Inspirational Articles

A Salute to John Bradshaw

A Salute to John Bradshaw 

Conscious living Column
By Gord Riddell

A few months ago I had the honour of writing about the life and teachings of an iconic teacher and author, Dr. Wayne Dyer upon his passing. Remembered through a remarkable collection of his published works and videos, he lives on in the world of spiritual and self-awareness adherents. On May the 8th John Bradshaw passed away ate age of 82. Another iconic teacher, writer and motivator, John Bradshaw entered the world of spirit.

Some may not be as familiar with John Bradshaw, since his major works occurred through the 1980’s and 1990’s. His special contributions found voice in the recovery movement in the later part of last century. Himself a recovering alcoholic, John wrote and taught about the role of the family in the life of the addict. Not one to point fingers and lay blame, he espoused that by understanding our own history we could take responsibility for who we are today and own our history in order to grow from it. If we identified and owned where we came from and not deny our past, we would be in a much stronger position to change what wasn’t working and build upon those aspects of ourselves that did work.

John Bradshaw brought an understanding to the complexity of shame bringing it out of the closet. The role of the family and family secrets also topped the list of sensitive areas he championed. Although he has been associated with the recovery movement and its philosophies, he brought to the general public the knowledge of how shame affects us all and how the secrets that we keep can become the fuel for deepening our own shame. His book entitled, ‘Healing the Shame that Binds’ is a must read for anyone who is intent on helping themselves and others grow into their own awareness and believe in their own potential.

The All Consuming Nature of Shame

The insidious stranglehold of shame is not relegated to any one individual’s unique problems or issues, but it is in fact, multigenerational, dating back centuries in our history and within our own family and DNA. What makes shame so insidious is its message that keeps re-enforcing within us that we are inherently flawed, not good enough and not lovable. The difference between guilt and shame centres around who we are and not what we do. While guilt tells us we have done something wrong, stemming from our conscience, we can make amends, apologize to any persons we may have wronged and move on. It is not so straight forward with shame because it doesn’t revolve around what we do but merges completely with our beingness. It targets the very core of who we are. And who we are is not OKAY!

Bradshaw expounded upon the role that the family plays in the discomforts and issues we may have as adults today. Everything we know about how to do and how to be in relationships, communicate, how we show and express emotions, and what we believe to be true about our self; all originate and are learned in the families we grew up in. A shame-based family passes on the very shame that our parents themselves were contending with. The very presence of toxic shame in our environment has far reaching effects on how a child’s needs, wants and emotions are met, or more specifically not met. A toxically shamed adult has not the wherewithal to be concerned of others needs as they themselves are struggling to get their own needs met. 

Bradshaw identified the role of good shame was to remind us of our limitations and that we were human. It lets us know we are not God, but imperfect human beings. In the face of toxic shame, it is quite common to see behavioural and character traits emerge and are often referred to as ‘shameless’. When our toxic shame is so powerful enough we adopt behaviours and attitudes to cover up our shame. We cover up our shame and divert any attention away from our self so that no one can see the shame we are experiencing.

An individual who is defending themselves from the very painful state of toxic shame will exhibit some or even all of the traits that follow: Envy, Patronizing, Perfectionism, Controlling, Rage, Arrogance, Critical and Blaming, Judgemental and Moralising and Addictions. All these traits act not only as a shield, so that others don’t see our shame but it transfers our shame onto the other person. Each expression of these traits can leave the targeted person feeling shame and erroneously believing they are somehow responsible for either that person’s afflictions or to have to rescue and save them.

All of us want to have privacy, we don’t want the planet knowing everything about our private life. However, the problem with this sentiment is what we may be saying is privacy is actually the secrets we struggle to keep. Shame is held in place by the secrets we must protect. We may have personal secrets but we also have the family secrets we are expected to never divulge at the risk of making the family look bad. There is a saying which best captures this idea- “We are only as sick as our secrets”.


What we can do

Shame can be healed and transformed. 

1)The first thing is too find safe people with whom we can be open and confide in. Perhaps it is a paid professional or a best friend, probably not a great idea to have a family member fulfilling this role. Someone who is non-judgmental, not critical nor demanding to control outcomes.

2)Write down on a sheet of paper with your own handwriting what secrets you are carrying around and are burdened by. Be aware of how you feel emotionally and physically as you put this list together.

3)Read this paper to a trusted life affirming friend. Allow your self to feel the relief of not carrying the family secrets anymore.

4)Monitor your inner critical voice. Learn techniques to change the way you think. Change how you beat yourself up and undermine your own sense of worth

5)Distance yourself from those people who are shaming and critical. You don’t need to contend with their negative energy as well.

6)Join a group – formal or informal. The way to let go of shame is to be seen and heard and embraced for who you are, all of you including our inherent human flaws. 

It takes time to allow ourselves to be out there and to be seen. If you have had 30, 40 or 50 years of living a shamed based life, it doesn’t just disappear. No matter how old you are, you have the power within yourself to change it and live the life you want free of others criticisms, expectations and control.

John Bradshaw’s writings and teachings will live on and continue to Influence and inspire all who read his books or watch a video of his lectures. His deep rooted understanding of shame, the family, family secrets and their interplay and interactions will assist people for years to come helping them to break through and discover their true self. 

SPECIAL NOTE: At the time of writing I have learned, that one of Transformational Arts’ longest serving and much loved instructors, Dr. Helena Ovens, passed away on June 2, 2016. Helena taught Homeopathy, Bach Flower therapies and Pathology. A graduate of the College of Naturopathic Medicine, she maintained a private practise as a Naturopathic Doctor and joined TAC as an instructor over 20 years ago. Thank you Helena for your passion for teaching, your compassion for people and animals alike, and for your quirky sense of humour. We all have been blessed to have had you walk with us on this part of our journey! With much love!

Gord Riddell is co-founder of the Transformational Arts College of Spiritual and Holistic Training. Fall registration for all Professional Training Programs offered by the College is well underway. Programs now open include Spiritual Psychotherapy, Spiritual Director, Holistic Health, and Coaching. Our popular Psychospiritual courses “Discovering the Total Self” – a 10-part series of 8 week long courses are registering for July and September. Don’t forget our Summer Series workshops running weekly in July and August. For more information on these programs, call the College at 416-484-0454 or toll free 1-800-TAC-SELF or visit To receive our monthly e-newsletter email: