In the United States, twenty million children are experiencing physical, verbal and emotional abuse from parents who are addicted to alcohol. Growing up in an alcoholic house can leave emotional scars that may last a lifetime. This is tragic because we consider that childhood is the foundation on which our entire lives are fabricated. When a child's efforts to bond with an addicted parent are handicapped, the result is confusion and intense anxiety. In order to survive in a home deficient, of healthy parental love, limits, and consistency, they must develop "survival skills" or defense mechanisms very early in life.
The crippling effects of alcoholism and drug dependency are not confined to the addict alone. The family suffers, physically and emotionally, and it is the children who are the most disastrous victims. Frequently neglected and abused, they lack the maturity to combat the terrifying destructiveness of the addict's behavior. As adults these individuals may become compulsively attracted to the same lifestyle as their parents, excessive alcohol and drug abuse, destructive relationships, antisocial behavior, and find themselves in an infinite loop of feelings of emptiness, futility, and despair.
Behind the appearance of calm and success, Adult Children of Alcoholics often bear a sad, melancholy and haunted look that betrays their quietest confidence. In the chilling silence of the darkest nights of their souls, they yearn for intimacy: their greatest longing, and deepest fear. Their creeping terror lives as the child of years of emotional, and sometimes physical, family violence. Normally, children learn about intimate relationships through both loving interactions with parents, and effective parental modeling.
In alcoholic homes, all relating filters through "the bottle," with the alcoholic addicted to the alcohol and the spouse and children addicted to the alcoholic. For Adult Children of Alcoholics, surviving their families becomes the point of existence. The fortunate may be able to draw support from a supportive adult, and may emerge with fewer difficulties than their brothers and sisters. The majority, however, have to "make do." Some spend lonely hours in their rooms wishing only to vanish behind the woodwork. Others attempt to rescue the foundering victims in their middle. When a Child of an Alcoholic's father threatens his family during a drunken rage, he may stand between them, putting himself at great risk.
He wins the peace, but only at the cost of the emotional vulnerability he must develop in order to form mutually nurturing relationships. Instead, he builds a wall of mortar and brick which protects him from all forms of human touching, no matter how harsh or soft. There are many approaches Children of Alcoholics may take to handle their stress. Some, sensing their family's need for relief, provide humor, distraction, anything to attract attention. Ironically, the more attention this child receives the less of him or her anyone sees.
Their clown mask sits permanently in place, until even they feel oblivious to their own pain. The raging child, the family sacrifice, absorbs the family's suffering. Unheard, they lash out, hoping someone will hear their screams of desperation and help. Instead, authorities muffle their cries as they cart them away: to the principal's office, to detention, and generally someplace out of ear shot. Powerless, they sink into despair or drugs, sometimes finding solace in the streets. Romantic relationships may promise a sense of renewal to the lonely and depressed Adult Child.
They bask in the rush of excitement that springs from mutual attraction and discovery. But when they need to work out problems and issues, they feel frightened and lost flooded with childhood memories of hatred and destruction. Without the tools to work out disagreements, they sit alone with the agony of separation from their loved one. Reunion brings relief from longing and loss, but only until the next problem emerges from their bag of unresolved grievances. Eventually, their relationships burn out, leaving them with an overwhelming sense of bewilderment and grief. With diminishing energy, they doggedly search.
Fearful of conflict, they withdraw their love from relationships at the first sign of imperfection. Disillusioned, they withdraw, with deepening depression. Adult Children of Alcoholics cling to self-defeating patterns of connecting and communicating, for behaviors learned in dismay do not change easily. Finally, they feel stuck, surrendering any hope of getting off the merry-go-round of despair and disillusionment.
Fortunately, there are a number of support groups designed to help adult children of alcoholics identify their problems, and start resolving them. Analytically trained therapists and those who work with adult children of dysfunctional families provide a needed and great service. The most fundamental purpose of psychotherapy with any adult child is to open a hidden, imprisoned, and extremely fragile part of the self, and convince it to allow itself to be touched by another person. However, these patients all fear, that if they open the door to the heart of the self, it will be crushed by the therapist, just as it was nearly crushed by the insensitivity, abuse, or betrayal of the parents.
Psychology and Religion prescribe a form of psychotherapy that searches out the hidden heart of the self in order to unify the psyche and allow the spirit to begin a new period of growth. They advocate an explicit clinical focus on the condition of vital psychic structures, especially their incompleteness, fragmentation, divisiveness, and defensiveness. There are several general principles of psychotherapy that are designed to address, and redress, the critical failures of the alcoholic home. Each of these principles describes a relatively discrete aspect of psychotherapy with adult children.
They are all ultimately concerned with the provisions of the calm, empathic, and strong self-object environment that was largely unavailable to the patient during childhood. The adult child's feeling of psychological safety in psychotherapy depends on the therapist's capacity to convince the patient that they will not be subjected to the sorts of traumatic disappointments that were commonplace occurrences in the alcoholic home. Each patient has special sensitivities to particular kinds of disappointment however, these individual differences depend in large measure on specific traumas to which the patient has been subjected in childhood, and the amount and quality of support that the patient originally received in attempting to deal with these traumas. In general, however, there are certain basic conditions that must be met for every adult child in treatment, if the therapist is to become a "good object" who represents a viable alternative to the internalized abusive objects of the patient's childhood. Emotional warmth and responsiveness must characterize the healing environment. The therapist must display an appreciation of the patient's basic worth and an acceptance of the patient's individuality.
A therapist's response to patients should be characterized by the sort of warm responsiveness to be expected from an individual whose professional life is devoted to understanding and helping others. Therapists are not mere "projection screens," but people who have enormous importance as "real" objects. Beyond analysis and interpretation, the "real" qualities of the therapists' warm interest, caring, and respect for the patient as an individual are the things that rekindle the hope for the future that has been mostly suffocated in a neglectful and abusive alcoholic home. Parents with deeply flawed self-structures and critically impaired self-esteem have reared many adult children of alcoholics. Parents who suffer from severe self-disorders are unable to mirror (affirm and support) distinctive and healthy aspects of a child's unfolding self.
An alcoholic and an enabling spouse are likely to thwart the natural course of self-development in a child by using a son or daughter as a container for parental self-loathing or by mirroring only those qualities of the child's self that are necessary to bind the parent's anxiety and stabilize the parent's self. The parent with a self-disorder may also try to crush elements in the child's self that threaten the parent's fragile narcissism. The therapist should look for opportunities to support the patient's self-esteem and to encourage the expression and growth of parts of the patient's self that were damaged and driven into hiding by parental neglect or aggression. The purpose is to become more like Christ and to increase in fellowship with God. We do this by becoming open and transparent with God, ourselves, and others, and by allowing the Lord to "brick by brick" remove the walls of rejection, hurt, mistrust, un forgiveness, and anger that have separated us not only from God, but ourselves and others as well.
Truly, God wants us whole, and if we will put into practice the principals set forth in these steps, and open ourselves to God's word and the interaction at therapy, God will heal us and restore us beyond our wildest imagination. As the result of being raised in a home where one or both parents were addicted, children of alcoholics generally have certain common characteristics that continue to affect them as adults. Members of a dysfunctional family tend to build up defenses to deal with the problems of the addicted family member. Common problems include lack of communication, mistrust, and low self-esteem. Adult children of alcoholics often become isolated, are afraid of authority figures, have difficulty distinguishing between normal and abnormal behavior, and judge themselves harshly.
This often leads to enduring feelings of guilt and problems with intimate relationships. In many cases, adult children of alcoholics develop an over-developed sense of responsibility, and respond poorly to criticism. They may feel different from other people, fear failure but tend to sabotage success, and fall in love with people they can pity and rescue. Fortunately, there are a number of support groups designed to help adult children of alcoholics identify their problems, and start resolving them.