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I’m gonna need some help getting it off!

PREVIOUS: Healthy Helping (Part 2)

SITE: Dysfunctional Family (Wikipedia)


RULES: No matter what kind of family environment we came from, all ACoAs have gathered a litany of TOXIC RULES, which we follow ‘religiously’, even well into Recovery – but hopefully less so with growth!

We absorbed these Toxic Rules from family, school, our community, religion…. They are the underlying beliefs the WIC is absolutely convinced are the absolute ‘truth’ which we are obligated to obey – on pain of death (abandonment)- even if we disagree or hate them. Notice the contraction & conflict. No wonder we say we’re confused!

The BE and DON’T lists are the short forms, & just mirror opposites. Below are the expanded ones.  This is by no means complete. Each of us can have variations or additions.

INVENTORY: How do we know what our rules are?
a. Overview
As you read thru these lists – notice the ones that hit you the strongest. If you’re new-ish to recovery you may not recognize that you have more of them than you first think. Still confused?
✶ Ask yourself, & then siblings, mate, friends, therapist … for suggestions

✶ Do a Life Inventory, in 3-5 yr increments, listing all the major events you can remember – things that were important, relationships, when you started & stopped things, schools, moves, births, deaths …. choices made, opportunities we didn’t take…..— Don’t go into detail. Just list things in one sentence each
— Notice the recurring themes, patterns, avoidances… What’s good things are missing?
— Ask : which toxic rules might these patterns represent?

b. Detailed
• Pick any one of these words of phrases that rings a bell & write what comes up.
— Where did you learn this? Who in your family exemplifies it?
— How do you act it out in your life?
— How do your friends, lovers, bosses… express it?

• Take it very slow. Spread this exercise out over months & years, if needed. Maybe just write a little & go back to it when you have more info about yourself & your history

• See the toxic family rules you’ve been following – so clearly – that you won’t be fooled any longer into thinking they’re legitimate!
• Slowly disobey them by changing your behavior patterns, an action at a time, a day at a time.

In the beginning – when  you do – you’re likely to feel fear & guilt. Those emotions prove you’re doing the right thing for your healing. Don’t give up!
• To orient yourself toward healthier goals –  pick out some Healthy Rules that fit your situation, & mindfully, deliberately, use one or more as often as you can (every day, a little?)

✶✶ Breaking family rules can create a lot of anxiety, as the Negative Introject will try to guilt you into returning to the fold – like good sheep.
So the work must be a slow – gentle but with steady process – with lots of support (Al-Anon as one of many resources)

If you read many other posts on this blog, you’ll see references to “Toxic Rules” over & over, so this post will give you a context for thinking about all the other topics & as you work with them. (Post: “Why Are You Stuck?“) .

NEXT > Healthy Rules

8 thoughts on “ACoA : TOXIC Family RULES

  1. Oh-My-God! Thank you! “I don’t belong – anywhere”. The words “you have no family” were said to me as late as last year, and I’ve been an adult for a long time now. The idea behind the message was that “I don’t belong – anywhere”. I suppose if I belonged, then the person who uttered the statement would somehow belong less? It is oddly comforting, in a very sick way, to know that most abusers act this way, that my experience was not unique.

    BTW, just about 100% of the statements fit, not just that one. I must be the cookie-cutter ACOA they made the mold after :o)


  2. It’s good to remember that the disease is the same in all of us – but our true self is unique. It is a comfort to know there’s a clear outline to ‘what’s wrong’ with us – so we know what to change.

    As painful as ‘you don’t have a family’ is – it actually frees us up! We can stop trying to get their approval & work on connecting with people WHO FIT US. I just re-wrote an early post “What others think of me is none of my business” where I say that one reason we can’t connect is that we’re in the wrong environment.

    Thanks for sharing.


  3. “I caused & therefore deserve all the anger & abuse my family dished out to me“When I was little, I felt dead pretty much all day long, so I used to say to myself people could hit me or say bad things about me because I wouldn`t break and the pain would make me feel alive… Oh my, HELL I WAS DUMB!


    • NOT dumb – just an abused child. That’s what we think when the people who are supposed to care for us the most treat us the worst!
      Please love yourself now – every day, the way they never did!


  4. “Every bodies needs and feelings are more important than mine”
    Why did I take on this concept and feeling? This is what was modeled for me by my Mother. Her care-taking of me when I could take care of more stuff than she would let go of.
    My Mom’s life behavioral mantra became instilled in me. Because what I saw in my father was to use up everything that Mom gave, like it was his right as a Husband. As a child I followed Dad’s suit in some respect.

    So confused by my conditioning and grooming into the dysfunction of my parents to pass onto my family. Now I’m aware things can be different for the better for me and the lives I interact with.


  5. Be loyal to family even if there crazy, hurtful, cruel or neglectful” Fathers and Mothers, Crazy blackout drunks, next day all smiles, Bring up yesterday and how it affected me never… Hurtful and Cruel words never taken back. Completely neglected Yet it was all so familiar and I tried and I tried to keep the loyalty, But one day I made my stand and got me voice, but lost my parents respect because they felt the shift from loyalty to them to loyalty to God lst not family.


  6. Never hold any one else accountable for their bad behavior. (Since everything was my fault)
    I became the fall guy. I thought it was the way to keep the peace and survive. Instead I believed the lie and died inside. As I have awoke to taking responsibility for my self and holding my self accountable I have started to apply this in other contexts. Its to take the blame, but a hard consequence of quenching the true self has had its consequences, but thank God Im on the mend.


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