA.
posted by macinchik at 9:14 PM on March 6, 2013

Seconding what Sophie said above: you don't have to forgive. Like her, I tried for 2 decades. I have had no contact with my father in 25 years and my mother is dead. I don't care that my father is in his late eighties now. For me, cutting him off was probably the single most important thing I did to move forward. I rarely mention this to anyone because they usually don't get it,

Whether you cut off your family or not, be good to yourself.
posted by mareli at 6:14 AM on March 7, 2013

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