Numerous lights await the person who endured a dysfunctional or abusive upbringing, yet bores through the tunnel of recovery to reach them.
Powerless, devoid of understanding, and justifying his parent’s detrimental treatment of him because of his own alleged deficiencies, he reacted in ways that ensured his survival, causing his brain to rewire itself into survival tactic pathways so that he could negotiate an adult world he erroneously believed was the equivalent of his home-of-origin one.
Unable to function in such a debilitated state for long, however, but not entirely understanding his personal restrictions and fears, he may seek help and answers in a spiritual twelve-step program, enabling him to progressively regain what his upbringing forced him to lose, such as trust, a reconnection with positive, genuine feelings to enhance his life experiences, a re-established link with a Higher Power of his understanding, and, finally, a reknit with the rest of humanity, so that he no longer perceives himself to be on the outside, looking in.
Three aspects, all of which are interconnected, can be considered the goals of such a program.
The first of these is the determination of a person’s own interests, abilities, strengths, talents, and aspirations in life.
“By moving beyond survival,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 429), “we realize that lost dreams or wishes can re-emerge. The return of dreams is a signal that we are continuing our separation-from-family work. We learned… that we had internalized many aspects of our parents’ thinking and behaving. We had no real identity or dreams separate from them. Even if we had moved far away, our parents and their dysfunction still lived inside us.”
Indeed, adopting his parents’ own derailed life plan can be considered an example of a parent-child boundary loss, but his motivation for doing so may have been an effort to please them and a last-ditch attempt to attain their love.
The second goal is to become his own autonomous person beyond the boundary-poor projections, which caused him to subconsciously adopt his parent’s image of him by means of their distorted mirrors.
“Often one or more (family) members are dysfunctional in some capacity so other members take on their roles,” according to Dr. Charles L. Whitfield in his book, Healing the Child Within (Health Communications, 1987, p. 48). “Everyone learns to mind everyone else’s business one way or another. What results is a group of family members who are enmeshed, fused, or have invaded or even overtaken one another’s boundaries.”
“These enmeshed or fused relationships are generally unhealthy, closed, rigid, and tend to discourage the fulfillment of one another’s needs and rights,” he continued (p. 49). “They tend not to support the mental, emotional, and spiritual growth of each person. Little or no ebb and flow of closeness and distance is allowed.”
One of the major manifestations of a dysfunctional, alcoholic, and/or abusive upbringing is codependence, which can be defined as “a disease of lost selfhood.”
“The origin of codependence,” according to Whitfield in another of his books, Co-Dependence: Healing the Human Condition (Health Communications, 1991, p. 22), “is primarily due to having grown up in a troubled, unhealthy, or dysfunctional family.”
“Wounded themselves,” he later states (p. 27), “the child’s parents feel inadequate, bad, and unfulfilled. They project those charged feelings onto others, especially onto their spouse and their vulnerable children… They look outside themselves to feel whole.”
“When we focus so much outside of ourselves, we lose touch with what is inside of us,” he wrote (p. 3): “our beliefs, thoughts, feelings, decisions, choices, experiences, wants, sensations, intuitions, unconscious experiences, and even indications of our physical functioning… ”
Identification of and reconnection with personal feelings is an important aspect of self-recovery.
“Since the parents and other members of such families tend themselves to be unable to listen to us, to support us, and to nurture, accept, and respect us,” he wrote in the Healing the Child Within book (p. 77), “we often have no one with whom we can share our feelings. The emotional pain hurts so much that we defend against them by… various unhealthy ego defenses… Doing so allows us to survive, although at a price. We become progressively numb. Out of touch. False. Codependent.”
The importance of feelings in a recovery program is not to be underestimated.
“(They) act as indicators or gauges at how we are doing at the moment and over a stretch of time” he concludes (p. 78). “They give us a sense of mastery and aliveness.”
Tantamount to the family separation needed to create a condition of autonomy is the replacement of a person’s physical parent with his virtual one-that is, of himself.
“By reparenting ourselves with gentleness, humor, love, and respect,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (p. 295), “we find our child within and true connection to a Higher Power.”
“(But) separation,” it also states (p. 430), “does not mean we are abandoning our family. It means we will have a separate identify. We will know where our feelings end and their feelings begin.”
That “inner child,” and releasing the shackles that once served as a protective sanctuary to retreat to, but later represented a prison, is the third major goal of recovery and facilitates the other two.
Deeply buried in a person’s psyche is the survival-sparked need for it, the long forgotten cocoon of the true self.
“The cause of codependence,” according to Whitfield in his Co-Dependence: Healing the Human Condition book (p. 27), “is a wounding of the true self to such an extent that to survive, it had to go into hiding most of the time, with the subsequent running of its life by the false or codependent self.”
Awaiting a person somewhere along his road to recovery is the rediscovery of his true or authentic self and its treasure chest of intrinsic worth, value, dreams, purposes, and love, the location of his personal direction, which was replaced early in life with his parents’ judgmental derailing. It is here where his critical inner parental voice exists and can now be replaced with his own affirming one.
The goal, in the end, of a spiritual twelve-step program is the reversal of the detrimental upbringing that caused an adult-child to lose himself very early in his life’s journey and replace it with the survival-necessitating false one.