Being Well Podcast: Rediscovering Your True Self: Parentification and the “Gifted Child”
July 4, 2022

When a child is particularly emotionally intelligent, and a parent is particularly emotionally vulnerable, an inversion of the typical relationship can occur where the child devotes themselves to meeting the parent’s needs rather than the other way around. With this in mind, we explore how to heal from the effects of the pattern known as parentification, through the lens of a book we’ve referenced frequently on the podcast: Alice Miller’s 1979 classic The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self.

This parentification of the gifted child can lead the child to lose touch with their own wants and needs – with their authentic self – which then leads to underlying feelings of worthlessness, uncertainty, and self-alienation in adulthood.

Extreme versions of this pattern are known as parentification, but mild to moderate versions are surprisingly common. On today’s episode of Being Well, Dr. Rick and Forrest Hanson explore how we can heal from the effects of these difficult early experiences and rediscover who we truly are. 

This material was so eye-opening for me, and it’s one of my favorite episodes we’ve ever produced.

Want to learn more? Check out Alice Miller’s classic The Drama of the Gifted Child.

Key Topics:

  • 0:00: Introduction
  • 2:55: Distinction between parentification and the gifted child
  • 5:05: Serving a psychological function – what is the “gift” we’re talking about?
  • 7:50: Self-definition vs. defining yourself through relationship
  • 10:30: Examples of generational patterns
  • 16:45: Accumulation of subtle forms of parentification over time
  • 21:55: Patterns of interaction, and differentiation
  • 24:00: Summary of material so far
  • 27:00: “The manic defense against depression”
  • 30:30: What can people do?
  • 35:00: Love, aspiration, and power in parenting styles
  • 40:20: Creating a coherent (and balanced) narrative
  • 43:30: Seductive narratives, grief not shame, claiming your nature
  • 51:25: What emotions were you permitted?
  • 53:35: Recap

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Join Dr. Rick and Forrest Hanson every week on the Being Well Podcast for lively and thought-provoking conversation and practical tips for being happier, building inner strengths, and getting the most out of life.

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