Heard at a meeting: “My father was the highest power in my family”
Men think and act differently from women when confronted with addiction. They are driven to take action immediately rather than to talk about the problem with others as women do first! When repeated attempts to fix the problem fail, men become angry and frustrated thinking they are a failure. They also become confused because what has worked in the past to solve problems does not work when dealing with alcoholism. After repeated failures, guilt sets in and they become even more motivated to “solve the problem.” In a nutshell, men react by controlling, raging and taking action, women try to be better wives or mothers, do more for the addict and redouble their efforts to use nurturing to “solve the problem” There are predictable childhood roles that lead to codependency in men. Here we will explore those roles and maybe give you some insight into how each of you became who you are. The alcoholism in one of your parents may have had more to do with that than most of you realize!
Is Your Identity Inherited from Alcoholism?
The following childhood roles have long been accepted among program people and
recovery authors. They are typically played by children from alcoholic homes. What
follows will answer the question most often asked of professionals when they work with
the families with alcoholic loved-ones; “But how did this happen to our family?”
The Class Clown draws attention away from the pain and dysfunction at home by
entertaining others. This child is “cute.” He or she is always truly immature, but plays
up the immaturity to draw attention away from the big people who are the dangerous
alcoholics. Inside this child is filled mostly with insecurity. The following quote from the
work From Survival to Recovery describes this child beautifully.
“To diffuse the battles that often raged around us, or to divert our parents from their
attacks on one another or other members of the family, some of us learned to entertain.
We tried to blunt family crises with jokes, stories, musical performances, or even comedy
revues. We became quite talented and popular with our classmates. Society rewarded
us with the laughter, applause, and attention, but in time we found that even when we
desperately wanted to shed it the mask would not come off. We felt driven to perform and
talk compulsively even when we were exhausted or needed comfort ourselves. Intimacy
was difficult for us to achieve, because tender or passionate moments prompted us to joke
or wisecrack.” (Survival, P.15)
The Scapegoat Child acts out, gets into trouble, and gains attention while deflecting attention away from the alcoholic parents. There is open defiance of authority, with anger the favorite escape. This child is most likely to sport an outrageous personal appearance utilizing whatever is currently ‘in’ at the time in social circles. At the beginning of the 21st century this typically includes various body piercing, tattoos, the so-called “gothic” look, or maybe brightly colored spiked hair. This child will at any cost defy the family to the point to where schooling is affected and may even become suspended, expelled, or drop out altogether. The ultimate goal of this child is to do the direct opposite of any authority figure.
The Hero Child is the child who fantasizes that if he or she accomplishes enough, then the whole family will be ‘Ok’ and look ‘normal’ to the outside world. This child is overly conscientious, conforms to rules from authority and constantly strives for approval and acceptance from everyone, especially adults. In spite of being a high achiever, the hero child feels inadequate. This child will be the member of the family who will try to make sure harmony is present at the cost of his or her own emotional needs.
The Super Enabler is the child often closest to the alcoholic emotionally. This child is the family ‘workhorse’. Typically if a daughter, this child assumes the household chores left undone by both the alcoholic and the codependent parent. If a son, this child is constantly trying to protect his mother if the alcoholic is his father. Either way, inside he or she typically has low self-esteem and there is much unexpressed anger. The favorite role is that of the martyr and this child is the one most likely to be presented to members of the medical profession because another favorite attention-getting device for the super enabler is hypochondria.
For The Disappearing Child, to avoid the pain of the chaos and conflict in the living room (which seems to be where most of the drama occurs), the disappearing child finds predictable ways of escaping. One is to adopt another family altogether. This is often another family on the same block where the child has formed a trusting friendship with a playmate and that playmate’s family has created a welcoming home. Throughout childhood this home is where the disappearing child heads after school after checking in with Mom, Dad, or an older sibling. The disadvantage (or possible advantage) of this escape is the loss of closeness with others in the family. The advantage, besides avoiding dysfunction, may be life-long friendships formed with these special neighbors, unless of course the process is interrupted by a family crisis or a move. This phenomenon of constantly relocating is, in program oral tradition, called “the geographical cure”.
Another escape for the disappearing child is to retreat to his or her room. Here solitary hobbies like building models are favorites. Modern kids plant themselves in front of the computer playing video games, or escape with TV.
Finally, there is the ultimate disappearing act…the one that happens deep inside the imagination. Here children retreat to whatever world they can conger, often complete with imaginary playmates. Taken to extreme this can lead to psychosis. Drive through neighborhoods throughout America after school and count the number of children out-of-doors playing with other children. Chances are there are significantly fewer than what most of us experienced in our own childhood. This is due in part to the fact that, for disappearing children, the reality in which this child lives is extreme and often unbearable.
If you relate to these concepts, you might want to delve deeper into the subject of
codependence in men. Our new book We Codependent Men–We Mute Coyotes
(copyright 2011, Recovery Trade Publications) does just that. The work is available
through all standard outlets in both paperback and in E-book forms.
Ken Powers is a writer in the field of recovery for families of alcoholics and addicts.
He writes two blogs with over 200,000 readers and just published the new book We
Codependent Men-We Mute Coyotes. As a man with over 30 years working an Al-Anon
program Ken is a rarity.