Thursday, January 10, 2013

Addictive Families Part 2: Family Rules

Thousands of children like Michael are being, or have been, raised in homes where at least one parent is addicted to alcohol or other drugs. And like Michael, these children appear to suffer no apparent ill effects. These young people usually do not leave home prematurely. They are typical in that, like most children, they leave home at the ages of seventeen, eighteen or nineteen. When they do venture out on their own, they face the task of making decisions about work, careers, lifestyles, friends, where and with whom they are going to live. They also make decisions about committed relationships and whether or not to have children.

These children, along with thousands of other young people, are beginning to make some of the most important decisions of their lives and then spend years implementing those choices. Typically, it will take the next six to eight years to implement and follow through with these career and family decisions. During this time, young adults focus on external events. It is not normally a time when they sit back and contemplate how good or poor the past years were for them. If they recognize they grew up with addiction, they breathe a sigh of relief and pat themselves on the back for having survived. They then begin going about their own lives, yet they frequently stay socially and emotionally entangled with their family.

It is about this time, when a young person reaches the mid-twenties that the effects of growing up in an addictive home become apparent. These now adult children begin to experience a sense of loneliness, that doesn’t make sense to them. They become aware of feelings, that separate them from others and often may find themselves depressed. And while this depression occurs more frequently and lasts longer, the source of the depression seems unidentifiable. Feelings of fear and anxiousness occur more frequently but they don’t know why they are having these feelings. They often feel empty and have difficulty maintaining close relationships. Many report that something seems to be missing in their relationships. A lack of meaningfulness begins to permeate every aspect of their lives. For many the repetition of the addiction has begun. Their drinking and using has become an important part of their life, or they are engaging in other behaviors in an addictive compulsive style, such as work, spending and gambling, disordered relationships with food, etc. Or they find themselves in relationships with others who are engaging in addictive behaviors. Should any of this be occurring, their ability to rationalize, deny, to tolerate inappropriate behavior coupled with low self-esteem blocks the ability to both see and respond in a healthy manner.

To break this cycle it is necessary to recognize the many processes that have occurred. For the next few weeks I will discuss the basis of children learning how not to talk honestly, how to minimize their feelings often to the point of denial, and the basis of not trusting others.

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