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What Is an Abuse Victim’s Definition of an "Authority Figure?"
Ask anyone what authority is, and they’ll likely give you a logical answer—namely, anyone in a position of authority. But ask an adult child, who has suffered parental dysfunction, alcoholism and abuse, the same question and they will most likely ask you an emotionally painful question. “Authority”, according to him, significantly exceeds the traditional definition of the word, as well as the concept of “parent”.
Subjected, without choice, recourse, escape or resolution, to nearly two decades of betrayal and harm, such adult children, while still physically intact, are not necessarily emotionally stable, but often appear deceptively confident and capable. However, their years of being slandered, demoralized, humiliated, and dangerously exposed to parental infractions they could neither defend nor protect themselves from left them broken and without the trust that normally allows people to connect with and love others in the world at large.
“Adult children often live a secret life of fear,” according to a textbook for adult alcoholics (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 10). “Fear, or sometimes terror, is one of the connecting threads that binds the 14 traits together. Two of the first three traits describe our fear of people. While many grown-up children appear cheerful, helpful, or self-sufficient, most live in fear of their parents and spouses in addition to fear from the employer… They have a sense of impending doom or that nothing seems to work.”
That fear is the basic parameter used by the adult child when trying to define “authority”.
“(All) children look to authority to help them define what is real and make correct decisions about others,” states the ACA textbook (p. 355). “The support of a responsible authority gives them the confidence to develop their own ability to live effectively in the world.”
“(However, the tragedy for children in an alcoholic’s home,” he continues (p. 355), “is that they are robbed of a model of living based on responsibility toward common sense. . . . The attitude of abuse that underlies all addictive behavior , dominates the family and children learn to accept this attitude in others and themselves.”
Unconsciously negotiating the world with a hairpin trigger, such people are often tripped up by others, who can often be categorized as “authorities” due to several factors.
Taller, heavier and/or stronger, those with such physical characteristics can put a person at a disadvantage by suggesting or recreating their parental power imbalance early in life.
Speech, tone of voice, volume, movements, actions, and mannerisms serve as behavioral characteristics that remind or re-trigger it.
“We get a negative ‘gut reaction’ when dealing with someone who has the physical characteristics or mannerisms of our alcoholic,” according to the ACA textbook (p. 417).
Mild imbalances, such as those manifested by a better job, higher pay, and greater comforts—like a bigger house or a more luxurious car—can cause some degree of discomfort.
Many life functions, roles and titles, including bank tellers, shop assistants, teachers, supervisors, bosses, police officers and judges, along with the wider bodies of customs, immigration, court systems, prisons, governments, make and uphold rules. and even God, are emblazoned with the word “authority” and place grown children at decided, almost invincible disadvantages in relation to them.
Reinforcing this authority and emphasizing their power are those who perform their functions in uniforms, which can literally dictate their superiority. Those with a more secure and stable upbringing may, for example, pass a parked police car at a speed well in excess of the speed limit, but an adult child may take his foot off the gas pedal even if he maintains an encouraging speed in an effort to avoid the overwhelming emotions that would surely result from a confrontation with him.
Having been routinely targeted by predatory parents and “punished” for doing little more than existing while growing up, he has become accustomed to being responsible for the out-of-control behavior of others and taking the blame for infractions he never committed.
“The authorities scare us and we feel fear when we need to talk to them,” again according to the ACA textbook (p. 417).
“We confuse our boss or supervisor with our alcoholic parent or qualifier and have similar patterns of relationships, behaviors, and reactions carried over from childhood (ACA textbook, p. 417).
Forced to stuff, swallow, postpone, deny, and even lie to himself about his past in order to believe that it is “gone and forgotten,” the adult child fails to grasp and understand that it is not and that an authority figure can gently push his “play” button. “, causing his unexplained and sometimes traumatic footage to come alive in his mind. These circumstances can result in various forms of insanity.
“Madness,” according to the ACA textbook (p. 359), “begins when children are forced to deny the reality of pain and abuse. Once children accept the idea that alcoholism is not violent or dangerous, they have no basis for deciding what is real or for knowing how to respond to those around them. They no longer trust authority to guide them or protect them from evil.”
Indeed, “authority” created their harm by abandoning them in their hour of greatest need, and then no one appeared to protect them from their original and only “authority.”
“We carry that fear (of abandonment) into our adult lives and fear our employers, certain relationships, and group situations,” according to the ACA textbook (p. 11). “We fear authority or we become authority.”
In the latter case, the abuse is transmitted from the abused child who becomes an adult child, and then to his own offspring, if he has not undertaken adequate recovery, repeating the only behavior he is familiar with.
An adult child’s definition of authority, after all, has little to do with what that figure does, but rather what he subconsciously believes he is doing, and that involves several subtle factors.
First and foremost is the fact that authority bears the displaced face of its parent or primary guardian, as if gently uprooting the sediment of its past that it thought was well buried.
Second, he ignites an emotional connection, like a thread stretched from the present to the past, or between him now, as an adult, and him then, as a child, generating the anxieties, fears, and anxieties first caused by his parents. his original betrayal – or the one that inadvertently put him on the “enemy” side of their fence and created a distrust that separated him from them and, ultimately, most of the rest of the world. Instead of attracting, it repelled, eventually leading to his separation from them and the God or Higher Power of his understanding.
Paradoxically, what he now most needs to heal his condition – reunification with others – he most rejects.
Although it may be several decades since that original offense occurred, the regenerated emotions can cause similar or even identical reactions, returning him to a time when he was physically, psychologically, and neurologically underdeveloped, resulting in instant powerlessness and paralysis.
Finally, the neuro-pathways, or connections between his brain cells or neurons, may be so thick and established that he automatically drives them back to their origin, influencing him to return at the age of three, four, or five when he may now be 30 or 40 or 50.
“Abuse of authority in childhood has left us as adults wary of authority figures,” states the ACA textbook (p. 379). “We tend to put people in categories of authority when they may not be such a person. . . . Our past experiences tell us that any leader, employer or employee is inherently an authority and should not be trusted.”
If a parent who loves, nurtures and protects me has treated me like this, a grown child can think, how will others in the world, who have not known me since Adam and therefore owe me nothing, treat me?
The purpose of the brain is, above all, to promote and ensure the survival of the person and it processes any potential danger, perceived or real, in its primitive or reptilian part, causing a flood of stress hormones that will be harnessed so that the person is adequately stimulated for the fight or flight action that will improve his chances of survival if he does. The abused child, violently confronted with a hopelessly unbalanced power play, can do neither, except to escape from within by creating an inner child refuge, and therefore practically drowns in the physiological reactions that have sparked within him, and is defeated by this useless response and the harmful parent which broke his circuit.
It takes a few more milliseconds for his circumstances to reach and register in the higher, rational part of the brain. But, wired to be “better safe than sorry,” the bottom often reacts the same way later in life, authority figures representing parents, bypassing the path to higher office and leaving the person little choice but to fight the waves of fear and terror are stirred in him. Repeated original betrayals and dangers create chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Forced, before understanding or recovery, to negotiate life through survival traits that attempt to minimize the danger he believes he is subjected to, he implements a people-pleasing strategy to appease, soothe, and soften his authority figures who have been displaced by his parents and therefore create the illusion that he is kind, helpful, and benevolent—in other words, that he is a friend, not the enemy he seems to have become in the eyes of his parents or primary caregivers. The motivation, in all cases, is to improve his chances of survival in his emotionally weakened state, despite the fact that the danger exists almost exclusively in his mind, not outside him in the world.
Two of the 14 survival traits reflect the adult child’s state of fear: “We became isolated and afraid of people and authority” and “We became approval seekers and lost our own identity in the process.”
“Becoming a people pleaser,” according to the ACA textbook (p. 11), “is one of the solutions that grown children use to avoid criticism, embarrassment, or abandonment. Grown children also try to disarm angry or fearful people with approval-seeking behavior. . . . We believe that we will be safe and never abandoned if we are ‘nice’ and never show anger.”
Authority and people-pleasing dynamics are byproducts of being forced to deal with abusive, dysfunctional, and sometimes dangerous parents or primary caregivers, and neither knowing nor understanding the reasons behind their actions, since the abuse is never identified or labeled as inappropriate. The grown child is eventually led to believe that his parents represent everyone else in the world.
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