These days I find my current reading on the bookshelves of our local recycling center. A couple of weeks ago I picked up five gems, one of which was Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child (the 1994 Revised Edition). Actually, I’ve never read a thing by Alice Miller and have only encountered her name peripherally when reading the works of others, who tend to disparage her overvaluation of the “child within.” I was curious to read her directly, but she was not my first choice among my five new acquisitions. In fact, it was Jan who first picked up her book and subsequently insisted that I read it.
Last Sunday night I had a dream about a relative of mine who was holding an object the size of a bar of soap, which was comprised of powerful chemical agents, used to dissolve things. I awoke from this dream remembering the I Ching reading I had written the day before, Dissolution, and also recognized the mandala shape of the object. I interpreted my dream to mean that my individuation (mandala) required breaking down (chemical bar) or recapitulating a specific experience in my life (the relative). Jan awoke commenting that she both kept waking up at 1:01 a.m. and had just had a dream where she was in college and kept having to repeat the course: Life 101. It was another sign for recapitulation. I resolved to pick up Miller’s book to kick off my effort.
By Wednesday, I had another dream where half of my house was sold and two older women were installed as tenants needing care and having control of our furniture, particularly the large screen TV! Wow, I had reentered the land of mothers, a place I thought I’d “finished with” years ago.
Upon reading Miller’s introduction to The Drama, I became immediately aware of why she raised the ire of so many analysts I’ve appreciated so deeply over the years. She summarily dismisses people like Winnicott and Jung; in fact, she dismisses all schools of psychotherapy. For her, the only thing that matters is the body and the truth it holds of childhood experiences, traumatic and otherwise, that need to be retrieved, relived, acknowledged, and energetically released to free the adult self to live a full and real life. Her major beef with mainstream psychotherapy is its dismissal of the truths and enduring impact of childhood experiences, in favor of the rational, cognitive processes of the mind to spin reality and manage symptoms. More simply put, modern psychotherapy values thinking over feelings embedded in body memory.
On this point I couldn’t agree more with Miller. The reigning mode of psychotherapy in the modern world is entitled: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); translation: you are what you think; change your thoughts, change your self. Miller is ruthless in her attack upon this psychotherapy premise, which she claims actually ends up colluding with patient’s defensive systems, especially defenses of denial, rationalization, and intellectualization, which are used to suppress the childhood truths held in their emotional and bodily symptoms. From a compensatory standpoint I am able to understand her dismissal of so many valuable contributors to the mental health field, though I can’t help but see her passionate one-sidedness as somewhat akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Nonetheless, her core premise is utterly valid. Without the full retrieval of the truth of our lives we don’t know who we are and are hampered in our ability to evolve, in fact, our evolution will be limited to our symptoms merely taking on new forms.
As I see it, Miller, in shamanistic terms, is laying out a course of recapitulation. Firstly, she emphasizes the body, the ultimate truth holder. Though the tender psyche of the growing child may need to fragment the truth of its experience to survive, the body registers everything. Very often focusing on bodily feeling and sensation, with intent, will open the door to actual stored experience. Bodily pains, sensations, illnesses, habits, and postures all represent avenues to stored memories. How conditioned are we to seek relief of symptoms through medication, medical intervention, or bodily manipulation? In contrast, how often do we see our symptoms as purposive and meaningful, invitations to awaken to stored memory that needs to be recapitulated?
Even in the absence of bodily cues, don Juan instructed Carlos Castaneda to focus on the sensory aspects of an event set up for recapitulation. Carlos states on page 106 in Magical Passes the following:
“This recollection entails getting all the pertinent physical details, such as the surroundings where the event being recollected took place. Once the event is arranged, one should enter into the locale itself, as if actually going into it, paying special attention to any relevant physical configurations. If, for instance, the interaction took place in an office, what should be remembered is the floor, the doors, the walls, the pictures, the windows, the desks, the objects on the desks, everything that could have been observed in a glance and then forgotten.” [Italics added.]
Miller makes the bold assertion that childhood is over. You can never go back and redo it through reliving it. The needs of the child frozen in childhood will never be met for that child because childhood is over. She, I believe, cautions us here about getting caught in the big baby or the archetypal wounded child; this is not recapitulation, it’s a bottomless pit of tormented need and woundedness that can, at best, only achieve momentary catharsis. After experiencing relief the needy child reasserts itself, seeking eternally fulfillment of its unmet needs, never waking up to the fact that childhood is over.
What Miller does encourage is the rightful mourning and release of held feelings, but most importantly the full lifting of the veils of childhood to empower and free the adult self to achieve a full life. The difference here is between an adult trying to find fulfillment as a child and an adult freeing themselves to fulfill their needs as an adult. In shamanic energetic terms, this is the retrieval of the full energy of the self previously frozen in veiled, unknown experiences of one’s life. This sets the stage to realize one’s true energetic potential. The past simply becomes known fact, devoid of energetic or emotional encumbrance. Energy is now available for human fulfillment and the definitive journey in infinity.
The other night, I woke at 3 a.m. and Jan woke at 3:01. I think we are on the right track now, Miller time!
If you wish to correspond, please feel free to post a comment below.
Until we meet again,