Coping With Growing Up In A Family With Addiction
Last month I wrote about the roles that are frequently seen in a home where addiction is an issue. So, what happens when you survive this family and go on to create your own family? I have worked in the field of addiction for 20 years and have loved it for 20 years. I have witnessed the pain and destruction of addiction, but also the healing that comes with recovery. Those that have survived addiction, both physically and emotionally, are survivors. They can go on to thrive in life, but first they have to acknowledge the change which needs to occur and work to make those changes. There are some traits commonly seen in those that survived an addicted home. These traits would be considered normal and as a child was how you coped and “got through it.”
It’s important to remember that we all create and embrace certain characteristics in ourselves. It becomes who we are. Sometimes these traits enhance our lives and sometimes they inhibit us from fully becoming who we are. They are not good or bad, they simply serve a purpose. Someone is not good or bad because they have them; they have used them to get through the best way they know how. These traits allow for emotional detachment as a child, but also keep a person emotionally detected as adults. This interferes with relationships with our loved ones, partners and children. By blocking out the difficult feelings, the easy ones are also blocked. Numbing occurs for all feelings.
-Difficulty trusting others. This stems from living in a house where denial of reality is common place.
-Feeling like others are against you and the world is harder for you than others (feeling like you are a victim).
– Have a hard time expressing feelings. In an addicted home, the unspoken or maybe even spoken rule is, “don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel.” You may not be able to express your feelings because you may not have any idea of how you feel. Feelings may be confusing for you.
– Low self-esteem. As a parent, our job is to realistically and honestly build up our child. We encourage them and like them for who they are. If addiction is present it will consume the parent and they are not able to do this. A child can’t understand this inability and confuses the parent’s inability for not having positive traits.
– Feelings of guilt when you stand up for yourself, and putting others’ needs in front of your own. As a child, your needs may not have been met or they may have been pushed aside due to that chaos in the home. It may have felt like the addiction was more important than you and your needs.
– Difficulty coping with critics. Living in an addicted home frequently means everything was overly criticized. If your room was messy, you may have been told you were, “a pig” and berated instead of simply being told to clean up your room.
– Overly frightened of angry people, possibly to the point of feeling anxiety or overwhelming sense of dread.
– Seeking constant approval and never believing it is real. This come from never feeling you are enough and thus always fearing others will find out and doubt you. There is not enough external approval to make you feel like you are enough.
– Being in relationships that are enmeshed or codependent. You might be loyal when loyalty is not appropriate or healthy.
– Being afraid of being abandoned in relationships and doing everything and anything you can do to avoid abandonment, either real or feared. This fear controls how you react in your relationships. When you are so consumed with not being abandoned you will lose yourself to avoid it.
– Having an addiction to a chemical substance or an addictive personality (work, shopping, food, gambling, exercise, sex). It is so important to remember that addiction is a genetic disease. Combine a genetic disease with living in an addictive home and learning the traits means that you might have many traits of the chemical using addict without using the chemicals. The addictive behaviors might control your life much life the chemical addiction controlled your parent’s life.
– Have a constant need for excitement or chaos, going so far as to create chaos. This stems from living in chaos and believing chaos is how families function. This can be damaging not only for you but for those around you.
Again, all of these are coping skills and coping skills are implements used to get through a tough time. Good or bad they work for a period of time. However, as an adult, these traits are the least effective way to coping with your childhood environment. In the extremes, they can even be harmful.
Acknowledging that they exist and why they exist is a part of the healing process. People do heal and they can feel better. They can learn to let go of the ineffective coping skills and learn how develop those that are life enhancing. People can and do heal from difficult childhood. We are resistant and can heal. It’s a journey and healing is part of the journey.