I was told by a friend once, that because I come from a "dysfunctional family background", she has noticed that I seem to have a lot of the patterns that "Adult Children of Alcoholics" tend to have. Fair enough. Having come from what would be considered a dysfunctional family, and admittedly being well aware that some thing needed to change in my personal life (yeah yeah), I figured this was worth researching.
And I did. And I found plenty of websites talking about support for adult children, often pointing out that they meant children growing up in alcoholic "or otherwise dysfunctional homes". Great! They also talked about patterns in these adult children, which demonstrate the problems they might experience in their lives, talking about the roles children take on in dysfunctional/alcoholic families:
The Roles are as follows:
- Responsible child: Good at taking control/leadership, but can be control freakish.
- Adjuster: aka "Lost child" Let people walk all over them, have difficulty making their own decisions, want to basically hide from the world, and not be asked to take any control. Will do anything, if you just leave them alone.
- Placater: Have a savior mentality, also let people walk all over them, but instead of being passive like the adjuster, they actively want to help these people, but feel guilty if they try and focus on themselves.
- Acting-Out child: Rebellious, disruptive, angry, demanding attention, tend to make good leaders but not good with authority.
So far, so good. I can see a bit of all of those in me. I can be control freakish, I can also be very avoidance-y and overly flexible just so people let me be, I have also in the past, tried to save people, but gotten very uncomfortable if anyone expects me to be vulnerable. And I never "acted out" with my actual family, but I have with friends.
So yes, those tendencies do tend to develop, when you grow up in a not necessarily nurturing, safe feeling household. Of course all of these could be expressed as "good" things.
- Responsible is good.
- Adjuster means you are adaptable, that's good.
- Placater, is just a kind hearted soul that wants nothing in return...
- And acting out, can also be good. Speaks up for themselves, isn't a minion of society etc.
So what's the problem here? The problem is that those qualities exist to help you cope with difficult times. Which is useful, but if you have the chance to have a not difficult life, you get confused, cuz you never learnt how to prosper, when given the opportunity.. well atleast if you were one of the first three. I would think the Acting out child would fare best with making the best of opportunities. Why? Because they got all their anger and frustration out of the way early, now they just need to move on.
The real uniting factor in all 4 types is, the inability to rely on other people to help you. 4 is saying, I'll survive on my own, I don't need you. 1 is saying, i don't trust you to take charge, so i am going to do it. 2 is saying I don't trust people so I would rather just be left alone. And 3 is saying everything is my fault, so i will fix it, i don't deserve any help from anyone else.
In any case, reading all this, I was convinced, this could be helpful, there might be something to this! They know what the problem is, so how do they solve it...
Aah. The 12 step program... sure, we have all heard about it, but I didn't actual know what the meat of it was. So I start reading it:
The 12 Steps
Read it. Read it again. And laugh. Because that's what I did.
What this said to me was, we know your problem, and it blows, let Jesus Christ be your savior. Of course if any secularist catches on to what's really going on, let's use liberal, hippy sounding words like "higher power" and "God, as we understand God".
Okay so honestly, the mention of a higher power, and god as we understand god, would not bother me so much if:
a) It didn't complete estrange anyone who wanted to learn to survive alcoholism, without being indoctrinated into theism. It's just plain unfair, that atheists and agnostics, not be allowed a safe space to recover, just like any other human being.
b) Personally, I have had a hard time with lack of faith, and maybe that is the problem. The inability to trust others, or to rely on others, comes from a lack of faith. So I would understand that, if the 12 steps didn't also focus so much on 'humility', and 'making amends'. This isn't just theism indoctrination, this is specifically Christian indoctrination. Even after acknowledging that all these tendencies in us, take place because of circumstances, we are expected to:
- feel guilty
- and take all the blame
- and feel uncooperative if we don't want to
1) Is AA effective?
2) Atheism and Recovery
3) How AA Steals your Soul
Having said all that, and having decided AA is a preposterous abuse of power
(although nothing new, religious indoctrination has always been done through the weak of society. Find the ones in need, and offer to save them, and in their vulnerable state and your position of power they will believe whatever you tell them), what does one do?
It's easy to poke holes and find fault in the people actually trying to make a difference, but unless I have a different solution, it's all rather pointless, isn't it?
I am no psychology expert, I have not actually professionally studied this subject and so in all honesty, this is admittedly only going to be useful for me, but here is my solution which is a shorter "five step program" which basically runs on a few principles:
- understanding the objective reality of you, your parents, your life.
- allowing yourself to feel and understand your emotions.
- understanding what you may have been doing to sabotage things, and what you may have been doing to make things better. Feel pride in your accomplishments, and if you feel like it's the right thing, resolve to change the sabotaging behavior.
- change self sabotaging habits.
- developing a support system/learning to trust, by being realistic about who to trust and who not to and how much and at what stage of the relationship/friendship.
1) Take stock of the reality of your past life and your current situation, this involves:
a) Understanding why you are the way you are.(when I was a 3 yr old this happened, my parents generally behave this way, so i responded that way. My dad was like this, so I expect all men to be like this, and became a lesbian, whatever. ).
b) And why you are where you are in your life. (My mom selfishly used her kids as sounding boards, so now I selfishly use my kids as sounding boards, except now they hate me and are all wanting to run away from home, and that makes me feel sad. My dad made me lost all trust in men, so now I am a cruel bitch to all the men I meet who show a remote interest in me, and so I am unhappy and alone and constantly on guard, and have a bunch of men who think I am an ass, and feel like I am becoming an old maid. I was forced to grow up too early in my family, and so I am way ahead of all my peers and doing really well in my career, my family loves me cuz they know they can rely on me and I am generally quite happy.)
2) Get in touch with how you feel. Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling. Validate yourself. Acknowledge yourself. Humor yourself. Get angry, get sad, cry, shout, sing, celebrate, dance, paint, express yourself! Depending on what your coping mechanisms have been so far, this part may vary. If you are a control freak, allow yourself to relax and admit that once in a while, you wish someone else would take responsibility. If you are an adjuster, admit that it would feel so good, if people could adjust to your life and schedule rather than the other way around. If you are a placater, admit that you would like to be taken care of once in a while, if you are an acting outer, you have already taken the anger step, admit that you wish once in a while that you could trust people and.
3) Figure out what you want. After having allowed yourself to feel your emotions, narrow it down to your wishes, desires, wants.
a) Figuring out what you want your life to be like and how much of what you want you already have. (not just the "I don't want to marry a man like my dad" or "I don't want to be stuck all my life trying to be a savior for my girlfriend" but also "I want to be surrounded by bollywood and mangos", "I want to be a good mother who understands her own and her children's needs", or "I want to make my mom pay back for all the grief she gave me as a child, by being my babysitter for when I have kids and hence saving me tons of money in daycare")
4) Develop a support system. In the meantime, be your own support system. Learning to trust discriminatingly:
- Start making friends, but don't reveal all immediately.
- Let people earn your trust, don't set them up for failure, don't assume success, it takes time to realistically form trustworthy friends, let it take time.
- Regarding let it take time. Knowing your life history, it's unfair to yourself to expect yourself to open up to people too quickly. It's also unfair to expect other people to be completely sincere without giving them the time to get to know you. AND it's also unkind to yourself to not give yourself the opportunity to make real friends. In the meantime, you have needs, you want kindness and safety and friends.. well tough! You have to work on it. In the meantime, give yourself a break, be kind to yourself, do things to pamper yourself, focus on the good things in life, do things that you enjoy doing, don't push yourself too hard to be happy, but don't be a recluse either.
5) Learn from the past and get what you want from the third step.
- After having recognized the patterns that create situations that you desire/dislike in your life, make sure to take stock of what patterns you like, and what patterns you don't like.
- With negative patterns, figure out what you could do instead that will get you the results you want.
- With positive patterns, keep it up!
With these five steps, it's useful to go back and restock once in a while (though doing it constantly could just become addictive and unsettling). Don't drudge up the past over and over again, but redo the parts that may have changed.
- Check where you are now in your life.
- Look at what you did to get there.
- Congratulate yourself on the progress you have made.
- Mourn the parts you have f-ed up and resolve to make changes.
- Mourn the things that happened that weren't in your control, go through the grief steps till you accept them.
- Be patient, take your time.
- Trust yourself.
It's hard to do this stuff on your own. You need feedback, you need someone outside of you checking in to make sure you are following up on what you are doing, you need objective opinions when you get lost, and you need the moral support of people you trust. Since people with these kinds of situations, often are surrounded with people they don't trust, or people who don't want them to change (since that will throw their friendship/relationships into precarious territory), it's usually best to see a therapist. But not everyone can afford that, so you have to suck it up and try and do it on your own - the key is to be understanding with yourself and realize that it's a difficult process and it's ok if you falter once in a while, but also to remind yourself that in the end it will make you a happier person and so it's worth it to keep trying.
Now you have a plan to improve your life, and a resolve to make the best of what you have right now. Indoctrination time!! ;):
- Zen buddhism says live in the moment, be mindful be aware.
- monotheistic religions focus on the afterlife, on the future.
- And psychotherapy focuses on the past, and the future. My past sucked, and I am broken, so I must fix myself for the future.
At the end of the day, what everyone needs is balance. Understand your past, but don't dwell on it, plan for the future, but don't fixate on it. Enjoy your present, cuz that's your life, but don't be so caught up in the present all the time that you don't acknowledge the reality of or plan for your future.