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Sherkow, S.P. (1982). Prisoners of Childhood: By Alice Miller. Translated by Ruth Ward. New York: Basic Books, 1981. 118 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 51:435-439.

(1982). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 51:435-439

Prisoners of Childhood: By Alice Miller. Translated by Ruth Ward. New York: Basic Books, 1981. 118 pp.

Review by:
Susan P. Sherkow

The three essays which comprise the chapters of Alice Miller's contribution to the literature on narcissistic disorders attempt to address the problem of the genesis and treatment of narcissistic disturbances. The subtitle on the jacket sharpens her focus and reveals her hypothesis: "How Narcissistic Parents Form and Deform the Emotional Lives of Their Gifted Children." Psychoanalysts will be particularly interested in the first chapter of this book; here, Miller's insistent speculations about the psychoanalyst's choice of career and aptitude for his profession will make for provocative reading. Indeed, if one is to take her seriously, all gifted children who are raised by narcissistic parents are at risk of becoming psychoanalysts!

In the first chapter, "The Drama of the Gifted Child and the Psychoanalyst's Narcissistic Disturbance," Miller presents the thesis that creative, talented, intelligent children are particularly vulnerable to responding to the narcissistic needs of their mothers, at some cost to the fulfillment of their own needs. These dutiful, achievement-oriented, perfectionistic, and highly accomplished "model children" must, Miller claims, prematurely and unequivocally conceal and reject their impulses to be envious, jealous, competitive, or dirty, in order to secure the love of their mothers. In so doing, they grow up with a sense of having lost their true identity and come to depend upon the admiration of others as a source of transient self-esteem, without which they feel empty, isolated, worthless, and unlovable.

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