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.
The Meadows is pleased to announce its commitment to supporting members of our military who have selflessly served our country and who now suffer from the debilitating impact of service-related stressors, particularly those associated with combat conditions. An inpatient treatment facility that has treated more than 16,000 patients over the past 30 years, The Meadows has worked with post-traumatic stress disorders ("PTSD"), alcohol addiction and drug addiction, and a broad range of other mental health concerns. Recognizing the impact of these issues on career military members and their families, The Meadows offers a cutting-edge program of confidential and caring treatment addressing the trauma issues underlying current behaviors. At the same time, our individualized treatment plans enable the formation of skill sets and support systems that help clients re-enter the military or enter civilian life with new tools to manage stressors.
The Meadows is a multi-disorder inpatient facility in Wickenburg, Arizona; it is licensed as a Behavioral Health lnpatient Facility with detoxification, crisis services, and partial care in the state of Arizona and is accredited by JCAHO.
The Meadows is offering to support a designated number of appropriate admits of active-duty military personnel for this program by accepting the daily rate from TriCare, with all other fees waived.
For more information, please contact The Meadows at 800-632-3697.
Note: This article is excerpted from the recent book by Peter A. Levine and Maggie Kline: Trauma Through a Child's Eyes: Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing (North Atlantic Books, 2007). The article originally appeared in the Spring 2007 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
Preventing and Healing the Sacred Wound of Sexual Molestation
By Peter A. Levine & Maggie Kline
Unless you have personally experienced the deep wound of childhood sexual trauma, it may be difficult to imagine how complex, confusing, and varied the long-term effects can be. This is especially true when the molestation was perpetrated by someone the child trusted, or even loved. When a child's innocence is stolen, it affects his or her self-worth, personality development, socialization, achievement and, later, intimacy in adolescent and adult relationships. In addition, these children are prone to somatic symptoms - such as physical rigidity, awkwardness, or excessive weight gain/loss - born of a conscious or unconscious attempt to "lock out" others and not be in one's own body. Also common are tendencies to live in a fantasy world, to have problems with attention (spacing out and daydreaming) and to dissociate in order to compartmentalize the awful experiences.
Sexual trauma varies widely, from overt sexual assault to covert desires that frighten and confuse a child by invading his or her delicate boundaries with unbounded adult sexual energies. When parents have experienced unresolved sexual violations themselves, or were lacked models for healthy adult sexuality in their families of origin, they may have difficulties protecting children without conveying a sense of fear and rigidity around issues of touch, affection, boundaries, and sensuality. Or conversely, parents might avoid offering either discussion or protection due to their own lack of experience in sensing, within themselves, the difference between potentially safe and dangerous situations and people.
Are Some Children More Vulnerable Than Others?
The majority of parents, communities, and school programs warn children to avoid "dangerous strangers." Sadly, strangers are seldom the problem. Other myths persist as well, such as the beliefs that only girls are vulnerable and that most assaults happen at or after puberty. Although statistics vary, the numbers of preschoolers and school-age children reporting sexual assault are astonishing. Approximately 10 percent of sexual violations happen to children younger than 5 years old , more children between 8 and 12 report molestation than do teenagers, and 30 to 46 percent of all children are sexually violated in some way before they reach the age of 18.
Sexual trauma is pervasive - it prevails no matter one's culture, socio-economic status, or religion. It is not uncommon even within the "perfect" family.
In other words, all children are vulnerable, and most sex offenders are "nice" people whom you already know! If you have been putting off talking with your children about sexual molestation until they are older, or because you are uncomfortable with the topic, we hope that what you learn here will bolster your confidence to begin these discussions sooner rather than later.
The Twin Dilemmas of Secrecy and Shame
The sexual molestation of children is further complicated by the added shroud of secrecy. Since 85 to 90 percent of sexual violations and inappropriate "boundary crossings" are committed by someone the victim knows and trusts, the symptoms are layered with the complexity of betrayal. Even if not admonished (or threatened) to keep the assault secret, children often do not tell due to embarrassment, shame, and guilt. In their naivete', they mistakenly assume that they themselves are "bad." They carry the shame that belongs to the molester.
In addition, children fear punishment and reprisal. They frequently anguish over "betraying" someone who is part of their family or social circle, and they fantasize about what might happen to the perpetrator. This is especially true if he or she is a family member on whom they depend. If not a family member, the violator is usually someone well-known. Neighbors, older children, babysitters, a parent's boyfriend, and other friends of the family or step-family are frequently the offenders. Or it may be someone who has prestige and social status or who serves as a mentor, such as a religious leader, teacher, or athletic coach. How can children know - unless you teach them - that they are not to blame when the perpetrator is not only someone known, but someone revered? Parents can pave the way to safety by teaching their children to trust and act on their own instincts, rather than submitting to an older child or adult who is using status for his or her own gratification.
What is Sexual Violation?
If sexual violation doesn't typically involve a "dirty old man" using candy to lure a child into his car, what is it? Simply put, it is any instance of anyone taking advantage of a position of trust, age, or status to lead a child into a situation of real or perceived powerlessness around issues of sex and humiliation. In other words, when children must passively submit to the will of another, rather than having the choice to defend themselves or tell someone - whether or not they are "forced" - it constitutes sexual violation or assault.
This can range from being shown pornography by a teenage babysitter, to an insensitive medical examination of a child's private parts, to being forced to have sexual intercourse with a parent or other adult. While actual rape by a parent or step-parent is less common, exposure to pornographic material or being asked to strip, look at, or handle exposed genitals, as well as rough handling during medical procedures, are far too common.
Steps Caregivers Can Take (and that adult survivors can learn) to Decrease Children's Susceptibility
Model Healthy Boundaries: No one gets to touch, handle, or look at me in a way that feels uncomfortable.
Help Children Develop Good Sensory Awareness: Teach children to trust the felt sense of "uh-oh" they may feel as dread in the gut or rapid heartbeat, which lets them know something is wrong and they need to leave and get help.
Teach Children What Sexual Violation Is, Who Might Approach Them, and How to Avoid Being Lured: Teach children how to use their "sense detectors" as an early warning sign.
Offer Opportunities for Children to Practice their Right to Say "No."
Teach Children What to Say and Do: Also, let them know that they should always tell you what has happened so that you can keep them safe and help them deal with their feelings.
In summary, let's look further at boundary development:
Model Healthy Boundaries
There is a delightful children's picture book by James Marshall about two hippopotami who are good friends. One's name is George, the other Martha. They visit and play together and have dinner at each other's houses. One day Martha is soaking in her bathtub and is shocked to see George peeking through the window, looking right at her! George was surprised at her outrage, and his feelings got hurt. He thought that this meant Martha didn't like him anymore. Martha reassured George that she was very fond of him. She explained, in a kind manner, "Just because we are good friends, George, doesn't mean that I don't need privacy when I'm in the bathroom!" George understood.
This little George and Martha story models setting boundaries, communicating them clearly, and honoring the boundaries of others. Parents need to show good boundaries themselves, respect children's need for privacy (especially between the ages of five to seven), and support them when they are in unappealing situations and are defenseless to help themselves. This begins in infancy. The following illustration will help you understand how to offer this protection:
Little baby Arthur fussed and arched his back each time Auntie Jane tried to hold him. His mother, not wanting to offend her sister, said, "Now, now, Arthur, it's OK, this is your Auntie Jane. She's not going to hurt you!"
Ask yourself what message this sends to Arthur. He is already learning that his feelings aren't important, and that adult needs take precedence over a dependent's needs. Babies show us their feelings by vocal protests and body language. They are exquisitely attuned to the vocalizations and facial expressions of their parents. Their brain circuits are being formed by these very interactions that deal with respect for feelings and boundaries around touch.
For whatever reasons, Arthur did not feel safe or comfortable in Aunt Jane's arms. Had his "right of refusal" been respected, he would have learned that his feelings do make a difference, that he does have choices, and that there are adults (in this case his mother) who will protect him from other adults whose touch he does not want. A few tactful words to Jane, such as, "Maybe later, Jane - Arthur's not ready for you to hold him yet," would leave an imprint impacting the baby's newly developing sense of self. And if his mother's appropriate protection continues, Arthur's brain is more likely to forge pathways that promote self-protective responses that may safeguard him from an intrusion and assault later in his life. Although not in his conscious awareness, these unconscious body boundaries formed in the tender years of infancy will serve him well.
Trauma is a breach of energetic and personal boundaries. Sexual trauma, however, is a sacred wound - an intrusion into our deepest, most delicate and private parts. Children, therefore, need to be protected by honoring their rights to personal space, privacy, and control of their own bodies. As different situations develop at various ages and stages, children need to know that they do not have to subject themselves to "sloppy kisses," lap sitting, and other forms of unwanted attention to please the adults in their lives.
Other Areas in Which Children Need Respect and the Protection of Boundaries
Children instinctively imitate their parents. Adults can capitalize on this favorable attribute when it comes to toileting behavior. A lot of power struggles and unpleasantness for toddlers and parents can be avoided altogether. By respecting your child's timetable, you will encourage her to joyfully model mom's behavior and toilet "train" herself. Take the "train" out of toileting, and your little boy will proudly do it like "Daddy does," at his own pace.
Prevent unnecessary trauma in this major developmental area by following your child's lead rather than by listening to the "experts" who believe in timetables. Forcing a child who is not ready to use the toilet disrespects his right to control his own bodily functions and sets a lifelong pattern of expecting to be dominated by someone else. By encouraging rather than pushing, you will be assisting your child to develop healthy self-regulatory habits and a natural curiosity about his or her own body. In some cases, you may even help to prevent eating disorders, digestive problems, constipation, and related difficulties. And, as a side effect, you'll produce happy, spontaneous children.
The Spring/Summer 2009 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows Addiction Treatment Center, has just been published. Highlights of the issue include three feature articles:
The Triggering Effect, by Claudia Black, Clinical Consultant for The Meadows (excerpted from newly released CD Triggers and DVD The Triggering Effect)
Dropped Stitches, an article about by The Meadows psychiatrist Judith S. Freilich, which considers the dropped stitches of knitting as a metaphor for life's traumas
Do you like the person you are - and that which you have to offer - enough to marry yourself? Tuscon-based therapist Judith Kaplan asks that question in the article Would You Marry Yourself - or Someone Like You?
The newsletter also includes an introduction to The Meadows' new alumni coordinator, a calendar of 2009 events, and information on the featured workshop: Partners of Sex Addicts.
The MeadowLark is available in both HTML and PDF formats.
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.