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July 13, 2020

An Open Letter to Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families: We are F*cking Worthy.

 

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I have a confession: for most of my adult life, I had no idea what the f*ck I was doing.

Like many of you, I’m an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACA) and tried to convince myself that I was normal and well-adjusted, doing my best impersonation of a functioning adult. I denied my experiences as an adult child of a dysfunctional family, and that didn’t work out too well.

We’ve all had difficult times. But, dysfunctional families are not limited to alcoholism—many of us come from homes that struggled with other addictions. And some of us saw no addiction at all, but still suffered from trauma, abuse, and neglect.

What we all have in common is that we were never allowed to express our feelings and fears, and never felt worthy of the love and belonging we craved. We didn’t feel seen or heard, or safe enough to show our authentic selves. Most of us felt unlovable, and some of us even heard those words from people we loved.

None of that was our fault.

We had to adapt to an unkind world that we didn’t understand, and we did the best we could. We learned many coping mechanisms that allowed us to survive as children but severely handicapped us as adults.

All that we knew were inconsistent and unpredictable homes, full of shame and disapproval. Wounded and suffering, we withdrew into the safety of our own minds. We never felt like we belonged, and lived our lives in brutal isolation.

Along the way, we learned to people-please for love and affection, picking up the crumbs of acceptance that were left for us, without ever believing that we deserved more. We felt damaged and alone, left to live in the dark shadows of rejection and fear of abandonment.

We suffered in silence.

Dragged down by low self-esteem and self-worth, we thrashed and reached for glimpses of light as we slowly descended into the darkness of who we would become.

Then adulthood happened.

Few could ever understand the depths of our suffering, the lack of real connections in our lives, and how we feel ourselves disappear a piece at a time.

Without ever feeling good enough, or having a clue how to get our needs met, we staggered through life repeating the same mistakes, including choosing unsafe partners who blamed and criticized us for our faults.

We never learned how to stand up for ourselves. Setting healthy boundaries is excruciatingly difficult; we don’t know how to ask for what we need, and we’re also terrified of disappointing others and being abandoned, so we put the needs and feelings of others ahead of our own. We are great at taking care of others, but we can’t take care of ourselves.

We keep our painful secrets to ourselves, internalizing all of it while blaming others and avoiding responsibility for our issues. And without having safe spaces to share, we don’t dare reveal our true selves out of sheer terror of seeming even less lovable than we already feel.

It hurts like hell.

The pain can be unbearable, and we’ll do anything to numb the discomfort—even turning to addiction, codependency, eating disorders, self-harm, as well as choosing unhealthy, hurtful partners—all the maladaptive things we do to cope with our painful, empty, f*cked up lives.

We never learned vulnerability, empathy, and compassion, the skills we needed to thrive, and because of that, we treat ourselves harshly for our mistakes, poor judgment, and imperfections.

We deserve kindness and compassion, mostly from ourselves, because we’re doing the best we can.

We can start by forgiving ourselves for:

Not owning our flaws.

Choosing to numb ourselves instead of facing our painful feelings.

Looking to others for validation and to fill the vast emptiness we feel.

Not knowing how to ask for help, and not allowing ourselves to accept help when it’s offered.

Choosing dysfunctional partners who hurt and abuse us.

All the times we say “yes” when we want to say “no.”

Those times we say “no” out of fear when “yes” will enrich our lives.

Not taking care of our needs, or even articulating our needs.

Putting everyone else’s feelings and needs before our own.

Manipulating people to try to control our environment.

Beating the sh*t out of ourselves for all our imperfections.

Making a mess of our lives, many times over.

Not forgiving, or loving ourselves.

This list is f*cking painful. We have to remember that trauma and dysfunction happen on a spectrum: some have it worse, while others have it better. Just because we may not suffer as badly as someone else does not invalidate our experiences.

But the truth is, the responsibility for healing belongs to us alone. No matter how many times we get our asses kicked trying to put that responsibility on others, no one else can do it for us.

Fortunately, that painful list is also full of hope, because it gives us the language and a roadmap to identify our issues, so we can begin the work of recovery. I think we’ve suffered enough—it’s our time now to rise up and go for the lives we deserve.

If we really give ourselves a chance, by treating ourselves in the kind and compassionate way we can treat others, we’ll learn that underneath all of our pain and dysfunction, we’re f*cking worthy of all the love and acceptance that has eluded us.

It’s never too late to change, and there’s no reason we can’t start now, and recover from our traumatic pasts.

It’s hard work, but I believe we can find the courage to face our fears, grief, and pain. We can heal and recover. We can learn self-care and self-trust. And we will find a way to open our hearts for the deep, meaningful connections we’ve wanted for so long.

And, always remember—we are worthy, we are loved, and we are never, ever alone.

~

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