An Interview with John Bradshaw

by Veronica M. Hay


For the past twenty one years, John Bradshaw has combined the roles of author, counselor, theologian, management consultant and public speaker, becoming one of the leading figures in the fields of recovery and dysfunctional families. He has become a public television phenomenon, hosting the extremely popular series Bradshaw On: The Eight Stages Of Man, Bradshaw On: The Family, Bradshaw On: Homecoming, the 90 minute special Healing The Shame That Binds You and others. He is also the author of four bestselling books. In addition to his writing and television work, Bradshaw heads treatment centers in Los Angeles and Houston and leads workshops in locations in North America. He resides in Houston, Texas.


Veronica: You state that the inner child work that you do in your workshops all over the country is the fastest, deepest and most effective way you have found to heal old emotional wounds. By doing this inner child work, is it possible to stop the patterns or the chain of repetitive events in our lives from continuing on from generation to generation?

John: Well, not by one workshop, but certainly the workshop has been a vehicle for many people getting started with the work and we have had literally thousands of people write us that it was a turning point, they went and got help after the workshop, or they got in a 12 step program, or they got into a support group, and it was the beginning for them to wake up. It was like a wake up call about what was going on in their life, so after a half million people and seven years of doing this, I'm very high on what can happen in these workshops, but I don't want to present them as a cure all or some kind of magical solution.

I price my workshops for example on what an hour of therapy would be. One day is like an hour of therapy and I think that in one or two days a person can get just an immense more than you can get out of an hour of therapy. I'm not putting an hour of therapy down, but I have many psychiatrist friends now who believe that the workshops are the way to go in the future, they are a concentrated way to do a lot of this work and to move through it more quickly.

Veronica: So, it's another way, it's not the only way, or the way for everyone?

John: No, it's not the only way, and lots of people work through this stuff just out of their own life experience and their own pain. I was just doing an earlier interview where the interviewer was talking about her own pain, and how much pain she had in her life, and that she was a feminine activist now out of being lost in a number of male relationships, and how she's been raised in this patriarchal family. So, there are a lot of other ways it can happen. I just think this is the most useful way I've ever found to do with a group of people and large numbers of people. My therapist colleagues tell me that, they never believed that as large a number of people could be affected by things, like when I did the series on television, so I believe it too. I don't want to make it magical, but I think that it can be enormously helpful to people.

Veronica: It's a continuous ongoing process though, isn't it?

John: Yes, for some of us, it ain't over till it's over. I mean, I feel like my wounds were very deep as a child and I'm still groping with these wounds. I was talking to my lady friend last night and I said that in some ways I've been crippled by these wounds, and I have to, for example, take time out of our relationship, where I'm just by myself, and for me I don't think I'll ever be able to have a relationship where I don't need to do that.

Veronica: You talk in your book about the method of changing one's personal history, going back and re-writing your childhood script, so to speak, giving yourself the father and the mother you would have always wanted to have if you could have handpicked them. Wouldn't this feel a little like betrayal or rejection?

John: Well, I think it does feel like that and one of the reasons that it does, is that we have been so indoctrinated into honoring Mom and Dad, which can be really dangerous. Obedience without content is very dangerous.


I was taught as a child to obey any adult simply because they were an adult, whereas I think that I honor my mother by growing up, by separating from her. I don't honor her by staying there. You know, in other words, the work is not about blaming Mom and Dad. I don't even hold my mother and father responsible for what happened to me. What I think happened is, I think they did to me what was done to them, and it is just a question of generations doing this. That's why we have got to stop it and if nobody's willing to do the work, then we can't stop it. So, that is the idea of it.

Veronica: Metaphysically speaking, a lot of people believe that we actually did handpick our parents for whatever we needed to learn in order to grow, and get to the place where we are now.

John: Well, that's a theory, a metaphysical theory. I don't accept that particular theory, but I'm not saying that it isn't valid. I believe that we are fated by the parents that we got and that there are lessons that we can learn and when you've done the feeling work, then you're prepared for the metaphysics, but if you do the metaphysics, before you've done the feeling work, what I see happen to a lot of people, is that they get addicted to metaphysics. In other words, you get to making metaphysics be the answer to everything. It's like you don't do the grief work for the pain that you had because you say, well, I chose my parents and I was learning a lesson and this is what my soul wanted me to do. What I think you need to do, is do the hurt and the pain, the grief work, (blessed are they that mourn), and then you say, "Look at the strength I got out of that." But you say that afterwards, you don't say that before you've done it.

For example, Ken Keyes came up to me, the Ken Keyes College in Oregon, where they teach a lot of metaphysics and he said to me "We were putting the cart before the horse, we were trying to teach people unconditional love before we had done grammar school, which was to do the ego work and to go back and deal with the pain."

Now, there's lots of different ways to do the ego work. You can do it with kundalini yoga, you can do it with family reconstruction, you can do it with gestalt, you can do it with inner child work, but you need to do it, and if you don't do it, what I think happens is that people become compulsive. They become compulsive about something else. I mean, I was, I was a compulsive intellectual and did everything other than do this work. I did the Course in Miracles, I did the metaphysics, I did the Jack Schwartz healing, I did the Alana Rubenfeld, 'Dancing Your Way to Happiness', I did shamanic spirit canoes, and all of that became a way to mood alter for me. Until I was willing to go into the pain.

Veronica: You also state in your book Homecoming that once people have claimed and nurtured their wounded inner child, the creative energy of their wonderful natural child begins to emerge. Once integrated, the inner child becomes a source of regeneration and new vitality. Carl Jung called this the wonder child. Does this mean that highly creative and imaginative people like Walt Disney for instance, must have healed their childhood wounds or is it possible to be incredibly creative and still have a lot of unresolved pain?

John: Well, I think both. I think that a lot of wonder kids, like Rainer Maria Rilke, whose mother wanted him to be a girl, and called him Maria. She would say, "Is that the wonderful Maria at the door or is that the horrible little Rainer?" And of course he would say, Maria. My byline to that, is that you either grow up to be a great poet, or terribly screwed up. Rilke became a great poet.

Now, he may have had a lot of pain in his life, that if he had done the feeling work, it could have helped that pain. I don't know, I think there's a level of mystery too in that people are fated by what happens to them, but there are strengths that come out of it.

Veronica: Could a person just go back and intuitively feel whatever needs to come to the surface, and it wouldn't really matter where or when it was in your life.

John: Yes, I think that is possible. I think that some people have spontaneous remissions. I don't know how that works, but I don't deny that it can work. I don't deny that someone could go into metaphysics and do the healing of this, but my own experience has been that a lot of people go into various spiritual disciplines and they become what the Germans call "air people", they're not grounded.

Veronica: Yes, I've seen a lot of that!

John: You do see a lot of that, and they get very compulsive and kind of spiritually proud. You know there's a kind of arrogance about it. I've been through that, where I was that kind of person.

Veronica: Can we close by talking about what you call the paradox of love?

John: Well, the fact that if you took a moving picture of a courtship, and you took a moving picture of a divorce court, you know the same two people who are hating each other at that point, or fighting over who gets the red Christmas tree balls. It's so paradoxical to me, I mean that's one level of the paradox. The other level of the paradox is how often people will choose someone that was just like the parent they didn't like.

A woman will find a man who basically treats her in the rejecting way that her father treated her, I mean that's paradoxical. A guy that had a controlling, dominating mother who hated it, marries a woman that's controlling and dominating.

Veronica: Sort of like that couple you mention in your book, Jack and Jill?

John: Yes, how often people, well I think everybody, is sort of directed to the mates they are attracted to, partly out of their own wounds. Now, you know some people are only wounded slightly and they don't have very much to work through, other people have a lot to work through, or maybe in terms of the cycles of life, some people are not going to have to work through as much in this life as other people are. Whatever it is, most everyone is going to have some aspect of the way they are attracted to each other, that I think is about their own history, rather than about the other person.

To me, everyone of us is going to have to re-imagine the relationship with our parents, that is, we are going to have to demythologize our parents and grow up, if we're going to really find love, and for a lot of people, that is not something that they've done in their life.

Veronica: Thank you, John.



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John Bradshaw - Interview -