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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
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Thomas F. Fischer, M. Div., M.S.A.
- So you've been rejected.
- You don't know why. You did everything you could. You feel you
certainly didn't deserve it, either.
- Prayer doesn't seem to work. Reconciliation efforts
are rebuffed. Whatever relationship there was has vaporized. All that's left is disbelief,
anger, and a baffling sense of "What has happened?"
- The ACDF Put-Off
- Certainly no one can account for or explain all the reasons that rejection occurs. Yet
there are some patterns which emerge which can help to account for the sudden inexplicable
- One of these patterns is characteristically found in Adult Children of Alcoholics
(ACOA's) and Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families (ACDF's). Whenever you've felt that
you've been suddenly discarded into the "human discombobulation of emotional
excrement and discarded relationships," you may want to consider the ACDF
"Put-Off" as one possibility.
- Their Traumatic Roots
- ACOA's and ACDF's (hereon collectively referred to as ACDF's for
simplicity) virtually always have a traumatic
background. Sometimes it's parental divorce. Sometimes its the death of a parent or
sibling. The varieties of wounding environments are virtually endless.
- Living in an abusive home and/or where various addictions were present creates trauma.
Having to grow up with children with disabilities requires enormous and inappropriate
sacrifice of self. Being in an environment in which one had to be hyper-vigilant to
survive, but never recognized, accepted and unconditionally loved is traumatic.
- Perhaps most traumatic is having to maintain a less-than-honest public facade. Whether
it be that of a "perfect preacher's home" or covering up or a physically abusive
alcoholic parent makes no difference. What does cover it up well--be it
unhealthily--are Claudia Black's "Three Rules"
of the dysfunctional home:
Don't talk, don't trust, don't feel.
- Emotional Shut-Down
- Taught that it was wrong to talk, trust and feel, ACDF's learned that intimacy and
relationships were wrong. Their experience in their families taught that they were
painful, heart-wrenching and full of risk. ACDF's carry these lessons into adulthood.
- Even when on their own, they continue their well-ingrained obedience to the three rules:
don't talk, don't trust, don't feel. The only difference is that as adults their
obedience may not be due to fear of parental reprisal. Instead, what drives their
continued abidance is the fear of rejection.
- Make no mistake. The rejection which ACDF's feel is not, in their mind, simply
"rejection." For them rejection is to be cast into some totally meaningless,
detached state of nihilism far worse than that described in T.S. Eliot's proverbial
"Wasteland." Such rejection, in their minds, is so painful that to exist with it
is more painful than not to exist at all.
- Since this inexplicable nihilistic rejection is such a horrifying experience,
ACDF's apply the three laws ("Don't talk, don't trust, don't
feel"). to their relationships. The
result is that they will have no friends...ever. Sure, they're friendly. They're sociable.
They may even be "lives of the party" or popular (even flirtatious) "social
butterflies". But don't be mistaken. Though they are "in" the social world,
they will not be "of" it.
- Even the thought of relationships and bonding may create intense anxiety. For this
reason they often appear to be so "in control" of themselves. Indeed,
personality analyses may indicate that these ACDF's have a high desire to "look
good," to "demonstrate their competency" in given areas. Feeling that they
"can outperform others" in their given specialties, these and other sorts of
personality traits are really a skillfully crafted wall to keep others away.
- Some ACDF's keep people away by talking so much you can't get a word in edgewise. Others
shy away so much as to be virtually unnoticed. Others will only say things when it is
absolutely certain there is no risk to express an opinion. Others will
inexplicably "vanish" or "escape" when afraid.
- What these and other ways of
relating having in common is that they are designed to protect, preserve and avoid any
type of bonding or relationship.
- But They "Care"
- Though those who have been "put off" may not believe it, ACDF's do
"care." But they distinguish between "caring" and "loving."
"Caring" in their vocabulary can mean to keep people from getting hurt only as
long as they don't also get hurt. "Loving," as opposed to "caring,"
often means having to invest in a relationship in which a possibility of pain, suffering,
and sharing occur.
- An important operative difference between "caring" and "loving" for
the ACDF is that one can still keep the three rules while caring. Loving, however,
requires that the "don't talk, don't trust, don't feel" defense be discarded.
They don't want to be insensitive. Indeed, they may castigate others who they believe
"don't care." Yet when it comes to love the ACDF will be anywhere but in line.
- The Price Of Intimacy
- Since the beginning of the human race, God indicated that it was not good for man (and
woman) to be alone. The creation of a help-meet for man was the beginning of intimate
human relationships. Fear of relationship and bonding first occurred among humans when
Adam trusted Eve...and cooperated in their fall into sin. Echoes of the pain of that
brokenness happens each time intimate relationships are formed and destroyed. It is these
echoes which haunt ACDF's.
- Often the echo is rooted in a painful loss from childhood. The inexplicable divorce of
parents. The unexpected abandonment of a parent. The persistent inability of parents to
affirm and accept children "Mr. Rogers" style--just the way they are. The
continued infliction of inappropriate responsibilities such as having to "act like an
adult" at an inappropriately early age, being a parent for younger siblings, or
having to sacrifice a childhood to take care of less-gifted or physically disadvantaged
- Whatever the circumstances, the echo is really a "siren." Like the shrill,
disquieting "sirens" of ancient mythology, ACDF's direct all their energies to
silence--or at least deaden--the deafening sirens of painful grief. Since intimacy is so
painful, they seek "buffers" not requiring intimacy.
- Pain Buffers
- Such "buffers" can be either socially acceptable or unacceptable. Workaholism,
performance-drivenness, and developing specific extraordinary expertise are examples of
acceptable "buffers." Note "acceptable" buffers such as these have
- Not only do they hide the pain and keep their secret; they also create a sense of
domination and aura of respect and admiration. This two-pronged defense reinforces the
ACDF's' characteristic tendencies--denial and control.
- For ACDF's, the most excellent defense mechanisms are denial and control. They go hand in
hand. As any ACDF knows, the one who is in control has the ability to control denial. He
who can maintain denial maintains control. Maintaining both through perfectionism,
extraordinary high expectations of self and others, workaholism, and other defense
mechanisms keeps away any fear.
After all, if one is in control, what is there to fear?
- Hence their compulsive drivenness to always "look good" and to "be above
the crowd." Hence some of the most competent and most-highly respected individuals
are not simply serving humanity or being exemplary Christians. They are extremely
effective at maintaining defense mechanisms.
- By choosing to enter respected positions of
power and esteem--law enforcement, military, the ministry, executive positions, highly
"respected" organizational positions, etc., they enhance their defenses with the
additional aura of "power."
- The greatest benefit of being the leader, of course, is that they are in control. It is
interesting how those who distrust authority will gravitate to positions of authority
simply to eliminate the threat from others who might exercise authority over them. Though
they may or may not be suitable occupants of the office, though they may have
insecurities, fears and feelings of inferiority, they feel "safe" because they
are, after all, in control.
- Recognition: The ACDF Response
- For ACDF's, recognition, achievement and affirmation is not so much a way of affirming
their goodness as it is an undeniable affirmation of the strength of their defenses. While
other non-ACDF's may commend them in a personal way so as to build up their self-esteem and
confidence, ACDF's interpret these commendations otherwise, often as threats. "What do they really want?" "What did I do
wrong?" and "What are they really trying to say, and why wont they just say
it?" . . . are just some of the
anxious thoughts which grip their entire being.
- Such compliments are a guarantee of safety and an indicator that their anti-intimacy
defenses are working. ACDF's often tend to shy away from any gesture of commendation. Such
compliments and recognition give them an uncomfortable prominence which only magnifies the
energy needed to keep their secret. One ACDF put it this way.
- "I've always struggled with compliments. In fact, I
almost hate getting compliments. They don't make sense. 'Why would anyone want to
compliment me? If I accept the compliment, that means I've let my guard down, let this
person in, and we all know the end result of that is going to be getting hurt!'"
- The discomfort ACDF's feel when fear enters is overwhelming. Psychologists indicate that
it is akin to claustrophobia. It causes internal, unseen symptoms of anxiety as well as
overt, physical reactions. Shortness of breath, increased heart rate, gastro-intestinal
uneasiness, and changed anxiety-related cerebral function are just some examples of
- External, visible symptoms can include skin color changes, flushed "blank"
facial expressions, sudden "darting back," voice changes and sudden personality
or mood changes. All of these are often related to the fear that the echoes of past pain
will rise up and demand to be addressed.
- The reason they did not deal with the pain when it happened was because they didn't have
the emotional and/or developmental resources or, perhaps, it wasn't safe to
deal with at that time. So they repressed the
pain and kept it buried. When such emotions surface they do so...often with the intensity
as if it had just happened moments before.
- When the dam breaks, the tears flow. Since the dam can break so easily, since all it
takes is for the proverbial straw to break the camel's back, their defenses must be
perpetual and hyper-vigilant. Anything less than perfect can result in uncontrollable
- When They Blow Their Cover
- ACDF's can blow their cover...but not very often. Perhaps not quite as rare--but
certainly not by any means frequent--is when ACDF individuals willingly share their pain.
When they do, it is often unexpected and unplanned. But it can happen only in the safest,
most trusted environment possible.
- Often it occurs only when the pain is great enough and the usual control and denial
mechanisms no longer work. Efforts to numb the pain through alcohol, compulsive behaviors
(e.g., cleaning house et al) or other combinations of actions just don't work anymore.
They must face the fear. They must resolve the grief. They must have closure...or be
- An ACDF Account
- When counseling ACDF's, one common thing I experience is that they are dealing with some
sort of pain from the past. As soon as they indicate something from their family
background which has given them pain, they may try to "clam up," change topics,
or give non-verbal signals of fear, discomfort or pain. Watery eyes, sudden change in tone
of voice from weakening to suddenly strong and self-sufficient, physically recoiling into
a quasi-fetal position are just some of the possible responses.
- The simple, non-threatening observation, "It hurts, doesn't it...", can
sometimes give them the permission and safety to unload their grief. Whether it occurred
years or decades ago, to them it feels like yesterday. Since they never had the capacities
to deal with it before--and not alone--they have never EVER shared their pain. It has been
repressed by virtually numerous means. The tears will start to flow.
- When this occurs, do not be alarmed, surprised or reactive. These responses will simply
incite intense fear-related responses. Instead, expect and watch for the fear responses.
Watch their eyes, their face, their uneasiness, their skin color, their shaking,
twitching, and sudden darting back actions. If ever there was a time for the non-anxious
presence, now is the time.
- ACDF's And The "Put-Off"
- But how does this relate to being put off? The truth from the ACDF perspective is
that they never put off anyone. They can't! Why? Because they virtually never
attach to anyone. And, after all, how can anyone "put off" anyone with whom they
have been unattached?
- From their perspective, those who feel unjustly put off are naive to think that
ACDF's would ever make attachments. ACDF's, when accused of putting others off, respond that
those individuals should have known better. They never should have made those attachments.
If they are in pain, it's their own fault!
- This defense, of course, simply shows their control, denial, projection and other
defense mechanisms at work. It also is their way of showing how they were dealt with when
they were severely traumatized. No one cared for them. They had to stick it out by
themselves. They had to be tough. What's wrong with you?
- Self-Detachment And Splitting
- This defense is further reinforced by some ACDF tendencies to detach themselves from
themselves. In their deepest pain, some ACDF's will describe how they feel
"detached" from themselves. For ACDF's, it's almost as if they can watch
themselves and the actions of others as if on television. They see themselves in action,
but then they know it's not really them.
- Others will say they want to "run away from themselves." This
"splitting" is a natural response to inexplicable, excruciating trauma. Child
abuse victims often "split" off from their bodies while being sexual abused.
This separation of "self from self" helps ease the pain and obscure the
identification of the painful abuse with the abused.
- When threatened and anxious, ACDF's may extend this splitting by splitting away from
others. Overwhelmed with inner pain and anxiety, ACDFs will characteristically make a
sudden, immediate escape from others...and, if possible, from themselves.
- The most helpful awareness for those who have been put off by ACDF's is to recognize that
they are not the only ones put off. The ACDF's have done it to themselves, too. Though they
may lament that they have no friends, the truth is that they have a history of running
away from friends and bonded relationships.
- One ACDF noted,
- "I can't tell you how many friends I lost when I was in high school by running away
from them. I used to think to myself, 'XXX has been my friend for awhile now. I need
to stop the friendship now. If I stop it, s/he won't have the opportunity to hurt my feelings in
- I went through college knowing only a few people, and none that I would call
don't even remember all their names or could begin to guess where they even live. It was a
- When I met my wife, that helped with the loneliness, but she was really my only
friend. Even now, I would have to say that I really have only a couple of true
friends, but many acquaintances. This makes it easier, by the way. Acquaintances can
be dropped easier than friends without any emotional 'problems' and 'touchy-feely'
- Dealing With The "Put-Off"
- The key to dealing with the put-off is to be able to totally put the put-off into
context. The put-off does not necessarily mean the ACDF dislikes you. It's not you they
are putting off. Neither is it what you've done (So stop stewing over it!).
Instead, it's them...their fear, their wounding and their pain which
triggers their "put-off" defense..
- Though one might be tempted to think otherwise, the "put-off" is virtually totally unrelated to what you have done, how you have cared, or
what extremes you have sacrificed. It's unrelated to your competency. It's unrelated to
your pastoral skills and integrity.
- Again, let me repeat. It's not you. It's them. It's their anxiety, pain, and
unresolved grief they are passionately avoiding at yours--and
- What They Need Most
- What ACDF's need most when in "put-off" mode is, ironically, not to be
put-off. Unleashed anger, retaliatory remarks, harsh and hurtful words, legalistic
threats, and any sort of threatening reaction or response are almost universally
reinforcing. They also help the ACDF to justify their "put-off," thus
reinforcing their denial mechanisms.
- Intervention, however, must be very judicious, non-threatening and patient. It cannot be
rushed. Counseling is unnerving for ACDF's. When they are yelling at
a counselor and the counselor smiles, takes in all the anger and pain and returns it to
the ACDF in love, it's scary. This fear incites defense mechanisms of suspicion and
distrust. "What do they have up their sleeve?" "Are they really listening?
And, if they are, how can they care?"
- As distrust comes to a boil, suddenly a virtually
uncontrollable inner turmoil erupts over what to do with this person who's treating you
this way. In this swirl of uncertain anxiety and fear, the most immediate relief is to
escape as quickly as possible. Whether the ACDF flees or forces the intervener out, the
result is the same: "put-off!"
- An important principle when interacting with ACDF's is this. the intensity of their pain
is directly related to their sense of time. The greater the pain, the longer the time
needed to subside toward equilibrium.
- Since the ACDF "trauma(s) of origin," though occurring decades ago, is felt as
if it happened just yesterday, any sense or expectation that they'll be over it "in a
week or two" is pure illusion. "Over it" may not occur for years or
decades...if ever. ACDF's know this, too. If they didn't, they wouldn't have developed such
elaborate and rigid long-term defenses.
- Pastoral Care For The ACDF
- Once it is understood, forgiveness and genuine pastoral concern can more effectively and
genuinely be offered to ACDF's. In terms of pastoral care, perhaps the most important
things to understand about ACDF's are the following:
- 1) Understand the control issue. For ACDF's control is first and foremost a
defense mechanism, not
a mechanism to enhance the welfare of others.
Anyone who tries to wrest away this
control is considered a threat to keeping their secret and keeping their pain at bay. It
is a survival issue. If they can no longer maintain the three rules, their deep pain will
surface. The intensity of the fear of loss of control of their defense mechanism leaves
them only two choices: deal with it...or flee.
2) Understand what ACDF's believe are the consequences for giving up control. It's not
just that they'll have a bad day or have a headache. For them the consequences of loss of
control are the ability to survive or not. Being in control, they believe, is the only way
they can maintain a sense of being "normal." Lacking control, they are victims.
They are vulnerable. They will be hurt...again...just like they were when the trauma(s) of
- 3) Recognize that virtually everything they are, do, think, and feel is motivated or
influenced by pain...or pain avoidance. The pain is excruciating. Recognition of this
helps engender a genuine sense of compassion.
- 4) If, as John Gray says, "Men are from Mars and Women from Venus," then
it perhaps it may be reasonable to suggest that ACDF's are from Saturn, the planet
named for the mythical god of war.
fact that they are still alive and functioning is testimony to the strength of the human
spirit. They have survived the long voyage to Earth but, whether male or female, still
think in terms of their planet of origin, Saturn. Their "Mars" and
"Venus" behaviors simply help provide the facade to cope and survive a hostile
and alien earth of intimate, bonded relationships.
- 5) Recognize that ACDF's use the "put-off" for maintaining their own internal
equilibrium. It's just simply a more "vulgar" way of describing a denial
mechanism. They do it to others because they do it to themselves. And they do it in both
circumstances for the same reason: to avoid unleashing/unearthing intense, unbearable,
unimaginably excruciating pain.
- 6) Name the control issue for what it is. ACDF control tactics are a defense mechanism.
They defend by eliminating, denying, ignoring, destroying or unseating any other possible
authority. This includes all hierarchical power, including God. It is for this reason that
ACDF's, in their most vulnerable state, will admit they have a "weak" faith.
- The reason for their weak faith is because they don't let--or want--God to be in
control. In their eyes, God has this little problem: He likes
to think He's God. "Why won't God just do it my way?" For ACDF's, one of
the worst things about God is that He's both unpredictable and invisible. Even if their
attitude is "God does His thing, I do mine," the reality is that God is the one
thing in this world they can't control. This is the core of
their paralyzing fear complex.
- 7) Their "faith" in God is rooted in their controlling God. Christian
ACDF's may have a God-pact: "God and I have an agreement. He doesn't bother me and I don't
bother Him. He stays where I want Him and I do what I'm told." It doesn't take a lot
of discernment to recognize that this relationship not only lacks intimacy and sells faith
short. It's idolatrous. A God under man's control is no God at all. It is merely the
imagination of man's heart.
- 8) Since their perception of God and faith is distorted, so is their conception of
grace. Legalism, requirements, guilt trips and other such motivations are most comfortable
for ACDF's. Why? Because they can be controlled, measured, evaluated and monitored. Most
importantly, such law-oriented attitudes and behaviors give security.
- "Grace," for ACDF's, is scary, fearful and anxiety-producing. Why? Because it can't be
earned. Nor can they control how it comes, how much of it comes, or why it comes. Nor, once
received, can one give back enough to "pay God back" to keep them from owing
anything to God.
- ACDF's believe if God ever gave them more than they could ever repay, wouldn't this mean
they would be obligated to be connected to God? Wouldn't this mean they would have to give
up their control? Wouldn't it mean they would have to get intimate with God? Wouldn't it
mean they would have to care and love others as God loved them? Of course!
- For non-ACDF's this experience is called "Amazing Grace that saved a wretch like
me." For ACDF's, however, it's called "Welcome to my nightmare." They
fear being "tied down" to Someone that you
can't get away from. "Grace" is like a debt you can never repay. When the "Hound of
Heaven" pursues them in loving grace, they flee in desperation and fear as if there
is no escape.
- 9) Teach ACDF's to trust "grace" first. This is the most
difficult, but most essential core task. It requires them to open
their hearts, disclose their pain, and talk to God for healing. It requires
ACDF's to trust God and His never-broken promises. It requires them to feel the
release into grace and begin a "talk, trust, feel" relationship
- 10) Encourage them along to participate in an appropriate "Twelve Step"
Christian recovery program. In order for ACDF's to be released into grace, they have to
"let go." In order to let God come into their lives and heal them, they have to
"let go." In order to heal and bring closure to the pain, they have to "let
- Pastoral familiarity with the "Twelve Step" programs and the healing process
is essential. Being able to relate relevant scriptural truths is also critical. But the
pastor or therapist cannot do it alone. ACDF's need not just hear what is normal. They need
to see it modeled by other ACDF's in various stages of recovery.
- If misery loves company, healing loves and needs company even more. Al-Anon and other
recovery groups help the ACDF to feel release from guilt. They enable them to see others
struggle with talking, trusting and feeling. One of the most critical things it does is to
encourage the ACDF to develop and experience genuine bonding and the intimacy of trusting
So You've Been Put Off?
- Perhaps the most important thing to do if we've been put off is to put it into biblical
perspective. "Whatever you've done to the least of these My brethren, you have done
it unto Me" is perhaps one of the best scriptures in this vein.
- Given the spiritual dynamics of ACDF's, the issue is not that they've put you off. The
issue is they are putting God off. Perhaps the problem is that we don't have our
ministry focus right. Instead of engaging in self-pity and placing our own rejection
and acceptance issues above God's, perhaps an understanding of what's really happening can
help us recall the true nature and focus of our calling: to comfort the people of God with
- Comforting ACDF's with grace is perhaps the most important--but challenging--task. The
greatest working of the Holy Spirit can be to help these guilt-driven, legalistic,
compulsive, pain-bearing, independent individuals to discover the joy of the Gospel. When
God's ministering servants can get beyond the pain of rejection, the overwhelm of anger
and the grief of betrayal, they are much better prepared for ministry to these very, very
valuable children of God who bear indescribable pain.
- Experiencing the healing freshness and spontaneous joy of the Gospel, ACDF's
their ACDF-related defenses. They are craving a God that "is our Refuge and Strength,
a very present help in trouble." Let's share the grace and promises of God so that
they, like us, can declare,
"Therefore will we not fear though the earth be removed...
The God of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our Refuge." Psalm 46 (KJV)
- Thomas F. Fischer
Index Articles 1-49
Articles 50-99 Articles
100-149 Articles 150-199
200-249 Articles 250-299
Articles 300-349 Articles
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:19 PM