“ACTIONS – Healthy OPPOSITES” (Part 2)


 why isn’t it working?

PREVIOUS: Healthy Opposites #1



“REVERSING self-defeating Behavior IMPROVES our Life” (cont.)

ACoAs have a tendency to:
do everything based on B & W thinking (‘always, never, no one, all’…)
• be afraid to do anything that’s against the Toxic Family Rules
• only do what we think others want us to, or what others expect of us

behave in much the same way that our dysfunctional parents did
• use the same type of actions in every situation (no nuance, no variations, no risks, no innovations or what actually works …)

• not learn from our mistakes, just repeat bad patterns & then complain
• blame others for our mistakes, emotional distress or lack of action
• react from a wounded, anxious or angry emotional place (the co-dependent triangle = victim / perpetrator / rescuer)

Here the focus is on the way to choose what category of actions to take. It’s not a guide to what we should do, but rather correcting what seems to us a quite logical – yet misguided – way to solve our problems, which has been to:
➡️ periodically reverse our usual way of handling things – but only knowing how to choose its Unhealthy Opposite!

B. UNHEALTHY Opposites
• From the very beginning of life we’ve been trying to figure out how to survive, fix our family & get our needs met – mostly with corrupted info (G-I / G-O = “garbage in – garbage out”).

ACoAs are very smart, creative & determined – even though we don’t realize or own it. As kids all out talents went into a valiant effort to save our parents & siblings – maybe even friends.
Now we find other dysfunctional people to ‘rescue’ – desperate to make them well enough to be there for us!

EXP: The 4yr old trying to help her drunk father up the stairs that he’s passed out on, the teenager hopelessly trying to convince her mother to go to Al-anon or leave dad, OR as adults – trying to get a heavily addicted lover /spouse sober, or to keep them from killing themselves – whealthy oppositesith little or no success.

• As unrecovered adults we stumble around without mental or emotional clarity – in spite of our high intelligence, because of convoluted & warped info we were fed in childhood.
The ACoA Laundry List says: “We guess at what normal is”, so we obsessively watch normals to figure out what to do (how do they talk, how do they eat sushi, what makes them happy, how do they make friends?…).

Even so, we can only copy them but so far, because we’re still in the grip of our childhood / family templates – used as the foundation for new actions.  It doesn’t work. This is to be expected – it’s how every brain is programmed from birth.
So we always end up in the same old place, defeated & hopeless, thinking that it’s: a) somehow all our fault, & that b) the universe is against us!
Either way, it hurts!
EXP: Afraid to be in social situation because we don’t know how to make small talk, convinced we’ll be boring or sound stupid…..

• And how do we use all our native cleverness & determinatioakwardn for ourselves?
There are many convoluted ways UNhealth can manifest itself. From that mess we choose a set of patterns that most suits our specific personality & our background. We keep trying them out in complex variations & with lots of different people. (Chart in Part 4)

When we get too frustrated by not getting what we need or want, we unconsciously pick through the mental rolodex of distorted options that were forced on us, looking for a better way to handle things, hoping another ‘opposite’  way of behaving will solve our problems.

So we try obvious reversals, BUT all our action-choices are taken from the ‘disease’ end of the spectrum. From a. to b. & back again! (in above chart)
EXP: “I always say the wrong thing, so now I’m not going to talk at all! OR
// My last 3 girlfriends were nightmares, so I’ll never trust another woman….”

NEXT: Healthy opposites #3

ACoAs & PLAYING (Part 2)

rain on meI DON’T KNOW HOW TO PLAY –
only to be compulsive, never relaxed

PREVIOUS: ACoAs & Playing (#1)

ARTICLE: “Outcasts, Scapegoats  & Black Sheep of the Dysfunctional Family


The purpose and spirit of Play does not require any practical, concrete outcome. It’s not supposed to generate something you can ‘show for it’. It’s a state of being rather than doing.

However, we can have a hobby that we really love – something creative or a sport, which does includes making or winning something. We may or may not be good at it. The value is not mainly the end product, but the process, which is supposed to be pleasurable & satisfying – suited to our True Self & feeding a part of our soul

Also, many of us have heard or read about people who say they love their work so much it feels more like playing. In this case there is a tangible product & a financial benefit, but the point they’re making is that it makes them happy! They feel blessed because they get to do it all the time instead of relegating it to their spare time – or not having time for it at all

ACoA LAUNDRY LIST’s False Self characteristics related to PLAY
a. ACoAs guess at what normal is
Here ‘Normal’ means healthy, as opposed to ‘average’. We don’t realize that playing, relaxing & having fun are a legitimate & important part of being healthy, happy & well-balanced. “All work & no play makes Jack a dull boy”.

There’s a tribe in Papua New Guinea that frowns on sex & bans play. For years anthropologists have considered this tribe too dull to study, but finally had some success. Scholars still don’t know why the tribe developed this philosophy, but it’s certainly not one we should emulate! MORE…)

b. ACoAs feel ‘different’, creating a wall that isolates us
This prevents many of us from making the effort to reach out to others, search for appropriate venues that can provide relaxation, or for opportunities to play & have fun, whether recreational or educational

c. ACoAs have difficulty with intimate relationships
Everyone needs a certain amount of connection with other people, but the amount depends on one’s developmental stage, personality & on what’s going on in one’s life at the moment.
And while it’s perfectly normal & acceptable to play alone, playing with others requires a certain capacity for intimacy** to be ‘successful’ – since being in authentic play-mode means being able to express the True Self without shame or reservation.

This is not easy because our True Self got shrouded in shame & self-hate, making it hard for us to ‘let loose’ & to let others get emotionally close to us.  ACoAs are more likely to put others in double binds: “I hate you – Don’t leave me!” OR “I need you – Don’t touch me!”

**INTIMACY: (IN-TO-ME-YOU-SEE) “Relating to or indicative of one’s deepest nature, marked by informality & familiarity. Something deeply personal, private, or secret”.
In our relation to others, it’s the ability to connect our ‘deepest nature’ with safe & appropriate others, because we know there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the Real Me, so we’re not afraid of letting it be seen

d. ACoAs take themselves very (too) seriouslytoo serious
While other children were busy learning to relate, compete, play & develop social skills, we were learning the tough lessons of survival. Many of us never heard our parents laughing, joking or fooling around.
The air was heavy, filled with the invisible energy of suffering. Life was hard business & the tone in our house put a damper on anyone enjoying themselves.
So if we did try to play or have fun we were guilted for wasting time OR punished for being frivolous & attacked for being ridiculous, making it stressful & terrifying.


ACoAs & PLAYING (Part 1)

having fun 1 

What’s that?

PREVIOUS: Inner Child Speaks, #2

See ACRONYM page for abbrev.


“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”   Plato
“A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men.”  Roald Dahl (writer of children’s books)
“Play is the royal road to childhood happiness and adult brilliance.” Joseph Chiltern Pearce  (author of child development books)

Play with a capital P is a process, not a specific thing, which lights up our brain, benefiting us in PMES ways (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual). Being a ‘whole’ person means balancing between being serious & having fun, but ACoAs tend to live in one extreme or the other – being over-responsible or under-responsible.

In general, it’s any activity someone voluntarily chooses to do (or for ACoAs to not do) because it’s fun, relaxing & enjoyable. It can include being creative, & sometimes even competitive – but without the need to win – otherwise it stops being Play.  Debbie Mandel, Stress Management expert suggests that F-U-N = Feeling Uninhibited Naturally. And a formula for ‘balance’ is: Concentrated Energy + Relaxation = Healthy living.

overwhelmed• One of the many sad results of having a traumatic childhood is that we were & are still deprived of the joy of relaxing thru playing & having fun. As a result of our damage we fall into several categories (lifestyles) which seem very different but underneath each has the same problem – our WIC listening to the Negative Introject, believing the Toxic Rules:

“Life is hard / you have to suffer / you can’t play until all your work is done / no one wants to play with you anyway / if you don’t like it you have to stay / don’t be yourself / the world is a dangerous place / you always have to struggle, but never get there!…..”

REACTION to growing up in a dysfunctional environment:
a. Many of us turned out to be compulsive, over-responsible worker bees, doing something we hate or are bored with, trudging thru life trying to be perfect, but never quite making it. No time for play, unless we consider participating in addictions as a way to relax. Obviously not real fun.

b. Some of us decided early on to give up & not really try at all. Hide & be safe, don’t rock the boat, don’t stick your neck out. No fun here.
c. And then there are those of us who are openly rebellious – the flamboyant addicts, promiscuous, belligerent, running wild, never finishing our education, never sticking to anything long enough to become accomplished, terrified of being trapped, controlled, of even committing to a book – much less a good job or relationship….

• To the rest of the world this third group may seem to be having a lot of fun. They do whatever they want, get away with ‘murder’ & play all the time. NOT SO. Sometimes even this type of ACoA may think so while in the middle of it, but it wears thin over the years, since the internal foundation is built with inferior material – not ours but what was given to us by our family & community. It’s cracked & crumbling. This is not fun.

BTW, If you identify with either the a. b or c. group, & are reading this, presumably you’re in the process of healing your wounds & working to outgrow the category. You deserve a lot of respect & encouragement!

encouragementHowever, some of you may say – “I’m an ACoA & don’t fit into a. b. or c. I have a decent life I’ve carved out for myself – family, career, some accomplishments, some travel…. & I know how to have fun & play.”

Response: “GOOD! You’ve used your own native skill & drive to achieve these things, & have a lot to show for it. BUT – how’s your anxiety level? Are you free of addictions, perfectionism & S-H? Are you content & relaxed? Or do you over-do for others & under-feel – for yourself?”

NEXT: ACoAs & Play (Part 2)

SELF-HATE & ACoAs (Part 1)


so I have to be perfect to make up for it

T.E.A. = Thoughts, Emotions, Actions

REMINDER: See ACRONYM page for abbrev.

 (S-H) is the #1 deterrent to growth for all ACoAs.
It undermines our ability to function well, to have self-esteem & to be happy. Some people call it being ‘hard on yourself”, but it’s much more than that.  It’s so pervasive in the inner world of many ACoAs, that we don’t even know we have it & if confronted, vehemently deny it.
BUT the symptoms are all there, starting with a persistent nagging anxiety.

✶ In Childhood: being thoroughly convinced that everything bad that happen to us as kids was our fault, that we caused our own pain!
✶ In Adulthood: continuing from the past, we believe in our very cells that anytime we feel hurt, suffer a loss, get ignored, can’t get something we want, have something taken away, have to wait for something … that it’s because we are bad, don’t deserve, did something wrong , failed to do something, don’t have a right to it – anyway …

ALL self-hate is a LIE
✶  it’s a defense mechanism to deny our feelings of abandonment. This a crucial point:
S-H tries to cover-up all our abandonment painScreen Shot 2016-06-11 at 9.59.59 PM
• it’s a form of narcissism (ours) – making everything about US, when it rarely is.  We make other people’s bad behavior our fault & our responsibility
• it’s an attempt at feeling in control, to cover our intense sense of powerlessness & vulnerability

• S-H can be expressed in all 3 T.E.A. categories:
Ts: “I caused their accident, since I asked them to come visit me”
Es: “I feel bad & really scared they won’t like me since I spoke up”
As: staying with abusive people, not taking care of ourselves, not pursuing our dreams, not speaking up….

One of the characteristics on the ACoA Laundry List is being Over-Responsible, a symptom of FoA & S-H. What make S-H different from taking healthy, balanced Responsibility?
R.  is to acknowledge the reality of having our T. E & As – or not. It’s straightforwardly owning up, which can sound like: “Yes, I did that” (A), or ‘No, I can’t handle this” (A), or “No, I don’t agree with that”(T) , or “Yes, I love this” (E), etc.

S-H, on the other hand –
• can prevent us from admitting to any flaws, for fear of abandonment & because of feeling shame, OR
•  it can make us confess to wrongdoing even when we are in fact blameless.

In either case, what’s underneath is an unspoken Toxic Lie which is tacked on to legitimate responsibility, categorically stating:self-scolding
“I did / didn’t — and THEREFORE I’m Bad!”, no matter what the topic or truth is . This add-on is implied but at the core of our self-image.
ACoAs will take any opportunity to beat themselves up, even about good things!
“Yes, I did forget to sent the letter out today, & therefore I’m bad”
“No, I can’t do that for you, so therefore I’m bad”
“Yes, I went to the show without asking you, so therefore I’m bad”
“No, I haven’t ‘grown’ perfectly or as fast as I should & therefore I’m bad”….

This is NOT what ‘taking responsibility’ means.
(‘Fear of’ & ‘Healthy’ Responsibility)

In it’s simplest form, Responsibility (R) is: honestly admitting to ourselves, first of all, what we feel, think & have done – or – not. (T.E.A.).  It includes acknowledging both our limitations & our gifts, our ignorance & our knowledge.
And if possible, always doing this without judgment, without shame, without guilt.  MOST of ALL – without self-hate.
This def. applies to us now as adults. We were NOT responsible for the reality of what our parents did!

NEXT: SELF-HATE & ACoAs (Part 2)

Variation of ACoA Laundry List

breading blog 

Even so, it’s a relief to know

SITE: Adult Survivors of Child Abuse: Removing the Splinter

BOOK: Laundry List  Tony A & Dan F

NOTE: See Acronym page for abbrev.

• All the PMES forms of Abandonment by parents cause children to hide the parts of themselves that are considered NOT OK by the family, in order to not get rejected: “DON’T make mistakes, don’t have needs, don’t contradict, or successful, or show your emotions …”
Exp: We were told that what we felt was not true or legitimate: “You don’t have anything to cry about, so stop being such a baby”,  “Stop crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about”  “That really didn’t hurt” ,  “You have no right to be angry” ….S-H

Self-Hate – As a result of being mistreated as kids, the most visible issue for
ACoAs now is our intense S-H: “I’m no good, no one will ever love me, I can’t do anything, my need don’t count…..”, the defense mechanism all children develop to protect themselves from experiencing the original pain suffered throughout childhood (abandonment), and from acknowledging to themselves how hurtful their parents were.
S-H says: ‘Everything bad that happened to me  – past or present – was / is my fault.’ SO – any time I’m in pain I did something wrong, & I’m bad

• This belief gives the WIC a false sense of power – “If I caused it, I can fix it!” However, the reality is that we did not create the damage that was done to us – that is the responsibility of the adults who raised us. We were the victim of their wounds – then. NOW, we’re responsible for healing ourselves so that we can become our True Self!

Because of childhood Abuse, Neglect & Abandonment, in the present –  WE:perfectionism
• are perfectionistic, driven, rarely satisfied – especially with ourselves
• are intimidated by or feel enraged at controlling people
• expect others to hurt, judge or take advantage of you
• experience temporary dissociation (splitting), disconnecting from self
• feel chronically empty or numb inside, easily bored, restless
• feel like we’re always under scrutiny – even when alone
• find it hard to relax, laugh or be spontaneous
• keep ourselves isolated from shame & so ‘no one can hurt or leave’ us
• frantically try to avoid real or imagined abandonment – by clinging, people-pleasing, being invisible….
• lose ourselves in relationships by automatically & continually putting others’ needs before our own
• over-value & then under-value people we get too close to

• a confused or distorted self-image: “Who am I really?” , “What do I really look like?” (feel ugly, fat, too thin too short….)
• chronic obsessive thoughts, going ‘round & ‘round without solutions
• compulsive self-damaging behaviors in 2 or more areas of life, such as an eating disorder, addictions, fights, under-achieving….

• harsh “inner critics” that torture us, especially after any disappointment or loss
• impulsivity – can’t control our choices & reactionsinner critic
• inappropriate & intense anger; difficulty controlling temper
• mood swings not caused by bipolar disease

• paranoid thinking – as a regular way of experiencing others
• recurring suicidal thoughts or actions
• trouble asserting ourselves or feeling proud of our accomplishments
• trouble finding a spiritual belief, or one that feels right

ACoAs are very intelligent and determined. With the right kind of help we can heal from these wounds and prosper.  Al-Anon, therapy, a spiritual practice, reading, & staying connected with other ACoAs in Recovery make all the difference. Don’t forget: ‘Progress, not Perfection’

ACoA WEBSITE (80+ pages): www.acoarecovery.com

NEXT: Original LL