Discovering sense of identity can prevent dependencies

You can best help your grandchildren, and perhaps even your son (it is not too late for him), by helping each of them discover their own sense of identity to forestall dependencies on addictions. | Getty Images

Q: Shortly after my youngest son was born his father was killed in an automobile accident.

My son lost out on that one. He never did have a dad to follow around the farmyard, a dad with whom he could play catch, a dad who would take an interest in him or a dad to be there with support and love when life got to be a little on the rough side.

I never thought how much of a loss this really was in my son’s life until I started to watch him, as an adult, try to parent his own children.

He is lost. He does all of the right things, like playing with them and teaching them how to throw a fastball, but he does the right things for all of the wrong reasons.

It seems that he is more intent on showing the world what a great dad he is than he is on listening to what is really going on with his children.

I know that his kids love him — that is not a problem. But I also know that his kids perform for him. Rather than learning to carve their own paths in the wilderness, and finding that fundamental nature that is distinctly theirs, they are learning how to please other people. And they are good at it. Just about everyone in our long-term care facility loves my son’s children.

But I worry as I watch them try to navigate their way through the world. Perhaps I am a little bit paranoid, I don’t know, but it strikes me that somewhere along the way each of us has to decide who it is we are as a person, set up our own personal boundaries and not let our kindness or sensitivities to other people get in the way of our own personal growth and development. Each of us has to be our own person.

I am worried because I do not see that happening for my grandchildren, and I fear for them and their vulnerabilities as they enter a world laced with narcotics, pathological intimate relationships and in fact scads of addictions and co-dependencies. I am not sure what to do.

A: Please let me begin answering your concerns by going through some appreciation of what you are trying to say in your letter.

Not everyone understands addictions. In fact, addictions are a disease, more likely a disorder, that seems to drive those who are addicted into some kind of an artificial world built by overwhelming commitments to either drugs or alcohol.

The addict does not appreciate that early morning coffee as the sun also rises nearly as much as he or she craves the euphoria in an artificial substance, an alcoholic drink, a needle of some kind, or perhaps a snort of cocaine.

The euphoria is short-lived, driving the addict into more and more substance use to try to keep it going. It is, in fact, not just a disease, it is a terrible disease. Whoever it is the addict is as a person is lost to the euphoria of the addiction.

Codependency is another disease, or to put it more clearly, another terrible disease. Codependent relationships are those intimacies in which one or both of the couple is searching for his or her personal identity by latching onto the other person. Of course that does not work. Each of us has to be responsible for our own entry into the almanac of who’s who. When we try to coattail another person for whom we are we lose that inner sense of who we are as people. Life is without purpose and we either only do what the other person expects from us or we slip into that euphoria of addictions.

You can best help your grandchildren, and perhaps even your son (it is not too late for him), by helping each of them discover their own sense of identity to forestall dependencies on addictions.

That same identity will disengage co-dependent relationships.

Challenge each of them whenever you have an opportunity for a chat. The question is, “who are you?” Ask it again and again and yet again. And then hope that in those few moments when you are challenging each of them they will pause and think and start the search for that inner self they need to displace the social animal they have at this point cultivated for themselves.

It is going to take time and patience on your part but it works. Just remember, this is a long journey.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact:

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