The Many Faces of Addiction

The journey to healing and recovery

Addictive Families: Part 5

Dont' Trust

“I am always on my guard with people. I want to trust them, but it is so much easier to just rely on myself. I’m never sure what other people want.”

Children raised in addictive families learn that it is not safe to trust others with the real issues in their lives. To trust another means investing confidence, reliance, and faith in that person – virtues often missing in the addictive home. Children need to be able to depend on parents to meet their physical and emotional needs in order to develop trust. Parents are not consistently available to their children because they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, physically absent, mentally and emotionally consumed with their addiction or preoccupied with the addicted person.

In order for children to trust, they must feel safe. They need to be able to depend on their parents for friendly help, concern and guidance in response to their physical and emotional needs. In addictive homes, however, children often cannot rely on parents to provide safety and are continually confronted with reasons to be insecure in their surroundings, to not trust.

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Honesty is the single most important ingredient in a nurturing relationship. Addicted people lose their ability to be honest as the disease progresses. It is difficult to trust a person who constantly embarrasses, humiliates, disappoints, or puts you in physical jeopardy. It is even more difficult to trust when family members minimize, rationalize, and/or blatantly deny certain events are taking place.

 Children need focused attention. Focused attention represents not only physically being with a child, but also interacting with the child in a way, that says, “You have all of my attention — mentally and emotionally.” Focused attention says to a child, “I care. It’s important for me to be with you.” Children are highly sensitive to the degree of focused attention they receive.

Children need focused attention most when they are under stress. Unfortunately, in an addictive family this is when they are least apt to receive it. Stress often becomes the norm in this environment and the attention centers around the addict.

Because of broken promises and not being able to rely on the consistency of positive interaction, children are often confused. Children don’t trust the motivation behind true focused attention.

Trust is one of those vital character-building blocks children need in order to develop into healthy adults. Being raised in an addictive family structure often denies or distorts this portion of a child’s development.

“I have a hard time trusting my mom.” — Chuck, age 6

Claudia Black, M.S.W., Ph.D., works in the fields of addiction, codependency, and recovery.

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