Stories by tian dayton PhD on Medium

Stories by tian dayton PhD on Medium

Mothering and Codependency: How to Let Your Child’s Life Be a Catalyst for Your Own Personal Growth

Posted: May 15, 2018, 6:58 pm

Mothering and Codependency: How to Let Your Child’s Life Be a Catalyst for Your Own Personal Growth

If I had diagrammed my family when my children were young, well most any age really, had I been really honest I’d have made myself smaller than anyone else. What I learned through my own ACA/codependency recovery, was that if I kept doing that, I was not in fact serving my children nor myself nor my husband.

Trauma has the effect of shrinking us, we get hurt and we withdraw, we get scared and we shut down, we become emotionally constricted, we’re less present and less spontaneous.

Recovery wakes us up.

Waking up is not a totally smooth process because we’re waking up feelings and thinking that we shut down, maybe as kids or teenagers, because it was too much for us to feel at that time. But waking up eventually allows us to come to life and to recognize that we’re as important as our children and that when we shrink ourselves, we teach them, we model for them, particularily for our daughters, just how to do that when they become adults.

We love our children, so how do we learn to love them in a way that will show them how to love themselves and others; how to take their proper size in the relationships that they will develop in their own future?

Bringing anxiety, pain and fear into motherhood is a subtle thing. One of the ways that old pain rolls out through the next generation is through a phenomenon called projection, i.e. we project our unhealed, unconscious pain from OUR childhood onto our children’s childhood.

Here’s a process that I have developed over the past twenty years or so that’s simple and effective. It not only frees up the child from the grip of their parent’s old pain, it gives the parent, in this canse the mom, a second chance. As we say in recovery, “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood!” So be good to the child you have and the child that lives inside of you and try this exercise:

1. Identify an age in your children’s lives that is difficult for you, that tugs on something inside of you…. this often manifests as excessive worry for your child at that age, concern that something is amiss or will go wrong for them.

2. Now close your eyes and imagine yourself at that same age. What was going on around you? What was occurring in YOUR life at that age?

3. Feel the feelings that you felt then, think the thoughts that you thought then.

4. Now ask yourself, “is there something from this time in MY life that is making me extra anxious about this time in MY CHILD’S life? Am I projecting or even creating pain that is more about me than my child?

5. If the answer is “yes” then see if you can allow more memory to come up, more feelings, more thoughts; let a fuller picture emerge.

6. Now let yourself just sit with this awareness, you might feel some pain because if you shut something down it was likely because it hurt. You might feel some guilt because you realize that you’ve been putting your own pain on your kid. You might feel some confusion because stuff is coming up and dis-equilibrating you. You might feel some relief because it feels so good to connect the dots.

7. Now be good to yourself, don’t rush to your child to explain yourself, just sit with this new awareness and breathe through it, visualize comforting yourself at this age. Then take your own hand and let the adult in you, take the child in you, out of harm’s way.

8. OK now relax, rest if you can or just continue through your day and let this go, the awarenesses will continue to come, just let them and remember to be good to yourself and to breathe through the feelings.

Moms have a tough job and a beautiful one. One way that the journey of motherhood can become an awakening of self, is to pay attention to where you get triggered most frequently. Realize that what triggers you most intensely may be sending up a red flag marking the territory of your own childhood pain. Then do this little process. You might find that your children’s lives become the greatest catalyst for your own healing. Our love for our children makes us want to protect them from harm and even to protect them from our own darker sides. Let motherhood be the light that illuminates the child in you as you love and adore the child you have.

Happy Mother’s Day!

For further reading on codependency click here:

Mothering and Codependency: How to Let Your Child’s Life Be a Catalyst for Your Own Personal Growth was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

I could not agree with you more Brandy….I

Posted: May 11, 2018, 5:49 pm

I could not agree with you more Brandy….I hope lots of people read your comment….having had two children myself, I am shocked at the offer of opiates in this case…..….thank you for sharing your story!

The Trauma a Child Experiences When a Parent Passes Out

Posted: May 11, 2018, 5:32 pm

A tot's anguish: Video captures mom's apparent overdose at Family Dollar store

This is a video of an increasingly occurring, very heartbreaking scene.

A little girl is tugging on her mother who has passed out in the aisle of a dollar store. The “appropriate authorities” have been called and although those who called are looking on with care and concern, the little toddler is left comfortless, no one is acting on their human response to ease the pain of a child who is clearly in deep distress? So there are many questions here…..

· How could a mother who is responsible for a small child do drugs that have the potential to incapacitate her?

· And why have we mortgaged out our human response to help, to the proper authorities, to the exclusion of reaching out and comforting a child who is in such distress?

· What are we scared of? The answer is, PLENTY.

We are scared of being sued if we touch another human being, which is a legitimate fear in our litigious society.

We are scared of the raw truth of addiction and what it does to people.

Whether or not you believe addiction is a disease or an inability of a person to stop doing what is clearly doing harm, there is little doubt that once addicted, most addicts need help to clean up their lives. They simply cannot reach out from this devastated state and do something to help themselves. And yet, they eventually have to do just that, to take responsibility for the disease that is killing them and traumatizing everyone around them. And make no mistake about it, the shame that is heaped upon the mother (no attempt was made to blur her face) is carried also be the daughter.

Children live in the three feet surrounding their parent; what happens to the parent, happens to the child.

Many have criticized the store employees for filming the incident rather than caring for the child, others have asked if it is right for the police to share this video. But no matter how you slice it, this video, filmed by shocked employees and shared by worn out and desperate law enforcers is horrifying to look at. But we have to look at it in order to see the horror, accept it and do something about it.

The field I work in, the addictions field has spent over a decade sounding an alarm to doctors prescribing pain killers because so many who started out on pain meds wound up as addicts. Until you see what addiction really looks like and the utter heartbreak of watching a desperate, hurting child try to wake up a passed out parent, it is all to easy to turn your head.

But this little child is not uncommon. Those of us who grew up with addicted parents have all done this at one point or another, tried to rouse our passed out parents, cried plaintively and without comfort at a scene that shook us to our core.

This is what addiction looks like whether it’s the cocaine addicted hedge fund guy, the returning soldier self medicating PTSD with drugs, alcohol or pain meds, the mother who has left dinner burning in the oven while she is on pills, alcohol or both, the sibling who has gotten their other sibling to lie for them because he is high on street drugs….this is what addiction looks like in the best of homes and the worst, at fancy stores or local delis. This is what addiction looks like, whether it’s to alcohol, pain meds or street drugs.

So when you are tempted to turn your head, to blame the mother, to grab the child or to wonder why police would put this out, just look at it instead. Because this is what addiction looks like, and the reason everyone wants to criticize someone is because we feel so powerless in the face of it. And we all know at some level, that to blame the mother and call her bad, could make the child suffer even more. But to tell her everything will be fine is equally damaging, because everything certainly isn’t. And telling people not to film it or share it is joining the massive denial around what feels ugly and hopeless and terrifying about this scourge that is getting worse. Because this is what addiction looks like; and to be anywhere near it is to be saddened and just generally freaked out, and to feel that nothing you can do will be the right thing, is part of what anyone struggles with when faced with scenes like this. And this is not just in the toy aisle of the dollar store, it is in all of the homes where addicts are parents. Because this is what addiction looks like.

And the only way out is to see it for what it is and try, in any small way, to understand.

Building Strength and Resiliance through Facing and Dealing with Life’s Problems

Posted: May 3, 2018, 10:05 pm

Resilient qualities are not only what we’re born with but also the strengths that we build through encountering life’s challenges and developing the personal and interpersonal skills to meet them. It is one of life’s paradoxes that the worst circumstances can bring the best out of us. According to the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) studies performed by Robert Anda (2006) and his team at Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego, we will all experience four or more serious life stressors that may be traumatizing, and according to positive psychology research, most of us will grow from them.

What Do We Mean by Resilience?

Research on resilience used to view resilient qualities as residing exclusively within an individual. Today this research takes the more dynamic view of seeing resilience as an individual’s ability to mobilize supports within a social context. Wong and Wong (2012) write that “In the early days of resilience research, the focus was on ‘the invulnerable child,’ who did better than expected despite adversities and disadvantages . . . [D]evelopmental psychologists were interested in individual differences and the protective factors that contributed to the development of the invulnerable child”. Rutter, however, argues that “resilience may reside in the social context as much as within the individual” (Wong & Wong). “His concept of the ‘steeling’ effect highlights the essence of resilience — the more experience you have in overcoming adversities, the more resilient you will become” (Wong & Wong, 2012).

Wong and Wong propose that certain qualities of behavioral resilience can only be developed from the actual experience of having overcome adversities (Wong & Wong, 2012).

Additionally, they identify at least three prototypical patterns that resilient people appear to display, which may occur in different contexts for different individuals. These are developed as individuals meet life challenges; they are dynamic, constantly evolving qualities rather than qualities residing only within the individual.

  1. Recovery: bouncing back and returning to normal functioning
  2. Invulnerability: remaining relatively unscathed by the adversity or trauma
  3. Posttraumatic growth: bouncing back and becoming stronger (Wong & Wong, 2012, p. 588).

Our Deep Need to Connect: How Early Attachment Can Be Life Enhancing or Traumatizing

Our highest and most evolved system, our social engagement system, is activated through our deep urge to communicate and cooperate. From the moment of birth our mind-body reaches out toward our primary attachment figures to establish the kind of connection that will allow us to survive and find our footing in the world. We fall back on our more primitive systems of defense — such as fight, flight, or freeze — only when we fail to find a sense of resonance and safety in this connection (Porges, 2004).

The body of work that researchers Dan Siegel and Allan Schore have developed, which underlies interpersonal neurobiology, postulates that our skin does not define the boundaries of our beingness; from conception, we resonate in tune or out of tune with those around us (Schore, 1999). Through relational experiences that form and inform our sense of self and through our ability to be cared for and care about others, our capacity for empathy is formed and strengthened (Schore, 1999).

Neuroception, a term coined by Stephen Porges (2004), former Director of the Brain-Body Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, describes our innate ability to use intricate, meaning-laden, barely perceptible mind-body signals to establish bonds and communicate our needs and intentions. While many of these communications are conscious, still more occur beneath the level of our awareness in that animal-like part of us(Porges, 2004).

Neuroception is a system that has evolved over time to enable humans and mammals to establish the mutually nourishing bonds that we need to survive and thrive. It is also our personal security system that assesses, in the blink of an eye, whether or not the situations that we’re encountering are safe or in some way threatening (Porges, 2004). According to Porges (2004), our neuroception tells us if we can relax and be ourselves or if and when we need to self protect. If the signals that we’re picking up from others are cold, dismissive, or threatening, that system sets off an inner alarm that is followed by a cascade of mind-body responses honed by eons of evolution to keep us from being harmed. That mind-body system sets off equivalent alerts if we’re facing the proverbial sabor-toothed tiger or sabor-toothed parent, older sibling, school bully, or spouse. We brace for harm to our person on the inside as well as on the outside.

When Parents Turn Away

Trauma in the home has a lasting impact. When those we rely on for our basic needs of trust, empathy, and dependency become abusive or neglectful, it constitutes a double whammy. Not only are we being hurt and confused but the very people we’d go to for solace and explanation of what’s going on are the ones causing us pain. We stand scared and braced for danger in those moments, prepared by eons of evolution, ready to flee for safety or stand and fight. If we can do neither, if escape seems impossible because we are children growing up trapped by our own size and dependency within pain engendering families, then something inside of us freezes. Just getting through, just surviving the experience becomes paramount.

Relational trauma impacts all facets of the mind-body social engagement system including limbic resonance, touch, expression, gesture, sign language, and finally words. Consequently, ferreting out just what has hurt us can be a very layered process. A parent who wears a scowl all of the time, for example, and who we couldn’t reach with our attempts at connection or who begrudgingly reached for our hands and dragged us across a street or humiliated us for our small efforts share our feelings to take care of ourselves, can leave a legacy of hurt behind them.

In trauma engendering interactions, “people are not able to use their interactions to regulate their physiological states in relationship . . . they are not getting anything back from the other person that can help them to remain calm and regulated. Quite the opposite. The other person’s behavior is making them go into a scared, braced-for-danger state. Their physiology is being up regulated into a fight/flight mode,” says Porges A failure to successfully engage and create a sense of safety and cooperation or to communicate needs and desires to those people we depend upon for our very survival can be experienced as traumatic. This can set the groundwork for a life long problem with self regulation.

When Children Withdraw Into Themselves

For small developing children, this refusal of connection can be traumatic if it occurs consistently over time. The child can feel that their needs are somehow incompressible if the parent does not tune into him or her. Small children have little recourse when they are young and dependent. If a parent does not support a comfortable connection, if the parent or caretaker is not available for a caring co-state in which communications on both sides are met with reciprocal attempts to understand and continue to participate in a mutually satisfying feedback loop, the child may feel very alone. They may retreat into their own little world or even dissociate. After all, why continue to try when you are getting nothing back? What about the child who is disciplined not according to their own behavior but by their parent’s mood and left unable to figure out how to act to stay out of trouble? Or how about the kid in a rage-filled home who is told to sit still and listen as the parent dumps a load of pain all over them? What recourse does this child have but to flee internally? When we dissociate, we do not process experiences normally. We do not feel it, think about it, or draw meaning from it.

How Early Relational Trauma Affects Our Relationships

People who have been traumatized in their intimate relationships can find it difficult simply to be in comfortable connection with others.The dependency and vulnerability that is so much a part of intimacy can trigger a person who has been traumatized in their early, intimate relationships into the defensive behaviors that they relied on as children to stay safe and to feel whole rather than splintered. To heal this form of relational trauma, we need to understand what defensive strategies we used to stay safe and then shift these behaviors to be more engaged and nourishing both within our relationships and ourselves. After all, if we constantly brace for danger and rejection, then we are likely to create it. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Long Term Impact of Parental Addiction

Experiences like growing up with parental addiction and the chaos and stress that surround it pop up over and over again as primary causes of toxic stress. Anda and his team were not looking for the effects of addiction in their research however it consistently emerged as an underlying factor in ACE’s. Not only are the effects of parental addiction devastating for children, but addiction is rarely a factor by itself, it is often surrounded by a cluster of other problems such as abuse and neglect. Alcohol and drugs are often used to mask depression and anxiety in the addict but rather than make depression or anxiety better, addiction makes them worse because the depression and anxiety remain undealt with and the addiction becomes a whole, new problem of its own. And being married to an addict creates pain in the partner which undermines their ability to be a present parent, so kids lose two parents. ACEs or adverse childhood experiences tend to cluster; once a home environment is disordered, the risk of witnessing or experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse actually rises dramatically (Anda, et al., 2006).

During one of his lectures, Dr. Anda described why ongoing traumatic experiences such as growing up with addiction, abuse, or neglect in the home can have such tenacious effects: “For an epidemic of infuenza, a hurricane, earthquake, or tornado, the worst is quickly over; treatment and recovery efforts can begin. In contrast, the chronic disaster that results from ACEs is insidious and constantly rolling out from generation to generation” (personal communication). If the effects of toxic stress are not understood so that children can receive some sort of understanding and support from home, school, and community, these children simply “vanish from view . . . and randomly reappear — as if they are new entities — in all of your service systems later in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood as clients with behavioral, learning, social, criminal, and chronic health problems” (Anda, et al., 2010).

Growing up is painful; families are only human after all. We will inevitably get hurt. But we need to repair that hurt in some way, and if repair doesn’t happen at or near to the moment of the pain, it will need to happen later. When emotional pain remains split off, it becomes somehow invisible to the naked eye and it emerges as if it a whole new problem with whole new people. But we need to embrace the challenge as adults of understanding our own childhood ACE related pain and cleaning up its affects so that it doesn’t become the pain pump for today’s problems.

The idea of growth through suffering or pain is not a new one. The systematic study of it is. Post-traumatic growth (PTG), a phrase coined by Drs. Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun — editors of The Handbook of Post Traumatic Growth — describes the positive self-transformation that people undergo through meeting challenges head on. It refers to a profound, life altering response to adversity that changes us on the inside as we actively summon the kinds of qualities like fortitude, forgiveness, gratitude, and strength that enable us to not only survive tough circumstances but also thrive. Facing childhood pain and dealing with it rather than acting it out or medicating is part of post traumatic growth and part of how we create resilience today.


Anda, R. F., V. J. Felitti, D. W. Brown, D. Chapman, M. Dong, S. R.Schore, A.N. (1999). Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self.Dan Siegel: The Neurological Basis of Behavior, the Mind, the Brain and Human Relationships Part 1 At the Garrison Institute’s 2011 Climate, Mind and Behavior Symposium, Dr. Dan Siegel of the …

NEUROCEPTION: A Subconscious System for Detecting Threats and Safety STEPHEN W. PORGES University of Illinois at Chicago Copyright 2004 ZERO TO THREE. Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder.

Schore, A.N. (1991), Early superego development: The emergence of shame and narcissistic affect regulation in the practicing period. Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, 14: 187–250.

— — — — — — — (1994), Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development. Mahwah

Dan Siegel: The Neurological Basis of Behavior, the Mind, the Brain and Human Relationships Part 1 At the Garrison Institute’s 2011 Climate, Mind and Behavior Symposium, Dr. Dan Siegel of the …, M. (2004). Nurturing hidden resilience in troubled yourth. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Wong, P. T. P. & Wong, L. C. J. (2012). A meaning-centered approach to building youth resilience. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 585–617). New York, NY: Routledge.

Building Strength and Resiliance through Facing and Dealing with Life’s Problems was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Growing Up With An Addicted Parent

Posted: April 10, 2018, 6:27 pm

I remember as a twelve year old, sitting alone in our living room after one of our by then typical family melt downs …….trying to make sense of the pain and general devastation of our once very happy family……trying to understand how kind, decent and loving people could cause each other such unrelenting pain, how we could say the things we were saying, hurl insults, act out in anger and rage……I recall saying to myself “wars do these things to people, separate loved ones, wound hearts,tear families apart. But somehow, we’re doing this to ourselves.”

Just as in a war people are forced to witness the dark side of humanity……those of us who live with addiction come up against it as well. It was my beloved Father, the man who loved and nurtured me, who gave me café au lait from his spoon, held my hand when we walked and took such pleasure in sitting me up on the kitchen counter to watch while he squeezed fresh orange juice for me. My Darling Dad who worked hard to give me a life with so much more than had ever been given to him. It was exactly this father who would sit with a glass of scotch in his hand and slowly, glass by glass, descend into becoming a monster. Who would become cruel and terrifying, tearing down what he had worked so hard to build; devastating those he loved the most, making the house shake with his rage and doing to us with his own hand, those very things that he had spent his life protecting us from.

And eventually the gravity of his illness sucked us all in, we all at one point or another shared his private hell with him until all of us lost our grip on normal.

Living with the roller coaster ride of addiction, the unpredictability and bending of reality, the broken promises, the dashed hopes…. the disillusionment and disappointment, the secrets and lies….is a traumatizing experience. As the French say it “marks”us.

When I was young there was no such thing as family disease or family healing, we thought that if the addict sobered up the family would get better by itself. We didn’t realize how sick family members became through living with addiction.

My Father never found recovery.

I entered recovery not from addiction but the fallout of living with addiction. Because I watched the Father I adored drift slowly into a bottle of scotch that took him far away from himself, from us and from each other, I need healing.

Once I discovered them, just sitting in alonon meetings was for me deeply transformative. Saying what was in my heart and having no one jump up, accuse me of being out of line, slam doors or rage or simply quietly slip out of the room, changed me in profound ways. When people would come up to me after meetings and say they identified with me, I was dumbfounded. For so many years I had barely let myself know how different I felt. Now I wasn’t alone after all. There was a room full of us, at least.

I don’t know if this experience has made me a better person, but it’s made me deeper, funnier, wider…..and more importantly, it has taught me the value of life, it has taken me to the edge of inner experience where I had to make a choice to choose a life style or a death style; because addiction is a slow suicide.

And I chose life.

I’d like to borrow a quote from Vaclav Havel, who helped to carry the Czech Republic to freedom and was also a prolific author and playwright…..

“Either we have hope within us or we don’t. It is a dimension of the soul, and it is not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or the willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things”.

Vaclav Havel

This kind of hope is a great gift of recovery. I have come to discover through both personal and professional experience that those of us who live with addiction have a disease that is chronic and progressive, a disease that has it’s tentacles wrapped around our personality development because we grew up with it; a disease that requires aggressive treatment. It is up to us to recognize this in ourselves and to get the help we need to become well again, so that we don’t pass the effects of living with trauma onto the next generation.In finding my own strength and resilience, I have had to learn to stretch and deepen my mind and heart to include all sides of our humanity; to integrate love and hate, to learn to accept people and myself in our full range of both beauty and ugliness, to find understanding and forgiveness not just to be nice to another person, but to become whole again myself. Recovery reflects the kind of hope that Havel talks about. We enter it because it makes sense, because it is better than the alternative. We embrace it because we have hope and that hope gives us, strength to live and try new things. That hope leads us to expand the dimensions of our own souls.

Recovery deepens us because it forces us to look at both sides of life, the good and the bad and somehow hold both. It makes us more aware of the dark side of life, but paradoxically better able to love the light.

Growing Up With An Addicted Parent was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

It’s a thought, side by side with using therapy, 12-step or whatever you choose to work through the…

Posted: April 4, 2018, 3:37 pm

It’s a thought, side by side with using therapy, 12-step or whatever you choose to work through the issues….

Good point….visualization helps sometimes….picturing different things, that feel better…

Posted: April 3, 2018, 10:10 pm

Good point….visualization helps sometimes….picturing different things, that feel better…

Forgiveness for Addicts, ACoAs and Codependents: Two Types of Forgiveness Studied, Empathy and…

Posted: April 2, 2018, 9:24 pm

Forgiveness for Addicts, ACoAs and Codependents: Two Types of Forgiveness Studied, Empathy and Making Amends

In a way, forgiving is only for the brave. It is for those people who are willing to confront their pain, accept themselves as permanently changed, and make difficult choices. Countless individuals are satisfied to go on resenting and hating people who wrong them. They stew in their own inner poisons and even contaminate those around them. Forgivers, on the other hand, are not content to be stuck in a quagmire. They reject the possibility that the rest of their lives will be determined by the unjust and injurious acts of another person.

— Beverly Flanigan

Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It is often motivated by some kind of recognition that recycling our pain and blame is doing us more damage than those we’re angry with and it just isn’t worth it anymore. If it’s ourselves we’re forgiving we may have come to the realization that we’re keeping ourselves glued to pain from the past and we acknowledge that we want to find some way of letting go of it. We may benefit from just considering forgiveness, even if we only entertain the idea. After all there may be no magic moment when all is forgiven; we may always carry some residual feelings of hurt or resentment toward ourselves or another.But considering forgiveness as simply a way to lighten the load a day at a time, to live toward a solution even if we never fully get there, makes it feel less daunting. In having a goal of forgiveness in other words, were motivated to process all of the feelings inside of us that are blocking it.

When we hold on too hard to past hurts we relive them as if they were happening over and over again in our present and our bodies can’t always tell the difference between then and now; we tighten up and rev up for a fight even if there is really nothing bad happening in the present. We produce damaging stress chemicals in our bodies that undermine our health in the here and now.

Blocks to Forgiveness

There are a few stumbling blocks that I see people struggling with the most. One is the feeling that if we forgive we’re in some way condoning wrong actions. Another is the finality of it, releasing forever the hope of ever righting the wrong, or getting retribution. Still another is the idea that forgiving means that we wish to continue having a relationship with the person we’re forgiving. Here are these myths surrounding forgiveness that I have observed plague people the most when considering forgiveness.

If I forgive, my relationship with the person I’m forgiving will definitely improve.

If I forgive, I’ll no longer feel angry at that person for what happened.

If I forgive, I forgo my right to hurt feelings.

If I forgive, it means I want to continue to have a relationship with the person I’m forgiving.

If I forgive, it means I’m condoning the behavior of the person I’m forgiving.

If I haven’t forgotten, I haven’t really forgiven.

I only need to forgive once.

I forgive for the sake of the other person.

Forgiveness is not a one-time event and it doesn’t mean we relinquish our right to continued feelings about an issue. Sometimes we feel that if we forgive we have to eradicate any residual feelings of hurt and anger or we haven’t really forgiven, but in my experience this is not realistic.

Forgiveness is recognition within the self of a need to place a particular issue into a different internal framework; moving something from the foreground to the background. It’s recognizing that we want inner peace more than a grudge to nurse. We’re forgiving to free ourselves and to restore our own equilibrium and sense of joy. Forgiving for this reason, to free the self, is virtually always a good idea. However, reconnecting or staying connected may or may not be desirable depending on the situation. If, for example, someone else is going to continue to hurt us over and over again, maybe due to drug use, violence or abuse, it may be wise not to reconnect until the person has managed that behavior.

Ken Hart of the Leeds Forgiveness for Addiction Treatment Study (FATS) says, “Controversy often arises because people fail to understand that forgiveness is always desirable, but attempts at reconciliation may sometimes be ill-advised.”

Making Amends (Working the Ninth Step)

The Twelve Steps stress the importance of addicts to make amends in order to stay sober, both physically and emotionally. In alanon, codependents anonymous, (CODA) and adult children of addicts (ACoA) meetings these steps are also followed. They have built an amends process into the Steps, which they encourage all to work. Addicts for example have often hurt those who love them throughout their addiction and can carry a deep sense of shame and guilt for their actions. They need to do what they can to make it right, if the situation permits, so that they take responsibility for their own actions. Otherwise they risk feeling very bad about themselves, plagued with self loathing and other negative feelings that can make them want to self-medicate to make that pain go away — to relapse, in other words.

Dr. Hart’s study is testing two different approaches to forgiveness: secular and spiritual.The secular approach aims to speed up the growth of empathy and compassion so that addicts can better understand the imperfections and flaws of those who have hurt them.

The second type of forgiveness tested is spiritually based Twelve-Step-oriented forgiveness used by Project MATCH in the United States. In this approach, addicts who have harmed others are encouraged to apologize for their wrongdoing, thereby making attempts at restitution. According to Hart, “Seeking forgiveness through the amends process requires incredible humility; the assistance of a Higher Power or God helps people to transcend their ego, which normally balks when asked to admit mistakes.” He goes on to say, “We think the two treatments can help people in addiction recovery drop the burden of carrying around pain from the past.”

These two approaches to forgiveness — gaining empathy if we’re the hurt party, and making amends if we’re the offending party — are useful cornerstones in our own practical approach to forgiveness. Twelve-Step work has long recognized the need for addicts or those who have perpetrated wrongs to do the Ninth Step: “Made amends to those we had hurt except when to do so would harm them or others.”

I feel taking responsibility is important for anyone, if we don’t take responsibility for our mistakes or wrong doings, the kinds of defenses we erect to not see these darker sides of ourselves, become very rigid and embedded, they twist our insides up and keep us from vulnerable, open and honest intimacy and connection. Our denial and avoidance of pain makes us want to nurse grudges because we can’t come to terms with our side of a problem and let it go. Instead we project our disowned shame onto someone else in the form of chronic blame, we always need someone in the doghouse; or what psychologists call a “negative object” to project the pain that we cannot stand to feel outwards and make it about someone else rather than us.

When I wrote Forgiving and Moving On which became a recovery best seller, it was for two reasons, (1) to provide a user friendly, first person, day at a time guide for readers of the myriad of issues that come up as an inevitable part of the process of forgiving and (2) to work through my own adult children of addiction (ACoA) issues.

There are many ways that the pain of growing up with addiction passes down through the generations, I see it all the time. ACoA’s internalize their parents’ disowned shame and self loathing and it puts them at risk for self medicating or other acting out behaviors. They project rather than process pain, they haven’t seen parents who can argue and get over it through heart to heart talking then letting go and moving on, they haven’t seen forgiveness modeled. So they form a habit of hanging onto pain through projection and blame and this vicious cycle becomes a snowball rolling along through the generations gathering size and velocity as it gos and grows.

Forgiveness for Addicts, ACoAs and Codependents: Two Types of Forgiveness Studied, Empathy and… was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

ACE’s Adverse Childhood Experiences: A Message from Dr. Robert Anda and Oprah Winfrey

Posted: March 28, 2018, 9:01 pm

Adverse Childhood research has been around for a while but recently it has moved front and center in the conversation on childhood trauma. Thanks to people like Dr. Robert Anda co-principal investigator of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) research and Oprah Winfrey, adverse childhood experiences as a direct cause of developmental and health problems later in life, are getting the attention that they deserve. As someone who works with relational trauma, I deal with the effects of these forms of abuse or neglect that are all too often at the hands of those we love and need for our very survival as children.

6 min clip from Dr. Anda defining ACE’s

During one of his lectures, Dr. Anda described why ongoing traumatic experiences such as growing up with addiction, abuse, or neglect in the home can have such tenacious effects: “For an epidemic of infuenza, a hurricane, earthquake, or tornado, the worst is quickly over; treatment and recovery efforts can begin. In contrast, the chronic disaster that results from ACEs is insidious and constantly rolling out from generation to generation”. If the effects of toxic stress are not understood so that children can receive some sort of understanding and support from home, school, and community, these children simply “vanish from view . . . and randomly reappear — as if they are new entities — in all of your service systems later in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood as clients with behavioral, learning, social, criminal, and chronic health problems” (Anda, et al., 2010,).

These are the kids that get sick more often, who get into trouble, who are ‘at risk’.

Give a listen to Oprah

According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2015):

“Toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity — such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship — without adequate adult support. This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years”.

Experiences like growing up with parental addiction and the chaos and stress that surround it pop up over and over again as primary causes of toxic stress. But addiction isn’t the only thing we’re looking at here. If a child grows up with addiction, that is probably not the only risk factor in the home. ACEs tend to cluster; once a home environment is disordered and chaotic, the risk of witnessing or experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse rises dramatically.

More from Dr. Anda

If you want to listen to Dr. Anda in more depth click on this link for one of his lectures. Underneath the link I am sharing a letter that he has written about the movement that has begun and how people have begun to learn, grow and change through a deeper understanding of the effects of early childhood relational trauma, adverse childhood experiences.


I always knew there was suffering in the world.

As a physician with a career in preventive medicine and epidemiology. I saw that we could treat lung cancer or heart disease or diabetes, but that it was difficult to persuade people to change their behavior. I had the sense that I was looking at the wrong end of the horse. I decided to investigate the emotional origins of health-related behaviors and disease.

With the first publication from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, published in 1998, we looked broadly at 10 categories of childhood adversity, including abuse, neglect and family dysfunction. We asked about emotional, physical and sexual abuse, growing up in a home where there was substance abuse, having a family member who was in prison or who had a mental illness, and having parents who were separated or divorced.

Today I believe that adverse childhood experiences and the wide-ranging health and social problems they generate are our Nation’s leading public health problem — bar none. ACEs are highly predictive of many of our Nation’s worst health and social problems. The good news, however, is that what is predictive is preventable. The Community Resilience Cookbook is a wonderful compilation of the basic science and early experience of a variety of communities that have created their own innovative responses to this problem. The stories reflect many common themes, as well as unique examples of emerging successful approaches.

The ACE Study and related findings from surveys and studies across the country are generating a movement that, coupled with the concept of being “trauma-informed,” is spreading rapidly. However, my personal belief — based upon my experience with public health approaches to preventing and treating problems such as cardiovascular disease and cancer that I participated in at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)– is that any approach to a major public health problem must necessarily include broad-based public education. In fact, an informed public is often the major driving force for change.

You will learn that ACEs are common–in fact the number of people affected by ACEs outnumbers those who have not been affected by ACEs. Our country cannot generate enough funding for services and systems to adequately address this problem. I have seen people, however, who begin to understand how ACEs have affected their lives be empowered to take responsibility and change their lives, the lives of their children and families, and become a force for change and resilience in their communities. I believe that this is where the greatest power of healing and resilience resides. As you read the stories in the Community Resilience Cookbook you will find this common theme among them.

This movement is new and there are many communities across the country that it has not reached. The Cookbook provides examples for them that may catalyze awareness and then participation. The stories can accelerate the pace to build a trauma informed nation — a nation where the average person works in synergy with the systems, service providers, policy makers, and legislators to create sustainable changes that reduce the intergenerational transmission of ACEs by helping those affected by them to heal — or even to transcend their effects. However, without broad support and engagement of people affected by ACEs, the growth and sustainability of the types of changes described in the Cookbook are in jeopardy.

While there is obviously no step-by-step recipe or exact protocol to be followed to activate this movement, the intent of the cookbook theme is to generate hope and a call to action using the examples it contains.

We are rapidly learning from a wide range of communities, about how they are understanding and applying the science of ACEs, to come up with creative and collaborative ideas and responses. While we continue to learn and work, let the darkness and breadth of the adversities that our families and children face, continue to motivate us to action. We can take hope in the creative and emerging movement of prevention and healing that the stories in the Community Resilience Cookbook represent.

Rob Anda, MD, MS Co-Principal Investigator and Co-Founder

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study

and Co-Founder ACE Interface

ACE’s Adverse Childhood Experiences: A Message from Dr. Robert Anda and Oprah Winfrey was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

How Twelve Step Programs Can Make You a Happier Person

Posted: March 21, 2018, 9:22 pm
Keep your “soles” in the room

March 20th has been designated International Day of Happiness by 193 member states of the United Nations, who have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater attention and priority.

There is a philosophical shift in attitudes in which people all over the world are recognizing that ‘progress’ should be be measured not only by economic growth, but an increase in human happiness and wellbeing.

Today many researchers use the word happiness to cover a collection of qualities including “the experience of joy, contentment and positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California Riverside.

Pursuing goals of becoming rich and famous and going after high achievement are what media of all forms tout as pathways to happiness, but are they? Let’s start by looking at what studies are finding about what happiness isn’t. According to Emiliana Simon-Thomas PhD of Greter Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, happiness is not:

· Having all your personal needs met

· Always feeling satisfied with life

· Feeling pleasure all the time

· Never feeling negative emotions

It’s relationships, according to the longest running study from Harvard that began in 1938 (when Harvard was still all men), that are the most significant predictor of happiness.

Robert Waldinger one of the leads of the 75 year study said this about participants in his revealing and interesting TED Talk.(

“When we gathered together everything we knew about them about at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

Psychiatrist George Vaillant, who joined the team in 1968 and led the study from 1972 until 2004 further reflects that. “when the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment. But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”

While the findings demonstrated that this effect is the strongest for those who are married, it also shows that social connection of all kinds can provide the kind of community that leads to health and happiness.

So how does that relate to twelve step programs?

It is no secret in our profession that withdrawl and social isolation often go hand in hand with depression and relational trauma.Twelve step programs offer a solution. I have found over the years that those clients who attend them, often have an easier time changing their lives for the better and sustaining that change over time. Deep change doesn’t hinge on thinking the right thought or finally figuring out just what happened to you in your family or origin. Deep change comes from just what this research reveals, a sense of belonging and connection. People who enter recovery have deep yearning for new and more positive attachment figures and a more nourishing relationship with themselves. What twelve step programs provide is a container that is available on a daily basis that gives people a place to go to feel real, to drop down into their own human-ness. A room to go to into in which they can let their hair down, share what’s going on with them and then move on with their day. Those in recovery have immediate and pressing needs that therapy once or even twice a week cannot fully address. Therapy brings up powerful feelings and twelve step programs give those feelings a place to be shared as they continue to percolate throughout the week. And this sense of connection and belonging is re-patterning, we learn that connection can feel good, that we can open up with our fears and pain and not be put down or blamed for trying to be honest. We rebuild trust in life’s ability to repair and renew itself and we learn how to tolerate our own strong feelings in a room where other people are doing the same.

I always feel sad when people are not able to avail themselves of these programs for reasons such as “I don’t like the God emphasis” or “I just don’t believe in them”, because I have long been aware that the social connection that programs provide are part of what is most healing. While “working the program” is deeply beneficial, it has been my experience that simply “getting you soles into the room” adds greatly to a sense of personal well being and integrity. Opening up and sharing who we are and having that witnessed and accepted reduces shame and enhances a feeling of being connected rather than alone. The sense of relationship that those in recovery find brings a deep sense of joy and belonging that research is now finding are core to good physical and emotional health and a greater sense of well being.

Recovery puts great emphasis on the kinds of qualities that, it turns out, are building blocks of happiness. Emphasis on honesty, courage, integrity, emotional insight, discipline, faith and willingness, can and often do produce the kinds of states like well being and contentment that lead to a happier life. And twelve step programs teach us that good orderly direction and a sense of connection are good things that add meaning and purpose to our lives.

Reference: World of Psychology,5 Reliable Findings from Happiness Research, By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

How Twelve Step Programs Can Make You a Happier Person was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.