Arguably, we are in the most profound state of global destabilization ever. Our environment, economic systems, societal norms, political systems and technical advances are all changing at an alarming rate. I am not arguing that all of this change is necessarily bad, although some of it clearly is. I’m am simply stating that it is happening. As our world, through terrorism, autocracy, “false facts” and prolonged wars, moves into a more and more chaotic state, our mind/body systems are deeply challenged. This is especially true for those who have had chaotic, autocratic or abusive childhoods. As a therapist, I see how this global destabilization increases the distress and destabilization of my clients who have had traumatic childhoods caused by narcissistic, personality disordered or alcoholic parents. They are witnessing a global re-enactment of what happened to them as kids.
Why is a narcissistic or alcoholic family system necessarily destabilized? Love is the deepest and best stabilizer. Love, understanding, nourishment and support are the basic instincts of healthy parents. These qualities stabilize the child and allow him or her to grow into healthy adulthood. Children internalize the qualities of self-love and self-care by the time they become adults and are therefore able to nourish and support others, including their own children. If the majority of parents were not able to do this, our species would be doomed. Fortunately, not everyone is so damaged. When love does not exist or is not demonstrated, because of narcissism, alcoholism or Borderline Personality, the child is traumatized and family systems destabilize. The traumatized child begins to feel anxious, depressed disoriented and shameful. Without intervention, these feelings persist into adulthood. Often the traumatized adult exists on the poles of emotion, rather than in the center, for example feeling rage instead of anger, mistrust instead of caution, hopeless instead of hurt, helpless instead of vulnerable. The other pole of emotion, away from these extreme emotions, is simply numbness. They feel numb because it was too dangerous to feel anything as a child; too dangerous to feel that you were not important or a priority to your narcissistic or alcoholic parent. Narcissism and alcoholism further destabilize the family system because the roles played are often not appropriate. The narcissistic mother will sometimes want her daughter to be her friend or her therapist. An alcoholic father may require that his son act as the head of household because he is incapable of doing it himself. Children often feel compelled or required to parent their own siblings. These families also see large amounts of over compensation on the part of the healthier family members to make up for the deficits in the afflicted parent. Stories are told, secrets are kept, lies are perpetuated to make the family seem “more normal”. It’s not unusual for a child to become “the best little girl/boy in the world” in order to compensate for their parent’s ineptitude or to gain their love which never seems to be forth coming.
It is crucially important for survivors of this kind of trauma and destabilization to know that they can, with help, recover and live the lives they were intended to live. As I’ve mentioned in other areas of this website, this involves acknowledgment, grief, acceptance, individuation and a commitment to your own authentic self, free of self-blame and shame.