Regular reality checks are becoming significantly more important for us to do nowadays, because we constantly see other people looking beautiful, happy, and successful on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. The stark reality is that many of us lack social skills and don’t know how to communicate with others in real life. We live in a state of emotional confusion and feel easily victimized if anyone disapproves of us in any shape or form.
We are exhausted and we don’t seem to focus on our goals long enough to achieve them. We don’t accept authority yet we are afraid of abandonment. We do too much, we eat too much, and we often complain too much.
This toxic lifestyle has its roots for many of us in the families we come from. It is not in our DNA, but in the way we were raised. Most people in this post-modern world come from moderately dysfunctional homes, and some unlucky individuals come from extreme family dysfunctionality in whatever semblance of a home they somehow managed to survive from.
Alcoholism is the catalyst of many dysfunctions in our society. U.S. National statistics show that 51.5% of adults are regular alcohol drinkers. Dysfunctionality has its clear roots in addiction, and alcoholism, chemical dependencies, and drug abuse leave their traumatic mark on spouses and children. Sometimes years after the most horrible traumatic events, people realize that the violence they escaped from wasn’t normal way of living for everyone else. If you are an adult child survivor of alcoholic parents you will understand what I am talking about. The shame and the fear of a parent coming home drunk and ready to engage in violent confrontation with you or other family members are scars that remain tender for most of our lives.
Older children tend to take on the role of the hero who attempts to save the family. They often become social workers, therapists, and pastors. The younger siblings may hide their deep emotional turmoil and fear through the use of humor. They take on the role of the family clown who constantly attempts to redirect everyone’s attention away from the pain. The pain that everyone is so uncomfortable with. The pain that is the secret that everyone tries to avoid. The problem is that the pain only grows bigger and bigger as time goes by, even if the actors have long passed from this life.
The risk of becoming an alcoholic or the prey of many addictions is much greater for people raised in families where at least one parent was an alcoholic or drug addicted. We carry with us the unspoken rules of a dysfunctional family, we feel different, and we attempt to imitate and wing our way through relationships never being exactly sure what is normal in most situations. We struggle with self-esteem issues and seek reassurance and validation outside ourselves every chance we get. We try to fill ourselves with material things, food, rage, and spirituality, but somehow we still always end up feeling empty.
We unconsciously rescue mysterious others and recreate relationships similar to the relationships and characters of our addicted parents. Other survivors of addiction become our significant others, we are lost children in the maze.
Toxic sects and spiritually-materialistic religious groups have many survivors as members. There, people easily become prey of mind control systems that subtly manipulate their emotions, creating dependency and servitude. This is a worldwide phenomenon that has also been used by terrorist groups. They make victims out of individuals who innocently trusts them, who swallow whole their toxic ideologies in exchange for a little love-bombing and validation.
According to The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science, some of the issues that are common in toxic and chemically dependent families are:
- A lack of communication skills, either partially or completely.
- A lack of parental skills, poor boundaries, and an over-reliance on drama as a motivation for change.
- No understanding of scheduling, discipline, or structure. Structure is very important, because it creates positive habits and it encourages self-soothing to function effectively as a child learns to master his/her emotions.
- Neglect and the absence of a parental figure that can model accountability and can teach by example how to deal with difficulties.
- Drama, family conflict, and abuse in many forms (emotional, physical, etc.).
- Problems with the law, health, social isolation, and severe financial difficulties for the family milieu.
These are grave consequences as the victimization it creates on children alone create more poverty, neglect, and the increased possibility of them becoming addicts themselves when they grow up.
Individuals who had a parent who drank too much tend to not think of their parent as an alcoholic. Perhaps out of respect, so they go on without wounds and they bury their feelings in denial.
After all we are doing okay now we think.
If we live in denial and create an elaborate set of excuses for all the terrible situations of our youth (such as being pushed and hit by a parent when all you did was ask a question and you didn’t realize they were drinking), the trauma defines our sense of self and identity. I can assure you that if you attend a large gathering the adult children of alcoholics will attract each other and find many things in common without even realizing the upbringing they have in common.
Finally, we experience fears of abandonment because we don’t love ourselves enough. Nobody told us as children that it was okay to love ourselves. Children have to be shown, with hugs and encouragement. We don’t stand up for ourselves and we tend to stay in jobs and relationships that are profoundly detrimental to the core of our wellbeing.
All the emotional confusion affects our health and lead us to compulsive behaviors such as over-eating and other addictions. We are constantly trying to find the love and acceptance we lacked as children. It feels like a profound hole in our soul.
Why do we avoid feeling our feelings and why do we numb ourselves with social media, television, and/or food? Because feeling our feelings and admitting the truth of our childhood makes us uncomfortable, sad, and angry. Remaining numb keeps us from loving, caring, and developing ourselves.
The answer is inside of you. The fire to ignite your life is within, not outside of yourself. The neglected and unloved child will have to be embraced and given full acceptance and love. The inner child needs to heal through play and creativity. Meditation and self awareness can play an important role in developing a healthy sense of self-compassion. Exercise and time in nature will foster a connection with our body and provide challenges towards healthy motivational skills.
Ultimately, developing a personal philosophy of life based on the pursuit of excellence while learning to protect ourselves through the wise use of critical thinking, can help us develop self-love and forgiveness for the immaturity of our parents. We can all become the parents we wished we had by parenting ourselves in order to contribute in a positive manner to the world we live in.
As The wise Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh once told us:
“The present moment is the substance with which the future is made. Therefore, the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment. What else can you do?”