- Do you find yourself needing approval from others to feel good about yourself? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you agree to do more for others than you can comfortably accomplish? Yes_____ No_____
- Are you perfectionistic? Yes_____ No_____
- Or do you tend to avoid or ignore responsibilities? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you find it difficult to identify what you’re feeling? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you find it difficult to express feelings? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you tend to think in all-or-nothing terms? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you often feel lonely even in the presence of others? Yes_____ No_____
- Is it difficult for you to ask for what you need from others? Yes_____ No_____
- Is it difficult for you to maintain intimate relationships? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you find it difficult to trust others? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you tend to hang on to hurtful or destructive relationships? Yes_____ No_____
- Are you more aware of others’ needs and feelings than your own? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you find it particularly difficult to deal with anger or criticism? Yes_____ No_____
- Is it hard for you to relax and enjoy yourself? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you find yourself feeling like a “fake” in your academic or professional life? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you find yourself waiting for disaster to strike even when things are going well in your life? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you find yourself having difficulty with authority figures? Yes_____ No_____
Answering “Yes” to these may indicate some effects from family dysfunction. Most people could likely identify with some of them. If you find yourself answering “Yes” to over half of them, you likely have some long-term effects of living in a dysfunctional family. If you find yourself answering “Yes” to the majority of them you might consider seeking some additional help.
While I have been waiting to start EMDR therapy (don’t ask!?) I have been exploring my childhood with my wife.
As opposed to simply talking about the past, I have been allowing the sometimes painful emotions to come up from past episodes in my life. Instead of intellectually distancing myself from these mainly traumatic or abusive events from the past, I have been simply allowing myself to feel these emotions however painful. And boy have some of them been painful!
It was my father’s anniversary of this very premature death last week, 28 years since he left this mortal coil. He died at a pivotal point in my life. I had just left home and started University, the future promised so much.
A lot of my future problems were not helped by not having a father figure to “guide” me in some ways or to square some parts of the past perhaps?
I can’t believe how much I grieved his anniversary this year. In fact, I cried on and off for two full days which is something I could never do before.
I wasn’t crying for him nor myself but for our shared loss. I just sat there and cried when I needed too, for the bottom of my heart. It didn’t kill me. Didn’t make me want to run away.
This is all a function of a decade in recovery, the ability to do something I couldn’t do before. To sit with very painful emotions and just allow them to come and go.
I was told in early recovery that I would properly grieve the loss of loved ones, particularly my parents, as my recovery went on (they both passed on while I was drinking) but this was more than that.
I was not only grieving my father’s passing but also grieving my dysfunctional childhood.
According to a rather excellent book I have been reading recently Healing the Child Within by Charles L. Whitfield, M.D. we need to grieve our pasts in order to heal the past and move form a False Self to a more integrated True Self.
The false self may also be called the co-dependent self, unauthentic self or public self.
To quote and para phrase from this book ” Our false self is a cover up. It is inhibited, contracting and fearful…It is envious, critical, idealized, blaming, shaming and perfectionistic.”
“Alienated for the True Self, our false self is other-orientated, i.e., focuses on what it thinks others want it to be…doesn’t know how it feels or does know and has censured these feelings as “wrong” or “bad”.
Our false self tends to be the “critical parent”…It pretends to be “strong” or even “powerful”. Yet its power is only minimal…it is in reality usually fearful, distrusting and destructive.”
“…our co-dependent self tends to repeatedly act our unconscious, often painful patterns…it feels separate…we feel numb, empty or in a contrived state. We do not feel real, complete, whole or sane. At one level or another, we sense that something is wrong, something is missing.
Paradoxically, we often feel like this false self is our natural state, the way we “should be”….”
In the next blog I will look at how this False Self is formed in our childhood interaction with our parents.
So how do we become the True Self?
Via a process of grieving according to this insightful book.
“A trauma is a loss…we experience a loss when we are deprived of or have to go without something that we have had and valued, something that we needed… or expected.
Minor losses or traumas are so common and subtle that we often do not recognize them as being a loss. Yet all of our losses produce pain or unhappiness: we call this train of feelings grief.
When we allow ourselves to feel these painful feelings, and when we share the grief with safe and supportive others, we are able to complete our grief work and thus be free of it.”
I will blog on the actual grieving process in later blogs.
The purpose ultimately of this grieving process is to return one to the True Self. What does he mean by this? Again we can see by quoting and para-phrasing some extracts from this book.
“Our Real Self is spontaneous, expansive, loving, giving and communicating. Our True Self accepts ourselves and others. It feels, whether the feelings may be joyful or painful. And it expresses those feelings. Our Real Self accepts our feelings without judgement and fear…
Our Child Within is expressive, assertive, and creative. It can be childlike in the highest, most mature, and evolved sense of the word…taking pleasure in receiving and being nurtured…
By being real, it is free to grow…
…when we are our True Self, we feel alive. We may feel pain in the form of hurt, sadness, guilt or anger, but we nonetheless feel alive.
Or we may feel joy, in the form of contentment, happiness, inspiration or even ecstasy.
…we tend to feel current, complete, real, whole and sane.”
I have had increasing flickers of these real emotions on a daily basis the longer my recovery has gone on. It is great to see these as the real me.
It is certainly the me I want to be and will continue to strive to be.
The light at the end of the destination is me.
I am what I have been looking for.
This book is well worth reading if you also believe you were reared in a dysfunctional family and have suffered the shame-based trauma ever since.
This and other similar books were written in the 1980s and it is kinda strange there seems to have been a lot less in recent years as they describe shame-based family trauma so well.
It may be that these books need to be explored via neuroscience and neuro-psychology to update the effects family trauma has on the developing brain and how this maps onto later addictive behaviours, especially as my false self sounds kinda like my alcoholic and addicted self.
It is a real message of hope. When reading this book, parts of my psyche that I have always labelled alcoholic could equally be reappraised as being this false self created for me via a co-dependency fostered in my own dysfunctional family.
It was suggested to me 8 years ago that I check out this Adult Child stuff but I resisted it.
It is only via researching neuroscience and seeing the demonstrable effects of child mistreatment that this stuff all kinda makes sense now. Certainly in a way I never understood before.
Perhaps I was not ready to understand. Perhaps the time is now to fully get to grips with my past.
When I say my past, this is not completely accurate as the past lives on in this false self. This false self is a negative, mal-adaptive self schema which I inherited from my parents and they probably inherited something similar from their own parents?
Healing The Child Within Discovery and Recovery For Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families by Charles L. Whitfield, M.D.