Center for Creative Growth

Creative Growth

By jsaffer | December 17, 2008

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On our website (, we talk about one of our core beliefs — “that every situation, every experience — no matter how difficult, painful, or “stuck” it may be — holds within it the opportunity for creative growth.”

What exactly does that mean? What do we mean by creative growth?

We start with the idea that what we’re here to do, as human beings, is to grow — and to grow in a myriad of ways. Growth means change, it means that we’re meant to be constantly evolving, we’re meant to be constantly learning — and it means we’re to put that new learning to good use in our world and with the people in it.

What does it mean to have new learning? When we gain a new skill (and practice it), when we see things differently, and when those new skills and new perspectives create an increased and enhanced experience of love — then we are involved in new learning. As we gain increased understanding, we are more able to tap into an expanded sense of meaning in our lives, an ever-renewing sense of purpose and direction, and an enhanced sense of satisfaction. We get to feel more of who we really are, and very importantly, we gain the sense of being an adult in the world, not a kid masquerading as an adult.

As we’re growing up in our particular families, we strive to figure out and to understand how the world works. We’re not especially conscious of doing this; it’s pretty automatic. From our first days, months, and years as a child, we look around and we try and get our needs met – from the people who surround us day-to-day. To the degree that our parents and caregivers can meet our needs – which includes, perhaps most importantly, the need to feel loved and secure – we are able to develop a sense of being okay. To the degree our parents and caregivers are not able or willing to meet our needs, including the pivotal need to feel loved and secure, we develop coping mechanisms and strategies — patterns that we carry into our adult lives. By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve had years of practice with these coping patterns and we begin to believe that these patterns are who we really are!

Effective and caring therapy helps us to dissolve these trance states and gain a more reality-based sense of being grounded and centered, less triggered into emotional reactivity. We gain a visceral sense that we have a place in this world, that we’re basically okay — and this can reduce and dissolve that sense of toxic shame, that feeling that something is basically wrong with us, that is the legacy of an addictive or dysfunctional family.

An easy road to travel? — Not usually. But necessary if we are to fulfill ourselves and grow up to be the healthy and loving adults we’re meant to be.

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Toxic Shame - A Root Cause of Conflict and Misery

By jsaffer | December 10, 2008

As we emerge into the 21st century, it has become increasingly clear that a basic root cause of human misery, violence, despair, and conflict is the widespread experience and perpetuation of toxic shame. Underlying almost all instances and episodes of human conflict — whether on a grand scale as in the warring of nations, or as experienced in the microcosm of the individual dysfunctional family — we see the devastating effects of toxic shame, that deeply rooted and deeply ingrained sense of being flawed, being bad, being “not enough.” It is this learned sense of being defective that almost all people in our society attempt to escape from, adjust to, ignore, deny, or transform.

The need to address the debilitating effects of toxic shame, both on an individual and societal level, is compelling and urgent. Lasting and profound change, for individuals and as a world, seems unlikely without this fundamental shift in self-awareness and self-perception. As we look over the last 50 years in the United States and the world, we can see, in fact, a growing movement, in both professional communities and on a grass-roots level, to identify and address the myriad negative effects of toxic shame in our lives. This movement includes the initial creation of the 12-step recovery movement and its burgeoning popularity, the emergence and popularity of humanistic and transpersonal psychotherapies, as well as the mushrooming of self-help literature and tools. All these have combined to help raise our collective awareness of the core challenge presented by toxic shame, and have empowered individuals to come together to begin to create lives based on a new, more affirming and healthy self-view.

One of the major figures and contributors to this significant and essential shift in self-awareness is John Bradshaw. John Bradshaw has pioneered the concept of the “Inner Child” and brought the term “dysfunctional family” into the mainstream. He has touched and changed millions of lives through his books, television series, and his lectures and workshops around the country. In so many ways, John Bradshaw has been a pivotal force in bringing people out of hiding, and out from the toxic shame that always accompanies hiding. Through his teachings in his writings, on TV, and in person, he has synthesized and articulated complex principles of human growth and family dysfunction, so that not only can people understand it, they can put these learnings to good use. As any good teacher does, he opens our eyes to new possibilities, he helps us remove the crusted prisms through which we’ve seen life. He gives us hope and he shows us a way out. And, as any good teacher, he leaves it to us to do the work, to practice the principles, to live according to our highest values. John Bradshaw has helped so many to understand how we got to be the way we are. He has demystified the process of human learning and growth, and he has done so much to help begin to remove the stigma and burden of self-shame, self-blame, and self-hatred.

John Bradshaw offers a message of hope: that there’s a way out from the painful and hurtful patterns that we learned growing up in a dysfunctional world and in dysfunctional families. It’s not a new message, really. He doesn’t pretend that it is. In fact, more than any other superstar in the human potential movement, John is quick to acknowledge where he learns the things he teaches and who said it first. His mastery and his contribution come from the heartfelt ways that he has synthesized diverse psychological material and in the way he shares it. He gives us permission to be ourselves, to feel our pain and our grief, and to transform those feelings over time into serenity, acceptance, and purpose.

John Bradshaw is, of course, part of a larger movement at work today: a movement of all life towards enhanced awareness and fulfillment, a great shift in consciousness from scarcity and deprivation to a deeper grounding in ourselves as spiritual beings, not “human do-ings.” As part of that consciousness shift occurring throughout the world, more of us are determined to shed the weight of old shame and hurt that has been passed from generation to generation and we are finding potent paths to uncover our true selves and to drop the encrusted residue of the old. As a true Teacher of our Times, John Bradshaw is helping point the way.

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