Returning from a trip to visit my family of origin, I feel keenly the seductive pull of victimhood. A friend mentions Alice Miller and I remember how righteous I felt reading Drama of the Gifted Child for the first time. My copy is marked and dog-eared, and yes, I read at least 2 of her other books as well.
For those of you unfamiliar with Alice Miller, here is a too pithy summary: A brilliant psychologist writes poetically about children who are misunderstood by narcissistic parents stuck in their own point of view. Of course I applied her approach to my own poor misunderstood self, and also to my work with patients. To heal the narcissistic child, it is crucial to understand and accurately reflect the child’s point of view.
Many mothers in my community have drunk from Alice’s well, and have attempted to apply her principles to motherhood. Some of those mothers criticize me privately for being narcissistic.
Is that true? Am I traumatizing my child by asserting my needs?
Since I became UnMartyred, I have consciously decided to insist that my daughter understand my point of view. For example, when I received the lovely comment on the Renouncing Groups Post from Katrien after my traumatic family visit, it had such a strong effect on me that I shared it with Vita while I was driving her to a lesson. She ignored me and stared out the window.
Here is a choice point (per Ellen Wachtel). I could reflect her: “Honey, you seem bored or sad.” I could just stop talking. Or, I could do what I did: “Vita, I’m telling you something important about me and you are not responding. How do you think that makes me feel?”
Is that narcissistic?
Some would say that we need to be 100 percent attuned to our children and our patients. With patients, I agree to a point. To the 98 percent point. Even with patients, I think it is essential to have what we shrinks call a therapeutic rupture every now and then. We try to be accurate but sometimes we fail and then the patient must deal with a flawed person in the form of a psychotherapist. Handling this rupture forces us to learn about multiple perspectives.
But with children, I think we do them a disservice if we attune 98 percent. To interact with others, they need to learn that others have feelings. Even mothers.
I say that what is narcissistic is confusing our needs with our children’s needs, confusing our feelings with theirs. I see parents praising their kids and bragging about them, and to me it looks like parents acting out their own childhood longings.
What is missing from this picture? Where are the family portraits? Healing narcissism in the world means including all perspectives. Pity the lonely child who only has his own.