Part 1: The Iceberg Model
An Integrated Model of Addiction, Codependency, and the Emotional Wounding Process known as Adult-Child Syndrome
The Iceberg Model is a 30,000-foot integrated view of addiction, codependency, and the emotional wounding process known as Adult-Child Syndrome (ACA or ACDF) I have developed over the past 30 years.
The first part of The Iceberg presentation describes the emotional dependency needs of a child and explains the outcomes when those needs go relatively unmet. Children who do get their dependency needs met fully, on a regular basis, will thrive, flourish, and grow at a healthy pace. Here we examine how not getting these needs met causes the "original" wound of abandonment, infection of toxic shame, scab of contempt, and the development of a false sense of self.
We need to identify and resolve unfinished emotional wounds from the past. Read through the Iceberg Model once all of the way through. Then Read it again taking notes, you will need them later on this journey. If you get “triggered” into a painful emotional state, stop watching and write about it in your journal. (Yes, I am suggesting you start a journal if you have not already done so) Reach out for help and start therapy if, or when, you find something that needs attention.
Here is my favorite free online Journal
The Iceberg Model
I have included a transcript for those of you who would rather read about the Iceberg Model.
The Iceberg is one of two models that forms the foundation for my primary approach to therapy. This video will tell you a lot about my specialties and experience as a professional helper. The Iceberg represents a human being. The waterline is the dividing line between what's in our conscious awareness and what's in our subconscious. The deeper beneath the water you go, the deeper into our subconscious. Some things are close to the surface. Other issues might require a little personal archeology. When I put the word abandonment in here and I asked people what it means, 95% of the time I hear to be left alone or physically abandoned.
Many of us who grew up in a less than nurturing family understand that people can be there, but not really "be there" emotionally. When we come into the world as infants, we have a primal need for connection. This brings up a primal fear of abandonment because, without someone to take care of us, we would not survive. So, built into the nervous system of every child is a way to express a need for connection. They cry out for help. If that cry goes unanswered, then they turn up the volume and cry out for rescue.
Children need caretakers who can be attentive and responsive in the ideal situation. A caretaker must understand and reliably attend to the needs of the infant attentive. Caretakers need to be tuned in, available, and approachable. They need to be all about the child. When the child is wet, it gets changed. When it's hungry, it gets fed. When it's tired, it gets a nap. When it's fussy, it gets soothed and comforted almost every time. If this happens consistently, the child is more likely to develop a healthy attachment style, meaning they can form healthy attachments and relationships later on in life.
When a caretaker is absent, not reliable, or only inconsistently reliable, abandonment issues occur. As already mentioned, unmet childhood dependency needs set off alarms in the nervous system of the child. They cry for help, then they cry for rescue. each time this happens, a memory or feeling of abandonment gets stored up in the nervous system. Abandonment wounds are also known as attachment wounds. Attachment wounds can lead to dysfunctional attachment styles and therefore problems in relationships later on.
There are two groups of childhood dependency needs. The first group has to do with survival mode. Survival Dependency needs include food, shelter, clothing, medical attention, but also safety, and protection. A child must feel safe and protected or those alarms in the nervous system begin to get triggered. In order to feel safe, even when they're not, they have to idealize their caretakers.
They see parents as ten-foot-tall, bulletproof, godlike creatures. If I'm protected by a godlike creature, nothing can get to me. It is this need to idealize our caretakers that can lead to toxic shame. We'll talk more about that later on in the presentation.
The second group of dependency needs includes emotional dependency needs. This is the emotional nourishment that a child requires almost as much as food and water. Emotional dependency needs include time, attention, affection, and direction. There are two kinds of directions children need. The first is guidance and the second is discipline.
To a child, time equals love. Whatever mom and dad give their time to is what they love. They don't understand budgets, bills, or economics. Dad could be working all the time and have only a little time for the family as his way of showing love. But the children get it that dad loves work more than he does them.
To a child, attention equals worth or value. If these God-like creatures attend to me, they must think I'm valuable or worthy of their attention. Attending means much more than just listening to a child. It means knowing who they are, what they think, who their best friend is, what they're doing in school, what's the highlight of their day, and what's the “lowlight”? It's being actively engaged in their life. On their level, this means being involved, looking out for their best interests, and being available and approachable.
To a child affection equals approval. Hugs, kisses, Pats on the back, words of encouragement, bragging about the kids when they're in earshot, saying things like, I'm proud of you, I love you, I'm so happy you're in our family. I'm proud to be your mom or dad. All of these expressions tell a child that they measure up in the eyes of these Godlike creatures. Children hunger and thirst for these expressions of affection. For attention, for time, not necessarily the quantity of time as much as the quality of time, where all the other needs are being met as well.
If a child doesn't get enough attention, they become attention-seeking. If they don't get enough affection, they become approval-seeking, not because they want these things, but because they need these things. And yes, the rule of moderation applies here, too. Although it's difficult, parents can overdo it by giving too much time, attention, or affection. This may do harm just as well as not giving any at all.
This is because children need direction and limits as well. Kids are born not knowing how to do much of anything. Available and approachable parents will give them the time, attention, and affection necessary to teach their kids the how-tos of life; how to Cook a meal, how to build an engine, how to behave in public, and how to do math (Okay, maybe not new math).
Children are also born without the ability to stop themselves. They do not yet have internal control of their impulses. That's why God gave them external controls called parents. We are supposed to set the limits, 'here's the line. Don't step over it, or this is the consequence you can expect. There are probably half a dozen ways to raise a child.
Most of them work provided that they have one thing in common - consistency. A child needs to know where the line is and that they can expect a consequence for stepping over it. Eventually, when they come up to that line, they will pull back on their own reins thinking, 'I don't really want that consequence today. In this way, they develop impulse control, also known as self-discipline. They also learn the difference between right and wrong according to their family. It's this sense of right or wrong and the ability to control their own impulse that builds character.
I covered a lot about emotional dependency needs just now because they're critically important. There are two types of emotional wounds. Trauma wounds are from things that people do to us, such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Attachment wounds come from things that people did not do for us, such as providing for our childhood dependency needs. These wounds of unmet childhood dependency needs are often referred to as emotional abandonment.
Now, here I'd like to stress that this is not about blaming parents. Wounded people, wound people. Parents cannot demonstrate much more than they have been given. However, most parents are on a crusade that seems to make sure their kids have it better than they did. They even say such things. This is an expression of love, even if they did not have the wherewithal to meet their dependency needs fully and completely.
The original pain of abandonment is an emotional wound. I think of it like we have an emotional gas tank inside. If we get all of our needs met fully and completely, we feel full, content, happy, and satisfied. We feel those things that we want to feel. To the extent that we don't get those needs met, we feel empty. It may be that we get our needs met half the time, so we feel half full, but something's missing there's an ache or a longing or a desperate desire for connection.
If we barely get them met at all, then we can feel totally empty. I've heard it described as a black hole or a vacuum that sucks the life out of a child. A condition known as failure to thrive has been well documented due to unmet childhood dependency needs. Even worse, a child can have all of their survival needs met and still suffer to the point of death if they don't get their emotional needs met at all.
The pain of abandonment is an emotional wound. Like any other wound, it becomes infected if left untreated. I refer to the layer of toxic shame that forms over the top of that emotional wound as an emotional infection. Like any other infection, it spreads throughout the entire system. If it goes untreated during the first six or seven years of life, the infection of shame is experienced as a felt sense of inadequacy.
A child doesn't yet have the ability to form a narrative about why they feel so ashamed until they're about seven or eight. That's when a seemingly endless stream of questions just seems to pop into their heads. If you've ever been around a seven or eight-year-old child you know what I mean! The emotional wound of abandonment and that felt sense of shame causes them to begin to question themselves, their value, their worth, their love ability, and so forth. Unfortunately, when present, the emotional infection of toxic shame develops a voice that we later called the inner critic. And it gives them possible answers to those questions.
For example, a child that does not get enough quality time with one or more parents develops a sense of not being lovable (time=love), one that gets little attention feels unworthy or not good enough (attention=Worth), and one that gets little affection may not feel they "measure up" in the eyes of their god-like parent. One with little or no guidance can develop a sense of incompetence (guidance=competence). One with little or no discipline may begin to feel that they're not worth the effort because they'll never amount to anything (discipline=character).
So, as you can see, all of these unmet needs can result in core beliefs. These core beliefs, also known as mental filters, become deeply ingrained in the young mind of a child. Then they begin to live as if those beliefs are true! Now, just like any other infected wound, a scab begins to form on top. The emotional scab of contempt is all those crusty feelings of anger, bitterness, resentment, and, generally speaking, the life sucks syndrome.
That emotional scab of contempt lies just beneath the surface, covering up the emotional infection and emotional wound. All those angry, irritable, and bitter feelings have a lot of energy associated with them. That energy must go somewhere. Children learn to point the contempt inward itself or outward at others. If we internalize the contempt, we tend to have problems because anger turned inwards causes depression.
We become all about others and what they want, what they need, what they feel. We're full of shame so that if the sun doesn't come up, somehow I'm to blame. Our behaviors tend to hurt ourselves more than others. We have weak boundaries because we can't say no or you might leave. We cling to people for fear of abandonment and become dependent. We become all about pleasing those people who are important in our lives, so they won't leave. That primal fear of abandonment may be so strong that the internalizer may not be able to leave an unhealthy relationship without support and the development of internal resources.
Those who tend to externalize their contempt have problems with angry outbursts. They're all about themselves, what they want, what they need, what they feel. There's a shameless and blameless air about them. Nothing's ever their fault. And if all these other stupid people would do things their way, it would be a much better world. Their behaviors tend to hurt others more than themselves. They have rigid boundaries. You can't get through to them. You can't change their mind or convince them of anything. They profess to be anti-dependent, saying, "I don't need you, I don't need anyone." They are are intrusive and aggressive, meaning that you can say no, but they won't respect your boundary and walk right on through it.
The internalizer tends to be a codependent, the externalizer or counter=dependent. It's not really difficult to see how they can find each other, because if I'm all-about-me and you're all-about-me, then we're compatible.
Typically, people ask me if you can be both an internalizer and an externalizer. Yes, you can, but we tend to live on one side or the other in our primary relationships. Internalizers can only go so far before blowing up, and then they turn it back in word, where they beat themselves up for being human. Externalizers can become very childlike and dependent when their partner does work up the strength to leave, their sense of power evaporates and they become fully aware of their abandonment, shame, and contempt, at least for the time being, until they get comfortable again.
The emotional wound of abandonment, the infection of shame, and the scab of contempt create that free floating mass of pain just beneath the surface. That free-floating mass of pain creates in a child a false sense of who they are. A False Self. I say false because it's not true. I think I can prove that in a moment.
The free-floating mass of emotional pain makes the inner world of the child inhospitable. So they develop an external focus with things like video games, comic books, romance novels, and even getting in trouble at school. In general, they act out or engage in anything that keeps their focus pointed outward, things they don't like to do, such as homework, cause the mind to drift inward, which is very uncomfortable and can be a source of academic problems, social problems and behavioral acting out.
The child also reinforces that external focus by putting on a mask or cover up. I call this an invented self. It becomes the public facing image that covers up who they feel like they are. The mask or the Invented self begins to take shape in response to their needs being unmet. For example, in an alcoholic family, the alcoholic gets all wrapped up in their drinking. The codependent gets all wrapped up in the alcoholic. Things progressively gets worse and then the first child comes along.
That child learns in order to get any time, attention, affection, or direction, they'll have to do something outstanding. So they become the family hero. There are two kinds of family heroes. There's the flashy one who's captain of the football team or head chair leader, class President. This is a kid walking down the street and everyone thinks he has it made. Little do they know that on the inside he's full of emotional woundedness. He has to get very good at keeping on the mask. Otherwise he blows his cover as the Hero. That would be devastating.
The second kind of family hero becomes the responsible one. This is the child who comes home at ten or eleven years old, does the dishes, cleans the house, and takes care of the other kids. They're filling in for one of the parents who are all caught up in the problem behavior. Another term for this role is the parentified child. It's a codependent in training, fixing, rescuing, caretaking all become second nature to this child. The codependent in the family reinforces that behavior with positive strokes.
Since the first child gets all the positive attention, the second child goes in the other direction, becoming the family rebel or scapegoat. The rebel gets all the negative attention. This child discovers that negative attention is better than no attention at all. They get time, attention, affection from teachers, principals, even juvenile officers, and anyone else who wants to help them overcome their behavioral and emotional difficulties. Someone who wants to be helpful in this case needs to understand the concept of enabling. You can learn more about that behavior in the video of the same name in this collection.
So the first child has all the positive attention, the second child all the negative attention. That leaves little or no attention for the third child. In order to get time, attention, and affection, this kid needs to become very creative. This is the lost child. He or she is always around somewhere, playing house or superhero, building a fantasy world and then going to live in it. They become so lost in their own little world that they don't get much practice interacting with kids in the outer world. They become shy and withdrawn, but very creative. They can also be chameleons. This means they can look like the family hero. One moment the rebel, the next moment the lost child, and then the mascot.
By virtue of its position as the baby of the family, the fourth child becomes the family mascot. This is the silly one or pretty one, or cute one or the funny one. They're always on stage, and it's their job to bring levity and humor to the family. They frequently become a problem parent’s “Little buddy”.
The first child is usually the hero because all kids want to be the hero. But if that mask is taken, you have to go with the next best thing, which is the family rebel, then the lost child, then the mascot. If we have eight kids and we have two sets of these, and when one child leaves home, a vacancy opens up for another child to move into that spot.
So it's not character or something they're born with that creates these cover ups or these masks that they wear, it's a subconscious attempt to get time, attention, affection, and direction. Birth order is what usually shapes the cover ups. Not always, but usually in our adult lives we get very good at how we wear those masks.
But the invented self is not who I am. The false self is not who I am. So, who am I? If you believe in God, then you know he doesn't make junk. He made the true self... In the Bible, Psalm 139.13 says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb." It's also extremely interesting to me that one of the most well-known promises in the Bible is, ...God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” It is as if he's speaking directly to those with abandonment issues.
If you don't believe in God, you can at least believe in the innocence of a child. We come into this broken world with our own temperament and potential. Then life happens. Wounded people, wound people. And to the extent that a child does not get those dependency needs met, they develop abandonment, shame, and contempt. This is a counterfeit self. The child has no way of knowing any different. And so they accept this as who they are. And they create all sorts of core beliefs about why they're not good enough or not lovable. Then they develop this external focus and pour a slab of concrete over the top of all that pain, the mask is all they have. There remains that sense of defectiveness rooted in contempt, toxic shame, and the original pain of abandonment.
At this point, the child cannot generate any good feelings on the inside. They cannot even go there. So, they have to look to something outside of themselves for comfort and relief. So, the tip of the iceberg is where these self-soothing behaviors accumulate. They may start out as Grandma saying, Here, have a cookie. It'll make you feel better. But we're all wired a little differently. So later on we find something that really does it for us. For one person, it may be food. Another may prefer alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, working, too much drama or caretaking needy people.
When we discover what really does it for us, we develop an emotional attachment to that object or activity. In other words, we love it. Then we begin to trust it because it does what it's supposed to do every single time we ask. And it just sits there and waits for us to need it. It doesn't scold us, nag us, or tell us what to do. It just does what we want it to do, which is to change how we feel on the inside.
The problem with this is that it works too well, at least at first. This becomes a problem because love and trust are the basic ingredients of a primary relationship, a primary emotional bond. We're supposed to have these primary attachments with people, not with objects or activities. So, this is an unhealthy relationship with an object or an activity that we engage in to produce a desired mood swing. That's Craig Nakkan's definition of addiction.
Eventually, bad things begin to happen. These unhealthy love and trust attachments become so important to us that we may abandon our goals, dreams, self-esteem, money, even our most important family relationships. These consequences add up. And then there's more abandonment, shame, and contempt, which increases the pain, as well as the need for comfort and relief, which causes more abandonment, shame, and contempt, and so on.
So even if we had only a mild case of emotional woundedness in childhood, if we have the genetics for an addiction, we will begin to accumulate more abandonment, shame, and contempt through that Avenue in our young adult life. Keep in mind, when we lose things important to us, that's more subtraction from our lives. We will be talking more about this later.
Eventually we accumulate so much emotional pain that will crash and hit bottom. This can be a good thing if we reach out for help at that point. Many people do just that and get into recovery. Others tend to bounce on the bottom because they have a higher threshold for pain, or their dependency is too great, or their self-esteem won't let them believe it's possible for them to recover. Sometimes the dependency is so great because the person carries an extreme amount of trauma or attachment wounds from childhood.
They found a "solution" that helps them medicate that pain just enough to survive. Giving up that solution, no matter what the consequences, can become daunting, if not impossible to them. Sometimes they can manage to stop using while in therapy. As they treat the trauma or attachment wounds, the compulsion to practice their problem behavior can begin to fade away as the healing occurs. It's not often the case to find someone who can heal trauma without stopping their problem behavior, but it's easy enough to find out if they're able to do that.
If they're not able to abstain from addictive behavior on the day of therapy before, during, or after then treating addictive behavior first and the trauma second proves to be the best way to go. Whatever the reason, keep in mind that pain is optional. There is a way out. Millions have taken it. Find someone who understands addiction and preferably trauma or attachment wounds and reach out to them.
The early phase of recovery with proper treatment looks a bit like this. One must first give up their comfort and relief, which is a hard sell, usually in the midst of the most emotional pain that they've accumulated. Getting in touch with a power greater than themselves is a new source of comfort and relief. However, this can prove difficult for some who have difficulty believing for one reason or another. That's why sometimes inpatient treatment is best because there's a lot more support and a lot less temptation.
In early recovery, it's important to internalize a recovery program. Take off the mask, get honest, open, and willing. Then do what we've been trying not to do all of our lives. Give up trying to control everything ourselves and turn our focus inward so we can begin the therapy and or twelve-step work necessary for the healing of emotional pain.
Within usually two or three years, we enter into middle recovery. We really begin to benefit from our therapy or twelve-step work through what John Bradshaw calls the seven SS of recovery. Socialization means coming out of hiding and connecting with other people and building a support network. Self-disclosure means opening up in therapy or with the sponsor. Becoming sensitive to the family system that we came from is important.
Changing our self-talk to support recovery. Self-love is doing the work necessary for recovery. Surfacing the pain is important as growing and spirituality. As we do all of these things, we see that the emotional wound is healing and collapsing in on itself. This leaves room for the true self to begin to emerge.
We find out things about ourselves we never knew in recovery.
In late recovery, we can see that the emotional wound has been healed. The true self has emerged. We remain honest, open, and willing to practice a recovery program and stay connected to our higher power for comfort and relief. People reach this level of self-actualization at different times. That's why the recovery focuses on a 24 hours period.
I can have several 24 hours in a row. Then life happens and it triggers some unfinished business or new opportunities for growth that I didn't know were there opening up new wounds but now I have a way to deal with them. This is where we begin to have the ability to live life on life's terms. It's much easier to do when connected with our true self and our higher power. Thanks for watching.
Be sure to follow this video up with the video on the Life Scripts and Parts Matrix (LSPM) model as soon as possible. Notice how they connect to each other because the LSPM video is the second of two models that lay the foundation for my therapeutic approach and I will refer back to each of them frequently again. Thanks for listening. Contact me with any questions or feedback.