Most of us who grew up in families affected by the disease of alcoholism never did really grow up in many ways. Sure, we grew up physically — but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually many of us are still stuck back there in early childhood. We never learned a “normal” way of thinking, feeling or reacting. As long as things are going smoothly, we’re fine. However, when we experience conflict, controversy, or crises and we respond with less-than-adult-like reactions. Over the years, those who have studied the “adult child” phenomenon have compiled a list of common characteristics which many people who grew up in dysfunctional homes seem to share. The following characteristics were developed in 1983 by Dr. Janet G. Woititz. You may recognize some of them.
…guess at what normal is.
…have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end.
…lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
…judge themselves without mercy.
…have difficulty having fun.
…take themselves very seriously.
…have difficulty with intimate relationships.
…overreact to changes over which they have no control.
…constantly seek approval and affirmation.
…feel that they are different from other people.
…are either super responsible or super irresponsible..
…are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is undeserved.
…tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self loathing, and loss of control of their environment. As a result, they spend tremendous amounts of time cleaning up the mess.
These characteristics are, of course, general in nature and do not apply to everyone. Some may apply and others not. http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/adult/a/aa073097.htm
Wine hath drowned
more men than the sea.
Verbal Abuse includes screaming, name-calling, teasing, ridiculing, sarcasm and witnessing someone else receive verbal or any type of abuse. Social abuse includes isolating the child, not allowing friends to come over or not allowing the child to visit others. Indirect social abuse occurs when the child chooses to not have friends come over because the child may be embarrassed about home, a parent’s behavior, or it might not be a safe environment to bring other children into and the parents have indirectly communicated this to the children. Mother or father might be passed out on the couch, depressed, angry, or some other handicap that makes it uncomfortable to have outsiders to the family home. Neglect and Abandonment – Are the child’s dependency needs met? Remember the child cannot survive without a caretaker… food, clothing, shelter, medical/dental care, physical nurturing, emotional nurturing, sexual guidance and appropriate information… how to succeed in the world we live in; financial guidance and information, education and occupation guidance, career and life goals. The impact of neglect and abandonment is often harder for people to comprehend. They often express relief at being left alone, felt it toughened them up and they became better people. In some ways it’s true but they didn’t get to feel taken care of or protected and don’t expect to find it in other relationships. Taken from “Adults Abused as Children” by Licia Ginne, LMFT http://www.latherapists.com/articles.html
I …understand how a parent might hit a child -
it’s because you can look into their eyes
and see a reflection of yourself
that you wish you hadn’t.
(A) child’s unconscious adaptation to a dysfunctional family interferes with his or her adult relationships. Because the real self is safely tucked away, the adult must “invent” a different one that will appear as normal as possible and be able to negotiate the day-to-day interactions of adult life. Invented selves, however, have no interest in true intimacy. Instead, they exist as a kind of interface between the true self and the outside world, carefully monitoring and controlling what is allowed in and out. As a result, passion and empathy have to be manufactured–while the person may take the time in the early/romantic phase of a relationship to “act” this out, many soon tire of the effort. Often partners notice the “wooden” nature of their response or their obliviousness. It is not unusual for these people to be particularly accomplished. They channel all of their energy toward a particular pursuit, and away from everything else that is happening around them. . Workaholics often fit this category. From “Why Can’t Some People Maintain Intimate Relationships?” by Richard A. Grossman, Ph.D. http://www.voicelessness.com/intimacy.html
The mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational
until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction
and unless they have structured help, they have no hope.
One of the negative emotional habits that codependents develop is categorical thinking. Everything is black and white with no shades in between. This always/never way of thinking leads them to over-react in social situations. Roger, for example, heard that some of the members of his Sunday school class were dissatisfied with his teaching methods. Instead of consulting with them on how to make the class more meaningful, he resigned and joined another class. Another childlike behavior of codependents is personalization – interpreting everything that is said and done in their immediate environment as if it were directed at them. This creates a paranoid perspective, which leads to defensiveness, hostility, and isolation. At a meeting with his prayer group, Mark questioned the unwitting use of sexist language that had begun to occur. Another member of the group, realizing that he was guilty, assumed that Mark was chiding him personally. He took offense and dropped out of the group. A third habit many codependents acquire is what I call obsessive over-analyzing. The mind goes round and round in circles until the emotional system either explodes or shuts down as a result of the overwhelming anxiety that is generated. Another emotional habit typical of codependents is exaggerating or “awfulizing”. Children who have grown up in addictive or traumatized family systems learn to expect the worst. They are constantly waiting for the other shoe to fall. In adulthood, they are prone to place the worst possible interpretation on every event. They see neutral or even positive situations as negative, and they anticipate disaster. This expectation often sets off an emotional chain reaction that creates the very thing they most fear. People who are “stuck” in these immature emotional habits consider them normal. They don’t know any other way to think/believe/behave. Such individuals are not at fault! They need gentle and respectful guidance. http://www.thebridgetorecovery.com/overcoming-codependency.html
The consequences of your denial
will be with you for a lifetime
and will be passed down
to the next generations.
Break your Silence on Abuse!
Patty Rase Hopson
Codependence is the pain in adulthood that comes from being wounded in childhood and leads to a high probability of relationship problems and addictive/compulsive behavior. It is a combination of immature thinking, feeling and behaving that generates an aversive relationship with the self (self-loathing), which the codependent individual acts-out through self-destructive unduly self-sacrificial behavior. The most creative description I came across was this one: codependence is about growing up depending on someone who’s depending on something that’s not dependable. This could include anything from abusing alcohol and drugs to compulsive overworking, overeating, and overdoing almost anything. An example would be the child left in the car for one or more hours, enduring heat or cold, while his/her parents are working in the office. Today, I use this simple, generic definition of codependence: “Codependence is the pain in adulthood that comes from being wounded in childhood, which leads to a high probability of relationship problems and addictive disorders in later life.” Children of addiction, neglect, and abuse acquire social and emotional habits that turn on them in adulthood. Survival behaviors such as compulsive caretaking, martyring, door matting, scapegoating, controlling, people-pleasing, and approval-seeking are classic examples. http://www.thebridgetorecovery.com/overcoming-codependency.html
Research on child abuse suggests
that religious beliefs can foster,
encourage, and justify the abuse of children.
When contempt for sex underlies teachings,
this creates a breeding ground for abuse.
There is a great deal of variability in how often dysfunctional interactions and behaviors occur in families, and in the kinds and the severity of their dysfunction. However, when patterns like the above are the norm rather than the exception, they systematically foster abuse and/or neglect. Children may:
- Be forced to take sides in conflicts between parents.
- Experience “reality shifting” in which what is said contradicts what is actually happening (e.g., a parent may deny something happened that the child actually observed, for example, when a parent describes a disastrous holiday dinner as a “good time”).
- Be ignored, discounted, or criticized for their feelings and thoughts.
- Have parents that are inappropriately intrusive, overly involved and protective.
- Have parents that are inappropriately distant and uninvolved with their children.
- Have excessive structure and demands placed on their time, choice of friends, or behavior; or conversely, receive no guidelines or structure.
- Experience rejection or preferential treatment.
- Be restricted from full and direct communication with other family members.
- Be allowed or encouraged to use drugs or alcohol.
- Be locked out of the house.
- Be slapped, hit, scratched, punched, or kicked.
Abuse and neglect inhibit the development of children’s trust in the world, in others, and in themselves. Later as adults, these people may find it difficult to trust the behaviors and words of others, their own judgments and actions, or their own senses of self-worth. Not surprisingly, they may experience problems in their academic work, their relationships, and in their very identities. In common with other people, abused and neglected family members often struggle to interpret their families as “normal.” The more they have to accommodate to make the situation seem normal (e.g., “No, I wasn’t beaten, I was just spanked. My father isn’t violent, it’s just his way”), the greater is their likelihood of misinterpreting themselves and developing negative self concepts (e.g., “I had it coming; I’m a rotten kid”). http://www.counselingcenter.illinois.edu/?page_id=171
Low self-esteem is like
driving through life
with your hand-break on.
Many people hope that once they leave home, they will leave their family and childhood problems behind. However, many find that they experience similar problems, as well as similar feelings and relationship patterns, long after they have left the family environment. Ideally, children grow up in family environments which help them feel worthwhile and valuable. They learn that their feelings and needs are important and can be expressed. Children growing up in such supportive environments are likely to form healthy, open relationships in adulthood. However, families may fail to provide for many of their children’s emotional and physical needs. In addition, the families’ communication patterns may severely limit the child’s expressions of feelings and needs. Children growing up in such families are likely to develop low self-esteem and feel that their needs are not important or perhaps should not be taken seriously by others. As a result, they may form unsatisfying relationships as adults.
Types Of Dysfunctional Families
- One or both parents have addictions or compulsions (e.g., drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, gambling, overworking, and/or overeating) that have strong influences on family members.
- One or both parents use the threat or application of physical violence as the primary means of control. Children may have to witness violence, may be forced to participate in punishing siblings, or may live in fear of explosive outbursts.
- One or both parents exploit the children and treat them as possessions whose primary purpose is to respond to the physical and/or emotional needs of adults (e.g., protecting a parent or cheering up one who is depressed).
- One or both parents are unable to provide, or threaten to withdraw, financial or basic physical care for their children. Similarly, one or both parents fail to provide their children with adequate emotional support.
- One or both parents exert a strong authoritarian control over the children. Often these families rigidly adhere to a particular belief (religious, political, financial, personal). Compliance with role expectations and with rules is expected without any flexibility.
If you cannot get rid
of the family skeleton,
you may as well make it dance.
George Bernard Shaw
A parent who is controlling their child’s actions and is constantly concerned with what their child is always doing could be considered a codependent parent. Codependent parents may view themselves as being caring and helpful. However their codependent behavior is damaging the overall well-being of their child. To help understand what are some signs of a codependent parent and how someone can stop being a codependent parent, I have interviewed therapist Nicolle Zapien LMFT. (She said) “Codependence is a complex pattern of excessive selflessness and preoccupation with another person that does not serve both people optimally Codependence is a well-meaning attempt to be kind but really tends to stem from difficulties with anger, boundaries and strong self-structure. The impact of codependency on a child can be great. He or she may have difficulty with boundaries (addressing others’ needs more readily than considering one’s own), may end up as easy prey for people to manipulate, may more easily fall victim to self-harm, rape, date rape or abuse. There is some research to indicate that codependency is related to lack of assertiveness and as a result many codependents end up unhappy because they are less likely to ask for what they need or many changes to get what they want. But it is difficult to say how it will impact anyone in particular, because there are many variables that go into defining us, protecting us and prodding us toward particular emotional, cognitive or behavioral experiences. Codependency is never a positive experience, however, and is not to be misunderstood as altruism or caring. It does not allow the codependent to have full access to his self or feelings and instead is more like a parasitic relationship.” Jaleh http://voices.yahoo.com/how-stop-being-codependent-parent-7503416.html?cat=25
I took a piece of living clay,
And gently pressed it day by day,
And molded with my power and art
A young child’s soft and yielding heart.
I came again when years were gone;
It was a man I looked upon.
He still that early impress bore,
And I could fashion him no more.
Witnessing physical and emotional abuse is harmful to children, even when they’re not being targeted. Just because your wife/girlfriend isn’t currently attacking your children doesn’t mean it’s not affecting them. We learn about relationships from our parents and other caregivers. What do you think your children are learning by observing mom’s and dad’s relationship dynamic? If you could choose a relationship partner for your children when they’re grown up, would you want it to be like your relationship with their mother? By staying in the relationship, you’re telegraphing that it’s okay for the person who “loves” you to abuse you and that one individual’s needs and feelings are more important than the other’s. Additionally, when and if the children ever begin to assert their own identities and challenge mom in any way—that is if they’re not terrified to do so after witnessing the way mom treats dad—they’ll typically be subject to the same hot and cold abuse. Your kids are going to have issues, especially around relationships, whether you stay in the marriage or not. You’ll be in a much better place to help them later on if you’re healthy, strong and happy. Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD http://shrink4men.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/10-lies-men-tell-themselves-in-order-to-stay-in-emotionally-abusive-relationships-with-their-wives-or-girlfriends/
There are far too many silent sufferers.
Not because they don’t yearn to reach out,
but because they’ve tried
and found no one who cares.
Richelle E. Goodrich
Children from highly dysfunctional households often feel that things will get better someday, that a ‘normal’ life may lie in the future. Indeed, some days things are fairly ‘normal’, but then the bad times return again. It’s the normal days that encourage the fantasy that all problems in the family might someday be solved. This is a common cycle in highly dysfunctional families. When they grow up, these adults carry the same types of fantasy into their relationships. They may portray to others the myth that they have the perfect relationship and they may believe, to themselves, that someday all of their relationship problems will somehow be solved. They ignore the abuse, manipulation, imbalance and control in the relationship. By ignoring the problems, they are unable to confront them and the fantasy of a happier future never comes to pass. Unhealthy boundaries, where we collude with our partner in believing the myth that everything is fine, make it difficult to come to terms with the troubles of the relationship. Healthy boundaries allow us to test reality rather than rely on fantasy. When problems are present, good emotional boundaries allow us to define the problems and to communicate with our partner in finding solutions. They encourage a healthy self-image, trust, consistency, stability and productive communication. John Stibbs http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk/emotional_boundaries.html
There is only one thing more painful
than learning from experience
and that is not learning from experience.