Eeyore Unbound

"Although the outward picture of depression is quite the opposite of that of grandiosity and has a quality that expresses the tragedy of the loss of self in a more obvious way, they have many points in common:
  • A false self that has led to the loss of the potential true self
  • A fragility of self-esteem because of a lack of confidence in one's own feelings and wishes
  • Perfectionism
  • Denial of rejected feelings
  • A preponderance of exploitative relationships
  • An enormous fear of loss of love and therefore a great readiness to conform
  • Split-off aggression
  • Oversensitivity
  • A readiness to feel shame and guilt
  • Restlessness...
"Depression consists of a denial of one's own emotional reactions...

"It is usually considered normal when sick or aged people who have suffered the loss of much of their health and vitality or women who are experiencing menopause become depressive.  There are, however, many people who can tolerate the loss of beauty, health, youth, or loved ones and, although they grieve, do so without depression.  In contrast, there are those with great gifts, often precisely the most gifted, who do suffer from severe depression.  For one is free from it only when self-esteem is based on the authenticity of one's feelings and not on the possession of certain qualities....

"Once we have experienced a few times that the breakthrough of intense early-childhood feelings...can relieve a long period of depression, this experience will bring about a gradual change in our way of approaching 'undesired' feelings--painful feelings, above all.  We discover that we are no longer compelled to follow the former pattern of disappointment, suppression of pain, and depression, since we now have another possibility of dealing with disappointment: namely, experiencing the pain.  In this way we at last gain access to our earlier experiences--to the parts of ourselves and our fate that were previously hidden from us....

"The true opposite of depression is neither gaiety nor 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 happy, beautiful, or good but can reflect the entire range of human experience, including envy, jealousy, rage, disgust, greed, despair, and grief.  But this freedom cannot be achieved if its childhood roots are cut off.  Our access to the true self is possible only when we no longer have to be afraid of the intense emotional world of early childhood.  Once we have experienced and become familiar with this world, it is no longer strange and threatening.  We no longer need to keep it hidden behind the prison walls of illusion.  We know now who and what caused our pain, and it is exactly this knowledge that gives us freedom at last from the old pain."

--Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self, trans. Ruth Ward, 3rd ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1997).


  1. I must say that I have problems with the concept of "the true self" (Does Alice Miller attempt to define it?). On one level, the notion sounds rather static while our personalities change all the time. More importantly, is finding 'the true self' more desirable than 'improving ourselves'?

  2. This is false dichotomy, as I read Miller: finding our "true self" is a continuing process of discovery and understanding, not of defining a static essence. I see it as a piece with sitting with uncomfortable feelings: you have them so as to learn from them, not as challenges to what you "should" be.


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