“I think our attitude about our bodies is crucial to our liberation
as women. Negative body image is still the darkest prison
we create for ourselves.” —Lucia Capacchione
By Cat Saunders
Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D., A.T.R., is an art therapist, seminar leader, artist, and author. She healed herself from a life-threatening connective tissue disorder though the development of her own creative journaling techniques. Lucia then went on to write several books about creativity and healing.
She is especially well-known for her pioneering techniques that utilize the expressive power of the nondominant hand. Lucia has trained tens of thousands of people over the course of her career. Her methods are widely respected in the fields of addiction, codependency, and childhood abuse healing.
In this interview, Lucia talks about the nondominant hand techniques described in two of her books, The Power of Your Other Hand and Recovery of Your Inner Child. These books show how you can use your nondominant hand to write/draw/express any part of you that is repressed or not fully expressed. For example, you can use your nondominant hand to express a personal fear or a passionate emotion. You can also use it to express a part of your body, your inner wisdom, or your playfulness.
To do this, Lucia teaches people how to create dialogues between the dominant and nondominant hands. This helps to give voice to–and integrate–all aspects of the self. In so doing, greater health and well-being are gently facilitated in safe, creative ways.
Cat: You mentioned that a lot of child abuse survivors show up at your workshops. In what specific ways do you guide them?
Lucia: They, perhaps more than anyone, need to do the inner child work where they become the parent to their own inner child. They really must be taught to do this, because they didn’t have any good parenting models.
Survivors of child abuse are often good at taking care of others, but they have a hard time turning that attention inward. They always put others first, because they feel worthless. For survivors, the process of reparenting themselves may feel like an impossible task.
I give them techniques from the nurturing and protective parent chapters in Recovery of Your Inner Child. This helps them get in touch with the positive inner parent. The inner child does know about its needs for compassion, love, and protection. But we must learn how to hear those needs with the ears of our own inner parent. Then we can take care of the child within.
If we use the left brain to figure out our needs, it will come out dry and flat, with no heart. But if the child speaks, we get specifics. “I don’t like that particular manager. He’s always putting me down. I don’t want to be around him.” The child needs to talk out its feelings and be heard.
Another major issue for adult survivors of child abuse is that they learned early to leave their bodies. They did it in order to survive, and I commend them for surviving. But the problem is that as they get older, they need to learn to come back into their bodies.
Otherwise, they aren’t able to listen to their bodies’ psychosomatic cues. And if they can’t listen to these cues, they can’t take care of themselves in time. Because adult survivors have been out of their bodies for so long, physical symptoms often don’t show up until later in life.
Somewhere along the line, this business of being out of the body catches up with them. They may have a terrible accident or experience chronic illness or pain. For example, I think that low-energy diseases, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Epstein-Barr Virus, are generally related to a problem with the inner child.
The natural state of children is high energy. As adults, when we lose that life force energy, I think it’s because our inner child is somehow being ignored or abandoned.
A lot of people are frightened because they think that if we listen to the inner child, it will run our lives. My experience is the opposite. That is, if we don’t listen to the inner child, it will run our lives covertly through pain, accidents, or illness. By integrating the inner child into my own life, I’ve been able to accomplish far more, with far less stress, than I ever dreamed possible.
Cat: Since women are traditionally caretakers, I think we could really benefit from what you call the Inner Brat.
Lucia: Absolutely. The Inner Brat is probably the most important gift I have given to women. Women’s socialization is to be helpful and to care for everyone. So women tend to project the Inner Brat out onto their husbands, lovers, bosses, fathers, sons.
They unconsciously use males in their lives to carry the bratty behavior. Then the women go around being the virtuous martyrs. They say, “Poor me, look at what he did to me! I work so hard and give so much. Isn’t he dreadful!”
They wallow in what I call the addiction of self-righteous indignation or self-righteous martyrdom. There are a lot of religious traditions that deify the virtuous martyr. So women can really get a lot of mileage out of this. But it’s a real disease and a deadly brand of codependence. It’s also one of the biggest problems women face.
Women need to own their brat, and they need to own their protective parent. The protective parent is a very impersonal voice. It just says no. If another person gets uppity or has a tantrum, it will still say no. Women have a hard time being impersonal. They’re afraid of appearing cold and hard.
When I was coming out of a lot of codependence, the mantra that saved my life was the question, “Is this in my best interest?” If the answer was no, then I said no, regardless of what the other person wanted. No reasons. No rationalizations. Just no.
This is a voice that anyone going into therapy needs to have, not just women. There’s a chapter on the protective parent in Recovery of Your Inner Child. In that chapter, I talk a lot about the terrible abusive power that many therapists wield.
There are therapists who are in denial. They are purporting to do inner child work or purporting to do counseling. But they are sexually and emotionally abusing their clients.
Clients don’t necessarily know about the ethics of therapy. They can be seduced by a therapist either emotionally or sexually, and may not understand what’s happening. I call this professional incest.
I’m doing everything I can to warn clients to be careful, to be cautious. Use your impersonal, protective parent and your inner child when you go to a new therapist. Dialogue with your inner child after one session and ask, “How do you feel about this therapist? Do you feel safe?”
Ignore the left-brain stuff about how many credentials they have or how many books they’ve written. If your inner child doesn’t trust the person, go with that. Then, if you have to go back and terminate therapy, take your protective parent with you. Because if it’s an abusive therapist, he or she will do anything to keep you in therapy. You’re one of their meal tickets!
They may throw a bunch of psychobabble at you about how you’re just now getting into the meaty stuff. Or they may make you feel like a coward for stopping. If the therapist has also been coming on to you sexually, or talking in seductive ways, it can be really hard to hold your ground. You need your protective parent to help you say no.
Cat: As a former anorexic and bulimic, I am deeply touched by how quickly, easily, and directly your nondominant hand techniques access the voice of my inner child in regard to food and body issues. In two decades of work with many different kinds of therapy, it’s one of the most effective tools I’ve ever seen for doing inner child work.
Lucia: I truly believe that the inner child in us knows what we need for our bodies. But we got cut off from this voice. Our parents didn’t listen to our inner child. They had their own ideas about what we should or shouldn’t eat, and all kinds of other issues got mixed up with food, too.
Two generations ago in our society, male doctors got a hold of childbirth and childrearing. When this happened, the connection with the inner child was literally obliterated. Four-hour feeding schedules were introduced, which absolutely deny the infant its own voice about what it needs. The mother is looking at the clock instead of the kid!
Add to this a decline in breast-feeding and the introduction of formulas and bottles. It’s no wonder we have become so disconnected from our inner, instinctive voice about what our bodies need!
In my body-centered workshops, I always ask if there is anyone who is completely satisfied with their body. In all the years I’ve taught, I’ve seen maybe one hand.
I think our attitude about our bodies is crucial to our liberation as women. If we don’t deal with this, and if we don’t learn to counteract the complete brainwashing and programming that our society places on us about our bodies, then we’re just back in the Middle Ages. The Women’s Movement hasn’t seemed to budge this one. Negative body image is still the darkest prison we create for ourselves.
To me, the cutting edge for all of us, as women, is to repair this damage in ourselves. That means honoring the inner child, because the inner child expresses through the body. But it also means honoring ourselves as women.
I think that the interest in the Goddess energy right now is a hopeful sign. We need to honor ourselves in human, female bodies. We are beautiful, in all our sizes and shapes and colors, exactly as we are.
This interview was originally published by The New Times (July 1991) and updated in May 2017.
As of late 2002, Lucia Capacchione has authored 13 books. In her most recent books, Visioning: Ten Steps to Designing the Life of Your Dreams and Living with Feeling: The Art of Emotional Expression (both by Tarcher/Putnam), she has expanded her work into mixed media, such as photo-collage, music, movement, and mask-making. To contact Lucia or learn more about her work, please visit www.luciac.com.
Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the author of Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human (available through Amazon). Contact Cat by emailing her or by calling 206-329-0125 (24-hour voicemail).