The Meadows Blog

As part of its ongoing video series, The Meadows presents an 11-part interview with John Bradshaw, world-renowned educator, counselor, motivational speaker, author, and leading figure in the field of mental health.

In the seventh video of his series, Mr. Bradshaw, senior fellow at The Meadows, discusses addiction recovery in personal terms. During his own journey through Alcoholics Anonymous, psychotherapy, family-of-origin healing work, cognitive work, and skill building, he learned to set boundaries, say 'no,' and express anger.

"Most importantly, I had to get back to my values," he explains."Because when you're an alcoholic or an addict or emotionally disturbed, you're morally and spiritually bankrupt. You've lost your sense of values.” He adds that full healing in recovery comes only when one begins to lead a truly virtuous life.

Over the years, Mr. Bradshaw has enjoyed a close association with The Meadows, giving insights to staff and patients, speaking at alumni retreats, lecturing to mental health professionals at workshops and seminars, and helping to shape its cutting-edge treatment programs. He also has authored several New York Times best-selling books, including Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, Creating Love, and Healing the Shame That Binds You.

Other videos in The Meadows' series feature discussions with leading experts in the fields of addiction and trauma, including Dr. Jerry Boriskin and Maureen Canning. To view all the videos in the series, visit

For more about The Meadows' innovative treatment program for addictions and trauma, see or call The Meadows at 800-244-4949.

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May 5, 2011

Sarah B. Warren, PhD will be speaking at The Meadows Free Lecture on May 5, 2011, at 7pm at the Winnetka Community House in Winnetka, Illinois.  Dr. Warren will discuss Hope for Families: A New Approach to Intervention. Even if it seems like you've tried everything, even if it seems like the alcoholic or addict will not accept treatment, there is help for your family. Dr. Sarah Warren will share her innovative, respectful, customized and highly-effective approach to Intervention which draws on her years of experience as a hospital trained clinical psychologist. She will answer these questions:

Is it possible to get someone to go to treatment even if they’re in denial?

Don't you have to use deception to get someone to an Intervention?

What if someone has "failed" in treatment before?

How do we get off the addict's roller coaster ride?

Contact Jenna Pastore at 815-641-2185 for more information. No registration required. We look forward to seeing you.

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Tuesday, 14 December 2010 19:00

Romantic Relationships in Recovery

Romantic Relationships in Recovery

By Rabbi Shais Taub

There's an old piece of sage advice that old-timers in recovery like to say: "No relationships for the first year." If you hang around long enough, and watch enough people come and go, you'll see that the old-timers are right.

But why is getting intimately involved with another person so damaging in early recovery? And if it is a threat in early recovery, why does it somehow become all right later on?

All addiction is essentially addiction to self. Recovery is a spiritual growth process that enables the self-centered person to become available to make connections outside of self.

In other words, in active addiction, every connection is ultimately a connection to one's own ego. Even when it seems like I am connecting to you, I am really only connecting back to myself. It's like the old fable of the salmon who gets caught in the fisherman's net and hears him exclaim, "Oh great! A salmon! I will bring this to the king because the king loves lox." The salmon thinks to himself, "This fisherman is not very nice. He has taken me from my home. But he says that the king loves lox. The king will love me and be kind to me." The fisherman rushes to the palace and shows his catch to the palace guard, who immediately opens the doors, saying, "I will take you immediately to the royal chef, because the king loves lox." The salmon thinks, "I hope they get me to this king who loves lox already." They run to the royal kitchen, and the royal chef shouts with glee, "Bring the fish to me! You know how the king loves lox." Again, the salmon thinks, "Finally, when this lox-loving king arrives, I will be saved." The king enters the kitchen and watches with relish as the chef guts the fish on the table. The salmon suddenly realizes that he is to be the king's lunch and, with his last breath, mutters to himself, "These humans don't know what love is! They say the king loves lox, but he only loves himself."

The inner addict is like the king in this story, and the addict's "beloved" is like the salmon. The addict is incapable of being truly intimate with another person; the closer the addict tries to get to another, the closer he is to himself. This explains a seeming paradox: One of the best things an addict can do to start recovering is to hang out with and befriend other addicts, while one of the worst things an addict can do to start recovering is to become romantically involved with other addicts.

As the addict recovers, however, and learns life skills that enable him to move away from complete self-interest, it becomes increasingly possible for him to actually become close to another person. One of the ultimate objectives of recovery is to be able to form loving relationships with others. The ability to be involved in a romantic relationship is not just an indication of good recovery, but one of the goals of recovery.

Many times people stagnate in what we might call "the middle stages" of recovery. They basically get their lives together, but they never become capable of being involved in an intimate, loving, committed relationship. Many, unfortunately, are jaded by past heartbreaks; they say, "I'll never love again." That is, in my opinion, a great loss. Just as addiction is a destroyer of intimacy, recovery is the greatest catalyst for intimacy. Good recovery means good relationships. Indeed, I would venture to say - although this may be outside the scope of this blog post - that every troubled marriage, even when no addictive behavior can be identified, is lacking recovery.

In the end, it all depends on how you see it. If romantic love is something we see as "icing on the cake of recovery," then we're probably not ready for it. If, on the other hand, we see an intimate relationship as an obligation toward the god of our understanding, then not only are we ready for it, we are actually required to give of ourselves in this manner.

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Note: This article was originally published in the January 2008 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.

Primacy of the Affect System: A Support for The Meadows' Model
by John Bradshaw, MA

Almost a half century ago, research psychologist Sylvan Tompkins (referred to by some as 'the American Einstein') wrote:
"I see affect or feeling as the primary innate biological motivating mechanism, more urgent than drive, deprivation and pleasure and more urgent than physical pain. Without its amplification, nothing else matters, and with its amplification anything can matter."

This statement summarizes Tompkins' long-term research, verified by cross-cultural studies with five literate and two pre-literate cultures (Eckman, 1971). Tompkins isolated nine innate affects and showed that they compose "the affect system," which operates like other human systems (endocrine, nervous, immune, etc). Tompkins supplanted Freud's libidinal energy theory with the energy of affect as the primary motivator of human behavior.
During the 1990s, often called "the decade of the brain," neuroscientists such as Joseph LeDoux, Allan N. Schore, Antonio Damasio, and Daniel Siegel offered extensive clinical evidence supporting and expanding Tompkins works.

Following are a few significant ideas from these researchers, each clearly identifying affect regulation as the critical factor in the organization of a functional human. I believe that the work by Tompkins and many contemporary neuroscientists supports, validates, and offers new depth to the "feeling work" being done at The Meadows.

Joseph LeDoux is the Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science in the Center for Neuroscience at New York University. He has presented strong clinical evidence that there is no single part of the brain that houses a separate limbic, or emotional, brain. He has shown how emotion is involved in most aspects of human behavior, and he has done pioneering work on the Amygdala, a primitive part of the brain that operates much like home alarm systems. Our right-brain Amygdala records traumatic events. Whenever a situation bears a resemblance to a past traumatic event, the alarm goes off. Amygdale reactivity can bypass and greatly distort rational thinking, but it has survival value and is a right-brain form of intelligence. Tompkins concluded that affect is the right brain's form of cognition, an intuitive intelligence.

LeDoux supports this position: "Subjective emotional states, like all other consciousness, are best viewed as the end result of information processing occurring unconsciously. The activity goes on in the right brain, which is intuitive, nonverbal, and non-logically analytic." It is, however, deeply intelligent. Parts of the emotional system are involved in cognition and choice. Feelings involve "conscious content," says LeDoux.

Antonio Damasio, in his book Descartes’ Error, presents a severe blow to the ratio-logical bias that has dominated Western philosophy for several hundred years, from René Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" to Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind. Many of us grew up under the umbrella of Descartes' rationalism, hearing our parents say things like "Don't be so emotional" and "Emotions are weak." Our parents also stuffed their own feelings, both conscious and unconscious. This set us up to "carry their feelings," as Pia Mellody has pointed out. The shaming of our feelings caused us to numb our feelings and set up codependency, which is the core of addictiveness.

Damasio presented the case of Mr. X, who has suffered damage to a part of his brain that has cut off his ability to experience feelings. Mr. X can think logically and abstractly, but he cannot make simple decisions, such as where to eat. Damasio shows that, without feelings, we are unable to make real decisions. It is no wonder that the severely co-dependent make such bad decisions.

In my forthcoming book Bradshaw On: Calling Forth the Better Angles of Your Nature (due in September 2008), I offer plentiful evidence that moral and spiritual choices depend on emotional literacy. Since the time of Aristotle, we've known that the last act of any moral or spiritual judgment is dependent on affective (feeling) inclination governed by good will (right appetite). It is no wonder that co-dependents and addicts are morally and spiritually bankrupt.

In his book The Developing Mind, Daniel Siegel shows us the social nature of the brain, i.e., how relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. For Siegel, the interpersonal bridge of the secure attachment bond is critical to a healthy emotional life and healthy sense of shame. Healthy shame is the affect that most determines and guards our sense of self, honor and dignity. The breaking of the interpersonal bridge is the root of toxic shame and the first step in forming a shame-based self.

Siegel asks, "Why does a child require emotional communication, attunement and alignment of emotional states in order to develop a solid sense of self?"
Emotion is how the mind establishes meaning and places value on an experience. Both meaning and value are integrally linked to social interactions. Following his colleague Allan N. Schore at UCLA, Siegel posits that self-regulation with reality is fundamentally rooted in the education of the emotions, or emotional literacy.
Schore, in his three poignant books Affect Regulation and the Organization of the Self, Affect Dysregulation and the Disorders of the Self, and Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self, stresses the importance of affect regulation, especially the relationship between infant attachment, affect regulation, and the organization of a healthy functional self. Following the pioneering work of John Bowlby and his student Mary Ainsworth, Schore uses the growing body of evidence showing that the neural circuitry of the stress system is locked in the early development of the right brain. The right brain is dominant in the control of vital functions that manage stress, regulate emotion, and preserve a consistent sense of self.

Schore quotes copious studies that cite trauma as having significant negative impact on early bonding and maturation of the right brain during its most crucial period of growth. The most serious damage of early relational trauma is a lack of the capacity for emotional regulation. This adverse experience results in an increased sensitivity to later stresses. The Meadows' Senior Fellow Bessel van der Kolk reiterated this conclusion in 1996 (see Proceedings of the National Academy of the U.S. of America, 1996).

Schore suggests that these neuroscientific findings call for a greater affective bond with our clients, who must disclose personal issues around shame. Schore makes it clear, as did Tompkins, that we can't take our shame-based clients further than we are willing to go. As the great psychotherapist Milton Erickson modeled, we must meet our clients at their map of the world. By mirroring and utilizing another's meaning systems, we can lead him to a larger view of the world. This requires that we have done our own feeling work.

During the eight years of my PBS show and workshops, an estimated 300,000 people did the "Inner Child" and "Healing Shame" workshops. Among the thousands of volunteer therapists at these events, many had difficulty handling the deep feeling work. It was common to find professionals reticent to work with participants who went into an age regression. The work can be frightening, as I am sure many of us experienced in our early professional careers. But it is paramount that, as professionals, we not hide behind talk therapy or prescription giving, when what would most help the client is feeling work.

New insights in neuroscience point to "affect" as the primary motivating energy of life. Affect work has been a missing piece in many therapeutic models, and I am sure this will change in the coming years.

About the Author
John Bradshaw, Fellow of The Meadows, has combined his exceptional skills as counselor, author, theologian and public speaker for the past four decades to become a world-renowned figure in the fields of addictions, recovery, family systems and the concept of toxic shame. John has written three New York Times best-selling books: Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, Creating Love, and Healing the Shame That Binds You.

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