Addiction Recovery and Your Family of Origin

I read the Recovery Nation supplemental lesson on family of origin. Again, I want to quote a few passages that seemed relevant to me. 
“Further development involving this person’s “family values” might include taking the time to understand the toxic effects of the environment in which they were raised, or learning to integrate associated values (like forgiveness and compassion). The point is, no matter what your past holds, from abuse to blissfulness, if you are struggling with compulsive sexual and/or romantic behavior–further developing the values associated with your family of origin will help to balance/stimulate your emotional life.”

“For children, one of the most important roles a family can play is to provide them with a safe, nurturing environment where they have the opportunity to test and develop their social boundaries–boundaries that will later be used to develop healthy relationships outside of their family structure. Too often, when these boundaries are not properly developed, further social development is retarded, thus creating an additional stressor throughout the person’s life. A common example of this would be the domineering parent who extorted nearly constant behavioral control over the child throughout their childhood and early teen years, thus stripping them of the critical ability to develop confidence in managing their own emotional awareness and decision-making.”

“Additional sources of familial stress might stem from the parenting style in which you were raised: with authoritative, critical and/or perfectionistic parenting styles triggering lifelong issues with anxiety, lack of confidence and overall emotional imbalance/low self-esteem. Or, you may have derived stress from a constant parental pressure to succeed in all areas of your life. For some, after many years of struggling with such “family issues”, you may have even made the conscious decision to resign yourself to the fact that you will never have the opportunity to experience the power and positive emotions that can be produced by an association with a healthy family. Which, of course, is a deception…but one that provides a temporary relief over the alternative.”

“Can one be happy without ever experiencing it? Yes, but it will take an extraordinary emotional adjustment, with the family being replaced by some other significant nurturing target–like God, or animals.”

“Otherwise, it is not hard to see how the development of relationship addictions and romantic obsessions might be used to balance the enormous emotional burden of not experiencing the unconditional love sought through one’s family. Even those adults who go on to connect with their own spouse/children in a deeply emotional way, continue to require a personal connection to their family or origin (whether that family is biological or not is irrelevant). Those who have broken their ties with their family of origin (either through choice or through circumstance) will continue to suffer emotional consequences as a result of this disruption. Granted, the amount of relief gained from the disruption may outweigh the stress that continuing the relationship would have otherwise caused, but stress will be experienced when a person has no healthy connection to their “family of origin”–and their parents, in particular.”

The exercise with this lesson says: “Spend fifteen minutes thinking about the role your family has played in your life. As you think, consider the following:”

“1) What does unconditional love mean to you, and have you ever experienced it? From whom? Towards whom?”

“2) How did the parental style in which you were raised affect you both positively/negatively?”

I think I had unconditional love from my father, and he was present in my life. But, I think the amount of time I spent with my mother dwarfed the amount of time I spent with my father, or with any other human being. She was omnipresent, in my mind. And, in my admittedly biased memories, hardly any other person was ever present. My only sibling was born when I was five-years old. In my memory, other relatives, friends, neighbors, or others were rarely present, very rarely. I thought that my mother went out of her way to discourage friends and acquaintances, even shunning her own friendships and her own relatives. I’m sure I exaggerate that situation in my own memories, but it does capture my feelings.

I never thought much about whether my mother loved me, unconditionally or otherwise. She often said she loved me, so I figured she did. She probably did, and does. But, I recall constantly resenting her. Though it may be another exaggeration in my own mind, I thought she inappropriately controlled every aspect of my life: where I went, what I did, what I ate, what I wore, my entire grooming and appearance, with whom I associated, what I watched on television, what music I heard, and more. I also always thought that all my peers had enormous amounts of freedom that I did not have. I’m sure I focused too much on my negative view of the situation. I especially say that now that I have one son who is constantly complaining that everyone in the world except him gets to watch raunchy movies and have no bedtime.

Did I have unconditional love from my parents? Maybe I did. But, I didn’t think I did. Did I give unconditional love? No, probably never. I think I only gave unconditional love to pets. I thought I was giving unconditional love to my own children, but later realized I was somehow communicating some sort of unrealistic expectations about athletic interests to them. As for giving unconditional love to TL, that’s something I’ve been trying to learn since D-day.

I have long blamed my mother’s parenting style for preventing me from learning how to make my own healthy decisions. I do learn rather slowly from my own mistakes. Perhaps my mother assumed that meant I would never learn. I’ve also written about how I believe my mother’s own inner struggle between freedom and her Victorian upbringing was passed down to me. In short, she told me progressive modernism was smart and good, but she behaved as though anything other than a strictly conservative lifestyle was evil. She also taught me that sex was an unspeakably evil act, women were only for marrying, and she did not want me to marry or grow up. Among other things, that upbringing put little or no value on maturity and taking on adult responsibilities. In fact, I believed those things were discouraged, and that they would hurt my mother’s feelings too much.

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