Aspects of Adult Child Growth

Adult children, who physical appear mature, but whose development was arrested because of upbringing exposure to alcoholism, para-alcoholism, dysfunction, and abuse, often try to understand and correct their plights in twelve-step recovery programs. Although they can entail long healing and reversing processes, there are times when they need to stand on a plateau during their climbs and assess their growth and improvement. This study looks at this growth from three perspectives: interrupted, personal, and spiritual.Interrupted Growth:Exposure to danger, detriment, and dysfunction thwarts the childhood development process. Subjected to trauma and parental betrayal, yet devoid of the resources or capabilities to either escape or combat his adverse circumstances, he is left with a single recourse: spiritually flee within, burying himself in a protective cocoon and placing his true or authentic self in hiding. Because fear was the last emotion generated by the situation, he pursues a life, without recovery or resolution of this inner child creation, in fear of people, places, and things, yet he usually has no understanding as to why.Like a stopped clock, trauma arrests and interrupts development. And, like having a hole that is not patched up, the person otherwise attempts to grow up around it, but never seems able to fills it and is thus unable to complete his maturation process because of it, replacing his authentic self with a false or substitute one that has been labeled “ego.”Repeated exposure to what may have constituted the original, flee-causing circumstances, abandonment, criticism, shaming, inadequate love, and poor role modeling from parents who themselves functioned from their own unresolved childhood-bred deficiencies, he can, to a degree, be compared to a plant that does not receive adequate water and sunlight. Its (and his) growth is stalled and stunted. In many ways, he remains a child on the inside.This underscores the fact that growth-necessitating aspects, when not received, hinder and interrupt this process.Adequate parental role modeling is certainly one of them.In a study about a client who suffered from this syndrome, authors Stephen A. Mitchell and Margaret J. Black in their book Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic Thought (BasicBooks, 1995, p. 215), wrote “… Paul’s fundamental problem is not that he is at (unconscious) odds with himself, but that his early development was thwarted by the absence of certain crucial parental processes that are required for psychological growth; someone to look up to, someone who enjoyed Paul’s way of being a boy, (and) someone who gave his blessing for Paul to become a man in his own right.”These conditions created both his unfulfillment as a child and his longing for it as an adult. Devoid of a masculine model, he unfavorably compared himself to macho figures who became unconscious representations of the father he needed, but never had.”In the arrested development mode, Paul’s psychological paralysis is seen not as a result of unconscious conflict, but of insufficient conditions for growth,” they conclude (ibid, p. 216). “What was missing in Paul’s developmental past is still missing in him as an adult.”The ultimate purpose of parenting is to prepare a child for adult life by providing him with safety, nurturing, confidence, and love for independent functioning. But when parents themselves lack these qualities and consequently are unable to give them, child growth falls short.Personal Growth:Forced, without choice, to enter the world in a stunted and wounded state, adult children, whose brains, through their inherent neuroplasticity, rewired themselves during their upbringings, thus brave a world they believe approximates the one in which they grew up.Considered necessary, but maladaptive survival traits that are sometimes referred to as “the laundry list,” fourteen such behavioral characteristics reflect the adult child syndrome and include, mostly unconscious to them, aspects such as fear of authority figures, isolation, loss of identity, approval seeking, distrust, victimization,, an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, shame, guilt over self-defense, the inability to distinguish pity from love, numbness, denial, harsh self-judgment, a fear of abandonment, and the propensity for triggering and reacting.Personal growth, after significant twelve-step work, can be gauged by cross-referencing actual feelings and behaviors with these characteristics.”We talk of transforming the laundry list traits into usable tools for our personal growth,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 572). “We also talk of spiritual growth, living in the moment and having fun.”Because recovery is not a linear climb without pitfalls and setbacks, and because two decades of exposure to upbringing dysfunction cannot be reversed in a short time, it is not realistic to expect to relinquish the ways that augmented an adult child’s negotiation of life overnight.”We must accept that there is a learning period in ACA,” the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook advises (ibid, p. 426). “We can work a stellar program by going to meetings, working the steps, and helping others, but we must be patient with ourselves as we apply the program and change behavior.”Instead of expecting an idealized “complete cure,” it may be more realistic to gauge personal program growth by examining the intensity, duration, and frequency of these traits. In the case of reactions to authority figures, for instance, the recovering adult child may examine how much he understands that a present-time authority figure only serves to ignite the fear of his abusive parent and gauge if his reactions have begun to diminish when he encounters them.As unpleasant as such later-in-life interactions and incidents may be, it may actually require these “test-the-water” exposures to determine the relative clinging or relinquishing of these survival traits. Sitting in the comfort of the person’s living room and just checking off those that no longer rule or influence his life, may not necessarily be an accurate determinant of personal growth.Although there are many alternative methods of doing so, a shift in perspective may be one of them. If, for example, an adult child is criticized or one of his faults or flaws is mentioned by another, does he immediately accept what that person claims and regress to a more powerless age, or does he maintain his confidence and composure and wonder, “What is it about you that you need to point this out? What’s the payoff for you? And where’s the real deficiency here-in me or you?”Personal growth is progressive, not immediate or final.Spiritual Growth:Spiritual growth is not independent of personal growth. Indeed, the latter begins with the former when the adult child enters a recovery venue for the first time and recites the first few steps that bespeak of powerlessness, surrender, and belief that a Higher Power can reverse the effects of the body-, mind-, and soul-affecting disease that afflicts him.Since the last thing that most people will do is admit their powerlessness over their situations, walking into such a venue equally becomes the last thing they will do. Ironically, it also becomes the first thing that constitutes improvement. Doing so after reaching rock bottom, they cannot fall any lower than the floor. Therefore, the only direction left is up-or a climb of the twelve steps.Spiritual growth begins with realizing that there is a Higher Power or God, whom some, because of poor parental representations of Him or their disease, either turned away from or never originally accepted. It entails realizing that housed in the adult child physical form is the soul He created and that He is the actual parent. And that progressively connecting and communing with Him results in restoration.”In ACA, we do not need drugs to connect to a Higher Power or the Divine,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (ibid, p. 267). “We have all the energy centers, spiritual gifts, and cosmic powers within us. We are spiritual beings opening up to this Higher Power of the Heavens.”That “opening up” may serve as the greatest threshold to spiritual growth. God cannot be intellectualized. He must be felt, aligned with, and experienced.Like a balloon that progressively expands when filled with air, a person’s soul, over time, can expand toward and into infinity by allowing God to infuse it with His essence, His wisdom, and His love, all in preparation for its ultimate physical form release and return to its origin.”I go to God for all the tools and information I need,” according to a member share in the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (bid, p. 264). “God, to me, is a higher-level consciousness. Every day in prayer and meditation, I go deep within myself to a quiet place where there’s peace, love, light, hope, and joy.”Since these are all aspects of God and “deep within” is the soul that He created, there should be little wonder as to why they are the same.Article Sources:Adult Children of Alcoholics. Torrance, California: Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, 2006.Mitchell, Stephen A., and Black, Margaret J. Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic Thought. New York: BasicBooks, 1995.