If a child is witnessing a lot of chaos or has an addict parent who is wonderful one day and a monster another day, the child is left to make sense of that with the developmental equipment of their particular age. And you can just guess what kind of sense they make of it: “I’m bad, I can’t figure anything out, I can’t get anything right.” And then you transplant that child into adulthood, and that’s where it’s going to come out.
Adults, when under the influence of alcohol, don’t always think of how scary they might look in the eyes of a child. This powerful video from the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA) depicts the way a child’s observations at home changed their view of “playing house.”
No wonder we call it ‘breaking out of denial.” It can feel like you are breaking apart, coming undone, as you recover and uncover long-lost feelings and memories. But we need to see what happened to us as clearly as possible. This takes patience, gentleness and time. Working through the steps helps.
What happens when the family itself becomes the proverbial saber-toothed tiger? Children cannot flee – where would they go? They cannot fight, because they would lose. So they shut down; they freeze; they flee on the inside. But without somehow processing what’s going on for them, that numbed and frozen pain can live within the self system, an emotional accident waiting to happen.