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Thread: Adult children...

  1. #1
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    Adult children...

    DEAR READER: THIS POST INITIALLY WAS PART OF A CONVERSATION TO THE MEMBER jasikaadam, IN WHICH WE WERE DISCUSSING HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS DAD. THE POST WAS MOVED TO THIS LOCATION IN ORDER TO CONTINUE IN THE FRAMEWORK OF "CHILDREN OF ADDICTED/ALCOHOLIC PARENTS".

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    Wow, jasikaadam, I'm very sorry your phone went like that. Hoping your next call will be more promising.

    I have some general thoughts on this subject. Please know that I do not know each person's situation, and what I'm about to say is not aimed at any particular person or situation. If it applies, my comments were a fortunate guess. These are generalized thoughts.

    Because family members avoid sharing subjects that might lead to more pain they often wind up avoiding genuine connection with each other. When painful feelings build up they may rise to the surface in emotional eruptions or get acted out through impulsive behaviors.

    Thus, these families become systems for manufacturing and perpetuating trauma. Trauma affects the internal world of each person, their relationships and their ability to communicate and be together in a balanced, relaxed and trusting manner.


    As the "elephant in the living room" increases in size and force, the family has to become ever more vigilant in keeping its strength and power from overwhelming their ever weakening internal structure.

    They are engaged in a losing battle. The guilt and shame that family members feel at the erratic behavior within their walls, along with the psychological defenses against seeing the truth, all too often keep this family from getting help.

    The development of the individuals within the family, as well as the development of the family as a resilient unit that can adjust to the many natural shifts and changes that any family moves through, becomes impaired.

    It is no wonder that families such as these produce a range of symptoms in their members that can lead to problems both in the present and later in life.

    Children from these families may find themselves moving into adult roles carrying huge burdens that they don't know exactly what to do with and that get them into trouble in their relationships and/or work lives.


    Relatives where addiction is present are oftentimes painful to live in, which is why those who live with addiction may become traumatized to varying degrees by the experience.

    Broad swings, from one end of the emotional, behavioral and psychological spectrum to the other, all too often characterize the addicted family system.

    Living with addiction can put family members under unusual stress. Normal routines are constantly being interrupted by unexpected or even frightening kinds of experiences that are part of living with drug use.

    What is being said often doesn't match up with what family members sense, feel beneath the surface or see right in front of their eyes.

    The drug user as well as family members may bend, deny and manipulate reality in their attempt to maintain a family order that they experience as gradually slipping away.

    The entire system becomes absorbed by a problem that is slowly spinning out of control. Little things become big and big things get minimized as pain is denied and slips out sideways.


    Alcoholic families may become characterized by a kind of psychological and emotional constriction, where family members do not feel free to express their authentic selves for fear of triggering disaster; their genuine feelings are often hidden under strategies for keeping safe, like withdrawing or pleasing.

    The family becomes organized around trying to manage the unmanageable disease of addiction. They may yell, withdraw, cajole, harangue, criticize, understand, get fed up; you name it.

    They become remarkably inventive in trying everything they can come up with to contain the problem and keep the family from blowing up.

    The alarm bells in this system are constantly on a low hum, causing everyone to feel hyper-vigilant, ready to run for emotional (or physical) shelter or to erect their defenses at the first sign of trouble.


    Families have a remarkable ability to maintain what family therapists call homeostasis. When alcohol or drugs are introduced into a family system, the family's ability to regulate its emotional and behavioral functioning is severely challenged. The family will generally reach as a unit to balance itself.

    In alcoholic homes, this may become a dysfunctional sort of balance. Family members can become subsumed by the disease to such an extent they lose their sense of normal. Their life becomes about hiding the truth from themselves, their children and their relational world.

    Trust and faith in a predictable and orderly world can be challenged as their family life becomes chaotic, promises are broken and those they depend upon for support and stability behave in untrustworthy ways.

    Both children and adults in this family may lose their sense of who and what they can depend upon. Family members seamlessly slip into patterns of relating because the disease is progressive that become increasingly more dysfunctional.

    The children are often left to fend for themselves and anyone bold enough to confront the obvious disease may be branded as a family traitor.

    Family members may withdraw into their own private worlds or compete for the little love and attention that is available. In the absence of reliable adults, siblings may become "parentified" and try to provide the care and comfort that is missing for each other.

    Next time, I want to discuss how and why families can learn to talk about what's going on in a real, and productive manner. Thanks for reading!

    ~4tRACY
    Last edited by 4tRACY520; 06-24-2016 at 07:16 PM. Reason: ADDED MODERATOR COMMENT
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  2. #2
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    The Importance of Talking about What’s Going On

    When whatever is going on within the family is never talked about, children are left to try and make sense of it on their own.

    Talking about the issues need not be constant, but avoiding talking altogether can lead to confusion and a feeling of disconnection. Talking about and processing pain is also an important deterrent to developing post-traumatic symptoms that show up later in life.

    Intense emotions such as sadness that are an inevitable part of processing pain can make family members feel like they’re “falling apart” and consequently, they may resist experiencing the pain they are in. And the problems in an alcoholic family system are perpetual.

    For the child in an alcoholic system, there may be nowhere to run, as those they would normally turn to are steeped in the problem themselves. Seeing the problem for what it is may alienate them from other family members.

    If addiction remains untreated, dysfunctional coping strategies become very imbedded in the general behavior of the family. Family members may find themselves in a confusing and painful bind, e.g., wanting to flee from or get angry at those very people who represent home and hearth.

    See more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fight-or-flight_response. Also, see our forum discussion on this subject, on page 3:http://soberandrecoveryhotline.com/newcomers-recovery-thread-14/hello-community-i-am-owner-soberandrecoveryhotline-com-18386/index3.html

    If this highly stressful relational environment persists over time, it can produce cumulative trauma. I’ve mentioned my own experience throughout this forum.

    You can find my comments here: http://soberandrecoveryhotline.com/adult-children-addicted-alcoholic-parents/18471-my-relationship-my-dad here: http://soberandrecoveryhotline.com/recovery-success-stories/18396-my-story-continued and here, page 4: http://soberandrecoveryhotline.com/alcohol-withdraw-discussion-41/alcohol-withdraw-withdraw-alcohol-18391/index4.html

    Trauma can affect both the mind and the body. Intense stress can lead to deregulation in the body’s limbic system – that system that helps us to regulate our emotions and our bodily functions.

    Because the limbic system governs such fundamental functions as mood, emotional tone, appetite and sleep cycles when it becomes deregulated it can affect us in far-ranging ways.

    Problems in regulating our inner emotional world can manifest as an impaired ability to regulate levels of fear, anger and sadness.

    This lack of ability to regulate mood may lead to chronic anxiety or depression. Or, it can emerge as substance or behavioral disorders, for example, problems in regulating alcohol, eating, sexual or spending habits.


    ~4tRACY
    Last edited by 4tRACY520; 06-24-2016 at 08:06 PM. Reason: highlighted links for ease of viewing
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  3. #3
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    The Effect of Family Trauma on Children: A Mind/Body Event

    www.youtube.com/embed/jsxpW55ysk4?rel=0
    Trauma in childhood can damage development and can have long and pervasive lasting effects. Each tiny interaction between parent and caretaker actually lays down the neural wiring that becomes part of our brain/body network.


    This is how our early experiences etch themselves onto our nervous systems. It is how our environment shapes our emotional being and our limbic system.


    All of us arrive as infants needing to learn the skills of emotional regulation and self-soothing. We learn limbic regulation by being in the presence of proper external regulating relationships, such as siblings and parents. (Uram 2004)

    This means that a baby is capable of a full blown trauma response. The hippocampuses, which is where we assess stimuli as to whether or not it is threatening, is not fully functional until the age of four to five.

    In addition, the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until around age eleven or older. This means that when a child is scared, they have no way of understanding what is going on around them. They do not have the developmental capability of assessing frightening stimuli as to its level of threat, nor do they have the cognitive capability to understand what's happening.


    They need an external modulator, namely a parent, to help them to regulate themselves and calm down. Even a caretaker, pet or sibling can help an anxious child to even out their emotions.


    Without this help, the content of the memory has a significant unconscious component because reason has not elevated it to the thinking level. It is stored within the body/mind as a sensory memory without reason, insight, and understanding integrated into it.


    Our nervous systems are not self-contained; they link with those of the people close to us in a silent rhythm that helps regulate our physiology. Children require ongoing neural synchrony from parents in order for their natural capacity for self-directedness to emerge.


    In other words, it is through successful relationships that we achieve a healthy sense of autonomy.


    When the family environment is less than optimal and does not model good balance and regulation, children can have trouble acquiring these skills. And not only do they internalize it mentally and emotionally, it becomes part of their neurological wiring.


    //www.youtube.com/embed/WFYeoPqjV28?rel=0




    ~4tRACY
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    Characteristics of Adult Children of Trauma and Addiction

    1. Learned Helplessness: A person loses the feeling that they can affect or change what’s happening to them. They give up and become “helpless” which can also affect other areas of life.

    2. Depression: Unexpressed and unfelt emotion can lead to flat internal world – or an agitated/anxious defense against feeling internal pain. Or anger, rage and sadness that remain unfelt or unexpected in a way that leads to no resolution and becomes turned inward within the self.

    3. Anxiety: Free floating anxiety, worries and anxieties that have nowhere particular to pin themselves and may look for a place to project themselves or phobias, sleep disturbances, hyper-vigilance etc.

    4. Emotional Constriction: Numbness and shutdown as a defense against overwhelming pain; restricted range of affect or lack of authentic expression of emotion.

    5. Distorted Reasoning: Convoluted attempts to make sense and meaning out of chaotic, confusing, frightening or painful experience that feels senseless. Or magical childhood meaning due to the developmental level a child is at when painful or confusing circumstances occur.

    6. Loss of Trust and Faith: Due to deep ruptures in primary, dependency relationships and breakdown of an orderly world.

    7. Hypervigilance: Anxiety, waiting for the other shoe to drop – constantly scanning environment and relationships for signs of potential danger or repeated rupture.

    8. Traumatic Bonding: Unhealthy bonding style resulting from power imbalance in relationships and lack of other sources of support.

    9. Loss of Ability to Take in Caring and Support: Due to trauma’s inherent numbness and shutdown along with fears of trusting and being let down all over again.

    10. Problems with Self Regulation: The deregulated limbic system can manifest in problems with regulating many areas of the self system such as thinking, feeling and behavior. The tendency to go from 0 – 10 and 10 – 0 without intermediate stages, black and white thinking, feeling and behavior, no shades of gray as a result of trauma’s numbing vs. hi-affect. 4

    11. Easily Triggered; hyper-reactive: Stimuli reminiscent of trauma, e.g., yelling, loud noises, criticism, or gunfire, trigger person into shutting down, acting out or intense emotional states. Or subtle stimuli such as changes in eye expression, physical position or feeling humiliated, for example.

    12. High Risk Behaviors: Speeding, sexual acting out, spending, fighting or other behaviors done in a way that puts one at risk. Misguided attempts to jump start numb inner world or act out pain from an intense pain filled inner world.

    13. Disorganized Inner World: Disorganized object constancy and/or sense of relatedness. Internal emotional disconnects or fused feelings (e.g., anger & sex, intimacy and danger, need and humiliation)

    14. Survival Guilt: From witnessing abuse and trauma and surviving, or from “getting out” of an unhealthy family system while others remain mired within it.

    15. Development of Rigid Psychological Defenses: Dissociation, denial, splitting, repression, minimization, intellectualization, projection, for some examples or developing rather impenetrable “character armor”

    16. Cycles of Reenactment: Unconscious repetition of pain-filled dynamics, the continual recreation of dysfunctional dynamics from the past.

    17. Relationship Issues: Difficulty in being present in a balanced manner; a tendency to over or under engage, explode or with draw or be emotionally hot and cold. Problems with trusting, staying engaged, or taking in love and caring from others.

    18. Desire to Self Medicate: Attempts to quiet and control turbulent, troubled inner world through the use of drugs and alcohol or behavioral addictions.


    From Trauma and Addiction, Dayton 2000 (van der Kolk 1987, Krystal 1968)
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    What Happens When ACOAs Have Their Own Families?

    When ACOAs enter intimate relationships in adulthood, their feelings of dependence and vulnerability that are an important part of any intimate relationship may make them feel anxious and at risk again.

    Beneath the level of their awareness, the ACOA may worry that chaos, out-of-control behavior and abuse may be looming around the corner, because this was their early childhood experience. They experience mistrust and suspicion if problems are solved smoothly.

    They may overreact in ways that actually create a problem that might otherwise have been handled more smoothly. They may perceive themselves as helpless even if they are not And so the pattern of strong feelings leading to emotional danger, chaos, rage and tears is once again reinforced.

    When the feelings of dependency and vulnerability trigger the ACOA into unconscious, historical feelings, what is getting triggered may be a felt memory from childhood that has little reason and understanding attached to it.

    At these moments, the survival parts of the brain are in gear while the more advanced parts of the cortical brain where thinking and reasoning take place become temporarily overwhelmed.

    Consequently, the ACOA becomes locked in a reaction that is filled with unresolved emotions from the past that are getting triggered by and layered onto present circumstances with little understanding that this is what is going on.

    Children who have been traumatized by living with addiction become very adept scanners; they are constantly reading their environment and the faces of those around them for signs of emotional danger. If they sense emotions in another person that make them feel anxious, they may lapse into people pleasing in order to alleviate potential “danger.”

    They may have learned as children that if they could calm and please their acting out parent, their own day might go more smoothly; i.e., they might experience less hurt. Such people pleasing strategies also get carried into intimate relationships in adulthood.

    The upshot of all this is that ACOAs sometimes lack the ability to live comfortably with the natural ebb and flow of intimacy.


    ~4tRACY
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    Traumatic Bonds

    The intensity and type of connectedness in addicted/traumatizing families can create the types of bonds that people tend to form during times of crisis. Alliances in addicted families may become very critical to one’s sense of self and even survival.

    Alliances can become very intense among children, for example, who are feeling hurt and needy and without proper parental support. Or traumatic bonds may simply get seared into place as family members repeatedly face threatening, frightening and overwhelmingly painful experiences and hunker down in emotional dugouts together until the barrage of explosions passes.

    As the family member’s fear increases so does their need for protective bonds. Trauma may lead people towards opposing responses in which they both withdraw from close relationships and seek them desperately.

    The deep disruption of basic trust, the feelings of shame, guilt and inferiority combined with the need to avoid reminders of the trauma may foster withdrawal from close relationships and community. But the terror of the traumatic event, such as living with addiction and the chaotic behavior that surrounds it, intensifies the need for protective attachments.

    The traumatized person therefore frequently alternates between isolation and anxious clinging to others.

    Factors that can contribute to bonds becoming traumatic are:
    • If there is a power imbalance in the relationship.
    • If there is a lack of access to outside support.
    • If those who we would naturally go to for caring and support are unavailable or are, themselves, the abuser.
    • If there are wide inconsistencies in styles of relating that induce both states of high need/anxiety alternating with high need/fulfillment.

    All too often the confusion in these types of relationships is that they are neither all good nor all bad. Their very unevenness can make the nature of the bond all the more difficult to unravel.

    In the case of addiction this is an all too familiar dynamic.

    The addicted parent, for example, may swing between being attentive, generous and caring to being abusive, neglectful and rejecting. One minute they are everything one could wish and the next they are miserably disappointing.

    Without supportive interventions – usually from outside the family – these types of bonds become styles of relating that get played out in relationships throughout life.

    Traumatic bonds formed in childhood tend to repeat their quality and contents over and over again throughout life.



    ~4tRACY
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    Co-Occurring Disorders of Addiction and Mental Illness

    If there is a duel diagnosis, which is so often the case in addiction, the diagnosis of addiction is properly dealt with by removing the substance, but the underlying diagnosis, for example of depression, anxiety or PTSD, may not be dealt with.

    Recovery is more than recovering from substance abuse.

    It is also about recovering from the other diagnosis or the symptoms that may have been self-medicated in the first place.

    And finally, the addict will still need to engage in a full recovery process in order to deal with the emotional and psychological complications that stemmed from their addiction.

    If they do not accomplish this, they are asking both themselves and their family members to live with emotional and psychological burdens that can keep the family and the individuals within it mired in dysfunctional patterns of relating that get passed along through the generations.

    This is commonly referred to as “passing on the pain”.

    Recovery is equally important for those who have lived in, developed their sense of self and learned relationship skills in an addicted/traumatized family.

    Without a rigorous program of treatment and recovery for all concerned, the dysfunctional personality styles and relationships developed in the addicted family environment will tend to recreate themselves over and over again.

    Sobriety needs to happen on all levels and in all family members, emotionally, psychologically and physically.



    ~4tRACY
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    High Intensity vs. Shutdown/Dissociation

    When family members become emotionally overwhelmed with too much intense emotion and theyhave no way of staying safe, they may shut down or dissociate (freeze/flight) in an unconsciousattempt to preserve themselves much in the way a circuit breaker flips when the wattage overwhelmsthe capacity of the circuit and threatens to cause damage.

    Shutting down is a trauma response. (Van derkolk 1987) This alternating pattern of high intensity vs. numbing becomes a quality that underlies manypersonal and family dynamics. It is the black and white pattern spoken of so often in addiction circles,the Jekyll/Hyde syndrome that characterizes the alternating worlds of the addicted family system.

    These swings between high intensity and shutting down or dissociating that characterize the traumaresponse become central to the operational style of the family. All or nothing tends to characterize thefamily that contains trauma.

    Emotional modulation is a skill that becomes internalized through regular exposure to modulatingrelationships such as mothers, family members or one to one and group therapeutic relationships.

    It canalso be aided through regulating activities like meditation, yoga, massage, deep breathing and exercise;activities that quiet and soothe the limbic system.


    ~4tRACY
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    Over functioning vs. Under Functioning

    In a maladaptive attempt to maintain family balance, some family members over function in order to compensate for the under functioning of others.

    Over functioning can wear many hats; parentified children may try to take care of younger siblings when parents drop the ball or strive to restore order or dignity to the family who is rapidly slipping.

    Spouses may over function to maintain order and “keep the show on the road” while the addict falls in and out of normal functioning.

    Others in the system may freeze like deer in the headlights, unable to get their lives together and make useful choices. The learned helplessness associated with the trauma response, in which one comes to feel that nothing they can do will make a difference, can become an operational style that manifests as under functioning.

    It is possible that the addict themselves, along with others in the system, may do both, over functioning to make up for periods of under functioning. Balanced functioning is the obvious in between of over and under-functioning.

    It is when we do what is appropriate to the circumstance and when we have conscious choice around the degree to which we function.

    The program slogan, “take the next right action” can help the under-functioner who becomes overwhelmed with the thought of taking care of themselves or undertaking tasks, to break down any task into manageable components or the over-functioner to modulate their frenetic activity.

    “One day at a time” can assist both the over-functioner and the under-functioner to manage feelings of being overwhelmed.


    ~4tRACY
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    Enmeshment/Disengagement

    Enmeshment or fusion is generally seen as an attempt to ward off feelings of abandonment. It is a relational style that lacks boundaries and discourages differences or disagreement, seeing them not as healthy and natural but disloyal and threatening. Dissension is not well tolerated and disagreement discouraged.

    The unspoken rule is “don’t rock the boat.”

    Disengagement is the other side of enmeshment or fusion. Family members see the solution to keeping pain from their inner worlds from erupting as avoiding subjects, people, places and things that might trigger it.

    This leads to an emotional disengagement. Family members move into their own emotional and psychological orbits and they don’t share their inner worlds with each other.

    This may give rise to covert alliances where a couple of family members ally and form covert bonds.

    Balanced relatedness is neither a withdrawal from another person nor a fusion with them. It allows each person their own identity and to move in and out of close connection in a natural, modulated fashion.



    ~4tRACY
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