The Voice of Unreason


That Self Assassin!


Here we are again at the start of a new week.

I run a business and things have become a bit hectic and busy so I have had less time to write.

It is stressing and I have to say, at times, distressing as much of the work I have been doing is promoting artists and via that promoting myself as an agent and creative director.

I have real issues with “presenting” myself.  Not promoting my work rather “exposing” myself to the wider world.

I don’t mind showing other people my writing, academic or personal, but I do not like actually putting me on public display. I can only suppose it too goes back to my childhood, some humiliating episodes in childhood or simply having a rampant low self esteem as a result of my upbringing?

The irony is that I can also be a terrible “show off” in public too?

I swing, as always between two extremes. Sound familiar?

Both, however, are maladaptive behaviours and both are both “needy”.

One is shame based and the other a release from feelings of shame, both are strangely inappropriate although I have to admit to really enjoying the showing off stuff.

Some days,  my self loathing can be quite intense.

I have been building an art gallery in my home which is hard work physically, mentally and emotionally and I noticed that I have actually started shouting abusive things at myself!

It at times, it is like having a “self directed Tourette’s Syndrome”!

All I get some times “is “You’re useless” “always screwing up!”  “You stupid arsehole” etc.

Reading this now it is almost comical in the way that hearing people with Tourette’s is almost comical.

You know you should not laugh as it is an incredibly debilitating condition but it is still funny however hard you try to stop laughing. It is a bit like laughing in Chapel as a child when you know you shouldn’t but that makes it worse and eventually you have to escorted from the building.

The main difference is that self-directed Tourette-type abuse is not funny in the remotest and like Tourette’s it can be very distressing and depressing.

I know one guy in recovery who was so chronically ill with alcoholism, addiction, PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder that he used to openly shout at himself in public like when on public buses and trains.

I have not got that bad but my neighbours can hear me for sure. I shout these things to myself so loudly that they surely hear them through the walls.

I have no doubt I alarm the neighbours on both sides of my house? Especially the student neighbours who do not know me, whereas my other neighbours have known me for nearly 15 years. They know my mad ways by now.

Although none of this is in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it is something I suffer from.  It is based on being distressed. I do not mean anguished but it often leads to this. Distress is that feeling of being not able to control things, being out of one’s comfort zone although I find this has been the case throughout my recovery. It also involves element of catastrophic thinking, frustration intolerance etc. I also was quite exhausted doing all this manual work so my ability to inhibit negative responses, self talk  and behaviours is lessened.

I am often out,  or put myself outside, of my comfort zone.

I am such a fear based person that there is a lot outside my comfort zone. Getting a job etc have all been extremely emotionally taxing. Getting as far as PhD was immensely taxing. Running my own business, building galleries while project managing a building crew was taxing, organising and hosting art exhibitions are all out there in the world of “not quite being in control”.

But I do them with God’s help and the support of others.

This is recovery to me – facing fear and recovering – FEAR. Fear is where  our illness lives and having faith that things will work out is where recovery is.

The more we face our fears the more we grow, in recovery. And grow up too, become more mature and less needy, dependent on others.

Being dependent is different from needing assistance from. I allow people to help me help myself, this is different to relying on others to do stuff for me.

So what’s with the Tourette’s then?

I on occasion can not help myself. I utter the insults to me and myself  automatically without  any conscious deliberation. They just come flying out!! They are responses to myself that are somehow ingrained in a self schema which, when distressed, is activated and the insults and self loathing come flying out.

So what’s the problem – what is making me distressed? this is the first port of call in recovery. Taking my own inventory.

There are a number of things going on here.

First I live beside University students how had a party the other night which was so loud that, after repeated attempts to ask them to stop, in the early hours of the morning we were forced to call the police. This sets up catastrophic thinking that they will continue and continue partying forever…!! I will NEVER sleep again!!

I will die from lack of sleep, go even more crazy, turn into a serial killer, go on a wild killing spree etc.


This has led to us, and me in particular, feeling that our security has been threatened. The problem with living near students is that they can wake you from your sleep at any time which is greatly annoying and distressing, a couple of nights sleep deprived and I am wired! It is not for nothing that torturers use sleep deprivation techniques!

This has also fed into a  deep sense of shame. Why do I live besides students, a genius like me!?

Why haven’t I done better with my life (ignoring the multitude of near fatal conditions I suffer from of course) -shame leads to bruised pride and self pity, poor poor me.

I should have done better than this!!? God haven’t I been through enough already, Jeez I am running out of disorders to suffer from here!?

All this morass of self pitying was not helped by one of the students shouting at me, in this distress, very loudly in the middle of the street “Well if you CHOOSE to live in a STUDENT area what do you expect!!?”

I chose to live in a residential area surely? Now increasingly invaded by students who live here tax free in HMO properties owned by fat cat landlords who also do not pay any council tax. Essentially I am paying for their services and their right to abuse me in the street.

Every year this threatens to occur this scenario of students behaving immaturely and selfishly. It can wear you down after a while.

Hence Ia recurrence of my self pity syndrome.

So there you have it, people say negative shaming things and part of me goes, “hey I think  you’re right”?


My conscious mind doesn’t come to my aid and rebuke this nonsense – at best it sulks and at worse it joins in with the insults. Nice one mind, you’re a Pal!

There is no reasonable retort stating that the reasons I live here are varied, it is a superb location beside two parks, five minutes from a beach etc, it is a four story house with an amazing view etc

No acknowledgement of the fact my various conditions and disorders have kinda gotten in the way  of a good living and hence I do not live in a superb detached house overlooking a beach.

I respond habitually, in  fight or flight way as usual.  Sometimes I fight with them sometimes I join in with them and fight myself.

On top of this stress, my wife, a professional best selling artist, was featured in various National newspapers  which was a great bit of promotional publicity.  She also discussed the PTSD which she suffers too and how art is a therapy for that condition also. This unconsciously made me feel exposed as I was mentioned in the article too.

Later this week we are also being interviewed for one of main national and international television companies about my wife’s work. This is mildly terrifying and seems to have added to this unconscious feeling of being exposed.

In addition I  am organising two  art exhibitions which will be occurring in two and three weeks time respectively!

So I am very busy but that is not the main issue. The main issue is that I am both feeling exposed and feeling that the world will see that I am a fraud, not good enough, a failure, they will see through me, through my mask and see that I am no good.

I will be exposed and found out!

And the proof of this?

Of me being a failure?

I have done major renovations to my home in the last year or so, built two art galleries, ran my own business, helped turn  my wife into a best selling artist, internationally as well a nationally. I write and am currently in the process of trying to get two theoretical academic articles published with my co-authors who happen to be the two internationally esteemed and renowned academics and Professors I work with here in The UK. But still I feel rubbish.

Whatever I do is not quite good enough.

Or rather that voice inside, the one I often mistake for my own n says I am not good enough, defective, rubbish etc

This critical self, the self saboteur in extremis is a hell of foe.

Whatever good I do his voice says the opposite. The chronic malcontent. Especially when He thinks we are going to be “exposed” in some way?

Where the hell did this voice of my self assassin come from?

All this is made worse by the fact i have been in recovery a decade and still I get the  awful news about myself in my head, especially when distressed.

I want to add that I can deal with lots of stress, but distressed in slightly different in that it the result of negative emotions about me and typically in relation to some form of social interaction. It is a toxic shame in action, shouting it’s mouth off.

I cannot help myself sometimes!

In other words I sometimes have an impaired ability to self regulate, an impaired ability to relate to myself, to look after myself. I wasn’t taught this as a a child so my ability to relate to myself in a helpful, adaptive, healthy way is impaired.

This is what I think co-dependency is – we grew up trying to “perfectly” control “out there” because it was so threatening and did not how to learn to relate to ourself in a healthy way.

Instead of helping myself out, I make the situation worse when distressed. I become part of the problem instead of helping to find the solution.

Instead of myself helping myself to achieve a goal, my critical self makes the situation a whole lot worse. It adds negative critique, instead of positive suggestion, it  says I will fail because I am a failure at this, whatever that is.

So where the hell does this stuff come from?

Why does my internal critical self come from and why does it appears to loathe my so!?

I don’t loathe me, I can see my successes and qualities although have difficulty integrating this information in a self biography or curriculum vitae, or self schema – I struggle to internalise the good stuff at depth I guess. There are forces are work obstructing this process some opposing, concurrent schema of sorts.

I have more difficulty  believing my good press and readily accept my own bad press. With my my bad press I can kinda go , “Yeah, your’re right I’ve always been like that!”

When I first came into recovery  for my chronic alcoholism I thought these voices, previously silenced by the chronic consumption of drugs and alcohol were the voice of my “alcoholism ” but I did not realise until recent times that these voices  employed my alcoholism and addiction as sub- contractors to kill me.

They were separate from these conditions. These voices are of my initial condition which developed into later alcoholism and addiction.

They are the fertile ground where my addictive behaviours grew.

In the book Healing the Child Within, Charles Whitfield calls them repetitive compulsive behaviours.

It is not difficult at times to see my voices as being similar to those in other obsessive compulsive disorders.

Our thoughts are not our friends?

I have a mental disorder called PTSD,  called addiction, called  alcoholism, called co-dependency disorder, called child mistreatment disorder?

They are all separate but they are all the same as they have canalized into the same internal assassin.

In the early months of recovery from alcoholism and addiction this internal critique just wanted me to drink and die, now it just wants me to suffer by using the same pain inducing coping mechanism as before.

I may sound dramatic but when one realises that one’s self, not just the addiction, wants them to stop doing what is good for them then one is doing pretty well in their recovery.

This is why the recovery self is outside the selfish self.

We need help outside of ourselves, we need to help others outside of the self because the self has become disordered, as Bill Wilson would say “bankrupt”.

The self regulation networks in the brain are so impaired they are not in the service of our survival any more.

Certain views about myself, given to me not by my choice, not as the result of a feedback about my performance, my abilities, my characteristics, my personality, my strengths, not by how much I love others and help others…none of these seem to be in a positive feedback loop to me, updating me on how I’m getting on.

Instead they are certain views about myself ingrained in my brain and hence in my habitual responding to me which were implanted in my head, heart and mind by others, these are what gets amplified in these internal critical voices.

I have had them injected into my soul by the behaviours, reactions, words, actions and manipulations of others. As I loved these people deeply and could never countenance they were not looking after me, loving me, I  simply choose to believe what was input into my mind completely. I chose to believe it was not their fault, it WAS MINE!

This all happened because of me, because I am no good.

My co-dependent disorder is a multitude of of attitudes about me in relation to others and to the outside world which are so unhealthy and maladaptive that they endanger my very own well being. All inherited from those I loved most.

My co-dependency is an impaired relationship with me, myself and I.

Survival mechanisms learnt in childhood now threaten me and my well being.

I just read a pamphlet called the 12 signs of spiritual awakening, most of which I have experienced. But I am not always experiencing them.

The absolutist tone of these things make me angry in some way. The seem really idealistic which is another result of co-dependency. They also seem full of denial.

I find it destructive to float around denying what is going on really, with me. I don’t find much of this “spiritual stuff” real.

Isn’t simply handing over everything to God sometimes  a denial of how we are really feeling?

Isn’t it better, in order to help others, to simply share and discuss with a trusted other how one is really feeling, to learn to cope with it, internalise and process it so that one ultimately,  through time, learns how to deal with and regulate negative emotions rather than passing them all upstairs to God to sort out?

Doesn’t God ultimately want you to be the fullest of yourself, to become the real you, the real me?

This is what it ultimately  comes down to,  becoming REAL.

Not the false, critical, self defeating, lying or inauthentic self. Not saying I am “spiritual  just because we pass everything upstairs  and not doing the work ourselves, not actually dealing with any real issues that we are having.

I know spiritual people who are completely unaware they suffer from PTSD, completely unaware they are close to psychopathic rages and are a danger to themselves and others, that they are run away trains in other’s lives. They smile when I suggest so, because they have had a spiritual awakening and they are “spiritual” man. They have had the type of spiritual awakening that somehow has not led to an emotional catharsis?

Spiritual is being real, authentic. Being the thing which is most difficult  for us, Being Real.

Here I am warts and all.

To be the real self in God is my ambition but it can be very emotionally painful.

God goes deep as it says in the Big Book but if is deep through many layers of the onion, and the peeling of each layer can bring many tears but the tears are healing, they are reservoirs of hurt, caused by a multitude of woundings in our childhoods.

That’s the case with me anyways.

My internal critique never stops me writing this stuff. Funny that. I am dealing with my distress and I am also telling His story too. It does not have a problem with the truth but worried about the consequences of being truthful.

Anyway, I hadn’t intended writing any of that either.

I was leading up to a bit in the book where it discusses being brought up in a family which can be called a “what will other people think” family – where the family pulls off the “perfect family” routine in public but are very different in private.

Mine was like this.

One woman, Cathy describes her experience and it was one I really related to, perhaps you will too?

She talked of always having a “feeling of preparing for”,  learning early to try to bottle tensions by anticipating what needed to be done next to make it easier for her mom.

“I consciously worked at not needing anything from anyone again to hopefully cut down on some of my stress.”

She talks of her mother and “taking care” of her by not being a bother… by anticipating how she would want me to be.

“For most of my adult life, I have wavered between pleasing her and being very rebellious around her wishes for me.”

“…my adult life became mere survival. I didn’t have capacity to…maintain relationships. I moved out on room mates. I left jobs after I had personality problems with bosses…”

” I wanted people  to think I had it all together and didn’t need anything from anyone but inside I was so needy that whenever I did have a friend I expected to be fulfilled from that one person.”

In recovery from eating disorder…” for the first 6 months I didn’t feel any emotions or at least I couldn’t identify any.!

In time…”I was slowly getting a growing sense of self esteem from real, honest interactions… acknowledging that I have feelings, to identifying them and finally expressing them to be able to feel my healing.”

…”telling the truth has been .. incredibly freeing for me…being honest with myself has been the core of recovering ..

“…I came into recovery with no sense of self…it takes time to even get an inkling that I have a right to be myself.

I relate to Cathy so much in some many ways we might have come from the same family.

Most of the the self abuse I am on the receiving end from myself  of comes from actual abuse experienced in childhood.

“child abuse is common in all sorts of troubled families. (some) forms of abuse are more difficult to recognise as abusive…mild to moderate physical abuse, covert or less obvious sexual abuse, mental and emotional abuse, child neglect, and ignoring or thwarting the child’s spiritual growth.”

My mother would often use God in her abuse. When I was “naughty” she would tell me how God was also very displeased, and upset with me too!  If I upset my mother I was upsetting the whole Catholic Church!

All the angels and saints and you my brothers and sisters, pray for me… they were all looking on at me in my shame and guilt. When I was bad the universe open it’s clouds so that the celestial forces could shake their heads in disappointment as they peered down at me in my shame and guilt.

Upsetting my mother was like upsetting the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus

It was difficult in recovery when I heard that I had to choose a God of my understanding because the God of my understanding couldn’t stand me!

Fortunately I was so ill by that stage it wasn’t really a choice at all.

In fact God came and got me (but that’s another story for another day) and took the choice factor out of the question. I would not have chosen God who bullied me as a kid.

I understood Him as a revengeful and disapproving God, in cahoots with my mommie dearest.  I still think today that God is adding up all my sins for the final chit chat at the pearly gates.

Not the God I know today. The opposite in fact.

According to this book there are also 7 commonalities or parental conditions which exist in stifling the child within or to use stronger language to the “murder of the child’s soul”

These include inconsistency, unpredictability (both add up to crazy making”), arbitariness and chaos.

These in turn add up to promote a lack of trust or fear of abandonment


Many troubled families are inconsistent  through consistently denying feelings of many family members, …these function to control and shut down family and individual growth.


Family members learn that they can expect the unexpected at any time.

They usually live in chronic fear, as though “walking on eggshells” of when they will suffer their next trauma.


The arbitrariness means that no matter who the family member is or how hard they may try, the trouble person would still mistreat them in the same way. In a family where rules have not rhyme or reason the child loses trust in the rule setters and in himself…unable to understand the environment.


Chaos manifested in any of the following

  1. physical or emotional abuse which teaches the child shame, guilt, and “don’t feel”
  2. sexual abuse which teaches  the same plus fear of losing control.
  3. regular and repeated crisis which  teaches a  crisis  orientation in life.
  4. predictable closed communications which teaches “don’t talk” “don’t be real” and denial
  5. loss of control. which teaches obsession with being in control, which teaches obsession with being in control, and fusion and loss of boundaries or individuation.

The next time you hear that negative self loathing critcal internal voice try to catch yourself and say to yourself it is the echoing voice of a very troubled and distressed child. Imagine a seven year old tugging on your are for help, solace, reassurance.


in various forms can be subtle although damaging to the growth development and aliveness of the true self and includes…shaming, humiliating,degrading, inflicting guilt, criticising, disgracing, joking about, manipulating, deceiving, tricking, betraying, hurting, being cruel, threatening, inflicting fear, bullying, controlling, limiting, withdrawing or with holding love, not taking you seriously, discrediting, invalidating, misleading, disapproving, making light of or minimizing you feelings, breaking promises, raising hopes falsely, responding inconsistently or arbitrarily,

I get a lot of these in my critical self voices, they are the quiet indirect voice of my mother but sounding like me. The sound of my distressed self screaming rebounding his distress and blame onto me for things other people did.

Denial of feelings

troubled families tend to  deny feelings

where anger is chronic it often takes other forms eg abuse of self, or others.

reality is denied and a false belief system of reality is assumed as true…

this fantasy often binds the family together in a further dysfunctional way. This denial stifles and retards the child’s development and growth in the crucial mental, emotional and spiritual areas of life.

This is one of the main reasons why I am not close to my siblings today – I can no longer support  a shared, but false belief system about our “shared” upbringing. The denial they have about the past is the same denial that almost  killed me.

I was not in denial about my drinking, but I have been in ferocious denial about the thing that caused my difficulties and which still needs treatment.

My co-dependency.

Recovering is Uncovering


I have picked out some words for Healing the Child Within by Charles L. Whitfield  to describe my co-dependent self, borne out of my relationship with my dysfunctional family…false, plans and plots, fearful, envious, critical, idealized, perfectionistic, other-orientated, loves conditionally, hides or denies feelings, rational/logical, childish, pretends always to be strong, distrusting, avoids being nurtured, controlling, self righteous, presents a public self.

This is in direct contrast to the person or true/real  self I feel I have become or am becoming in recovery.

Words to describe this real or recovered self would be – authentic genuine, spontaneous, loving, expansive, giving, communicating,  loves unconditionally, compassionate, feels feelings (still often with the help of others) assertive, intuitive childlike, (more) playful, vulnerable, more trusting, enjoys being nurtured, surrenders.

I hasten to add that many of these are still  works in progress, but I am definitely growing more year by year in the fuller expression of most of these words.

Recovery has continually revealed the real self. There are many other aspects the real me to be uncovered

Recovering means uncovering me in so many ways. The real me lost under the debris of others’ behaviours, words, and resonating memories.

How to spot me in the false self of a co-dependent mode is easy, if you ask me how I am and I answer I am “Just Fine” – just above the victim threshold.

Unreal. Detached from the real me.

My false self can be like my critical parent still barking in my head.

My mother was “fine” on a good day!

Most days she was a martyr and often spent prolonged periods of time, days and days on occasion, in her bed in a stew of self pity and recrimination.

I would care for her. I resented her stupor, sometimes revolted by her behaviour and demeanor.

Slowly, slowly her lack of emotional response to me, her son, would chip away at some indefinable part of me. My heart, chip, chip, I closed my heart off. Became numb. Mainly anyway, I left a piece of my heart alive just in case…

Just in case, she would change, accept me for myself and respond like other mothers did to their loving sons.

Nothing hurts like hope.

Equally part of me internalized that in the absence of love, at least I could get attention if I acted in a similar way to my mother.

At least I could take someone as a prison.

Mum had two main prisoners, serving their time at home, after my sisters had escaped.

My father and I.

I tended to many of my mothers needs, shopping, cooking, making her many cups of tea, trying to resurrect her from her long bouts of depression.

I looked after her needs while submerging many of my own needs.

I denied my needs so that I could idealize my mother’s cause for me, her martyrdom for me. She could have killed herself but did not,  she just struggled on, without much word of thanks from her undeserving children, most of whom had left home as soon as they could.

When she did arise from bed it would be in the mid afternoon. Still in her dressing gown. She would stay up until the wee ours of the morning too, praying for us all, me and my sisters. God we needed it. See, we had all, for some reason, let her down. Been the ruin of her.

She struggled on regardless, asking God to forgive us.

My father also acted like my mother’s parent and caregiver. He had also let her down, more so in some ways that her kids.

We were all such a disappointment. After all she had done for us too?

After a long day at work my father would often then cook tea, shop, try and gee up Mum, cajole her from out of her depressive bouts. Just like I did.

Like father like son.

I had other chores too, lighting the fire, vacuuming the floors etc.

I was my mother’s carer in many ways.

Or enabler.

How I longed for her to rise from her bed and look after me for a change.

It is heart breaking even writing this. All the days, weeks, months and years I waited and hoped for my mother’s undivided attention, nurturing love and help with some of MY Needs, emotional and otherwise but this rarely happened.

As the years went by I resented her for this, her behaviour disgusted me, made me ashamed. So I tried harder with the same results, so I tried harder still…with the same results.

I thought it I were more perfect then it would turn her around, perhaps if she was really proud about my many achievements then she would get better. I was the best at most things!

But she didn’t and I felt worse.

I kept trying but nothing seemed to work long term anyway. There were a few stirrings of life here and there before a   relapse back to old behaviour.

So I worked more at controlling the possible outcomes. Usually with the same results.

Do something enough times and it becomes learnt behaviour, ingrained in the brain. In implicit memory, the memory that persists without you having explicit conscious awareness of it.

Perfectionism. If only I could be more perfect. How unrealistic is that?

This has resulted in a knawing feeling ever since that no matter how hard I try it is never good enough.

It is one aspect of my recovery I can still struggle with, even though I know where this feeling was incubated, still I act on it.

How the past is a puppeteer?

Was it always like this? This unsuccessful meeting of some of my primary needs? It seems this was the case in very early childhood.

Although life would be easier if it was simply black and white, this or that. Mum did love me, I know that. She did not harm me deliberately, I don’t think so anyway.

She was emotionally very ill. And while I watched her in that fog of emotional illness, I stopped listening to me and my needs. I stopped listening to the inner voice and decided that if I wanted to survive without it being so painful I would have to increasingly ignore it.

It only echoed my distress back to me. Gradually I repressed it’s pleading and gradually through time I became deaf to myself and my needs.

I became emotionally mute. Emotionally numb to quote Pink Floyd.

I have often written about how addicted people lose the ability to live with their emotions. My emotions were suppressed so many times that they became so inaudible, muffled out through time, that I lost the ability to hear them, read them, speak them, and hence share them.  As a result I could not be be real with other people.

Eventually I could barely differentiate one feeling from another. They all became distressing feelings I ran away from, escaped from or avoided. They were not my friends, they were not helping so I ran way from my internal self to try and find the answer out there.

Outside of my Self.

Recovery has been coming back home to me, to learning to listen again to that almost mute emotional self, encouraging it too speak again. Convincing it that it would be heard and listened to.

That is a huge part of recovery, people like us, listening to our stories.

Being listened to, accepted, respected and loved back to health.

Others listening as we share our past  with others helps free ourselves from the past –  by examining it honestly, laying the past bare, and by exposing to the light of truth we can vanish it and consign it to our long term memory, where it belongs.

It is undifferentiated emotions which keep these episodes and and memories alive. It is previous emotions that haunt us today and it is these emotions that get healed and find peace.

Anyway I had no intention of writing any of that – stream of consciousness stuff, live!

So how did the child within become so stifled?

Whitfield talks about having our fundamental, primary needs stifled in childhood.

He talks about Survival, safety and security – our need for attention, mirroring and echoing. guidance, being listened to, our need to be real, our need to participate in things in the family home, our needs for acceptance which includes a need to be taken seriously, a freedom to be the real you, a tolerance of your feelings,  a validation of yourself. a respect, a belonging and love.

Personally I first had these needs met fully when I went into recovery and into the rooms of 12 step recovery. How many of us come home in recovery?

Whitfield writes of other needs such as the opportunity to grieve loss and to grow, support, loyalty and trust, encouragement to accomplish – to be creative, have a sense of completion, to feel we have made a contribution.

These seem to be more part of this second stage of recovery I have now entered.

When I look at my childhood I am not sure how many of these survival needs were fully met.

They seem to centre on the need to express oneself fully and be nurtured in that pursuit. For me this failure to have these primary needs met led to a stifled nurturing, a stunted growth, a developmental delay, in emotional expression and emotion regulation.

It is via our reciprocal mirroring of emotion control that the areas of the brain that are involved in emotion regulation actually grow. This is why co-dependency, insecure attachment all link to the brain mechanisms of emotion processing and regulation. I never learnt how to deal with my emotional self, hence it became a distressed self which impulsively and then compulsively ran away from itself.

We can shore up what was missing in our development by practicing this reciprocity with people we love now and people in recovery.

We can all come home to ourselves in recovery.

Starting Second Stage Recovery…


co dep images (45)

Identifying the problem.

Today we cite and paraphrase widely from the book  Co-Dependence:Healing the Human Condition  by Charles Whitfield.

I am aware of more recent work on Co-dependency which I will get to in time but I want to start with this book because it is clearly written and seems to know what it is on about.

What is Co-dependence?

“Co-dependence is a disease of lost  selfhood.

Co-dependents becomes so preoccupied with others that they neglect their True Self – who they really are.

…dysfunction…associated with… focusing on the needs and behaviour of others…we lost touch with what is inside us; our beliefs, thoughts, feelings…wants, needs. sensations, intuitions…part of an exquisite feedback system that we can call our inner life…our True Self.

…we learn to be co-dependent from others around us…Co-dependence is fundamentally about  disordered relationships.

…co-dependence comes from trying to protect our delicate True Self (Child Within) from what may appear to be insurmountable forces outside of ourselves…

…When our alive True Self goes into hiding, in order to please it’s parent figures and to survive, a false, co-dependent self emerges to take its place.

…We thus lose our awareness of our True Self…We lose contact with who we really are…

Gradually, we begin to think we are that false self…

Co-dependence…it the base out of which our other addictions and compulsions emerge…what runs them is twofold: a sense of shame that our true Self is somehow defective or inadequate, combined with the innate and healthy drive of our true Self to realize and express itself.”

Cardinal Characteristics

  1. It is learned and acquired
  2. it is developmental.
  3. It is outer focused.
  4. It is a disease of selfhood
  5. It has personal boundary distortions.
  6. It is a feeling disorder.
  7. It produces relationship difficulties with self and with others.
  8. It is primary.
  9. It is chronic.
  10. It is progressive.
  11. It is malignant.
  12. It is treatable.

Learned and Acquired

We develop co-dependence unconsciously and involuntarily. In it’s primary form, it begins with mistreatment or abuse to a vulnerable and innocent child by it’s environment, especially it’s family of origin…it appears to come about by the following process, which I call wounding.

The Process of Wounding

…this process is largely unconscious.

  1. Wounded themselves, the child’s parents feel inadequate, bad and unfulfilled.
  2. They project these feelings onto others, especially their spouse and their vulnerable children.
  3. In a need to stabilize the parent and to survive, the child denies that the parents are inadequate and bad and internalizes…the parent’s projected inadequacy and badness, plus a common fantasy: “If I’m really good and perfect, they will love me, and they won’t reject or abandon me.” The child idealizes the parents.
  4. Because of the above, the child’s vulnerable True Self is wounded so often defensively submerges (“splits off”) itself deep with the unconscious part of the psyche …the child goes into hiding.
  5.  The child takes in whatever else it is told…about others and stores it in its unconscious mind (mostly)…
  6. What it takes in are messages from major relationships. The mental representations of these relationships are called “objects”…laden by feelings and tend to occur in “part objects” (such as good parent, bad parent etc)
  7. The more self-destructive messages are deposited more often in the false self…( …the internal saboteur….negative ego …or internalized…rejecting or otherwise mistreating parent).
  8. A Tension Builds.  …negative ego attacks the True Self,  thus forcing it to stay submerged, keeping self esteem low. The child’s grieving of its losses and traumas is not supported…The outcome can be a developmental delay, arrest or failure.
  9. Some results include chronic emptiness, sadness and confusion, and often periodic explosions of self destructive…behavior – both impulsive and compulsive – …that allows some release of the tension and a glimpse of the true Self.
  10. …The person maintains a low self esteem and remains unhappy, yet wishes and seeks fulfillment. ..”

Most of the above would strike a cord with many alcoholics I think.

How undifferentiated emotion and feeling states lead to (distress based) impulsivity and compulsive behaviour and how we glimpsed and experienced True Self in additive behaviours.

I used to say in AA meetings that I became more me when I drank alcohol. I used to say to my wife that I drank primarily to get away from this (false) me.

The impulsive and compulsive behaviours began when I was a child, it was football, sugar, sweets, running way from home,  and then cigarettes, and then space invader games and gambling machines before I hit the the jack pot with alcohol, the “coming home to the real me” drug that provided the temporary relief form the tension of my divided self and made me connect with the thing I am most frightened of, people.

I entered AA like an infant who knew nothing about anything…I just had an intellect that was sure it knew everything about all there is to know. The battle was almost done. Then I surrendered.

This final  piece describes me when I finally got into recovery.

“arrested development”,…”failure to complete psychological autonomy”  and this is what 25 years of drinking was trying to hide.

Then it was time to get real!








Second Stage Recovery?




Recovery is Discovery

Eight years ago, when I had just completed by first two years in recovery from Chronic Alcoholism, I was approached by an elderly, wise woman, who, on hearing of my having completed two years in recovery, suggested that I was now in position to “really start my recovery”!

I was a bit offended my this. I felt she was intimating that my first two years in recovery were not really recovery.

I reacted in an adverse way, stating I was more than happy with my recovery “thank you very much!” and would continue to simply do it the AA way, the 12 steps and traditions. I  had a spiritual awakening  by this stage and thought her rude to suggest I needed additional help.

But she was right, I do need more help, much more additional help.

I was not born a fully fledged alcoholic, I was born with a pre-disposition towards alcoholism.

The genetics I inherited from both parents contributed, but the fertile soil of all my later addictive behaviours, and there are a few (certainly more than I thought), was my traumatic upbringing in a dysfunctional family.

What the wise elderly woman was suggesting was that I  start attending Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families meeting, knowing that not only was my father alcoholic (sober but not recovered, “dry drunk”) and my mother was dependent of Valium but that, evident from my AA “shares” over the past two years, that I have been reared in a very dysfunctional family.

Looking back now eight years later, it seems rather unfortunate that this elderly woman had not rephrased this suggestion somewhat. Perhaps if she had said there was a stage 2 recovery after initial recovery from alcoholism, which dealt with some of the primary reasons why we became alcoholics in the first place I might have listened more?

Perhaps not?

Perhaps what she was suggesting was too threatening and I wasn’t ready, perhaps my unconscious was revolting at such an idea?

As they say in AA, “it takes time to realise it takes time”.

For me this means it has taken a further eight years to realise, via 6 years of academic research into affective neuroscience, to realise I suffer from a primary disease of arrested development which has impacted on both my ability to grow emotionally and cognitively and has severely impacted on my ability to have relationships with other human beings.

I have quite simply not learnt the majority of the survival mechanisms one is supposed to learn in childhood.

These, according to the book Co-Dependence:Healing he Human Condition  by Charles Whitfield, include the “arrested identity development” and “failure to achieve psychological autonomy” of not learning fully to connect, love, trust, explore, initiate, be autonomous, think, cooperate, master, create, develop values as well as regenerate (heal) evolve, and grow…

Due to the trauma of childhood “we are in survival mode, focusing outside of ourselves, and neglecting our inner lives…in our relationships with self and others we often have difficulty with achieving development in areas such as connecting, trusting, mastering and loving.

Recovery gives this dysfunctional Adult Child a second chance to work through these developmental stages in a health way. But even in early recovery we can feel as though we are starting over – even from a kind of infancy…”

I can really relate to feeling of being like an infant in early recovery.

In fact, I felt like a baby at times, I was so challenged by life and survival. Getting to the “terrible twos” was actually progress!

I had to be helped intensively by my wife and my sponsor.

I have blogged before about my shock also at not being able to sit with and identify emotions. All of this lack of emotion processing ability and chronic lack of survival skills was obviously worsened by the chronic neuro toxic effects of alcohol on the brain, but the alcohol was only worsening an already existing impaired ability to deal with life on life’s terms.

The simple truth is that the wide range of survival skills needed were not taught to me and as such internalised by me.

When I was in early recovery this was so apparent. It was frighteningly apparent but I never knew why I was so poorly prepared for life when i got sober.

It is in reading about co-dependency that I have learned much about my primary disorder, that of co-dependency.

My alcoholism grew out of this fertile soil of co-dependency.

For example, I have often talked about emotional processing deficits in alcoholics and these may have been the consequence of living in dysfunctional  families.

Not only were emotion regulations skills not taught and not learnt but it seems that if a child is constantly repressing their feelings and emotions as a way of simply coping with quite threatening emotions then we may lose the ability to feel our feelings and distinguish one emotion state from another.

This then has a negative effect on our decision making as emotions are used to guide decisions and the consequences of our impaired decision making.

If we can’t differentiate our emotions from each other then they are distressing and we are destined to make haphazard  and distress based decisions – we act impulsively and then, in time, compulsively.

Our sister blog looks at the link between repressing coping style and emotion processing deficits (alexithymia).

I have a brain that needs to “know” about a disorder on multiple levels. The books on co-dependency appear to tally with very recent neuroscience research – they seem also to help bridge the link between insecure attachment and later emotional disorders in addicted individuals. Co-dependency offers insight into a mechanism that turns parental neglect into emotion regulation via external addictive means.

We appear to have an emotional disease as I have stressed before.  This effects us internally in our relationship with ourselves and externally in our relationships with others.

Emotions make the world go around not money.

Thus the emotion processing deficits , negative self schema, shamed based psychic reactions to the world and so on, that I have demonstrated to my own mind, and to my own satisfaction as been part of the pathomechanism of addictive behaviours, are all probably the consequence of my dysfunctional upbringing.

Perhaps I have needed to recover these 10 years to deal with these issues, this new awareness about this multi-faceted chronic disorder I suffer from.

Regardless of all the contributory factors to my later addictive behaviours, they all ultimately represent a constant threat to relapse back to addictive behaviours, including some addictive behaviours I never thought I had before!

It seems that if I do not start dealing with this primary dysfunction of which I call a co-dependence disorder, my addictive behaviours will squirt out here, there and everywhere, in some form, whether it is excessive shopping, eating, obsessing, etc.

I regulate  emotions externally unless I share them with someone else – from obsessing about my noisy neighbours to food binges. I am always attempting to fix my emotion in the most maladaptive way possible, by making my distress states more distressful.

There are many reasons for this co-dependence disorder which I will be blogging on regularly from now on.

Reading books about co-dependency has been a bit like reading an autobiography written strangely by someone else.

The last time I so identified with what is effectively a description of me was when I first read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Recent revelations have been that startling.

Now is what to do done about these?

I still intend to do EMDR therapy when the opportunity exists but I will also attend a local Co-dependents Anonymous meeting  in my home town too and continue to read around this area to increase my awareness about this primary condition.

Hopefully you will join me in this new journey through this so-called second stage of recovery.

There are also more recent books on co-dependency which I will look at in the following weeks too.

It is exciting in a way, all this new insight.

Most people in recovery have to employ the skills of a scientist, experimenting in themselves with this or that to try and get more healthy. I can see now I have been doing that not only in recovery but since I was a teenager. Long may it continue too.

Recovery  is Discovery after all!



I Am What I Have Been Looking For.

  1. Do you find yourself needing approval from others to feel good about yourself? Yes_____ No_____
  2. Do you agree to do more for others than you can comfortably accomplish? Yes_____ No_____
  3. Are you perfectionistic? Yes_____ No_____
  4. Or do you tend to avoid or ignore responsibilities? Yes_____ No_____
  5. Do you find it difficult to identify what you’re feeling? Yes_____ No_____
  6. Do you find it difficult to express feelings? Yes_____ No_____
  7. Do you tend to think in all-or-nothing terms? Yes_____ No_____
  8. Do you often feel lonely even in the presence of others? Yes_____ No_____
  9. Is it difficult for you to ask for what you need from others? Yes_____ No_____
  10. Is it difficult for you to maintain intimate relationships? Yes_____ No_____
  11. Do you find it difficult to trust others? Yes_____ No_____
  12. Do you tend to hang on to hurtful or destructive relationships? Yes_____ No_____
  13. Are you more aware of others’ needs and feelings than your own? Yes_____ No_____
  14. Do you find it particularly difficult to deal with anger or criticism? Yes_____ No_____
  15. Is it hard for you to relax and enjoy yourself? Yes_____ No_____
  16. Do you find yourself feeling like a “fake” in your academic or professional life? Yes_____ No_____
  17. Do you find yourself waiting for disaster to strike even when things are going well in your life?  Yes_____ No_____
  18. Do you find yourself having difficulty with authority figures? Yes_____ No_____

Answering “Yes” to these may indicate some effects from family dysfunction. Most people could likely identify with some of them. If you find yourself answering “Yes” to over half of them, you likely have some long-term effects of living in a dysfunctional family. If you find yourself answering “Yes” to the majority of them you might consider seeking some additional help.


While  I have been waiting to start EMDR therapy (don’t ask!?) I have been exploring my childhood with my wife.

As opposed to simply talking about the past, I have been allowing the sometimes painful emotions to come up from past episodes in my life. Instead of intellectually distancing myself from these mainly traumatic or abusive events from the past, I have been simply allowing myself to feel these emotions however painful. And boy have some of them been painful!

It was my father’s anniversary of this very premature death last week, 28 years since he left this mortal coil. He died at a pivotal point in my life. I had just left home and started University, the future promised so much.

A lot of my future problems were not helped by not having a father figure to “guide” me in some ways or to square some parts of the past perhaps?

Who knows?

I can’t believe how much I grieved his anniversary this year. In fact, I cried on and off for two full days which is something I could never do before.

I wasn’t crying for him nor myself but for our shared loss. I just sat there and cried when I needed too, for the bottom of my heart. It didn’t kill me. Didn’t make me want to run away.

This is all a function of a decade in recovery, the ability to do something I couldn’t do before.  To sit with very painful emotions and just allow them to come and go.

I was told in early recovery that I would properly grieve the loss of loved ones, particularly my parents, as my recovery went on (they both passed on while I was drinking) but this was more than that.

I was not only grieving my father’s passing but also grieving my dysfunctional childhood.

According to a rather excellent book I have been reading recently  Healing the Child Within by Charles L. Whitfield, M.D.    we need to grieve our pasts in order to heal the past and move form a False Self to a more integrated True Self.

The false self may also be called the co-dependent self, unauthentic self or public self.

To quote and para phrase from this book ” Our false self is a cover up.  It is inhibited, contracting and fearful…It is envious, critical, idealized, blaming, shaming and perfectionistic.”

“Alienated for the True Self, our false self is other-orientated, i.e., focuses on what it thinks others want it to be…doesn’t know how it feels or does know and has censured these feelings as “wrong” or “bad”.

Our false self tends to be the “critical parent”…It pretends to be “strong” or even “powerful”. Yet its power is only minimal…it is in reality usually fearful, distrusting and destructive.”

“…our co-dependent self tends to repeatedly act our unconscious,  often painful patterns…it feels separate…we feel numb, empty or in a contrived state. We do not feel real, complete, whole or sane.  At one level or another, we sense that something is wrong, something is missing.

Paradoxically, we often feel like this false self is our natural state, the way we “should be”….”

In the next blog I will look at how this False Self is formed in our childhood interaction with our parents.

So how do we become the True Self?

Via a process of grieving according to this insightful book.

“A trauma is a loss…we experience a loss when we are deprived of or have to go without something that we have had and valued, something that we needed… or expected.

Minor losses or traumas are so common and subtle that we often do not recognize them as being a loss. Yet all of our losses produce pain or unhappiness: we call this train of feelings grief.

When we allow ourselves to feel  these  painful feelings, and when we share the grief with safe and supportive others, we are able to complete  our grief work and thus be free of it.”

I will blog on the actual grieving process in later blogs.

The purpose ultimately of this grieving process is to return one to the True Self. What does he mean by this? Again we can see by quoting and para-phrasing some extracts from this book.

“Our Real Self is spontaneous, expansive, loving, giving and communicating. Our True Self accepts ourselves and others. It feels, whether the feelings may be joyful or painful.  And it expresses those feelings. Our Real Self accepts our feelings without judgement and fear…

Our Child Within is expressive, assertive, and creative. It can be childlike in the highest, most mature, and evolved sense of the word…taking pleasure in receiving and being nurtured…

By being real, it is free to grow…

…when we are our True Self, we feel alive. We may feel pain in the form of hurt, sadness, guilt or anger, but we nonetheless feel alive.

Or we may feel joy, in the form of contentment, happiness, inspiration or even ecstasy.

…we tend to feel current, complete, real, whole and sane.”

I have had increasing flickers of these real emotions  on a daily basis the longer my recovery has gone on. It is great to see these as the real me.

It is certainly the me I want to be and will continue to strive to be.

The light at the end of the destination is me.

I am what I have been looking for.


This book is well worth reading if you also believe you were reared in a dysfunctional family and have suffered the shame-based trauma ever since.

This and other similar books were written in the 1980s and it is kinda strange there seems to have been a lot less in recent years as they describe shame-based family trauma so well.

It may be that these books need to be explored via neuroscience and neuro-psychology to update the effects family trauma has on the developing brain and how this maps onto later addictive behaviours, especially as my false self sounds kinda like my alcoholic and addicted self.

It is a real message of hope. When reading this book,  parts of my psyche that I have always labelled alcoholic could equally be reappraised as being this false self created for me via a co-dependency fostered in my own dysfunctional family.

It was suggested to me 8 years ago that I check out this Adult Child stuff but I resisted it.

It is only via researching neuroscience and seeing the demonstrable effects of child mistreatment that this stuff all kinda makes sense now. Certainly in a way I never understood before.

Perhaps I was not ready to understand. Perhaps the time is now to fully get to grips with my past.

When I say my past, this is not completely accurate as the past lives on in this false self. This false self is a negative, mal-adaptive self schema which I inherited from my parents and they probably inherited something similar from their own parents?


Healing The Child Within Discovery and Recovery For Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families by Charles L. Whitfield, M.D.