ACoAs: Early Trust Betrayal

angry father 

for sure NOT my family!

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See ACRONYM page for abbrev.


• Children automatically trust their parents (caregivers) – they don’t have a choice. But that trust can be destroyed early & easily, if their family & community is unreliable, non-nurturing & dangerous. The earlier the betrayal of trust, the more long-term damage is done – small children are not able to understand & process such disappointments

• Kids don’t want the instability & cruelty of their home to be true, so they can’t afford to consciously admit that the suffering they’re going thru is being caused by the unloving adults they depend on. If they did it would make life even more unbearable, so they do whatever they can to deny their painful experiences (blame themselves, people-please, fit into roles, rescue…..)

• At the same time, as a result of years of emotional pain & abusive family treatment, children make firm & lasting negative decisions based on very real events, about themselves & the whole world. These are  twisted conclusions & assumptions which lead to self-hate, cynicism, bitterness & hopelessness.  Then they’re  mirrored by & added to by the rigid unhealthy ‘laws’ of other dysfunctional groups such as school, church, neighborhood, the combination becoming the basis for all future interactions.  These toxic beliefs get ‘written in stone’ & are very hard to change as long as they stay out of our awareness

BETRAYAL of our trust came in several waysdisappointed
a. Our caretakers were undependable, disappointing, untrustworthy, even sadistic – understandably leaving us feeling unsafe, terrified & frustrated beyond words!
We were subjected to: all forms of neglect, lies, sexual abuse, physical / mental / emotions torture, mind-fucking, constant unavailability, not telling us what to expect in new & scary situations, taking us to places not suitable to young emotions or the capacity to process….

AND we should not underestimate the effect of inconsistency on a child, whether from broken promises, rotating caretakers, parents’ new mates, constant moving, conflicting messages or just plain cruelty.
EXP: A 5 yr old boy is standing at the edge of the pool, hesitating to make the leap. The father, already in the pool says: ”Jump in & I’ll catch you”. The little boy, needing the reassurance, jumps towards his dad – who smirks & steps back, not catching his son!

EXP: Equally devastating is the controlling, insensitive mother. One evening after being put to bed a young daughter hears the laughter of company downstairs & wanders into the living room to see what was fun is about. The mother in a rage at being embarrassed by her child’s desire for attention (in he PJs) drags her off to bed, promising to punish her – later. But in the busyness of being a hostess, she forgets her threat.
While the adults go on partying the terrified child curls up in a ball for agonizing hours in anticipations of a beating – which never comes.
waiting for unishmentThat may seem like a good thing – but her little nervous system is being overloaded with no outlet and no one to comfort, so the threat is torture enough, while the mother is unaware of the long-term harm she has done. That & other such events become anticipatory anxiety.

b. We were taught to not trust our own observations, opinions, emotions & conclusions.  We were:
• told: “you don’t feel that way /  that’s not how it is / I don’t know why you think that / Oh, nothing (is going on)” ….. OR
• not given important information about what was really going on in the family, leaving us with an uncomfortable feeling of insecurity, wondering what’s wrong, making up scenarios & blaming ourselves
• expected to go along with the program, no matter how harmful it was to our mental & emotional health, how it simply did not fit with our native personality, or how little it allowed us to explore options & possibilities in the world, or to find out who we really were

Exp: Look up the recent reality series “The Judds”, shown on the OWN tv channel.  Naomi (the mother) slowly spills all the ugly family secrets she’s been protecting for the past 20 to 60 yrs – murder, incest, suicide, neglect…. Daughter Wynnona finally has a realistic understanding of the source of problems between the two them & is now able to have more compassion for & a new trust in her mother

c. Higher Power also became untrustworthy. One of John Bradshaw’s statements about our Spiritual relationship common to all humans, is: “Until the age of 7 we deify our parents.  After age 7 we parentalize our deity”.  So if all children parentalize their bad goddeity & our parents were unloving & unsafe, then we conclude at a profound level that God (as we understand Him) is also unloving & unsafe! That’s why in ACoA meetings we need to be reminded that “God is not an alcoholic parent”.
We may have been raised in a conservative religion with no room for questioning, so we blame God for all our suffering (instead of our parents) & turn away from faith completely, or find our way to a metaphysical path in another form

EXP: Some children pray fervently for years that their suffering end, but as long as they’re trapped with damaging parents – it never does. This leaves them with the conclusion that God is not listening, or that God is punishing them because they’re soooo evil. Since kids can’t really face that their parents are responsible for their suffering, they usually conclude God had abandoned them & therefore is not to be trusted!

• Denying our need for a faith-based life of any kind is a tragedy, because people are made up of Mental, Physical, Emotional & Spiritual aspects. We need a spiritual connection to be complete. Also, recovering from deep childhood wounds is such a difficult undertaking that we need help from “a power greater than ourselves” to heal at the deepest levels of our being.  Anyone who has a regular spiritual practice can attest to the fact that it soothes the emotions, help us think more clearly & makes us better able to cope with life’s stresses.


2 thoughts on “ACoAs: Early Trust Betrayal

  1. Another one of your posts that really produces an “ah-ha.” I’m struggling in therapy to really come to acknowledge that my parents did make not-so-good decisions when it came to my childhood, and that these decisions weren’t my fault. Still hard to even type that. Thank you.


    • Thanks for commenting. At first it’s hard to see them clearly, but it gets easier as we vent the sadness, anger, longing & pain. It’s very freeing. Let me know how you progress.


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