John Bradshaw was made famous by PBS when they would broadcast his mini seminars and counseling tips and ideas. He is the promoter of the “inner child“ and illustration of an empty cup psychology. His needs model of understanding the psychology of mankind is, in my opinion, the predominant model in America currently. His basic premise is that we are all born with certain needs that we not only want but “need” to have met. This starting point assumes the innocence of mankind as children, who have this mental cup waiting to be filled with love, nurture, and acceptance. When the cup is filled with the toxic pollutants of the world, you get people who just react badly. As such Bradshaw would observe then that everyone and every family is dysfunctional to a degree. If you sip something too strong, you react with a blah face, and recoil from the cup. We all have banged up and bruised cups from all the pain and suffering of life imposed upon us, and yet there is this innocence of a little child still deep inside us, longing for that cup to have something good put in it, so that we can be relaxed, loved, and warm while sipping upon good things (insert your favorite coffee commercial here). Again I know this is a gross generalization of the man and his work, due to the brevity of space, but I believe it is an accurate picture from the inside.
Bradshaw therapy solutions come in the form of being able to trust the counselor and a corresponding support group, who affirms you and who you are in a bare self-appeasing way. The blame for how you feel and your mistakes are based upon others not meeting your needs, leaving you and training you to fend for yourself in very questionable an non-affirming ways. Patterns of anger are not sinful, but a learned way of gaining respect and attention, because that need was not met for you, and so on. Bradshaw’s answer is to simply replace learned anger to get attention, with better humane patterns of getting more with honey. It’s learning to work with the system of manipulating people and things in a more positive way, so people are serving you and you serve their needs and wants, or what we might call the “win-win” principle. It is a tainted version of the golden rule, “don’t spit in my cup and I won’t spit in yours.”
From a practical standpoint this model also does not take all the data into account. Bradshaw cannot explain why some children from very nurtured homes, still turned out badly, or why some kids raised very poorly turn out so good and mentally healthy. It really has no morality to it, as everyone is out there seeking ways to be fulfilled, and yet Bradshaw (like the others) just sees it as counterproductive to fill your cup off of the manipulation of others (in a strictly negative way). It also seems to project a client into their past to find insight and pain from childhood, when such pain may not really be there. A client who was very content as a child may just recently be dealing with the lack of feeling acceptance and love. To project the client backwards to childhood is misleading and can be a manipulation of their childhood.
The Christian integrationist does much better with this model than with the others I’ve discussed because it works well with moral examples, and can point us to be “like Jesus” and so forth. But it’s starting and ending premise in Bradshaw is that we are innocent through and through. There is no sin, just frustration in not getting your desires or “needs” met (Not the Christian premise of sin and life). The products of Dobson, Crabb, and Minrth and Myers all sound the same notes (most sticking with the cup illustration too), only they substitute that God is the true one to fill your “needs” for value, acceptance and love. It’s the old Beatles song, “All you need is love,” where the human love of Bradshaw is substituted with God. But this is a tainted self-praising love and not godly, righteous or justifying in the least.
The theologically sound Christian psychologist will pause to reflect on if these are really “needs” or fleshly desires. Christians recognized that sin is within and not just pushing in on us from the outside. Does God exist to make us happy and feel good about who we are, or do we exist to bring glory and honor to Him in all circumstances? Christians do far better to remember that although we are sinful, in very moral ways, God saves us from our sins, not to seek to get our feelings pumped up by Him, but to have our youthful lusts of self praise lowered and put off so that our sense of praise and worship for God might increase. We lose ourselves in the praise of God, only to really find ourselves happier than we could have imagined. We can then pray to see God’s will done, whatever tomorrow holds instead of telling Him how to change our circumstances and others (not us, we are fine) in order to make us happier people. In grace, we are humble, and Christ seeking in such a way that we can put all others first, because God has really and practically given us more than we could have hoped for.