Somewhere within each of us is a child. Even inside the most staid banker. Even inside a lawyer or school teacher, mother or father. Somewhere within us is a spontaneous, creative little person who feels with the intensity of a 5-year-old. The child within us knows true excitement, anger, sadness, joy and love.
The child within each of us is buried deep, and many of us would do well to reach in and "touch" that child.When John Bradshaw comes to Salt Lake City this weekend, he'll be looking for the children lost inside. He'll be conducting an all-day workshop at the Salt Palace beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday. The public is invited; it costs $60. His Friday night lecture on creating healthy relationships in our families begins at 7 p.m. and costs $10. (For more information call 483-3400.)
"It's not anyone's fault your child is buried," Bradshaw says.
Well actually (he goes on to explain) it is your parents' fault because they made you feel not-good-enough and you've been hiding your sweetest self ever since. But Bradshaw won't "play the blame game," since he knows your parents weren't raised by perfect parents either. They all did their best.
He only wants us to admit we hurt. He says, "It's like your parents were backing out of the driveway and ran over your leg. They didn't mean to do it. But you've been limping for 38 years."
Out of touch with childhood, we become compulsive. Compulsive people can only feel excitement, anger, fulfillment (or other intense emotions) through their cravings.
He has statistics about just how many compulsive Americans there are: 60 percent of women and 50 percent of men are overweight (compulsive eaters). One-fourth of all American adults are alcoholics.
Sixty million men and women were sexually abused children. They tend to choose - compulsively - one destructive relationship after another.
He says, "Millions are compulsive gamblers or compulsively violent. Then there are entertainment addicts, and workaholics who can't feel excitement away from the office, and compulsive screamers. . . ." The list goes on.
Whew. Have any of us escaped? "No," says Bradshaw, cheerily. But he's not sad. He believes people can change.
Anyone, he says, can find the child within, grieve for the wounds, heal and get on with living.
He didn't discover this. He says therapists have treated dysfunctional families with these theories for 30 years. What makes John Bradshaw different is the dynamic way he explains family dynamics to the masses.
Since hosting a television series for PBS this summer, called "Bradshaw On: The Family," and publishing a book with the same title, John Bradshaw has become a big voice on the lecture circuit.
Before his television program he spoke to parenting groups and church groups. "I used to think 50 people was a good audience." Last week in San Diego he drew 1,500. "I'm kind of overwhelmed by the response," he says. "There are a lot of people who are hurting and never had any help before."
More than a public speaker, Bradshaw is an evangelist. His voice rises, falls, pauses then repeats, in an echo of Billy Graham.
In the space of five minutes, he quotes Jesus and Arthur Miller and philosophers Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche. That John Bradshaw is a former college teacher is evident. He has also studied for the Catholic priesthood and has degrees in psychology, philosophy, and religion.
Because he is as well-educated as he is glib, Bradshaw attracts an upscale audience. He has been called an apostle to the affluent.
But beneath his smooth sentences lies a rock-hard life. "I was an alcoholic. My father was an alcoholic. His mother was an alcoholic."
Because of his family life, he says he buried his childhood at an early age. "I was my father's father," he says. "I was my mother's friend and protector."
For years John Bradshaw hid his shame in liquor, which only made him more ashamed. But he was able to change his life. And if he can change, he says, anyone can.
"What I do in the workshop is go back over the developmental stages of life. I talk about infancy," he says. As infants we needed to feel welcome to the world, special, valued as a little girl or boy.
At the conference Bradshaw will have the audience form small groups, close their eyes and take turns pretending they are babies. They'll tell each other, "I am glad to have such a wonderful little girl as you," or "There is a special place for you in our family. I'm glad you are a boy."
Bradshaw says, "One thing that happens, rather amazingly, is that if you didn't hear those affirmations before there will be an immediate discharge. The person will cry.
"We believe that's a corrective experience. One of the ways you contact that inner child is to touch the grief.
"Going back and experiencing pain isn't of value by itself. You do it in a social contact with faces and voices that value you. That's a healing experience."
Bradshaw says our infancy needs are recycled through life. "When you have a child of your own, when you start a new job, whenever you have a big change, those needs will surface again." People who never got those needs met are going to be more vulnerable than other people at those times. But knowing and understanding our vulnerability is helpful, he says. At stressful times, "we can ask a friend to hold us and tell us how special we are. We can take a bubble bath and repeat the messages to ourselves."
For many in the audience the journey through their childhood will be painful. Most will heal a bit by the time they leave.
If there's a criticism that other professionals have of Bradshaw it is not that his theories are unsound. It is that he opens people up to pain that may come back as major depression in a few weeks. And in a few weeks, Bradshaw will be in another city.
"But the same thing could be said of his television programs," says Winston Lazlo, who arranges Bradshaw's appearances. Lazlo says television stations are often flooded with calls after a show. All the operator can do is refer the callers to professional help. "And since the workshop is being sponsored by Highland Ridge Hospital (as well as KUED) and we will be passing out phone numbers for crisis lines and every support group in your area," Lazlo says, "we think we are offering people support."
Bradshaw says he doesn't expect people to be healed by hearing him speak. He hopes his words will begin the healing process. "I'll explain that grieving and healing may take four years, on and off. You'll be in the process."