Charlotte Sophia Kasl Ph.D.

I put the 16 steps in the present tense because empowerment is a circle or a spiral without end and we are all in it together.

  1. A)We affirm we have the power to take charge of our lives and stop being dependent on substances or other people for our self esteem and security. When people lack a sense of self they need to affirm that they do have the power to take charge of their lives even in the face of a life-threatening addiction.
  1. B) Alternative:   We admit we were of control with/powerless over _________ yet have the power to take charge of our lives and stop being dependent on substances or other people for our self-esteem and security.  Many people said that admitting/acknowledging powerlessness was extremely important. So the first part of the step acknowledges powerlessness over a substance or person and the second part affirms one’s potential for inner power.
  2. We come to believe that God/The Goddess/Universe/Great Spirit/Higher Power awakens the healing wisdom within us when we open ourselves to that power. This step affirms that a sacred spirit or life force energy is within us and around us. We tap into the power of the universe, draw it in and use it to awaken our inner capacity for healing. We are not separated isolated beings, we are part of One Energy, connected to the vast universe. Thus it is important that we develop our capacity to be touched by nature and beauty , We learn to see the wonder in small things—from a new leaf to a child’s smile.
  3. We make a decision to find our authentic selves and trust in the healing power of the truth. Instead of adopting society’s unauthentic stereotypes, this step encourages us to reach deep and ask ourselves: Who am I? What do I feel? What is my experience? What feels right for me? What are my dreams, and strengths? Experiencing the healing power of the truth is about minute to minute honesty with oneself and others. It’s about what you wear, what you eat, and being able to say Yes, No,and Maybe without justifying yourself or undue worry about what the other person will think or say. It’s about being true to oneself without guilt. It also affirms that human relations, intimacy and power are grounded in hearing and speaking our truths, simply, kindly and without apology. Ultimately being a close to the bones of truth is what creates intimacy, trust, feelings of connection, and a quiet mind.
  4. We examine our beliefs, addictions, and dependent behavior in the context of living in a hierarchal, patriarchal culture. We didn’t get into this mess alone. We need to ask, what are the social factors and negative stereotypes that fuel my addiction or make it difficult to heal? How has poverty, alienation, childhood abuse and trauma set the stage for my feelings of desperation, loneliness, fear and hopelessness. How can I see myself and my behavior in the broader perspective so I gain the knowledge to stop shaming and blaming myself . . . yet take responsibility for healing?
  5. We share with another person and the Universe all the things inside of us for which we feel shame and guilt. No matter what the source, when shame and guilt are left unacknowledged, it is like toxic energy poisoning our system. Secrets shared become sacred truths. This is a cleansing step that is often a long term process.
  6. We affirm and enjoy our strengths, talents, and creativity. We do not hide these attributes from ourselves and others. If our talents come from our creator, then to celebrate them is to celebrate creation. Humility is about accepting our gifts, enjoying them without arrogance and using them in the service of humanity. It doesn’t mean we are better or worse than someone, it simply means we celebrate our lives. Likewise, we don’t step aside from our intelligence, passion and strength because it will make someone else feel more comfortable.
  7. We become willing to let go of guilt, shame and any behavior that keeps us from loving ourselves and others. By releasing shame , guilt, and seeing ourselves as human, we become more loving and less judgmental of ourselves and others. We come to realize that we are all perfectly imperfect. We all make mistakes. We can all be rude, insensitive, sneaky, mean, or hurtful to others and ourselves. We’re not special or different. The underlying constant is that we are children of the Creator, sacred because we are alive.
  8. We make a list of people we have harmed and people who have harmed us, and take steps to clear out negative feelings by making amends and sharing our grievances in a respectful way. This step helps us repair relationships and become free of negative connections to people. It is important that we take responsibility for what we have done to harm others, and also realize how we have been harmed by others. It’s about seeing the whole picture, which is about living in the truth.
  9. We express love and gratitude to others, and increasingly appreciate the wonder of life and the blessings we do have. Bonding through gratitude and love is the highest vibration of energy we can create. If love is God, then showing our love makes the presence of the spirit come alive in us and around us. Thus expressing gratitude to people is a form of prayer that blesses both the giver and receiver. The same is true when we remember our blessings and notice the beauty and wonder around us.
  10. We continue to trust our reality and daily affirm that we see what we see, we know what we know and we feel what we feel. To trust our own perceptions is the antidote to internalized oppression which trained us to see ourselves through the eyes of those who hurt us or want to confine us to our limited roles. With this step, we build a healthy ego and develop self -trust. In a survey of people using the 16 steps, steps 10 and 12 were most often seen as crucial to leaving a harmful relationship, and to stop believing the manipulations and lies other use to keep us afraid, dependent, and willing to put us with hurtful behavior.
  11. We promptly acknowledge mistakes and make amends when appropriate, but we do not say we are sorry for things we have not done and we do not cover up, analyze or take responsibility for the shortcomings of others. Women and marginalized people tend to take the blame and apologize for things they have not done. It’s useful to see this in the context of the culture. It is also important not to deplete our energy analyzing or covering up for friends and partners. We can never figure out why someone else acts a certain way. It’s all speculation that keeps us from exploring our own feelings and motivation. Figuring others out is often a defense against seeing the reality of the situation or having our own feeling– particularly of anger .
  12. We seek out situations, jobs, and people who affirm our intelligence, perceptions, and self-worth and avoid situations or people who are hurtful, harmful, or demeaning to us. This step encourages people to notice how their energy levels and self-esteem fluctuate based on who they are with, what they are doing, and what they are thinking. It helps us assess what is draining our energy, and what is lifting us up. This is crucial to healing because we need to gravitate to all that is helpful, energizing and supportive both within our relationships and in our own behavior. It might mean learning to say “I need to go now, “to someone who is repeatedly complaining about the same old situation and not doing anything about it. We need to value our energy and treat it with care.
  13. We take steps to heal our physical bodies, organize our lives, reduce stress, and have fun. Many people do not realize the connections between lethargy, depression and a physically body that is out of balance–a common symptom of addiction and living in this stressful culture. Simple pleasures, keeping life organized, connecting with friends and laughter all spark our energy and help us have the energy to heal. It is incredibly important that we bond in joy, power and delight instead of suffering.
  14. We seek to find our inward calling, and develop the will and wisdom to follow it. First we listen to the guidance within, then we find ways to live by our inner truths. Finding our inner voice is a process that involves taking time to listen within as a central part of life. Yes, we also learn from others, we read and study, but eventually, the truth is signaled by a deep sense of calmness and clarity. We also know our decision will not have harmful consequences for our self or others. Living by our truths takes will, strength and often acceptance of the unknown. It is important to nudge ourselves yet be gentle at the same time.
  15. We accept the ups and downs of life as natural events that can be used as lessons for our growth. Life has its ups and downs, you win some and you lose some, …in case you hadn’t noticed. It is important not to pathologize life by becoming self absorbed and upset about every little mood change, and problem that comes our way. It’s a matter of balance. Our dramas matter, but in the cosmic scheme of things, they’re not serious– they come and go. Our joy and balance come from keeping in touch with an awareness of the vast scope of life. My subtitle for this step is, Lighten up, It matters but it’s not serious.
  16. We grow in awareness that we are interrelated with all living things, and we contribute to restoring peace and balance on the planet. In speaking of Creation theology, Matthew Fox says, “It’s not enough to awaken the heart and right brain if you don’t also put that energy to work relieving the suffering of the world.” Ultimately we need to step beyond our labels of addiction and codependency and see ourselves as a wondrous mosaic of many strengths, talents, experiences, foibles, and feelings. We step outside the box of focusing on our addiction and reconnect with the broader community remembering that we are magical creations of life, all of us, and ultimately the spiritual journey includes action that reaches out to all people in need.

A man who started using the 16 steps when in 1992 wrote:
“I had gone against the foundation of the 12 step model, namely that passion, joy, pride, and feeling good about oneself signal a loss of humility and are sure signs that relapse is imminent. It is now 1993 and I haven’t relapsed. I walk through life as an ordinary mortal with ups and downs but I generally feel good, enjoy my work and have fun with my friends.”

Another woman wrote to me:

“My friend Kitty talked about taking these new steps to her AlAnon group when she presented the first step. She said, “I was reading the AA and ACOA version of the first step and there was this wall of impassive faces all around me. Then I read the empowerment step: “I have the power to change my life and to stop being dependent on others for my self-esteem and security.” I looked up and I suddenly saw lively, interested eyes. But no one said a word. Finally, one woman found the courage to speak. “I really like that. Do you suppose sometime we might spend a whole session looking at re-writing the steps. Her words melted many of the icy faces. There were animated smiles and heads nodded all around. Someone else said, ‘It feel scary to mess around with the steps, but I have to tell you what a relief it is to finally be able to say they’re not right for me.’ The nodding continued and I knew something monumental just had happened that bordered on heresy and on…something new for all of us.”

Another woman wrote:

“I don’t want to give up my politics to heal from addiction. As a woman of color and a feminist, I have struggled to feel proud of myself, to celebrate my talents and strenghts and to feel love. I want to get over these terrible addictions but I need these steps because they let me have my politics and my recovery. “

Note from Charlotte Kasl
I have presented a model based on observations and conversations with hundreds of other people from a huge range of backgrounds. There is nothing sacrosanct about what I have written. These steps feel blessed to me because they have come through the voices of so many people. They reflect a mental health model and parallel much of what is known about overcoming depression. But, most important, take them, use them, change them, make them your own. Your words are blessed simply because they are Yours.

“Words speak to us and we can make them speak.”


©Charlotte Sophia Kasl Ph.D. Oct 2002, revised 2004

Note: There are many individual differences in response to trauma based on temperament, genetics, life situation, opportunities available, and childhood environment. It is crucial to relate to the humanity of each person individually and not make assumptions that any particular symptoms are present. The responses to trauma will present themselves in the course of treatment or therapy, often as recounted by the client. It can be extremely healing to help the client recognize these symptoms as natural responses to trauma or abuse, (often physiological fight, flight and freeze animal-type reactions) as opposed to the frequent sense that one is crazy, damaged, or is cursed with a tormenting mind.
From a broader, spiritual perspective, it relieves shame and guilt to realize that the true nature of a person resides as part of something bigger than the abuse or the thoughts–the aliveness that they are, the life energy that permeates all creation. Thus therapy is about dismantling or easing the intensity of survival responses so the person can access their true nature and feel more at ease.

1. Fear in relationships, lack of wise trust. Difficulty making healthy enduring connections with other people. Drawn toward people who validate the belief that one is inadequate, worthless, or undeserving of love and emotional support. Doesn’t feel deserving of people who show care, respect, and kindness. Difficulty maintaining one’s voice and values in close relationships. Difficulty setting limits, or knowing when to stay or leave a relationship.

2. Difficulty giving and receiving comfort and care from others. Feel shame about needs for comfort and tenderness–I shouldn’t need that. I’m being a baby. It’s dangerous to be vulnerable. I should be strong.” Some people either give or receive care, but it doesn’t flow into a continuous motion between two people.

3. Strong internal critics, censors, shame attacks, internalized from parents, abusers, strict religious training. It’s like having relentless negative chatter or static in the head which makes it difficult to hear or trust one’s authentic voice.

4. Affect dis-regulation: overwhelmed by strong feelings alternating with shutting down emotionally. Easily triggered by external events. As a result it’s hard to rely on emotional responses for guidance or to assess various situations and people. There’s always the question, is this response about the present or the past. “ Am I over-reacting? If I let loose of this anger, I could kill someone.”

5. Disconnected from sensations in the body which can provide important cues about people and situations that lead to action and resolving situations. For example a tight knot in the stomach might signal to a “healthy” person that he or she is upset about a situation and needs to address it. In other words the sensation leads to reflection, to assessing a situation, then to action and the resolution of the situation. However, if someone always has a nervous stomach and tight body, changing body sensations are easy to miss or ignore. As a result, situations don’t get resolved which leads to inner emotional congestion, buried hurt, resentments, or sadness, which in turn create distance and separateness from others.

6. Agitated body. Easily triggered and overwhelmed by intrusive memories and associated physiological sensations such as tightness of breath, sweaty hands, increased pulse rate, body tension. For example if someone in current time speaks in a slightly angry voice, it may be experienced with the same fear and physiological responses as if one were a child about to be harmed by an extremely angry adult. Thus the body is constantly agitated and secreting stress hormones such as cortisol associated with fight, flight and freeze reactions from perceived danger.

7. Low frustration tolerance. Difficulty persevering in the face of new challenges. If a project, task, conversation, or class doesn’t immediately go well, the heightened anxiety leads to quitting, walking away, or giving up. It can be difficult to enjoy learning or doing the daily work of making change because there is so much associated anxiety, or negative talk in the mind.

8. Attempts to self sooth/escape/protect via addictions, compulsions, defenses. Defenses can include numbing out, becoming defensive, blaming, self harm, collapsing into helplessness.

9. Lack of a broad understanding of the context of the abuse. Abuse memories reside internally as shame, and thoughts that “I’m damaged, it was my fault, I’m unlovable broad context. A broad perspective would include the context of family lineage, culture, drug abuse, classism, racism, homophobia, sexism, economics, and oppression.

10. Lack of nuanced understanding of life and situations–all or nothing thinking, use of platitudes, difficulty with ambiguity or seeing a situation from many sides. Lack of fascination, curiosity, awe, and wonder.

11. Initial trauma, or neglect is re-played in relationships with colleagues, friends, and partners wither through the people they tend to be around or through patterns of relating. For example, a person gravitates towards people who are emotionally withholding, blaming or abusive. In another example, an individual doesn’t voice reactions or irritation with a friend, builds up resentments and feels cut off and distant. Later, the buried grievances burst out and further alienate the friend. Another example: A person uses intimidation to keep people away, but underneath feels unseen, misunderstood and left out.

12. Chaotic/impulsive approach to life. Difficulty making a long term plan and thinking through all the necessary steps and sticking to them. An individual may do well in some areas and not others: this can vary with work, career, education, money, planning ahead, parenting, follow-through, or taking care of daily tasks.

13. Lack of a concept of self care including need for rest, taking care of ones health, friendships, exercise, healthy eating, exploring one’s talents and interests, creating balance in one’s life. For many people the idea of self care feels foreign or raises anxiety as if one is being disloyal to internalized beliefs of being undeserving.

14. Diminished capacity for pleasure, joy, and meaning in life apart from possessions, achievements, and status. This may be fragmented. For example, one may experience deep pleasure in nature, but cannot maintain these feelings in relationships or at work.


Charlotte Sophia Kasl, Ph.D. © September 2006, 2007, 2012

1. Addiction is a response to overwhelming emotions—such as fear, terror, pain and aloneness. People use addictive substances or behaviors to anesthetize pain, feel relaxed, calm themselves, feel alive, numb out pain, turn off a racing mind, hide from shame, or feel a sense of belonging. Addictions are used in an attempt to manage what feels out of control, missing, or very frightening.

2. Trauma, neglect or alienation often lead to disregulation of feelings and thoughts. They also lead to impulsiveness, detachment, denial, and self absorption. When one’s primary task is managing a restless, painful fearful or chaotic inner world, it becomes difficult to have true intimacy with others. The resulting lack of authentic relationships perpetuates the sense of isolation and shame and keeps the addiction cycle in play. Addiction thrives in isolation and loneliness.

3. Overcoming addiction is greatly helped by addressing core issues of trauma that lead to anxiety, depression, pain, and negative beliefs—I’m powerless, damaged, unlovable, invisible, alone, worthless, inadequate, incompetent, and so on. The task is to process trauma in order to ease one’s inner anxiety and chaos, and learn to manage feelings and emotions This, in turn opens the way to stable, soothing relationships, which then become an antidote to addiction.

4. The more we move toward the highest states of human development, the less we will be inclined toward addiction. This includes developing an internal center of control, attuning to one’s truths, taking charge of ones life, questioning, accepting differences, experiencing compassion, and developing values through observation and experience. This also includes sorting out the essential self from the conditioned self–namely the voices of criticism, censorship, fear and self loathing that are intruders in one’s mind.

5. Authentic human connections are essential to overcoming addiction because they comfort, ease stress, assuage loneliness, lower anxiety, and provide shelter and companionship—all the things people attempt to do with addictive behavior. This includes primary relationships, friendships, and connections within a supportive community.

6. The more we are self aware and accepting of all the parts of ourselves the more we are able to have warm, stable, caring relationships. That’s because accepting our own imperfections/ humanness leads us to be more open hearted, less defensive, less fearful and more able to attune to others and hold them in our awareness at all times. This prevents us from doing harm to others. We learn to step back and observe ourselves with compassion and curiosity. Hmm, what’s that about? What’s going on with me? Why such a big reaction? Why so much fear?

7. Overcoming addiction has many facets: financial stability, education, jobs/career, healing the physical body, learning self care, connecting with others, and affirming ones heritage.

8. It is important to understand addiction in a personal, family and cultural context. People are not simply “addicts,” they are people with addictions. It is by realizing that they are much more than their addictions, and by focusing on their strengths and all that they can be, they move toward wholeness and crowd out the desire for addictive behavior.

Sexuality, Spirituality and Relationships – A guide to bringing them together in our lives

Charlotte Sophia Kasl, Ph.D.

Written as part of a CD Rom project on
holistic health and healing
© September 1995 , all rights reserved
Revised for the web site, August 2012

Additional copies can be ordered by sending
$5.00 per individual copy or
$3.50 per copy for five or more, to:
Many Roads, One Journey, Box 1302
Lolo MT 59847
Or order then on

Sexuality and spirituality are closely intertwined. When sexuality is grounded in a loving intimate relationship with another person it can increase our ability to connect with the vastness and wonder of the universe. When sexual desire is separate from a loving connection it can become a negative or empty experience separate. What helps a sexual relationship feel satisfying and connected, is a relationship that is satisfying and deeply connected. For many people, the desire for sexual union and ecstasy reflects a deeper desire for spirit and a sense of oneness with the Universe. While sexual union with another can give us a glimpse of the ecstasy of spiritual fulfilment, sex alone cannot give us that fulfilment. Hopefully, the desire for sex that satisfies and goes deep, will entice us to opening up our lives and become transparent to our paratner.

Sexuality and spirituality are both deeply personal and connected to our life force energy. Our attitudes about life, love, care and compassion are all connected to our feelings about sexuality. We all came to this earth through a sexual act. If life is sacred, then so is sexuality. Unfortunately sex has been tremendously defiled in our patriarchal culture where sexuality has been paired with shame, control, domination, exploitation and evil. To heal our sexuality means changing our beliefs so that we associate sexuality with love, care, joy and commitment. To do this means embarking on a journey where we open our minds to re-think all we have learned about sex-role stereotypes, love, sexuality and spirituality.

Getting beyond our self absorption and being able to tap into the wonder and awe of creation can help us deepen our experience with sexuality. When we are full of tenderness, vitality, and openness to life, it helps sex have a flow and vitality that keeps it alive and fluid. If our lives are in a rut and we are out of touch with something beyond our separate self, sex tends to become mechanical and dull. We can use all kinds of techniques, but they are simply that, techniques. People tend to have numerous partners or lose interest in sex because they are unable to create a deep, loving connection that is fulfilling. Sex gets reduced to a physical high without the context of an evolving connection with another person. There is a tendency to blame one’s partner when the high fades–”you weren’t exciting enough”–rather than realizing something is missing within. This leads to a futile search for the “perfect” partner or more exotic sexual experiences. The pattern is broken when the person realizes that a sexual high will never quell the
underlying restlessness and emptiness which can only be filled with honest, heartfelt connections to others and to .

Sexuality grounded in love, and commitment and openness to growth can deepen and strengthen the connection between two people and intensify their sense of intimacy and oneness. When we open our inner world to our partner and allow the power of our energy flow through us, we naturally open our heart. Opening the heart may also put us in touch with our heart aches–the painful inner feelings and memories that have been buried. This is why new relationships can feel so bittersweet. You feel love, passion and connection partly due to the hormonal rush that comes with new love. Then the buried or avoided pain from the past comes to the surface and can result in the petulant, hurt, possessive, scared parts tumbling out. Painful memories often come to the surface, often of sexual violation. If we allow these parts to surface , face them and heal them, we will grow immeasurably. This can be done within the context of a loving relationship if the partners becomes allies to each other—work together to deflate the old goblins, rather than act out against each other. If we try to bury our memories and live out a role, we will suffer physically, emotionally and spiritually. We may become depressed and feel our life energy and joy draining out of us.

Sex can vary with the fluctuations in our lives–sometimes being sweet and tender, other times feeling powerful like the roar of an ocean wave. Like any energy force it waxes and wanes and changes like the seasons. New mothers sometimes lose interest in being sexual, especially if it seems like a duty. People who are overworked and tired, often lack the energy or interest to pleasure their partner and be open. Sexuality that sustains is a reflection of our inner worlds meeting each other. When two people first feel the electricity of sexual chemistry and attraction, sex may take center stage. This is fine so long as people don’t expect sex to be the only glue of the relationship.
Enduring happy couples have very different levels of sexual intensity, but for the most part those who have sexual chemistry between them from the start are more likely to have that sexual desire stay alive in a long term relationship. Sexual chemistry and attraction isn’t a guarantee of a healthy intimate relationship, but it is an important spark that helps keep relationships vital and alive. It also helps people surmount troubles and do the necessary work to stay together. That spark is part of our mystical bond with another human being. When people marry or become partnered because it they feel they “should’ or it is a good idea, often the sexuality does not stay alive and vital because the chemistry is absent.

When we are with a partner it’s important to remember that sexuality can be like a window to the rest of our relationship. Whatever is happening or not happening in our relationship may be reflected in the sexual relationship. Couples with long-term satisfying sexual relationships usually realize that when sex isn’t going well it reflects something deeper in the relationship–it’s not just about sex. It’s like a barometer for the whole relationship. “Now what aren’t we dealing with?” “What aren’t we talking about?” Have I been keeping secrets that have turned into guilt? In enduring , happy relationships people also realize the importance of keeping sex alive as an intrinsic part of the union. It would be very important if it were missing. It’s part of the glue, the very special union people have with their beloved partner and no other.

A first step on the journey to sexual intimacy is to make a commitment to oneself:
I am open to my feelings, to knowing myself and to knowing my partner. I am open to growth and change.
Unless you make this commitment, you will block your sexual energy from flowing through you. In other words you will dissociate from parts of yourself.

A second step is to say to oneself:
I am committed to becoming more open, aware and attuned–to listening, understanding and feeling empathy with my partner and all people. This leads us to learning about love, truth, wisdom and purpose.
When we make this commitment it’s as if we say, I will not make a god of sex or my partner; there is something bigger I am seeking. My partner is traveling beside me on my journey and we can learn from each and be helpmates, but we can’t replace the need to seek out the meaning of our lives as intertwined with all life.
A third step is to say to oneself:
I will allow my playfulness, creativity and joy to come alive in all that I do.
As we come alive, open our creativity and feel joy in life, we bring bright energy to our spirit, body, sexuality and our partner

Effects of culture on sexuality
Sexuality alone cannot create a bond between two people although the popular media would lead us to believe this is possible. Advertisements abound with images of svelte, thin, young women with flawless clothes and complexions linked to the arm of a handsome, tough/cool man next to a car or a bottle of scotch. The goal is to pair sex with looks, possessions and age in order to sell all kinds of products that supposedly make you more sexually desirable. In reality some very ordinary people have positive sustained sex lives and some very rich, attractive people do not. For anyone in this culture, it takes a lot of work to cast out the negative images of sexuality we have been taught. Enduring sexual intimacy is about what we bring on the inside–our joy, passion, humor, and ability to care and accept another person–as well as the packaging on the outside.

Too often seduction is mistaken for attraction. In reality, seduction is often about overpowering someone for self-centered reasons. It’s a false way to feel powerful. That’s why we have so many songs that say things like, “will you still love me tomorrow?” All the sweet talk is wonderful before the sex, but afterwards, when the partner rolls over and a chasm opens between us there is an empty lonely feeling. That’s because the sex was more about exploitation and a short term high than an expression of love and care.

To quote from Women, Sex, and Addiction
It’s important to remember that:
sex is not proof of being loved;
sex is not proof of being attractive;
sex doesn’t cure problems
sex doesn’t mean you’re lovable;
sex is not assurance against abandonment–even if you’re terrific in bed.
Sexuality is not always about partners and orgasm. It is related to the way we live in our bodies and experience the sensual pleasures of life. We can be alive to our senses, yet not be controlled by them. We can feel connected to the wonder of life when we smell bread baking, slowly eat a juicy peach, stroke velvet or gaze at the moon passing through hazy clouds. Connecting to our sexual energy is also about feeling joy and passion that come from honest conversation, giving to others, being in nature, being active and being of service. The concept of sexuality as kundalini–life force energy–resting like a coiled snake at the base of the spine ready to rise up and fill us with energy suggests that sex can be used as a tool for spiritual awakening. This is a tricky subject, because it is important not to fool ourselves by saying we are being sexual in order to be enlightened. We need to have a bond with our partner. One way sexual experience helps open our hearts is when we allow the sexual energy to fill us and then breathe the energy from the pelvis up into our heart.

If we think of the body, mind and spirit as one, then to have a sense of wholeness associated with our sexuality is to be tuned into all aspects of our being–our spiritual life, senses, feelings and thoughts. Sexuality is something we each possess and have available for our pleasure whether or not we are with a partner. In many ways the spiritual journey is about making love to ourselves in a myriad of ways–listening to our hearts, being honest, following our calling in life, giving ourselves pleasure and tapping into the wonder of the life force energy which people call God, Great Spirit, Goddess, Allah,Universal Energy, to name a few. Part of our sexual awakening can also be through making physical love to ourselves–taking time to pleasure ourselves, get to know our bodies and feel comfortable with our smells, sensations and erotic feelings. It’s important not to depend solely on another person for sexual pleasure. We need to know it belongs to each of us and is ours to experience and enjoy.

For some people the spiritual journey will entail a choice for celibacy. This may be for a given time period to learn to connect with people in a non-sexual way and to change our internal messages or it may be a long term choice. It is important that the choice for celibacy come from an inner evolution rather than from arbitrary external rules or a desire to control unwanted sexual feelings. We cannot escape the power of our sexuality. We either become at peace with us or it remains a troublesome force within that creates confusion, shame and separateness from our spirituality. If we are celebate yet still obsessed with sex, it is still controlling our life. Too often people who sexually perpetrate on others have created an inner duality of sex as an evil force that should be repressed. They are obsessed with sex in a negative way. The problem with repression is that it usually goes out of control in some way. How can we become at east with sexuality when we have taken a vow against it?

Feeling conflicted about sex sometimes stems from rigid teachings about sex, often in religious institutions where sex is associated with something dirty, shameful, secretive and extremely enticing. Religious teachings around the world put external controls on sex that are separate from love, care and goodness–it’s okay if you are married, heterosexual and want children–but it’s not okay if you are unmarried, of the same sex or are being sexual for personal pleasure. In reality there is often loveless exploitive sex in marriages and caring intimate sex between committed people of the same sex or people who are not married. As a result of negative teachings, many people need to go through a long process of shedding layers and layers of guilt and shame in order to have intimate, pleasureful sex with a loving partner–to realize that all love is God’s love.

The sex role stereotypes we have been taught also limit our openness and comfort with sex. Women are taught to act passive and demure and men are taught to act fearless and aggressive. In reality, women are perfectly capable of being assertive sexually and men are often afraid and insecure. If we only develop half of our potential, we are only half alive to our sexuality. Enduring, happy couples usually have a sense of equality about sex. They can both take a passive or an assertive role. There is not one who is the aggressor and one who is the receipient of sex, it is a mutually enjoyable form of pleasure and connection.

Sex is sometimes used in the hope of creating a bond. Two people who are unable to be honest and open with each other might have sex frequently in an attempt to create a connection or fill an inner void. The mistaken underlying
belief is, “if sex is okay then the relationship is okay.” This is like counterfeit intimacy. It is about using sex addictively to fill in our empty places in a relationships. In other cases, people who are emotionally distant or who are not honest with each other might cease having a sexual life. It dries up leaving a void in the relationship. In some cases people will have periodic sex that is mechanical and devoid of emotional intimacy. Some will use alcohol or other drugs to heighten the sexual experience. It may feel good momentarily, but there is usually a sense of emptiness afterwards. It is like using “spirits” to have sex, instead of finding the spirit within us.

Some people have difficulty sustaining a loving, vulnerable sexual relationship because the sexual act triggers unresolved feelings from sexual trauma or abuse. It feels okay to have sex with a near stranger or under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, but when the partner starts to feel like “family” then it triggers memories of sexual violation or abuse by someone who was in the original family. Many people flee relationships for this reason. They fall in love, enjoy a person for a while, and when the relationship starts having an every-day quality without the high, they leave. In these situations it is usually helpful to have counseling with someone familiar with sexual abuse problems. Three helpful books on this subject are Women, Sex and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power by Charlotte Kasl, The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz and The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis.

Becoming whole sexually is about becoming whole as a person. This means clearing out shame from our past so we are free to be open with each other. As a therapist I have repeatedly had people come to therapy wanting to fix their sex lives as something separate from the rest of the relationship. They don’t realize that the buried secrets, avoidance and resentments that have built up over time are reflected in their sexual relationship. The need to learn that everything in our relationships is magnified in sexual relationships–sensitivity, trust, understanding, acceptance playfulness, and the ability to be honest in a kind and caring way.

Bringing Sexuality and Spirituality Together

Here are some ways to bring more joy and spirit into your sexual relationship. Please remember in reading these thoughts that they are focused on bringing sexuality and spirituality together. There is no moral judgement intended. We have all grown up in a culture that separates sexuality from spirituality and we are all learning and growing. These suggestions are not a cure-all for serious sexual problems that may need counseling or professional help.

1. Develop your own path in your life. The purpose of a relationship is having a partner on the journey to spirit or becoming who you truly are. You can learn from each other but you must never mistake the other for god in any form. It’s is crucial to know that you could live without your partner and that you do not depend on him or her for your self esteem. You want to come to your beloved with a sense of equality as a human being–not as a child, parent or a god.

2. Spend time with your partner doing things you both enjoy. Loving sexuality flows from loving times together. It is difficult to have loving, enjoyable sex when you are exhausted from a hectic day or have not bonded together through mutually enjoyable experiences. Slow down your life as much as you can so you have regular times together when you can talk, share tasks and simply be together. Repeatedly, couples report that sexuality comes alive when the relationship feels alive and bonded. I would add that this often varies between men and women. Men are more wired to want sex as a release, while women want sex to express love and connection. This was evident in many of my sexuality workshops where the men and women took turns talking about their ideal sexual experience.

3. Do not use sex to fill a void, to prove you are important or to keep a partner from leaving. You will prostitute your heart, soul and body if you do this, separating yourself from spirit and love. People often ask, “But isn’t recreational sex okay?” It’s not a matter of being okay or not, it’s a matter of what you want. If you want to have a deep, spiritually alive sexual relationship, then you need to feel love and care for your partner and have sex be an expression of the love between you. Most people need a solid commitment to allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable and present to their partner. If you have recreational sex without commitment or the intention of a lasting relationship, ask yourself, how did it feel? Maybe it felt good, but I now worry–will he call again? Does she really care for me. Anxiety often accompanies lack of commitment

4. Take good care of yourself. When you are filled up and happy you will have energy to give to your partner. When you are depleted and unhappy, it is harder to enter the flow of give and take that lovemaking requires. Learn to set limits and boundaries so that you don’t become depleted. Don’t do things that leave you feeling resentful. For example, if you give something to your partner, and find you are keeping score and expecting something in return, it’s time to step back and reconsider what you are doing. Give from the heart, but do not give from guilt.

5. Make love to your partner throughout the day with eye contact, tender touch, soft words and interest in their feelings and experiences. To find out what helps your partner feel loved, ask, “What helps you feel loved?” “What can I do to show you my love?” You can also ask if there are things your partner would rather you didn’t do–certain ways of touching, talking, etc.

6. Share gratitude and appreciation with your partner. Much of this is done non-verbally, with touch, eye contact, being present to listen and keeping agreements with great care. Expressing gratitude opens our hearts and ignites our joy. For example, if you take a walk, you can focus on the wonder of nature, rather than bringing up troublesome subjects—isn’t this beautiful, aren’t we lucky! You can start meals by taking time to give thanks in a personal way. You can express gratitude for a warm bed, friends, work, food, smell, the ability to walk, hear and feel a soft breeze. You can also say all the things you appreciate about your partner–from washing the dishes to taking care of the children, to earning money, to smiling when you walk in the room, to initiating a get together with the family. The more we notice and show our appreciation for our partner the more our heart becomes open–and an open heart leads to open-hearted love making.

7. Be of service to others. In interviewing couples who had a sustained positive sex life and marriage/partnership, they repeatedly spoke of the pleasure they derived from being of service to others. It makes sense that experiencing pleasure from giving to others carries into our intimate relationships because it helps us develop compassion, understanding, be less self centered and more thoughtful of others.

8. Always respect your partner saying yes or no to sex–or anything else for that matter. Part of the spiritual path is deep respect for others. Any form of coercion, manipulation or force shows disrespect for the other person and will create harm in the long run for both people. This doesn’t mean you can’t say. I really need for us to talk –there are some things that are getting in the way of feeling close.

9. Learn a process for consensus problem solving. This helps you make decisions that you both can live with so that you do not have left over hurt and anger for each other. This is crucial to keeping the love alive between you. (See A Home for the Heart)

10. Touch and massage each other in non-sexual ways. Set aside time to pleasure each other physically without the pressure of being sexual. This can be massage, back rubs or head massage–whatever brings pleasure. It can be with clothes on or off, in bed or some place else. The receiver can gently move the partner’s hand or make sounds to show what he or she likes. This is especially helpful when one partner has felt pressured to have sex or feels sexually detached or numb. The idea is to pair pleasure and nurture with touch, and not always feel that touch has to lead to sex.

11. Pleasure yourself. Use oil baths, soft lights, music incnense or anything that bring a sense of peace and happiness to you as you take a long time to touch yourself and be your own lover. It’s like having a deeply intimate experiene with yourself. You will be both more receptive and giving with a partner when you have a good sexual relationship with yourself.

12. Make a date to make love. If you don’t get around to lovemaking or keep putting it off because you are “too busy,” make a date to make love. Many people think they have to wait until they feel passionately turned on and inspired. In reality, we create the right moment by the way we think. By setting a time to make love, each person has time to become emotionally and physically turned on for lovemaking. It takes the wondering out of the situation–will we or won’t we? It’s also important to remember that we can usually get ourselves in the mood. It’s a little bit like going for exercise. Sometimes we have to drag ourselves out because we feel tired, but once we get started, we feel glad we made the effort. The same can be true with sex. You may not feel particularly excited about the idea, but once you start making love, you come alive to the feelings and have an intimate experience. Sometimes we need to get in the habit of making love as part of life. Of course this doesn’t mean having sex when you truly don’t want to.

13. Be honest with your partner and do not keep secrets (unless they would be harmful to your partner or destructive to the relationship). Part of the spiritual journey is learning to be truthful with kindness and respect. It’s important to talk about your feelings, needs and concerns. Both partners are responsible to help maintain the connection in the relationship. If you are withdrawing and your partner asks, “what’s going on?” it’s important to reach inside and talk about what your are thinking or feeling. Even if it means saying, “I feel blank” or “I feel afraid.” You don’t have to know the answer, simply say something that keeps the door open between you. You may need a moment to stop and let your feelings rise to the surface. Tell your partner, ”Just a minute, I need to check in to see what’s going on with me.” Being honest also applies to harbouring secrets about past or current affairs or other indiscretions that are festering away inside.

14. Learn assertiveness and relationships skills together. Many couples find it helpful to read a book on assertiveness, communication or relationships skills together. This can help with skills for dealing with conflict– past and present. It’s amazing and heart warming to see the love and care come back to a relationship after people clear out old hurts and grievances. Almost always, underneath the hurt and anger we find love.

15. Stay away from images that pair sex with cruelty, violence, superficial behavior or a flashy outward appearance. This can include movies, magazines, pornography, or even TV shows. To merge spirituality with sexuality means to connect sexuality with love, beauty, wonder, equality and joy. Immerse yourself in books and images that affirm the wonder of life, the beauty of the human spirit and sexuality born of love and care. You need to literally re-program your mind, body and spirit away from most of our culture’s teachings on sexuality. I realize this stance may seem out of date, but the question remains, what do you want in a sexual relationship? While exploration, novelty, and different settings can enhance a sexual relationship, violence and cruelty often become addictive, the partners needing more and more pain and domination to feel sexual desire. That’s what the makers of pornography know all too well. Once people start using violent images for stimulations, over time they need more violence and cruelty to become sexually aroused. That’s why people who use pornography to have sexual arousal often become unable to feel comfortable with their flesh and blood partners.

16. Talk with your partner about your sexual relationship. Ask each other,“Am I giving you pleasure? Is it working for you? Do you feel I am tuned in to you? Do I take enough time? What would you like?”

17. Get professional help when needed. If you cannot alleviate a deep sense of sexual shame and guilt, you cannot stop compulsive sexual behavior, or you continually go numb when being sexual, get help. Change is possible with a good counselor who knows about sexual issues linked to childhood trauma. Sometimes a support group or workshops on sexuality and relationships can help immeasurably. The worst thing in life is staying stuck. It usually better to open up discussion, feel the hurt and pain, even make mistakes, than allow hurt and anger to fester away inside, draining your life energy. Staying stuck leads to depression, illness and often the loss of a relationship. Do whatever you can to help your relationship work, but if it is chronically painful and harmful to you, then give yourself permission to leave. Failure is not in having made a mistake, it is in not being wise in the moment and taking good care of yourself.

18. Join a sexuality group or take a sexual history
The sexual history is included if one orders the complete article.

Taking a Sexual History
Sharing our sexual histories with others helps us feel more “normal” and less alone. Talking about sexuality also lessens shame. When I facilitate sexuality workshops, people are usually tense to begin with, but after a while, animated discussion, laugher and sometimes tears ignite the energy in the room. You can take a sexual history with a trusted friend or with someone in a support group. You can do this in twos or threes. This is usually best done with someone of the same sex, and not your primary partner.* You need to be free to talk openly about anything. The purpose of taking a sexual history is to desensitize yourselves to embarrassment or anxiety around the subject of sex. If you giggle and feel like an adolescent, you have lots of company. Many people have never spoken openly about sex.

Many people take several hours to do this history and others break it up over several sessions. It depends how much time you have and how much depth you want to go into. Let yourselves know when you hit a saturation point and need to stop. You can also jump around with the questions, starting with the ones that feel most comfortable to talk about

*After you and your partner have done a sexual history with others it may be appropriate to do it with each other. You may want to edit some parts.. It may not serve any useful purpose to tell your partner how many sexual partners you have had, and you certainly don’t want to spring information about an affair during a sexual history. So do it with each other with discretion.

Ground rules for taking a sexual history.
–Take turns answering each question so the sharing goes back and forth.

–Share as much as you can without revealing more than you can handle, but also nudge yourself a bit.

–The listener is to listen! Not to judge or say things like “You did that!!!” You can ask questions to draw the other person out, or relate your own experience if the other person asks ( I faked orgasm too. “I was also sexually abused.”)

–Let the person talk and have their feelings. Do not jump in and care take by saying things such as, “Oh, I think that’s normal.” “I wouldn’t worry about that.” “I know lots of people who have done that.” Allow the other person
time to think, and to be silent. Do not push the other person to answer a question if he or she doesn’t want to.

–If it is your turn to talk you can ask the listener, “Did anything like that ever happen to you.?” It is also important to remember that your history is your history and while it’s nice to know you are not alone in your experiences, try to accept whatever you have experienced or done as part of your journey. Don’t judge it, observe it and learn from it.

–Remember each of you may be sharing certain information for the first time. Be as supportive as you can be and give each other your full attention.

Sexual History

1. What were your earliest messages about sex? Who told you? What did you feel? Did you understand?

2. What were the message you received from your father/mother/other care givers?

3. What were the messages, if any, you received from religious training/in school/at camp or friends?

4. What were the best messages you received?

5. What were the worst messages you received?

6. When did you first experience sexual arousal?

7. What experiences did you have with sexual experimentation as a child, including masturbation, playing doctor, etc? What were the reactions of adults to these experiences, if any?

8. As a child, what images of sex do you remember from the media and magazines that were in your home or that you had access to? How did they affect you?

9. What questions did you ask your parents/care givers about sex (if any) and what were the answers?
10. Did you experience any forms of sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual treatment as a child. This could include any sorts of intrusions that led to feelings of shame or discomfort. Some examples: parental obsession around bathing, taking naked photos, enemas, adolescent development, dating, looks, popularity at school. It could also include inappropriate touching, fondling, sleeping together, using you as a substitute intimate partner, (such as saying to a ten year old boy, “now that your father is gone, you’re the man of the house.”) kissing, holding and overt sexual abuse. When you talk about these things, say how you are feeling at the moment, and how you think these events affected you.

11. What were you told about menstruation? Who told you? What was your first menstrual experience like?

12. Tell your first bra stroy.

13. Tell your most embarrassing menstruation story.

14. Tell about you development as an adolescent–breasts, pubic hair, growth? Include age, what people said,how you felt and who you talked with (if anyone).

15. Tell about positive experiences with menstruation.

16. When did you first know about your clitoris?

17. Have you ever been pregnant? Given birth? What was the experience like for you?

18. Tell about menopause (if applicable).

19. Tell about your adolescent development. Age, how you felt, etc

20. Give examples of locker room/playground/ men talk. What was said about penis size. How did you feel about yours? What was said about having sex? What was said about females.? What was said abut homosexuality? What were your feelings about any of the above questions and what was said.
21. Tell experiences about having erections (when you didn’t want one or couldn’t have one when you wanted one.)

22. How much responsibility do you take for birth control? How do you feel about wearing condoms?


23. Tell about your first voluntary sexual experience, including your age, the setting and feelings at the time.

24. Does orgasm come easily? with difficulty? occasionally? Not at all? Tell your history of orgasm.

25. Have you said yes to sex when you wanted to say no? What do you understand about the reasons? Have you engaged in sexual practices that you didn’t like or that felt harmful to you?

26. Have you said No to sex when you wanted to say yes? Talk about the situation and the underlying reasons.

27. Talk about the role masturbation plays in your life at present? Do you take time? Is it a form of making love to yourself? Do you use a vibrator or other aids? Is it a quick tension release?

28. Talk about your worst sexual experience? Are there still harmful effects from this experience? If so, explain.

29. Talk about your best sexual experience? Give the setting, your feelings and say what made it so favorable. If you haven’t had a wonderful sexual experience, describe an imaginary one.

30. Tell you history of sexual fantasies. Do you fantasize often? Do you have rape or violent fantasies? Victim fantasies, With animals? Children? Strangers? Do you have fantasies from nature–ocean waves, motion? How do you feel about your fantasies..? Have they changed over time?

31. Tell about sexual attractions and experiences with people of the same sex.

32. Have you ever sexually abused or manipulated another person? Talk about the experience and the feelings? What do you understand about the underlying reasons?

33. How many sexual partners have you had? Men? Women? Group sex?

34. Are you in a sexual relationship right now? Is it committed? How is it for you sexually? What works well? Any problems/concerns?

35. How well do you say what you like and need? How are you at saying yes, no, a little, maybe later, never? Do you respect others saying yes, no, not now, maybe later, never?

36. Tell all the ways you create a feeling of exhilaration or joy in your body? This can include sports, hiking, meditating, caring for others, etc? How often do you do these things? How could you arrange your life to do them more often?

37. Do you currently masturbate. Quickly, slowly,? How do you feel about it?

38. What do you think you need to do in your life to make sexuality a more positive or affirming part of your life.

39. Is there anything else on your mind about sexuality that you would like to talk about?

Spirituality and Relationships
A guide to bringing them
together in our lives

Charlotte Sophia Kasl, Ph.D.

Written as part of a CD Rom project on
holistic health and healing
© September 1995 all rights reserved
revised for the web site August 2012

Additional copies can be ordered by sending
$5.00 per individual copy or
$3.50 per copy for five or more, to:
Many Roads, One Journey, Box 1302
Lolo MT 59847

and Relationships
A guide to bringing them
together in our lives

Two articles by
Charlotte Sophia Kasl, Ph.D.

Spirituality………………………….. page 1
Sexuality and Spirituality… page 11

Box 1302 Lolo MT 59847
Phone: 406-273-6080


         When we feel clear inside, we are more able to be clear and relaxed with our children.  Our buried fears, hurts, and wounds often burst out of us when we become parents.  We meet our fear of being helpless, vulnerable, and totally dependent on another person. We may   flare with anger when a child isn’t immediately obedient, or find ourselves being embarrassed by his or her awkwardness around other people, or astounded when we find out he lied.


To help free the path for a warm, relaxed connection with your child, it’s important to make friends with the goblins from the past that take the form of sudden hot reactions, or feelings of disdain or disconnection.  From a Buddhist perspective,  it’s just energy in the form of feelings–nothing to be afraid of, nothing to run from.    Buried feelings have much more power over us than the ones we bring to the light of day. They take on a life of their own—in the form of being phony, scared,  avoidant, worried.   Exploring our feelings will often take us back to prior memories we have pushed away,  discounted or told ourself , it didn’t bother me, it wasn’ a big deal.   Yet it is through this willingness to look back that we find out more about who we are.


There is so much to gain when we become more at  peace with our inner world–, an ability to be present, ease in our relationships, non defensive.   We become willing say to ourselves “That sure was a strong reaction! What’s that about? ”  or  “ Damn, I sounded just like my father.” “I feel so uncomfortable in this situation.” I feel disgust changing diapers.” “I’m having a desire to retaliate,”  “This crying is making me very nervous.

A great deal of child abuse happens when a child cries inconsolably because it triggers so many primal feelings in people of being lost, vulnerable, helpless, desperate.   Instead of realizing that babies sometimes cry for long periods of time,  parents might have thoughts such as, “Why doesn’t that baby stop crying!”  What’s wrong?”  “I don’t know what to do, I’m inadequate.   For others it’s like pressure building, like someone screaming, like an assault on the brain that  leads to a feeling of desperation to stop it.  “Shut up, Stop, I can’t stand it.” That’s why it’s crucial for all parents to have access to counseling, parenting groups and help with these feelings rather than suffering them alone.

How to make friends with your feelings—Secrets shared become sacred truths. 

A first step is to realize that your reactions are telling you there is something about the past that hasn’t been acknowledged or processed.  Another  crucial step  is to talk with your partner,  other parents or a counselor.  Tell them what happens with you, and ask if they ever have sudden reactions to their child,  I don’t know a parent who hasn’t.   It helps reduce  shame to learn  that you are not alone, that all parents have their trigger points.

When we open up and talk about our fears and frustrations as a parent,

it helps us stop hiding, fearing, or  thinking something is wrong with us.

As an example.  I was having lunch with a friend at a lovely hotel restaurant.  There was a baby crying in the distance   Suddenly, my friend  had a minor explosion, “I’d like to stuff a rag down that baby’s  throat. That crying is driving me nuts.”  After a few moments when she collected herself and went on to talk about how her mother had been deeply depressed when she was an infant and, according to her father, she had often been left for hours crying in her crib.  She had hated being little and having no control over a mother who made repeated suicide attempts during her young life.  Something about that baby, that need, that helplessness hit a memory and triggered her strong feelings.

As an example from my own life. When I was young my mother would often double cross me in the presence of my father. I’d ask her for permission to go to a gathering the next day, and she’d say yes.  Then, the next day when I was about to go,  my father  would ask “where  are you going? “  I’d tell him and he’s say, “ You don’t need to go there, you should stay home and help.”  I’d say,   “Mom told me I could go.”  Then she’d say, “No, I didn’t.”     I’d feel hysterical inside. I’d looked forward to the gathering, I wanted to go and I wanted to scream at her for lying.  “You did too.” I’d say.  She’d get a funny look on her face, and deny it again.   I felt alone, desperate, and furious.  My father might chime in that I shouldn’t talk back to my mother.

Fast forward to parenting my daughter, Janel.   I’d walk into the dining room and see her with her hands in my purse.  She had a long history of stealing from me as well as shop lifting.  “Janel, It’s not okay to take money from me like that,”  I’d say.   “I’m not” she’d say,  and that same old feeling of  hysteria would rise up in my chest.  “Yes you are. I can see it”    I felt my jaw tighten in my intense need for her to admit she was stealing.  If I had been in an adult state, I wouldn’t have needed her admission of guilt.    Anyone over five could see was stealing.   I needed to stay calm to handle the situation in a helpful way, not  blow up out of a childhood place of  anger and hurt.

Over time, even with the awareness of  the source of my reaction, it was still an inner struggle,  But I learned to manage my feelings even if they didn’t go away.   I’d say to myself.  This is from the past, Janel is not my mother, and I’m not a kid.   I need to do something about her stealing.

How would an adult handle this.  I  became able to say.   “Janel, I get so upset when you steal from me.  I need to go sit down for a minute.  I’ll talk with you later.  Then I could think over some way to set a consequence without being punitive.

(NOTE There is a techniques parents can use called  the Emotional Freedom Technique –EFT–that helps reduce these triggered reaction.  An easy to read guide can be found by googling EFT Manual, Mercola)

Conscious parenting takes reflection.  Whenever we have sudden or intense reactions to a child, or pull away with discomfort, give in after we’ve said no,   don’t give them responsibilities, or constantly  wait on them, we need to reflect.   We are not in an adult state and our relationship is being filtered through the past.


There is so much to be gained by self exploration. As you accept and process your trigger points and bring your unconscious motivations to the surface, you increase your ability to relax, be at ease, have mercy on yourself, and enjoy parenting. . .and living. Naturally, as parents we will all have moments of wanting our children to look good, be happy and successful- but our liberation comes as we increase our awareness  of when these feelings  shift  from a nice idea to an intensity that clouds our vision.

It’s something of a paradox that understanding the source of a feeling doesn’t take it  away.   Once you have made connections with the past, The real work happens in current time.  To notice what happens in your body when you are starting to flare or have a strong reaction, to learn to be with the sensations, breathe into them and slow them down. .


Exercise 1.  . As you read through the lists you might pick out one trait that you want to focus on for a few weeks.  It could be that you interrupt, criticize, contradict, make dismissive remarks,  automatically say no or  dampen your child’s joy. Make a note about it that you read every morning, and jot down a few examples over the course of the day,  For example, I interrupted/criticized when _________. Here’s what I said__________.  What’s that about? _____________(Write down whatever comes to mind.  .    When you catch yourself in ego driven behavior—interrupting criticizing, correcting, blanking out– take a breath, bring yourself back to the present and notice what is happening in your body and in your mind.

In general, we stop the flow of connection when we are dismissive—Oh, it will be okay, interrupt  or block  a child from expressing their feelings, needs and wants.

Exercise 2.

A.    Take whatever bothers you or sets you off and ask:  Is that a part of me that I don’t accept?  For example, if a whining child is super irritating, ask yourself, what do I say to myself when I want to complain or whine? “I hate whining”  Ask yourself what you hate about it.  Explore everything that comes to mind. (It’s so weak, immature, stupid.  You need to be strong and take care of yourself.) What’s that about for you?    Do you stop yourself when you feel hurt; do you become stoic and not let anyone know what you need or feel?   Take time to listen to yourself, and  pay attention to whatever  rises to the surface.

2.   Ask yourself, what would  I like to whine about?

3.  Let yourself have a good whine, hopefully in the presence of another person.   Do it out loud, let yourself feel it.

  RECOGNIZE WHEN YOU ARE OPERATING OUT OF THE PAST. Squelching your child’s feelings of hurt, anger excitement, disappointment and so on.  You might feel panic or great discomfort when your child cries inconsolably.   “Shhh.”  “you shouldn’t feel that way.” “Don’t be a baby, big boys don’t cry.”  “You’ll be all right.  “It’s not a big deal. “You’ll get over it.” “It’s not so bad.”  “You should be grateful.”   You might feel an urge to punish —“That’s enough now.” “Calm it down.” “Don’t get too excited.” Don’t have a big head about it.”

  1. Repeatedly contradicting what your child says.  Your child tells you she is angry at a teacher and you immediately give her a lecture on why she shouldn’t be angry, or what she could do about it.  Your child tells you she is sad, and you  say, “You’re not sad.”  You’re okay.”
  2. Getting anxious, or jumping in to help when your child is struggling to accomplish a task—from tying a shoelace to putting a puzzle together, cleaning up her room, to figuring out a math problem. The first step is realizing that we  rush in out of our own anxiety. Ask yourself, what is triggering my anxiety? Practice taking a breath and stepping back.  Notice what happens in your body if you let your child struggle a little longer, or until it’s clear they need help. .
  3.  Becoming deeply agitated or explosive when you want a child to stop crying, whining, or procrastinating. Go inside yourself and ask where these feelings are coming from. Remember that as a parent, you need to be helpful in such situations, not just reactive and upset.
  4. Having your self-worth and image  attached to your child’s perceived failures or successes.  Thinking you’re a good parent =when your child gets good grades, excels at sports, music, has good friends, along with feeling angry, blaming yourself for your child’s  bad grades, difficulty with friends, or  gets depressed.   Either way it signals that you don’t  experience yourself as separate from your child who needs to take pleasure in his or her own successes and start understanding the consequences of bad grades, or not making an effort.  You can celebrate with your child when he/she succeeds as well as thinking about how to accept it when your child doesn’t live up to your script.  Then you might think about how to help your child take responsibility for the areas of life he/she can control.
  5. Interfering with the logical consequences of your child’s behavior. Children learn about life in the real world when we allow them to experience the consequences of their behavior.  When parents  try to get a teacher to give their child a better grade than she earned, or rush out to buy a new bike for your child when his gets stolen because he didn’t lock it, or allow a child to go to a friends without finishing a chore he/she had agreed to do, you are not helping them prepare for life.
  6. Making discouraging shaming remarks both subtle and obvious, such as, “You sure are slow to get this.” (Subtle version “You still haven’t figured this out?”)  “Your sister got it much faster than you”  (subtle version: “I remember when your sister had the same class.”) “Hey dummy, you got cotton in your brain?”  (Subtle version “ Well some of us are just  more able to learn than others.”)  “Don’t be a baby.” (Subtle version: “Now don’t cry, we don’t want to upset grandma.”)
  7. Comparing your child to others. It’s natural to be aware of differences between your child and his peers, but be wary of those observations turning into value judgments – it’s hurtful when the ego gets into pride or uneasiness based on comparisons with others.  All mentions of comparison carry an undercurrent of criticism and shame, even if it’s unintended.
  8. Making guilt-laden remarks by indicating that the child is selfish or unkind because she wants to do what brings her pleasure instead of fulfilling her child’s needs. The parent says, Aren’t you kind of selfish to want that present for yourself—it’s Christmas, you should be in the spirit of giving.  or, “You don’t really want to go to Jane’s house, do you?” when the truth is actually, “I don’t want you to go to Jane’s house today because I feel lonely and want you to stay  here to keep me company.”
  9. Possessiveness. Thwarting a child’s moves toward independence, exploration, developing talents, having friends, or feeling joy separate from you. For example, giving phony or capricious reasons of why  your child should play a certain instrument, take a particular class. wear orange when you like her in blue. Repeatedly saying, “Wouldn’t you rather . ./ . take violin lessons?” (which was always your own dream) when your child has already said emphatically that she wants to play the French horn.  If you’ve decided that she will take violin lessons and there won’t be a choice, you need to present it that way.  Mayabe it will help you hear yourself and be aware of your need to control your child instead of helping her find out who she is.
  10. Sending “It’s never good enough” messages . The A- could have been an A, the raking job missed some leaves, the colors in the picture could have gone together better. This stance of being a judge is toxic to children. As a parent, note how you do it to yourself.   It’s like a compulsion of the parent to make endless little remarks that undermine the child’s joy in his accomplishments. If you watch children closely, you can see the instant hurt and withdrawal in their  face and body language in response to  undermining remarks.

10. Being unpredictable and not  setting limits. You don’t set a curfew but get angry when you child comes home at 2AM.  You don’t talk about money or budgeting, but when your  high school daughter spends all the money she’s earned on some fancy clothes  you tell her she was wasteful and should have saved some of the money.  You jump up to get a TV dinner to please a complaining child and then scold , saying, “you are such a problem with eating. .

11. Being afraid of setting a limit for fear your child will be angry with you. Many parents look to their children to be their friends , give them approval or fill up some nameless empty place.  They also have a deep fear of conflict or having their child  show anger, so they repeatedly cave in after saying no, or don’t set appropriate limits.   What does the child learn?  To cave in to his or her own impulses and not to set internal limits against problem behaviors.  Remember, you are not in a popularity contest as a parent.

12. Parenting out of guilt. The rationale is often like this: I wasn’t there when my child was little/ I feel bad about our divorce/ I’ve really messed up,  so I’m making up for it now by being more lenient, buying nice things,  and not expecting too much.  As the expression goes, “guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.”


 Any time we’ve concocted a story about why we don’t set limits or take the role of a parent in charge, we’re probably acting out of fear.



As you reflect on the ways that your ego interferes with your parenting, take a moment to ask yourself:

Why is it so important for me that my child _______ .

How do I think it will make my life different?

How am I being dependent on my child for my needs or self esteem/image?



Finally, remember, that parenting is an imperfect situation.   You won’t always know what to say, or how to comfort your child, but you can learn to  say,  I don’t know what to do right now, what do you need?   What can I do for you?  You can bring mercy to yourself and your child for your imperfections and limitations.   You can step back, lighten up,  and see it all as a wondrous passing show with many players.  Peace.


In 1986 I broke a cardinal rule. I walked into my 12-step group and said, I am feeling good and really happy. I’m excited to have just gotten a book contract. I added that while I wasn’t about to leave the group immediately, I was feeling that there was an end in site. You could have heard a feather fly. Eventually someone said I sounded cocky—an interesting choice of words. Others voiced a guarded approval or care for me, but there was no feeling of genuine celebration. The question that had plagued me from childhood as a female in this culture had come to roost in my 12-step meeting. Namely, why can’t I be powerful and happy and still be supported and loved? Why is it suspect to say I feel good and excited about the prospect of writing a book? What I wanted with all my heart was a group where we could bond in joy, creativity, and honoring our strengths. That was the impetus to create the 16- step empowerment model.

Empowerment is based on love, not fear. While fear may jump start people into recovery, only love heals. An empowerment approach encourages people to break through limitations, enjoy their talents and strengths, use their rational mind as an ally in healing from addiction and bond in power and joy. Developing one’s passions, finding purpose and strength, and becoming involved in social change are seen as antidotes to addiction. And while it is crucial to acknowledge the power of addiction–“This addiction is killing me or ruining my life”–we need not permanently reduce the miracle of human existence to limiting labels such as “addict,” or “codependent.”

Addiction as a survival mechanism. In an empowerment model, addiction is not seen as the enemy, rather as a survival mechanism that was often triggered in childhood. Neglected? Eat for comfort or become invisible. Abused or battered? Use drugs, alcohol, anything to numb the pain. Want to feel important? Deal drugs, seduce someone. Afraid you can’t survive without a partner? Hide your power and acquiesce to dull or repulsive sex. The task of healing from addiction is to validate the positive survival goals of comfort, pleasure, love and power, then find non-addictive ways to meet those needs.

Internalized Oppression — The wound within

In the empowerment model I put together for my book, Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the Twelve Steps I explore the ways cultural stereotypes and internalized oppression underlie many addictions. To explain internalized oppression: We live in a system of variable worth based on gender, color, class, ethnic background and sexual preference. As a form of social control to perpetuate these inequalities, limiting negative stereotypes are assigned to each group, and people are taught to absorb these damaging self- definitions. Punishment is swift if one departs from their assigned role. The first level is verbal: for example, a woman who asserts her power is called a bitch, while a sensitive, emotional man is labeled a wimp or a queer. If verbal methods of control don’t work, economic deprivation, violence, loss of jobs, lack of access to education, and various forms of harassment are used. It is often the resulting pain, alienation, poverty, and self hatred that fuels addiction. Being lost in an addiction sometimes feels preferable to feeling unloved, rejected or without hope.

Empowerment is about naming and recognizing negative images one has internalized, then casting them out and moving toward one’s authentic self and learning positive skills for living. This can be frightening because it means questioning, challenging and limiting cultural stereotypes of what it means to be a man or a woman and then taking charge of one’s life. It can feel like committing a crime against the established order–be it parents, church or the culture.

Find Your Voice, Learn from Your Experience

Empowerment encourages individuals to develop their own internal belief system based on their perceptions and experiences. It is not a path of quick fixes, pat statements, and simple solutions, rather a process that involves change and constant re-evaluation of one’s beliefs as we experience new situations and hear other people recount their journeys.

In designing an empowerment model for overcoming addiction I suggest the using the terms un-covery and dis-covery (terms coined by Mary Daly in the 70’s). Re-covery implies covering something over. To become empowered we need to un-cover the lies of the stereotypes inflicted upon us by our patriarchal system and then dis-cover their authentic selves.

Many people, Many Cultures, Many Needs

The underlying pulse of Many Roads One Journey, Moving Beyond The Twelve Steps evolved as I traveled around the country listening to Native Americans, rural Appalachian women, feminists, African Americans, incarcerated women, members of an ashram, working class groups, privileged white males, middle class women, lesbians and gay men tell their stories. If there is anything I learned a thousand times it is that people develop addictions for many reasons, and they heal from addiction in countless ways. The most successful programs for people were ones that were sensitive to individual needs and understood cultural conditioning. The program for African Americans talked about the effects of descending from people brought to this country as slaves; Native American groups incorporated rituals reflecting their indigenous spirituality; gay and lesbian people talked about living in a world with homophobia; women’s programs talked about female oppression, sexual abuse and the need to stay out of violent or dependent relationships.

As my heart felt the richness of theses stories, I imagined many groups of diverse people gathering together, sitting in a circle and sharing their stories. This image led me to write an introduction for group meetings that affirms all people’s ways. I call it “Many Roads, One Journey: We Gather Together”

Here are excerpts from “We gather together,” and the 16 steps for Discovery and Empowerment as they appear in Many Roads, One Journey. I encourage you to use them, change them and find the words that sing in your own heart. Love and healing are sacred, not the words that help you get there.


Our purpose in coming together is to support and encourage each other in moving beyond addiction, dependency and internalized oppression. The only requirement for membership is a desire to maintain sobriety as we each define it.

We come together from many backgrounds and we can learn from each other’s ways and experiences. None of us has the answers for another person. We do not impose our beliefs on others or expect others to tell us the way. We have faith that through determination, sharing our histories of discovery and healing, supporting each other, and understanding the impact of our social system on us, we can each discover our personal path toward healing and sobriety.

Growing and becoming strong is a balance between self-acceptance and a firm commitment to sobriety. We overcome addiction and internalized oppression because we want to honor and enjoy the life we have been given and be of service to others. This process is not about moral worth. We are all sacred children of Creation this moment. These steps for discovery and empowerment are designed to create a healthy, aware Self which, over time, will help crowd out compulsive, addictive or dependent behavior. We believe that through bonding with others, speaking genuinely from our hearts, forgiving ourselves and others, finding purpose, helping create social change, and accepting the imperfections of life, we will find a sense of fulfillment that we have sought to fill through our addictive and dependent behavior.

The journey is sometimes difficult, sometimes smooth. This is natural. As we let go of our addictions and empower ourselves, some of us may use other resources to help us grow. We may also be faced with difficult circumstances in our lives that need advocacy and assistance. We support each other as we explore all avenues of personal empowerment and growth.

Several things you may want to remember as you use these steps:

  • There is no perfect path, only the path we choose one day at a time.
  • While we are aware of the powerful nature of addiction, our collective will and commitment to sobriety and growth is even more powerful.
  • Change takes time and is made of many small steps.
  • Many people have healed from addiction and internalized oppression.

Commit to living your truths

Truth is alive, dynamic and always changing. To live our deepest truths is to become one with our integrity, power and love. Truth winds its way through our lives at many levels: Telling the truth about the facts of your daily existence, where you went, what you spent, how many fish you caught seems like a simple enough task, but many have trouble with this. They often embellish or diminish their life story by taking a major detour from the truth.

Truth is about tuning to your wants and needs. What movie do you really want to see? Where do you really want to go for dinner? Who do you really want to spend time with? What sparks your interest? Attune to your body and feelings: pay attention to when you are tired, hungry, sad, or happy. How do body sensations signal what you are feeling? Chest constriction often signals fear; a knot in the throat might be related to sadness.

Opening to truth begins by understanding your motivation and reactions to various situations. This requires a fearless look at ourselves. Ask yourself, “Did I say that to make him feel guilty?” “Did I hold back my feelings of frustration so she wouldn’t get upset or leave me? What kind of work or living situation is best for me? Where do I feel a sense of belonging? Living your truth also means becoming aware of other cultures, religions, customs, beliefs and social traditions. This includes opening our eyes to injustice, discrimination, poverty and the complex interconnections between them all.

Remember you are part of a greater whole — the one unifying energy that lies beyond your thoughts, emotions and conditioning. Explore your relationship with truth. When we were younger, our need for our parents’ love, care and protection led us to develop deep instincts about what got us attention and acceptance, or possibly protected us from our parents’ anger or violence. If you knew for sure that you’d get spanked for admitting you broke something, it made sense to lie to protect yourself. If you were teased or called a cry-baby for being upset, you may have donned a mask of happiness or cheerfulness. These survival strategies may have become life-long habits.

Opening to the truth means questioning all the conditioning, beliefs and concepts superimposed upon your true self then practicing new behavior. Here are some fears you might question: If you feel that you’re being disloyal or committing a crime against the powers that be, you need to ask “Is this fear rooted in the past or present? Am I pretending to be happy when I’m really angry, because my parents punished me for being angry? What would happen now, if I let someone see my frustration or hurt? Is it really so dangerous in this situation?”

If you fear loss or rejection when you set limits or you say yes when you want to say no, then you need to surround yourself with people who support your honesty. If you fear expressing your desires, you fear making someone upset, hurt, defensive or angry. Explore your reasons for this. Are they old habits that served some childhood purpose? How does this lack of assertiveness keep you from feeling strong, centered and in charge of your life? Part of living by your truth is remembering that sometimes, we get a yes and sometimes, we get a no.

A starting place for learning to decipher your truths is to imagine an energy or brightness meter inside you that goes from one (low), to ten (high.) Notice which people and situations lead to feeling bright, energized, uplifted and nurtured. Notice what leads you to feel drained or empty. Then take the leap and go toward that which nurtures, sparks and helps bring you toward your aliveness and power.

It will take a repeated effort to remember that the voices that chide you into making you believe you’re being selfish, mean and unkind are just old tape recordings from the past. Take notice of them but don’t take them seriously. The trade-off for living your truth is that you get to have more personal power, joy and love in your life.

Most of all, remember that by living a truth-centered life, you will move from fear, anxiety and regrets to a life filled with fascination, curiosity and awe! Your body will relax and as you step beyond your conditioned old self into the stream of life where you become a source of inner happiness and peace.

Published in New Living Magazine

Basic beliefs about addiction

  1. Addiction is a response to overwhelming emotions—such as fear, terror, pain and aloneness. People use addictive substances or behaviors to anesthetize pain, feel relaxed, calm themselves, feel alive, numb out pain, turn off a racing mind, hide from shame, or feel a sense of belonging. Addictions are used in an attempt to manage what feels out of control, missing, or very frightening.
  2. Trauma, neglect or alienation often lead to disregulation of feelings and thoughts. They also lead to impulsiveness, detachment, denial, and self absorption. When one’s primary task is managing a restless, painful fearful or chaotic inner world, it becomes difficult to have true intimacy with others. The resulting lack of authentic relationships perpetuates the sense of isolation and shame and keeps the addiction cycle in play. Addiction thrives in isolation and loneliness.
  3. Overcoming addiction is greatly helped by addressing core issues of trauma that lead to anxiety, depression, pain, and negative beliefs—I’m powerless, damaged, unlovable, invisible, alone, worthless, inadequate, incompetent, and so on. The task is to process trauma in order to ease one’s inner anxiety and chaos, and learn to manage feelings and emotions This, in turn opens the way to stable, soothing relationships, which then become an antidote to addiction.
  4. The more we move toward the highest states of human development, the less we will be inclined toward addiction. This includes developing an internal center of control, attuning to one’s truths, taking charge of ones life, questioning, accepting differences, experiencing compassion, and developing values through observation and experience. This also includes sorting out the essential self from the conditioned self–namely the voices of criticism, censorship, fear and self loathing that are intruders in one’s mind.
  5. Authentic human connections are essential to overcoming addiction because they comfort, ease stress, assuage loneliness, lower anxiety, and provide shelter and companionship—all the things people attempt to do with addictive behavior. This includes primary relationships, friendships, and connections within a supportive community.
  6. The more we are self aware and accepting of all the parts of ourselves the more we are able to have warm, stable, caring relationships. That’s because accepting our own imperfections/ humanness leads us to be more open hearted, less defensive, less fearful and more able to attune to others and hold them in our awareness at all times. This prevents us from doing harm to others. We learn to step back and observe ourselves with compassion and curiosity. Hmm, what’s that about? What’s going on with me? Why such a big reaction? Why so much fear?
  7. Overcoming addiction has many facets: financial stability, education, jobs/career, healing the physical body, learning self care, connecting with others, and affirming ones heritage.
  8. It is important to understand addiction in a personal, family and cultural context. People are not simply “addicts,” they are people with addictions. It is by realizing that they are much more than their addictions, and by focusing on their strengths and all that they can be, they move toward wholeness and crowd out the desire for addictive behavior.