PREVIOUS: B Distortion (#2) — Family Mobile
TRYING TO LEAVE a dysfunctional system
• For many recovering ACoAs the process of outgrowing our childhood damage is hard enough, but often we have the added burden of dealing with the reaction from family & long-time friends who don’t want us to change. We need to be prepared for being ignored, attacked, even disowned by some, when we rock to boat. We are dislodging the precariously constructed patchwork of these long-standing relationships. This scares everyone – our Inner Child and our family, lover & friends – so we can expect internal backlash & external complaints, anywhere from whining or guilting, to outrage, to punishment!
• In Social Psychology, researchers have used animals to study how we learn (think: Pavlov’s dogs), including birds. For expl, once a pigeon had learned to peck at a lever to get a pellet of food each time, the scientists began withholding the food in stages to see what would happen (how we un-learn). The bird had to peck 2…6…10…. times to get just one pellet. As the food became scarcer it began to peck more & more frantically – to get its reward. Eventually, as the food was dispensed rarely & then not at all, the bird finally stopped trying
• We notice a similar pattern in symbiotic families – they cannot tolerate the loss of a member, so they too become frantic. At first they try whatever they can think of to hook us back into the fold – guilting, shaming, getting sick, attacking, begging…. BUT the most dangerous tactic is when the anxious parents say “But we loooove you! we want to hear from you, we miss you….” sometimes sent with cute cards. Anything but giving us space!
✶ It’s important for us to remember that – even tho our parents may genuinely believe they feel love for us, for the most part it is a narcissistic love! It’s about THEM – their need to keep up the fantasy of being good parents, their fear of being alone, their sense of identity, their image in their community, their overt or covert demand to be taken care of…. If their love had been healthy, they would have treated us very differently! See: ‘They did the best they could’
• These maneuvers are seductive because ACoAs are so desperate to hear we are wanted & loved, AND we can’t stand feeling the guilt of upsetting others. Under such pressure we often find it easier to fall back into the toxic whirlpool. If we’re in Recovery and we do succumb, even temporarily —
— afterward, for days or weeks, we can end up paying for that moment of illusion by being depressed, dropping down into S-H & hopelessness, getting physically sick, feeling suicidal…. having made the connection again because the WIC still wanted to believe it was part of a loving family. Eventually we begins to see the truth & have to mourn the loss of our fantasy – the hope that they will some day, somehow magically be healthy & kind. They rarely do & that HURTS!
• BUT if we steadfastly persist on the path to PMES Health, in most cases the family’s desperate grabbing will stop, or at least abate a great deal. Someone once said in Al-Anon (not officially): “This program will fuck up your fucked-up-ness”. So the longer we are in Recovery, the harder it is to tolerate fractured ways of interacting. Because of that, when we do re-engage with anyone in the old familiar style, we can:
— observe the noxious quality of it more easily – being less in denial, & armed with new info, validation & support
— feel the pain, sadness, anger & disappointment in our whole body, of how empty, shallow & abusive the relationships really are & always have been!
In GAMES PEOPLE PLAY, by Eric Berne, we are warned that when one person in a symbiotic / addictive relationship arbitrarily ends a psychological game (“a series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome”) before the other person is ready to disengage – the latter will become highly agitated, demanding, clinging, enraged, even suicidal (See 4 of the games)
• Many ACoAs have shared about their active addict or depressed co-dependent parent committing suicide once the adult-child withdraws from the family drama, rather than be left alone with their loss. Unless someone is physically in terrible pain & dying, the reason for suicide is almost always the person’s rage at others for abandoning them, as a punishment. Yes the person is depressed, affected by chemicals, isolating, not getting any help… but their narcissism has them blaming everyone else for their misery, & it’s often their children!
In LOVE & ADDICTION, Stanton Peele (see videos) says: “The addict is a person who never learns to come to grips with his world & who therefore seeks stability & reassurance thru some repeated, ritualized activity. The addict’s lack of internal direction or purpose creates the need for ritualized escape…. drugs give him/her an artificial sense of self-sufficiency that removes the small motivation she/he needs for complicated or difficult pursuits. One major feature of the addiction cycle is withdrawal – the addict’s anguished reaction to an interruption of his/her supply”
• Yes, we can become addicted to another person just as much as to a physical substance. We will experience many of the same detox symptoms as going cold-turkey from a chemical, such as sleeplessness, anxiety & panic attacks, physical aches & pains, listlessness, difficulty thinking…. with feelings of despair, hopelessness, anxiety & anger.
• In relationships based on symbiotic attachment – each person is so intensely dependent on the other for their sense of identity & safety that when one of them needs to get away for their psychic survival, the other is deeply threatened & will become depressed & enraged. Whether we’re talking about adults & their parents or love partnerships, amicable separations are rare. Often the only option for an ending entails an explosion – fights, yelling, threats, stalking, harassing texts & calls, even violence….
So ACoAs have to brace ourselves for feeling guilt when we break any toxic family rule. Don’t let that emotion stop you from continuing to S & I, which is what we are all required to do to become free & empowered humans, and are encouraged to do in healthy families.
NEXT: Boundary Invasions