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On the last track, we discussed the caretaking trap. The caretaking trap involves family members feeling they have no choice, avoiding pain and seeking pleasure, feeling guilt and shame, and being well-intentioned.
On this track, we will discuss the mirroring of symptoms in the addict’s family, and the four character defect personality types: the caretaker, the perfectionist, the procrastinator, and the rageoholic.
Mirroring of Symptoms
As you know, addiction to any substance causes a somatic
illness, directly affecting the body organs and tissues. Family members of
addicts often suffer psychosomatic illness; their emotional changes directly
cause changes in their organs and tissues. As you know, these are not changes
that are "all in the family’s heads"; they are real physical
symptoms caused by mental and emotional changes.
I find that family members of addicts are also prone to somatopsychic disorders; changes in the body which change the way an individual thinks and feel. Depression is a good example of this condition. Living under ongoing stress, such as living with an addict, results in high levels of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol physically affects the brain, leading to depression. An alcoholic’s body, fighting the toxic effects of alcohol, also releases high levels of cortisol, leading to depression in the same way.
In my experience, the emotional states of addicts and their family members also begin to mirror each other. Both experience feelings of anger, resentment, withdrawal, distrust, dishonesty, anxiety, depression, and untrustworthiness as a result of fear. Both addicts and their families try to control their fear with character defects. These defects are so well practiced over time that they become a relationship worldview. Family members of alcoholics often unknowingly seek out relationships with people who fit their character defects.
Marie, age 43, told me "I’ve been married four times to four alcoholics. After each divorce I’d swear I’d never marry another alcoholic. Then I’d find this great guy, we’d get married, and it was only after the blush of the honeymoon wore off that I discovered I’d married another alcoholic. It’s taken doing this four times for me to realize it’s not all about them; it’s about me too."
I find the hardest thing for most family members of addicts to admit to is untrustworthiness. They can easily see how the addict is untrustworthy, but they see themselves as taking care of everything, as the responsible ones. It is hard for these family members to understand that it is not "taking care of everything" that is the problem, it is the way their learned character defects cause them to do it. Each character defect is a breach of trust; it is not intentional, but the emotional contortions necessary for surviving a family member’s addiction result in these behaviors.
4 Character Defect Personality Types
Children growing up with an addict in the family adopt these same character defects. They begin life at a disadvantage, but their developing character defects usually go unnoticed. Emily, the wife of an alcoholic, told me about her 13-year-old daughter. "Julie is so responsible, and she’s always on the honor roll. She’s perfect… she acts just like a little adult, helping me around the house." Emily did not realize that Julie was becoming a perfectionist, spending all her energy pleasing others, and rarely asking for what she needed.
Julie was also playing the hero role, as described in Track 4, carrying the weight of her father’s alcoholism and trying to bring respectability to the family through her actions. I told Emily that Julie was likely to marry an alcoholic to continue the role she had learned to play. Julie was also likely grow up to be plagued by feelings of inadequacy, never letting other people close enough to really know her.
4-Part "Trust Yourself
After answering these questions, I asked Emily to rate her level of trustworthiness, and to journal about the changes she needed to make to become more trustworthy. We agreed that she would start by making a weekly appointment with herself to have a cup of tea by herself on her porch.
On this track, we have discussed the mirroring of symptoms in the addict’s family, and the four character defect personality types: the caretaker, the perfectionist, the procrastinator, and the rageoholic.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article Reference:
Corrigan, P. W., Watson, A. C., & Miller, F. E. (2006). Blame, shame, and contamination: The impact of mental illness and drug dependence stigma on family members. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(2), 239–246.
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