Human Connections Counseling Services, Mark Felber, Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor, Certified Experiential Therapist, Plano, Texas, 214-796-2323
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Specialty Issues:

Adult Children Of Alcoholic and Other Dysfunctional Families

Where they have experienced emotional or physical trauma

If you grew up in an alcoholic, drug addicted, or another type of dysfunctional family system you were probably affected by the consequences of living in an abusive home environment. Yet, with new awareness and knowledge, you can make new choices about how to live your current life by discovering and changing conscious and unconscious behavioral patterns that presently cause you difficulty. Are you still suffering from the impact and struggling with the influences of growing up in a dysfunctional family system? If so, you may identify with many of the following characteristics:

  1. Do you frequently have to guess at what normal behavior is?

  2. Do you have a tendency to lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth?

  3. Do you often judge yourself without mercy?

  4. Do you have difficulty having fun?

  5. Do you frequently take yourself to seriously?

  6. Do you experience difficulties with intimate relationships?

  7. Do you overreact to changes you can't control?

  8. Do you constantly seek approval and affirmation?

  9. Do you feel different from other people?

  10. Are you sometimes super-responsible or irresponsible?

  11. Do you sometimes exhibit impulsive behavior?

  12. Are you extremely loyal to others when that loyalty may me undeserved?

    (Adapted from the work of Ann G. Wolitz Ed. D.)

If you are still suffering the impact of many of these counterproductive behavior patterns that may be a legacy from your troubled past, a deeper self-understanding may help set you free from their enduring consequences. For Adult Children of Alcoholics and individuals from other dysfunctional families, there is often a mistaken belief, formed in childhood, which affects every part of our lives. As children, we fought to survive the destructive effects of alcoholism, drug addiction, or other forms of abuse, and began an endless struggle to change our troubled family, into a loving, supportive one. We reach adulthood believing we have failed, unable to see that no one can stop the traumatic effects of family dysfunction.

Following naturally from this pervasive failure are self-blame, shame and guilt. These self-accusations ultimately lead to self-hate. Accepting our basic powerlessness to control alcoholic and other forms of abusive behavior and its effect on the family is the key that unlocks the inner-child and lets re-parenting begin. We must confront "denial," mourn the early loss of security, trust and love; and learn skills for re-parenting ourselves with gentleness, humor, love and respect.

Moving from isolation is the first step the Adult Child makes recovering the self. Isolation is both a prison and a sanctuary. Adult Children suspended between need and fear, unable to choose between fight or flight, agonize in the middle and resolve the tension by explosive bursts of rebellion, or silently endure in despair. Isolation is our retreat from the paralyzing pain of indecision. This retreat into denial blunts our awareness of the destructive reality of family dysfunction and is the first stage of mourning and grief. It allows us to cope with the loss of love and to survive in the face of neglect and abuse.

The return of feelings is the second stage of mourning and indicates healing has begun. Initial feelings of anger, guilt, rage, and despair resolve into final acceptance of loss. Genuine grieving for our childhood ends our morbid fascination with the past and lets us return to the present to live as adults. Confronting years of pain and loss at first seems overwhelming and we may actually believe that if we allow ourselves to feel that we may lose control and never stop crying. The pain of mourning and grief is balanced by being able to freely experience joy in life. The need to re-parent ourselves comes from our efforts to feel safe as children. The violent nature of our dysfunctional family systems darkened our emotional world and left us wounded, hurt, and unable to feel. This extreme alienation from our own internal direction kept us helplessly dependent on those we mistrusted and feared.

In an unstable, hostile, and often dangerous environment, we attempted to meet impossible demands of living in abusive environments and our lives were soon out of control. To make sense out of the confusion and to end our feelings of fear, we denied inconsistencies in what we were taught. We held rigidly to a few certain beliefs, or we rebelled and distrusted all outside interference.

In childhood, our identity is formed by the reflection we see in the eyes of people around us. We fear losing this reflection-thinking the mirror makes us real and that we disappear or have no self without it. The distorted image of family dysfunction is not who we are. And we are not the unreal person trying to mask that distortion. In counseling we stop believing we have no worth and start to see our true identity.

As Adult Children grow to maturity, we see the need to separate emotionally from our dysfunctional homes. Only in complete separation can we find the freedom to express who we are and to create the experience of intimate closeness we so desperately needed as children.

A dysfunctional home can be a violent place. Children exposed to such violence come to believe they are to accept punishment and abuse as a normal part of existence. They identify themselves as objects of hate, not worthy of love, and survive by denying their underlying feelings of hopeless despair.

In loving homes, children are eager to see themselves reflected by those around them. A positive self-reflection increases their sense of security and feelings of self-esteem, and give them confidence in relating to others. They see respect for their need to be protected from harm and relate to authority with trust not fear. They come to believe they have value because they are accepted and loved.

...continued on page 2


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