Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Issues
by Michael Cooter, MSSW, LCSW
Imagine growing up in a world where your identity is always, if not frequently, being challenged due to external reality. Your external perceptions are profoundly incongruent with your internal experience. The GLBT individual, for instance, sees the world as predominately heterosexual: opposite-sex partners, rituals celebrating these relationships, and their related paths to validation.
Transgendered individuals' internal perceptions regarding their own gender do not match others' perceptions of them. To survive, one engages in fantasy, compartmentalization, hypervigilence, and other adaptations to navigate daily existence. This is a common experience among many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals.
This need to conceal, hide, and withhold the authentic self leads to a significantly adapted response that psychologically manifests itself in a variety of secondary symptoms. These symptoms can best be identified using The Meadows' Model of treatment.
To portray oneself dishonestly leads to a disruption (trauma) in one's usual path of development. The Meadows' Model addresses the core issues associated with such a disruption: self-esteem, boundaries, reality, dependency, and moderation. GLBT individuals struggle with issues of self-esteem prior to, during, and after the coming-out process. Many who have internalized shaming and homophobic messages about their inherent value will attempt to cope with this "carried shame" by becoming perfectionistic, or "better than." Others have no sense of inherent worth and believe the messages that they are "less than," or not as good as their heterosexual counterparts. Both defenses result from growing up in a predominately heterosexual world.
Carried shame plays a powerful role in the development of dependency on mood-altering chemicals and the chronicity of mood disorders. For the GLBT client in particular, issues of carried shame must be identified and processed in order to reach a hopeful recovery. If such issues remain unaddressed, the patient is vulnerable to interactive addictions and relapse in primary addictions/mood disregulation.
At The Meadows, we teach and work with patients to identify and release the internalized shaming messages associated with sexual orientation and gender identification. We support and guide patients in releasing "carried shame" resulting from cultural, peer, and family experiences. We believe, embrace, and support all people in celebrating their inherent value.
Michael Cooter, MSSW, LCSW
Director, Strategic Relations
Michael has previous experience working with The Meadows. He previously worked as a primary therapist, workshop facilitator of Love Addiction/ Survivor's groups and co-facilitated PIT trainings with Pia Mellody. Michael has extensive experience working with individuals impacted by specific combat related trauma. This includes almost five years work with post deployment trauma working with the Department of Defense. He maintains a private practice in Phoenix working with individuals, partners, and families.
Forgiveness: Let's Just Call it "Letting Go"
By Kingsley Gallup, MA, LISAC
It tugs at the heart, boggles the mind and puts the spirit to the test. It’s called forgiveness. But what exactly is it? While the concept conjures up many decidedly unappealing connotations, could it be that forgiveness is simply letting go?
Forgiveness is at the heart of recovery, and mastering it the essence of renewal. And many of us can't put it off any longer. Our ill will has become chronic. We have been inviting resentment into our hearts through our unrealistic expectations. And resentment is nothing short of bondage. It drains our life force. Forgiveness can replenish it.
Today we have choices. We can cling to the past, to a childlike ego state and the security of an unforgiving spirit. Or we can let go. These are the choices of the functional adult. After all, are we victims or volunteers?
Perhaps we never felt powerful early in life, and we aren't about to relinquish that power now, however real or perceived it may be. Perhaps our resentments make us feel one-up and better-than. Perhaps we fear looking others in the eye, as this would mean coming face-to-face with the truth of who we are.
So why forgive? Why risk the pain of exposure? Why give away our perceived power? Because as good as the payoffs of not forgiving may have been, the perks of forgiving are far better! Forgiveness releases healing power. It frees us from the burden of hurt and anger. It calls us to confront humanity and fallibility and, in so doing, allows us to live in peace and change for the better. It liberates all that energy we previously expended on resentment. It opens the door to intimacy. Forgiveness is about remembering and letting go (Claudia Black).
Since we can't give away what we haven't experienced, forgiving oneself is step one. We learn to release sorrow and regret. We love ourselves through our misdeeds. We confront our past and work out resentment. We become open to the belief that we can change. The path of self-forgiveness is paved with trust in ourselves, our humanity, and our higher power. It is a spiritual self-healing of the heart that comes by calming self-rejection, quieting our sense of failure, and lightening the burden of guilt (Messina & Messina).
Some of us have bought into the myth that that self-forgiveness is selfish - just some socially acceptable way of letting ourselves off the hook by avoiding responsibility. If so, it's no wonder we hesitate to forgive others who have wronged us! Why would we ever want to let them off the hook? Truth is, self-forgiveness is an act of integrity. It is how we maintain character. It's how we live ethically and free from hypocrisy.
Without self-forgiveness, our wounds never heal. We risk unresolved hurt, pain and suffering. We fear making mistakes or having past ones revealed. Our lingering shame fuels self-pity, indifference, stuffed emotions, self-destructive behaviors, hostility, distance from others, and resistance to chance. Forgiving oneself is about letting go of shame - some carried, some our own.
What we believe about ourselves dictates how we interpret our world. Think about the concept of loving our neighbors as ourselves. What exactly are we offering our neighbors? Love and forgiveness? Or hostility and condemnation? Only from a place of authentic self-love can we love our neighbors as we truly wish to do.
Each of us yearns for the freedom of letting go. But we need to do the footwork. It's time to take a step. After all, "If you want something you've never had before, you've got to do something you've never done before" (Drina Reed). The time is now. Let go.
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 was originally published in the Spring 2004 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
Child Abuse, Neglect, and Character Defects
by John Bradshaw
One of the most insidious effects of child abuse and neglect is their impact on "character" foundation.
Addiction (any form of obsessive/compulsive behavior) and the codependency that fuels it can be understood as being rooted in a complex of "character defects." We now have good evidence of a chemical imbalance that predisposes certain persons to addiction. (AA has, since its inception, pointed to a chemical imbalance in alcoholics.) Current research points to missing strands of DNA in the neurotransmitter dopamine. But missing DNA strands of dopamine do not mean that a person will necessarily become codependent or develop an addiction.
I do not hold the opinion that addiction and codependency are diseases in the medical sense of the word. They are certainly diseases in the psychological sense. They wreak havoc in a person's life and lead to moral and spiritual bankruptcy. Moral bankruptcy is my focus in this article.
Not all character defects come from child abuse and neglect. In the world of human freedom, anyone can choose to act in an immoral way. My concern in this article is to understand the role of child abuse and neglect in the formation of character defects.
Codependency is a disease of the developing self that is fully manifested in adult relationships. The primary symptoms of codependency, in relation to moral character, are:
These behavioral symptoms make up the essential "character defects" of codependency, which I refer to as "disabled will" in my book, Bradshaw: On the Family. Codependents do not choose well and seldom make virtuous choices. Virtue has to do with choosing the appropriate mean between two extremes. Codependents and addicts choose in ways that are all or nothing, black or white.
Moral action is concerned with choosing well in the ever-changing singular circumstances that make up our lives. Necessary to a strong ethical character is a specific virtue called prudence - the refined ability to "know how" to choose well in the changing circumstances of one’s life.
The disabled will is the reason codependency has been described as the disease of addiction. Addicts of any kind have serious defects when it comes to choosing well. I chose to drink as a solution to the problems caused by my drinking. I chose to act out sexually and commit adultery to assuage the guilt I felt for repeatedly betraying my wife by committing adultery. Words like "adultery" have a sting that is worse than simply saying "acting out sexually."
The will depends on reason, conscience, and that which the ancient philosophers Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas called a habituated or "right appetite." The will, they believed, has to be educated in such a way that a person experiences and tastes goodness. Aristotle believed we become brave by being brave, just by being just. The more we experience virtuous behavior, the more we learn how to choose to be virtuous. Aristotle and Aquinas referred to this knowledge to choose expertly as the virtue of prudence. Their formal definition of prudence involved right practical reasoning, which is based on right desire and a passion for goodness.
When we examine the symptoms of codependency, we find that they are the results of developmental dependency deficits, which are the consequences of abuse and neglect.
Developmental deficits refer to unmet developmental dependency needs. These needs must be met in order for a person to develop a solid sense of self and emotional literacy; these needs depend on source figures for their fulfillment. A child's needs cannot be met without reliance on a functional adult. Solid selfhood and emotional literacy are two essential foundations for the development of moral intelligence and ethical character. Psychologist Erich Fromm defines ethical character as "the relatively permanent form in which our moral energy is channeled in the developmental stages of our life.... Our ethical character is who we are as expressed in our actions, how consistently we live, what we believe in and how we actualize those beliefs." People often say that a certain behavior is "true to character" or "out of character." Codependent and addictive behaviors are "out of character" for any healthy adult human being. Toxic shame creates inhuman and dehumanized behavior.
Solid selfhood and emotional literacy are the fruits of an educated will. With a solid sense of self, a person has good boundaries and will power. Emotional literacy is characterized by the ability to think about and contain feelings, using them for self-soothing and expressing them with appropriate intensity.
The primary pillars of solid self-hood and emotional literacy are:
a) The development of one's own innate healthy or natural shame.
b) The achievement of "empathic mutuality" through the actualizing of the innate need for secure attachment.
Let me briefly discuss both of these pillars, and how child abuse and neglect damages them.
Healthy or natural shame is an innate human effect. It marks our natural human boundary and is a root of the natural moral law. Someone once described healthy shame as "the permission to be human." Natural shame is an auxiliary feeling that signals limits and monitors our pleasure, excitement and interest. Natural shame lets us know we are limited and imperfect beings. As such, it gives us permission to make mistakes and ask for help when we need it. Natural shame grounds us in our finitude and lets us know that there is a higher power. This is why the philosopher Nietzsche called shame "the source of spirituality." Natural shame is absolutely essential to the development of a moral life. When natural shame is nurtured in a healthy way, it develops into guilt (i.e., moral shame). Guilt is the guardian of conscience.
Natural shame becomes toxic when children interact with source figures who are immature (developmentally arrested) and morally shameless. The caretaker's shamelessness may take the form of the more-than-human, character-disordered control freak or perfectionist who chronically judges, blames, criticizes, beats, punishes or sexually uses his or her children. Or it may come from the neurotic character type who feels worthless and less-than-human, who treats his or her child as superior or worthless. In either polarized character form, the caretaker acts shamelessly and immorally.
Shameless caretakers were themselves the recipients of falsely empowering or disempowering abuse. Their grandiosity or worthlessness is a defense against their own toxic shame. Shameless caretakers also use a primitive unconscious defense mechanism called "projective identification." In projective identification, the projector, by means of interaction with the recipient (i.e. through acts of neglect or abuse), unconsciously induces feeling states in the recipient that are congruent with the projector's own rejected feelings (in this case, his or her own carried shame). A shameless caregiver's defensive projective identification causes those in his or her care to feel the shame being rejected.
Pia Mellody has described the dynamics of the transfer of shame as "carried or induced" shame. Carried or induced shame is toxic shame. Toxic shame results in the breaking of the interpersonal bridge between the child and his or her caretaking source figure. This has disastrous moral consequences, as the empathic mutuality between mothering source figure and child result from their secure bonding or attachment. Erik Erikson has repeatedly shown this secure attachment (along with natural shame) to be the earliest and primal root of moral life. The golden rule is embodied in empathic mutuality.
Years ago, pioneering psychologist John Bowlby stated that attachment behavior is "vital to the survival of the species." The earliest years of life are the most significant for attaining secure attachment. Secure attachment can be defined as the biological synchronicity between organisms. Secure attachment is the dyadic (interactive) regulation of emotion and has its foundations in the right hemisphere of the brain (or the nondominant, if you are left-handed). The known functions of the right brain, or right hemisphere, (RH) are:
Secure attachment is a form of resonance, which can be defined as a shared feeling or sense. Emotional information is intensified in resonant contexts. Secure attachments allow a child to develop resilience in the face of stress. Resilience is an ultimate indicator of attachment capacity and an infant's mental health.
The key to secure attachment is the source figure’s capacity to monitor and regulate his or her own emotions, especially negative ones. This kind of regulation is one of the fruits of emotional literacy.
In infancy, the relationship between the mothering source figure and the infant exhibits the most intense emotions. Communication is right brain to right brain. It will take some three and a half years for the left brain (the seat of verbal language and logical thinking) to emerge. In the beginning, the interaction takes place within a context of facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, tempo of movement and incipient action. The infant's emotions are initially regulated by the mothering source. When this interaction is sufficient, the infant toddler is able to increasingly self-regulate and cope with stress. Our earliest emotional experience directly influences the maturation of the right brain's early regulator system.
Emotional dysregulation and the disorders of the self are the effects of early relational trauma, abuse and neglect, and are imprinted on the amygdala of the right brain (the nonverbal unconscious). As leading neuroscientist Dr. Allan N. Schore writes, "Emotional dysregulation is a fundamental mechanism of all psychotic disorders."
Most abused and neglected children were poorly attached as infants for the simple reason that most abusing and neglecting source figures were shameless, immature and dysfunctional. It is illogical to assume that they were mature during their children's infancy and became immature later on.
Because the achievement of secure attachment establishes empathic mutuality, trust and hope, most codependents and addicts began their lives without a moral foundation. Abuse and neglect continue unless source figure caretakers get help and begin their own recovery processes. This is happening more and more as we grasp the dynamics of this whole sordid mess.
While I do not like the connotation of words such as "pride," "gluttony" and "adultery," I have to face the fact that my alcoholic addiction and sexual compulsiveness resulted in immoral behaviors.
I have had to confront my "better-than" belief in my own specialness and face up to making amends, owning my healthy shame and accepting responsibility for my moral life. Steps 4 through 10 of the 12-Step Program are crucial for rebuilding character, establishing a platform for virtue and deepening spirituality. I know these are suggested steps, but I see them as an essential bridge to repairing character defects. If you do not choose to do these steps, you will need to do the recommended work in some other therapeutic context.
Therapists have wisely shied away from moralistic rhetoric, but I see no way to mollify my character defects, other than to see them as immoral behaviors.
We are essentially moral beings. Our innate shame and innate need for attachment are the developmental roots of the natural law. Attachment and shame are the developmental motors of moral development and the virtuous life.
Aristotle believed that human happiness is synonymous with living a virtuous life. Happiness and virtue go hand-in-hand. Those who have walked a long way down the road to recovery know this. The tenets of AA promise it.
The cores of virtue are balance, polarity and moderation. Thomas Aquinas, the Medieval philosopher and theologian, believed that virtue is arduous, that it takes time and hard work to develop. He believed that virtue is a habitus of soul. A habitus is more than a habit. It is an integral quality of a person's inner life, something that has been so internalized that it is a part of the person's very being. When a person has such a quality, he or she does not have to think about things very deeply; he or she simply does good, because good is good to do. Not bribed by heaven or threatened by hell, this person does good because he or she has tasted it and wants it. It is good will.
Character defects are like holes in the conscience that distort our ability to make sound judgments. This is why recovering addicts and codependents are urged to get sponsors or to consult with therapists. It is why addicts and codependents in early recovery are urged to avoid making any major decisions for an extended period of time. The disabled will is as severe a moral problem as a person can have without being psychopathic.
I know of no better ideal or better gauge of a person's recovery than the degree to which he or she lives a balanced and moderate life and makes sound and virtuous choices.
About the Author
John Bradshaw, MA, has, for the past four decades, combined his exceptional skills as counselor, author, theologian and public speaker, to become a world renowned figure in the fields of addictions, recovery, family systems and the concept of toxic shame. Mr. Bradshaw 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.
Note: This article was originally published in the Fall 2004 edition of The Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
Child Abuse in the Name of Religion
By Robert Fulton, MA, LISAC, Administrator, The Meadows
The father, like an Old Testament prophet, roars out the moral law at the child he cannot control. If the parent does not see or hear what the child's sinful deeds or thoughts are, certainly God does, and nothing gets past God. If the child does not learn to behave according to the holy law - to abide by its prohibitions against impure sexual thoughts and deeds, against drunkenness and dancing and sloth, to be neat and finish one's food - the child is damned. Obey God; obey your parents. And if punishment is not enough to change the child, God's damnation will be forthcoming as certainly as the sun rises.
The Bible-thumping parent, like the Old Testament God of wrath, lays down the law to his child.
He teaches that right and wrong are external concepts, sanctioned by a relentless God, and that disobedience is the measure of personal failure and evidence of flawed humanity. This substitution of power and control for nurture and love is the setting for traumatic abuse in the name of religion - a denial of the inherent worth of the child and the perfect imperfection of his developmental energies and appetites. Often there is a sexual element at the heart of the parent's own developmental immaturity.
Religiously abusive parents instill in their children a fear of an ogre in the sky with a great big chalkboard, writing down everything these children do - and that if these deeds are not erased, they will be damned. These parents have no idea how to maturely educate and guide their children, usually because they were never taught by their own parents. They make God into a Marine drill sergeant whose bellowed orders cover up their own feelings of parental inadequacy. Their denial of their anxiety and fear and the repression of their sexual energies infect the air like an undiagnosed epidemic, and it is the child who becomes diseased.
Let us say that a religiously abusive parent discovers his child's masturbation. He says to the child, "I know what you are doing, and although I may not see you doing it, God knows and sees what you are doing. If you continue to masturbate, you are going to be damned." The parent, because of his own psychosexual immaturity, cannot walk the child through a natural sexual evolution in a functional way, and rather projects onto the child his own primitive fear of sexuality. In angry self-righteousness, the parent invokes external authority to maintain control and to go one-up so that he can, like the Wizard of Oz, hide behind his role on the family throne. Most often, these "God-fearing" parents think they are frightening the wits out of their child for the child's own good. The child will now feel defective around a normal developmental stage, which the parents do not celebrate or honor. Instead, they demonize normal sexuality and shamelessly terrorize the child in the name of "holiness."
Parents who revert to the authoritarian threat of Biblical punishment are fear-based. They need an external control system because they don't have an internal control system. The child will carry the poisonous inheritance of his parents' shameful immaturity as he grows into adulthood, ruining his own attempts at intimacy in posttraumatic throwbacks to his original shaming.
Having been tyrannized into the same emotional and intellectual box with his parents, that child, should he ever become reflective and seek freedom from parental coercion, will rebel and develop the core issue delusion of taking his value from one being. But it is a sad truth that the budding desire to gain freedom will be shame-based and will eventually take a dark side, as the adult wounded child seeks relief from his shame. And as we see so often at The Meadows, this search for lessened shame will take on a medicative state, even if it is addiction in the name of a delusional freedom, a delusional selfdefinition and the delusional authenticity of rebellion.
Since the child's gratification will be shamed-based, resentment and remorse enter his adult relationships whenever he seeks gratification. All of his emotions are knotted up in the tentacles of carried shame, so when he steps outside the template of his parents' shamelessness, he takes their shame with him; he re-experiences the notion that he is defective, even in the midst of gratification. He feels the childhood shame of his parents' debasement of normal human developmental emotions, even in the rebellion through which he seeks his freedom from tyranny.
When he experiences the ecstacy of being outside the box, the wounded adult child has his wires crossed and must go outside the norm in order to find this ecstacy. Perhaps this adult wounded child will look to a prostitute in order to get subconsciously in touch with the shame, fear and intensity his posttraumatic stress require. The adult wounded child will demand shame, fear and intensity from the experience, because these emotions were present at the ego age of his original wounding. To be himself, he will search for the familiar, even though it is painful and degrading. He has become hardwired by posttraumatic stress.
These kinds of shame-based actings out will involve the adult wounded child in the blame game, in which he blames his partner for the remorse, guilt, inadequacy and anger he experiences when he has sex or when he seeks relational gratification. Daddy gets the blame, the partner gets the blame, and religion gets the blame. Everything but himself is at fault.
He does not have the tools to be self-empowering and accountable. Not having the power to defend himself, he will characteristically react as a victim - of everything bad that happens in his life. The adult wounded child goes into a victim stance as a way of coping with his lack of personal skills. He feels himself a victim to the spouse, to the parent... he is even a victim of God: "Dear God, how can You have abandoned me?"/p>
Some stay in the "poor-me" victim stance, while others flip into the aggressive offensiveness of "screw you." Not able to ask what their role was in all of this, or what they need to do in order take care of themselves, they attack from the victim position. These victim attacks take them from one-down to one-up. Addiction, always a one-up posture, is often concomitant with the victim stance.
Abuse and the Parish
When I was involved in parish life, a corps of volunteers kept the parish running. The pastoral team would always falsely empower these people by lavishly praising them. These volunteers needed self-esteem - people who did not have self-care, people who wanted a daddy or a mommy because they didn't have one when they were growing up to tell them how wonderful they were.
In parish life, so many people get their esteem externally. The healthy goal is to give from a place of fullness, to give of the fullness of yourself freely, without manipulation. If I give myself away so that you will tell me I am wonderful and I can feel good about myself, I have given myself away, and this is codependence. It is not self-esteem; it is other-esteem.
The good of the institutionalized church is not more important than the good of the individual. The persons who suffer in this paradigm of other-esteem are the children of parents who, while serving the church, are not at home parenting. They are at church buying their esteem. The church, by being a failed parent to its own priests and parishioners, recruits failed parents who willingly accept the church's abuse of authority and labor for the greater glory of the church, inc.
What this says to the children of these needy parents is that both parent and child have no value; they are less-than. It perpetuates a vicious shame cycle in which the parents get their esteem on the outside, and are abandoning their children in order to do it. The church requires failed parents to buy into its own failure of parental responsibility, and it applauds the failure by calling these abused parishioners "the faithful."
The spiritual demise of the church occurred because the church has opted for power, greed and secrecy over connection, empowerment and intimacy. The invitation of St. Francis of Assisi was to rebuild the church - not in terms of bricks, mortar and coffers - but in terms of being present and spiritually connected: to give a voice to the voiceless and to empower the powerless. The church needs to accept that invitation, so, like a parent to a child, it can nurture and love and be loved by God in return.