The Adult Child Inability to Ask for Help

Ask an adult child who endured dysfunction, alcoholism, or abuse during his upbringing what the idea of “asking for help” evokes, and he may respond “hesitation,” “restriction,” “trauma,” “confrontation,” and “distrust.” But why?

Reasoning, I realized, is in the wiring-of the brain, that is-and my own was soldered during my upbringing-in other words, the wiring contained the ‘why,” or, in my case, the why not when it came to asking others for this help.

How, it is certainly fair to wonder, can you expect help from others-and especially strangers-when your own parents were not there for you? Parental “help” may have been more synonymous with abandonment.

My father was a para-alcoholic, who was exposed to the same erratic, unpredictable behavior he subjected me to, yet neither knew that he was an abused child nor that there was anything wrong with the treatment he received. And my mother, while caring and loving, grew up with a father who himself suffered from an explosive personality that could only be quelled with a quick gambling fix (translated as a full-blown addiction) and she was just as powerless-not to mention frightened-when the insanity played out in my home environment.

Based upon this ostensible normalcy, how and why, I often wondered, would those who did not know me from Adam endeavor to “help” me or even acknowledge my existence? This was what I knew. It was never questioned or corrected, and certainly seemed to configure my brain’s circuitry at a pre-school age, perpetually preparing me for rejection and trepidation.

Subconsciously transported back to my original parental betrayal and the trauma it created, help equaled harm, causing me to feel exposed, even in present time, to a person who may have treated me in a similar manner. Who, I can only ask, would want more of this?

The sheer thought re-erects that impenetrable wall that separated me from my father and, ultimately, others-the one that rumbled, “Step over this line and you’ll be sorry that you did!”

Placing the potential help on one side of a seesaw and the potential hurt its asking could yield on the other, I often assessed the lesser of the two evils, even if that risk were nothing more than irrational in nature, whose seed was planted in childhood. As I continue to pursue my recovery path, I have begun to realize, of course, that it was.

Desperate times lead to desperate measures, it has often been said, and I usually had to fall into the former category before I even contemplated the latter of asking for help. I can only imagine the perplexity of a person who is the product of a safe, nurturing childhood when he tries to understand how seeking a helping hand from another could be considered a “desperate measure,’ much less a dangerous one. The person, I am sure, would not blink an eye at asking, “Could you help me with… ”

Then again, that person never had the need to cross his brain’s wires the way I did and then experience and expect the opposite of what would have been considered normal, reasonable, and rational. There were times when my father went ballistic at the sheer thought of aiding his “enemy.” I thought I was his son…
Exposure to any later-in-life authority figure was an instantaneous lighting, like a switchboard, of those circuits, followed by the emotional drop into the pit known as ‘victimhood.’ If being victimized and perhaps harmed could be equated with “help,” then I would rather do without it, thank you.

Indeed, there were times when my father seemed intolerant of my sheer presence and asking him for things was sometimes nothing more than a race between the rational request and the rise of his defensive wall, leaving me unable to reach him. (I later suspected that he was the recipient of the same rejected treatment when he dared the same interaction with his father.) It was hardly worth the successful delivery (of whatever I needed) if I had to fear another retriggered explosion to achieve it. This was certainly one of the circumstances which had me think twice-if not ten times-about ‘bothering” others for this aid, even as an adult.

It also did not breed any sense of self-esteem or worth, implying that I was just not good enough to even give the time, attention, or help to.

Adult children negotiate life, hiding their deep-dark secrets about the deep hole in their souls and the flaws they believe reflect their intrinsically faulty endowment. They are unaware that this rift was progressively created by parents who suffered from the same deficiencies and projected them on to them. Asking for help, to an adult child, is thus the equivalent of advertising it, a scream, if you will, of “Hey, world, look at how unworthy and inferior I am! I need your help because I can’t do it myself!”

“I was intimidated by step five, because it meant revealing my darkest secrets to another person,’ according to “Courage to Change,” the Al-Anon text (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1992, p. 127). “Afraid that I would be rejected for being less than perfect, I put so much energy into hiding the truth that, although no one rejected me, I was as isolated and lonely as if they had.”

The adult child syndrome forces a person, without choice, into a state of isolated self-sufficiency, which serves as an outward expression of distrust in others, an inability to have relied on them when he needed them, and the ultimate attempt to create an environment of safety, security, and stability. Ironically, the more he believes that he is inadequate and incapable, the more he must dig within himself to find the “Jack of all trades” resources to individually achieve what he needs, transforming him from incapable (in belief) to autonomous (in ability).

Trust is a must, but requiring help returns him to a state of helplessness, when the very parents who should have aided him were the very ones who caused his plight and may have become the ones from whom he most needed protection.

“One effect of alcoholism is that many of us are reluctant to get close to people,’ according to ‘Courage to Change” (ibid, p. 363). “We have learned that it is not safe to trust, to reveal too much, to care deeply. Yet we often wish we could experience closer, more loving relationships.”

It may require a significant amount of recovery, during which a person’s childhood-bred fears, traumas, misbeliefs, and distortions eventually dissolve and enable him to view others in a non-authority figure, parent-emulating light who care and are concerned, so that he can see their good-intentioned actions of help for what they are and not the potentially detrimental offer his rewired brain tries to otherwise convince him of.

The ultimate help may come from his creator or the Higher Power of his understanding. But turning to him may be the most difficult act.

A disconnection and fall from him may, first and foremost, have been the initial subconscious step toward his disbelief. Leaving him vulnerable and powerless to shaming and damaging parents without intervention certainly did nothing to instill his confidence in an entity who could have protected him from danger and aided him during his greatest time of need. And finally, whatever he associates his earthly parents with he eventually attaches to his eternal one, assigning the same condemning and punishing qualities to him, until he can no longer see through this distorted filter.

Once again, it requires a considerable amount of recovery, during which his distortions are dissolved and he rises to a level of wholeness, before he can re-embrace God and regain enough faith and trust to ask him for the help he needs.

“I have an important part to play in my relationship with my Higher Power,” according to “Courage to Change” (ibid, p. 48). “I have to be willing to receive help, and I have to ask for it. If I develop the habit of turning to my Higher Power for help with small, everyday matters, I’ll know what to do when faced with more difficult challenges.”

Article Sources:

“Courage to Change.” Virginia Beach, Virginia: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1992.

Impact Of Psychological Capital On Job Performance

Psychological capital is a very trait of the human capital. It refers to a person’s self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resiliency. In other words, the positive psychological strengths and capacities of an individual enable him/her to function productively. In the past, people tend to focus on the negative side of the human behavior like failure, burnout and helplessness. But nowadays, there is a shift of focus; from the weakness of a person to his/her strengths.

Hope is one of the psychological capital which is a positive motivational state of an individual to become successful or a strong desire to meet his/her goals. It means that a person has the will to accomplish or achieve an intended output or result. Apparently, hope constitutes the gut to succeed and the competence to identify, clarify, and pursue the ladder to success despite the risks encountered in the process. It also indicates desirable work attitudes.

Then, the resiliency of a person enables him/her to have a positive coping mechanism and adaptation in the face of significant risk or adversity. At the workplace, resilience is the positive psychological capacity to rebound or bounce back from adversity, uncertainty, conflict, failure, or even positive change, progress and increased responsibility. It is how a person can face negative events in life without breaking. In fact, a person becomes more resilient when he/she can effectively rise back from a previous setback. Resilient people usually succeed after a series of many failures without giving up.

On the other hand, optimism is the ability of an individual to make internal, stable, and global attributions regarding positive events such as a task accomplishment and those who attribute external, unstable, and specific reasons for negative events like a failure to meet a deadline. It is associated with a positive outcome of events including positive emotions and motivation. In short, optimistic people are realistic because it involves of what he/she can and cannot accomplish in a particular situation and hence adds to one’s efficacy and hope. In other words, realistic optimism is very dynamic and changeable and is considered state-like. In fact, human accomplishments and positive well-being require an optimistic sense of personal adequacy to defeat the numerous roadblocks to success.

Although hope and optimism are synonymous in nature but the optimism of a person comes in whenever an outcome is perceived as having substantial value. When directly applied to the workplace, it was found out to have a positive significant relationship with job performance and job satisfaction.

Finally, in terms of self-efficacy, it represents a positive belief and refers to the employee’s confidence about his or her abilities to mobilize the motivation, cognitive resources or courses of action needed to successfully execute a specific task within a given context. Again, self-efficacy was found to have a strong positive relationship with work-related performance though not an acquired trait. It is inherent in a person but can be developed over time.

Therefore, self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resilience are important facets of human psychological capital. The combined motivational effects is broader and more effective than any one of the constructs individually. Each of these facets has a unique and common cognitive and motivational processes that enable excellent job performance.

Employee’s excellent job performance and satisfaction is not only due to the salary and fringe benefits they received from a company or an organization but mainly because they possess positive psychological capacity which is considered as a strong predictor of job success.

Step Up to the First Step of Recovery

Like the foundation of a twelve-story building, the first of the twelve steps must be solidly laid before a person can construct the floors to which he needs to climb to re-reach a level of wholeness. Paradoxically, it is the shattering scaffold on which he usually teeters before he does so, thus first requiring a step up in and of itself.

The first step of any recovery program, which states that “we admitted we were powerless over the effects of alcoholism and other family dysfunction (and) that our lives had become unmanageable,” is the initial one from which a person must ascend from his all-time emotional and spiritual low.

Threshold to this rise are usually the debilitating aspects of a person’s life that prove more precarious and painful than the plunge into the unknown-that is, that first step into a twelve-step recovery room where, sitting before a sea of strange faces, he must confront his demons and reveal the mostly buried scars and secrets of his upbringing that bred the hole in his soul and his ultimate spiral from wholeness. What irony: the single letter “w” designates his diametrically opposed states of “whole” and “hole.”

What he may not be aware of in the midst of the fellowship is that behind those unrecognizable faces is the same upbringing that caused everyone’s wounds and that the helping hand of a Higher Power, in whom he may have long ago ceased believing, will lift, dissolve, repair, and restore. The very damage and debilitation that separated him from humanity is the very commonality that creates his bond with them now.

That first step across the room’s threshold may not be easy, however. Indeed, the same anxieties he may have about attending his first meeting are assuredly the same ones which restrict him from partaking of most of everything else he would like to do in life.

Pain, like bulldozers, can move mountains into recovery venues and surrounding them are the wheels that turn them into that vital first step: unmanageability, powerlessness, surrender, brushes with the rocks at the bottom-often called a person’s “rock bottom”-and,, perhaps, ignorance of what caused his plight.

Although he may have suffered from a strange malady throughout his life that both physicians and psychologists could only circumvent, but not cure, a lack of alcoholism in the traditional sense during his upbringing may have left him clueless, poising him for a witch-hunt to uncover what may have caused his parent’s unpredictable, detrimental dual-personality behavior toward him. Like most, he may believe that alcoholism is a liquid, not a behaviorally characteristic disease, much less than that it could be passed, like a baton in a relay race, from one generation to another, even without the drip of the drink. As a race, however, it leaves one to run to his demise until that first step in a recovery room is undertaken, where he admits that he is powerless over the effects of alcoholism or family dysfunction.

“Step One requires that we admit that our family is dysfunctional and the dysfunction affects our thinking and behavior as adults,” advises the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 122). “We must admit that we are powerless over the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional home. Our lives are unmanageable regardless of appearances of self-sufficiency. Social standing or compulsive self-reliance does not equal recovery.”

Al-Anon’s “Courage to Change” text (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1992, p. 283) echoes this reality. “The first step prepares us for a new life, which we can achieve only by letting go of what we cannot control, and by undertaking, one day at a time, the monumental task of setting our world in order through a change in our thinking,” it states.

Certain diseases are resistant to treatment. This one, whether resultant of pure- or para-alcoholism, certainly is-not necessarily because twelve-step recovery is ineffective (with time, persistence, and dedication, it is), but because the sufferer has long been indoctrinated in the need for his isolated self-sufficiency.

There are two concepts in this term. In the first, “isolated,” the person has forcibly, albeit it subconsciously, disconnected from others in an anti-social manner because of his upbringing-bred distrust. While at times painful, his loneliness fosters stability, eliminating the re-firing of his triggers. Add alcoholic toxins to them and he becomes the center of the traumatic re-explosions in his head, vowing to resort to any tactic to avoid them.

The second concept, “self-sufficiency,” was once a necessity, but now becomes a deterrent to the implementation of the first step. As the recipient of repeated shame, blame, belittlement, and abuse, he first had to weather his internal storm and the psychological, emotional, and neurological damage that treatment inflicted. He was subtly taught not to rely on those he most needed-namely, his parents or primary caregivers-and often had to substitute for them, assuming their role by administering care and attention to younger siblings. Whatever he needed, he was forced to find within himself.

Relinquishing this self-sufficiency survival trait later in life is the equivalent of tossing a life preserver aside in the middle of the Atlantic. It goes against his grain. It was the only method he could adopt to function and endure an adverse childhood experience he never understood.

Turning his will over to a Higher Power now may be virtually impossible until he sinks to an all-time low, especially when he believes that that Higher Power abandoned him just as his parents did. Why, he may ask, would He be there for him now?

Isolation and self-sufficiency are only two of the survival traits he unknowingly adopted. Amazingly, however, these traits illustrate two functions of the brain.

Firstly, they demonstrate that the brain is so flexible and survival-oriented, that it reconfigured its circuitry during his chaotic upbringing so that he could adopt the traits themselves, such as people-pleasing, approval seeking, an overdeveloped responsibility, and virtual addictions to fear, over and above the isolation and self-sufficiency, to function and create the perception of safety in the midst of the adversity. Exposed to such conditions in the child’s home-of-origin, the brain can only assume that the world-at-large, which it considers a natural extension of it, will offer the same conditions.

Secondly, these necessary behavioral characteristics are so natural to him, that the brain’s self-preservation ability precludes him from questioning or challenging what can only be considered “normal,” ensuring that he will not tamper with the only way he knows of negotiating life. That others do not similarly think or perceive as he does is equally not questioned or considered.

The first step to the first step is emerging from denial and realizing these facts.

“Separating from our dysfunctional family is a healthy act of defiance,” the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook continues (op. cit., p. 123). “By doing so, we are challenging the authority of the family lie. We are making a statement that we will no longer be loyal to denial and family dysfunctional roles.”

Step up to the first step and allow the recovery process to relieve, release, and heal until you are once again whole.

The Second Step of Adult Child Recovery

The second step of recovery-namely, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”-may be a relatively short proclamation, but greater analysis of it reveals three significant concepts a person must understand and transcend before he can embrace it.

The first of these is the belief itself. Elusively definable, “believing” is acceptance, without facts or proof, that something is true or that someone exists, both of which may be beyond a person’s logic, reasoning, understanding, or detection by means of at least one of his five senses. It requires trust, faith, and confidence. Belief is that physical world-transcendent power that draws a person higher, toward his Creator, connecting his soul with the realm from which it came, causing him to realize that there is more to him than his earthly existence suggests. The Nicene Creed states, in part, “We believe in… all things visible and invisible.”

The second concept concerns God himself or a Higher Power of a person’s understanding, since his connection with Him Is usually the first bond-and hence belief-that is broken as a result of a betraying, abusive, alcoholic, and/or dysfunctional upbringing. There are numerous obstacles to his conceptualization of such an essence or force now.

Existing, first and foremost, in an imperfect, impermanent, finite physical state, in which “seeing is believing,” he may find it difficult to identify with an entity that is perfect, eternal, and infinite, all properties opposite of his human condition.

If, secondly, he was abandoned, shamed, criticized, or abused by the primary caregivers he most needed during his upbringing, why, he may ask, would a Higher Power, who equally seemed to have abandoned him during these traumatic times, be there for him now?

The stored traumas, negative emotions, and wounds he was forced to squelch and swallow, but could not express, most likely collected into a defensive wall, which now separates his soul from his Creator.

That wall, as has often been described by the “edges God out” mnemonic, is nothing short of the “ego,” which is a barrier to his Higher Power, since this false sense of self is the opposite of that Higher Power’s properties.

His inner child, furthermore, which was created during his initial trauma so that he could spiritually escape the danger he was subjected to, is so buried in its protective cocoon, even as an adult, that God is equally unable to reach him.

Not entirely able to trust others, he has most likely entered into “forced exile” or a state of isolated self-sufficiency, having learned that he could not rely on others to aid him, fulfill his needs, or even protect him, forcing him to find the resources within instead, as if he lived on an emotionally deserted island.

Now disconnected and untethered, he perpetually lives on the outside, looking in. Unable to form a link with them, he is equally unable to connect with the God of whom they are extensions.

Unable to see His face, he may subconsciously see the face of his dysfunctional or alcoholic parents instead, incapable of penetrating the fearful or distrustful emotions he associates with them.

If his parents were that destructive, he may reason, how condemning and destroying must the most powerful force in the universe be?

Finally, having lived a fear-based life as a result of his survival-mode, fight-or-flight upbringing, he may not have learned the true concept of love or been deluded into believing that “love” was abuse and pain. God is love, but how can he feel Him if he cannot feel it?

“Some initially believe we are speaking of a religious entity,” according to “Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon’s Steps, Traditions, and Concepts” (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1997, p. 18). “We are not. We are speaking of a loving, caring, nurturing Power that provides us with guidance in dealing with the effects of the disease of alcoholism.”

The second step’s third concept is restoration to sanity, which begs the question: what is its opposite or insanity?

Living in an unstable, unpredictable, chaotic, toxic, and sometimes downright dangerous environment with a pure- or para-alcoholic without means of protection or escape is certainly one definition and forces the child, who cannot understand the reason for his detrimental treatment-which he invariably assumes are justifications for his own flaws and unloveablilty-to adopt later-in-life survival traits, such as isolating and people-pleasing, as a result of the rewiring or reconfiguration his brain initiated in the midst of his danger.

Developmentally arrested and viewing the world through a distorted lens, he acts as if there had been no time passage between child- and adulthood, and he is most likely stuck somewhere between the two ends.

The definition of insanity in this case is the mind’s continued re-creation and reaction, through defenses, of the childhood home-of-origin conditions in the world-at-large as an adult, prompting the person to finish out what was never understood or resolved then.

“Since we grew up with an orientation to fear, shame, and abandonment, we seek out situations that re-create these feelings in ourselves,” according to the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 136.) They are, after all, all he knows.

There is another element the adult child may attempt to complete.

“The insanity we speak of in Step Two refers to our continued efforts, beyond all reason, to heal or fix our family of origin through our current relationships,” the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook also advises (ibid, p. 134). “In an attempt to heal our dysfunctional family from the past, many of us set ourselves up as a Higher Power in our current relationships.”

“The basic spiritual principle introduced in Step Two suggests that there is a Power greater than we are that provides hope for sanity, whether we are living with active alcoholism or not,” according to “Paths to Recovery” (op. cit., p. 18). “Step Two reaffirms that we may be powerless, but we are not helpless, and we are not alone.”

The disease of dysfunction, in the end, is not necessarily a mental condition, but a shattered spiritual one and God or a Higher Power of a person’s understanding can integrate and restore him to wholeness through twelve-step recovery.