Anger characteristics #10
See ACRONYM page for abbrev.
WHAT IS IT?
In it’s simplest form, Responsibility (R) is: honestly admitting, to ourselves, first of all, what we feel, think & have done – or – not. (T.E.A.). It includes acknowledging both our limitations & our gifts, our ignorance & our knowledge. And if possible, always do this without judgment, without shame, without guilt. MOST of ALL – without self-hate.
ACoAs grew up with a great many cognitive distortions (CDs), so it makes sense that we would carry them into our adult lives – as if they were the truth! One of these has to do with the issue of Responsibility (R). REVIEW CDs posts.
• For us R. is a dirty word, both an absolute requirement & a hated burden! We take responsibility for others’ actions & emotions, while in many ways not being responsible for ourselves, hating ourselves (S-H) for the very things that make us human. We believe we MUST take care of others instead of ourselves, or someone will die & it’ll be our fault, yet overwhelmed with the weights of responsibility we feel we can’t escape. So we try many convoluted ways to avoid any form of healthy R.
ORIGIN in childhood, of our aversion to TRUE responsibility
1. “I tried to fix them so they’d be OK”
GOALs: — To stop them from suffering & make them happier, AND
— To make them ‘well’ so they would stop hurting us, and be able to take care of us, the way all children need
COMMENTS – We were forced to be responsible (R) for our unhappy angry, crazy, drunk parents, & sometimes siblings & extended family members. Many of us had to be the ‘designated adult’ even when we were very little, because of their incompetence, selfishness & addictions. We got the RULE loud & clear “Everyone else’s needs are more important than mine”.
— We understood early on that they couldn’t cope, so we had to be R. for ourselves, to not ‘bother them’, to be self-sufficient
— We felt a great burden to fix their problems, make them feel better, to give them what they wanted – even when it was presented in the form of Double Messages.
— We were R. for doing whatever they wanted, how they wanted it, yet having to figure it out by ourselves because they didn’t say, or changed the rules arbitrarily, endlessly confusing us
— We may have lived with one parent who was totally irresponsible & swore to never be like that, AND/OR with an over-R. parent, which we copied. Yet, some of us may have resented the R. one for being too controlling, & adored the careless one, for being charming.
2. “I failed to make them better & so to stop my pain”
REALITY: — It should never fall to a child to have to try to heal their parents’ damage, in a role-reversal of being the little grownup
— No one can cause another person to “heal & grow”, & people can improve themselves & their life if they are willing to do the work required to change. In any case, it’s not something to be attempted by children, who are the ones needing to be cared for
COMMENTS: No matter how hard we tried we were never able to make a genuine improvement in our parents. This was devastating to us, because we needed them to be mentally sane (T), & emotionally stable (E) & consistently dependable (A).
As kids we desperately wanted to stop hurting, AND get our needs met. So we made every effort to please them & minimize the damage they could do us, but nothing worked.
Our ‘failure’ left us with 2 conflicting states:
– Hating ourselves: We concluded that something was profoundly wrong with US – we weren’t smart enough, attractive enough, perfect enough to have an impact on the adults
— Hating them: We did/do in fact love our parents very much – no matter how they treated us. However, years of abuse & neglect took their toll, building & building our helpless rage, which we had to deny (Read “So the Witch Won’t Eat Me: Fantasy and the Child’s Fear of Infanticide” Dorothy Block)
3. “I have to carry all the things they refuse to acknowledge”
AWARENESS: — Children are highly sensitive to their environment, especially the emotions & attitude of their parents. Even as very little kids, we were smart enough to know when things were ‘off’ with adults, in terms of their behavior, motivation & interactions with others.
— The dysfunction in our home was so great that we felt unsafe all the time. Because kids see themselves as the center of the universe, we assumed that we could help out by picking up what they ‘dropped / denied’, as if that responsibility would even things out
COMMENTS: Unfortunately this is a common response for children. EXP:
— If they were hypocritical, did illegal things, were cruel & insensitive AND had no remorse – we felt ashamed for them!
— If one was depressed, suicidal (even of they never acted on it directly – but it showed up in physically illness, various addictions, not being able to work…..), we took on their depression, lack of motivation & wanting to be dead
— If one or both parents’ never dealt with their own childhood pain, we took that on & “feel terribly sad/bad for them”. This is true whether the parent is numb & acts like they’re OK, or if they’re always in ‘suffering / martyr mode’
• Loving them is not enough. No one cannot relieve another person of their hurt or other sickness by carrying it for them! no matter how pure our motives are. And children’s motives are never pure – understandably so – because we desperately wanted them to be OK so they could be there for us. That was/is a legitimate need!
▶ All of this is in addition to our own pain from neglect & abuse. The combination of our pain & their dysfunction is overwhelming.
Unfortunately, holding all that extra responsibility is totally wasted – it never helped them nor changed our situation. No wonder we are so terrified & traumatized now!
4. “I’ll always fail at everything I do, so I won’t bother trying”
DISTORTION: — It’s natural for children to assume they have magical power over their circumstances, which in fact they do not have. This is normal childhood narcissism.
— Our family, & often other adults, were unable or unwilling to take the burden of responsibility on themselves & thereby off of their children’s shoulders. Indeed, in many cases they actually dumped all their own weight on us, adding to our sense of obligation
COMMENTS: As children, being ineffective at stopping the abuse & improving our lot at home inevitably left us with the conclusion that it was because of a lack in themselves. If we failed at such a basic goal – of helping to heal our parents & getting our needs met inside the family – then the WIC thoroughly believed there’s no way we would be able to influence anyone outside of the family either – much less positively. This became the pattern for our adult life.
• This assumption is one of the many CD common to ACoAs. As children we not only thought we could influence our parents with love & effort, but many of them insisted that is was in fact our job to take care of them. We had no way of knowing know that:
— we were given an impossible task, from the very beginning, which we took on because we had no choice
— that the reason we were ineffective is exclusively because of the persistent unhealed damage in our parents, not because of any lack in ourselves. Our task had always been an impossible one
NOTE: In some cases the alcoholic parent joined AA, & stopped the overt part of the dis-ease. Even so, rarely did they clean out their underlying damage (via Al-Anon & FoO work) so that their unhealed childhood wounds continued to infect the family system. And usually the non-drinking parent did not want nor receive needed treatment either.
NEXT: Fear of Responsibility (Part 2)