Because she is only a child, she does not realize how inappropriate, dysfunctional, and wounding her mother’s behavior is. She has no mature pre-frontal cortex nor any cognitive framework to create such insight and realizations; she has no frame of refernce other than her own alcoholic mother.
Instead the child does the only thing she can do – the only reasonable and sane response in this situation – she owned her mother’s emotions as her own, and she took responsibility for those emotions (read: she “internalized” her mother’s emotions). In essence, she thinks, “If I can just be a better little girl, mommy won’t yell at me and be mad.”
And so the eventual adult child of an alcoholic (ACA) begins to take shape; the child has become “parentified.” Since she is now forced to address (and to try to resolve) many of her mother’s afflictive emotions and psychological trauma – none of which belong to her. And so instead of being present in her own development as a human being, instead of being allowed to expand and explore on her own terms, the child of the alcoholic parent is now consumed with her mother’s internal addictions and fears. Indeed, as the years go on, the alcoholic mother will increasingly and inappropriately shape the daughter’s personality to be whatever the mother needs her to be: a confidante, a champion, a best friend, a witness to the mother’s trauma, etc, etc.
In adult life, then, the child has pronounced trouble with taking emotional risks, which means vulnerability to not a tolerable emotion, and so romantic and emotional intimacy are blunted and often feel dangerous to the ACA. And as they did when they were a child, they typically blame themselves for why they have such trouble with emotional connection and intimacy.
But there is a way out. With cognitive psychotherapy, the ACA can track into their past and understand what happened to them as children. They can raise awareness of the narcissistic wounds they received, and begin to use those very wounds as the fuel for enlightenment. Once therapy is complete, ACA’s feel comfortable in their own skin, and like their lives are their own for the very first time.