In this piece you will learn what validation is and how it can be problematic when your source of validation is external rather than internal. I will then talk about the connection between validation and recovery as part of self leadership. Let’s go!


I want you to think of validation as a form of acceptance, a way of knowing who you are which helps you know how you are. The Dictionary defines the form of validation we are concerned with as; 

recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile. 

 In this approach to recovery I use the metaphor of a ‘Captain’ and I say that you are the Captain of the good ship ‘you’. But it is worth remembering that you are also the ship, the crew and the cargo! When you are not recognised as valid or worthwhile, it’s like sending a message to your brain that “I’m the Captain but the cargo is not worth much”. Just imagine the effect of this message over several years, or decades! 

What this often means is that you may have tried very hard to achieve your recovery but didn’t realise that you had one hand tied behind your back the whole time! Without a well developed understanding of, and method of validation, progress in your recovery will always be an uphill struggle.

External Validation

So where does your validation come from? Often the bulk of our validation comes from outside of ourselves. It takes the form of what job you do, what achievements you have, how successful you have been, or how much people give you feedback that they appreciate your qualities. Now this is not necessarily bad in itself because your achievements may be great and people may well genuinely appreciate them. 

The problems start to mount up when external validation is the only form you are getting, or when the validation is something you feel you have to have, even if you feel you do not deserve it. This is made worse if you are manipulating it out of people or are stretching the truth in order to get it! So what is the main drawback of this form of validation? 

The main drawback is that it can hold you to ransom, you can be blackmailed through it. Think about it, if you need the approval and good opinion of others in order to build your character and worth, then you will probably live in fear of them removing their approval. Likewise, you may find yourself bending over backwards just to keep them happy. You can see how bad it might get, and I know that some of you are identifying with this as you read it.

Validation is often more noticeable by its absence. In other words you don’t often recognise it when it is still provided. Think about going to work. You may be loving your job or you may be resentful and hate it, either way you are receiving validation every moment you are there just by taking on that role. As soon as you acknowledge that this is your role and how to do it, validation is supplied. It’s the same when you tell someone what you do, or when you talk about your hobby or your passion. You aren’t usually doing it to be validated, which is why you don’t always recognise it.

Internal Validation

The recovery journey can be described and defined in many ways. As the journey from indirect to direct communication. As the journey from private to public. As the journey from the dead world to the living world. It can also be described as the journey from external to internal validation! So what does internal validation look like?

Unlike external validation it does not come from what your job is or what you do, your hobbies or your achievements. It comes from an understanding and a belief that you have worth. It is built on the application of embodied principles. In other words it’s not about what others think of you, it’s more about what kind of person you want to be and are willing to work at being. 

So this brings us to the big difference that often occurs between external and internal validation. External validation can be bought, manipulated or just based on doing things. Internal validation cannot. In fact, people around you may not always appreciate the effect your internal validation is having. You can upset the very people that were externally validating you by being more honest and authentic. When we practice principles like honesty and authenticity, humility and generosity, we have to commit to managing these relationships while we are developing our character and this can be one of the biggest challenges of making this part of the journey into recovery.

Using validation in your recovery

Do you find that there are certain times of the day when you always feel worse than others? Are there times when you know it will be difficult to get through it without your ‘support’? It is at these times when you may be switching from external to internal validation. If your internal validation is poor then this transition will be very difficult. It will sometimes feel like you just became a different person. It is at these times that the fridge may call your name! Or the pornography channel, or the gambling web site. This is not a random event, it is to do with how you feel about yourself.

It may be experienced as an acute discomfort that has no real explanation, you just know that it is often at this time when it starts. It’s no accident that this acute discomfort most often happens at around 9pm. It’s at this time that you are most often left to your own devices. It’s often when you are left on your own, if your family has gone to bed. Or it can be a day off, or a weekend with nothing to do. I have worked with people who simply feel that they cannot be on their own, it’s like they disappear when there is no one telling them who they are. You may also recognise the idea of ‘relationship hopping’ in yourself.

I don’t know if you have ever read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I remember realising that all the examples they give of people returning to drink happen when the person was left to their own devices. When they had finished their work. When they were no longer being externally validated! 

So now that you know this you may feel that you understand yourself a little better. Think of these times as opportunities to work with yourself better. Remember that you (and life) trained you to be this way and you can retrain yourself to be different! We learn through difficulties and so I want you to consider facing this challenge. If you have times of day like this please do not fight yourself or hate yourself because of it. Think of it as training and develop a new training program. 

Congratulate and celebrate

Working to produce a harmonised self as opposed to a conflicted self takes time but it is quite a simple process. Think of this difficult feeling as a younger part of you that needs help. Offer that help by first accepting the part as it is. Try to avoid talking with yourself as needing to change, rather accept that this is the way the part feels. The idea is to train the part to trust you by assuring them that you are able and willing to handle this situation. 

How often do you congratulate yourself for doing something well? How often do you celebrate your success with your partner? I want you to know that these processes are so good for your internal validation! Tell yourself many times each day how you are pleased with what you did and how well you did it. Remember, no fantasy! Always use an actual event, it can be as simple as washing up the dishes. When you do this you are sending a message to your brain that you want more of this and your brain will rewire around these ideas.

Self Leadership in recovery

So internally validating is improving your relationship with yourself. And improving your relationship with yourself is the beginning of self leadership. When you realise that you are a ship and its Captain, and that the ship and its cargo are valuable, you are leading yourself into a better future. You are setting a course for a recovered lifestyle. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I wish you all the best in your journey.


silver French-door refrigerator

It’s at this time you might hear the fridge calling your name

Reverse addiction – The role it plays in the addiction cycle

Reverse addiction – The role it plays in the addiction cycle

In this article you are going to learn about the way addiction develops in a person. How it always starts in the form of ‘reverse’ or ‘mirrored’ addiction. And why some people stay in the reverse position, whilst others develop into addicts. And why we all have the potential to ‘flip’ from one to the other. Why is this important to know? Let me answer this big question straight away. The reason this is so important is that once you understand the nature of your affliction and the reason why we sometimes ‘flip’ from one extreme to the other you will have the beginnings of a method of self management. Imagine being able to manage yourself better when your partner is in early recovery! When you are in early recovery! When things challenge you and you notice yourself behaving very differently from normal. This will help you whether you consider yourself to be an addict or a reverse addict because you will have a coherent picture to work with. And won’t that make a change!

We all start as reverse addicts

Once again the main difficulty in grasping this idea is our ability to get away from the medical model. In a ‘disease model’ you would, of course, be one thing or the other. You may have been to meetings or attended therapy and been told you are an addict, or you are co-dependent. Once you move on from this way of looking at things you will be free to understand yourself  as having the ‘potential’ to be both. Think of how you are as more of a reaction to who you are with. If your are with a self centred so called ‘narcissistic‘ person you will have more of a tendency to flip to the reverse side of your behaviour and attitudes. Whereas if you are with a more compliant, vulnerable person you may have more of a tendency to flip to the addict side. More on this later, for now let’s look at the assertion itself and the way you can benefit from this understanding.

To understand the reasoning behind this assertion we have to look at the general effect of dysfunction in the family, especially on the children. Whatever type of dysfunction there is in the family it has the same general effect on the children, it places them in a position of responsibility they are not ready to deal with. It has the effect of pushing or dragging the child into the adult arena. Often the sense of responsibility is produced by the parent not taking responsibility for something. Having seen this lack the child then gets the idea that they have to do something about this. If the adult is not producing a meal for the children, the oldest child may take it upon themselves to make it. If the adult is not awake when it is time for the childrens school then they will take it upon themselves to dress and prepare the other kids. More seriously, if the adult is abusing the chldren physically they will take it upon themselves to protect their siblings. This is also true of drunken behaviour and drugged behaviour. As well as experiencing this dysfunction as their ‘normal’ they will make every effort to maintain normality within the family.

At the same time let’s not forget that children tend to blame themselves rather than their parents for things going wrong. It’s just too threatening for a young child to believe that there is something seriously wrong with their parents! So it must be their fault. This belief can transfer all the way into adult life causing many to not include their parents dysfunction in their efforts to make sense of their past. 

“Whenever there is dysfunction in the family it has the same general effect on the children”

Let’s also remember that the children cannot leave, they must find ways of surviving their childhood. So the first step toward reverse addiction for our young developing child is to become aware of things going wrong in the family and to attempt to take responsibility for fixing them. As I said, this is true for the whole spectrum of dysfunction. All the way from mild personality traits in the parents, all the way up to serious abuse. Okay, so now let’s look at the effects of this situation on the child. What follows are a few of the serious legacies for the child as they grow up.


Okay, so if all that’s true, what is the effect of this premature responsibility? There are several effects, the first is something that lots of people take into their adult lives with them. This is the effect of ‘pretending’ to be an adult. As a young child when this dysfunction occurs they do not have the maturity or experience to deal with this new found responsibility, but they have seen adults and the way they look and act. So, later on, their adult life often involves lots of imitation rather than genuine maturity. This often shows up in professional life, particularly positions of responsibility such as management roles. It is the idea that the job requires a strong ‘role playing performance’ as well as the idea that this is done separately from the family and social life of the person that invites this form of ‘imitation’. It will tend to show up whenever you are given any responsibility over others. In some cases it can form such a strong part of your behaviour (especially if you spend a lot of time at work) that you can actually mistake it for who you really are!

But it’s not you! It is a form of imitation based upon your need to take responsibility as a child. It is often the basis of ‘workaholism’ and certain forms of OCD behaviour. There is a lot of coaching now on how to be more genuine and vulnerable at work. If you can use these principles you will find ways of bringing the ‘imitated self’ back into proportion.  


The next effect is anxiety. The child has no experience to cope with this level of responsibility. So it always includes massive amounts of anxiety. This level of anxiety is experienced as normal when lived with over many years. So don’t expect it to be obvious to you when starting your recovery. Like a lot of us you may have to spend time raising your sensitivity to your feelings over time. Like all of these effects the impact on you is greater because you are at a stage of life where your brain is still developing and so your reactions are not sophisticated, they do not include much life experience and so you don’t question the anxiety or its origins. You just live with it and survive it. 

Imagine being given a job that you didn’t apply for, with no interview, job description, induction or training. Now add that people you care about could be seriously harmed if you don’t get it right! Now make yourself seven or eight years old. I think you are getting the picture.

Lack of self care

The next effect is the overbalancing towards care for others and away from self care. This is both the start of reverse addiction and the reason why we start with reverse addiction. Therefore lack of self care is one of the main components of all forms of addiction and one of the best ways of identifying it in yourself. Again this behaviour is ‘normalised’ as, under pressure to take responsibility for others, the reverse addict thinks less and less about themselves.

This overbalanced sense of responsibility can become a full time job very early on in life. As the child grows into an adult they often develop a belief that it is somehow wrong to look after themselves, or to consider themselves before others at any time, or in any way. These beliefs and practices have the dual effect of developing a tendency towards low self worth, along with an attraction for people who are on the opposite end of that spectrum, that’s right, addicts! It is part of the relational dynamics that you can’t put yourself first whilst putting someone else first. In a healthy balanced individual who you put first is an ongoing dynamic self determined choice, but in the addict it is fixed and one of the ways we understand losing the power of choice.


This idea of vulnerability is another of the main effects of dysfunction in the family. When someone brought up this way becomes an adult, who do you think they are going to be attracted to? That’s correct. Someone who is overbalanced in the opposite direction. Someone who thinks about themselves and concerns themselves only with what they want. Someone in this position, brought up this way, is going to be attracted to selfish people. Are you recognising yourself yet? This is what you have become vulnerable to.

If you have been involved in one of these unhealthy relationships you will remember that they start out looking and feeling just perfect. Why is this? It’s because, like healthy relationships, both parties are getting exactly what they want. The problem is that, unlike healthy realtionships, the participants do not want healthy things! So what is it they both want? For the relationship to be centred on the addict! So the addict, who because of their ‘narcissistic tendency’ is often the ‘life and soul’ of the party now has someone who will treat them as ‘special and different’. Which is what they desperately hope they are. The reverse addict now has someone they can hide behind and take care of, which is what they have been trained to do.


“So what is it they both want? For the relationship to be centred on the addict!”


“So what is it they both want? For the relationship to be centred on the addict!”


The problems come later when the addicts needs, along with their often disastrous decisions, leads to the breakdown of this perfect arrangement. The reverse addict gets sick of having to provide for them, lie for them, pay for them and look after them. The addict gets angry and threatened by this partner who is now reneging on the deal! They are no longer treating them as special and different! They are criticising! They have become cold! At this point the relationship often breaks up but both parties tend to hook up with partners of a similar backgrounds once again. It is only after recovery begins that the attraction cycle changes. 

Why aren’t we all reverse addicts then?

Good question! There is a very good reason why some of us refuse to stay in this position. It is to do with the type of brain we have. Some of us have a weakness for alcohol or other mood or state changing drugs. If we have this vulnerability then the effect of taking them brings on a sense of complete freedom from this overblown and inappropriate weight of responsibility. This magical effect is not something everyone experiences but those that do find what appears to be the perfect solution to this burden of worrying about everyone else. They find something that effectively swaps their concern for everyone for a concern only for themselves! How does this work?

Often around the age of twelve to fifteen a number of things happen to the child. The first thing is that they grow up a bit. This offers them a broader view of their experience and, as a result, they are motivated to change things. Secondly they often discover alcohol or drugs. Depending on the type of brain they have this will often help them to experience the unburdening of responsibility that was always out of proportion. In other words they will often feel ‘normal’. But to them this may feel miraculous since they have no other way of achaiving this normal state.

At this point the addict has escaped into selfishness and has found a way to unburden themselves, they have ‘flipped’. There are also fringe benefits to the fliiping, such as the removal of the anxiety that goes with the position of reverse addict. The feeling that they are special and different will often develop at this time. They will often promise themselves that they will never return to the pitiful state of anxious worry now that they have found their answer. They have effectively swapped a world of concern for everyone into a world of concern for themslves, much simpler!

Addiction and reverse addiction as potentials – not illnesses

One of the many advantages of working with this model is that we are liberated from the constraints of the medical model. If we approach the addiction issue from a medical perspective we are diagnosed and, as a result, labelled. From that position it doesn’t make sense to think of someone ‘flipping’ from one condition to another. After all, we have been diagnosed! We have all the symptoms! It makes sense! Of course it does, and I am not arguing that these things do not exist, or that they do not make sense. I am simply saying that it can be more useful to think of them as potentials rather than illnesses. It’s a different perspective that allows for the idea of flipping. This diagram helps explain the three positions in the form of a gauge. Think of this gauge as an indicator of concern, with the perfect balanced position in the middle and the extreme positions of selfishness left and selflessness on the right.  

In this first graphic the needle is set to the addict position. In other words you can see that it is over balanced towards the ‘self’ or ‘selfish’ side. What this means is that the person is currently exhibiting ‘self-centred’ attitudes which will often lead to conflict with others. Especially those in a more balanced position.

In this second graphic the needle is set to the ‘reverse’ addict position. It shows the needle pointing way over to the extreme left. This means that the person is currently exhibiting extreme ‘other centred’ behaviour and attitudes. This position when maintained in a relationship over time can lead to serious self harm as the person rarely considers themselves as needing care.

In the final graphic the needle is pointing straight upwards. This indicates the balanced position that we are all heading for. You can see that the needle pointing  upwards indicates balance. This is a balance between care for self and care for others. Notice that in order for both of the two previous extremes to come into the balanced positions they have to go in opposite directions from each other.

The addict is basically driven by the idea

“everything will work out if I get what I want”

Although this is a very simple drawing, it offers us a useful picture of the way extremes work as well as the way the needle can point in different directions as ‘potentials’. Let me offer you a simple picture of the two philosophies The addict is basically driven by the idea “everything will work out if I get what I want”. The reverse addict is driven by the idea that “everything will work out if everybody else gets what they want”.

The reverse addict is driven by the idea that

“everything will work out if everybody else gets what they want”

Flipping – what does this look like?

As I have pointed out previously, no one starts out this way. Everyone starts out balanced, like in the final graphic above. Through dysfunctional experience they are pushed to the extreme position of reverse addict by the constant repetition of this dysfunction. They are later, often around the early teenage years (and if they have the vulnerability) flipped to the addict potential. Otherwise they remain in the reverse position with all the vulnerability that that brings.

If they have flipped to the addict side there follows two main forms of flipping that can occur as time passes. The first is more gentle and can take place whilst the addict lifestyle is still active. To understand this we must develop the systemic view and move away from the medical model. This is because the systemic approach views things relationally and this form of flipping depends upon the relationship we are in. My experience was fairly typical and I experienced this form of flipping many times. As long as I was at home with my Wife (who was always in the ‘reverse’ position) I acted very selfishly and stayed in the addict or selfish position. Occasionally I would be around people who were more selfish in their outlook and I would notice myself becoming very worried about their welfare and start to look after them! As soon as I returned home I would ‘flip’ straight back into selfish mode. This confused me for years!

The second, and more serious, form of flipping takes place in early recovery. This is something I have seen in all authentic recoveries and cannot be avoided. But it can be understood and managed. Every client I work with gets the same warning from me. I tell them that at some point they will start to become ‘too well’ for their families. I warn them to watch out for this because it always happens, and it must be managed like any other part of their recovery. 

I tell them that at some point they will start to become ‘too well’ for their families

When families drop off their loved one at the Rehab gates they often say things like “we just want our son back” or something along those lines. What they usually don’t understand is that recovery from addiction is not like a medical recovery. It does not restore people to what they were before, it transforms people into who they really are! This is quite a different animal. Families discover this later when their loved one not only stops drinking or using drugs, but continues to develop into someone they do not recognise! It is when this recovery begins to challenge the way the family has been operating for years that this can become a problem. And it is at this point that the family often try to ‘reign in’ the recovery by saying things like “why don’t you just have a drink at weekends”? Remember, the addict has been making the family look good for years! If you are in early recovery, watch out for this yourself.

Effects of early recovery on the family

So, let’s track our newly recovered addict, they are doing well and staying ‘clean’. Their partner, who has been looking after them for years sees the improvement and something strange starts to happen. They start to develop selfish thoughts and behaviour! This is the beginning of their flip from the reverse side. Remember. It’s a potential, both sides have both potentials! This type of phenomenon is well known in other forms of mental health recoveries, it’s almost like the family sees this improvement as permission to have their own crisis. For instance, it’s not that uncommon for one family members recovery to instigate anothers decent into addiction! This is another one of the common effects on the family system of one member of the family recovering! 

Another effect on the family is connected with the way we ‘train’ people to know who we are. Training is an important factor in human relationships and is strongly connected with the idea of security. Security is naturally very important to us and one of the ways we help ourselves feel secure is to believe that we know those around us well. So when someone begins the transformational process of recovery it can threaten peoples security which can have all sorts of effects, including the one mentioned above. Someone in the reverse position who is not yet ready to begin their own recovery will often bring forms of pressure to bear on the recovering addict to not change too much! So I always include this in my work with addicted people. I ask them to remember what a shock it might be to their family to have to see this new person who they do not know!

But what about the addict? In early recovery through various forms of guilt, shame and other motivations, they often start to flip into more of the reverse side, learning to empathise with and consider others. As mentioned above this can take more extreme forms when the partner of the addict actually develops their own addiction and the recovered addict goes into reverse to look after them! This is not as uncommon as you might think.

Achieving balance – which way is up?

Revisiting the simple diagram above might help you understand the way you need to develop. Look at the two unbalanced positions and ask yourself this. In what direction must each go in order to recover? In order to reach a more balanced place each must go in the opposite direction to the other. This is one reason why I call them reversed or mirrored. They are mirrors of each other and this is why they are so opposite in outlook.

Do you notice something about these positions? You may have noticed that in order to become more balanced and recovered, the addict must become LESS selfish, be more concerned with others. To do this they must develop understanding of and practice things like humility and honesty, vulnerability and authenticity. All very good and it looks great. People tend to congratulate and support addicts recovery. But what about the reverse addict? To recover and shift towards the balanced position they must become MORE selfish! They must think less about others and more about themselves. This does not look so good and can make recovery from the reverse position just as complicated and difficult as the addicts. I often say to families and couples that they will do much better once they accept that everyone in the family has to recover together, and that the non-addicted family members can sometimes have the harder time developing that recovery. It takes a lot of experience and understanding to congratulate someone for becoming more selfish!

In Conclusion

So where does all this leave us? Place yourself in this story and ask yourself what needs to happen next. If you are an addict in early recovery, look out for the flipping towards the reverse position. Just like other issues you escaped with drugs and alcohol this issue is not resolved because you stopped using drugs, but needs to be addressed as part of your recovery. Understand that you escaped into selfishness! But what you escaped from now needs to be dealt with properly, because it has not gone away, you simply aneathasised yourself against it. So commit to your recovery and resolve these issues permanently with sound recovery principles and personal growth, not by some unhealthy practices but with genuine recovery.

If you are a reverse addict, maybe in a relationship with an addict in early recovery, maybe still smarting from the way the last relationship ended? Place yourself in this story and ask yourself “what needs to happen now”? Understand that you need a recovery every bit as much as your addicted partners do. If they are in early recovery, look out for your own flipping towards the selfish side and modify your behaviour so as to include genuine recovery principles. Understand that your boundaries need to firm up and that you may have a natural attraction to people who manipulate and use others. Don’t be fooled any longer by the idea that the nicer you are to people the more you will attract caring people towards you. Being overly giving and helpful does not attract nice people, it attracts people who are manipulative and abusive. So head for balance in your helpfulness and your caring.

If you identify with any of these positions and want to know more please email me for further information

Domestic abuse – Where the addict is made

Domestic abuse – Where the addict is made

Recently I watched a programme on the BBC which had been made from the experiences of one of our most famous footballers, Ian Wright. Although domestic abuse is not my area of expertise there is no doubt in my mind that the trauma of domestic abuse produces lots of dependence and addiction issues. I was fascinated to see several aspects of the film resonating with my approach and my experience. Because of this I thought I would write something around the programme, to firstly encourage you to watch the film yourself if you are thinking about your own recovery, and, secondly, to say a few things about where I thought it came closest to my approach to recovery from addiction.

The best way to read this post may be to view the programme alongside your reading. I have provided time references on the left of the text. Here is a link to the show. 

I was mainly drawn to this programme after a client mentioned it saying “he sees a Consultant Psychiatrist. She talks like you”. I am always fascinated to see where the medical colleagues are using some of the same ideas that I base my work on. These ideas are largely coming from the neuroscience research being done with the latest technology. We have an ability to study the brain now that they could have only dreamed about years ago and so much of what was pure observation is now being confirmed by digital analysis. This has led to me using the ‘parts’ model more and more in my work with addiction and, as a result, having greater and greater success in my efforts to help people to recover. But in this programme I also discovered more of a link from addiction back to the type of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse that takes place in families. I hope you can also get something out of this programme and my thoughts on it.

Domestic Abuse – where the addict is made

1:00 From the beginning of the programme we see the effects of domestic violent abuse. Psychological, physical and emotional abuse that was not spotted or attended to by the authorities. Most trauma therapists are now agreed that addiction is mainly caused by this sort of experience. In 90% of all domestic abuse cases there is a child present. The programme attempts to explore the effects of this abuse later in life, particularly through Ians’ own experiences.

14:48 One of the effects Ian talks about is the psychological abuse he experienced through his Mother saying she should have terminated him. Talking about his older Brother, he remembers him covering Ians ears so he wouldn’t hear the violence being perpetrated on their Mum. When she was being hit by their Step-Dad she would be saying ‘sorry’. These mixed messages and the fear generated by someone who weilds total power over you leave a legacy of fear and anger that emerge later in life when you find yourself in a position of power over others. This often results in you perpetrating your own abuse and Ian says he is desperate for that not to happen. It is this courage that fuels the programme.


23:25 At one point Ian visits a Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Nuria Gené-Cos who specialises in domestic abuse. There are several sections of film where it becomes obvious that Ian is suffering from trauma reactions. The Doctor confirms this. As a therapist and recovery coach I find this very encouraging. Here is someone from the field of psychiatry that is clearly approaching trauma and it’s consequences from a ‘parts’ perspective.

Working with your parts

24:20 Here we see the difference between the ‘medical’ or traditional model and the ‘parts’ approach. Ian describes his experience as a ‘saint and a devil’ sitting on his shoulder and how this is like a fight between his affection for his Mum and his memory of all the bad things she did. The Dr  first classifies this as a typpical trauma reaction. Next she addresses the seriousness of this by telling him that the betrayal of the Mother is the worst that can happen. She then goes on to begin explaining the ‘parts’ approach. She says that the continued betrayal “creates a different personality”.

26:20 This is the first mention of “the child part of you”. It is here the Dr asks “how old is the angry part of you”? Ian answer “9 or 10”. She adds “a child cannot run your life”. This is the section of the film where we are in the priveliged position of observing the Dr actually working with Ian. As a therapist I recognise that moment where the conversation changes from the abstract to the particular and her focus sharpens as she talks over him when he is about to go into his well worn ‘script’. She shows a lot of her experience in moments like these and wins his confidence and trust by her tone and her patience. We can notice things like when she chooses to be silent and wait for his processing and when she decides to speak and add to the position. Ian asks “so the angry part of me is a nine year old”? The Dr replies “That’s what it is”.

27:00 This is where the Dr tells Ian that he can do this ‘inside’. She begins to describe the child part as brave, reminding him that this part helped him to survive! Here she tells Ian to give the love the nine year old is still looking for. That he can do it now, as an adult. By calling him this ‘little one’ she helps Ian to develop a caring relationship with his younger self, replacing the angry, confused, regretful attitude. This is the beginning of developing the ‘harmonised self’ as opposed to the ‘conflicted self’.

This is the moment where the Dr is aligning herself most to the ‘parts’ model. It’s here that she starts Ian on the journey towards becoming his own primary care giver.  Notice how what she says separates Ian the adult from Ian the child. What she says constructs Ian as an adult with access to the nine year old who she constructs as still being present and looking for the love that Ian can give him. It is this ‘self-parenting’ that is one of the major components of this approach. Once we understand that there is no one better suited to do this parenting than us! Once we realise that there is no ‘time-line’ in the part of the brain that stores these experiences, and so the child is still there, still looking for what they didn’t get. Still available for relationship, and still playing a part in our lives, we can begin the work of healing and constructing the harmonised self.

27:30 Here she adds the principle of self care “You are okay now, not in danger now” Showing the difference between the brain and the mind. When the Dr says this she is making a distinction for Ian between the past and the present. She is aligning him with his mind (the front room) and not his brain (the back room) and introducing the idea of the ‘core’ or ‘adult’ self. 

28:20 Here Ian confirms that understanding that he has a nine year old that he needs to take care of is going to represent a “massive breakthrough for me”. Later he describes his nine year old as ‘an analogy’ which is a typical response of people when first introduced to this approach. He gets the idea but is still interpreting it from a traditional ‘blended’ perspective. After a few sessions my clients start to line up with the idea that we are not talking about analogies, this child part is real. As real as the adult that is your present self.

57:15 Here Ian says “if I could talk to that nine year old me, the one who was scared and lonely. I would say you will get through this. You are strong and you are worth something”. Again this is typical of people who have not yet developed this approach fully. It takes time to migrate to this model and its way of thinking because it is a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way you think about yourself. Once you learn to unblend your language, once you learn how consistent you and your parts are you can talk to that nine year old because he is still here. The more we think of these parts as real people the better this works.

Being your own primary care giver

56:03 The need for empathy as a part of recovery. Naomi helps Ian to see things from his Mums position. Empathy is such a large part of our relationship building. When Naomi explores Ians Mums experience she broadens the story out. Thereby placing Ian’s experience in a larger story. We are all sons and daughters of someone and we are all subject to our past, but it does not have to dictate our future. To the extent that we can see the humanity of our abuser we can then develop more understanding of our own experience. The more we see someone elses suffering, the more we understand why they did the things they did.

The need for pastoral care

31:30 Ian also includes his school experiences and learns about how much things have changed. He learns about the way that disregulated behaviour would be spotted and attended to straight away.

32:20 Here Ian meets Mr Anthony Alexander who is the Pastoral Care worker in the school. Ian talks about the way things have changed over the years and how impotrtant it is for the community that this work with children who witness abuse in their homes are offered support.

38:18 Here Ian meets some of the workers that support families in crisis. The programme he looks at is called ‘safecore’. It offers perpetrators of abuse (who are often victims themselves) a residential package of care and support that helps the whole family make progress. These programmes are often time limited and can only offer the tools needed. It is the family themselves that must do the work of recovery if things are to change.

Being the jewel in someones life

28:24 Here Ian introduces the jewel in his life, his teacher Mr Pigden. Ian tells us how important this man was in his life. Self worth is added by these relationships. When we appreciate the ones that added to the richness of our lives, the ones that connected us with our worth, our value, we are connected with love. It is this love connection that saves us. It is this connection that resurfaces, sometimes years later. When we are reflecting on the way things went wrong. When we are older and have perspective on things. It is often here that these amazing ‘jewels’ resurface. Like rocks appearing as the tide goes out they are solid when everything else is moving. They are consistent when everything else changes.

34:21 Tribute to Mr Pigden. Here Ian reads the plaque that stands as a tribute to this man. Ian helps us understand the importance of his teachers influence on his life. In the current climate of extreme opinions and disconnection don’t let anyone tell you that real core values have been forgotten. Captain Tom received over thirty million in his ‘just giving’ campaign after setting a target of just £1000. Ians tweet about Mr Pigden has at the time of writing had over four million views. Always remember that what connects us is more important than what separates us.

43:10 Here Ian talks about the value of having people who care about you in your life.

The jewels in my life

My life has included two jewels. I honestly do not know where I would be now without them. My Aunt Sally was someone who provided loving care when no one else did. She was in my life when I lived in Pennington. From birth to around 6years old. Most of my best memories are when I was at her house, It was a small terraced two up two down cottage with an outside toilet and no bathroom. I don’t really know why I was there so often or where my sisters where but it was the atmosphere that I remember the most. So calm, so loving. I could play in the sink with aeroplanes made from clothes pegs! A long way from ipads and childrens Netflix. We did watch Captain Pugwash and Andy Pandy together though. But my favourite memory of all is sitting on her knee while she read to me from a book titled ‘around the world in colour’. It had great illustrations about other cultures and my imagination flourished as she read to me about gauchos and Russian winters, Eskimos and Aborigines.

The Reverend Plant was another jewel in my life. He was a Vicar at the Church were I went to Sunday School. In many ways he was a typical C of E Vicar, even down to the ‘Vicar voice’ and as such, was an easy target as all Pastors must be. I loved football and, as well as the many other things he was doing, he ran a football team. I remember warming our feet in front of his fire after playing football in the cold. He ran a Sunday school were we would have drawing competitions which I really enjoyed. But my best memory of the Rev was just the atmosphere of loving calmness around him, an atmosphere that he created wherever he went and whoever he was with. Very similar to my Aunt Sally it was the atmosphere I loved. I would not have been able to explain that at the time of course. I just knew that it was attractive to me. Little did I know that I would be writing about these things sixty years later as the most important parts of my development. When I want to meditate and relax these days, I spend time in my Aunt Sallys tiny front room, on her knee, being read to. Just being in the presence of someone who finds me delightful.

The role alcohol often takes

16:20 Ian talks to  Charlie Webster who recalled memorising where the floor noises where in their home so she could move around without being heard because this would make ‘him’ angry. This is a typical childs response to abusive parents as it attempts to ‘make him less angry’. She also makes the distinction between physical and psychological abuse which is worse than the beatings. She makes the point that it isn’t the childs fault but rather quotes something from the counsellors book “I couldn’t leave the field of play”. Alcohol is mentioned regularly as the participants recall their experiences.

19:10 Paul mentions something that I experienced myself. He talks about his Dad watching him play football. Paul was the goalkeeper and his Dad would laugh when he didn’t save the ball as well as a consistent shower of abuse during the game. The one time my Dad came to see me play football I scored a hat trick and when I saw them afterwards all he said was “If I was the referee you would have been sent off”.

40:05 Here as part of the safecore programme we learn that both parents have stopped drinking. This sounds like a decision they came to themselves as it is unlikely to be part of the programme they were on. Although it is not highlighted we get the impression that none of the progress that has been made in their communication and understanding of each other would have been possible without abstaining from alcohol.

53:45 Here in another example that involves stopping drinking Naomi talks about how she was abused and did not know how to get out of it. She turned to hard drink, eventually stopping as part of her rehabilitation. Again we see that stopping drinking is often a huge part of any rehabilitation and recovery from domestic abuse. The importance of abstaining from alcohol is not highlighted as before but the importance of it is obvious from the filming and the context.

The value of being cared for

23:00 At one point Ian tells us about his mixed feelings for his Mum. He both totally ‘adored her’ but at times he ‘totally hated her’. This is what makes the abuse from a caregiver so damaging to a young persons development and why people often have such anger problems later in life. We see the same pattern in Ians football career when he was so angry inside the relationship with the thing he loved the most. When we are mistreated by our care givers we ‘blend’ the mistreatment with our concept of love. The two things then become one. This is why we often see people continually engaging in relationships with abusive partners. If your dad hit you as part of loving you, you may only feel that someone really loves you when they hit you. In my counselling practice I have seen young women present their bruises like badges of honour. With a smile on their face they say things like “look what he’s done”. There is an ambivalence in their attitude, like they don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Overwhelming triggering – red mist

43:30 Ian talks about the lasting effect of growing up around anger. Lack of control, an inability to calm down. There are a few comments like “I couldn’t control myself” and “I couldn’t calm down”. These are examples of ‘triggered states’ where the triggering is so overwhelming it takes over everything you feel think say and do. Not everyone’s triggering is being filmed and made so public as was Ians but the shame of what we do in those states always lives on and can make us bury ourselves deeper into our addictions.

44:30 Ian then talks about how much he regrets these things, especially the fact that a lot of good people around him have had to let him go when they couldn’t get through to him.

This is the position so many of my clients are in when they enter treatment. So much damage and regret about the past that they wish had not happened but they couldn’t control. There is nothing more frustrating than the knowledge that you are making things worse by trying to improve things. Drinking alcohol or taking other drugs can seem to work at first, it may help someone control the thing that has been controlling them. But eventually, because it’s an unhealthy strategy it brings problems of its own. These problems come in two forms, firstly there are the indirect problems. These come as a result of the drugs effect on your time keeping, your attendance, your ability to pay for things and to pay back what you owe. All this destroys relationships and trust and can end in prosecution and illegal activity for so many. The direct problems come in the form of cognitive changes including memory loss and blackouts. As well as health problems that can become very serious. But the biggest problem of all is that it stops working! Now you have two problems, the one you started with and the drug problem which means that the cure has now become worse than the disease.

The recovery process – breaking the cycle

44:50 Once domestic violence has happened it needs support to change things. The Hampton Trust is one such place. Ian is visibly moved by several people and their commitment to change in the programme. He makes the case for helping anyone that comes forwards with these issues. Facing the problem often invoves doing the opposite of what our common sense tells us. Our ‘parts’ offer ‘quick fixes’ and don’t consider the future consequences. As the neuroscientists tell us ‘The amygdala can’t tell the time’. This means that what happens in the past is still with us, and that our brains reaction does not consider the consequences for our relationships. This often leads to addictive behaviour that helps the person survive the moment but leads to disastrous consequences that leave the family and friends shaking their heads in disbelief as to why an otherwise intelligent person would do such things. I know what it’s like to be in that trap. I know what it’s like to be caught in a cycle of ever increasing problems. Where everything you do makes it worse. But I broke the cycle. Against all the odds, like so many I found a way to outgrow these childhood difficulties. And so can you.

51:23 Ian talks about breaking the cycle of abuse in his own life. The programme may inspire you to consider your own recovery. Is it time for you to break the cycle in your family? If you think it may be that time for you, please contact me and I will offer you the tools that can make that possible. Thanks for taking the time to read this. 

The observer position

The observer position

The ‘observer’ position 

I want to say something more about one of the key points in this approach. In order to understand, develop and practice my method you must first develop your understanding of what I call the ‘observer position’. Things like a raised awareness of your parts and what triggers them. How and when they were constructed. As well as being able to communicate with them in a way that is ‘age appropriate’ are all things that depend on a good understanding and working knowledge of this ‘observer’ position.  

Did you ever say to yourself “why am I doing this” as you began yet another disastrous course of action? Somehow able to see how bad this is going to be and yet seemingly unable to stop yourself? If you have always thought of yourself as one thing doesn’t this double view seem strange? Who was talking to who at these moments? These questions are very difficult to answer from a traditional perspective. Actually, what you were doing was likely to be ‘observing’ yourself in a triggered moment. So what do we mean by this? And how can it help us to develop our recovery?

Defining the observer – your ‘core’ self 

The first thing to make sure of is that you have an idea of what this ‘real’ or ‘core self’ is. Who is it that is doing the observing? The first challenging idea to get hold of is that everyone, no matter how damaged, abused, has a core or real self. No matter how much of a checkered past you have, there is a core part of you that is unaffected by circumstance. That does not carry the flaws that you may have identified yourself with. If this is the first time you have read about these ideas then this will probably come as a shock to you so just take a minute to digest this. It means that every time you said something to yourself like “I’m such a liar” or “I’m a hopeless addict” or “I’m a waste of time” you were actually talking about a part of you, not the real you. 

The filter 

Your ‘core’ or ‘real’ self is your consciousness, your mind. Because it’s the part of you that makes sense of everything, you could think of it as the filter through which everything must pass. A translating point that makes meaning from everything you experience. You are doing it now as you read this. It is your consciousness in an un-triggered state. I want to promise you that if you could find a way to maintain this state even through difficult moments, you would never drink, use drugs or act out addictively again. Just allow yourself to imagine this now, remaining in your core state and making good decisions, improving relationships, and making progress in your chosen field. Unlike traditional forms of treatment that diagnose you and attempt to make you change and be less like you, this approach is asking you to be more like you!

Parts and self

So if that is your true self then any feeling, thinking belief or attitude you experience is what we call a ‘part’ of you. That counts for anything that differs from your calm clear confident self. So how do we distinguish between you and your parts? I want you to keep this very simple. Think of the space above your eyes as ‘the front room’. This is your mind, where you live, where your consciousness resides. Imagine another room at the back of your head. This is where the part of your brain that reacts to threat lives. So we have a simple picture of two rooms that are communicating with each other. These rooms will eventually develop a better relationship as you practice. 

The front room is generally running your life, making decisions and deciding the next course of action, for the most part. The back room is watching out for threats constantly and reacts like lightning when it sees one. These times are what we call triggered moments or episodes. The best way to think of this is that your mind (front room) is running your life, it is doing so on licence from your brain! This licence can be revoked in a fraction of a second if your brain (the back room) identifies a threat.

Protection is normal

There are two issues we have to understand before we can use this idea effectively. The first one is that the idea of your brain protecting you this way is perfectly normal. You’ve probably heard of fight and flight? So it’s not a mental illness. Okay, but the second thing is that life teaches us that certain things are threatening when they never were or are no longer. Things like these are kept in the back room where there is no timeline, and so they remain fresh as the day they happened, even though you may have forgotten all about them in the front room. This can be a big problem for anyone vulnerable to addiction. So the point is that there are times when a very basic part of your brain is running your life, not you.

Taking on board the idea that at these times it was not your core self running your life but was actually your brain trying to protect you from threat is a big deal. Understanding that you have an untainted core, a part of you that is not just a bit calmer, but is pure calm. Not just a bit clearer but is pure clarity. Of course the way you have been viewing yourself in a more traditional negative view fits right into the medical model and has probably had you reading lots of books, doing lots of exercises and maybe taking some pills. Once you start to practice working on the relationship between your parts and your core self you probably won’t be needing those things any more. No need to work on ‘changing’ yourself any more, now you can learn to access what you already have. Changing yourself is a bit like asking a tiger to change to spots instead of stripes! 

The state is where we start

All your parts are consistent. This is an important idea when you consider that you will be coming up against many years of training from the medical model that told you that you were very inconsistent. Of course this is a rational conclusion when you think of yourself as one thing. I want you to think of this recovery approach as swapping one inconsistent self with a set of consistent selves. Each of your parts is extremely consistent. They tend to turn up in the same way and for the same reasons. The difference is that the core self is the ‘untriggered’ part. The ‘you’ that is present when no triggering is happening. In order to know your parts better you need to understand the core ‘state’ of your adult self. This state is described in various ways by different religions, philosophies and therapists but, many years of neuroscience research has identified eight words which characterize and encompass the qualities of the core self. These are the ‘resources’ of the adult self. The good news is that you already have them! You need to learn them and, by understanding them better, you will be able to identify when they are not present.  


The resources 

Here are the eight words we use to understand our adult states resources. 

Calm Clear Curious Creative Confident

Courageous Connected Compassionate.

When you are in your adult state you will be able to identify with all of these words. Try first making a list of all eight words and ask yourself if you can identify with all of them in your current state. Notice any that seem to be absent. Now write another list alongside the first. This list should be how it feels when the resources are missing, their opposite if you like. So Calm becomes ‘panicky’ etc. It might look something like this;

Panic Confused Dogmatic Flat

Unconfident Frightened Disconnected Cold

Here is a table that makes these opposites clear.

Certain, Dogmatic or having a strong agenda
Flat or feeling you have no options
Unconfident, nervous or anxious
Frightened, maybe a feeling you must stay safe
Disconnected from people and life
Cold or having no feeling for others


Think of these opposites as the default position (on the left) and the way you often feel (on the right) when you are triggered by something and your brain takes over. So any time you find yourself losing any of these resources because of how someone has spoken to you or dealt with you, or even if you have had a thought yourself that has changed your state, you should assume that you are no longer in your adult state. The thought or observation that you are no longer in your ‘real state’ is made from the observer position.  

If you have found yourself saying things like “I’m hopeless and unreliable” or “I’m too angry to hold down a job” then this practice can help you massively. Since these flaws are not part of your adult self you can learn, as part of your practice, not to ‘act out’ of them but to observe them. The first thing to realise when you start practicing is that your core state is not something to achieve, it’s your default position! This is another massive shift from the traditional approaches. You have probably thought of recovery as something that is almost impossible to achieve, wrong! Something you have to fight for, wrong! Think of your core state as something that happens when the other states ‘step back’ and trust you more.

The practice

The simple way to understand the aims of the ‘observer position’ is to think of ‘re-triggering’ the adult. So when circumstances trigger your brain to protect you, your practice is to get your core self back in the driving seat. This is done not by fighting or demanding things of yourself, but by negotiating with your brain, asking it to trust you more. Think of your core state as a state of trust between the two rooms. When you decided what you wanted for breakfast this morning your brain ‘trusted’ you to make that decision. So triggering is a lack of trust, a way your brain protects you because it does not trust you to stay safe in this particular circumstance.

 Try this experiment now. Think about the last time (or the next time) you experienced this triggered state. Run it as a movie in your head or, if this is too triggering, run it as a movie on a clear space on the wall opposite you. As you watch this movie of yourself in an agitated state, notice how calm the part of you that is doing the observing! Even when you are triggered into an extreme state you can often observe from your ‘core’ state of calm confidence. It is from this position that you can start the negotiations.

 If you feel anything other than calm when you observe your parts behaviour then put the brakes on the negotiation. This is because, occasionally one part can observe (and judge) the other. These are called ‘polarised’ parts and usually take an opposite (and judgemental) position on the part that is triggered. The main thing to notice is always your ‘state’. Itis your calm confident courageous state that tells you that there is a good blend of adult. If you are feeling anything else then assume it’s a part and step back another level and observe the two of them interacting. Once you get the calm centre you can begin the negotiations.

The Family Car 

Think of yourself driving a car. In the car are several others (your parts). You could consider these parts as your ‘inner family’. Your brain is looking a long way down the road and sometimes sees a problem. Saying to itself “if we carry on down this road we are going to be in danger”. Removing you from the driving seat one of the parts takes over and turns down another road (to be safe). This road could involve activities such as drugs or alcohol, gambling or any other form of addiction or dependence. The part does not see the difficulty with this, only that it has protected you from the threat of the road you were on. This is because your parts are younger (sometimes much younger) than you are now. Think about it, if your part is eight years of age then you can only expect the kind of solution an an eight year old would come out with. Your parts do not have your experience, your maturity or your wisdom. Often they do not share your beliefs or your attitudes. Thinking about the age of your part will often give you an idea of how to engage with it. But however you try to engage, always avoid fighting!

Negotiate never demand

If you fight for possession of the steering wheel you will probably lose. Remember your brain thinks it is protecting your life! It’s not going to stop doing that. So your practice is to aim for a negotiated settlement. Always try your best to avoid any fighting or demanding when triggered. Even if you were to win the steering wheel back for a little while it is likely that your brain will eventually overpower you. Trust is the result of a negotiated settlement. Once your brain trusts you with something, it will trust you forever! So this is the best approach for two reasons, the first I have already mentioned, which is that you will probably lose. The second reason is because it is the appropriate approach when someone is trying to help you! It’s a good idea to think about the age of your part before attempting to negotiate. This is because parenting works best of its age appropriate. If you get the sense that your part is a toddler then parent in the way that seems appropriate for that age. If your part seems more like a teenage then negotiation is the way forwards.

Taking responsibility for yourself 

Western culture has for years taught us to expect that a ‘special someone’ is going to be our primary ‘caregiver’. We are encouraged that when we find them they will effectively manage our flaws and vulnerabilities. Of course this idea can also lead us to believing that we are supposed to do that for someone else. This leads to all sorts of problems with our boundaries and, like any other stored belief, will not change until we change it.

Developing the observer position, as well as the practices that follow from it, will encourage you to become your own primary caretaker. The Captain of your ship, the driver in your car. Whether you think of yourself as a Captain with a crew, or a car driver with a family, you will benefit from the practice of ‘observing’ your parts from the core position.

Building your ground floor

Building your ground floor

From survival to flourishing

Whether you have been down and out, or what used to be called a ‘high functioning’ addict, you will have been used to employing some form of manipulation, denial or downright deceipt. Probably a mixture of all the above. These things become a lifestyle and ensure that anything you build will not last.

Because you have taken the building Recovery approach you will now have planned your recovery. Thought about where you want to live and what design is good for you. You have thought about the cost and made sure that you are willing to pay it. You have built a solid and stable foundation that your new home will stand on. Now it’s time to think about your approach to life and how that has shaped your relationships.


white and pink petaled flowers

There is always some form of deceipt in any addictive lifestyle. It’s part of secrecy and the need to keep people out, as well as the security acheived when we know something they don’t! It’s now time to consider the nature of this strategy. I would basically describe it as a survival strategy. Now there’s nothing wrong with that. If you hadn’t survived you wouldn’t be reading this and you couldn’t build anything! But we survive in order to flourish and the ground floor is all about learning how to flourish as part of a normal lifestyle. So how do we shift from survival to flourishing? We use the right materials to build with.

What materials will you use?

When we think about a building we think about something that will last, something that will shelter us in good times and bad. This means using the best materials we can afford. Your aim is to build something that will last a lifetime. Something that you are happy to live in. A home that is fit for purpose. This can only be done with the best materials. 

Appearance over Reality

Your addicted lifestyle meant using survival techniques a lot of the time. This meant lying and trying to cover things up when your addiction got in the way of what you had promised someone you would do, or somewhere you would be or something you would pay. This is all part of a survival approach and is very short term. It does not build good relationships. It does not really build anything.

assorted metal bars

As we move from a survival strategy to a flourishing strategy we must use better building materials. I want to look at some of the most important materials now.

Honesty, Integrity, humility, vulnerability, boundaries and relationships. These are character qualities but in this approach we think of these things as building materials. The better the materials, the better the build!

But first the question, what is it that attracts us to poor quality materials? Obviously it’s the cheaper price. When you skimped on honesty, when you didn’t consider integrity. When you were too afraid to show vulnerability. When you didn’t build good relationships by managing the boundaries. All these times added up to a poor standard of building and so when the bad weather came, the whole thing would come crashing down.

These things can be grouped together in this way, appearances over reality. When we use poor quality insulation in the walls no one will see it. When we use cheap wiring, wood and other materials that are not the required strength or thickness, we are more interested in appearance over reality.  

The reasons you did this are both complex and simple. In that the psychiatrist would cite narcissistic tendency (complex) and the people who know you would say you are a liar (simple). The point is that we want to change to a flourishing strategy, so how do we need to do things differently? Number one advice, avoid extremes!

People with addictive tendencies tend to be people of extremes. More is always better, right? So your first reaction tends to be to change everything, now! Try to avoid this. Think about a dial, say to a stereo player or to the central heating. Think about turning that dial 5% more. That’s right. 5% is a good shift. And there are two reasons for it not being more. First you don’t want to over challenge yourself. Second you want to be fair to people that know you. 5% means that they wouldn’t be too shocked by the changes. 

Ask yourself, could I be 5% more honest with this person? Could I be 5% more vulnerable in this relationship? Could I be 5% more direct with this situation? All these changes help you in your aim to build well and to build substantially.

What are my challenges?

Everyone is unique! Your challenges will be subtly or majorly different to others. So there is no general fit here. I just want to make sure that you are able to discern what your particular challenges are. And that you know the reasons why you might find this difficult.In your addicted lifestyle, you developed the belief that suffering of any kind, even ordinary discomfort, was to be avoided. And worse, that it was dangerous to your health! Neither of which was true. No matter what drug you took or what behaviour you acted out with, it became a substitute for feelings. It helped you to avoid the pain of growth.

It’s time now to accept the idea that challenges are good for us. That they help us to grow. But that they are also uncomfortable and that discomfort is a part of normal life.

For some the greatest challenges are honesty. This is often because they are used to the security of knowing something others don’t.

For some the greatest challenge will be authenticity and vulnerability. This is often because they have a history of ridicule or physical abuse. They have learned not to let others have anything that they may use against them.

chess pieces on wooden chess board

Check your relationships room by room

couch near painting

The rooms you have designed offer you a way of looking at your relationships in a more focussed way. By placing each relationship in a particular room you are setting a context for the relationship and, as a result, a way of assessing the quality of the relationship.

When you place a person in a certain room that room sets certain expectations of that relationship. It helps you think about what the relationship should include and not include.

So the initial question is “is this person in the right room?”. If you have the wrong room then the relationship will always be problematic. It may surprise you to find that you have people in the wrong room, but it’s quite common.

This is often found in the rooms of friends and work for instance. Sometimes our relationships need to be divided in more subtle ways, such as mutual intrest aquantances, friends and close friends.

Once you have our rooms designed you can then make sure you have the right people in the right rooms. Only when you have the right people in the right rooms can you properly understand and then apply the idea of boundaries.

Let’s do that together now. 

Are your boundary fences in the right place?

Boundaries are a whole subject in themselves. I want to keep this idea simple and powerful for you. There are only three possibilities here. Number one – Your boundary is in the right place. Number two – Your boundary fence is too far from your house. Number three – Your boundary fence is too close to your house. Let’s assume that option one is fine and needs no further scrutiny. We’ll take the other two one at a time.

Option two – your fence is too far away from your house. This means that you are expecting someone to mow your lawn! In practice this means that you are not taking enough responsibility for your stuff, or you are not recognising what is yours and what is not yours. When you move your fence a little further from the house you may experience some reaction from your own ‘parts’ or from the other person in the relationship. Remember, there’s a lot of history here. 

pink petaled flowers blooms near fence

Option three – your fence is too close to your house. This means that you are mowing someone elses lawn. In practice this means that you are expecting yourself to take responsibility for something that is not yours. Again, when you move the fence to the right place expect some reaction from your own ‘part’, which may expect you to keep doing what you have always done. Or the other person, who may well expect the same.

In this context we are thinking of the people in your life in terms of developing relationships. This involves some risk. When you put your boundary in the right place it could mean the end of that particular relationship. When you put your fences in the right places you will be changing the structure of your social life. It could mean difficulties at work. This is one of the main challenges of moving home.

Which rooms am I neglecting?

Remember when you designed your floor plan for your recovery building? Well don’t neglect this idea. You have a plan, now stick to it. Check your plan against your lived experience. Are you spending the right amount of time in the right rooms? Or are you tending towards the old building floor plan? Constant scrutiny on this will serve you well over time.

Am I building too fast or too slow?

black and white wooden board

I’ve touched on this in the ‘NORMALITY‘ Blog but just to underline it’s importance let me go over the main points. This is all about maintaining the level of challenge to yourself. In order to keep growing and developing you must keep the challenges to yourself at the right level. Not too easy but not overwhelming. In our metaphor we think of this as building too fast or too slow.

If you are in your second year of recovery but have not yet developed relationships with your close family or have not yet applied for that job etc etc. Then you are building too slowly. If you are in your first year of recovery and have started your own Company and hired dozens of people to work for you, then you are probably building too quickly.

Of course this is a general assessment and cannot take into account your personal abilities and history.


pink petaled flowers blooms near fence
black and white wooden board
couch near painting
chess pieces on wooden chess board


The Ground Floor – Normal life

At this point I will assume that you have a solid and stable foundation. If you do not, don’t worry. Try to concentrate on the relationships inside any room that is unstable or weak and allow yourself to know what it is about that relationship that gives them that level of power over your life. As much as real life will allow you to avoid any substantial ‘building’ in this room. When you can say that it’s solid and stable, come back to this chapter and start the next stage.

The ground floor is all about ‘normal’ functioning and so can include all of the following:


  •         Some form of employment or attendance at school
  •         Paying bills or not ‘lending’ money that does not get paid back.
  •         Personal hygiene
  •         Getting your own place and looking after it
  •         Maintaining good relationships with work colleagues
  •         Shopping and nutrition
  •         Budgeting and saving
  •         Developing better communication skills
  •         Developing personal integrity


We define this floor as finished when we can say that we can;


“Function in society with family friends and colleagues

in a way that can be maintained and developed”


Before we go any further we need to take a look at possibly the most contentious word in this Chapter ‘normality’. What is it? Is it achievable? Is it even desirable? Well it is important that you know my answers to these questions. Normality is functioning in society without falling apart or spinning off into chaos. Your recovered self is going to live there! Yes and yes are my answers to the next two questions.

“But who can know what normality is”? I hear you say. As someone who has struggled with addiction I say you already know what normality is. You have spent so long being ‘abnormal’ you are actually an expert on normality! You may have spent years looking at ‘normal’ people. Maybe you rejected them as “too boring”. I know I did. The last thing I wanted to be was ‘normal’. But I was kidding myself. Secretly I wanted to be able to do all the things they were doing, but I couldn’t do them and when I tried I could not keep them up. Your ‘addicted self’ is always going to tell you that ‘normality is boring’ but your recovered self will know that normality does not hold back your creativity or your individuality.

The first thing we need to do is make a useful distinction between what is normal and what is conformity (I advise you to do this ‘distinction’ exercise a lot (ref)). You see what is average is not normal. It is simply a gauge to use. 


My favourite story about conformity comes from the Second World War. The American Air Force put a tremendous amount of work into measuring all their pilots to find the average size height and weight of everyone that was going to fly the jets. They did this to help them to design the perfect seat cockpit and controls. After many accidents and problems a young scientist named Daniels realised that no one was actually ‘average’. These seats that should suit everyone because they were the average of everyone but were suitable for no one! They could not find one average person!

So normality is not conformity to the average. Rather it is your ability to flourish when you engage with, react and respond to society’s rules and guidelines. This ground floor is all about developing your ability to manage yourself in a ‘normal’ environment. 

So average is just a useful term to compare yourself to. Not so you can be it (which no one is), just so that you can know yourself a little better and see that you are within certain parameters. Finally if you are still not sure about this ‘normal’ word, let me try one final question to see if I can tip you towards acceptance. As an ‘addicted self’ did you lead an abnormal life? Of course you did! Okay, I cheated, it’s two questions. How did you know it was abnormal? Good. Looks like we finally convinced you!

This is not easy. Everyone struggles with this at times. But the effort and commitment you put into this acceptance will pay dividends. It will promote better relationships and it will provide a platform for the next floor which is about pursuing your dreams. Most importantly it will develop your recovered self into maturity. It will help you grow up!

Building at the right speed

Your ground floor is built upon the foundation and conforms to the design of the rooms etc. It is at this point that one of our strongest ‘checks’ comes into play which is the idea of building speed. The reflective question is “are you building too fast or too slow”? Again this is part of developing your ‘recovered self’ and makes you responsible for your own thinking. Clearly building on an infirm foundation is going too fast but you are just as likely to be tempted to go too slow. 

What does too slow look like?

There are lots of ways that you may be building too slow. I will look at two very typical ones now. Being too safe and being too small. 

Being too safe

As an ‘addicted self’ you may have a history of chronic failure and this can often lead to ‘over building’. Ask yourself now “what size do you want your house”? If your ‘recovery house’ is going to be ‘normal sized’ and your aim is to live a normal life with a family and a job then there is no need to dig foundations for a skyscraper! When I see someone doing this I would be looking for someone who has not changed in a long time. I would look for ‘safe’ behaviour that is becoming ritualised. I would look for someone who was not challenging themselves to grow.

Being too small

Largely this type of thinking comes from a lack of distinction between your addicted self and your recovered self. I always ask my groups to put all ‘negative talk’ in past tense. This helps us to understand that things that were beyond us may not be beyond us now. Ask yourself now, if you have been living in a small tent and then move into a large house, would you still huddle down in a corner as if you were still in the tent?

When I see this type of thing it usually involves some level of shame or bullying in the parenting or the schoolyard. The addicted self is often carrying a legacy of ‘not believing in themselves’ that needs processing in some form of therapy.

What does too fast look like?

Again, for the sake of brevity I will look at two very typical ways of going too fast. There may be many others. Two very common ways I see this are ‘Building in the wrong order’ and ‘building badly’. 


Building in the wrong order

This idea of ‘order’ is so obvious when we place our recovery back in the metaphor of a building. Imagine turning up at the building site when they are still in a muddy field pouring concrete and trying to put up curtains! There is a natural order to building your recovery in the same way as a natural order to building a house. 

So the real purpose and function of the ground floor turns out to be a support for the first floor. It’s important that we look ahead and when we do, we see a first floor that is built upon this ground floor. As we start to look at the ‘higher’ level it will become clear that we cannot be up there without the support of the ground floor. So we might say that the function of the ground floor is to support the first floor. Let’s place that back into the context of recovery. The ability to live normally amongst others is the main support when we push forwards to higher goals. I can put it even simpler. There isn’t much point trying to open your own restaurant when you can’t hold down an assistant’s job at McDonalds!

Building badly

This is another way of saying “I’m frustrated because I should already have all this”. Or put another way “I’m not where I should be in life”. If this is your attitude and you have not fully accepted your condition and past you will probably go too fast and build badly.

If this is you then I advise you to stop building and consider talking more about your feelings of frustration at not being where you ‘should’ be. Let me use another example here to make this clear.


Adam is a typical addict and has been using for fifteen years. He has been ‘clean’ for six months. He is 30 years old. Before he got overwhelmed by his addiction to certain drugs he developed his own business and owned two homes, one of which he allowed his daughter to live in on a reduced rent. He drove an expensive new car and was heading to a very successful future. When I met him he was bitterly frustrated and resentful. He had lost his homes and his business. He was ‘clean’ but not recovered. He was in grave danger of attempting to build a ‘first floor’ before his ‘ground floor’. Picture now what a ‘first floor’ would look like built on a flimsy ground floor. Or worse still, levitating on nothing! 

Adam had some amazing skills and professional ability. He had built a good Company but he lacked basic skills and did not have the humility to develop them because he was not willing to ‘process’ his frustrations, but was intent in ‘acting out’ of them. He wanted to skip this step and go straight back to where he had been. What he needed to understand was that the fifteen years of his addiction were fifteen years when everyone else was learning from their mistakes and growing from their pain and disappointment, he wasn’t. 

That learning comes to a person over the next two to five years in a compressed form. 

So, imagine coping with fifteen years of learning in two years. One of the main reasons why it is so hard to recover and why you need to talk, talk, talk, and then talk some more! I often say that if a person in the first two years of their recovery is not talking regularly about their ‘stuff’ (at least twice a week) they are definitely not keeping up with their changes.


Building materials 

Building a house takes several different skills, such as brick laying, surveying, carpentry, plumbing and electrical, plastering and decorating as well as design skills and several different materials. Now is a good time to talk a bit more about resources.


When you try to do anything you need to think about resources. If you are building a house then you will need cement and bricks. Windows and doors. When it’s about your personal growth the resources are yours, not something you can go and buy. 

When I tried to recover they told me I had to change. Great! But how do I do that? When I looked into my ‘bag of resources’ I saw nothing but defects! They said I need to get ‘more honest’. But the closest thing to that I had in my bag was ‘dishonesty’. So my early efforts at being more honest were me just trying to ‘lie better’. They said I need to be more ‘giving’ and I redoubled my efforts at controlling people better. They said I needed to communicate better but in my bag there was only bullying, shouting, manipulation, hostage taking and running away. 

It is important to acknowledge the time it will take to develop these resources and that these are the things we build with. Again, these are ground floor skills and so must be developed before attempting first floor building.


One of the group sessions I enjoy the most is when we look at the idea of ‘materials’. This is what we will be using to build with and opening up this subject is one of the most fruitful and fascinating aspects of the groups work. I start by asking the group about ‘materials’. I often ask what materials they will use and typical responses are things like honesty, humility courage determination and education. In order to convince people they need to take these materials seriously I help them to make a connection between the quality of the materials and the overall quality of the build. I start talking about authenticity! Once you realise that your commitment to good principles will build somewhere that will not only stand the test of time but will be somewhere you want to live you will be on the right track. 

It is useful to ask yourself about how you may have skimped on these materials in the past and how you are going to build with better materials in the future. When asking about materials I often find how rich the building  metaphor is and the way it offers a clear picture of what is needed.

We can see that if the foundation is not solid and well planned the whole house will be shaky. Likewise we can easily see that poor quality materials in any aspect of the build will leave us with a poor construction. Knowing yourself and your past experience what materials do you feel are necessary and which have been the most expensive or rare. Cost is always a factor. When you are building your recovery, the materials you will use need to be of the best quality you can afford.

Communication – Direct and Indirect

Your ground floor is the part of the building where we learn how to engage with society in a ‘normal’ way. So that relationships such as those with work colleagues can be maintained without spinning off into chaos or degenerating into breakdown. This usually calls for better communication and so when looking at the quality of our building materials this is a big one and deserves some attention. 

My general approach is to encourage a shift from ‘indirect’ to ‘direct’ communication. Direct communication is defined as looking the other person in the eye and telling them the truth. Indirect communication is everything else. This idea follows the principle from communication theory that says that ‘everything is communication’.

I want you to try an exercise now that I often use with my groups. Once you understand the nature of this exercise you can apply it in all your relationships. This can be work colleagues partners or family. It can be something really simple like a tone of voice you often have or a ‘body language’ component. It could be a behavioural element like ‘shutting the cupboard door a little too loudly’, ‘rolling your eyes’, or ‘tutting’. It could be a facial expression or the phone call you didn’t make. The question I want you to think about is “if this thing you do could speak, what would it be saying to them”? When you see what you are trying to say, first of all accept that you have been ‘saying something without facing the consequences of saying it’. Now take what you have found and follow the process below.

1 Tell yourself what you really wanted to say when you communicated indirectly (even including the swearing).

2 Take the communication through the three filters of politeness, assertiveness and authenticity. 

3 Decide whether to communicate directly.

So let’s take this process one step at a time.

Step 1 We ‘translate’ our act of communication into a simple sentence. Now because we are never going to say this to anyone else we can start to be honest with ourselves but because we are new to this we need to realise that this is not easy, we need to concentrate and practice to make sure that we have got to the real meaning.

Step 2 is where we take our translation and filter out the things that make it difficult for us to say. We take out the offensiveness, next we take out the aggression, and finally we take out the falseness that can come in as part of the first two filters. So firstly we simply make it a polite message, by removing this we make our communication easier to hear. Next we make it assertive, it is important to understand that in communication terms telling someone to do something is ‘aggressive’, so this filter makes us the agent of change not the other. I will give examples of this at the end. The last filter is to really make sure that in using the first two filters we have not lost the main idea in the communication, in other words we keep it real.

Step 3 is about choosing whether to tell the person directly or not. Remember telling them is not always the best idea. We should take time to practice and get better at translation. Just understanding ourselves better  and learning what we are saying indirectly will be a huge health promoting activity.

Let me finish now with a couple of examples that should make this process more clear. You might have something like “stop BLEEP bothering me! You are always BLEEP going on at me”. So we have been honest and let ourselves know what it is we wanted them to know. Next we filter it. First we make it more polite and get something like “leave me alone, you never stop criticising me”. Next we make it assertive which takes it back to the ‘I’ position and we get something like “when you go on at me like that I feel got at and not good enough”. Finally we make sure it is authentic and we end up with “When you go on at me like that I don’t feel good enough and I want to ask you to leave me alone but I don’t know how to say it”.

Finally you need to decide if it is time to say this directly to the person in question, or if you should just reflect on this disclosure ourselves.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope it helped you to improve your self-knowledge. If you practice you will get better and it will tell you a lot about yourself and your relationships. This is the principle that we are taking into account at this stage

‘Psychological processes always work their way out’

As you build this floor you need to reflect on your changes in motivation and meaning. Does the room have the same aims and meaning for you at this stage as it did when planning or in the foundation stage?

Some ground floor questions to meditate on


Are you using every room as you designed it? (How you are spending your time and who with)?

Are you still happy with your original design? (Are you changing your ideas)?


Which relationships are in need of some attention (how do you need to change)?

Which boundaries have slipped (what do you need to change)?

Are you checking your foundation in each room (Is this pace safe for you)?


How are you changing your communication style?

What is the biggest block to your communicating well?

Are you developing a more direct communication style?

Which rooms am I communicating best in?


In which way do you need to develop your sense of responsibility in relationships?

How well are you using your most valuable asset (your past) to develop your communication and relationships?

3             Materials – Recovery building materials are things like honesty, humility, courage. It is important to check the quality of these materials.

4             Structure – As part of design and build we should also check that all the rooms needed in this recovery are included in the structure, including relationship, family, career and hobbies etc. Always remembering the room for the self!

 Also included at this level are two important features, the garden (boundaries) and the gate/front door. The fence is used to look at boundaries and we remind participants that every boundary is particular to a relationship, and every boundary is movable. The gate and the fence represent very important parts of our metaphor and it is worth taking a short detour to explain the way we use these further.

Exits – the gate

In order to explain this I am going to have to mention brain chemistry! There, I said it. But don’t worry, I am not going into any detail, just to say that addicts have a particular form of brain chemistry that allows them to have ‘exits’. It is important when you work with addicts that you understand this and that you help the addict understand that they are open to all kinds of shame and low self worth because they expect to react like other people. I explain that they have a different brain which allows you to ‘exit’. Even if someone drank like you or take drugs like you they would not get the same effect that you get as an addict.

If you think of your (internal) life as a room then an ‘exit’ is just that, it is a door with a lit sign above it marked ‘EXIT’. Normal brains do not have an exit door, people with normal brains remain themselves even when drunk or high. Of course they can still be harmed by these things and will show effects of drugs etc but will effectively become a more drunken version of themselves. The addict however appears to metamorphose into a completely different person when drunk or high. As an addict you have an option of not being you for a while if your ‘room’ becomes too uncomfortable with resentment or fear piling up in the corner. This is taken to extremes when you ‘black out’. This can be a calm decision based on something like boredom or it can be a panicky decision based on fear.

So what happens? It seems like you have the perfect answer! Just take a holiday from being you every time difficulties come! Unfortunately this does not work long term and eventually the cure becomes worse than the disease. Like any medication there are always side effects. By the time addicts get into this state they are usually so addicted that it seems impossible to stop. There is so much habituated behaviour going on.

Boundaries – the fence

One of the strongest and most important parts of our model is the idea of boundaries. A boundary is described exactly the same as a property fence and as we all know it is an important part of everyone’s lives. As part of this course I use boundaries in their most basic form, incorporating only two ideas

1                     That every boundary is particular to another person

2                     That every boundary is either too close to the house or too far away

If the boundary is too close we say that we are ‘mowing someone else’s lawn’. If it is too far away we say that “they are mowing our lawn”! In other words we are taking responsibility for something that is not ours or we are expecting someone else to be responsible for something that we should be attending to. Either way these are

Some foundation level questions to use in group


Is this design truly yours or has someone else designed your building?

Are you building in the right area?


Which materials do you value most?

Which materials have you tried to skimp on?


Have you included all the rooms you will need in your plan?

Which rooms are you most threatened in?

Have you planned your rooms correctly?

Are my boundaries in place?


Do you have a history of building your fence too close or too far away from the house?

In which relationships do the boundaries need to be adjusted?


1                     Is this the best place to build?

2                     Are you building too fast, or too slow?

3                     What rooms will you have in your house?

4                     Are you designing your house or someone else?

5                     What building materials will you use?

6                     Do you know your boundary lines?

7                     How solid is your foundation?

8                     Which rooms are not solid?

9                     How secure is your gate?