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Why is the voice of a dysfunctional parent SO powerful?

Old 10-02-2009, 01:59 PM
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Why is the voice of a dysfunctional parent SO powerful?

I am looking for more understanding in this area.

My issue is the power I gave to the voices of my alcoholic father, codependent mother and alcoholic brother. I would say up until my early thirties when I saw my first counsellor over the breakup of my marriage, I BELIEVED and VALUED my parent's opinions. What they said was the LAW and the TRUTH.

As I started to challenge my parent's voices, I transferred this power over to my brother who was a developing alcoholic. Up until about five years ago, he was the all powerful voice in my life.

Has anyone any insight on why I would do this. Why was I so trusting and believing of them above all else. I never awarded this power to my husband, my teachers, my university lecturers, employers, the media, God or anyone else. The only other person I awarded this power to was my first ever boss - I hated her with a passion, she was such a bully. Why did I never recognise that my parents and my brother were bullies? Why did I assume the passive role? Why did I accept and really, truly believe for so long that they were so much more important than me? What on earth was the function of such family dynamics?

I would be really grateful for any insight in this area or interested to hear if anyone else has experienced it.

IWTHxxx
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Old 10-02-2009, 03:02 PM
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I am not sure, iwth, because I was on the other side of things -- I gave all of my power to my romantic partners, none to my family.

I think we all have our chemistry. There are various Myers-Briggs types who are more fixated on parents and other authority figures. (I'm not one of them) Jean Shinoda Bolen talks about various goddess archetypes that are more mother-oriented, family-oriented, mate-oriented in Goddesses in Every Woman. Even your enneagram type moves you in one direction or another toward your choice of authority figures.

Not everyone is interested in these kinds of things, but I'm fascinated by how I turned out the way I did, and so all of these little systems of examining our personalities have contributed something to my understanding. The more I learn, the more I stand back and look at myself and say, "Wow. What a strange, beautiful, complex little animal you are."

I hope you find the answers you seek.
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Old 10-03-2009, 07:35 AM
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As ever, thanks GL. Your post has shown me that I am still putting myself in a negative light - somehow because I am not and never have been an overpowering, bullying, loud type of personality, I assume that I am somehow "less than" or "not as strong as them".

I need to switch this way of thinking - the quiet, passive, compliant personality that I was or I developed allowed me to survive the abuse and bullying within my alcoholic family. I had no need for this personality anywhere else but in my family of origin.

And I remained this way until five months ago when three things happened - firstly, they "attacked" my son, secondly, my tolerance for endurance was reaching the end of the line and thirdly, active alcoholism reappeared in my life with a vengence.

Thanks to WOL's post, I can see that the loud, powerful voices that I am hearing have always been there. It is just I have been denying them, ignoring them or tuning them out in order to survive or remain as healthy as I possibly could under the circumstances. As I am recovering and with distance, I can see and finally acknowledge their negative, damaging voices both agressive and passive agressive in nature.

Eeeeh, this new understanding is empowering stuff, IWThxxx
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Old 10-03-2009, 08:00 AM
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I guess for me, I started making progress when I quit trying to figure out why, and instead focused on what to do about it, as in how to change my thinking/reactions.

I can still be very intimidated by my dad, but it's usually when I'm not on firm ground with my recovery, and have lost my conscious contact with God.

:ghug2 :ghug2
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Old 10-03-2009, 08:08 AM
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I think it has to do with unkept promises and learning to pin your hopes on one solution. With my AF, I felt like he held the promise of everything getting better. After all, he sure didn't model empowerment and changing things for yourself. Like him, I had the false belief that change came from somewhere outside.

Quite frankly, I think the religious approach has a lot to do with this. AF believed god had set him aside for some grand purpose - although he didn't know what. So it made sense in his mind that he just needed to sit back and not do anything until that purpose was somehow realized. Until then, he was helpless to do anything. He'd be happy to tell you about it anytime, especially after a few.

End point: I think we're trained to deposit our hopes in one place and wait for that return. Like GiveLove says, this may come in different forms (family relationship, romantic relationship, etc) but the formula is still the same.
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Old 10-03-2009, 09:57 AM
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I'm glad you realize you're being hard on yourself. You gave these people power in your life, particularly your parents, because they were all-powerful. You were a child or a young adult. We look to our parents to provide guidance, care, etc. Some parents, like ours, either don't give it at all or give an extremely warped version of it. But that's all we know. And we still, especially as children, want to believe that we really are loved and cared for, so we grasp at straws to find any evidence of that.

It's only natural that this would carry over into your adult life, particularly while your "goggles" are still on and you are in denial and wanting to believe that your family is OK. It's only when you realize they are NOT ok that you start wondering why you've given them so much power in your life. You did it because they're your family, and because you love them. NO ONE can fault you for that, so don't fault yourself.
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Old 10-03-2009, 10:11 AM
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Originally Posted by dothi View Post
I think it has to do with unkept promises and learning to pin your hopes on one solution. With my AF, I felt like he held the promise of everything getting better. After all, he sure didn't model empowerment and changing things for yourself. Like him, I had the false belief that change came from somewhere outside.

End point: I think we're trained to deposit our hopes in one place and wait for that return.

Oh yes - this is ringing so many bells with me. Everything was always on hold until AF got sober and WHEN this happened, EVERYTHING would be marvellous. Only AF never took action, he never got sober, he got ill and died. My mother as the non-addicted partner was the so-called sane member of the partnership only she also never took control or took action.

So as parents they never modelled healthy problem-solving behaviours; they modelled endurance of pain and conditioned their children to be victims. They never assumed responsibility and never took appropriate action.

I too have seen the religious aspects of AA and Al-Anon abused. My parents were all too willing to believe it was the disease's fault and that they were "helpless". They were relieved to abscond their personal responsibility and to sit back and wait for help to come from outside themselves. My Mum and Dad used and twisted AA and Al-Anon to absolve themselves of all personal responsibility.

It is important for me to understand and get a handle on the dynamics of unhealthy family relationships and behaviour. I can remember when I wailed to my first counsellor 11 years ago that I didn't know what a good mother was or did. She advised me to model my behaviour on friend's mothers who I knew as a child and really liked and felt safe and happy with. I did this and fingers crossed I have stopped a lot of unhealthy behaviour being modelled to my own children. By increasing my understanding of the more subtle and ingrained unhealthy dynamics of my own family, I can hopefully model more healthy behaviours that lessen the chances of the next generation (my children) repeating the cycle.

I feel my increased understanding is empowering me to make changes in my own behaviour and attitudes and I am so feeling the benefits, IWTHxxx
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Old 10-03-2009, 06:15 PM
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IWTH:

I asked my psychologist why it was that more than half of the alcoholic families that I've known have had police and/or military occupations in them. His instantaneous reply was: "It's the authoritarian nature of the alcoholic that filters down to the children."

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this because I'm the opposite: I have trouble with authoritarian figures. But my mother, in order to continue her abuse, would threaten me with severe punishment if I told anyone about what went on in our house (it just as easily could have been called a prison.)

You are not "trusting and believing" in your parents. You were taught to listen to them, or else!... I've had a very hard time working through this myself, but my therapist says to step outside of myself and be "an observing self." After several years, I've been able to make some progress. Step back from your post, change the 1st person to 3rd person, and observe what's being said. You never learned to trust, but you did learn to listen & obey. Problem is, as an adult, you're listening to the people that taught you, and not to the people that can help you (i.e., husband, God, and the rest of your list.)

I wish I could say that all you need to do is wake up tomorrow and reverse all the players, but it takes time.

BTW, thank you for your post. Just typing my response to you helps me sort myself out more...

Mike
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Old 10-04-2009, 04:03 AM
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Originally Posted by MikeH View Post
IWTH:

"It's the authoritarian nature of the alcoholic that filters down to the children."


You are not "trusting and believing" in your parents. You were taught to listen to them, or else!...

You never learned to trust, but you did learn to listen & obey. Problem is, as an adult, you're listening to the people that taught you, and not to the people that can help you (i.e., husband, God, and the rest of your list.)

Thank you Mike, this is very, very helpful.

I spent a lot of time a month ago looking at the abuse I and my brother experienced as children. I accepted that the abuse was very, very bad. As a child, my role in this was passive, non-challenging - it had to be to ensure my safety and survival. Yes, oh yes, I definitely learnt to listen and obey.

Just working my way through this....

As an adult, I moved away from the physical abuse and neglect but because I was still in contact with them, the verbal and psychological abuse continued. I tried to counteract this by restricting my contact with my alcoholic family more and more until I couldn't control my contact any more and reached my own bottom.

I've never thought about their everyday voices as being abusive but it is the same dynamic - I gave their voices power because that is what I learnt as a child - I learnt to obey. That is why, when I did the opposite of what they wanted I always felt as if I was in the wrong, I never could be at ease with my own decisions until they were appeased.

It explains so much - it explains why I always dropped everything when they called. It explains why my mother who used to use physical and verbal force to get me to comply as a child, switched to emotional manipulation and passive agressive behaviours to get me to comply as an adult. And she was so successful in these behaviours because I adopted my learnt passive, submissive behaviour and listened in order to obey.

Thanks Mike, you have helped me lot today. I can also rest easy because my husband and I are not exposing our children to these damaging dynamics.

IWTHxxx
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Old 10-04-2009, 11:07 AM
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One of the odd sad dynamics of alcoholic families is that the dysfunction takes normal trait of human behavior and twists it into a hindering and disabling habit. Children, on average, turn to their parents for care and support. This is normal, and it continues into adult years when one should be able to look to one's elders for wise guidance. In alcoholic families this turns into an obsessive desire to see normal behavior from an addicted/codependent parent and/or approval from that parent.

Instead of thinking "gee, I should call dad and ask him what he thinks" we go with "if I call dad maybe THIS phone call will change him a little if I just say X and Y and I MIGHT get a caring useful response." Ever hopeful, we are.

A somewhat extreme example of how persistent our obsession can be: My parents passed away 2 decades ago. I have realized that I still have a devotion to 'honoring' their expectations. I never had the chance to say 'I need to live my own life' to them and endure disapproval. I am fairly sure that I have also greatly exaggerated the expectations and disapprovals.

Freedom has the right idea. To paraphrase the AA Big Book, self-knowledge alone is not the answer. It is helpful to know that our childhood training gave us personality traits and thinking habits that hurts us, but we need a model for better thinking. That model can come from a therapist, some of the well-reccomended books for ACOA's, and/or from a higher power. For me, that model definately has to come from somewhere besides the dark cluttered halls of my own mind. I focus on the collective wisdom of my alanon group, people I respect and love, readings from christian, hebrew, and buddhist writings, and a power greater than myself.** Meditation helps too.

**(yup, there is a 2nd step thing here. After years of catholic church teachings, I realize that my HP is not a god of any church, or a god. It is the collective wisdom of people I can actively trust today and love. I will keep an open mind here, so I may yet see a bigger picture. )
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