Masks worn by children of dependent parents

Masks worn by children of dependent parents KNOW YOURSELF

Masks worn by children of dependent parents

In families where one of the adults has problems with alcohol or other addictions, children have to take on too much. About why they do this, tells the medical psychologist Alexei Kazakov.

Modern doctors and psychologists count up to 200 types of addictions – among them there are both chemical and non-chemical, behavioral. This is not only about alcoholism or drug addiction, but also about gambling, workaholism and other “hobbies”, which at first glance may seem innocent.

How to distinguish real addiction? The addict begins to lose interest in things that are previously important to him. His whole life now revolves around use, and other areas are discarded as interfering with this process. Anyone who is experiencing this condition draws their closest circle into this dangerous scheme: partner, parents, friends. But the most important and worst thing is that mainly children suffer from adult problems.

Family problem

Dependence is a family problem, because family members are involved in destructive relations with each other. Thus, a family where at least one of the parents suffers from dependence falls under the definition of dysfunctional. In such a family:

  • They deny the existence of problems, because calling a spade a spade is scary and embarrassing.
  • A vacuum of intimacy is combined with isolation: guests are rarely invited, while family members lack close and honest communication.
  • Rules and roles are static, frozen, not subject to revision. Family messages – “Do not say,” “Do not feel,” “Do not trust.” Feelings are allowed to show only to those who are in the “center” – the elders. Children understand that expressing emotions is unsafe. Negative feelings accumulate and freeze. In such families they are not able to express and experience neither grief nor joy.
  • Various forms of violence reign.
  • “I” of each family member is undifferentiated (“If dad is angry, everyone else is angry”). The boundaries of personality are either blurred or tightly divided by the wall, and the personality of a person is inseparable from his behavior.
  • Everyone hides the common secret of the family, supports the facade of pseudo-prosperity.
  • Households are prone to the polarity of feelings and judgments, evaluate what is happening around them on the basis of “black or white”, “good or bad”, without distinguishing half-tones of feelings and relationships, are very categorical in assessing themselves and others.
  • Will and control are priority.


We know that the main goal of adults is to be a role model for children. Can parents fully fulfill their functions if at least one of them is addicted? If parents behave destructively: do not take responsibility for their behavior and condition, manipulate others, and are inconsistent in their actions, then they will pass on the corresponding role model to the next generation. Thus, it is not necessary to educate children, but first of all yourself. If the addict is treated, the quality of parenthood may not decrease so much.

What happens if a parent does not decide on therapy, treatment, or visits to support groups? In this case, not only the partner, but also the children of the dependent begin to suffer from co-dependence, and it is often expressed much more clearly than in adults.

Symptoms of dependence and co-dependence are the same, the only difference is that the co-dependent, as a rule, does not use the substance itself. Some experts consider this phenomenon to be a more serious problem than dependence.

Why? Because the co-dependent is convinced: he is doing a good deed, “saving” the dependent. And it can be very difficult to refuse this role, because through such a “salvation” he solves his personal, selfish tasks. For example, avoids the collision with their own anxiety and fear, with their needs. While he is busy with a “noble cause”, there is no time to pay attention to himself.

A child growing up in a dysfunctional family assimilates not quite adequate information about himself and the world

The rescuer realizes all these goals, naturally, unconsciously. Nobody asks for such a person for help: he breaks into the life of another, “doing good.” His actions are always associated with the violation of the personal boundaries of others.

Why do children take responsibility for adults? In the first years of life, the child is not able to build logical chains and understand the relationship between people. In addition, he is characterized by self-centeredness. It seems to the children that the world revolves around them, and everything that happens around is because of them. In the first years of life, they receive all information about the world around them and about themselves from their parents – including in non-verbal ways.

A child growing up in a dysfunctional family assimilates not quite adequate information about himself and the world. Such children are often anxious, they have problems with separation: even when they grow up, they remain with their parents or leave home too late. They do not trust the world and those around them, they feel that they are living “not their own” life.

Masks worn by children of dependent parents

Types of behavior of children in a dysfunctional family

Each element of the family system works to maintain its stability and homeostasis. Children are no exception. Stability is vital for them, and therefore even the smallest family members support it with their actions – in the form in which it is familiar to them. In this they are helped by certain patterns of behavior that in one way or another contribute to this stability.

What kind of “masks” do children from dysfunctional families try on, including those where parents are addicted?

Hero does something “good”, accomplishes feats to be loved. Focuses on achievement, a good result and should always be the first. With his achievements he often tries to stop the destruction taking place in the family, where he is the main pride.

The hero feels guilt, loneliness, fear, anxiety. He constantly tries to control the situation, his anger, temper, and feelings in general. Subsequently, it will be difficult for him to enjoy life. It depends on the opinion and assessment of others, is always tense.

Whatever style of behavior a child in an addictive family chooses, he is at risk of developing a chemical addiction

The jester he amuses everyone, tries to attract attention and thus defuse the situation. It seems cheerful and careless, inside he suffers from fear, anxiety, loneliness and self-doubt. In the future, he may become superficial, infantile, incapable of experiencing and empathy. He seeks not to solve problems, but to ridicule.

Lost moves away from others, withdraws into himself. He is uncommunicative, not attached to people, but can be attached to things or go into the virtual world. The role of the lost in the family is to be inconspicuous and not create problems. Outwardly very calm and confident, inside he feels that he is useless. His companions are anger, pain, a sense of rejection, resentment. Such children, growing up, become withdrawn, experience difficulties in communication, are not ambitious, do not strive for achievements.

Scapegoat – a real provocateur. His role is to shift the focus of attention from a dependent adult to himself. So it reduces the degree of stress in the family. He is noticed only when he “mows”, and he is needed only in these cases. This type of behavior is characterized by hostility, rebellion, disobedience, provocation. Inside, the child experiences guilt, pain, rejection and anger. There is a high risk that a child who has chosen this “avatar” will grow into an adult prone to conflict and antisocial behavior.

It is worth remembering that whatever style of behavior a child in a family with addiction chooses for himself, he is at risk of developing chemical dependence and the risk of entering into destructive relationships.

Did the protection work?

When we think about how to protect a child from drugs, alcohol and other problems, fear for him sometimes overshadows the mind. And we do not notice that the methods of “protection” that we have chosen are at least ineffective, and sometimes simply dangerous for the future of our loved ones.

Threats, control, notations – all this breaks the contact between us and the child. By threatening, we teach children to be afraid of us, not drugs or alcohol. By controlling every step, we teach the child that we cannot be trusted, not his own self-control.

By committing violence, we destroy the self-esteem of the child, show him that he does not mean anything, who is stronger – that is right. You cannot “knock out” addictions from a person! Punishment gives a temporary “positive” effect, for which in the long run we will pay with trust, respect, love and warmth. All this we lose in relations with our child.

To help the child, you need honesty, openness, a willingness to work on yourself, open-mindedness, a lot of patience. And trust. In the beginning it will be scary, but in a different way – nothing.

Do not be silent!

What if we leave the addicted partner? Unfortunately, divorce in itself does not always solve the problem. If we do nothing with our condition and behavior, it is likely that our next partner will also be addicted.

In any case, the best way to make life easier for a child is to speak directly and honestly about what is happening. Of course, you need to make a discount on his age and take into account what children are able to understand and what is not yet.

You can explain to the child that he is not responsible for adult problems. Parents should remember the sequence in their words and actions and not give those promises that they are not ready to fulfill.

It does not matter which family member begins to change and solve the problem of addiction and destructive relationships

Genetics affects the predisposition to develop addiction. But this does not mean that the future of the child is a foregone conclusion! In addition, forewarned means armed.

When there is a predisposition (and if one of the relatives suffers from one or another type of dependence, it means that it exists), these “basic settings” should be taken into account. In any case, remember: you are not powerless! We cannot change the genetic set, but we are able to change our behavior, take responsibility for our lives, stop looking for the guilty, and live a completely happy and fulfilling life. You need to arm yourself with knowledge and act.

If necessary, you can always seek help from specialists – psychotherapists, psychologists, narcologists – or to support groups (“Alcoholics Anonymous”, “Alcoholics Anonymous”, “Adult Children of Alcoholics” or “Alatin” for adolescents). Moreover, it does not matter which member of the family begins to change and solve the problem of addiction and destructive relationships. One element is changing – the whole system is changing.

What to read?

  • Virginia Satyr “You and Your Family”
  • Julia Gippenreiter “Talking with a child. How?
  • Irina Yakutenko “Will and self-control: how genes and the brain prevent us from combating temptations”
Alexey Kazakov

About the expert

Alexey Kazakov – Medical psychologist, psychodramatologist, specialist for working with addicted and co-dependent (adolescents and adults).

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