Adult Child Character
Excerpt from: Who’s REALLY Driving Your Bus?
By James O. Henman, Ph.D., Psychological Associates Press, 2003, p. 55.
Adult Children are like the Wizard of Oz. Their outer facade may seem powerful and competent, but inside it is as if a little child is pulling the strings and driving their emotional bus. Does this feel familiar to you? Do you often feel like a “fake” when relating to important people in your life? Do you often see yourself as a “phony” going through life in fear of being “discovered?” Does life feel like one unending drama of trying to survive to the next scene, trying to avoid the inevitable disappointments and rejections that you just know are coming? Do you often have significant difficulties in your personal relationships? Do you often ask, “Why Me?”
There are six qualities that seem to be present in most Adult Children prior to entering recovery. How many of these qualities do you recognize in yourself?
- Reacting to life with a “survival” mentality.
- Feeling that we are different from “normal” people and spending a lifetime trying to “pretend” that we are normal.
- Looking at life through a “Black” or “White” filter.
- Going through life judging very harshly. This judgment may be directed at ourselves, at others, or both.
- Constantly looking for approval and validation from outside of ourselves.
- Having great difficulty with intimate relationships.
The natural reaction of blocking painful feelings and experiences is what creates the Adult Child characteristics, dynamically like the frozen scenes that continue to break through for trauma survivors when certain triggers are activated.
We have learned a great deal about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from work with Viet Nam Vets and survivors of traumatic events. Blocking an emotionally charged experience can cause the memory/experience mechanism in the brain to freeze that moment with the emotions fully charged. The memory leaves the limbic portion of the brain experiencing the fullness of the original emotions for the remembered scene, locked in the “on” position emotionally.
When the memory is activated, even subliminally, the emotions come flooding back into consciousness, so that you perceive yourself back in the original experience. I call this dynamic the Time Machine (see Power Of Mind distortions in Chapter Two). Blocking unwanted feelings causes part of your “self-perception” to be stuck in a timeless state, as if in Tupperware and hidden away, frozen in the original scenes.
Adult Children were often forced to become “adults” as children, and often function as “little children” in aspects of their adult lives. Others never grew up because of the lack of safety and healthy models. They had a lack of support to risk becoming an adult with healthy self-esteem. They learned to survive by blocking out painful experiences and adapting to the demands of their environment.
Our wounds grow out of our decisions, perceptions of who we believe ourselves to be at our core, how we perceive the outside world, and how we choose to survive. This can vary greatly depending on whether regression is taking place at the moment. Do you notice any significant fluctuations in your perceptions of self and others?
It does not require “war stories” to create wounds in our character. Rejecting and hating yourself, trying to block painful feelings, and hating someone else can all create a frozen scene. This frozen scene can develop into a wounded part of self, forming its unique perceptions and sense of self. I am not talking about the pathological condition of Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly Multiple Personality Disorder. I am talking about the sometimes subtle filtering of your perceptions without you realizing it is happening.
You need to be living consciously to recognize most of your regressions. What you may notice first is the old, survival feelings beginning to seep or flood into your current experience. A Second-Order feeling reacting to these feelings compounds the intensity and complexity of your feelings in the present. Feel good about noticing where you are starting at this moment. This cuts off the flood of Second-Order feelings that normally come with judging.
Are you feeling guilty because you come from a normal family with no particular problems, feeling you have no right to be an Adult Child? The truth is that we all grew up in fallible families that came from fallible families, etc. We all learned who we are and what the world is going to be like in our childhood. This is not about blaming; it is about being accurate. Notice what you decided from these early experiences. Take several deep breaths and notice the reactions you have to this “Nugget.” Share your reactions with me in your journal.
Normal life produces wounds! This concept of wounding is not about blame, it is about change! This book is an opportunity for you and me to discuss and reflect on your “Old Program” filters that support your current problems. You can learn to unblock your feelings in a healthy way that allows healing of your core self-esteem, using a “New Program” set of tools and resources to develop healthy esteem. I am a recovering Adult Child myself and will share glimpses into my own “inner kids” as the book unfolds.
Appreciating this Adult Child concept is central in the change process! The way I explain it to my clients is that I believe most people have some degree of Adult Child qualities. I believe that this is a normal part of being human. I coach them, and I will coach you to learn how to “parent” the wounded parts of yourself that are involved in the dysfunctional patterns in your life today. It is important to realize that the rejected parts of yourself retain their original perceptual filters, developmental resources, and the cognitive/thinking styles that were present at the time of disconnection.