What Causes an Adult Child’s Inability to Belong?

An adult child may spend a good portion of his pre-recovery life on the outside, looking in, yet never understand how others seem so comfortable and connectable with each other. The need to bond with others and, indirectly, the whole and home from which his soul came is intrinsic and God-given.

“Most human beings have an instinctive need to fit in,” according to the Al-Anon text, “Courage to Change” (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1992, p. 361). “The urge to belong, to keep the peace, helps us get along with others and be a part of society. This instinct has allowed many civilizations to survive… “

While this may be both a natural and logical need, it may be little more than an unattainable theory to an adult child, whose development was arrested and whose reactions stretch as far back as his initial parental or primary caregiver betrayal, shame, and trauma.

Several reasons can be cited as to why.

That original trauma, first and foremost, may have left him as a resource-less infant with no ability to protect himself or escape the danger the very parents who should have nurtured him created, leaving him little choice but to spiritually flee within and tuck his soul into the cocooned inner child sanctuary, which remains mired at its time of impact.

Substituting this true or authentic self with a false or pseudo one, he is unable to connect with others and, indirectly, God or a Higher Power of his understanding. Indeed, the substituted ego, as has often been dissected, only “edges God out.”

Chaotic, unsafe, and unpredictable upbringings, secondly, only breed mistrust, leaving the person to subconsciously believe that those he will later encounter in his life will subject him to the same predatory attacks and danger he experienced in childhood, since he has little or no experience with environments that were stable and in which he was not the target of his parent’s anger and hatred.

Because these circumstances have most likely resulted in a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) condition, leaving his protective radar high and causing his chronic hypervigilance, this dynamic, along with his inherent mistrust, causes him to maintain his distance from others. He repels intimacy and his relationships become superficial.

He can, for instance, be in a room with a dozen others, yet feel alone and isolated, because he cannot find a crack in his defensive wall that will allow them in.

If I couldn’t trust my own allegedly loving and protecting parents, he may reason, then how can I trust them?

His detrimental upbringing, which he justified as having been the result of his own intrinsic flaws and unlovability as a person and which further shattered his self-esteem because of its demoralizing nature, additionally diminished his value, leaving him to believe that he is not worthy enough to be with others. If he cannot connect with them, how can he feel equal and up-to-par with them?

This lack of worth was equally reinforced by the abusing parent and the abandonment of the non-infracting one or other adults in his life, who neither protected him nor acknowledged his plight. His cries for help were most likely fruitless attempts to reach people who were cloaked in denial.

This further cemented his belief that others would ever care about him or come to his aid, adding to his already inaccurate sense of reality and humanity. This type of childhood has been equated more to a “programming” than an upbringing.

The transfer of alcoholic toxins, furthermore, creates a blood disorder, which the person cannot cure, and erects an impenetrable wall through which he would otherwise be able to connect with others to foster that sense of inclusion and belonging.

Finally, an attachment disorder may impede this connective interaction. John Bolby, a British psychoanalyst who lived between 1907 and 1990, believed that newborn babies are biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, particularly and initially with their birth mothers and other primary caregivers, because that connection ensured survival in terms of nurture, care, safety, soothing, clothing, nourishment, and love.

Attachment behaviors, he postulated, were intrinsic and were activated by any circumstances that threatened the infant’s need for caregiver proximity, evoking insecurity and fear, since he is too young and too insufficiently developed to meet his own needs. Actions such as crying automatically attract attention, while the crying itself may result from the mother’s sheer turn of attention at extremely early ages.

Because a single, loving attachment forms a secure base from which the child will eventually explore the world-always returning for “refueling” after increasingly longer intervals of separation-and it becomes the foundation of his own eventual social capabilities, he will most likely repeat the cycle by mating and bringing his own children into the world when he becomes an adult.

The current parent-child attachment relationship creates a tri-parameter internal working model, which the child will employ as a basis for his later social interactions. It indicates that others are trustworthy, that his nurture and care render him valuable and worthy as a person, and that this is the model of self he will employ when he relates to others. This, in essence, becomes his understanding of the world.

Yet disruptions in or the inability to achieve these attachment bonds, which usually occur with alcoholic and/or abusive parents, robs the person of the connection he needs and which he will be able to emulate by later plugging into others.

Affectionless psychopathology occurs when a primary caregiver is unable to demonstrate concern and care for his or her offspring, leading to later-in-life actions based upon impulse without regard to empathy for the consequences, hurt, or harm they inflict on others. In its extreme, it manifests itself as antisocial behavior, which carries no remorse, guilt, regret, or conscience.

Twelve-step programs, whose initial serenity prayer forms a link of member souls that is strong enough to combat past abuses, are venues in which collective wounds and weaknesses can be connected as collective strengths, re-stitching that link to others and the Higher Power who pulls them up and begins dissolving their ills. Commonality, understanding, empathy, and synergy bind, creating a feeling of belonging.

“I used to live my life as if I were up on a ladder,” according to “Courage to Change” (ibid, p. 33). “Everyone was either above me-to be feared or envied-or below me-to be pitied. God was way, way at the top, beyond my view. That was a hard, lonely way to live, because no two people can stand comfortably on the same rung for very long.

“When I came to Al-Anon, I found a lot of people who had decided to climb down from their ladders into the circle of fellowship. In the circle we were all on equal terms, and God was right in the center, easily accessible.

“Today, being humble means climbing down from the ladder of judgment of myself and others, and taking my rightful place in a worldwide circle of love and support.”

Article Sources:

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