Developmental Tasks

I’m currently preparing for my upcoming course on Boundaries which will be offered at the Columbia Area Career Center – Adult Education Department in the fall.  Here’s some material I’m including in the required reading for the course.  It’s borrowed from Janae and Barry Weinhold’s The Flight from Intimacy: Healing Your Relationship of Counter-dependency – the Other Side of Co-dependency.   I find a lot of love, acceptance, compassion for myself, and relief in reading this stuff, and hope you do too!




Stage of


and Primary Task

Essential Developmental

Processes of Individual


Suggested Experiences for Completing

The Essential Developmental Processes

of Individual Evolution

















(Conception to

Six Months)

Bonding and


  • Mother receives good prenatal care and support



  • experiences a non-violent birth with immediate interventions to heal any birth trauma
  • achieves consistent, secure bonding and attachment with mother and/or other adult care-givers
  • learns primal trust in parents through a consistent resonant connection
  • learns emotional resiliency skills
  • creates a secure internal working model of self/other
  • learns healthy emotional communication and social engagement skills with parents and others
  • bonds securely with siblings and extended family

  • maintains a high-quality diet and reduces environmental stressors to prevent the risk of cortisol production during pregnancy
  • receives effective postnatal emotional and physical support
  • provides nurturing, respectful touch and eye contact; she gazes at, signs to, and speaks to the child in loving ways



  • plan for and want the child
  • build prenatal relationship with the child
  • use nonviolent birthing practices
  • nurse and room-in at the hospital and have prolonged skin-to-skin contact between child and each parent in the first 12-24 hours following birth



  • gets timely emotional and tactile comforting to help heal developmental traumas caused by disruptions in resonant connection to parents
  • receives unconditional love from parents
  • receives authentic mirroring and validation of his or her essence from parents


Immediate and extended family members:

  • provide consistent, nurturing, and empathic contact
  • provide comfortable and protective environment to meet the child’s needs for safety and survival






Stage of


and Primary Task

Essential Developmental

Processes of Individual


Suggested Experiences for Completing

The Essential Developmental Processes

of Individual Evolution


















(Six to Thirty-

six Months)

Separation and



  • completes the psy-chological separation process with parents
  • learns to safely explore his or her environment
  • learns to trust and regulate his or her own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in socially appropriate ways
  • internalizes appropriate physical and social limits
  • develops healthy narcissism
  • resolves internal conflicts between oneness and separateness (I’m okay, you’re okay)
  • bonds with self
  • continues to build secure internal working model
  • completes his or her individuation or psychological birth process

  • offer timely help in healing any narcissistic wounds or developmental traumas that interfere with resonance
  • give the child permission and support to safely explore his or her environment; they give the child twice as many yeses as nos during this time
  • rearrange environment to provide safety
  • understand and respect the child’s need to develop internal regulation of emotions, especially shame
  • help the child identify self-needs, as opposed to the needs of others
  • model how to directly ask to have one’s needs met
  • use nonshaming responses in limit-setting and discipline
  • give positive support for the child’s efforts to develop an autonomous Self


Adult Caregivers:

  • help the child quickly reestablish the resonant connection with the mother when it’s disrupted
  • offer empathy and compassion as the child learns to regulate his or her conflicting emotions, thoughts, and behaviors
  • offer authentic mirroring and validation of the child’s essence
  • offer permission for the child to be a separate individual and to trust his or her internal impulses






Stage of


and Primary Task

Essential Developmental

Processes of Individual


Suggested Experiences for Completing

The Essential Developmental Processes

of Individual Evolution

















(Three to Six


Mastery of Self

And Environment


  • masters self-care
  • masters the process of becoming a functionally autonomous individual, separate from parents
  • masters object constancy
  • develops and trusts his or her own core values and beliefs
  • has secure bonding experiences with nature
  • learns effective social engagement skills
  • develops secure internal working model of self/other
  • bonds securely with peers

  • rearrange home environment to support the child’s mastery of self-care(eating, dressing, and toilet training)
  • support the child’s development of effective internal limits and consequences
  • help the child learn appropriate emotional self-regulation and control
  • help the child learn to trust his or her inner sense of wisdom and guidance
  • provide the child with experiences for the safe exploration of nature
  • help the child develop sensory relationships with nature
  • provide for reciprocal social interactions with other children
  • teach cross-relational thinking, including empathy and respect for others
  • help the child develop cause/effect problem-solving skills


  • Immediate and extended family members: offer nurturing, supportive, and consistent contact


  • Adults model partnership solutions to conflicts













Stage of


and Primary Task

Essential Developmental

Processes of Individual


Suggested Experiences for Completing

The Essential Developmental Processes

of Individual Evolution


















(Six to Twenty-

nine Years)






  • learns to cooperate with others
  • learns to negotiate with others to get his or her needs met
  • learns to accept responsibility for his or her personal behaviors and life experiences
  • experiences secure bonding with peers and other adults
  • develops a social conscience
  • bonds securely with his or her culture
  • bonds securely with the planet
  • lives his or her life as an authentic adult
  • bonds securely with own children
  • understands the influence of incomplete developmental processes on his or her life and how to successfully heal developmental traumas
Parents model effective cooperative social engagement skills in couple, family, and peer relationships



  • seeks to learn negotiation skills to get his or her needs met in healthy ways
  • seeks solutions to his or her conflicts that honor the needs of all parties involved
  • seeks adult validation of the importance of keeping his or her relationship agreements
  • seeks an adult model that can teach him or her empathy and compassion for others
  • seeks adults who can teach him or her intuitive language and thinking skills
  • seeks nurturing, supportive, and consistent contact from immediate and extended family members
  • seeks support from parents and other adults on how to build sustainable relationships with other adults and how to find a primary love partner
  • seeks adult input on the values of his or her cultural group and how to overcome any limits imposed by family and culture
  • seeks personal meaning and a personal mission within the context of the “global family”
  • seeks information and skills for healing his or her developmental traumas
  • seeks assistance in developing systemic and transsystemic thinking


  • Adults encourage the development of an internalized “safety parent” allowing safe risk-taking behaviors







Four tables borrowed from The Flight from Intimacy: Healing Your Relationship of Counter-Dependency—the other side of Co-dependency by Janae and Barry Weinhold.

When you find yourself the object of someone else’s addiction

The portion of today’s post that is in italics is taken from Clinton S. Clark ©1993.  I highly recommend that you visit Clinton S. Clark online at The Art of Healing.

Addict Parent

Addict parents are without coping skills for feeling bad, they react or lash out in order to avoid hearing anything that they feel might cause them to “feel bad” As a way to destructively disconnect from the pain they are experiencing (feeling bad), they will try to control the information they are hearing by discounting it.  “It” being the child’s pain which in effect discounts the child’s sense of worthiness to have pain.

An addict parent is basically addicted to controlling, either in the form of controlling themselves (their behaviors and their feelings), and/or controlling other people in the same way.  And controlling information or personal space empowers the addict with feelings of control.  Controlling is a way addict parents “feel better.”

Addicts are said to abuse alcohol and drugs.  Sam will also be abused.  Like a bottle of booze waiting in the liquor cabinet, Sam will wait.  Booze is forgotten about until it’s needed and Sam will be forgotten about until he or she is needed.  If booze becomes difficult to use it is discarded.  When Sam becomes difficult to use he or she will be discarded.  Sam will learn how to function as an inanimate object similar to a bottle of booze.  This will be Sam’s acceptable role in his or her family. It will be a lonely role filled with pain, grief, anger, and rage over being used similar to a bottle of booze.

Keep in mind that Sam’s addict parent is not an evil doer.  An addict cannot consciously see the addiction they are engaged in.  They engage in the behavior because they are terrified of “feeling bad.”  This terror stems from being trained as objects of addiction themselves as children.  And objects of addiction lack the basic developmental coping skills for feeling bad; these coping skills for “feeling bad” were never allowed to develop.  This lack of coping skill creates an overwhelming sense of terror when strong feelings occur.  This is the developmental stigma of being trained as an object of addiction.  And unfortunately, an addict will continue to pass this training onto their children or the next generation in their family.  The cycle will continue form generation to generation until an unexpected event occurs to interrupt the cycle.

In order to keep Sam functioning as an inanimate object of addiction in the family, Sam’s addict parent or parents will have to use some kind of control.  For the addict, control is equated to compliance and compliance is equated to no frustration.  No frustration (or conflict) is equated to security and security equates to happy addict.  As a result of this sociophysiological phenomenon, nothing is more important to an addict than satisfying their interdependent need to maintain a sense of security.  Their object of addiction is important only as long as it accommodates the addict’s need to feel secure. The control techniques or behaviors used by the addict parent to keep their objects of addiction functioning effectively in this interdependent relationship are called “The Addictive Pull.”  The addictive pull is comprised of all the necessary control behaviors, or “destructive control behaviors,” used by the addict to keep an object of addiction functioning like a drug.

Members in a dysfunctional family operate on the same premise.  “You will submit to the control I think I need to have over you or I’ll abandon and beat you up emotionally or physically.”

Addict parents do not respect boundaries.  They have no idea what the concept of boundaries is about.  Setting a boundary for an addict parent creates an immediate hostile and abusive response.  Children raised in dysfunctional families are abused, beaten, or abandoned when they try to keep themselves from being injured or intruded upon by setting a boundary (examples: “Don’t do that you’re hurting me! Or Ow-w-w!…that hurts!”  or “Pl-e-a-s-e…don’t”) This is another part of the terror for children who were raised as objects of addiction.  The addict parent is operating on the assumption that the child is an object of use and therefore does not need to be allowed a sense of safety by allowing boundaries.  A boundary is seen by the addict parent as something that needs to be demolished in order to keep the child functioning as an object of use.

Note: Rebellion is dangerous in dysfunctional families where the child is being used as an object of an addition.  A rebellious child is similar to removing cigarettes from an addict addicted to smoking or removing heroin from an addict addicted to heroin.  The addict’s reaction to a rebellious child will be violent and non-supportive.  Setting a boundary to maintain the protection of oneself is also seen as a rebellious act by addict parents because they see this as keeping them from their addiction of needing to use something or someone to feel better or avoiding feeling bad.

Children who grow up in addiction have high tolerance levels for abuse and scared feelings.  Being abused and feeling scared becomes normal feeling and goes unnoticed or repressed.  Also called stuffing or numbing feelings.

Today’s Bonus borrowed from …In All Our Affairs:

Detachment with love sometimes means loving ourselves enough to suspend blame, fear, guilt and self pity long enough to separate the problem from ourselves, until we can clarify our options and responsibilities, identify how we are contributing to the problem, and let go of the rest.

I was first reminded that for the alcoholic, drinking is not the problem—it’s the solution.  Alcohol had served as the source of his security, courage, and serenity.  Today he is often in a state of panic because he has not yet found other sources for these very real needs….If you do want the marriage, they told me, then accept the fact that you will not get healthy behavior from a sick person or logical statements from an illogical person.

When violence first occurred in my marriage, I truly thought it was my fault and that I should never say or do anything to anger my alcoholic husband.  If I did, I thought he was justified, because in my mind he was always right; therefore I must be wrong.  Because I didn’t want to think badly of him, I just denied that any violence occurred.

Read more Clinton S. Clark at The Art Department

Connection to Self

Quoted from Terrence Real:


The first clue of his condition is an absence rather than a presence—an absence of feeling for himself.  Billy tells me that he felt the pathos of his bickering parents but did not feel, and still does not feel, much concern for the young boy who grew up with them.


Billy feels his parents’ pain precisely because they do not.  And, burdened with their pain, he has little room left for empathy toward his own…Billy’s lost connection to self suggests that in those nights out with friends or upstairs alone in his room he learned more than simply to cut off from his deepest emotions.  He actively learned to despise them.



Blurry Sense of Identity (Who’s Pulling Your Strings – Harriet Braiker)


Having an unclear sense of your own identity—not knowing where you begin and end, whose needs you feel and fill, and what values are central to your core—is a bookend of manipulation.  On one side, the lack of clear identity predisposes you to being dominated and controlled in manipulative relationships.  And when you become the pawn in other people’s power games, the weaker and more blurred your sense of self becomes.  Here are some examples of blurred identity thinking:


  • I have difficulty describing who I really am independent of how other people see me.
  • I do not have a clear sense of myself.
  • I am not sure that I have strong needs or values outside of taking care of other people and making them happy.
  • Sometimes I just feel invisible.
  • I often feel that my identity is absorbed from the beliefs, traits, and values of other people in my life.


How to Correct a Blurry Sense of Identity


Debugging Guidelines:  Allowing your identity to remain out of focus will keep you trapped in a vicious cycle of vulnerability to and victimization by manipulation.  Correcting soft-target thinking in this area is a matter of asking and answering self-defining “Who am I?” questions.


  • How do I see myself?  Compose a self-concept word picture using 20 nouns, adjectives, or short phrases.
  • What are my personal boundaries?  How are you similar and how are you different from your spouse or romantic partner, member of your family, friends, coworkers, and other significant people in your life?  Compare and contrast your needs, personality styles, and character strengths and weaknesses with at least three others.
  • What are my core values?  What moral or ethical principles are most important to you?  What political, social, or cultural attitudes do you hold with conviction and/or passion?
  • What are my spiritual beliefs?  What is your religious faith?  How would you describe your personal spirituality?
  • With whom am I bonded?  What people or relationships form your strongest emotional attachments?  What relationships define your deepest bonds with others?
  • What are my dreams and goals?  What motivates you?  What goals give your lfie a sense of mission or purpose?


Gleaned from Al-Anon Literature:


Canceling plans and staying home to avoid the consequences of “defying” the alcoholic is another form of self-abandonment and has nothing to do with love.  Love is nourishing.  It allows each of us to be more fully ourselves.  The enmeshment that characterizes an alcoholic relationship does just the opposite.


It is entirely up to us to determine what is acceptable to us and what is not.  Personal limit:  I will leave the party if I feel uncomfortable around other people’s drinking.

Core Needs – Introduction to a Basic Skill

Studying One’s Self – Becoming Intimate with My Wants, Needs, Desires

(Everything in italics has been borrowed from Clinton S. Clark© 1993)  I highly recommend a visit to his site at The Art Of Healing.

My Needs (stable for the most part)

  • Access to food, clean water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, and medical services.
  • Income (for the first need) and the transportation to earn that income.
  • Recovery and the income and transportation to maintain that recovery.
  • School (education)
  • Dreams
  • To say I can choose.
  • To say I love you.
  • To say I’m sorry.
  • To say I need you to help me meet my need.
  • To know that the screw-ups I have are healthy.
  • To hold and to be held.
  • To have approval (in direct and non-controlling ways).
  • To express (expulsion) my “self.”
  • To allow my “self” choices and the possibility of choices that are unknown.
  • To set boundaries (and no explanation is necessary).
  • To allow myself honesty.
  • To say, “I don’t know” when I don’t know.
  • To allow my honesty to be earned and not shared indiscriminately.
  • To practice safe sex.
  • To practice eating as needed and not in a way to stuff or over eat.
  • To stop and clear myself when I’m in chaos or subtle diversion.
  • To detach.
  • To be separate in order to be close.
  • To know that the best I can do is too much (controlling, approval seeking).
  • Acknowledging when I’m hurt.
  • Acknowledging when I’m sore.
  • Acknowledging when my stomach hurts.

My Limits (at the time I have them)

  • The limits I have are not the same as the ability (I have) to do something.
  • I’m unable to change the past.
  • I’m unable to change the future by worrying about it.
  • I have fears.
  • I get tired.
  • I’m unable to control what someone else is thinking of me.
  • I’m unable to forcibly control someone else’s actions without using destructive control behaviors. (to kill spirit)
  • I can’t control another person by being nice and accommodating.

Asking for Needs to be Met

Asking for my needs to be met is more productive using the same non-victim role as with setting boundaries.  As an infant, I had my own infant ways of asking for needs to be met.  As an adult, I have adult ways to ask for my needs to be met.  Clarity is important.  Over-explaining the reason for my needs is control for approval’s sake.  I can choose not to control by explaining.

There is fear in asking for my needs to be met.  My needs were shamed or discounted as a child.  That fear of shaming or discounting generates hostility in my conversation style.  The hostility is projected onto the listener.  In return, they become hostile in order to protect themselves or become submissive in order to protect themselves.  Either way, the listener will resent the interaction.

I can choose to approach my needs in a non-victim style (non-victimstance).  I find a more nurturing result more often.  I state my fear of asking up front and not hide it in a hostile conversation.


  • “I’m afraid of asking for _________________”
  • “I’m afraid of not knowing how to ask for ______________”
  • “I’m learning how to ask for my needs to be met.  I need your patience while I learn.”

Some basic needs statements

I need ______________________________________.

  • To eat.
  • A drink of water.
  • To go to the rest room.
  • To get some different clothes, a jacket, etc (to stay warm, dry, etc.).
  • To go to the doctor.
  • To throw-up.
  • A place to stay.
  • A job.
  • A loan.
  • To borrow some money.
  • A ride.
  • To get gas.
  • To have my car repaired.
  • Help.
  • To go to a meeting.
  • To know if….
  • To know if you like me.
  • To know if anyone else feels this way.
  • Your approval.
  • To rest.
  • A hug.
  • A kiss.
  • To be held.
  • To be with people.
  • To say I’m sorry.
  • To say that for myself.
  • To do this.
  • To talk.
  • To know if you have time to listen.
  • To do this myself.
  • To go slow.
  • To keep this confidential.
  • Your patience.
  • You to know that I love you.
  • To know if you’re being honest with me.
  • To know if you are mad at me.
  • To know if you love me.
  • To know if you expect something from me that I don’t know about.
  • To leave.
  • To stay a while.
  • A back-rub.
  • Your friendship.
  • You to back off.
  • You to slow down.
  • To work something out with you.

If I consistently ask for a need to be met, and it’s not being met, I need to go elsewhere.  I accept that my needs are important.  I accept that my needs are my needs and my responsibility.  My needs are not someone else’s responsibility.  My needs are not a guessing game for someone else.  And, my needs are not the perception that someone else has of them.

Whatever the needs statement be, I practice being clear, direct, non-victim, non-whining, and non-controlling.  I can choose to “ask” before I decide that my needs won’t be met.  I accept that asking for my needs to be met and getting them met are different.  I won’t be able to get my needs met in one place.

I am all that I am at the time that I am

Acknowledging without control that:

“I am all that I am at the time that I am”

is another way to nurture and reparent myself.  I am all my likes, my dislikes, my needs, my limits, my choices, my thoughts, my opinions, my double binds, my feelings, etc.  Without fear of injury, I am all that I am at the time that I am.

Gleaned from Al-Anon Literature

HALT When we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, we have needs that require our attention, needs that may be preventing us from acting in a positive, affirming way.

When a man reconsiders performance-based esteem, when he reaches into his own heart to unearth and form a relationship with the emotional parts of himself, when he takes on responsibilities for psychological self-care as well as the psychological care of others, he breaks with the terms of traditional masculinity. –Terrence Real

The Narcissist’s Strategy for Dealing with Unmet Needs

Based on their implicit and explicit memories of unmet childhood needs, many narcissists develop the notion that such needs will never be met later on in life.  This fear is at the root of the narcissist’s flimsy and unanimated attachments to others.  He compensates for the fear of not having his needs met through a well-executed excessively autonomous style.  This combination of fear and overcompensation also leads to a lack of intimacy with himself, avoiding self-knowing.  –Wendy T. Behary

We learn not to ask for what we need during the first three years of life.

Emotional Bullshit:

Self-Care is both a tool and an ongoing skill.  Using it as a tool will help you make a quick decision that might avert a problem even in the most difficult moments, or avoid outright disaster.  Developing Self-Care as an ongoing skill will enable you to promote your best interests in the numerous situations that make a colossal difference in the quality of your life and your relationships.

To be narcissistic means you focus solely on your own pleasure, ignoring or discounting the needs of others.  But fulfilling a Core Need means fully understanding and fulfilling your responsibilities to both yourself and others.  It’s actually the opposite of being selfish—it means taking care of your personal business so that you have the emotional energy and awareness to be able to focus on others.  Keeping your word, doing what you say you’re going to do, completing the tasks you have taken on, are clearly in your long-term best interest.  It is a fact of life that many of the responsibilities we have to ourselves enable us to create a healthy environment for other people to live with us in community…If you’re in a relationship taking care of your Core Needs means that you maintain a nurturing and balanced environment for your self as well as for the other person.  So be assured that taking care of your Core Needs is not at all narcissistic.  In fact, it is the height of responsibility and maturity.  It’s a total win-win.

Terrence Real

As a small boy he had stepped into the vacuum left by his depressed father.  Little Joe became, in many ways, his mother’s emotional husband, his father’s business partner, his siblings’ father. The only person’s needs Joe learned to ignore were his own.

Instinct Injury and How it Happens

How does a person become instinct injured, and lack the ability to set and communicate clear boundaries?  Here are some excerpts from Clinton S. Clark © 1993 (in italics) that I find extremely helpful in setting the groundwork for implementing this new skill set.  Setting boundaries is a skill that we did not learn as children.  And there is a good reason this is so.  While reading the following, keep in mind that we use the term “addiction” and “codependent” very loosely, covering a wide range of behaviors, and not from a position of judgment, but rather as a scientist would examine a new species of tropical plant.  With a little bit of distance (objectivity) you stand to gain a new understanding of the family disease of addiction, and begin to understand how its poison has been passed undetected from one generation to another.  The good news is that we can learn to recognize it, understand how it works, and make subtle changes in our own behavior and attitudes to stop the transmission and the pain.  But like anything else, this is a process.  One cannot expect to change a lifetime of beliefs and habits overnight.  So please be gentle.  Find more Clinton S. Clark at The Art Department.

In order for Sam’s addict parent to be happy, Sam must assume the same role as the booze.  That is to say, that as long as Sam remains easy to use, like the booze, Sam’s parent will be happy.  And as long as Sam’s parent is happy, Sam will feel safe and acceptable.

In this way, the child learns from the parent’s example that caring for one’s self is the job of another.  In this case, caring for the addict parent is the responsibility of the child.

A codependent is a control addict who is obsessed with controlling and compulsively tries to control.  They’re unable to cope with the terror of their own feelings, so they try to control the feelings and actions of other people.

Codependents are connected in an unhealthy way to the people and even the objects in their environment.  They constantly react as if there was some invisible and painful cord connecting them to other people.  This makes it almost impossible for them to listen without becoming reactionary.  Talking with a codependent may leave you feeling hurt and empty or like you haven’t been heard at all.  Chances are, you haven’t been heard.

My daughter might say to me, “I don’t like going to school.”  My reactionary response to her might be something like, “Don’t be silly, your friends are at school so just get going to school now.”  By calling her “silly” I’ve discounted her feelings.  Now, not only does she feel bad about going to school, but she feels bad about feeling bad.  I do this because I’m uncomfortable with her feelings.  I am codependent with her; attached to her in some unhealthy and invisible way.

Children who have addict parents are forced to forfeit their relationship with their addict parent in favor of the addiction.  The addiction is stronger than the child.  Even though the child is an object of addiction, the addiction takes precedence.  By that I mean, from an outside view (a view from outside the family) it will appear that the child is receiving attention, when in fact, it is the addiction itself (the child as an object of addiction) which is receiving the attention and not the child as a sentient being.

Playing the Victim

Playing the Victim is an extremely effective technique used to control someone (especially children).  The addict parent controls the child’s behavior by becoming the so-called wounded victim.  The child might say or do something that the addict parent becomes uncomfortable with.  In reaction to the child’s behavior, the addict parent responds by saying something like this:

(said from an angry victimstance)

  • “How could you do that to your mother?”
  • “Mommy thinks you don’t love her anymore.”
  • “You don’t care about me at all, do you?”
  • “You’re hurting mommy.  You’re driving her crazy and no one will be able to take care of you then!”

This destructive control behavior uses false guilt to control the child.  When the addict parent plays the victim, the child looks inward and thinks: “How could I do that to my parent…She (or He) looks so hurt and sounds so angry or depressed…She’s (or He’s) talking and looking at me; therefore I must have caused her (or his) pain…I’d better be good so I don’t hurt her (or him) any more…she’s (or he’s) the only one I have to take care of me and the alternative of taking care of myself scares me to death, because that’s impossible for myself as a child to do.  I could die.  I’m sure I’d die.

The goal of an addict who is addicted to their child is to “feel better” by controlling the child.  As stated before, control is equated to compliance and compliance is equated to no frustration.  No frustration or conflict is equated to security and security equates to happy addict.  Unfortunately, children of addict parents grow up full of false guilt or shame as a result of being trained by the addict parent’s use of playing the victim.  They (the children) automatically feel guilty, terrified, and anxious when they come in contact with anyone playing the victim.

Children who are trained to be objects of an addiction receive the following message from their addict parents (from addict to child):

I’m not OK, when …. You’re not


Translation:  I have no coping skills for feeling bad or tolerating strong emotions (mine or yours).  If I’m around you when you are having needs, setting boundaries or otherwise being yourself, I believe you to be the source of my pain.  I can’t allow you to be yourself if I feel bad in the process.

Unfortunately, a child does not have the benefit of insight into this translation.  He or she only knows that their addict parent is not ok when they (the child) are not ok.  The child then rationalizes that:

If the addict parent is not ok, who is going to take care of me?

In response to this rationale, they believe that by being ok enough, their addict parent (their provider) will be ok enough to take care of them.  The alternative as seen by the child is death (Whitfield, 1988).  They think, “If I don’t take care of my addict parent by being ok, they are not going to be able to take care of me (because they won’t be ok enough to do so).  And, if they aren’t ok enough to take care of me, I could die.  I am not old enough or knowledgeable enough to take care of myself.”

This is the terror.

This is the helplessness.

This is the anger, rage, and pain.

Codependents [learn to] blame other people for how they feel.  Obviously, if a codependent is attached to you, they are going to blame you for how they feel.  They’ve been trained to believe that their feelings are the results of other people’s actions and feelings.

Children of addict parents learn that in order to stay accepted in their family they must remain easy to use, and be without boundary (do nothing to frustrate the addict).  Children of addict parents learn how to become easy to use by becoming invisible; which means to become compliant and without needs, or suffer the consequences of being apparent, real, noticeable, with boundaries, and having needs.

This phenomena is also described by Whitfield (1989) and Cermak (1986) as “psychic numbing.”  Children raised as objects of addiction are under attack or the threat of attack throughout the duration of their childhood and sometimes beyond.  They are like combat soldiers waiting for an attack to occur.  Cermak (1986) writes that during periods of extreme stress, such as an attack or the waiting for an attack to occur (the threat of death, injury, and the feeling of being unable to flee), “combat soldiers are often called upon to act regardless of how they are feeling.  Their survival depends upon their ability to suspend feelings in favor or taking steps to ensure their safety.”  This is a characteristic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.  In the case of children trained to be objects of addiction, you might say that they were forced into fighting a war without weapons to protect themselves and they were unable to see the enemy.  This is one of the reasons why so many children of dysfunctional families withdraw into isolation.  It’s the last resort in fighting an unseen enemy and fighting an enemy without a weapon of defense.  You might say that this [material] is an exposure of the enemy by exposing the attack methods, i.e., the destructive control behaviors that hurt.

As objects of addiction, these children have psychologically trained their feelings to become unavailable to them as a way to cope with repeated attacks or the threat of attack.  As a result of this, their feelings have become so unavailable to them that they subsequently become emotionally and cognitively unaware of an attack at the time it occurs.

Common effects of growing up in this kind of environment:

  • Fear of other people’s judgment resulting in chronic procrastination.
  • Having no limits in response to not feeling good enough.
  • Trying to “people please” or seek approval of others.
  • Negatively judging other people as a way to distract one’s self from one’s intolerable emotions.
  • Blaming others for how they feel.
  • Feeling uneasy or suspicious when receiving compliments or gifts.

In the case of me, in my addictive patterns, here is how it works for my daughter.  Over time, it will become painfully apparent to her that her actions and feelings will somehow trigger me.  She will become a “people pleaser” to avoid having to deal with my reactions to her.  She knows she can’t be herself without me reacting to her, so she becomes what she thinks I want her to be.  This is how children of [addicts and] codependents learn to survive.  They can’t be themselves so they become what they think will keep them from getting hurt.

She’ll learn how to control other people by being a “people pleaser.”  She’ll become very good at guessing how I feel and very poor at knowing how she feels.  Her focus will become directed towards other people outside of herself.  She’ll obsessively try to figure out what everyone else needs and not be able to figure out what she needs.  And if someone resents her for trying to take care of their needs without being asked, she will become angry and resentful because it scares her not to take care of someone else.




Cermak, Timmen L. “Diagnosing & Treating Co-Dependence: A Guide for Professionals who Work with Chemical Dependents, Their Spouses, and Children” Johnson Institute, Minneapolis, MN. 1986.

Whitfield, Charles L. “Healing The Child Within” Audio Cassette.  Health Communications, Inc. Taped live U.S. Journal Training Conference.  Chicago.  June 1988.

Whitfield, Charles L. “Healing The Child Within” Health Communications, Inc. 1989.


The issue of boundaries pervades our lives in ways that are so subtle, yet so profound, that once they are mastered, simply everything changes. I am in the process of creating a workshop to break down this fascinating subject into its basic “nuts and bolts.” Here, we will offer a forum where we can examine how emotions and boundaries work together; build and strengthen personal boundaries and learn when others are pushing and violating your boundaries. I am interested in forming a group that meets for 5-6 consecutive weeks, or a couple entire weekends. Timing will depend on preference of participants. Cost for entire event will be $180 – $250, depending on size and format of group. See some excerpts from Clinton S. Clark of The Art Department for an idea about the perspective of this offering.