Revisiting John Bradshaw

Way back in the 1990’s (ancient history for many I know) I was flipping thru the TV channels when I landed on a guy doing a show on PBS.  One more lecture, ugh, and I nearly flipped to the next channel, but then . . this guy started to talk about MY FAMILY . . . at least, it sure felt like it.  His name was John Bradshaw and he was discussing the dynamics of dysfunctional families.  

25 years later, this 10-hour series is still the best thing I have ever seen on PBS.  It was all about the work people are doing on healing dysfunctional families, covering addiction, compulsive behavior, Alice Miller, and so on.  In recent years I have looked all over for the program but it was not available anywhere; out of print, out of stock, and so on, but then just last month I found the whole darn thing on Youtube.  Here is part one, easily linking to the other 9:  (purposefully linked to a discussion of family system-ology

I think it says a lot about the current state of our culture generally that a program like this has fallen thru the cracks.  It was a bit of a shock even to me to re-watch the show, as, in our society, where all children are above average, no one, especially parents, drinks or does drugs or hits their kids, right?  It really struck me how this kind of thing is not discussed openly these days.  

So anyway, the program covers so much material it would be impossible to do quick summations, but again, the one thing he talks about throughout is “family systems.”  Now in the beginning I always leapt to the assumption that he was referring to ~5 person cast of mom, dad, and the kids . . .  and in fact the mobile hanging on the stage is meant to represent those players.  BUT 

I have leapt to another idea, which is the concept of (drumroll please) . . . the super parent.  

The super parent is my word for the influences of multiple generations of trauma.  We all have grandparents who went thru something awful, be that a war, someone whose parents died or abandoned them when they were little, the loss of a child at birth  . . .  and all too often, those damaged unhealed people go out and have kids and pass their unresolved issues on to their kids, and it can be handed down thru multiple generations.  

The super parent is hard to define as a tangible thing, it’s more like a ball of bad memories and traumas that lurk unseen in the background, and they become a sort of vague map of the world for those who, needing a parent, make one out of these imperfect people . . . or worse, the make one out of the imperfect impressions and vague memories of multiple generations of these imperfect people.  

In my own case, it has been a major leap of growth to realize that (as Bradshaw explains), people who are caught up in a dysfunctional family systems never become their true selves, and so my parents were like actors in a play that they did not write.  So instead of focusing solely on my 2 biological parents, it is way more empowering to go upstream to the playwrights of those scripts, scripts  that my own parents were just mindlessly reciting out of loyalty to people long since dead.    

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