The Meadows hosted a Free Recovery Lecture Series on April 17th in London at the Radisson Edwardian Vanderbilt Hotel. Presenters Barbara Pawson and Chris John gave a brilliant presentation on Healthy(re)parenting: It all starts with me! The lecture defined how through adverse childhood events and hidden trauma we have learned debilitating ways to parent ourselves and how damaging it can be on our adult relationships. Using The Meadows Model, Barbara and Chris provided insight on how to "Re parent" ourselves in Healthy ways.
Barbara Pawson is an accredited addiction counselor and highly regarded clinical supervisor. Barbara is also a lecturer at the London South Bank University and has been a consultant for the implementation of programs in Britain, Belgium and Holland.
Chris John is a qualified integrative therapeutic counselor who works with individuals, couples and groups. Chris runs a successful private practice helping his clients deal with a range of issues including, anxiety, somatization, trauma and addictive disorders as well as co-dependency.
John Graham, an attendee at the lecture, shared the following:
"I am a therapeutic counselor working with traumatized individuals who use substance abuse and behavioral process as a compensatory coping mechanism resulting in active addiction and the impact the addiction has on their self-esteem causes a vicious circle which is difficult to deal with.
However, the topic that was explored at the Meadows London Free Lecture recently - Self-Parenting - was delivered by the presenters in a humane manner within the Meadows Model and Pia Mellody's work was the primary focus that allowed me to further recognize the value of the establishment within a residential structured setting of personal boundaries for individuals compromised by the trauma they struggle with, and the self-parenting focus is most meaningful, allowing individuals to give themselves permission to be kind to themselves, which starts a chain reaction that effectively replaces the vicious circle of cruel active addiction."
A special thanks to Barbara and Chris for their time in delivering an insightful presentation. Their passion, enthusiasm and dedication are very much appreciated.
Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2005 of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
The Electricity of Carried Shame
By Lawrence S. Freundlich
Children need and expect love and nurturing from their parents. This expectation is built into the genes of the human infant, who needs affirmation and protection as much as milk and warmth. Pia Mellody believes that, when parents fail in their role as caregivers to their very young, such behavior is "shameful," - essentially the betrayal of trust between infant and parent.
The reason most parents who act "shamefully" do so is not because they are overtly evil, but that they are "immature" and have become baffled and/or overwhelmed by the complex and emotionally taxing task of parenting a young child. This is not an unusual human phenomenon. Most of us have had to deal with the inheritance of immature parenting. Some of us have been immature parents ourselves.
The irritation that parents feel with their children may be expressed through anger and/or neglect. Such demeaning behavior gives the parent relief from the stresses of caring for the child. However, it makes the child feel frightened or worthless. The child thinks that something is wrong with him and becomes, in Pia Mellody's phrasing, "allergic to his own humanity." The mechanism by which this "allergy" is transferred from parent to child is what Pia identifies as "carried shame."
It is important to differentiate one's own shame from Pia's concept of "carried shame." Pia views shame to be both a gift from God and a legacy of abuse. When it's a gift from God, the experience of our own natural shame makes us aware that we are fallible. But shame as a legacy of abuse ("carried shame") has to do with the devastating and crippling experience of induced shame, as it diminishes our sense of inherent worth, making us feel less valued than others. According to Pia, "When we experience our own shame, we believe that someone has seen us as we really are - human and imperfect. When we feel our own shame, we know we are not a god or a goddess. Our own shame makes it possible to be relational, a gift our body gives to us, as we have to consider the impact that our behavior has on other people."
When Pia and Pat Mellody first began to discuss the concept of "carried shame," Pat provided a useful metaphor from the physics of electricity. He likened the transfer of a parent's shaming of a child to what happens when one coil of electric wire is placed next to another coil, and one coil is charged with an alternating current. The adjoining coil picks up the energy from the charged coil, even though the coils are not touching. Since human emotions, like electrical currents, are energy fields, they can be transferred from the person who is feeling the emotion to another person in close proximity. Of course, the emotional energy must be powerful enough for effective transfer (in physics, this is called "induction").
It was Pia's startling insight that the emotion of shame reaches the crucial "voltage" for "induction" when the person acting shamefully does not acknowledge that his/her behavior was shameful. The shame energy unabsorbed by an act of conscience or contrition has no where to go but out into the atmosphere to be picked up by the "adjoining receptor" that "adjoining receptor" is the child. The child then feels the parent's shame as if it were his own. What he feels is not the result of something that is wrong with himself, but something that is wrong with his parents. If the child were a mature, rational adult, he would recognize that his feeling of shame could not be alleviated by trying to figure out how he himself is inadequate, worthless, or"bad." The mature, rational adult would have to learn how, in Pia's terms, "to release the carried shame."
I believe that "carried shame" is one of the more difficult concepts in recovery. Many of us acknowledge that we are "shame-based," and we try to modify our behaviors so that we can have a sense of value. While the effects of carried shame live within us, the origins of shame do not belong to us, and attempting to fix our shame identifies the wrong transmitter. The shame belongs to the original shamers. And it is only by releasing it that we can rid ourselves of carried shame.
Many of us feel uneasy at the prospect of laying the blame of disastrous careers on our parents. We have been taught to take personal responsibility for our failures. Didn't our parents try as hard as they could to raise us? As culturally admirable as such reflections may seem, they are psychologically delusional. A child is in no position to take responsibility for his parents' shamelessness.
It has been the experience of many patients at The Meadows that the release of carried shame contributes to a sense of balance and moderation. And yet, we have come to understand that some pathways back to the pain of our carried shame traumas can, from time to time, be triggered. It is at these painful moments that we can shield ourselves from the effects of the voices of the past. We have learned to take time out, we have learned to breathe into the pain, and we have learned the skill and art of boundaries. We have learned that our pain is not evidence of our worthlessness. And, if we can do these things most of the time, we are reminded that we are okay, even if it has been a long journey back to believing it.
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.
The Meadows Clinical Consultant Claudia Black recently took part in a TVOParents.org webcast panel discussion on the ways that drug and alcohol abuse affect children.
In "Parenting Under the Influence", Claudia and co-panelists Christine Sloss and Steve Hall discuss issues such as:
Visit the TVOParents.com website to view the webcast, along with Claudia's list of indications that a child may be living with family substance abuse.