The Concept of a Higher Power for Adult Children

The Concept of a Higher Power for Adult Children


Seeing, as has often been said, is believing. Because God or a Higher Power of a person’s understanding is invisible, however, this adage contains a limitation. What cannot be seen, yet exists, can only be channeled through faith, perhaps prompting a new philosophy-that is, what a person can see does not necessarily require belief, but what he cannot does.

The first applies to aspects of the finite, physical word, while the second applies to the infinite, spiritual one. Yet it is about the latter that the brain, with its equally finite, physical limitations, poses the greatest obstacle.

For adult children, who may have been shattered by an abandoning, abusive, alcoholic, shaming, controlling, and dysfunctional upbringing, and often views a Higher Power as another parent-representing authority figure, this is an additional obstacle to this belief/faith parameter. Yet, threshold to recovery in any twelve-step program is the necessity of the very difficult-to-achieve belief, as expressed by the second step: “(We) came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

This only begs the question: what if they do not? That very aspect can become the fulcrum upon which a twelve-step program will teeter towards success. This article examines the obstacles to the understanding of God and who, without distortions and misinterpretations, He really is.


Transitioning from a life pf parental abandonment, abuse, and alcoholism, which breeds personal darkness and doubts that a Higher Power exists when He was most needed, is no easy task. Its very difficulty is expressed by the third step, which states, “(We) made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”

“Those (last five) words are a gateway to a life of exploration, awakening, and connection to a Higher Power to each of us,” according to the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 79). “These words guarantee that each ACA member is free to choose a Higher Power, who is available and personal to the individual.”

That choice may be free, but numerous upbringing-bred obstacles, distortions, and resistances render it difficult to conceptualize what that Higher Power may be.

Childhood wounds, unless dressed and addressed, run deep, and those resulting from the “triple-A dichotomy” of abandonment, abuse, and alcoholism caused the soul rupture from self, others, and God. Like a tare, it must be sutured so that these disconnections can be reversed.

The disease of dysfunction warps the soul, stripping it of its intrinsic endowments, such as and particularly love.

Physically, psychologically, neurologically, and emotionally undeveloped, a child subjected to such an upbringing, devoid of all tools and resources, is completely dependent upon his parent or primary caregiver, whom he views as a flawless, God-equivalent representative who would never harm, betray, or abandon him unless he deserved it because of his believed lack of worthiness and love. As such an equivalent, he misbelieves that God himself is cast in the same image.

“… Many of us transferred the traits of our parents onto God,” the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook continues (ibid, p. 219). “We projected our abandoning parents onto a Higher Power, believing that God was vengeful or indifferent. Even if we thought God was love, many of us scarcely wondered if He truly cared or listened.”

Restimulated, but seldom understood anxieties, fears, and traumas, which return a person to a powerless time, even later in life as an adult, such a person views-albeit through distortions bred by the lack of understanding about his parent’s sometimes detrimental actions-as “authority figures” or displaced primary caregiver representatives.

During detrimental childhood times, God may have seemed to have been just as abandoning and absent as the parents who caused a child’s plight, sparking a later-in-life fear of rejection.

“As children of alcoholics, we internalize parents who are filled with rage and self-hate and who have projected their feelings on to us,” according to the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (ibid, p. 89). “We carry this negative view of ourselves, feeling insecure and frightened by our own self-rejection and of being rejected by others.”

God can certainly be considered one of those “others.”

Unable to protect himself, combat, or escape exposure to deficient, potentially damaging parents, the child spiritually flees within, tucking his true self into a protective, inner-child sanctuary, remaining mired at the time of his initial trauma, arresting his development to the degree that he internally still feels like a child, but outwardly appears like an adult, and replacing it with a false self, or the ego. As an ingenuine construct, it can neither connect with others or God in a meaningful way. Dichotomous, this necessary, but most likely subconscious split results in continually conflicted states throughout life, unless corrective, intervening measures are introduced, as the “child” side of the self clings to its sanctuary for safety and protection and the “adult” side seeks to pursue a standard life of education employment, and relationships. The tug-of-war rages for decades beyond the person’s understanding.

Seeking to function as an adult child, the person, expecting the same circumstances and behaviors of others he experienced with his parents, unknowingly adopts brain-rewired survival traits, including a fear of parent-representing authority figures; the need for approval; a loss of true identity; fear of anger and criticism; adoption of a victim role; a disproportionately high sense of responsibility; the inability to stand up for or defend himself; feelings of embarrassment or guilt when the person is able to do so; a disconnection or dissociation from feelings; habitual self-criticism and harsh self-judgment; a deep-seated fear of abandonment; frequent reactions, causing childhood regression; and controlling to create a false sense safety and mastery in times of extreme insecurity.

Control, along with all of these survival strategies, hinders a connection with a Higher Power.

“… Powerlessness includes the development of our survival traits that blocked us from a meaningful relationship with God,” advises the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (ibid, p. 219).

While autonomy and independence outwardly project capability to others, they equally serve as Higher Power interferences.

“We… learned that our compulsion to control ourselves or others was a major stumbling block in our ability to let God help us,” according to the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (ibid, p. 219). “Many of us exposed our façade of self-sufficiency for what it was: a camouflaged isolation in which we were terrified of asking for help. We are hiding in plain sight from ourselves and others.”

Control removes the reigns from God and places them entirely in the hands of the adult child.

Abandonment, which is a form of disconnection, breeds detachment disorders-or the inability to trust, bond, and love others-above all and especially God.

Parentally patterned, He is viewed on varying levels of consciousness as a force who administers pain and punishment based upon the accumulation of a person’s errors, flaws, wrongs, inadequacies, and sins, and to an adult child, this list is very long indeed. As retaliation, these sufferings are inflicted as deserved penances, he believes.

“I struggled a lot with the third step because I had confused my violent and shaming father with God,” one Adult Child of Alcoholics member shared. “I thought God was a super powerful being living in the far reaches of outer space, keeping score of all my bad thoughts and actions. I had a ‘gotcha God’ whom I believed would ‘get me’ for my imperfect behavior.”

Because God is often associated with organized religions, any detrimental experiences with them prompts further disconnection.


Recovery begins with surrender to a Higher Power, whose understanding widely varies from nonexistence to the traditionally religious Creator, and both the intermediary between the person and this concept is the soul within. It came from God, is an extension of God, and is thus a part of God. But the disease of dysfunction warped it of its intrinsic love, deluding the person into believing that God’s essence is the same as the distortion and, in its extreme, the same nonexistence as the disconnection.

Parental love, equally a demonstration of what came to be perceived as a Higher Power, may have been available in varying degrees, demonstrated in ways that were misconceptions, or altogether absent, especially if the caregiver himself was altogether absent in physical, emotional, and spiritual ways.

How, one can only ask, can a person who enters twelve-step recovery, believe in and feel the essence of his Creator when the essence of his creation, his soul, has become so diminished and doused in darkness that it no longer bears any resemblance, feeling, or connection to his Source?

Adult Children of Alcoholics fellowship founder Tony A. once stated, “The adult child personality is a personality which doubts God or cannot believe the unseen, but which seeks God who is unseen.”

Since that seeking-if not surrender to-is integral to adult child recovery, just what is He like?


Understanding the existence and essence of a Higher Power first necessitates the understanding of a person’s thinking process.

Man relates, interconnects, and pieces together his brain-stored knowledge and experience, deriving conclusions he believes are true, valid, and complete, based upon the “pieces” he is able to assemble into that final picture. He may not question this truth, because he does not have any other facts with which to work, leading to the dilemma that most people undertaking this process believe that they have the cornerstone of truth.

Added to this conundrum, particularly for an adult child, is the distortions, fears, and traumas he uses, amassed after an alcoholic upbringing. Those from stable, loving homes, for example, conclude that people can be trusted. Those from chaotic, abusive ones conclude that they cannot be. But they do not question this “truth.” They have, after all, learned what they lived.

Yet, understanding a Higher Power requires realization that there are two types of knowledge-that is, that stored in and accessed from the brain and that which flows to and through the soul, despite the fact that the person cannot pinpoint why he suddenly “knows” something, especially if he has had no experience with it. It may defy logic or reasoning.

The latter is a flow from God, who is the Source of all and can thus be considered to be knowledge.

That which is not seen or understood requires additional elements-belief and faith. Housed in finite, physical, temporary form, a person cannot understand or even fathom infinite, spiritual, eternal matters, but upon release from these constraints will instantly understand all. Belief and faith, in this respect, can be considered “delayed knowledge” or “understanding placed on hold” until that time.

Left with his restrictions, man cannot necessarily understand God.

“Thus, it is deemed that the wisdom of the word is deemed foolish, because what is impossible to nature, it judges to be impossible to God,” according to Anton C. Pegis, ed., in “Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas” (Random House, 1948, p. 232).


Although numerous fields of study, from medicine to psychology, facilitate the understanding of earthly aspects, they do not necessarily aid in the understanding of God and the eternal realm because of their physically-based restrictions. Theology, on the other hand, transcends them.

The way an airplane is unable to fly without two wings, the understanding of and connection with a Higher Power similarly requires the two aspects of reasoning and faith.

Philosophy, belong to the first, employs reason, discussing and explain, by examining thought processes and numerous angles, a person’s understanding and beliefs. Its limitation is that it cannot explain what it cannot physically detect.

Theology, belong to the second, is the field that transcends philosophy, requiring faith that both transcends comprehension and delays its full conceptualization until pure, physically-separated spirituality is attained. What is not known in corporeal form can only be explained by God’s revelation, touching the soul He created, which can be considered a person’s shared essence with Him.

Because he cannot see eternity, he has no conceptualization of its realm and does not even have the vocabulary to describe and explain it in his limited physical form. Only revelation can provide glimpses of what awaits him.

“It was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths, which exceed human reason, should be made known by divine revelation… ,” according to Pegis (ibid, p. 4). “Therefore, in order that the salvation of man might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they be taught divine truths by divine revelation.”

Reason and faith may, at times, seem to oppose one another, but after the soul’s release from its physical restrictions, all will be revealed and make instantaneous sense to it, particularly because nothing in finite form can understand God, who is infinite in nature. There may be more logic to this reality than first appears apparent: why would a person who was created, know more than the entity that created him? How, similarly, can the brick layer know more than the architect who designed the building?

Theology can be considered the “divine science,” which surpasses “speculative science.” While the latter derives its “certainty” from the light of human reason, which is imperfect and can certainly err in numerous ways, the former emanates from the divine light, which is perfect and cannot err, and thus transcends all human reasoning. Although the goal of the former is understanding and perhaps the unraveling of puzzles God has pieced together through creation, the goal of the later is ultimate understanding of the Creator, along with eternal existence, being, and blessing.


Understanding God and eternity requires several shifts in perspective.

God, as Creator, first and foremost, can be considered the first effective cause, and everything He created from His sheer word can be considered His effects. Cause, in this case, will always be higher and first in order than any of its effects.

All souls were created by God. Since He is spiritual and eternal, so, too, are they, despite their temporary, physical form pause.

Because they are eternal, which is a state devoid of all matter, energy, space, and time, as known and experienced in the finite, physical world, they harness time to separate events, yet all of them, despite utter illogic, occur simultaneously.

Any understanding of God requires a shift from the physical brain, with its inherent restrictions, to the soul, with its lack of them. Interpretation can therefore only be enhanced by relinquishing literal understanding in human form.

Finally, understanding requires the imagined separation of the soul from the physical body in which it is housed-that is, from a human being to a spiritual being.

“We must conclude… ,” according to Pegis (ibid, p. 284), “that the human soul, which is called intellect or mind, is something incorporeal and subsistent.”


For many, not the least of whom may be shattered adult children, God’s very existence is questioned.

Yet His existence can be demonstrable by the cause-and-effect model. Because people, the effects, are better known and hence demonstrate, it may be easier to understand His existence, since they can be traced to the cause, God himself.

“If,” according to Pegis (ibid, p. 24), “the effect exists, the cause must pre-exist. Hence, the existence of God, in so far as it is not self-evident, can be demonstrated from those of His effects, which are known to us.”

Both Pegis and the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook speak of an original first-cause entity. In the former case, “… Some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end, and this being we call God (ibid, p. 27); and “(The reparenting) process allows us to see our biological parents as the instruments of our existence. Our actual parent is a Higher Power, whom some of us choose to call God (op. cit., p. 590).


Simplicity implies a lack of parts or composition of elements. God, the initial eternal being and the Source to whom everything can be traced, whether it be the souls or the physical manifestations that support their temporal life, is both absolute from and absolute being, devoid of any composite aspects or elements. In this respect, He is simple.

He is strength and not comprised of anything weak. He is light and not comprised of anything dark. Since He is not a composition or combination of form and matter, he is not comprised of any quantitative parts. His essence does not differ from His being.

As the first being, He is not the effect of himself as cause. Only man falls into this category.


Although the concept of goodness may have numerous meanings and measurements on the earthly plane, its definition in reference to God hinges upon beingness, connection to Him, and therefore similarity. Goodness and being are the same, but only differ in idea.

“… Every creature of God is good, and God is the greatest good,” according to Pegis (op. cit., p. 38). “Therefore, everything is good.”

Since the world seems overabundant with “bad” and evil, it may be wondered from where they came and who or what created them. But the answer here is the relativity and likeness to God, who is only good, and the bad or evil that separation causes.

If there were only a single, original temperature, such as warmth, it could be said that cold is the absence and opposite of it. Similarly, bad is the absence or opposite of good, which is God, and results from separation from Him, through sin, channeled through the use of free will.

“No being is said to be evil… , but only so far as it lacks being,” advises Pegis.

Because God is good, seeking him indicates that desire to be like and ultimately return to the He who created.

“… Everything seeks after its own perfection, and the perfection and form of an effect (the person) consist in a certain likeness to the agent (God), since every agent makes its like,” according to Pegis (ibid, p. 46).

God only created those who are like Him, not unlike Him, and the degree of their seamless connection with Him increases that likeness through beingness. Beingness here is equivalent to goodness.


Although it is difficult, if not impossible, to truly understand the concept of infinity in finite form, God is, nevertheless, boundless and eternal. Further complicating this concept, perhaps, but evident in every physical creation, is the fact that something infinite can become finite in form. That that form is additionally temporary, only proves that something finite is ultimately infinite, as it returns to its original state.

“Matter is made finite by form inasmuch as matter, before it receives its form, is in potentiality to many forms; but, on receiving its form, it is terminated by that one,” Pegis explains (ibid, p. 54).

Clay, to use an analogy, can be molded into an innumerable number of forms, from pottery to tools, but becomes finite in the form it eventually assumes. If the item is then balled back up and placed in the amorphous lump from which it came, it returns to its state of infinite potential.


Despite the obstacle of understanding, the unseen-that is, God and the souls He created-and the seen, such as physical matter, and conceptualizing how they can originate from the same Source, there is unity in all, because of the Source or origin they share. Limited human logic and reasoning render it difficult to understand this reality and God’s ability to create by his sheer word was not given, as a capability, to man.


That God is one can be concluded from three aspects.

1). His simplicity.

2). The infinity of His perfection.

3). The world’s unity.

Toward this last aspect, St. Thomas Aquinas offers two thoughts.

1). “For all things that exist are seen to be ordered to each other, since some serve others,” (Pegis, ibid, p. 67).

2). “Since… what is first is most perfect, and is so per se and not accidentally, it must be that the first which reduces all into one order should be only one. And this is God,” (Pegis, ibid, p. 67).


Because sight is the most prevalently used of the five senses, and those who firmly believe in a Higher Power or have at least embarked upon a path to understand Him strive to employ it, it is both natural and logical that they seek, if not need, to see Him. This, in essence, causes one to wonder: can the created see the Creator?

While the answer may be an unsatisfactory yes or no, there are aspects which point to one or the other. This act and intention firstly depend upon intellectual comprehension and secondly beatitude, which can be considered a rise of the soul toward its Source.

Offering what may be more confusion than explanation, St. Thomas Aquinas states, “What is supremely knowable in itself, may not be knowable to a particular intellect, because of the excise of the intelligible object above its intellect.”

The sun, as an example, may be extremely visible, but its true magnitude cannot be absorbed or understood because of the finite capability of the eyes. So beyond their ability is it, that they may actually be blinded by the excess of light.

Although man’s souls were created by God and thus bear His image, they hardly contain his magnitude and glory, especially in limited, finite, sin-separated form, leaving it impossible to fathom His true nature.

Two aspects are required for sensible and intellectual vision.

1). The power of sight, which is the physical channel to the intellect.

2). The union of that seen by means of the sight.

The likeness of God, however, cannot be seen by a corporeal creation, since God himself is neither in corporeal (bodily) form nor finite. The soul, or the shared essence between Creator and created, serves as the only commonality.

“… To see the essence of God, there is required some likeness in the visual power-namely, the light of glory strengthening the intellect to see God,” Pegis explains (ibid, p. 74).

Because the divine essence is beingness itself, only the soul can aid the intellect in seeing and understanding its Creator.

“God cannot be seen in His essence by one who is merely man, except he be separated from this mortal life… ,” St. Thomas Aquinas advises (Pegis, ibid, pp 91-92). “Our soul, as long as we live in this life, has its being in corporeal matter. Hence, it knows naturally only what has a form in matter, or by what can be known by such a form. It is evident that the divine essence cannot be known through the nature of material things.”


It can only be wondered if one person can see God more perfectly than another, and the answer lies in the definition of the verb “see,” which, in this case, has nothing to do with ocular vision. Instead, it has everything to do with the soul.

The darker and more disconnected it is from its Creator, the weaker will be its reflection. Conversely, the more it is seamlessly connected to the Divine Source, the more it will be able to reflect that Source’s glory.


Temporally experiencing finite parameters, man may naturally wish to know God’s location-that is, where is He? Because He is infinite, many believe that He is everywhere. But “everywhere” only defines the location of His effects or creations.

“… We know God more fully according as many and more of His excellent effects are demonstrated to us, and according as we attribute in Him some things known by divine revelation, to which natural reason cannot reach… ,” St. Thomas Aquinas explains (Pegis, ibid, pp 95-96).


Time serves to sequentially separate events. God, the first cause, is above time, viewing all things simultaneously, since He created all of them and they are therefore already within Him, despite the fact that certain events have not yet happened to man on the physical plane.

“Things reduced to actuality in time are known by us successively in time,” according to Pegis (ibid, p. 154), “but by God they are known in eternity, which is above time… Just as he who goes along the road does not see those who came after him, whereas he who sees the whole road from a height sees all at once those traveling on it.”


God or a Higher Power of a person’s understanding is the key to adult child recovery. Above all creation, He is certainly above the disease of dysfunction and progressively lifts and dissolves it, especially through the share process in twelve-step meetings.

Part of that process is realizing that unstable, betraying, and abandoning upbringings result in emotional and spiritual wounds created by parents or primary caregivers and that adult children projected these traits on to God, who is everyone’s actual parent, creating distortions that only concerted, restorative effects can reduce.

“One of the results of a spiritual awakening involves the understanding that God is real,” concludes the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (op. cit., p. 283). “With a spiritual awakening, we move from theories about God to the beliefs that a Higher Power is accessible and hears our prayers… We have some to believe that God, as we understand God, is our actual parent.”

Workshop Sources

“Adult Children of Alcoholics.” Torrance, California: Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, 2006.

Breggin, Peter R. “Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions.” Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2014.

Pegis, Anton C., ed. “Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas.” New York: Random House, 1948.

Waldvogel, Robert G. “Higher Power, Lower You.” EzineArticles. July 26, 2017.

Waldvogel, Robert G. “Plugging the Hole in Your Soul.” EzineArticles. May 5, 2011.

Waldvogel, Robert G. “Searching for God or the Higher Power of Your Understanding.” EzineArticles. January 6, 2015.

Waldvogel, Robert G. “Spiraling from Spirituality”. EzineArticles. April 7, 2015.

Waldvogel, Robert G. “To Pray is to Be.” EzineArticles. September 11, 2017.

Waldvogel, Robert G. “Why Am I Not Whole?” EzineArticles. January 26, 2014.