In what ways is our perception of ourselves shaped by our childhoods? Alice Miller’s classic, concise book The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self explores the ways that our sense of self-worth may have become distorted. We can all learn something about how primary caregivers affect the formation of ego – and the false self we all have. Many of us are in some way divorced from our feelings – we learned ways of hiding or denying emotions instead of processing them, which leads to depression, psychosomatic illness, and other suffering. A good book for prospective parents to read!
Lessons for Yogis:
1) Even if we did not have horrible childhoods and were not ostensibly abused , there may be things that our parents could not provide for us. In what ways are we still trying to “succeed” or get attention? We may be acting out in search of what can’t really be fulfilled today. If we face, mourn, and accept this part of our past, we are freed up from habits that might have really been about filling old needs.
2) Meditation can help us regulate our moods and prevent depression, because it allows us to acknowledge and accept emotions and impulses instead of suppressing them. “Everyone probably knows about depressive moods from personal experience since they may be expressed as well as hidden by psychosomatic suffering. It is easy to notice, if we pay attention, that they hit almost with regularity – whenever we suppress an impulse or unwanted emotion.”
3) When we’re in a yoga class, we can observe our own behavior in the way that we approach challenging poses. “Continuous performance of outstanding achievements may sometimes enable a person to maintain the illusion of the constant attention and availability of his parents (whose absence from his early childhood he now denies just as thoroughly as his emotional reactions.)” What is it we seek in an advanced balance pose? Is it a tool for finding our true self or part of “increased displays of brilliance” to maintain a feeling of grandiosity? What can we learn here? (page 39)
4) We carry a lot with us – often in our bodies – which might come out on the yoga mat or in therapy or in reflection as we learn mindfulness: “Consciously experiencing our legitimate emotions is liberating, not just because of the discharge of long-held tensions in the body but above all because it opens our eyes to reality (both past and present) and frees us of lies and illusions.”
5) Self-study can allow us to let go of our false self: “If a person is able, during this long process, to experience the reality that he was never loved as a child for what he was… he will be very deeply shaken, but one day he will feel the desire to end those efforts. He will discover in himself a need to live according to his true self and no longer be forced to earn “love” that always lives him empty-handed, since it is given to his false self – something he has begun to identify and relinquish.”
This book, which is part of a curriculum for Counselors, is a good beginning, but does not go into extensive detail about treatment, which might be completed with a therapist (or yoga therapist). It is a good introduction, and perhaps a good beginning for self-study for many of us, especially as we seek to stop unhelpful patterns in our own behavior and thoughts. And keep from projecting that pattern onto our children.
I got this book out of the library, but used copies are pretty inexpensive if you’re looking for one for yourself!