childhood abuse

You can either have a shell, or a spine. The choice is yours.

Yesterday I posted a note  about looking at all three-four major arenas of your life.   Unless you have balance and joy in all of them, it is best to assume you have work to do.  But the ability to speak the truth about the damage is dependant on loving yourself, cherishing yourself enough to believe that it you look deeply, you will find something beautiful.  If your belief is that if you flip that flat rock a horror will come crawling out…you won’t look.


And these core attitudes are often set in childhood. I received this note:


“My upbringing was extremely negative and my family still is very dysfunctional. I have little or no contact with them and feel guilty.  Every time I try again I just get attacked or beaten down.


How do you find love when you are not able to get it from where we all should feel safe…”


This is precisely what I saw working with a succession of ultra-high performing clients at Moonview sanctuary in Santa Monica.   Amazing success in one arena, wrapped around a deep sense of lack or even corruption.   Abuse, neglect, failure and lack of support and nurturance can all trigger this.


The “‘Ancient Child” technique was designed to “work around” the damage, and allow you to re-create a healthy childhood.


Here are some steps you can take (and it can take weeks to move between the phases, so don’t worry):


  1. Begin by practicing “heartbeat meditation.”  Just sit quietly and listen to your heartbeat.   When you can feel and hear it and remain calm and centered for several minutes at a time (total time 15-20 minutes, but it is natural to “go in and out” of focus)…
  2. While feeling the heartbeat, visualize yourself sitting in front of a mirror.  “See” pinpoints of light swirling inside your reflected images.
  3. Condense the light into a solid mass.  It tends to average at about ½ your full size.  If you have suffered abuse, you may get no more than a few dabs, possibly even a single point.  No worries.
  4. Morph that mass of light into a human form: from a teenager down to a single fertilized cell.  Focus on feeling  the “heartbeat” in this form.
  5. Become very quiet, and listen for its voice.    If it is “old” enough to speak, take what it says seriously.  You may wish to write down its words using your non-dominant hand.
  6. Whether it can speak or not, swear by all you hold dear and holy that you are now the mother/father of this tiny being.  That you will die before you ever let it be hurt again, and you will live the rest of your life providing a safe place for it to thrive, play, and dream.   “Mommy/Daddy is here” is a great thing to say.    If you have ever held a newborn child, or puppy or kitten, evoke the same protective instincts.  Call forth from yourself the “Tiger” mom or dad that will stand at the mouth of the cave and bare its teeth at anything that would cause your “child’ harm.


This is the basic process I used to heal my own heart, and has worked with countless students.  While an elegant and powerful implementation of this can be found in the “Ancient Child 30-Day” program, if you will just follow these directions, you can teach yourself everything you need.  Somewhere inside you is the memory of having been held and protected and loved–otherwise, “failure to thrive”, people.  You would have died.


Trigger that memory, or genetic potential for nurturance.   Apply it to yourself.  Do this EVERY DAY for a month, and you will love the results.  Your motivation will increase (actually, its just removing your brakes).   You will take less crap from people.  Feel freer to speak your mind.  Feel more love and passion.  Feel like you have more “center” and less “wall.”  Less “shell” and more “spine.”


You will begin to own your own precious life.  Please–begin today.  The life you save may be your own.



If you want someone to watch your back, first learn to put your back against the wall.


I recently worked with a client who is desperate to find a primary relationship, but has settled instead for a collection of broken, damaged secondary relationships.  This man, “Dave”,  always has people living in his house sucking his energy.   A very successful businessman, he is a nightmare in the relationship arena, and surrounds himself with people who need to lean on him. See him as being the alpha of the tribe. On the surface, it looks dynamic, but underneath, it is appalling.


Digging into his past, there is so much dysfunction in his early childhood development it startled me, and I’m not easy to startle any more.   In working through the steps of the ANCIENT CHILD with him, he found it impossible to imagine a world in which he was not surrounded by emotional cripples.  He can’t be alone.  Pointing out that the healthy woman he wants to attract into his life would not be interested in living such a life merely causes emotional dissonance.


A healthy relationship is composed of two healthy people.    You can have a functional co-dependent relationship, but I’d hardly call it “healthy.”   He craves the kind of relationship I have, without being willing to deal with the fact that Tananarive would never consider his lifestyle.  Not for a moment.  And cannot absorb the implications of that.


  1. He has not accepted that his parents may have meant well, but were terrible at their job.  Terrible.  Abusive
  2. That abuse damaged his core sense of self.  That means that at the base, he believes he is an ugly thing. He cannot live in the silence, has to have a noisy, distractive emotional environment.  Otherwise he might have to face himself. The primary connection to his own heart is found in the silence.
  3. The secondary connection to his “Child” self grows out of the primary connection.  Disrupt this (or the emotional balance that this represents) and you create a horrible situation where you try to work, and give, and struggle and shine enough to be “worthy” of love.  This creates the illusion of success–tons of external achievement, and a hollow internal world you fill with noise and surface relationships.


No matter how much you achieve, what you do, how loud the crowds cheer, you cannot be content.  If you can’t be alone, you can’t really be with another person, because you’ll constantly be afraid they will leave.  If you don’t love yourself, you are controlled by the people who surround you–they can threaten to withdraw their affection if you don’t perform to their standard.


Children do this all the time.  “I hate you!” works well with parents who need to be buddies to their kids.    When adults use the same dynamics, it is painful to watch.


Give yourself the love you need, the silence you need, the peace and support you need.  If you want to find someone to watch your back, first learn to put your back against the wall.




Cultural damage and personal responsibility

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Cultural and Personal Damage

I remember watching the film “Once Were Warriors” about the collapse of the Maori culture after colonization. What struck me was that the women were holding the families together, while the males were engaged in drunken, irresponsible, often violently self-destructive behavior. And I thought to myself: wow. These guys are acting just like too many blacks I’ve seen in the Inner Cities. And suddenly, I started thinking about stories of Chinese in British occupied Shanghai, Africans in British or German occupied Africa, Mexicans in Spanish occupied Mexico, Native Americans, Irish in Belfast.

What were the things I remembered hearing from the oppressors? Their women were sexually available to the conquerors. The men were criminal, alcoholic, violent, ignorant. Didn’t take care of their families. Not all of these things were ascribed to all of these groups, but this was the general sweep. And if I come from a position that people are basically people, then a lot of the issues seem to be the result of natural cycles of social and interpersonal interaction interrupted by slavery, colonization, and conquest. The male destructive/creative impulse turns inward upon itself. Self-confidence and healthy aggression are replaced by self-loathing, fragile egos (propped up with meaningless sex, money at all costs, faceless violence) distort the reality map with alcohol and drugs, scrambled values . Trapped in a system in which the aggressor cannot be directly combated (due to superior numbers, technology or resources), and representatives of those aggressors can arrest and incarcerate you at will, watching your own children and women more attracted to the dominator than to you and your people…ghastly result.

Women? Begin to change their hair styles, makeup styles, dress styles to make themselves attractive to the dominator males. Plastic surgery requests for “round eye” operations skyrocketed in Japan after WW2. Hell, Jackie Chan’s had the operation. He knows where the money is. They form fire-sale relationships with the dominator males, creating relationships in which skin color or national origin by themselves are important bargaining chips, seeking a better genetic/cultural future for their offspring.

Think of the spiral this creates. In every one of these cultures, females have less negative pressure than males (in certain contexts) because they are considered less of a threat. Incarcerated less, hired more, subjected to different levels of brainwashing–designed not to destroy them but make them pliable and available. An interesting question on this: while “other” males die or are rendered neuter in the entertainments of the dominator group (that pesky “no sex for non-white males in films that earn over 100 million” thingie), females are either available (if casting choices are purely male) or obese/old and sexless. Would this change if the directors/producers/casting agents are female as opposed to male? One would suspect so. Women would tend to want to decrease the competitive advantages of “Other” females, as males would want to decrease the advantages of “Other” males.

This would take more research than I’ve currently done, but the question is tantalizing.


Culturally, I’m very clear on the way the stats on survival and sexuality run in film. And just as convinced that the Hollywood types who make these decisions are actually MORE racially open than the average white males of their education and income across the country. A scary concept, but I stick to it based on 57 years of travel across the country, and 30 years of working in the industry. A terrible thought. Deal with it.

But what I’m actually interested in are two notes from students. Both are women, both dealing with deep-seated issues of self-love and self-deservement. One is new to me, but said that she “doesn’t know what self-love looks like.” The other was terribly abused in childhood by adults her mother trusted to protect her.

This is just ghastly. It is clear to me that cultures raised in relative isolation will develop in patterns that produce stable families and children who accept the values of their grandparents. When those cultures come into competition they change as the must to survive and thrive…usually slowly.

But when cultures encounter cultures that come from a thousand miles away, there are seriously disruptive differences. If the new culture is aggressive or violent, that adjustment must be rapid. If the aggressive culture was part of the Road of Silk, on the land-sea trade routes along which information spread like a virus, then it had a huge advantage over those more isolated and therefore moving more slowly. And the result enabled them to not merely dominate the less-developed (from a technological standpoint) culture, but also to play the standard “we rule, you drool” game primates love: we’re better than you. Closer to God than you. Look how your men quake, and your women fall at our feet. We must be divine.”

Variants of this can be found in every colonized culture I’ve seen or heard of. Human beings as individuals play variations on this. Children dominated physically or sexually go into submission postures or self-destructive behavior (trashing themselves, their families, “their” women, not in a possessive sense, except in the same sense women would talk about “their” men.) “Using every fang and claw in the awfullest way you ever saw.” If you don’t love yourself, if that precious connection within has been sundered, then it is harder to connect with love at all. Love for your children, your spouse, your neighbors and community.

Of course, as you love yourself you become harder for others to manipulate and control, because you don’t need their approval. You may WANT their approval, but not need it. There is an enormous difference.

Because I see no essential difference between racial or gender groups (other than things to do with testosterone and estrogen, and the production and/or protection of children and families) I look very carefully at disruptions. Violence, lack of responsibility, improper imprinting of basic social/survival rules on offspring, the channeling of basic reproductive/aggressive behaviors into patterns that allow proper nurturance of future generations.

Any culture that does NOT do this will be out-competed by those that do. To me, much of this relates to the health of individuals, and the psychic health of individuals is connected to their self-love. Their commitment to their childhood dreams, and the sense that they matter in the universe. If we don’t matter, why try? If we don’t hold ourselves as precious, what does that say about the judgement of any who might love us?

I hold individual women or men who have been raped, oppressed or abused as responsible for healing themselves. Responsible for their relationships, and what they expose their children to. And I have no respect for men or women who suggest that the health and care of their children are not their responsibility–unless they have almost literally worked themselves to death, and have nothing left at all. But that’s not what I see.

Whether the damage is done by rape, incarceration, economic disaster, neglect, abuse, or colonization, the individual is still responsible. Why? Because there is no one else. If you don’t pick yourself up, you will die in the desert. If you don’t swim, you will drown. I didn’t decide that life was like that: I’m just responding to what seems to be true.

The difficult thing is to understand that we are all programmed by our genetics, our families, our cultures. That every one of us is doing the best we can, given the resources we have. And that we have to have a balance of understanding how we were harmed…and understanding how we were blessed. Often by the exact same social forces. This is how I can love my country absolutely…and accept that it damaged me and my racial group horribly. How I can love my mother without deifying her. When I see someone sprawled in the gutter in the street, I try to think of the child they once were. Where did the hopes and dreams go? What mistakes (which all children make) were amplified by a damaged family or an unforgiving culture? If I don’t take the position that where we end in life is determined primarily by our innate capacity, then what the hell programmed these people, and what kind of intervention might have made a difference?

Of course, I have respect for people who take the opposite view: that our status in life is the primary indicator of our innate capacity. I’ve merely noticed that most with that point of view are breaking their arms patting themselves on the back: they are in the upper 10%, and want desperately to believe that they are there because of their spiritual essence. They are doing well because God made them well, and loves them better.

I see the connection between social groups and individuals , in terms of health and manifestation. When someone like Steve Muhammad joins a group (The Nation of Islam) that celebrates black people, and encourages more love and community within that group than between racial groups, this is a simple reaction to 400 years of history: makes perfect sense, even if I personally have chosen another way. I get it. Just like I “get” women who have been abused having negative attitudes about men. Or Americans who have been attacked on 9/11 having a negative attitude toward Arabs or Muslims.

I just think that all of that “Us-Themism” is useful in a raw survival context, and useless for emotional and spiritual growth. Of course, if you don’t survive, you don’t grow, so it’s also obvious why these emotions are so powerful: survival trumps damned near everything.

But with enough love, you can flow through these things. I personally had no support for myself as black, as male, as an American, as almost anything…as a child. And was forced to go through all of those ego-shields to find some bedrock. Mine was in my sense of existing. From there it was simply being a living thing. Then a spiritual being. Then a human being. And then an intellectual being. Then (probably) a Male human being. Nationality and race follow up. But I don’t deceive myself that others share my priorities, and I won’t let myself get seduced into “Us-Themism” without a fight.

And I can’t help but hold onto my belief that love is the answer for all of this. Especially the kind of self-love that is as fiercely protective of your heart and dreams as you would be for the life of your own most beloved child. No compromise on the safety of our children, but an understanding that long-term safety means being at peace with those around us.

And that while we think our children are the most beautiful and precious in the world…everyone else thinks that as well, about theirs. We have to get the joke, or the joke’s on us. We are just as worthy of love and joy as anyone else. As perfect as anything else in the universe, as sacred as the stars.

And yet, to make our way in the world, we also have to play games of “this versus that.” “A” is higher in the hierarchy than “B.” We have to, or insecticide is as good as mother’s milk.

The Wounded Child

I 100% agree with what this article says: that behavioral dysfunctions are a form of PTSD, often related to childhood trauma. This is one reason that the “Morning Ritual” concept incorporates both the “Ancient Child”, heartbeat meditation, physical motion, and focus. Why I believe so strongly in dealing with the fear that lies at the base of all negative emotion. Sigh.

I can tell you the first time I realized how bad it was, and how I needed to trust instinct rather than the surface or presenting stories. I was a GOH at a convention in Texas, and teaching a morning Tai Chi workshop. There was a lady on the periphery of the workshop, trying to do the movements. She was extremely obese, and more, her teeth were rotted out. My first impression was that she was like one overweight person pushed into the middle of a second one, a very sweet small face and bright eyes in the middle of a puffy cocoon of fatty tissue. Over 300 pounds.

I am always very connected to the people in those workshops. All kinds of odd subliminal information pops into my head about them, their emotions, sex lives, all sorts of stuff. It isn’t esp. It is that our bodies reflect our histories. They store our emotions.

I worked with her a bit, and in adjusting her body, something horrible happened, horrible because I didn’t know how to handle it. Suddenly, I saw the sweet face as a trapped child within the massive protective cocoon. The bright eyes calling out to me from within a prison of flesh: HELP. A fear of being seen sexually, combined with a deep, desperate hope that someone could see her, and love her, and help her free itself.

And I knew. The teeth. The body. This woman had been terribly, horribly, serially abused as a child. And her brain had done what a brain is supposed to do: do everything in its power to prevent her from ever being seen as a sexual being again, to obscure the secondary sexual characteristics. Yes, I know it is illogical. But that’s what I saw.

Too damned clearly.

After the work shop I went to my room and cried. Just…sobbed. Something had opened inside me, and I felt like I was watching personal histories, not just physical bodies, in that convention hotel. Millions of individual behavioral choices arising from values and beliefs connected to emotional and physical pains and pleasures. If I respected them, I had to believe that they were doing the best they could. There was no laziness, no lack of wish to be healthy and strong and happy.

This was something very different. Post-industrial society has unteathered calories or immediate survival from physical performance for the first time in our evolutionary history, and we are seeing something extraordinary. In a few generations we will have figured it out, but right now…dear God.

I wanted to leave that convention, and if I hadn’t been GOH I would have. So I put on my face and went back down.

And…she followed me. Showed up at panels and signings. Always on the periphery. Smiling shyly at me. And finally, on the last day, she asked me if we could talk.

We had coffee. She said that she didn’t know why she was talking to me. Just…that there was something about me. She felt that I had seen HER, not just her body. And was driven to speak to me.

And there, while I sipped my latte, she changed my life. With only a tiny bit of reassurance and coaxing she described a history of abuse that precisely matched what I had seen. Her stepfather. Her stepuncles. A mother who pretended it wasn’t happening.

Abusive relationships. And a near-suicidal threshold that led to a solution: to become invisible in plain sight. Years of being unseen. And now a heart-wrenching urge to find a way out of the prison she had built for herself. Was it too late? She wanted to know.

And I remembered something that Leo and Diane Dillon, the great, great artists had once said to me when I asked if I had lost my way as an artist: “if you can even ask the question, it’s not too late.”
That was twenty-five years ago. I had nothing specific to offer this lady except hope, and love, holding her hands as we both cried.

But I changed that day. I knew that I saw things that were contrary to social narrative, and needed to trust my instincts more than the popular wisdom. And I knew that I had to find a way to understand what we are as human beings that we can be smart, and good and decent and still hurt each other and ourselves so badly, and remain in denial about it.

That was, in many ways, the beginning of my awakening.

I don’t remember her name. I don’t know where she is or even if she is alive. All I can say is that I hope I touched her as deeply as she touched me.

Whereever you are, my love, I see you. That perfect little girl who deserved to be loved, and held, and cherished, is still within you. And I pray you found a way to both keep her safe, and let her free.


Deservement: The Art of Self-Love

In the last 24 hours, I’ve dealt with four different students or clients where the core issue is one of self-love. Deservement. The following things were triggers:

1) Childhood abuse, both sexual and psychological. Being touched inappropriately, told they are worthless, used as “things” rather than people before the full development of ego walls.

2) Perceived betrayal of childhood ambitions. Either giving them up, or doing things to achieve them that were in violation of core values.

3) Abusive adult relationships. “Crazymakers” who bond to you powerfully economically, emotionally, or sexually. And then…gaslight you. If you don’t know the term, see the movie. Basically these are people who are either emotionally imbalanced or have some drive to unbalance you, keep you from leveraging your intelligence and emotions, with an end to domination. To do this, they either criticize or terrorize you, until you have twisted yourself into a knot to please them, and no longer know where “north” is on your personal compass. At that point, you are infantalized, willing to do whatever it takes to keep them happy so that you can escape the pain. Brutal. (more…)