John Bradshaw (1933-2016): Self-Help Guru

I believe that this neglected, wounded, inner child of the past is the major source of human misery. John Bradshaw

Motivational author and speaker John Bradshaw died recently at 82. He was well known in the self-help, mental health, and addiction fields, and particularly for popularizing in the 1990’s such concepts as “inner child,” “toxic shame,” and “dysfunctional family.”

From The New York Times obit: “Mr. Bradshaw drew on his unhappy childhood as the son of an alcoholic father, his own drinking problems and his work as a counselor to develop a set of explanations for myriad psychological ills.”

Among his bestselling books are Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child and Healing the Shame That Binds You. His most recent was the 2014 Post-Romantic Stress Disorder: What to Do When the Honeymoon Is Over, in which “Bradshaw gives readers a clear explanation of the difference between falling in love, lust, and true love. Based on his research, PRSD is a deeply serious psychological disorder and the cause of 40% of all divorces–divorces that could have been prevented.”

Some of John Bradshaw’s Main Ideas In Brief

The inner child is that part of us we’ve repressed and that benefits from our adult selves healing our wounds through a grieving process.

Toxic shame is contrasted with healthy shame, the former “an excruciatingly internal experience of unexpected exposure. It is a deep cut felt primarily from the inside. It divides us from ourselves and from others. When our feeling of shame becomes toxic shame, we disown ourselves. And this disowning demands a cover-up. Toxic shame parades in many garbs and get-ups. It loves darkness and secretiveness.” It’s also “multigenerational. It is passed from one generation to the next.”

Dysfunctional families operate on the existence of such traits as being in control, perfectionism, what he called the “no-talk” rule (about feelings and wants, for example), and more.

More John Bradshaw Quotes

What is important to note is that we can’t know what we don’t know. Denial, idealization, repression and dissociation are unconscious survival mechanisms. Because they are unconscious, we lose touch with the shame, hurt and pain they cover up. We cannot heal what we cannot feel. So without recovery, our toxic shame gets carried for generations.

In functional families the roles are chosen and are flexible. The members have the choice of giving up the roles. In dysfunctional families the roles are rigid.

Dynamic homeostasis means that whenever a part of the system is out of balance, the rest of the members of the system will try to bring it back into balance.

Condemning others as bad or sinful is a way to feel righteous. Such a feeling is a powerful mood alteration and can become highly addictive.

Religious addiction is a massive problem in our society. It may be the most pernicious of all addictions because it’s so hard for a person to break his delusion and denial. How can anything be wrong with loving God and giving your life for good works and service to mankind?

Our culture does not handle emotions well. We like folks to be happy and fine. We learn rituals of acting happy and fine at an early age. I can remember many times telling people “I’m fine” when I felt like the world was caving in on me. I often think of Senator Muskie who cried on the campaign trail when running for president. From that moment on he was history. We don’t want a president who has emotions. We would rather have one that can act! Emotions are certainly not acceptable in the workplace. True expression of any emotions that are not “positive” are met with disdain.

Most people have a way to go in terms of developing intimacy and connecting skills when they get married or enter a long-term relationship. But the great thing about a committed relationship is that the relationship itself is a form of therapy. If both partners are committed, most of their differences can be worked out and even appreciated. Shame as the root feeling of humility allows each partner to appreciate and accept the other’s foibles and idiosyncrasies.

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