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SEE Posts: “ACoAs Getting Controlled” (1 & 2)
1. ACoA SILENCE
ACoAs are more than reluctant to speak up for ourselves. We hold it in & hold it in, & then we eventually explode outward – having a tantrum at others, while some implode – into illness, depression & isolation. We are equally mute with people:
• who are actually abusive, whether they know it & don’t care, or have no idea what effect they’re having on someone
• who we just think are hurting us by something they said or by not reading our minds (giving us what we need without us having to ask for it), but they really are not – they’re just pushing a button in us
• who are not being abusive at all, but we’re afraid of hurting their feelings, scaring them away or -god forbid- make them angry at us!
We don’t speak up because of:
a. Toxic Family Rule “Don’t talk” (WE = parents/ community)
• about what’s going on in the family, don’t air dirty laundry – it’s no one else’s business (family shame = family secrets)
• about what you need & want, since we can’t or don’t want to provide them
• about that you think about anything – unless we agree completely
• about what you feel emotionally – we don’t want to hear it, we’re already in enough pain & don’t know how to deal with it, so we don’t need yours too!
• about your personal opinions, values & observations – if they don’t fit in with the family line (the ‘story’ we’ve created about the tribe we all belong to). No matter how twisted, it’s our & we protect it at all costs.
— Along with this rule is the fear many ACoAs have about going to 12-Step programs &/or therapy – seeing it as disloyalty.
b. Fear of Punishment
Of course most people don’t want to ‘be in trouble’ with others, & learn what’s appropriate to say or not say, especially in public. But for ACoAs it’s always about FoA (fear of abandonment). Even as adults we’re afraid of various types of unpleasant reactions from others – when they get angry at, dislike, make fun of – or worse – ignore us!
• Our co-dependence (needing others’ good-will to let us feel OK about ourselves) makes us do anything we can to prevent people from expressing any disapproval – which will set off our S-H. Our WIC always takes anything that seems like an abandonment (to us) as punishment, rather than someone else just having their own feelings & opinions, OR acting out their damage. Much of how people respond has nothing to do with us – but the kid in us takes everything personally. After all: “I’m so unlovable, no one really likes me & sooner or later will leave – unless I make them like me, or else I’ll die”. So it’s safer to be silent – we think!
c. Being MUTE
A basic reason we’re silent is the result of the brain-washing we received growing up. We were trained so thoroughly to ignore what we heard, saw & experienced that we end up not seeing many things that are in front of us (”What insult?”), misreading a situation (“I’m sure they hate me”) or being unable to respond to a painful comment (“I wish I had said…..”).
• No matter how articulate some of us are when we’re comfortable, there are times we get brain-freeze. It’s frustrating when we’re with someone & we get so scared that we shut down completely. In that moment we lose our internal computer screen – it goes blank & we can’t think & talk. Yet a minute later, when we’re alone, the computer comes back on automatically & we know what we should have said! Darn, darn!
d. Our Rage
Most ACoAs know, or at least sense, that we’re afraid of others, especially of their anger. But many don’t recognize how filled with rage we are too.
The reality is that we’ve stored years & years of childhood anger in every cell, and then as adults we pile more on top by staying connected to abusers – familiar and equally as painful as those we grew up with.
• So one more reason we’re afraid to say anything when we’re upset is the fear of not being able to control our rage – we don’t know when the lava will burst out. We even know at some intuitive level that our reaction, most of the time, is out of proportion to the current situation, even when we don’t actually feel the rage. So we’re not only trying to protect ourselves, we’re also being protectors.
• All ACoAs will benefit from doing extensive rage-work (on our own, in small groups or with professional help – like Core Energetics) so we can lighten our burden – mainly for us to feel better, but also to make it easier & safer for us to interact with the world.
e. Discounting Experiences✶
ACoAs spend much of our time in daily stress & trauma, internally from S-H & externally from being in unhealthy environments. Because so much of our energy is taken up with these ‘big’ problems, we ignore the more subtle ones, the little ‘nigglies’ in the background. Sometimes these are just life’s trivial annoyances (no hot water, subways are late, we’re out of milk, can’t find something….) which bug us way too much, or they’re the minor unkindnesses of, and disappointments in other people. These also pile up on us, & then we get cranky or depressed & don’t know why.
• When we consistently underestimate the nature of the ‘little slings & arrows’ of irritations or abuse – they seem so trivial – we underestimate the emotional impact those barbs have on us. Just because a paper cut is not life threatening doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt – a lot!
Yet we use Denial & Perfectionism to dismiss subtle info our emotions are giving us – like when we repeatedly get the ‘ICK factor” in our gut about someone. We don’t object to the minor things that bother us because we literally talk ourselves out of believing ‘something just happened’. FYI – Sometimes a quick cry or fist pounding on desk – relieves the tension!
✶ This category (e.) is different from the peaceful experience of correctly not over-reacting to unpleasant or unimportant events – as a result of healing our emotional wounds in Recovery. Al-Anon suggests we ask ourselves: “How important is it?”
RESULT: If we don’t speak up for ourselves when problems are small, they accumulate & grow into monsters, & then we don’t know how to manage ourselves. To correct this ‘cognitive impairment’ takes knowledge of the real world & our inner world, & then the courage to deal with situations as they come up.
NEXT: Dealing with Abusers (Part 2)