In many analyses the patient’s wish to have a child is expressed during the first weeks or months. For a long time this wish was traced back to Oedipal wishes. This may well be correct. Nevertheless, the patient’s associations often show the narcissistic background to this wish very clearly.
For the patient this means: ‘I want to have somebody whom I can completely possess, and whom I can control (my mother always withdrew from me); somebody who will stay with me all the time and not only for four hours in the week. Right now I am nobody, but as a mother or a father I should be somebody, and others would value me more than they do now that I have no children.’ Or it may mean: ‘I want to give a child everything that I had to do without, he should be free, not have to deny himself, be able to develop freely. I want to give this chance to another human being.’
This second variation looks as though it were based on object relationships. But if that were so the patient would be able to take his time in fulfilling this wish – and to wait until he would be able to give from his abundance towards the end of his analysis. If however, this wish for a child at the beginning of the analysis cannot be delayed but shows such urgency, then it is rather an expression of the patient’s own great need.
Various aspects come together:
- The wish to have a mother who is available (the child as a new chance to achieve the good symbiosis, which the patient still seeks since he has never experienced it).
- The hope that with this birth the patient may become truly alive (the child as symbol for the patient’s true self).
- Unconscious communication about the patient’s own fate as a child, with the aid of compulsive repetition (the child as a rival sibling, and abandoned hope; the sibling’s birth had increased the patient’s loss of self, and with the birth of his child the patient would give up (for the time being) his hope of realizing his true self.
Alice Miller – The Drama of the Gifted Child p.102
Possibly, the child’s actual seduction did not take place the way Freud’s hysterical patients related it. Yet, the parents’ narcissistic cathexis of their child leads to a long series of sexual and nonsexual seductions, which the child will only be able to discover with difficulty, as an adult in his analysis (and often not before he himself is a parent).
A father who grew up in surroundings inimical to instinctual drives may well be inhibited in his sexual relationships in marriage. He may even remain polymorphous perverse and first dare to look properly at a female genital, play with it, and feel aroused while he is bathing his small daughter. A mother may perhaps have been shocked as a small girl by the unexpected sight of an erect penis and so developed fear of the male genital, or she may have experienced it as a symbol of violence in the primal scene without being able to confide in anyone. Such a mother may now be able to gain control over her fear in relationship to her tiny son. She may, for example, dry him after his bath in such a manner that he has an erection, which is not dangerous or threatening for her. She may massage her son’s penis, right up to puberty, in order ‘to treat his phimosis’ without having to be afraid. Protected by the unquestioning love that every child has for his mother she can carry on with her genuine, hesitating sexual exploration that had been broken off too soon.
What does it mean to the child, though, when his sexually inhibited parents make narcissistic use of him in their loneliness and need? Every child seeks loving contact and is happy to get it. At the same time, however, he feels insecure when desires are aroused that do not appear spontaneously at this stage in his development. This insecurity is further increased by the fact that his own autoerotic activity is punished by the parents’ prohibitions or scorn.
Alice Miller – The Drama of the Gifted Child p.96
The more unrealistic such feelings are and the less they fit present reality, the more clearly they show that they are concerned with unremembered situations from the past that are still to be discovered, If, however, the feeling concerned is not experienced but reasoned away, the discovery cannot take place, and depression will be triumphant.
After a long depressive phase, accompanied by suicidal thoughts, a forty-year-old patient was at last able to experience her violent, very early ambivalence in the transference. This was not immediately followed by visible relief but by a period full of mourning and tears. At the end of this period she said:
‘The world has not changed, there is so much evil and meanness all around me, and I see it even more clearly than before. Nevertheless, for the first time I find life really worth living. Perhaps this is because, for the first time, I have the feeling that I am really living my own life. And that is an exciting adventure. On the other hand, I can understand my suicidal ideas better now, especially those I had in my youth – it seemed pointless to carry on – because in a way I had always been living a life that wasn’t mine, that I didn’t want, and that I was ready to throw away.’
Alice Miller – The Drama of the Gifted Child p.78
The achievement of freedom from both forms of narcissistic disturbance in analysis is hardly possible without deeply felt mourning. This ability to mourn, that is, to give up the illusion of his ‘happy’ childhood, can restore the depressive’s vitality and creativity, and (if he come to analysis at all) free the grandiose person from the exertions of and dependence on his Sisyphean task. If a person is able, during this long process, to experience that he was never ‘loved’ as a child for what he was but for his achievements, success, and good qualities, and that he sacrificed his childhood for this ‘love’, this will shake him very deeply but one day he will feel the desire to end this courtship. He will discover in himself a need to live according to his ‘true self’ and no longer be forced to earn love, a love that at root, still leaves him empty-handed since it is given to the ‘false self’, which he has begun to relinquish.
The true opposite of depression is not gaiety or absence of pain, but vitality: the freedom to experience spontaneous feelings. It is part of the kaleidoscope of life that these feelings are not only cheerful, ‘beautiful’ and ‘good’; they also can display the whole scale of human experience, including envy, jealousy, rage, disgust, greed despair and mourning.
Alice Miller – The Drama of the Gifted Child p.77
It is precisely because a child’s feelings are so strong that they cannot be repressed without serious consequences. The stronger a prisoner is, the thicker the prison walls have to be, which impede or completely prevent later emotional growth.
Alice Miller – The Drama of the Gifted Child p.74
The paradise of preambivalent harmony, for which so many patients hope, is unattainable. But the experience of one’s own truth, and the postambivalent knowledge of it, makes it possible to return to one’s own world of feelings at an adult level – without paradise, but with the ability to mourn.
It is one of the turning points in analysis when the narcissistically disturbed patient comes to the emotional insight that all the love he has captured with so much effort and self-denial was not meant for him as he really was, that the admiration for his beauty and achievements was aimed at this beauty and these achievements, and not at the child himself. In analysis the small and lonely child that is hidden behind his achievements wakes up and asks: ‘What would have happened if I had appeared before you, bad, ugly, angry, jealous, lazy, dirty, smelly? Where would your love had been then? And I was all these things as well. Does this mean that it was not really me who you loved, but only what I pretended to be? The well-behaved, reliable, emphatic, understanding, and convenient child, who in fact was never a child at all? What became of my childhood? Have I not been cheated out of it? I can never return to it. I can never make up for it. From the beginning I have been a little adult. My abilities – were they simply misused?’
Alice Miller – The Drama of the Gifted Child p.30
Today’s parents must learn to appreciate the shadow of temperament as Jerome Kagan puts it. Children’s hard wiring can guide your footwork out of clumsy, frustrating dances. Temperament, or basic characteristics, are noticeable to every parent from early on, and remain fairly consistent through the teen years. If you recognize this and try to match your movies in the dance with your child’s basic temperament, you’ll have a greater chance to authentically engage, and spend less time fighting. Here are some of the main temperamental constellations to watch for and how to approach each:
- Sensitive child – tone of voice, pacing of questions, much less yelling.
- First-time fearful child – practice, go slowly, let child’s reaction guide.
- Tenacious child – offer a “limited choice,” either one of which you can accept.
- Active child – allow fewer choices, talk small and quick, arrange a lot of everyday physical activity to burn off energy, and be on the look-out for food allergies.
- Difficulty with transitions child – simple, but harder than you think: cut down on the number of transitions; one less per day can make a huge difference.
- Low frustration tolerance child – anticipate escalations ahead of time, and always try to attend to biology: not enough rest, hunger, and over-stimulation. Physiology always wins.
- Clingy child – prepare your child for transitions, more one-on-one time, try to make sure there are fewer surprises for this kind of temperament.
- Scattered and disorganized child – ask kids to repeat what you said, help with gentle reminders and break tasks into smaller chunks. This “executive functioning” will get somewhat better with age, but not as quickly as you would like.
- Quiet or low mood child – mindset is critical: low-grade moodiness is not a rejection of your love, which is how it feels to many mother and fathers; much more down time is needed, as well as reassuring rituals.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.95