Over the years I have listened to a sort of running monologue from clients who grew up with an addicted parent. It goes something like this: “I felt like it was all about them, like what was going on inside of me was sort of invisible, like what they wanted or needed always came first.” They go on and on describing a family dynamic that circulated around the immediate needs of the addict. They talk about how they often found themselves staying quiet and well behaved so as not to disturb a drunk or hung-over parent or bring a torrent of anger down on them. They also describe a world in which their other parent was constantly over-burdened; hiding the extent of the problem and working double time to make the family seem “normal”. Both parents became absorbed by either addiction or the problems surrounding it.
In this family, children tend to fit in or not fit in according to their ability to meet other people’s needs. These kids often experience their parent’s needs as more immediate and important than their own. And to further complicate this dynamic, children of addiction COAs may experience relief and satisfaction by meeting another person’s needs, while remaining somewhat unaware of their own. Their own inner worlds can feel somewhat hazy and confusing to them, while the worlds of others seem clear and distinct.