The person … in the grip of an old distress says things that are not pertinent, does things that don’t work, fails to cope with the situation, and endures terrible feelings that have nothing to do with the present. HARVEY JACKINS

I couldn’t believe I could be so childish. I was 40 years old and I had raged and screamed until everyone—my wife, my stepchildren, and my son—was terrified. Then I got in my car and left them. There I was, sitting all alone in a motel in the middle of our vacation on Padre Island. I felt very alone and ashamed.

When I tried to trace the events that led up to my leaving, I couldn’t figure out anything. I was confused. It was like waking up from a bad dream. More than anything, I wanted my family life to be warm, loving, and intimate. But this was the third year I had blown up on our vacation. I had gone away emotionally before—but I had never gone away physically.

It was as if I’d gone into an altered state of consciousness. God, I hated myself! What was the matter with me?

The incident on Padre Island occurred in 1976, the year after my father died. Since then I’ve learned the causes of my rage/withdrawal cycles. The major clue came to me on the Padre Island runaway. While I sat alone and ashamed in that crummy motel room, I began to have vivid memories of my childhood. I remembered one Christmas Eve when I was about 11 years old, lying in my darkened room with the covers pulled up over my head and refusing to speak to my father. He had come home late, mildly drunk. I wanted to punish him for ruining our Christmas. I could not verbally express anger, since I had been taught that to do so was one of the deadly sins, and especially deadly in regard to a parent. Over the years my anger festered in the mildew of my soul. Like a hungry dog in the basement, it became ravenous and turned into rage. Most of the time I guarded it vigilantly. I was a nice guy. I was the nicest daddy you’ve ever seen—until I couldn’t take it anymore. Then I became Ivan the Terrible.

What I came to understand was that these vacation behaviors were spontaneous age regressions. When I was raging and punishing my family with withdrawal, I was regressing to my childhood, where I had swallowed my anger and expressed it the only way a child could—in punishing withdrawal. Now, as an adult, when I was finished with an emotional or physical withdrawal bout, I felt like the lonesome and shame-based little boy that I had been.

What I now understand is that when a child’s development is arrested, when feelings are repressed, especially the feelings of anger and hurt, a person grows up to be an adult with an angry, hurt child inside of him. This child will spontaneously contaminate the person’s adult behavior.

At first, it may seem preposterous that a little child can continue to live in an adult body. But that is exactly what I’m suggesting. I believe that this neglected, wounded inner child of the past is the major source of human misery. Until we reclaim and champion that child, he will continue to act out and contaminate our adult lives.





John Bradshaw



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