There is nothing worse for a child than having our inner reality undermined. Being told “no you don’t feel that way” “just get over it” “that didn’t hurt, you are such a baby” and worse things and this is the legacy sadly of those brought up in narcissistic homes. Children raised in these homes learn to shut up and repress the reality of their True Self pretty quickly (especially anger which goes along with invalidation abuse but has to be supressed for us to survive). We carry great fear and there is never really any freedom to take an unimpeded breath. For those of us who meet partners in life later who aren’t this way and want to see, hear, validate and love us as we are, the struggle to trust is even harder. IT IS something therapist and author Janet Woitiz deals with in her book The Intimacy Struggle which I have had for years but am rereading now I am in a new relationship that is so vastly different to the old ones.
There are ten fears that Janet outlines which hit the nail on the head for me lately. Children from alcoholic or narcissistic and emotionally neglectful homes often will detonate a relationship that offers them exactly what they need as soon as it gets close and intimate, its due to a profound fear of abandonment we cannot often even fully admit to ourselves. Partners of such people go through shock and confusion as the one they love acts out, especially after a time of closeness and connection. The adult child will quickly pull the rug out from under such closeness by starting a fight, disappearing or going disconnected in some way, all due to not being able to stand the heat of their own feelings of sadness and longing for what they were denied needing or wanting from a young age which are evoked in intimate relationships. As pointed out by Robert Firestone who has done a lot of work with inner voices and the inner critic often we will start to hear criticisms and doubts in our heads when intimacy threatens us putting ourselves or the other person down if we carry past unresolved attachment wounds. Its something addressed too in the book on attachment by therapists Amir Levine and Rachel Heller ‘Attached : The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – And Keep Love.
Its helpful to know when our fear of intimacy is being evoked. It may not always stop us acting out but it will start to bring awareness which is the first step, then maybe we can have a talk to our partner about it later if we can be honest and they are open. Partners of adult children of trauma, addiction or neglect can also educate themselves to the vulnerabilities of their partners if they don’t suffer this way and are more securely attached.
Below is a list of fears which Janet Woitiz outlines in her excellent book.
- Adult Children fear hurting others due to their own pain and sensitivity. They make excellent loyal partners for this reason but such fear may make them into people pleasers because their fear of conflict is so high.
- Adult Children fear the person others see them to be does not exist. They were not able to be their full selves and were never unconditionally accepted.
- Adult Children fear they will lose control if they love someone or connect with them, often due to the fact their homes were out of control or they had overly controlling parents.
- Adult Children will deny things hurt or matter, its a defensive approach to make themselves appear bullet proof and deny their vulnerability which was never safe before.
- Adult Children fear any love given is not real, things going well is so unfamiliar to them it seems unreal since all they knew growing up was chaos. High drama doesn’t go along with a healthy relationship and they never experienced peaceful connected relating so they have no template for it.
- Adult Children fear their anger when exposed will lead to abandonment. They have a power keg of it anyway due to the way they were treated growing up. They have difficulty asking for help then get upset if partners don’t mind read due to a fear of expressing needs.
- Adult Children feel shame for being themselves and they feel responsible for everything that went wrong in their families. This is unrealistic but its very true for them. So how could you love them when they are so bad?
- Adult Children fear that if you really get to know them you will find out they are unlovable. They were probably led to believe this anyway due to the way they were treated or blamed for things growing up that were not their fault. They often feel failures that they could not fix their dysfunctional family.
- Adult Children have difficulty tolerating the discomfort that is a natural part of getting close to others. Feelings naturally get stirred up with intimacy and adult children fear their feelings or don’t really know how to deal with them so often they cut and run.
- Adult Children fear they will be left and this fear harks back to their history. It is important these fears are not discounted and that a loving partner gives them constant reassurance, they didn’t ask to be abandoned growing up, it wasn’t their fault and they don’t “have to get over it”. Their fear needs to be understood and soothed until they can learn to trust in a present that is profoundly different to their traumatic past.