This article is an excerpt from The Top 10 Traits of Highly Resilient People: Real Life Stories of Resilience Show You How to Build a Stress Resistant Personality, published with permission from the author and publisher.
I would like to paint a scenario depicting what it means to be born and grow up “under the influence.” You might ask, “Under the influence of what?” All children grow up under the influence of parents or persons who provide them with what they need to survive, or they would not survive. They would die. The influence I am talking about is the influence of unreality, of denial.
Many years ago, a little girl was born into a family with a normal need to experience basic rights as a human being. Her parents did the best they could to provide for her needs, often at great cost to themselves. However, they had not experienced their own basic rights as children. They could not give her what they did not have themselves. Her parents suffered from the diseases of Alcoholism and Codependency. The little girl grew up under the influence of these diseases. She needed to see her parents as perfect because she counted on them for her survival, and so she began to deny reality and mistrust her own experience.
This little girl developed much pain on the inside that she carried into adulthood. She explained the pain by believing that there was something very wrong with her. Denial made it possible for her to not see the truth. She learned early not to see real pictures, about herself or others. Feelings of fear, sadness, and anger would have overwhelmed her if she had seen real pictures. It was not safe for her to let herself know the truth.
Denial kept her safe, but it limited her greatly. Webster says that denial is “a restriction on one’s own activity or desires.” So, although denial was helpful to protect her from reality then, denial later caused her to restrict her own activity and desires. She developed the disease of Codependency, which affected every area of her life.
These “Twelve Principles of Codependency” synthesize what growing up “under the influence” translated to in adult life for this little girl.
- I need to control people and events to provide some predictability and to protect myself from what would feel like overwhelming fear, anger, and sadness. I need to see myself as a victim and focus on others always.
- I am my own higher power and I need to try harder to achieve and succeed, or get others to achieve and succeed so they can take care of me.
- I see God as judging and punishing and I better keep on His good side so He will do my will.
- I create an idealized picture of myself as perfect to get love, and still do not feel good enough. I blame others and myself for whatever goes wrong.
- I must keep my thoughts and feelings to myself lest others find out how inadequate and confused I feel sometimes, and how terminally unique I am.
- What has happened to me up to now has no effect on me and I can handle it alone.
- I have to maintain the status quo because change is terrifying. If I could change others then things would get better.
- I feel responsible for all that has gone wrong in my family, my school, and the whole world. And I think everybody notices what I do or do not do.
- I kept trying harder to make it up to others for all the pain I thought I had the power to cause them. At the same time I blamed them for all the pain they caused me.
- I continued to see what I wanted to see only and not real pictures because then I would never be “wrong” and I would rather be right than happy.
- I sought to ignore my inner wisdom and look for answers in a relationship, a book, seminar, seeking to avoid personal responsibility whenever possible.
- Maintaining rigid denial as a result of these steps, I tried to take care of everyone else.
What this little girl now knows is that her family was not perfect. Her parents did the best they could despite the reality that they suffered from the deep and pervasive diseases of Alcoholism and Codependency. They did not know there was a problem, and certainly not what the problem was. She also knows that there was nothing basically wrong with her. She is a normal human being who learned some non-constructive patterns. These patterns are something she learned, and therefore something that she can unlearn and relearn!
This article would be a great help Masterclass: Adverse Childhood Experiences Explained by Dr. Andrea Pennington
Because of the unhealthy patterns, however, she does have the disease of Codependency. The disease of Codependency is now understood as a primary disease from which recovery is possible. I want to share the story of this little girl’s recovery because I know it well. It is my story. I am the little girl.
I did not know for much of my life that there are always alternatives, because I saw life from only one perspective. I became a seeker when I first learned that life can be different and richer. As I sought, I learned to trust myself, my source of Life, and the Universe so that now I can use every experience as an opportunity for growth. I now believe recovery from Codependency can be as profound and comprehensive as the wounding is deep and pervasive. The sharing of other recovering adult children helped me start and continue this journey. My personal and professional lives have taken on new meaning and fullness. I want to share with others the hope that was shared with me.
I have some basic assumptions about people, and what I think being a whole human person includes. You may have different assumptions and use your assumptions as a basis for considering what I say. I am aware that even as I articulate my beliefs they continue to evolve. I outline for you here my assumptions:
- Each of us has within us the source of life given us by our Creator, and we have a right to be.
- Each of us has a right to be fully human, and to feel all our Feelings: including gladness, sadness, anger, and fear.
- Each of us has the right to be a separate individual, and to be unconditionally accepted and loved as we are.
- Each of us has the right to achieve our unique potential in all areas: spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially.
- We all have the right to discover our true potential in every area
Along with every right there is a responsibility, and a task to achieve that responsibility. My childhood wounding included not accomplishing the tasks to live out my rights. I did not learn to use, or have surrendered, my personal power to connect with the source of life within me and to be responsible for myself. I did not accomplish the developmental tasks of growing up.
I was not aware of what my rights were, nor did I learn the skills to experience them. I made early decisions that limited my freedom to experience these rights. This included the right to be, to feel, to know who I am, and what I want. I learned to negate my own inner wisdom and look to the outside for answers. I have re-decided I want to be loved unconditionally, and to achieve my full potential.
It is not easy, but it is never too late to have another chance. I can still accomplish these tasks. One difference from the first time around is that it is now too late for parents or someone else to provide me with the nurturing I did not get in childhood. My parents tried to give what they had not received and it did not work. This pattern repeats from generation to generation. The cycle is interrupted only when individuals choose to recover and do what it takes to do so.
I can begin the healing. I can learn to give this nurturing parenting to myself. I could not have done it for myself the first time around because I was too little. I can do it now because I have learned how to give nurturing to others. The monumental challenge is to re-decide that I have not only a right but a responsibility to give it to myself.
I can give myself permission to learn what I did not know and use the resources and help that are available. I no longer have to do it alone. I have people who can guide me to use tools and skills to accomplish skipped developmental tasks, and who can provide support for me. I can learn to trust the source of life and growth that is in me. I had learned to deny or negate it. I thought I should know something I had not yet learned.
I learned that the twelve steps of Co-dependence I outlined earlier are a sure fire way to a life of pain and misery. I relearned that Twelve Steps of a Recovering/Discovering Adult Child are a dependable path to a life lived to the full.
Twelve Steps of a Recovering/Discovering Adult Child
- I admitted I am powerless over people and events outside myself, and I realized my past affected me but I need no longer be a victim.
- I came to believe that a power greater than me lives within me and within others and can restore personal power.
- I have decided to turn my life over to the care of God, asking for an ever-truer understanding.
- I became able to see real pictures about me and to accept myself unconditionally.
- I experienced the freedom that comes from sharing the truth about myself with God, other persons, and me.
- I became ready to let God show me how past patterns are affecting me, and I accepted my unhealthy and healthy patterns of thinking and acting without judging myself.
- I began to let God teach me more healthy patterns and I opened myself to what I am to learn in each of my experiences.
- I made a list of the persons with whom I have unfinished business.
- I finish this business in a manner constructive for me and for them.
- I review each day for unfinished business so I can acknowledge it and complete it at the appropriate time.
- I seek to increase my conscious contact with God by setting aside specific time to listen, alone and with others, and by always striving to listen to my inner wisdom.
- I practice these principles as I live life ever more fully, co-creating my life with God to achieve my unique destiny spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially, ever willing to share what I have learned with others.
Regarding: personal power
Before recovering I believed that the church had all the rules. When I became a nun, I was told that if I followed the “rules” I would be guaranteed Heaven. That was just what I wanted, a guarantee. I did not know what personal power was.
What I was looking for was safety and structure so I would not make a mistake. Responsibility terrified me and I wanted God to take care of me. However, I was still not able to be willing to let go of controlling how I wanted God to fix me. I did not trust that God loved me because I did not think people did. I stayed stuck for a long time because of my fear of what would happen if I trusted God to guide me.
In recovery, I have experienced the source of life within me, and still call that source God. I know now that God is not only “out there” but in me and in others.
I used to look in a book for the meaning of Jesus’ words: “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” Although I could always see meaning and purpose in my life, I felt as if life was a pain that I needed to survive rather than an experience to enjoy. I longed to feel loved and to be able to love. I was so wrapped up in myself that I could not do either.
Through growing physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially, I believe I have been able to grow spiritually. As I live the above principles, I see my purpose as that of expanding my capacity to love, and to live life ever more fully as a human person. That brings me back to the rights that I shared earlier. As I accomplished the tasks of healing ever more, I have come to experience those rights. I live life ever more to the full, and feel confident that I will continue to grow in every area to achieve my unique destiny.
A major part of my healing was finding and claiming my own inner child and giving her what I had learned so well to give to others. That child has become very precious to me. I have, with the help of many others, provided her with what she needed to claim her right to be, to feel, to be separate and to give and receive unconditional love. I now accept, with her help, responsibility to co-create my life with God.
I learned I can take care of her and not every other person in my life. By sharing my story and my tools with others, I can help them to find and re-parent their own inner child and experience some of the same rewards.The little girl who needed to see her family as perfect can now see more perfectly, real pictures, as they are. She can appreciate herself and others in a whole new way. She can take risks to grow. She has been born again into awareness and freedom of choice, and no longer had to keep herself buried in denial.
By the time that little girl turned fifty, she had come home to herself. She was able to see options and was open to what the next step would be. Two years later, wanting to share her recovery, she started an Al Anon meeting for Adult Children of Alcoholics. Through a series of serendipitous events, a man came to the second meeting. Turns out that they were meant to share their lives as husband and wife and fell deeply in love. She left the religious order in good standing to follow a new vocation. They married six months later and continued the journey of living and loving more fully. This wounded little girl received the gift of living ever more fully, and was able to share it with another human being.
Using all of her professional education and lived experience, and now with the love and support that she experienced in this relationship, she developed an educational/experiential program for adult children of alcoholic and other dysfunctional families that she named the Recovery/Discovery Series. The program lasted twenty weeks, two hours a week. In a five-year period over three hundred adults recovered from dysfunctional patterns and discovered new skills to live life more fully.
After five years, there was yet another stage of growth to be shared for this couple. Her husband was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease. She accompanied him on a five-year journey that included dialysis and a kidney transplant. The transplant failed and dialysis was resumed. He died at home as he wanted to, and the love lives on. She continues to be grateful for all that this journey has unfolded including the depth of joy and sorrow that was, and is, a vital part of living fully.
You may be one of the fortunate people who have already started the journey into recovery. If you are, I invite you to join me in gratitude for experiencing life ever more “to the full.” If you are one of the people who is contemplating whether it can ever be different, I invite you warmly to take a risk and go for it. Although your story may be somewhat similar, or very different, recovering and discovering is possible and well-worth whatever effort it may entail to work on it.
About the Author
Ann Marie Wyrsch was an ANA Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist from 1981 until 1997. She retired in 1993 but continues to have a passion for raising awareness of the serious consequences of growing up in a family with alcoholism or other dysfunction, and above all, an awareness that it is possible to recover from codependency and to discover new ways to live.
Ann Marie met the selection criteria for inclusion in Who’s Who in American Nursing, 1990-1991 Edition for significant accomplishment and leadership and was Included in the National Distinguished Service Registry in Nursing, 1988.
The highlight of her career was facilitating a twenty-week Recovery/Discovery Series for Adult Children of alcoholic or other dysfunctional families from 1986 to 1991. The series included education and experiential processes addressing the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social dimensions of Codependency Recovery. During this time more than 300 adults graduated with new skills for living life more fully.
Ann Marie is a lifelong learner and continues to recover and discover!
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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