Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2005 issue of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
The Co-Addicted Tango: Pia Mellody's Theory of Love Addiction and Love Avoidance
By Lawrence S. Freundlich
When Ms. "Crazy for Love" meets Mr. "Give Me Some Room to Breathe," the stage is set for what Pia Mellody calls "The Co-Addicted Tango." Ms. "Crazy for Love" is in Mellody's clinical terms, "The Love Addict," and Mr. "Give Me Some Room to Breathe," is "The Love Avoidant." They will each find something attractive about one another and inevitably something that will detract from one another, making their dysfunctional relationship as painful as it is frenetic and a back-and-forth "Co-Addictive Tango."
The Love Addict, to whom I have just referred to as "Crazy for Love," I identify as a woman, and the Love Avoidant, to whom I have just referred to as "Give me Some Room to Breathe," I identify as a man. Is this gender typing accurate? After all, men can be Love Addicts and women can be Love Avoidants? In fact there are powerful forces at work in American culture that distribute Love Addiction to women with significantly greater frequency than to men, and Love Avoidance to men with significantly greater frequency than to women. The most powerful generator of this disproportion is revealed when we understand the psychological concepts of "disempowerment" and "false empowerment."
Trauma results from either disempowering abuse or "falsely empowering" abuse, which, because of its falseness, disempowers as well. Abusive parents either shame the children into silence as a way of diminishing their own external stress, thereby disempowering the children, or assigning the children roles for which the parents should be responsible, thereby falsely empowering the children.
In our culture, young girls are trained to believe that men are the source of value, power and abundance; it is the female whose prevailing dysfunction is the outcome of "disempowering abuse." Her need to be taken care of by a man greater than herself is consistent with Love Addiction. The main conscious fear in relationships from which Love Addicts suffer is fear of neglect and abandonment. In childhood their parents have shamed them into thinking of themselves as unworthy. Without the help of an outside agency, like a husband, for example, they do not feel they have what it takes to be whole.
On the other hand, young males in our culture are raised to believe that it is their job to control and dominate- to be the source of value, power and abundance. They are trained to care "for the little woman," because she can't care for herself. It is the male whose prevailing dysfunction is the outcome of falsely empowering abuse. His need to caretake the needy female is consistent with Love Avoidance. The primary conscious fear of the Love Avoidant is fear of being drained, suffocated and overwhelmed. In their childhoods, the parents of Love Avoidants have forced on the child the role of caring for the needs of the parents. In this role reversal, the parent is being taken care of by the child. Giving the child the adult role is a form of enmeshment, which causes the love avoidant to think of intimacy as a job. They learn to resent this job as the neediness of the Love Addict becomes overwhelming.
The Love Addict enters into the relationship feeling an unbearable sense of inadequacy. Her relationship with the Love Avoidant is as doomed as it is inevitable. Having been neglected and abandoned by her own parents, she has learned that all attempts at intimacy will be painfully unsuccessful. When she seeks a love mate she will, therefore, find someone familiarly not intimate, but someone who will be good at mimicking intimacy. She deludes herself into believing that the mimicry is the real thing by creating her lover in accordance to a fantasy of her own making. The Love Avoidant becomes her knight in shining armor- "armor" being the operative psychological irony- shiny, but impervious to intimate contact.
The Love Avoidant, on the other hand, enters the relationship not because he is seeking confirmation of his own worth but out of a sense of duty. In his childhood, his parents taught him that it is his job to care for people who cannot care for themselves. As an adult, the Love Avoidant, while feeling superior or pity for the neediness of his Love Addicted partner, thrives on the power it gives him over her. Eventually, he grows resentful of all the work it takes to be a caretaker. He begins to feel suffocated and lifeless.
The suffocating Love Avoidant begins to distance himself from the Love Addict, who after several bouts of hysterically trying to get him back, eventually becomes exhausted with the pursuit of the Love Avoidant and turns to someone else with whom to be helplessly Love Addicted or to some other addiction to cover her pain of inadequacy. The substitute addiction could be food, alcohol, sex, work, spending or exercise- any addictive activity.
At this point in the Co-Addicted Tango, the Love Avoidant, who is no longer the object of the Love Addict's desire, feels the pain of no longer being needed. Without someone whose weakness cries out for his strength, his sense of superiority wavers. What value does he have if he cannot care for the needy? This triggers deep, underlying abandonment fears- sardonically the same kind of abandonment fears that lie at the heart of the Love Addict's emotional dysfunction. Love Addicts, never having been unconditionally loved by their neglectful and/or abandoning parents, look for a knight in shining armor to provide them with the self-esteem with which they never had mirrored for them by their own parents. Love Avoidants, on the other hand, almost never got a chance to feel their inherent worth, because in childhood they were empowered to care for their own parents. While not having received love from the parents, their caretaking gives them a sense of grandiosity, while masking the haunting truth that they have never been intimately loved. This false empowerment very effectively hides the crucial truth that they, like the Love Addict, were starved of intimacy. The contempt they feel for the neediness of the Love Addict, is the masked contempt they feel for themselves at not having been worthy of their parents' love. Contempt is shame turned outward on anyone whose weaknesses reminds us of the intolerable shame of our inadequacy.
Deprived of the caretaking role by the withdrawal of the Love Addict, the Love Avoidant finally feels the jolt of the carried shame of abandonment; and the Love Avoidant, who once feared being smothered by the Love Addict, now turns around to get close to the Love Addict again, using all of his powers of seduction to get back into control of the relationship.
One is running and the other is chasing all the time. When the one who is chasing finally gets close to the one running away, they both erupt into intensity, either a romantic interlude or a terrific fight. As the lyrics to the classic song say, "You Always Hurt the One You Love." This behavior is what most people call "normal"; and if it isn't "normal," it certainly is "familiar."
This attraction to what is familiar, says Pia Mellody, starts in our family of origin. "Familiarity" is the central engine of child hood character formation. In the case of Love Addicts and Love Avoidants, each person is first attracted to the other specifically because of the "familiar" traits that the other exhibits. These traits, although painful, are familiar from childhood and appear a safe way to keep the family system stable.
Both the Love Addict and Love Avoidant are traumatized children who originally adapted in order to survive within the abusive family system. They believed that only by adapting to their parents' expectations of them would they remain protected. Maintaining the status quo, even if it was a dysfunctional status quo, was for these children better than being abandoned or losing their identity (role) within the family.
The abandonment pain felt by Love Addicts in their families of origin teaches them as children to be quiet, alone, needless and wantless so as not to bother the parents. Later, they are unconsciously attracted to people who do not aggressively seek attachment to them. They unconsciously seek to replicate their childhood relationships. A part of self-esteem was wounded in the childhoods of Love Addicts. Abandonment and neglect send the message that they were not worth being with. A large part of their attraction toward Love Avoidants is that Love Addicts find in people who walk away from them an opportunity to heal the wound to their childhood self-esteem. If they can make an adult who withholds intimacy connect and fall in love with them, they can prove that they have inherent worth. Only a child can be abandoned; adults cannot. Healthy, mature adults have it within their capacities to deal satisfactorily with the vagaries of relationships without calling their inherent worth into question.
Love Avoidants are accustomed to needy, dependent, helpless people whom they can rescue, which gives them control and a 7 feeling of safety and power. When they pick up the right signal, Love Avoidants move in seductively and powerfully. People who think for themselves, say directly what they mean, solve their own problems and care adequately for themselves are not interesting to Love Avoidants.
The conscious fear of Love Avoidants is the fear of being drained and used. The unconscious fear of Love Avoidants is the conscious fear of Love Addicts, and that is the fear of abandonment. Abandonment is the core issue for both, but getting at the abandonment issue through shame reduction therapy is much more difficult with Love Avoidants than it is with Love Addicts. Disempowering abuse keeps Love Addicts close to their shame core all the time. Love Avoidants are walled off from their shame core by the grandiosity of their childhood false empowerment.
Pia Mellody's elegant charting of the dance of avoidance and pursuit between the Love Addict and the Love Avoidant is a fascinating anthropology of failed relationality, which deserves the name "Co-Addicted Tango." But understanding the various stages through which Love Avoidant/Love Addicted relationships travel is not enough to effect healing from the traumatic wounds that set these relationships in motion. For that healing to hap pen, as with all childhood relational trauma, shame reduction must take place.
The therapeutic contribution of presenting Pia Mellody's modus operandi of the Co-Addicted Tango to the patients is that the compelling accuracy of her models reduces the patients' shame by exposing their delusions to reason. As they come to see the delusions of Addiction and Avoidance in their own emotional lives, they see that they are not alone in the world of relational dysfunction. More importantly, they come to see that the emotions that seize them during relational trauma are not their fault, that they are not worthless. Undoing the automatic descent into shame and worthless ness during relational stress takes more than intellectual understanding.
Love Addicts and Love Avoidants must revisit the scenes of their childhood wounding by going back in time with the help of a therapist to confront their childhood abusers with their honest testimony of how their parents' abuse caused shame, pain and bewilderment. There comes a moment in this process of shame reduction when patients are able to rid themselves of carried shame. This emotional "detoxification" is at the center of recovery. The traumatic inheritance of abandonment has poisoned both Love Addict and Love Avoidant with shame of being who they are- better than or less when, disempowered or falsely empowered- it hardly makes a difference. Shame will run and ruin their relation ships unless they heal.
Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2005 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
Some Thoughts on Rigorous Honesty
By John Bradshaw
Because lying to ourselves (denial) is the core of all addictions, the various 12-Step groups stress living in a rigorously honest way as the sine qua non of character rebuilding. Over the 40 years I've spent going to meetings, I've never heard anyone discuss what I've discovered in myself as "unconscious dishonesty."
Dealing with my unconscious dishonesty has been a critical part of my recovery. I've found two major areas of unconscious dishonesty. One stems from what the psychologist Carl Jung called "the shadow" of the psyche. The second stems from the contamination of my fundamental childhood wound. My shadow dishonesty manifested itself in gossiping, criticizing and being judgmental of others. My core childhood wound, engulfment, manifested itself in my closest relationships as the avoidance of intimacy, the need to control, and fantasies of being used by my partner. Let me briefly elaborate on both of these areas of unconscious dishonesty.
Jung's idea of the shadow includes what have been referred to as "shame binds," as well as one's past behaviors that one considers unacceptable and disgusting. Our shadow also contains unrealized positive parts of ourselves, which is why embracing our shadow (toxic shame) can lead us to the discovery of the many potential strengths we are capable of actualizing.
The parts of myself that I repress and the behaviors that I cannot accept are unconsciously projected onto others. Over many years, my repressed parts and my detestable behaviors become unconscious. I have engaged in gossip and criticism of others, especially of those in the recovery community. I also have been the object of the vicious jealousy of others.
Early on in the 12-Step groups I attended, I heard the old timers warn against taking other people's inventory. Yet I still find judgment, gossip and criticism of others widespread in the 12-Step groups I attend.
I have worked hard to uncover my shadow, and, while I slip occasionally, I have made great progress. I'm certain that my dishonesty in judging, criticizing and gossiping about others destroys the quality of my sobriety.
Our Primary Wound
Each of us carries some degree of "woundedness." The wounds we carry from our family of origin, especially if our family was severely dysfunctional, are the most damaging. All forms of abuse (including neglect, abandonment and enmeshment) set us up to miss meeting important developmental dependency needs. Our developmental deficits form the core symptoms of codependency.
My roles in my dysfunctional family of origin were "star" and "caretaker" of my mother's pain. I was enmeshed as her surrogate spouse and "carried" her rage, shame and unresolved sexuality. An unresolved wound pervades our consciousness and gnaws at us like a painful toothache. Over the years, we become so used to defending against our wound that we lose consciousness of what we're defending against. We can see or hear something dangerous and threatening in almost anything our spouse or an intimate friend says to us.
In my book, Creating Love, I describe the phenomena of defensive behaviors as trance states. Following Freud, I speak of ego defenses as auto-hypnotic traumas. We can engage in positive or negative visual fantasies about those closest to us. We can see something that isn't there or imaginatively contaminate something we do see. A smile can become a smirk; apathetic eyes can be seen as uncaring. People with unresolved wounds continually "make up" things about those with whom they interact. When we do this, we are in a delusional trance state: "Delusion is sincere denial." Our shadow and our primary wound keep us in a dishonest, defensive, delusional state.
Recovery calls us to continually work to be more rigorously honest. Rigorous honesty means confronting my shadow and giving up the defensive delusions that guard my wound. The mechanics of repair are too complicated to present in a short article. An example will have to suffice.
Embracing Your Shadow
A simple way to uncover unconscious shadow material is to ask yourself what the people closest to you habitually say about your behavior that causes you to energetically defend yourself. Your spouse, children, family and close friends know you better than anyone else. They experience firsthand the contradictions in your behavior. The intensity of one's defensive energy (especially rage) is key in making shadow material conscious.
Tracking Your Wound
I look at rigid family-of-origin roles, as well as what psychologist John Money describes as a "love map," in order to become aware of one's primary wound.
My dysfunctional alcoholic family pushed me into a "star," "caretaker" of my mother's pain, "surrogate spouse" role. These roles required me to have certain feelings, such as joy, courageous silence in the face of pain, and intense interest in selfless moral behaviors. These feelings and other concomitant behaviors are highly valued and were attractive to my love partners. But behind my rigid caretaker façade were other feelings, such as rage, fearful hyper-vigilance and shame.
When my love partner or good friend got too close, she experienced my dark side, my shame/rage/blame game, and my real dislike of taking care of others all the time. Rage particularly kept me guarded and non-intimate. My rage was almost always dishonest.
Our "love map" is formed during our early developmental stages ( ages 3 to 8 ) when our sexual identity is first being formed. Our "love map" is composed of the voices and behaviors of our most significant source figures. It also is shaped by our primary wound. If we liked our mother's or father's sense of humor or we admired their physical appearance, these images become a part of our "love map." Our "love map" also contains our source figures' negative character traits. My love map contains an image of a dark haired, seductive woman who is fearful, needy and depressed, as well as my father's frivolous irresponsibility. It contained (prior to recovery) my parents" intimacy dysfunction that each guarded dishonestly - my father with his sex and alcohol addictions, my mother with her codependency.
Until I did the grief work that involved family-of-origin issues, I could not be honest in my marriage or my post-divorce love relationships. It is imperative that abused and/or enmeshed people realize how difficult it is to be intimate, and therefore honest, without first doing the grief work that allows emotional separation from one's primary source figure(s).
I show people how their wounds and love maps contaminate their intimate communications. I use a tool called "the Awareness Wheel," developed by Sherod Miller, Elam Nunnally and Dan Wackman in their book Alive and Aware. The Awareness Wheel includes four areas of consciousness:
The place where our wound is most likely to distort our communication is on the second level of awareness. Our interpretations (unless we are in the realm of pure, formal logic) always involve some element of imagination. We cannot know for sure what is going on inside another person's skin.
Our interpretations are partly fantasies based on the sensory data we observe, which then trigger an emotion and some element of volition.
Let me conclude with an example. A few years ago, my fiancée (now my wife) and I were in Dublin. After finishing leading an inner-child workshop, we decided to take some time to explore. While visiting some historic sites in Dublin, my fiancée Karen saw an antique store she wanted to explore. I told her that I had all the antiques I ever wanted and I did not wish to buy any more. She had some lovely antiques herself and agreed. As we browsed, I saw Karen talking to the owner of the store. I heard her say, "I'll call you tomorrow." Immediately I felt my stomach muscles tense and my throat go dry, and I recognized these bodily signals as the first feeling of rage. I had done years of work learning to contain anger and to separate from the rage I carried from my enmeshment with my mother.
As we walked out of the store, I knew I had to express my anger before it became reactive rage. I used the Awareness Wheel as my guide. My disclosure was as follows: "Karen, I saw you talking to the antiques shop owner. I heard you say, "I'll call you tomorrow!" My fantasy is that you are going to buy an antique (with my money because I knew she didn't have the money to buy an antique). I feel angry because we agreed to not buy any antiques, and I want to know your intentions."
At that time, Karen and I were seriously working on tools for conflict resolution. Karen repeated to me what she heard me saying and waited for me to verify that what she repeated was what I said. When I verified her response, she said, "Yes, I am going to buy an antique. My mother gave me money to buy you a birthday present!" When I heard her reply, I realized that my fantasy interpretation was contaminated by my wound of being used by a woman. During our three-year engagement, Karen had never done anything to suggest that she was trying to use me for my money. My wound (which I thought I had under control) festered up and formed my judgment, which triggered my anger. I felt like a jerk and apologized profusely. I hope you can see how a wound (even after years of recovery work) can distort communication and make what seems like righteous anger an expression of dishonesty.
Recovery is an ongoing process, which requires the continual working of maintenance steps 10 and 11. These steps help make me willing to work at uncovering my unconscious dishonesty.
Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2004 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
Rigorous Honesty: From False Pride to Authentic Self-Respect
By Kingsley Gallup
While in our disease, we may have prided ourselves on many things - perhaps even our "honesty." In recovery, however, we come to see the truth about ourselves - namely, that when we pride ourselves on something, it is likely something for which we wish we could take credit, something we wish we could claim as our own... but something that is not truly us. We discover in our lives the toxic presence of false pride. In our adapted ego state (the modified ego state in which our addictions flourish), we prided ourselves on being everything to everyone... all the time. This was our badge of honor. We were chameleons, forever flexible. At all times adaptable. And we believed it is precisely this malleability that makes us good people - people who deserve to be proud.
In recovery, we discover just the opposite to be true. While in our addictions, we had been indubitably dishonest. Our malleability had been intrinsically deceitful. (Would it seem logical to pride ourselves on that?)
We now find that our pride had been nothing but a mask... a false front. It was simply another brand of denial. It was a facade of self respect. Pride was our pretense. It hid our shame.
Now, this is not to say we were in no ways honest while in our disease. But let's face it: When it came to the critical points, the truly consequential details of our lives - like who we were and what we wanted and needed - the inherent dishonesty of our disease reared its head. And we paid the dearest price. Simply stated:
The deceitfulness of our codependence - and our resulting addictions - may indeed bring us embarrassment and shame. Even so, we must not allow ourselves to remain stuck in this place of indignity and dishonor. (We have been there far too long!) In order to heal, let us instead find in this shame a motivation to change.
As we learn in recovery, much of the shame we have been carrying around is not our own shame. It belongs to others. At the same time, however, we learn that some shame is healthy shame. It is our conscience speaking, motivating us to grow and to change. Responding to this personal shame, while at the same time releasing the carried shame that has been nothing but an albatross around our necks, is the hallmark of the functional adult. It is about taking responsibility for our choices. It is about owning our dishonesty. It is about getting honest with ourselves and others - and choosing to do things differently as we move forward.
Rigorous honesty is nothing short of hard work. It takes courage, after all, to speak our truth. It takes strength to be vulnerable, readily admit wrongs, stay current with the people in our lives and acknowledge the truth of who we are. Disciplining ourselves to share our realities and to attend to what we want and need - when we want and need it - is the liberating work of our recovery.
Interestingly, maintaining our dishonesty had been hard work as well. After all, keeping up appearances was exhausting! Keeping all those balls in the air all the time was arduous and draining. The feeling of wanting desperately to flee (and from a situation, no less, that we perpetuated through our deceitfulness), and yet remaining amid all the craziness, certainly felt like hard work. But doesn't hard work usually pay? Were there any payoffs from our dishonesty? Or were there simply trade-offs?
Our disease has robbed us of our integrity for long enough. No longer must we live in that proverbial "pressure-cooker" of codependency - namely, that adapted condition in which the pressure of external demands and the pain of our own dishonesty inhibit our ability to truly thrive. In recovery, we learn to consistently release "steam" from that pressure-cooker by speaking our truth. No longer must we operate in crisis mode. No longer must we seek simply to survive in an environment from which we want to run. We come to embrace life, rather than flee from it! Getting honest involves acceptance and vindication. We acknowledge that our addictions served a purpose in our lives. They helped us to survive in less-than-nurturing environments. Next, we accept where our addictions took us by confronting the dishonest patterns of our disease. The addicted life, after all, is inherently dishonest. (This by no means implies that addiction is a moral issue, but maintaining the addicted life demands a degree of deception.)
One of the greatest - if not the greatest - fruits of recovery is intimacy, the path to which is self-knowledge. To achieve true intimacy in our lives, we must challenge each and every message that has led us astray, that has taken us away from ourselves. In doing so, we come to know ourselves... perhaps for the very first time.
We need no longer cling to false pride. Rather, we now love ourselves justifiably as we nobly strive for rigorous honesty. We learn to love ourselves, if only for the effort we make, as true valor is found in progress, not perfection. We love ourselves for being honest about our fallibility and our weaknesses. We love ourselves as we walk down the perfectly imperfect path of recovery... two steps forward, one back... two steps forward, one back...
Honesty is nothing short of an act of love - for ourselves, for others and for our higher power. It is in this place of honesty that we truly connect. It is here that we genuinely feel a part of the human family. It is here that we not only survive, but thrive. Simply stated, the language of recovery is truth. May we speak it now with honor, dignity and love.
Note: This article was first published in the Winter 2003/04 issue of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
Whores & Madonnas
By Maureen Canning-Fulton, MA
A friend of mine, who knows about the therapy I do with female patients in the area of sexual dysfunction, had sent me a movie review. He wanted to know how I would react to it. The review was of The Magdalene Sisters, a film by Scottish director Peter Mullin that had debuted in London in February 2003 and opened in New York in August. The review by Mary Gordon, a distinguished essayist and novelist, ran under the headline, "How Ireland Hid Its Own Dirty Laundry."
The film follows three young Irish girls who, in 1964, are sent to one of the Magdalene Asylums, institutions founded in the 19th century, primarily in Ireland, and run by nuns. They housed girls who got pregnant outside of marriage or who were considered too sexual, too flirtatious or even too active. With the legal consent of their fathers, they were incarcerated in these asylums, which doubled as laundries.
The kind of outrageous injustice that sent the women there is shown in the opening scene at a raucous Irish wedding. A young woman named Margaret is lured away from the party by a cousin who rapes her upstairs. He returns to the festivities and continues to drink with the other men.
When Margaret comes down, she is flushed and disheveled and so clearly upset that a girlfriend shows concern. We see their lips moving as Margaret tells her what happened. The friend accosts the young man, shouting at him, and then goes to an older man for help.
Margaret just sits there, her eyes darting as the gossip makes its way around the room. It becomes increasingly obvious that Margaret, rather than the young man, is being singled out as the problem. She's the one who will be punished, not the rapist. The next day, Margaret is packed up and shipped off to one of the Magdalene laundries.
Always exploited and, in many cases, sexually abused, Margaret and the other victims work, unpaid, seven days a week, 364 days a year, with only Christmas off. Most of the laundries had closed by the 1970s, but the very last did not close until 1996; 30,000 women had passed through their doors.
In her review of The Magdalene Sisters, Gordon writes, "Didn't any of the women who escaped or left legitimately (any adult male relative could rescue them) tell anyone - a family member, a friend, a sympathetic confessor - what they had endured? The answer seems to be no, and the explanation lies in the particular flavor of Irish shamed silence. The moral horror of the Magdalene laundries is that the abuses perpetrated were not the outgrowth of simple sadism or even of unmindfulness, but of the belief that they were intended for the victims" own good."
The grotesque and terrible injustices suffered by these women, while all different, reveal that they were victims not so much of deep, unflinching religious beliefs, but of a deep-seated contempt for and fear of - female sexuality.
When I read this article, I was personally touched. It reminded me of my own Irish Catholic heritage, and how my mother was so ashamed of her sexuality. On another level, I was reminded of the widespread malaise in our country that makes women either whores or Madonnas; it is one of the poisonous results of America's shaming of female sexuality.
I remember when we were growing up in the ´70s, all of the girls were getting bikinis, wearing halter tops and baring their midriffs. I really wanted to be part of that scene and to be part of my peer culture. My mother absolutely refused. I had to beg her to get a two-piece swimming suit, because, for my mother, bad girls do those kinds of things - good girls don't.
Speaking to my mother's history and culture, the review of The Magdalene Sisters addresses the Irish belief that women's sexuality is shameful, and the fact that men control the issues of women's sexuality. They control it to the exclusion of a woman's own humanity.
In America today, women's sexuality is afflicted by what I call the "Madonna-Whore Split." There are good girls and bad girls; and sinful girls should be shunned. The Madonnas are the childbearing wives and daughters. We put them on a pedestal, and we can't think of them as being sexual and "sexy," because we need them be pure and virginal like the Madonna herself. Then we have the whores: the girls "we can play with." These girls are promiscuous and sexual, and we think of them as wrong and bad. And by calling them wrong and bad, we make them scapegoats and transfer our sexual shame to them. We think they are kinky curiosities, seducers and nymphos. These labels dehumanize them. Our contact with them is physical only or based in pornographic imagining - there is no intimacy. We think they are beneath us, while it is we who have paid the price of grandiosity by denying their humanity and our own lust. We cannot have them in our everyday lives. In our everyday lives, we want Madonna, and our women have learned to be Madonnas - all at a terrible cost.
In other words, we have J-Lo and Britney Spears acting that out for us, becoming sexual caricatures. In our culture, they become icons, but we do not let the sexuality that they imply, and which we affirm with their celebrity, take place in our own bedrooms. That would be shameful.
In our culture, the burden of sexual shame is most brutal to the women whose Madonna-hood has been forced upon them by the male dominance of sexual mores, as so vividly portrayed in The Magdalene Sisters.
I see this all the time in my practice; women come in who have the "Madonna-Whore Syndrome." I ask them if they have ever had an orgasm, and they tell me they never have. I ask why. They tell me they don't enjoy sex. I ask if they have ever masturbated, and they tell me no. They don't know how to masturbate, and the idea sounds dirty and shameful. They tell me they are afraid to try.
Some women who come in are the other extreme: women who have acted out and are the bad girls. They feel shamed and dirty. Often they are depressed because of this shame, because of their inability to embrace the human reality of their sexuality and to know how they have been abused.
We have been conditioned to deny the human totality of our sexuality. This is no less a delusion than denying our reason, compassion, hunger or need for friendship and intimacy. So sex becomes this horrible split between the pure and the sinful. Why is it that many women cannot have fun with their sexuality? Why is it they cannot freely orgasm? Why is it they cannot feel good about their bodies? It is because of the shame. Because good girls don't do that.
We Americans are not really looking at this cultural shame; we are not really addressing what goes on in women's bodies, minds and souls, and what they want sexually. Because most women don't know. They have been shamed out of their sexual gift, and this shaming away of female sexuality is epidemic.
Certainly the women I treat are not getting a sexual education rooted in the fullness of their perfect-imperfection - that acceptance of the truth about their humanity that enables self-esteeming sexual vitality. I don't think we are aware of how we have scapegoated women and how we have not allowed them to be the full sexual human beings they were created. The Magdalene Sisters will powerfully compel us to such necessary reflections.
Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2005 issue of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
An Expense of Spirit and a Waste of Shame
By Lawrence S. Freundlich
There is so much about her that I admire. Her knowledge of Western culture is vast; she is one of the best-read individuals I have met - including at the highest levels of academia - and she seems to remember it all. But her book learning hasn't isolated her from the world. She has a rich social life. She attends premier art openings and theater and music events. Her circle of friends includes the business, cultural, and social movers and shakers in America and Europe. Many of them have been her lovers.
But all of these virtues are awash in alcohol. She has partied all over the globe and left a trail of real and metaphorical broken glass and stained gowns. She is famous or infamous (depending on whether she is your friend or your foe) for her scurrilous mockery of pomposity among the rich and powerful. She is afraid of no one. She is welcome in as many circles for her sanitizing iconoclasm as she is unwelcome in others for her preposterous rudeness. For some she is a culture hero - for others a dreadful boor. She has not spared her several husbands or children the spectacle of her shaming grandiosity.
When I was drinking, this woman and I were often in one another's company, bonded by alcoholic gaiety and amused by one another's provocative hostility. Neither of us would have recognized a boundary violation if we were hit over the head by it.
When I sobered up, after I had worked hard at making what I learned at The Meadows a part of my life, I came to see my friend for the adult wounded child she was, and my heart went out to her. I was particularly touched by her admiration for my own recovery. Because she often expressed how much of a better person I had become, I thought that I could lead her down the path of recovery.
I wanted very much to change her - to make her want what I had. I encouraged her to tell me about her upbringing, and she did. It was a very painful tale in which the false empowerment of privilege and the disempowerment of abandonment left their morbid residue of grandiosity, shame, and worthlessness over all her relationships and trapped her in alcoholic denial of her own immaturity.
During a recent vacation retreat at her home in France, at which several of us were her guests for a few days, we were the recipients of her usual hectic generosity. Then the liquor began to do its work: slurred speech, repeated anecdotes, insults, confused lectures. She was always on stage, leaving hardly any air for me to breathe. Once again, I was the little child in the presence of his shaming parents - too frightened to speak the truth for fear of being abandoned. I should have left, but I did not. Instead, I sulked silently, and my carried shame began to grow like a tumor. My authentic self shriveled. I masked my worthlessness in a constant interior monologue of contempt for her bad behavior, when it was my own shame, fear and powerlessness that were torturing me. Before the week was over, I alternated between wanting to scream in her face or hide in my room with my head under a pillow.
In the months since that sad event, I have reflected on how ill-advised it is for us recovering people to think we can save friends and partners from their addictions. Since so many recovering people have had childhoods in which their wounding involved not being heard, they are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress when their active friends and partners mock their advice by continued dysfunction. When they inevitably fail to understand us, our own shame wounds are opened, and it is we who put our recovery in danger.
The model upon which our recovery is based will often leave us feeling on the outside. This loneliness is not a personal failure. Accepting it is the difficult but healthful gift of having become a mature adult. The wound of "not being heard" creates an abnormal need to hear things discussed intelligently and straightforwardly. I say "abnormal" because such boundaried and conscious behavior in relationship is abnormal for the species. We may be forced to accept our need for and insistence on boundaried and conscious relationship as an idiosyncrasy spawned by our own trauma histories. To fall into self-pity because we harbor a delusional notion of recovery according to our standards is an expense of spirit and a waste of shame.
The First Step is for the addict to take - we cannot take it for him. No one took it for us. If modeling sober behavior for our addicted friends does not lead them in the right direction, perhaps the only other thing we can do is to pray for them. Prayer, after all, doesn't require their understanding or willingness.
Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2005 issue of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
Healthy Sexuality One Step at a Time
By Maureen Canning
There is a saying in AA that reminds newcomers “to fake it until you make it.” The belief behind this advice is that you can act your way into good feelings – that proper behavior nurtures healthy emotions.
Boundary practice, which is the practice of sober behavior, relies on this insight. As Pia Mellody has said, ”Boundary practice re-creates the conditions under which truth and respect are possible.” During the “re-creation” stage, sober behavior is consciously practiced and may seem unnatural, since we still are feeling the uncomfortable emotions associated with our disease. But despite our discomfort, we notice that the results of our acting sober are all positive. Positive builds upon positive and, at last, boundary practice yields a satisfactory (healthy) portion of inner peace.
In therapy, recovering sex addicts discover that what they think of as sexual pleasure is, in fact, the reduction of anxiety they feel when they use manipulative sex to obliterate or ameliorate the fear, shame and powerlessness wired into them by childhood sexual abuse. Disconnection from the authentic self has caused them to make a monumental mistranslation in which danger, intensity, fear, shame and powerlessness have come to mean “sexual pleasure.” Undoing this perversion of emotional truth and recovering for addicts their Authentic Selves are the aims of recovery. When in recovery, we reconnect to our Authentic Selves, we feel the safety that we lacked as children. In this feeling of safety, we begin to build what I call “congruent” selves, in which, on all levels of our being, we move toward living in the truth and taking the first steps toward healthy intimacy in relationships.
One Step at a Time
Sex addicts had to disconnect with their feelings as children, because to acknowledge the betrayal of their parents' role of caregivers would have been overwhelmingly threatening. So they adapted, stuffed their feelings, and lost contact with the care and nurturing they genuinely wanted and needed. Since sexual urge is the energy source of our selfhood, sexual abuse caused them to lose contact with their creative identity. In order to get back in touch with their healthy needs and wants, they have to rediscover what it feels like to be authentic - free of traumatic intimidation - and vulnerable. This reconnection will be a careful and specific process of reflection and practical exercise. It is a step-by-step process. The goal is to rediscover, in the everyday events of our lives, the healthy bond between pleasure and sexuality. Only then will it be possible to see how spiritual truths and sexual energies are connected at the highest level of our being.
For example, music is one thing that can provoke the awareness of such positive bonds between bodily sensation and pleasure. When you connect with music that seems to speak to you, that is the kind of restorative reconnecting between pleasure and self-esteem that I speak of. The music and who we really are seem to be congruent; we fit together as part of a force greater than ourselves.
Another example of an activity, which, like music, reconnects us and makes us feel whole, is sensuous dining. You go into your favorite restaurant and order your favourite food, and, in that moment, you are so present and connected with the experience of taste, smell, texture and comfort that you feel complete. You feel that pleasure is what you deserve. Pleasure loses its connection to danger.
People damaged in this way must be coached in the techniques of self-care and pleasure if they are to recover from sexual addiction. I coach recovering sex addicts to identify the everyday things that give them pleasure. It might be burning incense, the sound of a fountain they listen to as they sleep, or bedroom walls, newly painted in a color that is soothing. As they act practically and habitually to cater to their sense of pleasure, they reawaken their sensitivity to pleasure and learn that it does not have to come with fear, intensity, powerlessness and shame. They learn that pleasure is not the reward of manipulation and control; it is something they deserve, in and of itself, and only because they are precious. They learn that the experience of pleasure exposes them to no danger. But it can be terrifying for sexually addicted persons to open up to such restorative activities. Their original fusion of pleasure with abuse makes the opening of oneself to pleasures as innocent as music, eating or decorating the house in favourite colors, a traumatic pathway back to pain and shame.
This is where the maxim "to fake it until you make i" is put to work. Overcoming the reluctance to listen to our favorite music, to linger over our favorite foods, to decorate our rooms in our favorite colors, soon bears fruit. We learn that pleasure does not need to plunge us back into memories of abuse. We may feel anxiety when we pleasure ourselves in these healthy ways. But we do it anyway, with a little help from our recovering, healthy, like-minded friends – friends with whom we can share our fears and our reluctance to let go and become vulnerable.
The goal of sexual recovery is not to make music, food or interior decorating healthfully available to the recovering addict. The goal is to liberate the sexual energy at the core of our being. When I talk about sexuality, I am not just talking about genital contact. I believe that sexual energy is the core of who we are; it is our life force, our passion and our creativity. From this sexual core of our being resonates our unique selfhood.
Maureen Canning, Clinical Consultant of The Meadows and Dakota, was recently featured in an interview on iVillage. In Tiger Woods in Sex Rehab: What Really Goes on in There, Anyway?, Canning described some indicators of a sexual addiction, and what goes on during a typical day of sex addiction treatment. Canning was also quoted in a Time.com article, What Happens in Sex Rehab?
On a related note, the work of The Meadows Senior Clinical Advisor Pia Mellody was described in an article on love addiction on Albany.com. The article outlines Mellody's book Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love , and describes the symptoms, causes, and steps to overcome love addiction.
For more information on the treatment of sexual addiction, visit The Meadows, The Meadows Dakota or Maureen Canning’s Sexual Addiction Blog.
Maureen Canning, Clinical Consultant for The Meadows Addiction Treatment Center, was interviewed January 6th on Good Morning America. In a story on the death of Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson, Canning explained the difficulties that high profile families face when their adult children have trouble with substance abuse.
To read more about the story and view the Good Morning America video, visit at abc.com.
Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2005 issue of The Meadows‘ alumni magazine, MeadowLark.
Dissolving Fear and Nurturing Joy: the Personal Story of a Recovering Agoraphobic with Panic Disorder
By Charles Atkinson, MA, MSW, LCSW
Hello, my name is Charles Atkinson. I am a 55- year-old recovering agoraphobic with panic disorder. The term "agoraphobia" derives from the Greek language. The interpretation of "agora" is marketplace, and a "phobos" is defined as flight. Hence, agoraphobia literally means "flight from the marketplace." Further examination of the word agora reveals it was not only a place of intense commerce where goods were sold and bartered, but also the social hub of town for the exchange of exciting new ideas and concepts. Consequently, an agoraphobic could not venture into the marketplace for fear of overstimulation in unpredictable and chaotic surroundings. Therefore, at an unconscious level, the marketplace represented to the agoraphobic a mirror image of his childhood environment.
Today, the definition of agoraphobia has been refined to include an avoidance of a specific place or situation in which one feels trapped and may experience embarrassment. The terms "panic attack" and "anxiety attack" can be applied interchangeably. Panic attacks occur when the sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive and generates a cognitive distortion of second-order fear, or "fear of fear." This emotion of fear is felt on both the conscious (physical) and unconscious (emotional) levels. The results are panic attacks that feel as if the sufferer is going to lose control, go crazy or die.
It is not fully understood if agoraphobia with panic disorder has its fundamental inception in biology or is a learned behavior. I believe this disorder has its roots in both theoretical paradigms. However, additional schools of thought can be applied.
Dr. Shelley Uram, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist at The Meadows, helps articulate a layperson's perspective of how the neuropsychiatry model of the mind and body adapts to stress and trauma. She explains that our amygdala is located in the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system is located in the midbrain, where our emotions originate. Constant stresses, such as childhood traumas, rattle and sensitize our amygdala, which is also referred to as the "smoke detector," a moniker indicative of its function. It does not gradually activate the sympathetic nervous system for the fight or flight response. It spontaneously stimulates the adrenal glands to flood the body with adrenaline. This results in a state of arousal for the body and mind. If the brain continually perceives the message of an external threat, whether real or imagined, it will create an internal state of perpetual hypervigilance and angst. It is analogous to revving your car's engine to the highest RPMs while in park.
Pia Mellody's longtime work in the area of trauma and addictions has resulted in a behavioral model called "Developmental Immaturity." This model addresses the problems of being relational and achieving intimacy. To gain a better understanding of Pia's model, imagine a tree.
The roots of the tree are the childhood traumas, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The trunk of the tree allows the core issues of immaturity to fester and impede personal growth. These core issues include problems with self-esteem, boundaries, reality, dependency and containment. The branch of the tree denotes the secondary symptoms of unmanageability. This is the stage when addictions, depression, fear and panic disorders appear. The leaves of the tree represent the final outcome of all of the dysfunctional stages and an inability to establish and maintain healthy intimate relationships.
My first panic attack occurred at age 27, six weeks after I was married. It as if I were losing control, going crazy and having an emotional breakdown. A visit to the emergency room ensued. The hospital medical staff said I was having an anxiety attack, gave me a tranquilizer and sent me home. Not only did I feel emotionally trapped and ill-equipped to engage in an intimate relationship, but the sense of overwhelming fear and impending doom was ever-present. I tentatively speculated that marriage was the problem. It was too incomprehensible to think that the problem was endogenous to me. So began my journey through life, filled with hidden shame, fear and depression spanning the next three decades.
After two years of visiting a myriad of psychotherapists and experimenting with numerous psychotropic drugs, I was still battling depression, fear and anxiety. Fortunately, at 29, I found a psychologist who diagnosed my condition as agoraphobia with panic disorder. He explained that my disorder stemmed not from my perception of marriage, but from the cognitive distortions and childhood trauma embedded in my psyche due to physical abuse. Recalling the physical abuse experience was so powerful that it felt as if my heart and soul were being suffocated. I could not address my childhood abuse issues.
However, as I developed more psychological ego strength and better coping skills, I gradually reflected back to my childhood. I was physically battered multiple times between the ages of 5 and 13. I tried unsuccessfully to stave off my father’s abuse with my feeble attempts to express anger. My retaliation was met with scorn, disdain and an escalation of violence. This violence would trigger my body to mobilize and prepare my internal milieu for the most primitive response: survival.
Today, my father would be labeled a "rage-aholic." His impulsivity and inability to contain his rage were equivalent to a ticking time bomb, ready to explode at any time, for no reason. Since I was the oldest male child in the family, I was the focal point of his outbursts. This dysfunctional
behavior perpetuated the male rite of passage in our family. The sins of the father were being passed to the next generation as an acceptable form of discipline.
After decades of therapy, I found that the model that helped me grasp and understand my problems most clearly was Pia Mellody's. Her approach illustrated that my father had an extreme failure in maintaining his boundaries, contributing to my feelings of being exceedingly vulnerable and without boundaries. His constant verbal and physical abuse was an edict to our family; he was the boss. If he was in the perennial position of one-up, we were always one-down. Being one-down all the time obviously had a negative impact on my self-esteem. Also, he emphatically and without question demanded obedience, putting himself in a position of omnipotence. This eventually distorted my reality, dislodging me from the spiritual path to my higher power. My father was continually on the verge of being out of control. His lack of control influenced my behavior, as I always tried to be in control and perfect.
As a survival technique, especially during the physical battering, I dissociated my emotions from my body. If I felt any feelings, I cognitively appraised them as anxious feelings. This psychological tactic of turning my anger at my father into anxiety within myself allowed me to function in a chaotic and unpredictable home.
Consequently, after decades of dissociating from my feelings, convoluting and twisting my emotions, I was unable to identify and appropriately express emotions. Therefore, every time I had a feeling, I assessed it as anxiety - and only anxiety. This increasing accumulation of stress and inappropriate processing of emotions provided a fertile environment for the onset of panic attacks. Pia Mellody would call this psychological process "carried feelings" or "carried shame." More pointedly, during my father's rage attacks, I felt shame, and he was shameless. As a vulnerable child, I symbolically swallowed all of his emotional frailties and inadequacies. The psychological process of feeling my shame, fear and anger, plus my father's feelings, was too overwhelming. A panic attack was the result of the carried fear and shame.
Healing the sins of the father is a Herculean effort. Many therapists employ traditional talk psychotherapies, which are extremely helpful. However, traditional talk therapies primarily engage the higher cortical portions of the brain. Some research indicates that childhood trauma seems to be locked in the more primitive limbic system. One of the most effective ways to access the limbic system of the brain is through modalities that stimulate the midbrain, or our seat of emotions. An example of this modality is guided imagery used to re-experience the childhood trauma as an adult. Pia Mellody uses this technique and others that bridge both portions of the brain, the frontal cortex (thinking) and the limbic system (feeling).
In closing, the abatement of the carried feelings is not the end; it is the beginning of one's spiritual path. Ironically, recovery is not only achieved with the dissolution of fear, but with the nurturing of joy.
The newest edition of The Cutting Edge, published by The Meadows, is now available. Feature articles include Emotional Incest and What's Wrong about Being Special by Debra L. Kaplan, The Next Step... Life Pleasure in Advance Recovery by Steven Hoskinson, and an excerpt from The Intimacy Factor by Pia Mellody and Lawrence Freundlich.
Also included are two staff spotlights and information on a featured workshop (Sexual Recovery), additional 2010 workshops, free lectures, and other upcoming events.
The Cutting Edge is available in HTML and PDF formats.