The Meadows Blog

Note: this article was originally published in the Cutting Edge Spring/Summer 2009 Newsletter.

John Bradshaw's latest book, Reclaiming Virtue: How We Can Develop the Moral Intelligence to Do the Right Thing at the Right Time for the Right Reason, released April 28, 2009.

Reclaiming Virtue is a very ambitious book. I originally conceived of it as part of my own Stage Four recovery work, but I later came to the realization that the book is more like a record of my own struggle over the past 50 years.

Many people say that the answers to all of our moral problems involve going back to traditional values - although no one ever defines exactly what "traditional values" means. They would benefit from a book by Stephanie Coontz titled The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, which shows that the American family has changed many times throughout our history.

Early history supports Coontz's thinking, as Boston's most influential Puritan clergy from the Synod of 1679 included in their list of sins teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, frivolous lawsuits, greed and excessive profit taking, and women in lewd clothing. Worst of all, the family was breaking down - a complete loss of discipline. For those who use the family systems model to understand addiction, trauma and neuroses, it seems as though some of today's problems are a collective repetition compulsion from the past. We know that families become dysfunctional because they use faulty solutions to solve distress. Mom's a prescription drug addict, so Dad tells the kids to take over her chores and keep her problem a secret. Everyone in the family overfunctions to help Mom's problem and, low and behold, it gets worse. The solution becomes the problem. Traditional values, as many understand them, are part of a solution that has become the problem.

As Reclaiming Virtue is more than 500 pages long, what follows is a brief summary of major elements of prudential ethics. They are based on the Greek tradition of Heraclitus (who was called the first moralist in Western philosophy) and include the virtue that Aristotle called "phronesis" (prudence). Prudence was later incorporated into the work of Thomas Aquinas (called the universal doctor of Catholic theology). These men saw prudence as the governing virtue of all virtues. They understood prudence to be a fully practical knowledge - the "know how" to make the right moral judgment in the right context at the right time! They believed that it is far better to be just and honest than to merely know how to define these virtues.

Studies in evolutionary psychology, clinical psychology, and the neuroscience of the brain support the fact that the mind (Dan Siegel) and free will (Jeffrey M. Schwartz) are distinct realities in relation to the physical brain. Studies of Silvan Tompkins, Allan N. Schore, and Joseph LeDoux point to affect (or feeling) as the primary motivating factor of human behavior, giving the prudential ethics of Aristotle and Aquinas a solid grounding in modern thought. Here are some of my ideas for new prudential ethics:

  • We are born with a raw moral intelligence, evidenced by our nine innate affects (especially shame, which distinguishes us from other animals) and our attachment program, which is activated in the nondominant hemisphere of our brain by our feeling interaction with our mothering sources.
  • The last act of a fully moral judgment is based on affective inclination - a right appetite (good will), informed conscience, and contained feelings.
  • The virtue of prudence - the "know how" in making good, balanced, moral choices - is the perfection of moral intelligence.
  • The virtue of prudence is the engine of our moral life, but love and justice are our highest moral virtues.
  • The virtue of love transcends morality and leads us to ethical sensibility.
  • A person can be moral but not ethical. (For instance, our founding fathers were slave owners.) Ethical consciousness is always reaching new levels. Many of our parents, thinking they were doing the right thing, abused us.
  • The studies of Hartshorne and May at the University of Chicago show that teaching obedient morality is similar to teaching table manners! They also show that people who rant against cheating and lying cheat and lie to some degree.
  • The ultimate ethical problems are unconscious dishonesty, self-aversion, and toxic shame. Carl Jung called this unconscious part of our psyche "the shadow" and believed that "no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort."
  • Our shadow also includes our carried and toxic shame, which will not go away because of moralistic "right practices."
  • The best preparation a parent can make for raising children is to do his or her own original pain feeling work. In his collected works, Carl Jung suggests that a parent's unlived life is the most damaging thing to a child's psyche. When a parent has unresolved issues that have caused him or her to stop growing, to be intimidated by fear, and to be unable to take risks, the child will internalize the parent's constriction and denial of soul. Finally, I hope Reclaiming Virtue will appeal to what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature" and will serve as a concrete guide for building a virtuous life, step-by-step.
Published in Blog
Wednesday, 19 August 2009 20:00

Child Abuse, Neglect, and Character Defects

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:

  • A lack of a solid sense of self-identity, which is rooted in toxic shame ("carried shame," as described by Pia Mellody).
  • A shame-based identity that manifests itself in polarized extremes, either as a character-disordered "more-than-human" (inhuman) personality exhibiting grandiosity, perfectionism and blame; or a neurotic "less-than-human" (dehumanized) personality exhibiting a sense of worthlessness. A person can be stuck in either polarized extreme or may switch back and forth, as in the more-than-human anorexic eating disorder that is transferred to the less-than-human bulimic eating disorder. Pia Mellody has suggested that these polarizations are the product of two types of abuse: a falsely empowering abuse and a disempowering abuse. Both types are rooted in toxic (i.e. carried) shame.
  • Distorted ego boundaries, both external and internal. This character disorder tends to set up walled boundaries, and the neurotic personality tends to have weak and broken boundaries.
  • Emotional illiteracy, which is characterized by extremes of rigid emotional numbness or the inability to regulate the intensity of one's feelings.
  • Difficulty in recognizing what one wants and needs.

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:

  • It is crucial to our sense of bodily and emotional self.
  • It recalls autobiographical information.
  • It relates the self to the environment and to social groups.
  • It maintains a coherent, continuous and unified sense of self.
  • It is the source of resiliency and manages stress.

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.

Published in Blog

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.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 03 June 2009 20:00

The Therapeutic Genius of Pia Mellody

Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2007 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
The Therapeutic Genius of Pia Mellody
By John Bradshaw, MA
Pia Mellody joins the company of those who have created highly effective therapeutic models and who can put their theories into practice with unusual skill. Pia's approach is phenomenological, resulting from her own painful struggle with codependency, as well as from thousands of hours spent interviewing and working out healing strategies with patients at The Meadows.
Pia began her unique journey as the head of nursing at The Meadows. In her early days, she suffered from low self-esteem, unhealthy shame, and a hyper-vigilance that accompanied her need to be perfect in every aspect of her work and life. She lived in that lonely place of non-intimacy, polarization and silent anger that most codependents experience.
Pia decided to get some help for her problems at another treatment facility, where she found the experience not only frustrating, but ineffective. Her problems did not seem to fit into any consistent category of the Diagnostic Manual. When she completed treatment, she continued to try to make sense of her raw pain and confusion, reaching out to others to try to get assistance in alleviating the distress. She was grappling with an inner distress exacerbated by a sense of defectiveness, the inability to engage in really good self-care, and living in reaction to other people. Thanks greatly to her, this condition is now called "codependence." At that time, there was no coherent theory or therapy for the problem.

Early Roots of Codependency
Prior to Pia's work, some relevant work had been done concerning the reality of codependence. Ludwig von Bertalanffy's work titled General Systems Theory had filtered its way into several arenas of psychotherapy, notably Ronald Laing, Virginia Satir, and The Palo Alto Group (Gregory Bateson, Don Jackson, Paul Watzlawick and John Weakland).
In 1957 in Ipswich, England, John Howell concluded that the entire family itself was the problem, rather than just the symptom-bearing individuals. Dr. Murray Bowen developed "The Bowen System" of family therapy. He clearly posited the whole family as the problem, maintaining that the most distressed and under-functioning person in the family triggered the rest of the family into over-functioning behaviors. The more the family members over-functioned, the more the distressed person under-functioned. Thus, the more the family tried to change, the more it stayed the same. Bowen was convinced that the whole family was in need of therapy. Bowen did not use the word "codependency," but he emphasized that, like a mobile, every member of a diseased family was dependent on his or her other family members.
Dr. Claudia Black, currently a Senior Fellow at The Meadows, wrote a now classic book called It Will Never Happen To Me. In it, she described the symptoms she carried as an adult that stemmed from living with an alcoholic father and a co-alcoholic mother. Dr. Black made it clear that her whole alcoholic family was diseased, and that each member was codependent on the alcoholic father.
Soon hands-on clinicians like Dr. Bob Akerman and Sharon Wegscheider Cruse (a protégée of Virginia Satir) were describing the symptoms of the adult children of alcoholic families as "codependent," although no one knows who first used the term "codependency."
I did a 10-part series on PBS in April 1985 that met with a huge public response. In it, I used a mobile to describe the family system, moving it energetically to show how the whole family is affected in dysfunction, and allowing the mobile a lightly moving homeostasis to show its functional state. I devoted two parts of this TV series to issues I called "codependency," although my grasp of the concept was still vague and lacked a consistent theory of explanation.
Outside the recovery field, which deals with addictions of all kinds, was the work of Karen Horney and Theodore Millon. Horney's Neurosis and Human Growth presented many descriptions of a dependent personality. Horney's description touched upon many of the primary symptoms of codependency, which Pia Mellody later organized into a coherent theory. According to Horney, those lacking healthy adult autonomy and interconnectedness sought their fulfillment and a sense of self from other people. For these people, relating to other people became compulsive and took the form of blind dependency. Horney used the phrase "morbid dependency."
In the International Encyclopedia of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neurology, John Masters wrote: "I think that mainline academic psychology has not done enough extensive work on dependency as it relates to codependency as an identifiable personality disorder. Codependency is now seen by many to constitute a painful problem for certain clusters in our society. We are on a primitive frontier with regard to understanding codependence."
Psychiatrist Dr. Timmon Cermak, in Diagnosing and Treating Codependence, argued that codependency was on par with other personality disorders. "To be useful though," wrote Cermak, "codependency needs to be unified and described with consistency. It needs a substantive framework and, until this is done, the psychological community will not recognize codependence as a disease."
Enter Pia Mellody
It was at this point that a young nurse stepped onto the arena of modern psychology and made an extraordinary contribution.
One day, Pia Mellody walked around the corner of a building and had a moment of clarity. She thought of AA and how alcoholics start recovery by simply telling the stories of their troubled drinking. They share their experiences and strength in embracing their shame and their first glimmers of hope.
Pia realized that hundreds of people had passed through her office at The Meadows with stories very similar to her own. For one thing, a large majority had been abandoned, abused and neglected as children. Pia had long suspected that her own symptoms stemmed from her traumatic childhood and severely dysfunctional family system.
At this point, Pia began interviewing the many people who came to The Meadows with stories of abandonment, neglect, abuse of all kinds, and enmeshment with a parent, the parent's marriage or the whole family system.
As Pia interviewed person after person, a unique and clear pattern emerged. All had five similar symptoms:
They had little to no self-esteem, often manifested in the carried shame of their primary caregivers;
They had severe boundary issues;
They were unsure of their own reality;
They were unable to identify their needs and wants;
They had difficulty with moderation.
These symptoms together marked an extreme level of immaturity and a level of moral and spiritual emptiness or bankruptcy. Patients shared their sense of relief in just being able to identify and talk about the distress they were in.
With an interviewing approach fueled by her intuition, Pia Mellody had discovered what she called "codependency." She had come to understand the word "abuse" in a much broader context than clinicians had previously understood it. Pia also showed how codependents carry their abusive caretakers' feelings. Our natural feelings can never hurt or overwhelm us; their purpose is to aid our wholeness. Our anger is our strength, a boundary that guards us. Our fear is our discernment, warning us of real danger. Our interest pushes us to expand and grow; our sadness helps us complete things (life is a profound farewell). Our shame lets us know the limits of our curiosity and pleasure; it becomes the core of modesty and humility. And our joy is the marker of fulfillment and celebration. "Carried" feelings lead to rage, panic, unboundaried curiosity, dire depression, shame as worthlessness or shamelessness, and joy as irresponsible childishness.
Pia later saw the five core symptoms as leading to secondary symptoms: negative control, resentment, impaired spirituality, addictions, mental or physical illness, and difficulty with intimacy.
Pia believed that alcohol and drug addiction, sex addiction, gambling addiction and eating disorders must be treated before the core underlying codependency can be treated.
Understanding that addiction is rooted in codependence is another contribution that Pia helped to clarify. Years ago, Dr. Tibot, an expert on alcoholism, saw that there was an emotional core to alcoholism that he called the "disease of the disease." Pia's work has certainly corroborated that intuitive insight.
Pia Mellody's most important contribution may be how she and her groups of suffering codependents worked out strategies of healing. They did this through trial and error. The results were so striking that The Meadows encouraged Pia to develop a workshop titled "Permission to be Precious." It was an instant success, and Pia began to take it to different cities around the U.S. Soon she wrote a book, Facing Codependence, with Andrea Wells Miller and J. Keith Miller. Later she developed a powerful approach to treating love addicts and their counterparts' avoidant addictions. Her most recent book, The Intimacy Factor, is the only relationship book that treats the core "grief feeling work" around early abuse, neglect and abandonment. I believe that other self-help relationship books fail because they do not address these fundamental issues. "Feeling work" involves exposure, vulnerability and what Carl Jung called "legitimate suffering." Pia has done her share of that and has the know-how to gently nurture others through this work.
Pia's work has become the core model in treating addictions of all kinds and the core of codependence they rest upon. She has personally led hundreds, probably thousands, of people suffering from codependency into recovery and wholeness.
Pia answered Dr. Timmon Cermak's challenge to do the work that established codependency as a treatment issue. She not only found a consistent way to conceptualize this source of suffering, but she found the know-how to address it.
The time has come for a broader recognition of Pia's art and genius.

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Note: This article was originally published in the Fall 2005 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.

Inner-Child Work: Some Evolutionary and Neuroscientific Reflections

By John Bradshaw, MA

For the last 27 years, I've reflected on the power and efficacy of inner-child work. Recently I found two areas of knowledge quite interesting and enlightening: the evolutionary theory of neoteny and the neuroscientific study of the brain.


In 1988, I was presenting my inner-child workshop to a group of holistically oriented dentists. I arrived the day before I was to begin and discovered that one of my most revered mentors, Dr. Ashley Montagu, an anthropologist at Princeton, was giving the keynote address.

When I began my workshop the next day, Dr. Montagu, 84 years young, was in the audience. He participated in the entire two-day workshop, doing all the experiential exercises. At the end of the workshop, he gave me a manuscript copy of a book he had written that was to be published later that year. The book was called Growing Young. It presented an extremely complex argument for the theory of neoteny, an evolutionary theory that many biologists, ethnologists and anthropologists believe is a necessary complement to Darwin's theory of evolution. Montagu told me that what he had experienced in the workshop mirrored what his book outlined as a major focus for psychotherapy.

Neoteny is defined in biology as "the retention of fetal or juvenile traits by the retardation of developmental processes." The prolonged childhood of humans is unique among all life forms. Since humans are the apex of evolution, there must be some evolutionary reason for our prolonged childhood.

Montagu cites a number of renowned scientists who believe that Darwin's theory of natural selection is not fully sufficient to account for human evolution. There is, they believe, another mechanism at work in evolution, first noted by Edwin Drinker Cope in 1870. Cope discovered what he called the law of acceleration and retardation.

While I'm not qualified to present the scientific argument for the theory of neoteny, I'll tell you what excites me about it in terms of inner-child work.

Retardation of development allows us humans to avoid limiting our brain development to the specialized focus of survival.

The juvenile chimpanzee is quite humanlike compared to the adult chimpanzee. The adult's head and jaws are elongated and no longer round. The elongation is due to the fact that chimps must focus all their attention on survival. The early need for specialization forces the ape's brain into an elongated pattern. The vast number of neurons in the chimp's brain are pruned to a relative few concerned only with survival.

For us humans, our prolonged childhood (from birth to 14 years) opens the door to many experiences that allow our brains to expand. This non-specialized use of our brain offers us enormous possibilities for creativity and freedom.

Montagu quotes from the Journal of Auroville, which recounts communication from a flying saucer. The alien says, "The trouble with earthlings is their early adulthood. As long as they are young, they are loveable, openhearted, tolerant, eager to learn and eager to cooperate with others. By the time of adulthood, most human adults are mortal enemies." I'm not prone to believe this statement came from an alien. However, the human race says it wants peace more than anything, yet we keep having wars.

For Montagu and his biological colleagues, the goal of human maturity is not adulthood as we now conceive it, but adulthood as actualizing our childlike traits, such as openness, tolerance, docility, spontaneity, love for others and willingness to cooperate.

To sum up neoteny, Montagu asserts that "we are designed to grow in ways that emphasize rather than minimize childhood traits." Montague asserts that the understanding of neoteny is urgent in terms of human survival. History teaches us "that only the races with the longest childhood were able to stay in the cultural mainstream."

A century of clinical psychology and psychotherapy has helped us understand that we are by nature open, curious, tolerant, loving, playful and joyful. Life is not an ongoing warfare, as philosopher Thomas Hobbes and others have believed. All humans have a deep and persistent desire for wholeness and, when we are emotionally dis-eased, we deeply desire recovery. We intuitively know that being violent to ourselves and/or others and hating ourselves and/or others are not what our nature intended and will not bring us happiness.

Psychotherapy helps us clearly see that violence and hatred of ourselves and others are primarily reactions to childhood, trauma, abandonment, neglect and chronic abuse of one kind or another.

The inner child is a symbolic metaphor for the natural child's preciousness, as well as the natural child's adaptation to trauma, abuse, abandonment, neglect and enmeshment (the wounded child).

Inner-child work aims at helping us re-own the natural child within us (the precious child). In order to reconnect with the primal energy of our natural child, we need to grieve the wounds resulting from our abandonment, neglect and abuse. Once we've grieved our early losses, we can learn the things we needed to learn at each of our developmental dependency stages. These learnings create the self-esteem and the safe boundaries that we need in order to be open, tolerant, non-judgmental, spontaneous (rather than forever on guard), loving and cooperative. It seems clear that our neotenous nature demands that we do "inner-child" work when we have been traumatically abused, abandoned, neglected or enmeshed.

When I was actively addicted, I used my addiction to feel my childlike aliveness. Without my addiction, I felt dead. Addictions are abortive ways we choose in order to be restored to the natural childlike traits of our beginnings. Ultimately, addictions result in irresponsible childish behaviors. Healing the wounded inner child is necessitated by the theory of neoteny.

Recent Development in Neuroscience

Recently, Thomas Hedlund, the supervising clinician in more than 35 of my recent inner-child workshops, excitedly told me that he had just finished a workshop with Dr. Allan N. Schore, a clinical faculty member of the U.C.L.A. David Geften School of Medicine and an internationally recognized expert in the neuroscience of the brain. In the workshop, Dr. Schore had presented a complete neuroscientific explanation for the effectiveness of inner-child work in general and my inner-child workshops in particular.

Dr. Schore is one of the major pioneers of a paradigm shift in understanding psychopathogensis and therapeutic change. This paradigm shift that directly affects clinical practice focuses on the centrality of emotional processes and the role of the self in human function and dysfunction.

What Dr. Schore has made clear is that childhood abuse, abandonment, neglect and enmeshment damage a child's need for healthy attachment, i.e. secure bonding. Attachment disorders damage the functionality of the right (or non-dominant hemisphere) of the brain.

With a "good enough" early attachment, a person can learn to handle stress without overreacting. Because they have been loved, touched and given appropriate space, they feel loveable and can be loveable to others. The empathic mutuality of "good enough" bonding is the foundation of a unified sense of self.

Dysfunctional Attachment and the Non-dominant Hemisphere

Dysfunctional attachment impacts the nondominant hemisphere in any or all of the following ways:

Loss of ability to cope with stress

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.), which reflects a severe dysfunction of the right hemisphere system

Since early trauma is usually cumulative and chronic, there is evidence that longterm autonomic reactivity can lead to "neuronal" structural changes, involving atrophy, shrinkage and permanent damage

Since the right hemisphere has an adaptive capacity to regulate affect - the most significant consequence of the stressor of early relational trauma is the loss of the ability to regulate the intensity and duration of affect - (REACTIVITY)

Loss of the capacity to assimilate new experiences - the personality cannot enlarge

Tendency to disengage socially

Dissociation and defensive projective identification.

I invite the reader to explore Dr. Schore's work in his two volumes, Affect, Dysregulation and the Disorders of the Self and Affect, Regulation and the Repair of the Self. In my "inner-child" workshop, I work on the first three childhood developmental stages. I place great emphasis on the attachment bond and our early developmental dependency needs (the needs that can be met only by depending on another person). Codependency is the major outcome of attachment disorder because its primary symptomology is the result of a failure to get our developmental dependency needs met.

Most inner-child work is aimed at the nondominant hemisphere of the brain. I use a lot of imagery meditations and age regressive techniques (so that a person can grieve his wounds at the age-appropriate stage at which his attachment rupture took place). I use music to stimulate the "felt thought" intelligence of the right brain. I divide participants into groups of six or eight, and let the group members become non-shaming "benevolent witness." They serve as mirroring faces who offer validating feedback, which legitimizes the pain of the person sharing a story or scene of shameful abuse. The group work helps the sharing person reduce his dissociation and own his prospective identifications. Being reconnected with his own feelings, a person can begin his grief process.

"Inner-child" work is thus conceived as grieving and redoing each developmental stage of early and middle childhood.

The new relationship that emerges is the relationship with one's functional adult and inner child (the reconnection of the self with the self). The inner child is understood as a metaphor for our natural child of the past, whose feelings, needs and wants were bound in toxic shame.

Dr. Allan Schore expresses his conception of the paradigm shift in treating attachment disorder as follows: "The treatment of attachment pathologies is currently conceptualized to be directed toward the mobilization of fundamental modes of development and the completion of interrupted developmental processes."

Happily, many of us have been using this model for quite some time.

I could write a lot more about the neuroscientific basis of inner-child work as a paradigm shift in understanding psychopatho-gensis and therapeutic change, but the limits of this short article do not allow it.
I hope this modest presentation has been stimulating for the reader. I invite those interested to read the work of Joseph Le Deux, Diane Foshe and Antonio Damasio, along with the work of Ashley Montague and Dr. Allan S. Schore.

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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