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Personal note from Steve - I read John Bradshaw in the
mid 1990's after my second divorce and before I started
helping teens online. He opened up my eyes to the reality
of how families, especially parents, mess us up.
An interesting insight into my own
family system is that one day while visiting my niece in
Chicago we walked into a bookstore and I saw Bradshaw'
book "The Family." I picked it up and handed it
to her and I said, "This book explains a lot about
the problems in our family." I offered it to her
hoping she would get interested in it and we could have a
conversation about our family. Then I walked around the
store a bit more. A few minutes later I notied her
putting the book back on the shelf. She never said a word
about it to me. And I knew that meant we weren't
"allowed" to talk about things like problems in
our family. It was just too uncomfortable or threatening
Bradshaw has another book about
family secrets, and this is one of our family secrets: We
had major emotional problems, but we weren't allowed to
talk about them. It was just as Bradshaw desribed - it
was an unwritten, but very firm and understood rule.
Here are my
notes from his book "The Family"
From the back of the book "The
1-22 of "The Family"
This is from one of his
tapes. I think it was called "Shame"
2 ways of transferring shame to
1. How to be more than human:
righteous, critical, judgmental, playing God,
controlling, over-achieving. This explains why super-moms
which others think are "saints" create
screwed-up kids. Note: in the Family Ties book, they
point out that if parents do too much for the kid, the
kid doesn't learn how to make decisions.
Em-bare-assed: caught with your
2. Less than human: disparaging,
incest, abuse, demeaning, beating. This likely produces
even more dysfunction than the being righteous etc.
[So I, SPH, have mom on one side,
being more than human and dad, being frightening on the
Abandonment: physical, emotional.
Emotional is the worse. "No healthy mirroring"
which kids need.
[I am thinking how important it is
for every child, as they reach adulthood (whenever that
is), to study himself in relation to others and their
family. Everyone should know why they are the way they
are. Maybe the name of a course or group or business
should be insight, because that is what a lot of this is
Anyhow: He likes Alice Miller's book "The problem of the Gifted
Child". He says every child needs unconditional love
for 15 months. They need a magic mirror in which every
time they look they get a positive reflection. He also
says we all need a very best friend that no matter what
happens, they will accept you. Like the old expression
"let it all hang out" sph. Unconditional
love/acceptance. After we have found this person [and if
we don't have someone, it will have to be us], we can
work on character defects: blame, judging, ridicule, etc;
what he calls transferring the shame to another.
He says you either talk it out work
it out or act it out. Or you project it out (but it
doesn't leave this way- sph).
He says a counselor cannot take
some one where the counselor has not been. Example inner
child work, if the patient started to talk about it,
Bradshaw would change subject because it was too painful.
What he calls original pain.
** Emotionally narcissistic parents
make sure they get from their kids the love they didn't
get from their parents. He calls it a "heinous
multi-generational illness". I believe he is right.
He says the child becomes the object of narcissistic
** He says that our acceptance by
our parents is based on our performance, ie we do what
they think we should do. We then become human
"doings" rather than human beings. We become
caretakers for our parents.
[March 98 notes - now I see how bad
it is when parents invalidate child's feelings. Parents
and preachers are trying to completely control kids, not
just their behavior and beliefs, but feelings too.]
He says people can cry when they
talk about others but not when they talk about
themselves. Because the brain cuts off the feeling part
(3 parts: visceral/habit/instinct, thinking and feeling).
So our feelings are literally shut down or cut off. But
the experience stays with us, that is how it may come
back later or make us sick in the stomach when someone
touches it off.
He says the brain produces
endorphins to deal with stress and actually creates cells
differently than with no stress. Cat brains show stress,
for example. He also says that this endorphin stuff is
forty times more potent than morphine. And then there is
Dinorphins which are two hundred times more potent than
m. These act as tranquilizers. But even with all of these
(found in depressed and suicidal people) they still need
to drink or "mood alter". So they must have
been in a huge amount of pain.
He says we can become great spies
since we learn to hide and disguise our emotions and
feelings (not to mention manipulate). Which helps explain
the Russian since her mother was always trying to control
her and was said to be alcoholic.
He also talks about compulsiveness
and says that there is usually more than one compulsion
(as did Peck) and that if we give up one we usually just
get another. Was mine chasing women? Perfection? Control?
Dostoyevsky's father was a drunk
whose servants killed him when D was 16. He talks about
how many of the great writers never had satisfactory
relationships with women. Kafka in "the trial"
says he was arrested and he didn't even know why. Thus
the feeling of shame.
Shame vs guilt. Guilt is: I made a
mistake. Shame is: I am a mistake. In the first case I
can correct it. But in the second case, what do I do?
He silences the audience by saying
that we were shamed whenever we had needs. "And I
bet that you were the most shamed when you had the most
** Because the parent is angry at
you since you are not taking care of their need, rather
you are making demands on them, which is what their
parents did and, of course, they didn't like it. [And
probably left the home at an early age and got married
and started their own family. sph]
[March 98- Parents have unmet
emotional needs (UEN's) and are using kids to fill them,
when kids have needs, as expressed by their feelings,
parents feel jealous, impatient, blamed, burdened,
inadequate, powerless, etc.]
Then he talks about not having a
self since it is never well defined.
[March 98- if you aren't allowed to
express your needs, you never learn what they are so you
never get to know your true self.]
** You only exist for others, like
the animal who is hyper- vigilant, always looking around.
He says how can you have a
relationship if you don't have a self? Who are you going
to relate to? And who is the other going to relate to?
[sph-> thus the expressions: I
don't know you anymore; or, he seems like a different
person since I married him, (like Benjamin Franklin said,
it is wise to be yourself before marriage). This is
surely the case. The pitiful person has the personality
of a weather vane.]
Bradshaw says you must first find
yourself, then you can use the cognitive techniques. [for
me I think I started with the cognitive by reading the
power of pos. thinking and dyer at any rate, I agree they
both are keys to inner peace.] He talks about the
misleading saying 'your better half/your other half'. He
jokes that he was always looking for his other half. At a
party he would say there she is. No, there she is; no,
there she is.
He says addictions are mood
altering. Emotional illnesses. He likes a book by John
and Laura Wyss? Called 'Recovery from codependence'.
Importance of several relationships
man with self, brother and world. [how about with
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1-22 of The Family
Notes copied from
Thanks to whoever posted them.
Overview: The Crisis, pgs. 1-22 in
Bradshaw On: The Family, 1996, Health Communications,
Deerfield Beach, FL.
Overview: The Crisis
The last 45 years have ushered in a new awareness about
the impact of families on the formation of solid
self-esteem. While we've always known that our families
influence us, we're now discovering that the influence is
beyond what we had imagined. We now understand that
families are dynamic social systems, having structural
laws, components and rules.
The most important family rules are those that determine
what it means to be a human being. These rules embrace
the most fundamental beliefs about raising children. What
parents believe about human life and human fulfillment
governs their way of raising children. The way children
are parented forms their core beliefs about themselves.
Nothing could be more important. Children are any
culture's greatest natural resource. The future of the
world depends on our children's conceptions of
themselves. All their choices depend on their views of
But a crisis exists in the family today. This crisis
centers on our parenting rules and the multi-generational
process by which families perpetuate these rules.
Sickness of the Soul: Shame
The parenting rules I refer to are abusive and shaming.
They destroy children's self-esteem, resulting in shame.
According to psychologist Gershen Kaufman in his book,
Shame, shame is
. . . a sickness of the soul. It is the most poignant
experience of the self by the self; whether felt in
humiliation or cowardice, or in a sense of failure to
cope successfully with challenge. Shame is a wound felt
from the inside, dividing us both from ourselves and from
According to Kaufman, shame is the source of most of the
disturbing inner states that deny full human life.
Depression, alienation, self-doubt, isolating loneliness,
paranoid and schizoid phenomena, compulsive disorders,
splitting of the self, perfectionism, a deep sense of
inferiority, inadequacy or failure, the so-called
borderline conditions and disorders of narcissism-all
result from shame. Shame is a kind of self-murder.
Internalized, shame is characterized by a kind of psychic
numbness that becomes the foundation for a kind of living
death. Forged in the matrix of our source relationships,
shame conditions every other relationship in our lives.
Shame destroys self-esteem.
Shame and Guilt
Shame is at the heart of our wound and differs greatly
from the feeling of guilt. Guilt says I've done something
wrong; shame says there is something wrong with me. Guilt
says I've made a mistake; shame says I am a mistake.
Guilt says what I did was not good; shame says I am no
good. The difference is distinct and profound.
Our parenting rules have not been seriously updated in
years. They come from a time when monarchial patriarchy
ruled the day rather than democracy. The high divorce
rate; violent teenage disorders; massive drug abuse; and
epidemic incest, eating disorders and physical battering
all are evidence that something is radically wrong. The
old rules no longer work. Our consciousness has changed,
as has our view of the world.
Shame Through Abandonment
Our parenting rules primarily shame children through
varying degrees of abandonment. Parents abandon their
children in the following ways:
1. By actually physically
2. By failing to model their own emotions for their
children, and by failing to affirm their children's
expressions of emotion
3. By failing to provide for their children's
developmental dependency needs
4. By physically, sexually, emotionally and
spiritually abusing them
5. By using their children to take care of their own
unmet dependency needs
6. By using children to take care of their marriages
7. By hiding and denying their shame secrets to the
outside world so that the children have to protect
these covert issues in order to keep the family
8. By not giving children enough of their time,
attention and direction
9. By acting shameless
Children's needs are insatiable in
the sense that they need their parents continuously
throughout childhood. No five-year-old ever packed his
bags and called a family meeting to thank his parents for
their support and guidance as he got ready to make his
way in the world. It takes 15 years before nature awakens
these urges to leave home and parents. Children need
their parents to be there for them.
Abandoned children have no one there for them. Children
may even have to take care of their parents. The
preciousness and uniqueness every human child possesses
are destroyed through abandonment. The child is alone and
alienated. This abandonment creates a shame-based inner
Emergence of the False Self
Once a child's inner self is flawed by shame, the
experience of self is painful. To compensate, the child
develops a false self in order to survive.
The false self forms a defensive mask, distracting the
true self from its pain and inner loneliness. After years
of acting, performing and pretending, the child loses
contact with the true self. That true self is numbed out.
The false self cover-up makes it impossible to develop
The crisis is far worse than is generally known because
adults who parent their children badly cover up their
shame-based inner selves. So the crisis is not just about
how we raise our children; it's about a large number of
people who look like adults, talk and dress like adults,
but who are actually adult children. These adult children
often run our schools, our churches and our government.
They also create our families. This book is about the
crisis in the family today-the crisis of adult children
raising children who will become adult children.
The Family Rules
The rules about raising children are the most sacred of
all rules. They are authenticated by religious teaching
and reinforced in our school systems. Seriously
questioning them is considered sacrilegious. This is why
the crisis is so dangerous.
Like the story of the emperor with no clothes, we are not
supposed to look. But in this case, the consequences are
far more serious. We share a collective denial and a
cultural no-talk rule. This no-talk rule is rooted in the
rules governing parenting. Children should speak only
when spoken to; children should be seen and not heard;
children should obey all adults (any adult) without
question. To question is an act of disobedience. And so
the rules are carried out by the obedient child in all
the adults who are raising families. The hidden child in
every adult continues to obey, so that the rules are
carried multi-generationally, and "the sins of the
fathers" are visited on the children, to the third
and fourth generations.
The crisis is cunning and baffling because one of the
rules comprising the sacred rules is that we can't
question any of the rules. We are not supposed to talk
about the rules. This would dishonor our parents.
We have no alternative. We must break the sacred rule and
question these rules because unless we talk about them,
there is no way out. We must evaluate them in the light
of our newfound knowledge of families as systems.
We must also examine these rules so
that we can come to terms with our compulsiveness. Shame,
with its accompanying loneliness and psychic numbness,
fuels our compulsive/addictive lifestyle. Since the child
in the adult has insatiable needs, we cannot find
fulfillment. As grownups we can't go back as children and
sit in Mom's lap or have Dad take us fishing. And no
matter how hard we try to turn our children, lovers and
spouses into Mom and Dad, it never works. We cannot be
children again. No matter how many times we fill the cup,
we still want more.
Shame fuels compulsivity and compulsivity is the black
plague of our time. We are driven. We want more money,
more sex, more food, more booze, more drugs, more
adrenaline rush, more entertainment, more possessions,
more ecstasy. Like a starving person, even more of
everything does not satiate us.
Our dis-eases permeate everyday life. Our troubles are
focused on what we eat, what we drink, how we work, how
we sleep, how we are intimate, how we have orgasm, how we
play, how we worship. We stay so busy and distracted that
we never feel how lonely, hurt, mad and sad we really
are. Our compulsivities cover up a lost city-a place deep
inside of us where a child hides in the ruins.
I understand compulsive/addictive behavior as a
pathological relationship to any mood-altering experience
that has life-damaging consequences. Such a definition
helps us move from our stereotypical pictures of the
dives and back alleys of drug and alcohol addiction to
the respectable corporate and religious lives of work and
religion addicts. It also helps us see the effect of the
broken relationship with our original caretakers that
produced shame. Because our original dependency bridge
with our survival figures has been broken, we are set up
for problems with dependency and with relationships. In
the abandonment relationships that shame us, our
compulsivities are set up.
Our families are the places where we have our source
relationships. Families are where we first learn about
ourselves in the mirroring eyes of our parents; where we
see ourselves for the first time. In families we learn
about emotional intimacy. We learn what feelings are and
how to express them. Our parents model what feelings are
acceptable and family-authorized and what feelings are
When we are abused in families, we learn to protect
ourselves with ego defenses. We repress our feelings; we
deny what's going on; we displace our rage onto our
lovers, spouses or our friends; we create illusions of
love and connectedness; we idealize and minimize; we
dissociate so that we no longer feel anything at all; we
Our addictions and compulsivities are our mood alterers.
They are what we develop when we grow numb. They are our
ways of being alive and our ways of managing our
feelings. This is most apparent in experiences that are
euphoric, like using alcohol and drugs, compulsively
having sex, eating sugar, the adrenaline rush that comes
with the feelings of ecstasy and righteousness. It is not
as obvious in activities that are used to distract from
emotions, such as working, buying, gambling, watching
television and thinking obsessively. These are
Addiction has become our national lifestyle-or
deathstyle. It is a deathstyle based on the
relinquishment of the self as a worthwhile being to a
self who must achieve and perform or use something
outside of self in order to be lovable and happy.
Addictions are painkilling substitutes for legitimate
suffering. To legitimately suffer we have to feel as bad
as we feel.
The fastest-growing problem in our country is sexual
addiction. Some estimates say that the number of sex
addicts is equal to the number of chemical addicts. Grave
social consequences have arisen from this problem. The
spread of AIDS is certainly fueled by sexual addiction,
as are incest and molestation. And while all sex addicts
are not child molesters, most child molesters are sex
Another major factor in family dysfunction is the
addiction to power and violence. Battered children and
battered wives expose the horror of physically abusing
Violence itself can be an addiction. An essential
component in any abusing relationship is the addiction to
being victimized. Traumatic bonding, a form of learned
helplessness, is a true addiction that enslaves and
I stated earlier that the old rules no longer work. What
are these old rules?
The Swiss psychiatrist Alice Miller in her book, For Your
Own Good, groups these parenting rules under the title
"poisonous pedagogy." The subtitle of her book
is Hidden Cruelties in Child Rearing and the Roots of
Violence. She argues that the poisonous pedagogy is a
form of parenting that violates the rights of children.
Such violation is then reenacted when these children
They exalt obedience as its highest value. Following
obedience are orderliness, cleanliness and the control of
emotions and desires. Children are considered
"good" when they think and behave the way they
are taught to think and behave. Children are virtuous
when they are meek, agreeable, considerate and unselfish.
The more a child is "seen and not heard" and
"speaks only when spoken to," the better that
child is. Miller summarizes the poisonous pedagogy as
1. Adults are the masters of
the dependent child.
2. Adults determine in a godlike fashion what is
right and wrong.
3. The child is held responsible for the anger of
4. Parents must always be shielded.
5. The child's life-affirming feelings pose a threat
to the autocratic parent.
6. The child's will must be "broken" as
soon as possible.
7. All this must happen at a very early age so the
child "won't notice" and will not be able
to expose the adults.
If followed, these family system
rules result in the absolute control of one group of
people (parents) over another group of people (children).
Yet in our present society, only in extreme cases of
physical or sexual abuse can anyone intervene on a
Abandonment, with its severe emotional abuse, neglect and
enmeshment, is a form of violence. Abandonment, in the
sense I have defined it, has devastating effects on a
child's belief about himself. And yet, no agency or law
exists to monitor such abuse. In fact, many of our
religious institutions and schools offer authoritarian
support for these beliefs. Our legal system enforces
Another aspect of poisonous pedagogy imparts to the child
from the beginning false information and beliefs that are
not only unproven, but in some cases, demonstrably false.
These are beliefs passed on from generation to
generation, the so-called "sins of the
fathers." Again, I refer to Alice Miller, who cites
examples of such beliefs:
1. A feeling of duty produces
2. Hatred can be done away with by forbidding it
3. Parents deserve respect because they are parents.
(Note: Any 15-year-old can be a parent without any
training. We give telephone operators more training
than parents. We need telephone operators, but we
need good parents more.) [Emphasis mine.]
4. Children are undeserving of respect simply because
they are children.
5. Obedience makes a child strong.
6. A high degree of self-esteem is harmful.
7. A low-degree of self-esteem makes a person
8. Tenderness (doting) is harmful.
9. Responding to a child's needs is wrong.
10. Severity and coldness toward a child give him a
good preparation for life.
11. A pretense of gratitude is better than honest
12. The way you behave is more important than the way
you really are.
13. Neither parents nor God would survive being
14. The body is something dirty and disgusting.
15. Strong feelings are harmful.
f 6. Parents are creatures free of drives and guilt.
17. Parents are always right.
Probably no modern parents embody
all of the above. In fact, some have accepted and imposed
the opposite extreme of these beliefs with results just
as abusive. But most of these beliefs are carried
unconsciously and are activated in times of stress and
crisis. The fact is, parents have little choice about
such beliefs until they have worked through and clarified
their relationships with their own parents. I referred to
this earlier as the problem of adult children. Let me
Children's Belief Patterns
The great paradox in child-parent relationships is that
children's beliefs about their parents come from the
parents. Parents teach their children the meaning of the
world around them. For the first 10 years of life the
parents are the most important part of the child's world.
If a child is taught to honor his parents no matter how
they behave, why would a child argue with this?
The helpless human infant is the most dependent of all
living creatures. And for the first eight years of life,
according to the cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget,
children think nonlogically, egocentrically and
magically. You can better understand nonlogical thinking
by asking a four-year-old boy, who has a brother, if he
has a brother. He will probably answer "yes."
But if you then ask him if his brother has a brother, he
will usually either be confused or answer "no."
An example of egocentric thinking is to stand across from
a pre-five-year-old child who knows his right hand from
his left. Hold your hands out and across from him. Ask
him which is your right hand and your left hand. As his
right hand will be opposite your left hand, he will say
that your left hand is your right hand. His mind is
immature and has not yet attained the ability to
completely differentiate or separate himself from objects
around him. The child projects his own view of the world
on everything. His viewpoint is the only viewpoint.
Winnie-the-Pooh has exactly the same feelings the child
does. Little matter that Pooh is a toy bear. This
egocentricity contains a survival value- for the child as
it relates to self-preservation.
The magical part of the child's thinking deifies the
parents. They are gods, all-powerful, almighty and
all-protecting. No harm can come to the child as long as
he has parents. This magical idealization serves to
protect the child from the terrors of the night, which
are about abandonment and, to the child, death. The
protective deification of the parents, this magical
idealization, also creates a potential for a
shame-binding predicament for the child.
For example, if the parents are abusive and hurt the
child through physical, sexual, emotional or mental pain,
the child will assume the blame and make himself bad in
order to keep the all-powerful parental protection. For a
child at this stage, realizing the inadequacies of
parents would produce unbearable anxiety.
In essence, children are equipped with an innate ability
to defend their conscious awareness against threats and
intolerable situations. Freud called this ability an ego
defense. The earliest defenses are archaic and, once
formed, function automatically and unconsciously. It is
this unconscious quality of these defenses that
potentially makes them so damaging.
In a recent book called The Fantasy Bond psychologist
Robert Firestone elaborates on Freud's work. According to
the author, the fantasy bond is the core defense in all
human psychological systems, ranging from those of
psychotics to the systems of fully functioning
individuals. The fantasy bond is the illusion of
connectedness we create with our major caretaker whenever
our emotional needs are not adequately met. The fantasy
bond is like a mirage in the desert that enables us to
survive.other, father or other parenting person is
perfect, all humans develop this fantasy bond to some
degree. In fact, growing up and leaving home involves the
overcoming of this illusion of connection and protection.
Growing up means accepting our fundamental aloneness. It
means that we face the terrors of the night and grapple
with the reality of death on our own. Most of all, it
means giving up our parents in their illusory and
The more emotionally deprived a person has been, the
stronger his fantasy bond. And paradoxical as it sounds,
the more a person has been abandoned, the more he tends
to cling to and idealize his family and his parents.
Idealizing parents also extends to the way they raised
Development of the False Self
No child, because of his helplessness, dependency and
terror wants to accept the belief that his parents are
inadequate, sick, crazy or otherwise imperfect. Nature
protects the child by providing the egocentric, magical
and nonlogical mode of cognition I spoke of earlier. To
be safe and survive, an abandoned child must idealize his
parents and think of himself as bad, thus splitting
himself. This split-off part is actually the parts of his
parents that he has rejected. He projects this split and
forbidden self to others, that is, to strangers who are
not of his clan or family. He then introjects his
parents' voices. This means that the child continues to
hear an internal shame dialogue he originally had with
The child parents himself the way he was parented. If the
child got shamed for feeling angry, sad or sexual, he
will shame himself each time he feels angry, sad or
sexual. All of his feelings, needs and drives become
shame-bound. The inner self-rupture is so painful, the
child develops a "false self." This false self
manifests in a mask or rigid role that is determined both
by the culture and by the family system's need for
balance. Over time the child identifies with the false
self and is largely unconscious of his own true feelings,
needs and wants. The shame is internalized. Shame is no
longer a feeling; it is an identity. The real self has
withdrawn from conscious contact and therefore cannot be
the object of his esteem.
Even after the magical period passes, around the age of
eight, and the child moves into a more logical way of
thinking, nature continues to provide an egocentric
idealization of the parents. The youngster now thinks in
a concretely logical manner and assumes the point of view
of others. He "gets it" that Santa Claus cannot
be in six department stores at the same time. At this
stage he is more cooperative in games and play. He is
less magical (stepping on a crack does not really break
Mom's back). He now has greater appreciation for rules.
Even so, the logical child will remain egocentric and
undifferentiated until early puberty. Only then will he
have the capacity for full other-centered love and
understanding. Until then, he will make a hypothesis and
then cast it in bronze. If new data emerge to refute this
hypothesis, the child will revise the data to fit his
One such hypothesis carried by children (because it is
taught at the magical age) is that adults-parents
especially-are benevolent and totally good.
Parents are good and no amount of evidence to the
contrary will convince children differently. In addition,
the emotional and volitional reasons the child clings to
this belief is that children love their parents and are
emotionally bonded to them. Abused children are more
powerfully bonded. Abuse creates intense bonding because
as a child is abused, his self-esteem diminishes and his
choices are limited. The more he feels worthless, the
more he feels powerless to change. The more he feels
powerless, the fewer choices he feels he has. And the
more he accepts the rules and introjects the parents'
voices, the more the child idealizes these rules so as
not to separate himself from his parents.
In other words, in order for a child to reflect on
parental rules and find them wanting, be would have to
separate and stand on his own two feet in childhood. A
child cannot do this.
Once in adolescence, most of the child's energy is
directed toward leaving the family, and it often appears
as if adolescents are rejecting their parents' rules. In
fact, the more fantasy-bonded an adolescent is, the more
bonded he will become to his peer group, which serves as
a "new parent." However, once this identity
crisis is over, most adolescents return to the fantasy
bond with their families. This is especially evident when
a person settles down and starts his own family. What was
famil(y)iar comes back and feels right, and this includes
the rules for parenting. The poisonous pedagogy is
transmitted multi-generationally as a sacred body of
I stated earlier that these parenting rules are out of
date. I contend that our consciousness and way of life
have radically changed in the last 200 years. The
poisonous pedagogy worked 200 years ago for several
First, life expectancy was much lower. Consequently,
families were together a shorter period of time. Divorce
was a rarity. The average marriage lasted 15 years and
there was little adolescent family conflict as we know
it. By age 13, most children had lost a parent. By 15,
formal schooling was over. Puberty for women occurred in
Economically, families were bonded by work and survival.
Father lived at home. Boys bonded to their fathers
through work-apprentice systems. They watched and admired
their fathers as they transformed the earth, built homes
and barns, and created wonderful goods through manual
labor. Today the majority of families have lost their
fathers to the new world of work automation and
cybernetics. Fathers have left home (someone estimated
that the average executive father spends 37 seconds per
day with his newborn).
Most children do not know what their fathers do at work.
Motherbonding and fathers' inability to break that bond
due to absentee fathering have caused severe marital and
Children, especially males, were once the greatest asset
to a family. The old Chinese proverb underscores this:
"Show me a rich man without any sons, and I'll show
you a man who won't be rich very long. Show me a poor man
with many sons, and I'll show you a man who won't be poor
Today children are one of our greatest economic
liabilities. Supporting children through the completion
of college costs a pretty penny. It also necessitates
close interaction between parents and children for 25
The rules governing parenting and personality formation
200 years ago were also the result of scientific,
philosophical and theological views of human nature that
have changed drastically. Two hundred years ago,
democracy, social equality and individual freedom were
new concepts not yet tested by time.
The world was simpler then. Isaac Newton had mapped out
the laws of nature. He conceived the world much like the
machines that would emerge from the Industrial
Revolution. Thinking and reasoning were what progress was
all about. Man was a rational animal. Emotions and
desires had great power to contaminate and therefore were
very suspicious. Emotions needed to be subjected to the
scrutiny and control of reason. Men were content to enjoy
the security of a fixed order of things. God was in his
heaven and all was right with the world.....as long as
men obeyed the laws of nature.
Those laws were also written into the hearts of men (and
occasionally in women's hearts). This was the natural
law. It was based on unchanging eternal truths.
Mothers and fathers carried God's authority. Their task
was to teach their children the laws of God and nature
and to be sure they obeyed these laws. Emotions and
willfulness had to be repressed. Children were born with
an unruly animal nature. Their souls, although made in
God's image, were stained by original sin. Therefore,
children needed discipline. Great energy was spent
breaking their unruly passions and unbridled spirit.
Spare the rod and you spoil the child. As Alice Miller reports, one 19th-century writer said:
"Blows provide forceful accompaniment to words and
intensify their effect. The most direct and natural way
of administering them is by that box on the ears,
preceded by a strong pulling of the ear.... It obviously
has symbolic significance as does a slap on the mouth,
which is a reminder that there is an organ of speech and
a warning to put it to better use . . . the tried and
true blow to the head and hairpulling still convey a
certain symbolism, too."
Any reaction to this punishment was deemed obstinate.
Obstinate meant having a mind of one's own. Those were
the good old days!
The work of Einstein ended this world view. The quantum
theory replaced Newton's clockwork deterministic universe
and its billiard-ball-like elements. Quantum theory
challenged the basic notions of space and time.
Everything in the universe was relative to everything
else. Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty soon
followed. He showed that while we can know that
infinitesimal parts of matter exist, we cannot measure
Quantum physics brought a revolution in our way of
viewing the universe. "Because of this," Dr. L.
Dossey writes in Space, Time and Medicine, "we can
expect it to wreak astonishing transformations in our
views of our psychophysical self."
The old world view was definitively shaken by World War I
and its 15 million dead.
Mankind had been basking in many illusions of inevitable
progress. Rationalism and technological advances assured
everyone that progress was inevitable. After World War I,
people asked, "Where are reason and
Stunned, the believers still espoused the faith. The
League of Nations and the Weimar Republic were safeguards
that this could not happen again.
Less than 20 years later, it did happen again. This time
the modern world was shocked beyond any reason. Hitler
and his followers were the agents of death for countless
millions of people in the space of six years. His regime
programmatically exterminated several million Jews in gas
chambers and death camps. The heinousness of these crimes
far exceeded anything known to human history. Their
cruelty and inhumanity stretched beyond imagination. What
would make a person want to gas millions of people? How
could millions of others acclaim and assist him?
How Could Hitler Happen?
Germany had been a citadel of Christianity, the
birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. Germany was a
philosophical, theological and artistic giant among the
nations of the world. How was it possible for all this to
happen? How was Hitler possible?
Many answers to this question have been offered. None is
satisfactory. Nevertheless, it is essential that we try
to find such an answer. For at the end of the Nazi era
came the new development of nuclear weapons, with their
capacity for the annihilation of the human race.
How could Hitler happen? Certainly part of the answer
lies in the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles, which
robbed Germany of its lands. Another part of the answer
lies in politics and economics. It has to do with
self-interest, greed, the "haves" and
"have nots." Part of the answer is
sociological, having to do with special-interest groups
and the laws that govern groups. This includes the shared
focus and shared denials that group loyalty demands. And
part of the puzzle of Hitler's Germany is psychological,
having to do with the rules that govern the family
The family is the place where persons are socialized. The
rules governing the prototypical German family were
almost a pure caricature of the patriarchal poisonous
pedagogy. Indeed, obedience, rigidity, orderliness and
denial of feelings taken to extreme led to the
"black miracle of Nazism."
Erik Erikson voiced this powerfully in an article on
Hitler. He writes:
It is our task to recognize
that the black miracle of Nazism was only the German
version, superbly planned and superbly bungled of a
universal contemporary potential. The trend persists;
Hitler's ghost is counting on it.
The potential for this to
happen again resides in the ever-present existence of
the patriarchal poisonous pedagogy. Obedience and
corporal punishment are still highly valued as the
crown of parental discipline.
In the 1920s some did argue that the Weimar Republic
would not succeed because of the totalitarian
structure of the German family. The authoritarianism
that gave the father such unequal rights over the
mother and children did not provide a climate in
which democracy could be learned.
Obedience Above All
Another factor in the black miracle was the patriarchal
religious belief that all authority was from God and must
be obeyed as a divine command. In its extreme form, this
meant that one must obey authority, even if it is judged
Alice Miller has presented convincing evidence that
Hitler was physically and emotionally abused as a child.
His father was, in every sense, a totalitarian dictator.
Some historians conjecture that Hitler's father was
half-Jewish and illegitimate and acted out his rage on
his children. Some believe that Hitler was reenacting his
own childhood, using millions of innocent Jews as his
But Hitler could never have done this alone. What seems
beyond all human logic is the fact that one madman could
corrupt an entire elitist nation like Germany.
Erik Erikson has suggested that Hitler mobilized the
dissociated rage of German adolescents. He was an
adolescent gang leader who came as a brother and offered
a matrix that institutionalized their rage. This rage was
their unconscious response to their cruel upbringing and
was neatly denied in the myth of the "master
race." The scapegoated Jews represented the
victimized part of themselves as they identified with
their aggressive totalitarian parent. This national
"acting out" was the logical result of an
authoritarian family life in which one or two persons,
the parents, have all the power and can whip, scold,
punish, humiliate, manipulate, abuse or neglect their
children-all under the banner of parenting and pedagogy.
In the autocratic German family, mother and children were
totally subservient to the father's will, his moods and
whims. The children had to accept humiliation and
injustice unquestionably and gratefully. Obedience was
the primary rule of conduct.
Hitler's family structure was the prototype of a
totalitarian regime. His upbringing, although more
severe, was not unlike that of the rest of the German
nation. I believe that this similar family structure
allowed Hitler to entice the German people.
Alice Miller has said that a single person can gain
control over the masses if he learns to use to his own
advantage the social system under which the people were
At the Nuremberg war trials, murderer after murderer
pleaded innocence on the basis of obedience to authority.
People such as Adolf Eichmann and Rudolf Hess were
trained to be obedient so successfully that this training
never lost its effectiveness. To the end, they carried
out orders without questioning the content. They carried
them out just as the poisonous pedagogy recommended, not
out of any sense of their inherent rightness, but simply
because they were orders.
"This explains,' writes Alice Miller, "why
Eichmann was able to listen to the most moving testimony
of the witnesses at his trial without the slightest
display of emotion, yet when he forgot to stand up at the
reading of the verdict, he blushed with embarrassment
when this was brought to his attention."
Rudolf Hess' strict patriarchal Catholic upbringing is
well-known. His very religious father wanted him to be a
missionary. Hess writes:
"I . . . was as deeply religious as was possible for
a boy of my age.... I had been brought up by my parents
to be respectful and obedient toward all adults.... It
was constantly impressed on me in forceful terms that I
must obey promptly the wishes and commands of my parents,
teachers, priests and indeed all adults, including
servants, and that nothing must distract me from this
duty. Whatever they said was always right."
I believe that Nuremberg was a decisive turning point for
the monarchial patriarchal poisonous pedagogy. Obedience,
the star in the Christians' crown of glory, the meta-rule
of all modern Western family systems, had reached its
zenith of disclosure in terms of its potential for
destruction. Suddenly the childhood idealism of the
family structure was exposed as devastatingly destructive
and with it, the whole substructure of life-denying
Hitler and Nazism are a cruel caricature of what can
happen in modern Western society if we do not stop
promoting and proliferating family rules that destroy the
self-esteem of human beings. Nazism marks the end of an
The Insidiousness of Total Obedience
Mine is an urgent, frantic plea for people to understand
how insidious the rules that form the poisonous pedagogy
can be. These rules are not insidious in themselves; they
become insidious as absolutized and totalistic laws of
human formation. Obedience and orderliness are essential
to any family and social structure. Law as a guide to
human safety through its protective structure is
essential to human fulfillment. Learning to be agreeable,
cooperative, unselfish and meek is useful and valuable.
However, obedience without critical judgment and
innerfreedom led to Nazism, Jonestown and My Lai. It was
obedience absolutized and cut off from human sensitivity
and natural law.
Similarly, cleanliness and orderliness without
spontaneity lead to obsessive enslavement. Law and
intellectualism without vitality and emotions lead to
mechanical coldness and inhuman, heartless control.
Considerateness, meekness, unselfishness without the
essentials of inner freedom, inner-independence and
critical judgment lead to a "doormat,"
people-pleasing type person, who can be ruled by almost
any authority figure.
We programmatically deny children their feelings,
especially anger and sexual feelings. Once a person loses
contact with his own feelings, he loses contact with his
body. We also monitor and control our children's desires
and thoughts. To have one's feelings, body, desires and
thoughts controlled is to lose one's self. To be
de-selfed is to have one's self-esteem severely damaged.
This tragic sense is a major cause of the rage that
dominates our world. The rage is either directed against
strangers in crimes of violence, or it is directed
against ourselves as the shame that fuels our addictions.
My contention is that most families have dysfunctional
elements because our rules for normalcy are
dysfunctional. The important issue is to find out how
specifically you were impacted by your family's use of
these rules. Once you know what happened to you, you can
do something about it.
The key points covered in this chapter can be summed up
using the letters from the word CRISIS:
Compulsive/Addictive Behavior Disorder
The range of compulsive/addictive behavior in modern
society is awesome. The bubonic plague of today is
compulsivity. It affects our everyday lifestyle; how and
what we eat; how and what we drink; our work; our
recreation; our activities; our sexuality; our religious
worship. Such behavior is modeled and set up in families.
Rules for Child Rearing
The poisonous pedagogy promotes ownership of our
children. It preaches non-democratic ways of relating. It
especially espouses inequality of power. It promotes the
denial of feelings and corporal punishment.
Idealization of Parents and Family
One of the rules of the poisonous pedagogy is that the
rules cannot be challenged. This means that parents and
family cannot be critically evaluated. Children naturally
idealize their parents out of survival needs. They grow
up to be adult children who carry out their parents'
rules to the next generation. This creates more adult
Adult children are adults with a wounded child living
inside of them. The true self is ruptured and a false
self must be created. Shame is a being wound.
Ideological Totalism_Nazi Germany
The ultimate expression of the poisonous pedagogy was
Nazi Germany. Hitler created the master/slave national
state. He used the socialization structures of the German
family to create the Nazi regime. As long as the
poisonous pedagogy goes unchallenged, the phenomenon of
Hitler is still a potential in our society.
We now understand that social systems have laws,
components and structural dynamics. Societies create
"consensus realities" that ultimately become
unconscious. Families are systems in which the whole is
greater than the parts. Such systems have rules that, if
left unchallenged, become closed systems, and such closed
systems can go on for generations.