Their pain is their own. We do not need to own our parents’ or other’s pain.
“We internalized so much blame for the chaotic emotions and actions of our parents that it becomes second nature for us to take responsibility for other people’s pain and suffering.”
Empathy is a strength when it is balanced by another equally important strength: knowing the difference between other’s pain and our own. Accepting ownership of our own emotions, our own memories, our own choices and situation is the path to change.
A difficult childhood is not your destiny.
You may have felt that you had little control as a child. It can be tempting to stay frozen, numb and stuck as an adult. But the more that we do that, the more our lives will close in around us.
“I cannot go back and change the first part of my story…but I do not have to live that part over and over.”
Being alone is okay.
“I learned that something not working out does not mean I am defective. I learned that turning people down doesn’t make me a terrible person. And I learned that being happy on my own is attainable, and certainly much better than being miserable with someone. My worth is innate; it is not dependent upon my relationship status.”
Your experience makes you unique.
Growing up you may have felt that something was different about you, your family or you life. As an adult child of an alcoholic or substance user, often we can feel that something is ‘missing’ or that we are defective. This feeling can begin as an attempt to “fix” what feels broken, but it will become journey where we learn more, learn to change what we can. Our experience makes us who we are but our choices make us who we will become.
You learn to be compassionate with yourself and with other people.
One of the strengths of those who grew up in families that were marked with addiction and chaos is that we are compassionate and empathetic. Our pain taught us the importance of caring. But we also may tend to care for others but ignore or even neglect our own needs. Realizing that we deserve the same compassion as we give to others will change how we treat ourselves. It takes courage and vulnerability and trust to honestly love and care for ourselves.
You learn to listen and you learn to speak up.
Hearing other’s stories, others’ experiences can teach us the importance of empathy. As we learn to open up and share our experience, it can teach us how sharing our stories can set us free.
“When I began to use my voice, to speak about my experiences, and to own what I had been through, I found that it not only helped me, but that I had the ability to help others.”
You learn to love yourself.
Facing your past, your pain, your family secrets and your own life can be one of the most difficult journey’s that you will ever experience. But it can teach you that in spite of your tendency to yell, or over-extend yourself, or over work, or be a perfectionist, or isolate… you are a work in progress. You learn to be a little more gentle with yourself. You learn that yes, you are worth it.
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All quotations are from the “7 Things I Learned as the Child of an Alcoholic” by Jessie Monreal, published by the Fix.
Photo by Paul McCoubrie