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Section 2
Development of Protective Persona in Addiction Affected Families

Question 2 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed the five steps of the adjustment stage of family addiction.  These five steps are the erosion of trust, avoidance and control, the family becomes reactive, communication breakdown, and monitoring.

In this section, we will discuss the second stage of family addiction, the development of a protective persona. As you know, a protective persona develops to protect family members from the pain that addiction now regularly creates, and masks the fear family members feel.  For example, the mother who sobbed and cried for her daughter in stage one becomes tough as nails, seemingly heartless, in stage two.  I often find that these personas become so ingrained into addicted families that individuals lose touch with their authentic personalities, and become further unable to communicate with each other.

In Trisha’s family, this was part of a vicious cycle of isolation. This isolation from each other increased the need to develop a protective persona, which in turn further isolated the family members from each other.  For Trisha and her family, there were five aspects of the development of a protective persona.  These aspects of the development of a protective personality included polarization of the family, distancing, the breakdown of family rituals, the creation of new rules, and shame and blame.

5 Aspects of the 'Development of a Protective Persona' Stage

# 1 - Polarization of the Family
For Trisha’s family, the first aspect of the second stage of family addiction was the polarization of the family. Trisha’s family broke down into camps, the "care" camp and the "control" camp.  In the control camp, Trisha’s mother Leeann, and her oldest sister Jean, believed that boundaries need to be made and respected, and feared that being lenient would lead to Gerry sinking further in to addiction.  

The care camp, which consisted of Gerry’s mother Lucy, and his son Andy, feared confronting the situation, knowing how angry confrontation made Gerry.  In Trisha’s family, these camps fought bitterly, pitting the family members against each other. This increased a communication breakdown, similar to what we discussed in Section 1.  Are you treating a family, like Trisha’s, in which the members have set up ‘camps’?

# 2 - Distancing
In the second stage of family addiction, Trisha’s family began to develop parallel lives, going outside of the family to find relationships that meet the needs that used to be met by family members.  This distancing was the second aspect of the development of a protective persona.  As you are well aware, it is natural for people to distance themselves from pain, especially when they are powerless to stop it.  Trisha’s father had been an alcoholic since Trisha was 10.  

Now 14, Trisha stated, "I started doing a lot after school. I did a lot of sports and clubs, stayed over at friends a lot.  The only time I felt good about myself was away from home. But I still felt scared, even away from Dad’s yelling and drinking.  One time I was at my best friend Keesha’s house, and her Dad accidentally smashed his finger while he was putting in nails to hang a painting.  He yelled really loud, and I got so scared I hid in the bathroom for an hour!!  Keesha’s dad is the nicest guy in the universe… but I couldn’t help thinking he was going to get scary like my Dad!"  

Obviously, by living a life separate from her family, Trisha found chances for intimacy and self-esteem, but her fears entered these other relationships as well.  Trisha stated, "Even when people were nice, like Keesha’s dad, I was scared.  I never ended up feeling really close, even with my best friend.  There was so much I never told her.  I thought she’d think we were freaks and not be my friend any more.  I wanted to be away so much… but you know, I felt bad too.  Like I was being a bad sister for leaving my baby brother alone with my parents."  

I commonly see in clients like Trisha that although their parallel lives bring a sense of relief, this feeling is often accompanied by a sense of guilt for ‘abandoning’ the family.  Do you agree?

# 3 - Breakdown of Family Rituals
In addition to polarization, and distancing, the third aspect of the development of a protective persona in Trisha’s family was the breakdown of family rituals.  As you know, one of the ways families create closeness is through rituals, such as family dinners and birthday celebrations.  I find that funerals and wakes are a good example of how family rituals create closeness, helping the family support each other through grief.  These rituals quickly collapsed in Trisha’s family, removing that means of reconnecting.  

Trisha told me that her family used to play board games together every Friday night. "As daddy started drinking more and more,  he stopped playing with us.  We’d be sitting there playing, and hear his car pull up, and everything would stop. We’d be silent, waiting to see whether he was drunk or not.  My little brother, Ben, he’s just seven, and he told me ‘you just have to look in his eyes, and you can tell if it’s Daddy or the other guy there’.  After a while… we just kinda stopped bothering with the games."

# 4 -   The Creation of New Rules
In Trisha and Jennie’s families, the fourth aspect of the development of a protective persona for the family members was the creation of new rules. As you have probably experienced, this can happen when a family tries to gain control over the escalating crises caused by the family member’s addiction.  Do you agree that this is especially true when the addict is an adolescent?  

In Jennie’s family, when a crisis occurred, her parents came up with a plan to control the situation and stop the crisis.  This was a coping mechanism for her family.  Jennie, 18, addicted to cocaine and alcohol, usually agreed (at least at that moment) with the new rule, causing a reduction in tension and signaling a temporary end to the crisis.  

Jennie told me, "It always went the same way. I’d go out, get wild, and mom and dad would get scared. So I’d get the ‘when are you going to change?’ lecture, and I’d sit there and listen like a good girl. Sometimes I’d start crying, tell them how sorry I was, promise not to do it again. Then they’d come up with some new theory of what was wrong with me, and make a new rule they thought would solve everything. I’d pretend to be excited, and they’d be happy, but it never worked.  That’s how I ended up in treatment. Mom said if I used again, I’d go to treatment or be kicked out."

Do you have a client, like Jennie, whose family keeps making new rules to feel in control over the addiction?

# 5 - Shame & Blame
In addition to polarization of the family, distancing, the breakdown of family rituals, and the creation of new rules, the fifth stage of the development of a protective persona for Trisha’s family was shame and blame. As you are aware, shame results in part because everyone in the addicted family knows on some level that the family is not doing well, and that each person is somehow contributing to this condition. Do you find, as I do, that family members who feel this shame frequently avoid dealing with it by blaming others?

Understandably, blaming allowed Trisha’s family members to pinpoint and ‘solve a problem without admitting to being part of the problem. For example, Gerry’s drinking was blamed on Leeann’s anger, and Leeann’s anger was blamed on stress at work, and so on. Blaming, as you know, also allows other family members, especially children, to explain why they are different and do not fit in with other families.

Shame and blaming not only isolated Trisha’s family members from each other, but from outside sources of support as well. Trisha told me, "We were all so ashamed of what our family had become that we were afraid to be around normal people. We’d go to work or school, come home, shut ourselves in our separate rooms, and that was our life. If relatives or friends called inviting us to get together, we always said no. I guess the TV became everyone’s best friend."

"Family Map" Technique, 2 Steps
I recommended the "Family Map" exercise to Trisha to help her become familiar with how her, and her family’s, protective personae had influenced their relationship.
Step 1: First, I asked her to draw a family tree, with boxes representing each of her family members.
Step 2: After Trisha drew and connected all of the boxes, I asked her to add descriptive phrases for each person, both good and bad. For example, under the box for Trisha’s older brother Andy, she wrote "got attention by being naughty; told good jokes".
I find that this exercise is a good tool for opening up a discussion with me clients about roles that each family member takes, and the nature of their protective personae. Would playing this section be beneficial to one of your clients?

In this section, we have discussed the second stage of family addiction, the development of a protective persona. There are five aspects of the development of a protective persona. These are: polarization of the family, distancing, the breakdown of family rituals, the creation of new rules, and shame and blame.

In the next section, we will discuss stage three of family addiction, hopelessness. In my experience, there are four important aspects of hopelessness. These are negative attachments, unbridgeable gulfs, living in a state of trauma, and connections no longer hold.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Brody, G. H., Chen, Y.-f., Beach, S. R. H., Kogan, S. M., Yu, T., DiClemente, R. J., Wingood, G. M., Windle, M., & Philibert, R. A. (2014). Differential sensitivity to prevention programming: A dopaminergic polymorphism-enhanced prevention effect on protective parenting and adolescent substance use. Health Psychology, 33(2), 182–191.

Cleveland, M. J., Feinberg, M. E., & Jones, D. E. (2012). Predicting alcohol use across adolescence: Relative strength of individual, family, peer, and contextual risk and protective factors. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 26(4), 703–713.

Walther, C. A. P., Cheong, J., Molina, B. S. G., Pelham, W. E., Jr., Wymbs, B. T., Belendiuk, K. A., & Pedersen, S. L. (2012). Substance use and delinquency among adolescents with childhood ADHD: The protective role of parenting. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 26(3), 585–598.

What are the five aspects in the development of a protective persona?
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