The Lost Child: Finding The Way Back from Emptiness

Posted by in adult children, child abuse, healing, Louise Behiel, recovery, self help | 67 comments

A family where the parents are emotionally absent (whatever the reasons) leaves the children to fend for themselves emotionally.  In learning to cope in a difficult situation with a child’s maturity and knowledge, the siblings often adopt one of four roles to cope with the emotional emptiness of the home.

The Lost Child believes that there is no point in attracting attention to themselves – after all no one is aware they’re around.  As a result, they learn their own counsel, becoming totally self-reliant.

Image courtesy of Microsoft Images

In school, they usually sit in the back of the room, and because they’re so quiet, people forget they’re in the room.  They aren’t joiners, running out of class and away from school as soon as possible but their grades are usually decent – because anything less would result in attention. And studying allows them to be alone and away from the chaos of their home.

They’re considered to be shy and introverted; but are really disconnected from others and themselves.   Unfortunately this isolation dogs them through life – even when they’re in a relationship.  Having learned to be invisible, they are often soft spoken, lost in a book or visual media and will avoid conflict at any cost.

They may be artistic, musical and genuinely kind and helpful. But their goal is to avoid hurt and that usually means avoiding deep relationships with other adults.  When they do risk a relationship, they may seem to be dependent and needy. Burdened with low self esteem (because they didn’t get the emotional support needed in childhood), they aren’t willing to risk a deep commitment to another person or to a goal or plan.  For the Lost Child, life can slip into a series of gray days without the sunshine of hope of a better future.

And ironically, in maintaining this role through out life, the Lost Child often becomes the emotionally absent parent, who is unable to give to his/her children the emotional connection and contact they need to grow into fully functioning, fully connected adults.

Persons adopting this role easily become addicts: the substance or activity keeps them from feeling.  Emotional connections are limited and shallow when an addiction is the priority.

Courtesy of Microsoft Images

Obesity and anorexia are common in adults in these roles, along with drugs, work and the internet.

Alternately, the Lost child works well alone and is very self-reliant.  They often are well-read and are good listeners.  They may have a quirky sense of humor, are usually flexible and always resourceful.

In order to overcome this role and develop the ability to move into deeply emotional relationships, the Lost Child has to confront their rage and fear. Recognition of the pain of the past, as well as its emotional emptiness is critical for their healing.  And to take any of these steps, the Lost Child’s denial must be set aside so that reality of the emotional barrenness of their life can be face.

Once those steps are taken, the former Lost Child is able to face their pain and form deep relationship.  They give up the victim position and become a team player.  They learn to make decisions and set long term goals of a personal nature. And eventually, they can learn to assertive, caring and connected.

Ironically, one of the hardest lessons for the Lost Child to learn in healing is that they’re not different, weird or strange.  They are simply people caught in an unhealthy situation who coped as well as they could – in a way that is governed by their personality, birth order and siblings.

As always, please don’t spend time diagnosing those around you.  These descriptions are absolute to facilitate understanding but nothing is ever completely black and white.  I will get into some of the role combinations and their behaviors in a couple of weeks.

I enjoy hearing from you.  Your comments are always insightful, intelligent and interesting.

67 Comments

  1. This is definitely me! I think I’m going to have to just subscribe to your blog. 🙂 It’s amazing!

  2. I am a lost child. This role is so painful. I couldn’t understand for years why I was so depressed and why I was so angry. To everyone my parents were amazing people but I couldn’t feel that. I feel guilty that I don’t feel like I love my parents. I scared because I have a hard time understanding what love is. I have been in one serious relationship and it was abusive and since it fell apart I haven’t been in a relationship again. I’m afraid to get close to people. I’m afraid that I’m not good enough and they would eventually lose interest in me or vice versa. I do think I’m different and weird. It makes me feel like I’m impossible to connect with. I hate my reality. I have two kids and I’m afraid I will perpetuate this role. I need help. I’m hurting so bad inside and I feel emotionally empty.

    • your emotional response is typical of the ‘lost child. therapy or Adult Children will hlp you resolve it. good luck

    • the only resolution is either therapy or adult children 12 step groups. good luck

  3. Wait how does it link to victim hood… Do we lost children have to deep connections, if we already have them with friends etc.

    The lost child

    • I’m not sure of your question. it is unusual for a lost child to develop healthy deep relationships beyond the family. not impossible but fairly rare. If you’ve done that, good for you

  4. I was reading about dysfunctional families and stumbled upon the description of the lost child. I had to find out more. This site made me realize that this is what was going on with me. I always felt like I was weird and different and invisiible and that i could not be seen. I always knew something was off from the day I was a little kid. Our home was very chaotic and I felt that if I let anyone know what was going on, I would be abandoned. I think this is why i adopted this role: i was terrified of being abandoned by my family and was willing to put up with the dysfunction at any cost. But I am now realizing that today, at 21, my life is mine, there is nothing to fear anymore. I will seek therapy as soon as I can. Thank you for this site. I would like to know, is there any way to access the anger so that I am not so afraid of others (i think i am lacking a healthy level of aggression). Thank you again.

    • I’m glad you found some of your answers here. good for you. as you work with a trained therapist, you will access the anger you’ve suppressed, not to worry. just remember that your level of trust by the 4th appointment will determine your success with a therapist. Because of the role you’ve adopted, trust is often a hard thing to feel. so it will take some extra soul searching to be sure you truly do or do not truth the therapist you’re working with and why.

      good luck

  5. Hello Louise, Thank you so much for writing this article. I am the 3rd of 4 children. I can see so clearly now that my older sister was the Hero, my older brother the Scapegoat, I the Lost Child and my younger sister the Mascot. What made home life worse for me was that I was being bullied at school and my brother was taking out his anger at my father on me at home. No wonder I joined the military right out of high school and moved across the country after college.

    My father could deliver a speech to 100 people and win Man of the Year awards from towns, but it seemed he was out of his element with his own family. Us kids call his den, the shrine, lined with all his plaques and letters of appreciation.

    My mother used to forget to tell me about family outings. I was nearly left behind during several trips. On one vacation when I was 8, I got lost after wandering away from the family. When a very nice woman helped me find them again they hadn’t noticed I was gone.

    My mother called me by her brother’s name, my brother’s name, even by the dog’s name a few times.

    As you described, I was a solid C student. My older sister used to tease me about reading volumes of the encyclopedia. My little rebellion was to listen to rock music. My consolation was that music was my best friend because it would never hurt me. That led me to learn to play guitar and write songs. Joy.

    There have been several times over the years where I have turned to food for comfort.

    • our difficult families make life harder for all of us who survive our childhood. But the good news is that you’ve recognized the pattern and can now do whatever you want to change, evolve and become the person you’d have been had you had loving, present parents. it’s almost mind boggling to consider your possibilities. go for it all.

      good luck

      • I needed that reply ❤️

  6. Discovering that I am part-Lost Child, as well as Hero Child, since I am an only child has shed so much light on my life. I was a “perfect” kid, got great grades, was a good athlete, and was able to be self-sufficient while my parents ran their family business. Eventually their inability to be good capitalists caught up with them, and we lost our house when I was 14 due to bankruptcy. Things weren’t as bad as they seemed. I was given about three days notice to pack up from one of the nicer houses in town, before the age of the internet, and it was a toll to continually tell the story (whereas now I could’ve posted one facebook post and been done with it). I was very fortunate to have close family and friends to make it through. It was more of a matter of semantics, we could not find housing in the short time given after eviction. I lived with friends for a month, whom we helped out when their family went through domestic violence issues, so there was no judgment there. My parents lived at a cheap hotel, but a month passed and we rented about the nicest 3 BR house we could find in town – things were not that bad – it could’ve been much worse.

    In trying to get closure over an old girlfriend, who seemingly had all of the same intimacy issues I did in my mid-20s, a friend suggested I investigate the impact her father’s cocaine addiction had on her. I was AMAZED to find the Dysfunctional Family model, and she was clearly a Lost Child. I mentioned to my mother, and she remarked, “I wonder what we did to you?” Then it hit me – my childhood was not regular, either.

    I can remember in first grade, furiously eating my dinner to get out of there before the alcohol kicked in and arguing started (never physical). Then when I was 10, I was mature enough to stay home alone in the summer, where I secluded myself with books, and eventually the internet, instead of socialize normally. Since my parents basically only socialized with my friends’ parents (the domestic violence couple), me and their two sons became basically like brothers – we both have seen what we faced at our worst and it was no big deal to us almost, like every family went through this.

    It could have been so much worse for me, but when I add up all of the pieces, then the bankruptcy and losing the house, I realized my parents pinned the legitimacy of our family on my achievements. I was easily Ivy League material, but I subconsciously bombed one class to tank my ranking (my therapist came up with that theory). I still ended up at a very prestigious school that my dad managed to gain employment at, and was told to major in a specific quantitative, respectable field as my cousin did – so I did, luckily I did like it – but I resented the fact I didn’t feel like I had a choice.

    I had a HS girlfriend of 2+ years, but I did not pursue women really in college – I did not use alcohol as a means to let myself be vulnerable. Over time, slightly after college, two women I was friends with initiated physical relationships with me, but I didn’t find them fulfilling. They were attractive women, and at the time I would say I was equally as attractive and had a body featured in a major bodybuilding magazine – but I remained this enigma as I was this somewhat awkward, yet smart, sociable person with a good job, but never had a girlfriend.

    But I read everybody so well, and I never understood why. I saw everybody’s flaws – who’s to say how major they were, but they told me not to engage. Until one night, at a BBQ my boss had, I saw a woman I knew I was going to approach no matter what. She just happened to be gorgeous and it was like a magnet drew us to each other. Now I realized it was the fact we were both Lost Children, and we knew what signs not to send, or what cues to look for. At the time, we did not care about the other’s experience level, but we found out quickly we both had intimacy issues. We both “dated” safe people to try and figure out relationships as adults but had no luck, then two seemingly underdeveloped people emotionally figured it out and had almost a two year relationship. But at the end of the day, even though we had the core values we needed in a partner, we didn’t have enough in common – it was hard on both of us.

    We stayed in touch, but grew apart, I moved away, but then moved back. I knew I didn’t want to be with her, but I somehow felt responsible she was still single too – I knew she had gone through everything I did somehow by intuition and basic social networking pictures. I reached out to her and totally flopped on how I felt, but my point was I knew we were in the past, but she’d always be somebody I cared about, and she reciprocated the sentiment. This was prior to finding out about the Lost Child syndrome.

    I’ve since worked with my therapist and it’s been uplifting to understand myself, but her as well. Unfortunately, I need to treat her like a co-dependent as she lives a lifestyle dictated by her sister (the scapegoat). But she needs to come to the realization she can lead a more fulfilling life on her own – hearing such feedback from me would likely push her further away. Beyond getting past the feeling of responsibility that she lands on her feet and moving past her, it’s also explained so much about how I function as a person.

    I have no regrets about the life I’ve lived, it’s made me who I am, and I was blessed with gifts far better than most; I’m just glad I finally figured out the “why” behind a lot of who I am. It’s only been about two months, but I grow more insight each day, for that I am thankful.

    Godspeed to the rest of you figuring out your demons, and best of luck to us all to continue to make progress.

    • We can’t change what we don’t know. Your story is living proof of that. In spite of all the work, there was still an element missing. congratulations on figuring it out. Now do the work to completely mitigate your childhood and live the life you were intended to have.

      good luck and thanks for sharing.

    • We can’t change what we don’t know. Your story is living proof of that. In spite of all the work, there was still an element missing. congratulations on figuring it out. Now do the work to completely mitigate your childhood and live the life you were intended to have.

      good luck and thanks for sharing.

  7. Hello, thanks for writing this passage, I have been in an alcoholic family since I could remember, It has been its worse for the past 15 years though, I am 21 years old, and having to live with my family because of income problems and its hard to find anything stable that I enjoy doing. I will get a job and then by the time I get off work my energy is so low I barely can perform any creative outlets because my energy was all used up at my job… Anyway it’s been so hard I have been trying to forgive and I whenever I do forgive and move on I come into the house and my parents are always fighting so aggressively… It’s so hard to feel inspired and loved in this environment… Everytime I walk into my house it’s a different emotion in the air of the house and I have to adjust to theirs, I’m so sick of dealing with this, when I lived with my friend going to bed was never a problem, the apartment eventually got quiet, It was always the same emotion walking into the apartment, happiness, or content or calmness. I’m so upset having to deal with this… I really just want to start my life somewhere else where my emotions can be planted and grown. Here everytime they are planted, they wilt away with sadness, because I can’t keep the good emotions going… I hate being around my family… They dont see the true beauty I am, they might see it in an idealized, plain way, but they don’t take the time to ask what’s on the inside. It’s so hard to communicate with my family, the Lost child role is definitely how my life was growing up, I was forgotten, not checked upon, and never talked about my feelings much. I think I feel the grief because it’s like why did you have me? If you could not be a true mother, My bother is about 10 years older than me. My mom gave all of her energy to him growing up and not having much alcohol problems as much, and by the time I started growing up into my teens she just gave up and didn’t want anything to do with me… I’m just struggling living with them so much. It’s hard to feel inspired, loved, or mentally healthy most of the time, and if I do it doesn’t last very long. I have considered suicide before the age of 30 because I can’t imagine dealing with my family’s cynicalness, all I want is connection, empathy and love. And those three don’t grow here, I hope I can find friends who accept me & appreciate me for who I am, my alone time, my sadness, and my creativity, my ups & downs and my hope for the future. I do have two really good friends, but they don’t like to discuss deep topics as much, so I’m usually left with myself to figure & sort them out. I’m also gay, so finding a lover is a bit difficult, finding a genuine gay male is so hard these days… Anyway I thought I’d leave a comment explaining how my upbringing went for the most part. I still have hope, but it’s really hard living with the people who hurt you everyday unknowingly.

    • the only recommendation I can make, although you didn’t really ask for one is to attend meetings of Adult Children of Alcoholics. A good group will help you work through the healing process and figure out the next steps for yourself.

      good luck

  8. I am the lost child and my situation is getting worse. I have a chronic illness/pain – endometriosis. For two years, I have paid for and taken care of myself 100%. I never asked my parents for money. My loving mother took care of me after surgery. My father was emotionally distant from me, the baby girl. The Hero of the family used to physically and verbally abuse me, sometimes with tools – bee bee guns, knives, hammers, hard balls, etc… My angel brother the second child was the scapegoat. I even learned that from him. I’m 29. For the past year or more, I have been anxious at family get togethers to be around the hero of the family. I never know how he emotionally reacts. Last Christmas, he yelled at me, shook me, and said “what is wrong with you?” I do not want a single thing from my family. I am extremely introverted. I do not need a single thing from my family. I’m single. The endo doesn’t help. I go to therapy. I’m really proud I found your site. I can talk about some of these things with my therapist. I always expect someone romantically to give themselves freely, as I expect of myself. I don’t want to make new friends or significant otters. I want to dive into a world of literature and art, where I can escape my everyday stresses. I never want to have kids. I’m already an absentee aunt. Last week, my sister-in-law said some very low comments about handling my illness, and how I most people handle their problems better than I do. I cut her and my brother out of my life almost instantaneously, very quickly, last straw. My savior is the Blessed Virgin Mary. I believe in myself and God. I’m trying to stand as tall as I can. Remembering the backbone I grew, all alone under the knife. I created my own rules. I just want respect from them. And I want my brother and sister-in-law completely out of my health issues. Thank you for letting me write.

    • I’m glad you found this safe space to share your thoughts and feelings. Keep your brother out of your health issues by not sharing with them what’s going on. You cannot dictate to others what you want from them. life doesn’t work that way. Rather respect yourself. Move forward with calm confidence and live your life. they will either get it or not. People are funny and never give us what we truly want. and that’s because, in their eyes, we are what they see. so nothing we say or do can change their opinion for us. They have to change their opinion of us and it’s not related to the person we are.

      Perception is the truth, is the old saying. It’s particularly true of our families. So don’t worry about them or what they think of you. live your life. Be happy. Get well. and know you’re making the best of the current situation.

      good luck

      • I heard of the title “lost child” before. I just recently felt the need to look it up and see if that’s my role because it feels like me. It’s crazy I’ll be 55 this year and I still struggle with feeling lost, emotionally disconnected from myself, and pretty much everyone else. My mother told a counselor we were seeing that I disconnected myself from the family at age 3 and that you could never love me enough, it was never enough my mom said. I’ve been to counseling and heavily in Al-non but still fight this emotional battle of being lost, I want to be found, but so fearful of being found and used and abused. My mom and dad had thirteen children. My father was, according to my mom, the alcoholic. I don’t know, he died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 44 one week before Christmas. I was 7 that year and my mom was 42 left to raise us 13. The oldest being about 21 and the youngest getting ready to be 3 for he was a new year baby. My mom was definitely emotionally unavailable, angry, depressed. I would say she was the abuser smacking us all around when she was struggling with anger. There were other abuses going on as well sexual abuse among the siblings. I’m the 10th child. I think the role that best served me was the lost child. my brother 11 months older than me I think played the scapegoat. I think there’s maybe a lot of lost children in this family unit. We had a few comedians in the older sibs not sure who the hero or perfect one was. I think we all struggle with perfectionism. The youngest sibling is the only one we are aware that struggles with alcoholism. It just feels easiest still today to be by myself then I don’t have to worry about being annoying to others, or not pleasing others, or me not being annoyed or hurt by others. I pray by the grace of God that this is the year I brake free from this emotional bondage. Thanks for this safe place to speak it out.

        • Thanks for sharing. Sure sounds like the lost child role, from what you’very said. It’s scary to be vulnerable but so worth it.

          Good luck

  9. I don’t think I should have to feel any more pain. If the world were right I would be wearing a necklace of shrunken heads. It is true helplessness that has caused my life predicament. You can call it “feelings” if you want. NOBODY helped me. I was made to be dependant on completely unreliable assholes who thought me that I was both worthless and going to hell. I was taught to pray to Jesus and nothing else. Now I am stuck with the emotional bag for the neglect of one person who had extreme and apparent psychological problems. I was bullied, harassed, and ostracized by their idiot student body to the point of psychological damage even while having a biological condition that causes social isolation and complete confusion. I feel like I am responsible for feeding successful con artist bigots like Bob Rowe at Covington Catholic Highschool.

    • so very often there is no help for us as children. that leaves us as traumatized adults from the pain of childhood.

      good luck

  10. Wow. When I read this I felt so many emotions. I wish I knew how to explain it. This is a SPOT ON description of me. Thats me! It’s like reading a sumary of my life so far! I’m 18 years old and now I finally have some answers. Why I always felt invisible in my family. Why I almost keep pushing my only friend away by being so needy and annoying. Why I could never participate in class, no matter how hard I tried. Why I can never tell anyone how Im feeling. Why I felt lile an alien who doesent fit in anywhere and would be better of leaving earth and find her fellow freak aliens on some far away planet.Or, more realisticly, just die. I always thought there was just something wrong with me. That I did something wrong and thats why I always felt in the way. I never knew that all my individual problems were really all part of the same big thing, that not only exists, but also have causes! Its legit, and other people are in the same boat as me.
    Everyone around me always told me I was shy, and whenever they did that I would feel more and more irritated. I dont “feel” shy.. I just dont feel like speaking would contribuye to anything, so theres no point. Whenever I would try to voice these feelings, people would scoff at me. “Its just puberty, everyone feels that way, you cant possibly know what you feel, you’re just a dramatic child, it will pass.” Thats what my school counceler told me. It was the first and last time I ever tried to get help. But now I have found this, and I want to change. I feel isolated and alone, and I can go entire days without talking to anybody. I’ve always preffered this, but I fear my life will concist of constant depression and loneliness, as it have so far. I want to be able to talk to people, I want to be able to make friends or even just keep a simple conversation going for more than 2 seconds. I want to feel human. Now that I recignize my problem, by being a Lost child, I need to figure out how I can get over this. I want to feel normal and loved for the first time in my life.

    • defining your reality and understanding that there is a cause is the first step to a wonderful new life. it will take work and it will be hard because we are all required to act outside of our comfort zone. for some of us it’s by not speaking up for others, like you, it’s about speaking up an feeling what you feel about it. The adult child of alcoholics groups provide a safe place for you to practice and learn these new behaviors. Get a sponsor once you find someone who has made a similar journey and work with them. if you can’t find someone, know it’s probably your lost child trying to keep you where you are so ask someone anyway.

      good luck

  11. I really have to force myself to be loving and affectionate and in the moment with my child. I remember years between hugs, and none from my mother, so it is very hard for me to force physical affection out of myself, but once I do, it is so wonderful to hug my child and see that when she needs a hug she just comes and gets one. Sometimes, out of nowhere, this little person comes and just hugs me and tells me she loves me. I look at her in wonder, I never was allowed to be this way as a child, realizing she has a parental base I did not have at her age. I look forward to my child being free of the family crazy making that has so shaped and stunted me, but in order to do this, I am forced to look within and heal in order to assure the buck stops with me.

    I think I can state succinctly how it felt to be the lost child, and it is from a song by Queen: “I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.”

    I finally confronted my rage within, only last month. It kept poking up out of the happy box where I stored it to study it later. It is gone, now, and once it left, I realized it was never me at all, that rageful person, but armor I donned at age fifteen in order to make it through the next thirty-two years more or less intact, though still stunted and needing of more work. I move on to deal with the sadness I never allowed myself to feel as a child. And the sadness is actually more difficult to work through than the rage. I hate to cry, I hate to feel this sadness, and I hope it is over soon.

    I’m still not sure how I upgraded from ‘lost child,’ to ‘scapegoat,’ in the family I no longer hang with, but it had something to do with me daring to get married and have a child, and the straw that broke my bio-families back was I dared to upset the family tradition of formula feeding. Yup. Just like my mother, I dared to breastfeed. Isn’t that just the silliest thing to be ostracized for?

    I understand there won’t be any true closure, so, the things I wonder, now? I’d really love to hear the lies that have been told about me. They must be fantastic, I want to write them out and make funny stories of them. Then, I do admit, despite all the research that implies otherwise, I do wonder if they miss me at all, but then I remember back to an incident as a child, and I’m like ‘Oh well.’

    It is strange to be without the worry of a toxic family dragging me down, but, it is difficult to recover from what happened, so, I forgive myself my questions, and maybe, someday, the answers to those questions will be googleable, too.

    Thank you for these blogs. =)

    • good for you. Breaking free from a toxic family is one of the hardest things to do. You seem to have successfully managed it and in the process changed your life, and that of your little one.

      congratulations and continued good luck

  12. Oh my. I just discovered that I’m the lost child — always fantasizing, and delving into a hidey hole to avoid conflict. Superficially friendly but often hiding behind others, the listener and good friend who reflected back what others wanted to hear. Incapable of getting angry. Excelling in school but floundering in navigating a workplace because there’s nowhere to hide. Never sure of who I was, feeling like there was a missing piece. Totally in denial of my childhood being problematic because there was no alcoholism or abuse — just very intellectual, emotionally unaware. I fear this awareness has come too late. Now I’m the checked-out parent of three sweet little kids ages 5 and under. I always felt I was missing something in my understanding of my kids, like other people knew my kids better than I did. Our interactions are sweet and silly but more like a babysitter, lacking the careful attunement of a real mother. I don’t have the deep emotional connection that others do. And they need so much more. Any guidance please! I’m in therapy already but what about the kids? Family therapy, early intervention? I have no idea what I want or how to give them what they need, but I don’t want to ruin their lives.

    • Your kids are very resilient, so not to worry. As you do this work, you will heal and you will help them. I started my work when my kids were in double digits and they are all 3 productive members of society. Decent and hard working. I can’t ask for more. do they have issues? Yes, they do. But everyone does. we can’t parent so perfectly that our kids grow up without their own work to do.

      so relax. For right now, you’re doing all you can do. and with therapy, reading, and effort, you will be able to feel more deeply.

      good luck

  13. My younger sister (also the youngest of us five children growing up in alcoholic family) told me she identifies with “the Lost Child”. We’re both in our 50’s now and I’ve tried all sorts of ways to help her work through how she feels, something ALWAYS goes wrong. She tells me she believes our oldest brother and me were the chosen kids in the family. Hmm..not really…we were the ones stuck with the responsibilities. Guidance Counselor in high school told me after speaking with me just once, “You have had to be an ADULT your entire childhood – I don’t think you know what it means to be a kid.”
    My sister tells me “Everything stresses her out”. I’ve suggested meditation, relaxation exercises, etc., she has excuse why she can’t try these. She’s gained a lot of weight and become diabetic. She lives alone, only has part time job. I’ve offered to help her go back to get any kind of training she’d interested in. She’s VERY artistic.
    Because of her medical condition and financial situation I’ve been trying to help her as best I can.
    I find she focuses on Negative people and situations constantly and so more negativity seems to come into her life as a result.
    She tried to see Psychologist but they kept changing the times of her appointments, it made my sister feel disrespected/unimportant so she stopped going instead of asking Psychologist why appointment time kept being changed.
    I’ve suggested books, websites, etc. Nothing seems to help. She just keeps saying she wishes we lived in same city. My fear is that nothing would change even if we did. She’s depressed a lot.
    I love her dearly, but also feel that we have grown into a codependent relationship which I Know is not healthy. BUT I fear IF I don’t remain in her life, something terrible will happen to her.

    • you can remain in her life, just remember that as the responsible child your tendency is to try to help and to feel like you hold another’s life in your hands. Your sister is responsible for her life. You can’t change her or fix her or even really help her: the way to healing is her path to take. and only hers.

      good luck

  14. How do you know me? How do you know me? Am I really visible to someone else all along? If I’m just a description like this (and it fits so well), does that mean I’m not dangerous or wrong or bad or deficient. I’m just like other people except those people whom I’m just like are hiding away too, so we don’t meet each other. I’d like a ship of Lost Children, where we’re trapped on a cruise together and our cabins are locked at certain times so we have to be together. I’d love someone to see me, know me. I’d love to let myself be me. But then, this Lost Child is me. Maybe I need to start there.

    • starting with you is good. And yes, you are visible to some of us who know how you handle life. it’s not wrong or bad…it’s just a coping strategy and it can be changed. good luck

  15. thanks so much. it appears the lost child is me for sure. i have been creative in my addictions in order to numb myself. i’ve been sober for many yrs. from drugs and alcohol but still find other ways to numb my feelings.
    i met someone recently and she has my attention. we have discussed this and we’ll see what develops. whats interesting for me is that i haven’t even dated for over a decade and although i am often attracted in never lasts. i’m hoping to learn more about myself in all kinds of relationships
    again, thanks so much for your words and the comments of others

    • good luck in this new relationship Phil. it’s hard to commit to someone as the lost child. all the best

  16. This is me. I am now 74 years old and have been sober for 25 years, yet, I still suffer from the ‘aloneness’ of being the lost child. Plan to attend another ACA meeting tonight, but the ones I have attended in the past have been about the problem and not the solution.
    Hope this one is different. I prefer solution vs problem. Thank you for you wisdom.

    • congratulations on your sobriety. what a wonderful accomplishment. I hear you about the meetings. of course the only thing we can do with meetings that don’t meet our needs is be the change we need to have. hard work, though, isn’t it?

      good luck and thanks for stopping by.

  17. Wow! You said not to self-diagnose, but that’s actually my husband who has buried his feelings for years. He has told me that it was easier not to say anything than to get into a fight. His affair is my fault because “You’ve pushed me away.” It’s easier for him to move on then work on the relationship he has because as he’s told me, “I didn’t say that I wanted to talk about feelings.” My question is now that he’s filed divorce papers, and I’m educating myself on this “illness”, how do I deal with someone who isn’t rational? How do I move forward with my life when he defers any question that I have that he has to make a decision on (i.e. short selling the house)?

    • This is such a hard situation to be in. Your analysis of his responses seems to be right on, given the little bit you’ve said. I can only sympathize with you. This was my ex-husband’s role as well and it’s frustrating as anything. (I’m a hero and I will bet you are too.) The one thing I learned was to never let him know how important something was to me. He had enough passive aggressiveness in h is personality that he’d stop me just because he could – it gave him some sense of of power, I think.

      Occasionally I had some success with a reasonable agenda if someone else spoke to him in front of me and then I had papers ready for him to sign. He couldn’t back out. It didn’t feel very good, but it was sometimes the only way to get him moving before it cost a bunch of money. At one point he wanted to start a business with a guy i didn’t trust, so I said ‘sure’, but you have to sign away your dower rights to our paid off home. I figured he’d refuse but he didn’t, so I hired a lawyer and he signed away everything. Interesting that as soon as that was done, and he had limited access to our assets, his business partner lost interest in the idea.

      take care of yourself. this is one of the most difficult situations you’ll ever be in.

      • Thanks for your reply. I don’t think I am a hero, but I think I’ve turned into that role as I have had to in order to move on. Are there any books, websites, articles or other resources that you know of that address how to deal with adult lost children? The reality is I’m going to have deal with him, and I would prefer not to get sucked in to his illness.

  18. Can you reccommend books to read to help? Have you published? I am going to begin AA and OA, but it would be fantastic to find a workbook or some other material specifically for The Lost Child. I am a. 56 yr old lost child.

    Thanks for being here,

    Kate

    • the authors Charles Whitfield, Sharon Weigscheider-Cruse and Claudia Black all have books on this topic (unfortunately, I don’t). The role of the lost child is a hard one to recover from, because often people in this role are introverts to begin with. (Introverts naturally get their energy from being alone as opposed to a group of people.) You can never change your regular personality type but you can overcome the constructs of the role. At meetings, make a commitment to never let a meeting pass without saying something – even just your name and a hello to everyone. Make a call or two daily at best, weekly at least, to people in the rooms. these don’t have to be long calls but just a call to say hello and to reach out. this will be very hard. but remember program people are safe. they may not understand your situation, but they’ll do their best. Feel free to post here again or contact me and let me know how it’s going – it’s a slow process but it will work. Just be gentle on yourself.

  19. That description is so “me”, few hours ago I stupidly lost a 100 bucks and started crying about it, because I felt stupid and useless and therefore, a burden. I think we lost children are so very afraid of being a burden, because that attracts attention towards us.

    • I think you’re right – we hate to be a bother and if we’re not perfect, then we might be a bother. Totally understand your situation.

  20. This description fits me. I don’t use drugs or alcohol, but I have to keep my addictive tendencies in check. I’m still working on the seriousness part and developing and accomplishing my career goals.
    Your advice and descriptions of The Lost Child here have been so helpful. Thank you!
    My siblings and I continue to deal with issues stemming from our childhoods with two mentally ill parents (constant verbal abuse, occasional neglect, lack of affection, hoarded home, etc).
    As adults, our parents refused to have a relationship with any of us or our children. I eventually accepted this difficult reality – it was in a way how they’d always behaved. It helps that I’ve distanced myself from them – emotionally and we physically moved away.
    My parents’ health has steadily declined recently. My mother has called me to deny, minimize, and blame me for her past and current behavior. When I won’t accept that responsibility, *then* she apologizes and asks for forgiveness. This has happened several times. Do you have any advice for moving forward? (I’m not looking for them to admit wrongdoing or apologize. I know I did not cause their disinterest, but I’m just now starting to not *feel* that vague guilt.)

  21. Wow! This is exactly what I needed to read. I am the classic middle child and one of my biggest worries is that I’m going to end up not being emotionally available for my own child, who has special needs and is a source of worry and anxiety for me. I am so grateful that you are up front that that is one of the dangers for us. So much of what I am doing, self-improvement wise, is to benefit my daughter, but there is a fine line between bettering oneself and becoming self-absorbed. This is giving me so much to think about. I wish there was a handbook on how to not screw up your child. Would you please write that??

    • oh don’t I wish I could write that. The important thing to remember is not to do the opposite of what was done to you – because the extremes are never good. and love them. I’m so glad you stopped by and that you found information that was valuable for you

  22. Thank you for the response, and for sharing that story of the waitress. I can relate. From my own experience, I found that I spend so much of my time just overwhelmed by life, and feeling so taxed by all the conflict, drama, abuse, and lies that I didn’t have energy for anything else other than fighting the daily battle which was a struggle to determine what was true and what was not (for example – my version of reality that I’m being mistreated by others, or the alcoholics version of reality that I have mistreated and abused them).

    So I never gave much though to what to do in life, what career to pursue, and am so distanced from myself and my feelings that I don’t even know how to approach that now. Simply getting out of bed and doing something constructive made any day a successful day, but very little time was devoted to goals, or a vision for what I wanted to do in life. I sometimes put together a plan, get excited and follow it for a while, and then fall off again as I don’t feel it is realistically going anywhere.

    It has taken me a while to distance myself from my family, though unfortunately I’m not fully separated from the negative effects of being around them – but when I was closer to them, I was constantly pulled into arguments, then blamed for arguments from all sides, and put in a position where I felt I needed to bend to their will and accept their criticisms, or face the consequences of being ridiculed and abandoned.

    I don’t have an ACA group within 25 miles, so haven’t been motivated to go. But one thing I find to be difficult is the need to mourn for the childhood I never had, while also acknowledging that I can’t go back and fix things. I sometimes feel inside of me that if I could be ‘adopted’ into a loving family and just be a welcome member of that group, that I could possibly get something from them that I never got before and haven’t got through meetings and psychologists – but based on my very nature, I have difficulty of forming a close relationship with anyone.

    In working with lost (adult) children who never had the opportunity to be a kid when they were a kid, are there things you tell them to do now – not to ‘get back their childhood’ – but help them developmentally, get in touch with themselves, and learn new healthy ways of behaving/relating to the world around them?

    • You ask a very difficult question, because everything I do is directed to the person I’m working with. Think about this…you were born and your life was on a straight line path. Then the abuse happened and your life veered off to the side. In your case, that was probably a 90 degree turn. and then you’ve walked along that path. Time is passing but you’re not moving your life forward because you’re going perpendicular to the original life trajectory.

      that is the trauma of child abuse. BUT you can change the trajectory and head straight up again. As I mentioned it’s lots of work, but it is possible. I don’t know you so I can only speak in generaliites. But we all have to change our thoughts from ‘they abused me’ to “i’ll show them’. We have to keep our distance from the abusers. We have to always remember that our thoughts control our emotions. Do you know that? What you think about creates how you feel. So it’s imperative that everytime you start thinking about the past, you look forward to the life you want. I wrote about the 4 stages of recovery from abuse. take a look at that. you’re in stage 1 and 2. back and forth, again from these few comments – I can’t say definitievely. So your choice is to allow the abuse to continue or to stop abusing you now, by allowing all that stuff to darken your future. Does that make sense? no new family will do it. we have to do it for ourselves. we have to re-parent ourselves. think about a kid at the age you were abused. read about childhood stages and ages. and then begin where your emotional growth was first thwarted and be as loving to you as you want someone else to be.

      it alll sounds hokey, I’m sure, but that’s the basics of how I work with people in my practice. this is hard, since I can’t see you and our responding is slow, but it does work. i did it for myself, with a therapist, and I have helped many others overcome some ugly ugly stuff. good luck

  23. I can attest to the difficulties of being the lost child:

    I have 3 siblings, and as the 3rd child I was largely ignored growing up, and even now as an adult. I don’t remember ever having a meaningful conversation with either parent, was not encouraged to have hobbies or spend time was friends, and was not allowed to play sports or even an learn a musical instrument. The abuse, neglect, and lack of interest/support was bad enough, but to follow that up with relentless criticisms, personal attacks, and rage for not being perfect, or for things that were the alcoholic’s fault, or for just being a child is what sent things into an alternate reality.

    I think it is important to emphasize how much a struggle it is, as someone from an alcoholic system, to decipher reality – when you are used to being lied to from a very young age, used to being told that you caused the problem, you made the problem worse, or you are the problem (which somehow justifies the poor treatment from others) – being told these things just didn’t feel right, but as a child I couldn’t explain why. As I got older, it became harder and harder to see clearly for myself – the relentless criticism and attacks eroded any self esteem, self worth, and any boundaries that may have existed. As a child, I found myself taking on parental responsibilities for things which impacted me that had been neglected for far too long, to only then be criticized relentlessly by every member of my family for not doing a good enough job at whatever I was doing. And when you experience this as a very young child, this becomes ‘normal’ even though it just doesn’t feel right.

    As an adult, I still struggle with many issues. Employment – in many jobs, I somehow attract people who remind me of my father and am guaranteed to have problems with that person. I am used to people talking down to me or disrespecting me, in fact, I often don’t even notice it until someone else points it out. I have periods where I am super-responsible and get little credit/attention, followed by periods where I completely fall off and just can’t function normally, and all of a sudden have everyone’s attention. I struggle with relationships/isolation – while I’m not as afraid of other people and actively try to counter things I may have unknowingly generalized in the past (like people ‘can’t be trusted’), I find that now I just don’t know how to relate to others, how to communicate with others, or how to just form healthy relationships or friendships (I really do feel ‘lost’, and its actually quite painful).

    Complicating this is how difficult this is to talk about with others. Many people may just not know how to respond if you were to tell them this. And to an outside observer, I think I look quite normal actually – I learned from a young age to hide my feelings and not talk about things like this, for criticism that I would just be blaming others for my problems or making an excuse. When I have disclosed my struggles with others, it either scares them off or they seem so confused that they proceed to question me to the point where it feels like I have to justify myself and ‘prove my version of reality’ (much like I fought so hard to do in my family and failed every time at). Or they may minimize it by saying ‘thats normal’, ‘no one comes from a perfect family’, ‘just suck it up’.

    I’ve been to psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and al-anon groups, ranging from just a few sessions to over a year at a time, but I’m still plagued by having no sense of direction, extreme difficulty making decisions in life, never feeling like I fit in or belong, and an almost complete social isolation and inability to connect to others. I’ve repeated certain patterns in my life enough times to know things are far from normal, and am at a loss for how to proceed.

    The article above says the lost child must ‘confront rage and fear’ and recognize the past – can anyone share how one does that or what exactly that means? Anyone have examples exemplifying the healing process, things they did or challenges they had, particularly for the lost child? Or ways to reach out to empathetic others that may be in a position to help?

    Thanks for the blog, and the wonderful work you do!

    • Thank you for the detailed, personal comment. As you know, I specifically didn’t direct these posts only to adult children of alcoholics for many of the reasons you mention. When we grow up in environments that tell us we’re crazy because we see the drinking as the problem, we begin to doubt ourselves and our view of the world. We question everything about ourselves and our wishes, desires and drives, because we’re repeatedly told that we’re crazy, lying or just a total screw up. For the lost child, criticism is relentless. It’s part of what drives the child and later the adult into their hidey hole. So many, as you mentioned, come out of the cave and try really, really hard, but many of lack the social interaction skills and personal skills to successfully function over the long haul. We can do it for awhile but then life beats us down again.

      I have a client in this position right now. After many years of work, she decided to leave her physical job (waitressing) and go to school and become a a bookkkeeper. But she’s in a hurry to get a job, so she chose a school that doesn’t have the best results and has finished (with honors) but now can’t find a job in that field. So she’s waitressing and struggling with depression and the almost overwhelming desire to give up and stay in her cocoon of waitressing. Which is really ironic, since she doesn’t like people.

      The lost child is one of the most difficult roles to heal for all of the reasons you stated. In my experience (and only my experience) a year of anything will not be enough to get a lost child over the hump. this client came weekly for a year or 2 then bi weekly and now monthly, just to keep in touch and on track. we’ve been doing the monthly thing for 4 years, at least. it’s been 7 years we’ve worked together. She’s gone to AA steadily all that time, but hasn’t found much value at Al-Anon.

      Have you tried adult children of alcoholics? it’s a separate fellowship from al-anon (not just alanon meetings) and is very good. I had some great healing there. But as with anything, it’s important to find the group that works for you and that won’t likely be the one that works for me.

      thanks again for stopping by. I’m not sure i’ve answered your question, but feel free to add more if you’re of a mind to do so. Hugs

    • My first marriage was to an alcoholic. We have two daughters together. They are now 28 and 30. I found Al-Anon about halfway through the marriage and it saved my life!! We were married for 12 years before it ended in divorce. Now both my daughters are adult children of an alcoholic. My oldest is really struggling. They know I attended Al-Anon for years. I have tried planting seeds… but realize I am powerless. I can’t change people, places and things. I raised them with faith in God. My oldest goes to church and has a strong faith. But she is dealing with some deep emotions and pain. I know it’s all adult child stuff! We don’t live in the same state anymore. I am visiting her this weekend. She started expressing her pain again yesterday. Everything she describes sounds like The Lost Child role. Which is ironic because she is the oldest. I know there is definitely The Hero role too. But major lost child stuff. She talks a lot about feeling invisible. She has intense sadness. Yesterday I talked to her about the roles and told her that hers sound exactly like The Lost Child.’ I am going to direct her to this page today and let her read. I will put it all in God’s hands.

      • we can only put our adult children in God’s hands. it’s so hard for us to do, since we know where the answers are and how to find them. keep her in your prayers.

        good luck

  24. There are many of them, unfortunately! And it’s not exclusive to a partilcaur country or culture, I suppose. It’s a kind of gloomy picture because I have seen many of my students from South Korea, China, and Saudi Arabia who fit your criteria..

    Subhan Zein

    • Yes there are many lost children, unfortunately. I have limited experience of other cultures, so will take your word for it. thanks for stopping by.

      • Thank you, I had a joyride in your blog, now I’d like to kindly invite you to visit mine! 🙂

        Subhan Zein

        • it’s lovely, Subhan. Very uplifting. I look forward to seein gyour posts. Now i”m off to bed. good night

          • Thank your for taking a chance visiting me and for your sweet comment! 🙂 Have a good evening! 🙂

            Subhan Zein

  25. How wonderful that you’ve been able to deal with your pasts and come together and bring out the best in each other. that’s so exciting. and I’m doubly glad you can use this for writing. bonus.

  26. Still loving this series! I’m pretty sure my husband is a lost child, but somehow we’ve managed to form a deep bond, probably because I never gave up on him (and he me). Anyway, always great information for our characters. This post in particular will help me with my protagonist in my fiction piece. Can’t wait for more.

  27. This was truly interesting. I have become aware only recently of patterns in my life. My gosh, however do we fall into patterns – and worse, bad ones…

    • The explanations I’ve provided are at the very far end of the spectrum, to assist people in understanding their behavior. But yes, we all are a product, partially of our environment and it usually results in some behavior patterns.

  28. Another interesting post, Louise. Always insightful.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge on this subject. No wonder there are so many different kinds of people in the world. So many different stressors that affect behavior.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • once we start looking at these patterns, diversity is obvious, isn’t it?

  29. Good Morning!
    I nominate you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award! That you are indeed!
    http://step-on-a-crack.com/2012/03/15/the-very-inspiring-blogger-award/
    Peace, Jen

    • I am honored and surprised to say the least. thank you so much Jen. I’m going to have to think abit about who to share it with. I

  30. I was immensely fortunate to have a grandmother I loved, cousins I played with, two aunts and an uncle I loved – although I lost them all when we moved to live with my Dad, an elder brother who was a surrogate father to me (whom I adore to this day) and a mother who was a very loving individual – although very controlled (distant) because she was constantly exhausted from running a business, managing a home, and being a farm wife.

    When I had a child I was almost smothering in my devotion. I poured everything into her I’d missed and found out that ain’t such a good thing, either. Both ends of the spectrum are a form of imblance. She’s since told me that she felt as if my attemtps to help her life be perfect meant she was incapable of doing anything herself (never my intent). It is a wonder any of us are sane, I suppose!

    Food became the drug of choice in my life to sooth the hurts. It didn’t happen overnight and I thought I was over that, but apparently food is not done with me yet, although I would love to be done with “it.” So back to step one I go! At least there are steps!

    It is an excellent description and, again, I think you’ll find variations on a theme with the E-6 – the poorly adjusted, moderately adjusted, and actualized.

    • yes, food was my drug of choice as well. and I agre, thank God for the steps. It’s funny how we either repeat what happened to us or do something totally different. Either end of the pendulum is not good for our children.

      thanks for sharing.

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