To stop running

To stop running
Sunday February 28, 2010

Dear Alice,

It would be nice if you could publish this letter on your website. I would be very pleased to receive a reply from you. Thank you. You can use my initials “JW”.

I have been wanting to write you for a long time. I’m 35 years old and am highly successful in my career. As long as I can remember, I have always been an extremely gifted and talented child. In my family, it was the only way I could get any attention. I was constantly impressing my parents and their friends and co-workers by producing a stream of miracles. I was the “miracle child” and I was the best at everything. Whatever I did, I did it to become the best at it and to impress everyone. During my child hood I never had any casual hobbies that I did just for the joy of it. Everything I did had to be done with the purpose of proving that I’m the best at it. In our family, arguing with my parents was not allowed. Even the slightest disagreement with my parents was quickly and severely punished. I remember as a little child, when my mother was mad at me, she would stop talking to me and gave me the “silent look” as a punishment. To me, this felt more devastating than being hit, because it meant I was completely abandoned. My mother always said that I was such an easy child because I never complained even once. My childhood was extremely lonely and isolated. I had very few friends, and this was not noticed nor cared about. My parents are immigrants, and they always told me that we were “different” from everyone else. They often spoke condescendingly about other people, and the unspoken directive in our family was that we had to “prove it”. We had to prove that we were better than all of the “ordinary” people around us. Due to this isolation in the family, my family became my safe haven, it was the only place where I felt safe, even though I now know it was a prison. I was brilliant, and I excelled at everything I did. When I was young I often accompanied my parents to their workplaces, where I impressed their co-workers with my brilliance. Everyone, including my parents, told me that one day I will be famous. To be loved, I felt I HAD to become famous, I had no other choice. At the age of 18 my parents sent me to college without any emotional support whatsoever. I was devastated, lonely, and felt absolutely abandoned by them. I tried reaching out to my parents many times, but all of my complaints were ignored. “Just get over it” they would say, or “That’s no big deal, everybody does this.” Despite the emotional pain of abandonment that I was feeling, I decided that I had to become extremely successful. I thought that this was the only way for me to get the love back, even though I now know I was never loved. My ambition went into hyper drive. For the next 10 years I became more and more successful, and I earned millions of dollars in my career. Everyone was extremely impressed with my accomplishments. All along I honored my parents. I told everyone that I owe all of my success to my parents. Whenever I had a great success I immediately called my parents on the phone. “Look what I did!” I would say, hoping that they would think highly of me. I was proud when I bought my parents a new house. It was the nicest house in the neighborhood, and my parents were proud that they could finally show their superiority to everyone. But my parents never noticed that during all this time, I was extremely lonely and was suffering from many symptoms. From the age of 20 I started suffering from many physical and emotional symptoms, such as overwhelming anxiety, crippling muscular pain in my limbs, back pain, and severe skin allergies. My symptoms became worse and worse over the next few years. I saw all kinds of specialists: surgeons, neurologists, homoeopathists, chiropractors. I tried every treatment available, but nothing helped. I was becoming more and more disabled by my symptoms. It was a strange paradox. On the one hand I was an amazingly capable person who had achieved great success and who was admired everywhere. On the other hand I was so disabled by my symptoms that I could not accomplish the simplest tasks, and I gradually became a fulltime patient that needed the care of my parents. I now understand that the symptoms were screaming the rage at being abandoned, and I was screaming out to be loved and taken care of. But my parents didn’t care. As I became sicker and sicker, my parents simply told me that I was “sick”. “You are ill”, my mother would say to me, without investigating why I might have so many pains. They never found it strange that none of my symptoms could be explained, because none of the doctors could find anything wrong with me. But the whole time, despite all of my illnesses, they used me as a trophy. People congratulated them for raising such a brilliant, loyal and well-behaved son, and my parents basked in the glory of my success.

Over the years I had tried talking to many different psychotherapists. They told me not to look at the past, not to investigate my childhood, that there was nothing to be found there, and to look into the future. One of those therapists told me that my conditions were permanent, that there was no cure, and that my symptoms had to be “managed” with meditation and exercise. I was becoming increasingly disabled. Finally, through luck, I found a psychotherapist who was very different from anyone I had ever met. He was very understanding and he listened to what I had to say. One day, during one of our sessions, he asked me: “Is it hard for you to be angry with your parents?” When he said those words, I suddenly felt very sick, and I almost threw up in his office. For the first time in my life I started to understand myself. In the weeks that followed I was overcome by a rage that I had never felt before. I had heated arguments with my parents, something I had never done before. I asked them how they could ignore me for all this time. They were very defensive and told me that they did nothing wrong. They accused me of being crazy and having lost my mind. I have not spoken to them in over one year. During this time I also discovered your book “The Drama of the Gifted Child”. As I read it I cried, because it described me exactly. I underlined almost every line in the book. I was amazed that the book so accurately described not just me, but also my mother. Since doing this work, all of my symptoms have essentially vanished.

But other symptoms remain. Almost every night I dream about screaming at my parents, spitting in their faces, and destroying things in their house. I no longer feel any physical pain or anxiety. Yet sometimes I feel overcome by grief. Grief at the things I missed out on. I never had a childhood. I spent my entire childhood in isolation, working hard to “prove it”, so that my parents would give me the attention, validation, and caring that I so desperately wanted but couldn’t get. As a result of the psychotherapy I have become a completely different person. I no longer care about doing things for the sake of “proving” something. It feels like a new beginning. I’m getting to know the person that I never knew I was. How long will it take to get rid of the remaining symptoms? Sometimes I grieve so deeply that it feels like someone has died. It is very painful for me to think about my pasts. I grieve for the child that was crying for attention for all these years, but was ignored. Sometimes I feel fine for weeks at a time, and then suddenly I will be overcome by feelings of grief, sadness, and infinite rage. The rage is so great that sometimes it feels like the whole universe is filled with hatred and pain. I’m glad I met my enlightened witness, I feel like I’m finally out of the prison, and I’m thinking about becoming a psychotherapist myself. How long will it take until I can fully overcome what happened to me?

AM: You describe the life of milllions of people, brilliant, unconscious, running for the the gold medaille in Vancouver or elsewhere and never feeling their sadness or rage about their parents who couldn’t love them as they were. Fortunately, you found access to your feelings and you will lose your symptoms once you can fully face EMOTIONALLY your tragic life, once you become free of wanting to understand them, help them etc. As a child you had no choice, now you have one. You can stop to run.