If you check off a few of the above struggles, know that it's okay and healing is possible. The first step in getting help typically involves overcoming denial (see previous blog post) and then identifying our current struggles. See identifying areas we struggle in IS NOT, I repeat, IS NOT a weakness. In fact, it takes extreme courage and strength to admit when our lives are unmanageable, distressing, or overwhelming in some way. Admitting the areas we struggle in simply allows us to get the right care and treatment for that area.
Think about it like this, when you go to the doctor for a health concern, you're asked to describe the symptoms of the problem so the doctor knows the proper treatment regimen to provide. You'd agree that there's a difference between how a doctor would treat, let's say, lung cancer, pneumonia, and asthma? Right? Yes, of course. Now, there might be similar issues with breathing or the lungs; however, the course of treatment would be vastly different. It first came down to the patient expressing that there was a problem/concern, coming in for the proper evaluation by a trained professional, and then being willing to accept the course of treatment the doctor recommends. In many ways, this is similar to how we handle addressing a client's concerns mentally and emotionally.
Our willingness to admit our current struggles with some of these traits, usually means we're ready to get to work on how to overcome these struggles. When it comes to tackling the above listed concerns, it's important that we have support, encouragement, and a safe, non-judgmental environment to feel safe in, in order to explore these struggles.
I like to take a strength's based approach with this by reminding clients that the adult-children-of-alcoholics (or addicts or abusers) traits were coping skills at one point; they might've helped you survive/endure an abusive, scary, unpredictable home life, or helped you endure and feel in control with some other dysfunctional situation growing up. This is okay. We honor the fact that you MADE IT, you SURVIVED, you GOT THROUGH IT; now, as adults, we get to decide if the behaviors are still working for us. If they aren't, because they are creating distress internally or externally for us (think relationally, vocationally, etc), we get the choice and are empowered, today, to make healthy choices to better improve our situations. As children, we didn't know better and we didn't often have any other choice; we did the VERY BEST we could at the time. So, we recognize that, then, move towards how we can become the healthiest, adult version of ourselves as possible.
Remember, there IS hope for your situation and healing IS possible! I'm cheering for you!
Let's talk about a topic that can produce some fear and anxiety for us... because it's healthy and freeing to do so... here goes...
D E N I A L
The word we like to pretend we DON'T have an issue with; yet, by the actual action of DENYING we struggle with it, actually represents we ARE struggling with it.
Now, I'm not beating anyone up for this struggle. I've had my own struggles with this. I've had to realize that DENIAL is the big, bad defense mechanism that protects us from the main/real issue... something we also don't like talking about...SHAME.
You see, in my own struggle with both DENIAL & SHAME, I had to hold these experiences (meaning, I had to start investigating why they were there, which means I had to ADMIT I was struggling). There's freedom in admitting because this is the first step in allowing yourself to let your guard down (DENIAL) and begin the investigative process of holding up the shame and getting to know it. We experience shame for SO many different reasons... here are just a FEW experiences that can lead to shame (there are many, and, by the way, we've all dealt with shame on one level or another)
- fear of not being good enough
- being told you don't amount
- being told you're unwanted
- being bullied (emotionally or physically)
- trying to cover for a loved one's addiction/dysfunction/codependency
- abuse of any kind (sexually, spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally)
- being a victim of a crime
- feeling as if you don't measure up to societies "milemarkers" for your age range
- etc, etc, etc
See, the flow of self-protection typically goes like this:
Shaming event --> Feeling overwhelming shame --> Not talking about the experience/shame --> Possibly being reshamed by those closest to you --> Internalizing the shame (statements like, "I'm bad", "I'm unlovable", "I'm a failure", etc) --> Compensating for the shame (by doing any number of things that can make one appear better, more in control, more likeable, more whatever it is to fill the void) --> Denying the feelings and experience(s) again--> Experiencing more shame --> Which leads one further into their "defense mechanism of choice" ie - anger, addiction, perfectionism, self-harm, control, etc
Shame is a poison and we often don't recognize it as the source issue. It's the deepest kind of pain/hurt we experience; therefore, it makes sense why it's so HARD to admit we're dealing with it. But, there is hope. Getting to this root issue brings so much freedom and healing. To recognize that we've been acting a certain way, possibly our whole lives, simply to cover a shame experience can be really sad and painful to admit. But, we only heal by speaking the truth and moving THROUGH the feelings NOT by avoiding them.
I often explain it like this to clients:
We feel, to deal, to heal - in that order
Healing comes from feeling that which our mind wouldn't let us feel during that shaming experience; it was too much, to overwhelming, so our brains disconnected so we could survive. This is actually an amazing coping strategy; however, undealt with trauma and/or shaming experience(s) + the emotions, means we get caught in a web of behaviors that keeps us guarded, defensive, and unable to heal.
Here's an exerpt from the book: Conquering Shame & Codependency
"There are several levels of denial:
- Rationalizing, judging, or minimizing present feelings or needs
- Being unaware of present feelings or needs
- Being unaware of past feelings or events that are informing the present
- Being unaware of past shaming of needs or feelings
...we don't know about our shame-bound needs. We've either repressed them or learned to go without or don't feel entitled to have then met in the first place. However, we aren't truly as self-sufficient as we think, because denial doesn't in any way diminish the need; it only diminishes our sense of deprivation."
Remember, denial probably served a great purpose in your life. But, the beauty of being an adult, we get to determine if something is no longer working for us. If it's not working, we get to look at that some more. I like to tell clients instead of ignoring the elephant in the room, get to know the elephant in the room! You may be asking, well, how does one go about that? Good question. Here are some questions you can begin to ask when you feel denial or shame may be at work:
1. What triggering event, conversation, place, person, or feeling led to my current thought/feeling/behavior that I'm frustated by, unhappy with, or is causing me consequences or pain of some sort?
2. What might my denial mechanism be protecting me from?
3. When did I first notice the denial happening? When does it seem to happen the most? (Certain time of day, around a certain individual, when I go to a certain location, etc)
4. What may be the hardest thing for me to admit to from my past or present? (It could be something that happened to you or something that you did to someone else)
5. Could that thing I'm afraid of admitting to bring up a deep feeling of sadness, grief, pain, hurt, or shame? Or, another way to phrase it might be, what am I afraid will happen IF I admit to that thing/situation/event? (Remember, this is why we typically deny our experience(s) because we're afraid of the connected hurt/wound/feeling attached or shame-based identity)
Remember, this is heavy stuff, be gentle with yourself when you unpack some of these questions. No shaming allowed; meaning, don't say something like "I'm stupid for feeling this way", or "It was so long ago, I don't even think of it; it wasn't that bad", or "Other people have it worse", or "I'm just being a coward", etc. Anything that would attempt to minimize, deflect, or rationalize your experience is shaming. That's not our goal. Our, goal is to help you compassionately unpack the situation, the thoughts, and the feelings associated. This is how we work through something in a HEALTHY way. Get some support around you to help you with this exercise. It could be a trusted friend, accountability partner, sponsor, therapist, or pastor.
If you resonate with this topic in ANY way, please know hope and healing IS possible. There is life on the other side of admitting shame based experiences, overcoming denial, and learning how to cope with the feelings in a healthy way. It's so liberating to take this healing journey.
I'm available for a free 15 minute consultation if you have further questions regarding this topic and how I may be able to help.
I'm cheering for you!