The Meadows Blog

Note: This article was originally published in the CuttingEdge Spring/Summer 2009 Newsletter

By Debra L. Kaplan, MA, LAC, LISAC

Not too long ago, a client who I was treating for prescription drug abuse, looked at me and said, "It's my desperate need to silence my feelings that drives me to want to use." She went on to describe what it felt like to live in her skin. "It's as if the people in my life are at the controls of this rollercoaster called my life and I'm trapped and I can't get off. I like or hate the ride based on how I feel about them at that moment; in my mind you're either with me or against me. But I can't fire them from the controls!"

Unbeknownst to this woman, she was verbalizing her underlying issue: Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). For the uninitiated, CPTSD is classified as a long-term traumatic stress disorder that may impact a healthy person's self-concept and adaptation. Exhibited symptoms include mood disorders (depression, manic-depression, anxiety); fear of real or imagined rejection or abandonment; and addictive, self-defeating behaviors including bulimia, anorexia, compulsive spending, sexual compulsivity, and perhaps self-injury.

In an effort to differentiate between psychosis and neurosis, the condition first was branded Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). New research and advances in studying chronic trauma’s effects on self-concept and psychological organization have yielded a more accurate approach to characterize exhibited symptoms.

Recurring bouts of emotional instability wreak havoc on the life of an individual struggling with this issue. Along with the ups and downs of the emotional roller coaster comes confusion about one's identity. An individual with CPTSD often wrestles with a persistently unstable self-image; like in a house of mirrors, one's identity is rendered illusive and distorted.

Those who are familiar with CPTSD know all too well the chaos and havoc brought to bear upon relationships. In working with trauma complicated by emotional dysregulation, I have often likened the displays of impulsive rage to a cluster bomb. From one furious mass come multiple smaller submunitions. These emotional explosions neutralize any threat of real or imagined relational rejection, abandonment or disapproval. Loved ones who are idealized one day are devalued and rejected the next, relegated to the role of enemy - perhaps simply because an act of parting was interpreted as an act of betrayal. Some who struggle with CPTSD have co-occurring mood disorders that exacerbate internal stressors to the point of brief psychotic episodes.

Individuals with CPTSD often verbalize feeling wronged, misunderstood and empty. As is often the case, the trigger - be it internal or external - prompts attempts to self-medicate overwhelming emotions with alcohol or chemical dependence, acts of self- mutilation (cutting, burning, wrist-slashing), and even suicide attempts.

Historically speaking, the prognosis for CPTSD has been poor. Within the therapeutic community, clients who present with these symptoms have been branded unmotivated, hard to treat or, worse, noncompliant. The current belief - and one that I genuinely embrace - posits that a consistently supportive therapeutic relationship can become a healthy foundation that allows a client to begin to experience trust and safety. Much is still unknown about the post-traumatic condition, but continued advances in neurobiological, genetic, and social research have led to new treatments and psychopharmacological interventions that have proven successful in generating enduring, positive change.

The path out of the CPTSD maze begins with a gradual acknowledgement of the problem and a willingness to accept oneself. But what happens when one does not acknowledge the presence of a problem? Clearly, such denial undermines progress toward positive change. An individual's need to shield himself from unacknowledged and overwhelming feelings exists until he is psychologically ready to see himself as he really is - and not who he wants to be.

Support for an individual's attempts to break through denial is necessary for enduring progress to be made. The presence of a psychological struggle does not designate a bad or defective person. He's done nothing to deserve it, much like a child does nothing to deserve the onset of juvenile diabetes. However, the individual is now living a reality of roller coaster emotions, unstable relationships, addictions, and feelings of emptiness. The cold, harsh fact is that the self-defeating behaviors and unstable self-worth are not likely to change until the person changes.

As with all physical and emotional distresses, there comes a moment when the status quo is no longer acceptable. The chaos or unmanageability of a situation necessitates asking for help and taking action. Perhaps the adage "being brought to one's knees" applies here. An ensuing adjustment period, in which one comes to terms with a new reality, may not be immediate. However, a new perspective might arrive with a sobering blow to the denial - or with the quiet realization that life is eroding beyond one’s grasp. Self-acceptance can be attained perhaps only through small, sometimes imperceptible steps. In recovery speak, it is progress rather than perfection that guides us: "I am not a problem, but my behavior has become problematic!" I ask my clients, "Which would you prefer to be: resolutely right or resolutely happy?"

When one is living a life that, despite great efforts, no longer results in satisfying outcomes, it is time to look inward and ask the hard questions: "What am I doing that is no longer working? Harder yet, what am I prepared to do about it?"

Until that moment of introspection and committed motivation, little if any enduring change will occur. But the path out of the house of mirrors, and away from the emotional roller coaster, is the path to a new life.

Published in Blog

This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2009 edition of The Cutting Edge.

Author's note: Nearly a decade ago, I began to work with women confronting sexual betrayal. It was this professional experience that inspired me to write Deceived: Facing Sexual Betrayal, Lies and Secrets, a book for female partners of sex addicts. Much of this article is excerpted from that book, published by Hazelden in April 2009.

Most couples, whether married or not, have both spoken and unspoken commitments that sex stays within the relationship; they communicate and respect each other's personal needs and boundaries. Their expectation is for unconditional love, but they know that relationships have conditions that need to be negotiated openly. Unfortunately these commitments and expectations are often a façade in many relationships.

Many people are in coupleships riddled with deception, lies, and false perceptions as a result of their partners' compulsive sexual acting out. Today in every neighborhood throughout every community, these people are being challenged by the addictive nature of their partners' sexual behavior. It may be the wife who just discovered her husband was with another woman within days of their wedding. It could be the mother of two young children whose boyfriend has just lost his job due to engaging in Internet sex during work hours, or the partner who has masked her shame and confusion about her husband's chronic pornographic activity, and is now horrified at the thought that her children are going to find out about their father's voyeurism. It may be the man who recently discovered hidden computer files of sexually explicit photos his girlfriend has been emailing to a great number of men. It could be the wife of 40 years, her husband soon to retire, who has known about his affairs from the beginning of their marriage. There's nothing particularly different about the current affair that she just discovered; it's just the "straw that broke the camel's back."

The Coaddict Didn't Get Here by Accident

Influenced by both culture and family, a coaddict learns coaddictive behavior long before a partner comes into his or her life. As much as the socialization and empowerment of women in Western industrialized culture has changed, women are still more apt to:

  • defer to men by giving them the benefit of the doubt take on false guilt
  • believe they need a partner in order to be okay
  • prioritize men's needs over their own
  • acquiesce
  • be polite
  • refrain from showing anger
  • feel inadequate about their sexuality
  • have a distorted and shame-based body image

Yet this socialization of women is not the strongest factor driving a person to couple with a sex addict. Far more influential, for both men and women, is family history. While they may not have thought of their childhood as being significant to what is happening now, and while there are no perfect parents or perfect families, looking at family history and dynamics will be significant in healing. It's critical to examine the beliefs they developed about themselves and others, the ways they learned to experience connection and/or protect themselves, and the behaviors that helped them garner esteem.

The behaviors and belief systems of both coaddicts and sex addicts are strongly influenced by individual childhood experiences. For the coaddict and the addict, it is common that one or both parents were addicts - alcoholics or sex addicts in particular.

It may not have been called "addiction," but coaddicts and addicts often say their fathers were womanizers or their mothers had lots of affairs, drank a lot, etc. There may have been a history of extreme parental rigidity, strict all-or-nothing parental codes. Messages about sex were shaming or distorted, creating confusion in the child.

In essence, both the coaddict and addict were raised in very similar family systems in which they experienced a range of emotional and physical abandonment.

The Coaddict: Trauma Repetition

Kate is an example. She was raised in an alcoholic and violent family. She is divorced from two different alcoholic men and is now married to an active sex addict. Her husband has had multiple relationships with other women, and now he is flagrantly acting out in a manner that she cannot deny. She knows he visits pornographic bookstores, and on a recent visit, he had their 4-year-old son with him. Yet she still had the ability to rationalize. He is stressed by our two young children. He wouldn't do this if he wasn't on drugs. She would deliberately not ask questions. If she didn't ask, then she wouldn't have to know. She wouldn't ask for help, because as she said, I just need him to stop. She wouldn't assert any limits because her fear is him leaving her. In ultimate desperation, she found herself left alone in a hotel room with a baby just a few weeks old, a 4-year-old, no car, no food, and no money - while he went to get more drugs and meet up with a girlfriend. And Kate just wanted him back.

Kate didn't get to this place overnight. Her childhood history was her training ground long before she entered her three addictive relationships. As with most partners of addicts, dysfunction ruled her original family. As a child, she learned to:

  • Overlook (deny, rationalize, minimize) behavior that hurt her deeply
  • Appear cheerful when she was hurting
  • Make excuses for the hurtful behavior
  • Avoid conflict to minimize further anger
  • Tolerate inappropriate and hurtful behavior
  • Prioritize the needs of others over her own
  • Caretake others
  • Fault herself for her family’s problems
  • Discount her own perceptions and give others the benefit of the doubt
  • Believe she had no options
  • Believe she is at fault and it is her job to find the answers
  • Not ask for help
  • Accommodate

She was reared to be the perfect candidate for partnering with an addict. This is a natural consequence of being raised in a shame-based family, which is very often an abusive or addictive family. The child grows up to be an ideal partner for the addict, one whose codependent traits enable him to act out his addiction with little disruption.

While the names change, the stories of repetitively partnering with an addict are common and span generations. What Kate and other coaddicts experience is referred to as trauma repetition. Although Kate repeated it many times in her own life, others simply repeat it generationally. Trauma repetition means creating behaviors and situations similar to those experienced earlier in life - reliving a story out of one's painful history. When these individuals find themselves in the same situation with the same type of person over and over again, they seldom link the behavior to their original betrayal and trauma. Reenactment is living in the irreconcilable past. They may have been raised with addiction and may even be aware of this, but that doesn't necessarily keep them from marrying addictive and/or abusive men. Replaying past trauma often involves repeating what they know, the familiar, or what they believe they deserve.

Utilizing Resources

Addressing sexual betrayal that has become addictive requires special assistance, and that help is available today from professionals and 12 Step programs. While individual therapy is often where the coaddict begins recovery, I cannot overemphasize the healing power of a group, whether it's self-help or a therapy group with others who have similar experiences. It is within the group experience that many coaddicts heal to a degree they never imagined possible. It is in the group that they come to realize their healing journey is a gift to themselves that will take them through life and its ultimate challenges.

The Possibilities

Recovery is a process that offers no guarantees about relationships, but it does guarantee a journey to self-love and self-care. A woman in recovery can learn to trust herself and listen to her inner wisdom. It is her opportunity to learn about healthy boundaries, who is responsible for what, and what provides a sense of safety. She can give voice to her reality, moving forward in truth. Secrets disappear, leaving potential for connectedness with self, others and the universe. She deserves to believe in her preciousness and to have it honored from within and by those she invites into her life. Her recovery is a journey of honoring and respecting herself. It is moving from immobilization or reactivity to a life of hope, greater esteem and greater choices.


Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH)
S-Anon -
Co-Sex Addicts Anonymous (COSA)
Co-Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous (COSLAA)
Recovering Couples Anonymous (RCA)
Note that the above material is an excerpt of Claudia's book, Deceived, in which she addresses issues such as:

  • In The Face of Truth
  • His Behavior is Not About You
  • Learning the News
  • Your Time to Heal
  • Finding Your Serenity



Claudia Black, Clinical Consultant for The Meadows, is a lecturer, author and trainer internationally recognized for her pioneering and contemporary work with family systems and addictive disorders. Since the 1970s, Dr. Black's work has encompassed the impact of addiction on young and adult children. She serves on the Advisory Board for the National Association of Children of Alcoholics and the Advisory Council of the Moyer Foundation. Claudia is the author of 15 books; her newest title is Deceived: Facing Sexual Betrayal, Lies and Secrets, released in April 2009 by Hazelden Publishing. She has produced several audio CDs, the newest of which is Triggers, and more than 20 DVDs, most recently The Triggering Effect. All of Claudia's products are available at

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
Sunday, 09 August 2009 00:00

Trauma Treatment for the Troops

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.

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

Contact The Meadows

Intensive Family Program • Innovative Experiential Therapy • Neurobehavioral Therapy

Invalid Input

Invalid Input

Invalid Input

Invalid Input

Invalid Input

Invalid Input