Photo image by Nina Matthews Graphic by Randi Fine
Adult Children of Alcoholics
A counseling client of mine has recently discovered after 40 years of unhappy, painful marriage that her husband is an Adult Child of Alcoholics (ACA). Countless trips to therapists and marriage counselors to find out why her husband was emotionally unavailable, angry for no apparent reason, and could never follow through on promises all proved ineffective. Now that the source of his problem has been identified, he is in recovery and she is learning to live life on her own terms. The future looks promising for both of them.
I am sharing the following articles, written by professionals in the field, to spread awareness about the characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) in hopes that those dealing with this issue can recognize it and get the proper help.
Written by Pamela Weintraub, published in Psychology Today on February 09, 2007
Adult children of alcoholics face down denial, but it’s a trauma they carry throughout their lives. ~Pamela Weintraub~
If alcoholism seems like a lot to handle, imagine growing up with addicted parents. The alcoholic family is one of chaos, inconsistency, unclear roles, and illogical thinking. Arguments are pervasive, and violence or even incest may play a role. Children in alcoholic families suffer trauma as acute as soldiers in combat; they also carry the trauma like an albatross throughout their lives.
Not only is the experience devastating, it’s common, says Stephanie Brown, founder of the Alcohol Clinic at Stanford Medical Center, where she formulated the developmental model of alcohol recovery. Seventy-six million Americans (about 45 percent of the U.S. population) have been exposed to alcoholism in the family in one way or another, and an estimated 26.8 million of them are children. “These children are more at risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than are children of non-alcoholics, and more at risk of marrying an alcoholic as well.”
Overcoming the legacy of a parent’s alcoholism may be difficult in part because there is a long history of denial. “The family is dominated by the presence and denial of alcoholism, which becomes a major family secret,” says Brown, today director of the Addictions Institute in Menlo Park, California. The secret becomes a governing principle required to hold the family together, the scaffolding for coping strategies and shared beliefs, without which the family might fall apart.
From the Website of Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, Inc.
- We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
- We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
- We are frightened of angry people and any personal criticism.
- We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
- We live life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
- We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc.
- We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
- We became addicted to excitement.
- We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
- We have “stuffed” our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).
- We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
- We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
- Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
- Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.
Article Source: http://www.adultchildren.org/lit/Laundry_List.php
From the Website of ACA Arizona Intergroup,
Adapted from Adult Children of Alcoholics, by Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D., 1987
1) We guess at what normal behavior is. Because of our environment, we had no role models for normalcy, so we acted the way we saw other people act, people we thought were normal, and continue this performance into our adult lives.
2) We have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end; we procrastinate. Procrastination in the usual sense is the result of laziness. Adult children of alcoholics have never been taught how to solve a problem in systematic, manageable amounts. It was always all or nothing. Consequently, we don’t have adult life skills.
3) We lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth. Lies, specifically lies of denial, were used to benefit the alcoholics and para alcoholics of our homes.
4) We judge ourselves without mercy. Since there is no way for us to meet the unattainable standards of perfection we have internalized from childhood, we are always falling short of the mark we have set for ourselves. If we are responsible for some positive outcome we dismiss it by saying, “Oh, that was easy,” and so on. This is often confused with humility but is actually poor self-esteem. We should keep our poor self-esteem in mind when taking the Fourth and Fifth steps.
5) We have difficulty having fun. For most of us having fun was just a childhood fantasy. We were always imprisoned by the anger and hostility of alcoholism, even if physically removed from the alcoholic, the disease was already part of us.
6) We take ourselves very seriously. The normal spontaneity of childhood was squashed so many years ago by the pressure to be adult. Living with one or more addicts forced us to be on guard constantly. Seriousness was the only option. Now we can’t have fun.
7) We have difficulty with intimate relationships. For most of us the only reference of intimate relationships was that of our parents. Our inconsistent parent child relationships caused us to feel an overwhelming fear of abandonment. We are left too inexperienced and fearful to let ourselves get close to anyone.
8) We overreact to changes over which we have no control. As young children the addict’s life was inflicted on us as part of our environment. Our only recourse was to try to take control totally. Now any change which we are unaware of or have no control over leaves us feeling desperate and vulnerable.
9) We constantly seek approval and affirmation. The love we received as children was very erratic. The affirmations we didn’t get on a day to day basis as children, we interpreted as negative, leaving us with low self images. If someone likes us, gives us affirmation and accepts us, we usually judge them worthless. Our low self images thrive on this.
10) Because of our secretive childhood sufferings, we thought that things were always better in the “house next door.” NOBODY could possibly feel the same way as we did. Therefore, we felt unique, not a part of the group, and always looking in through an imaginary barrier.
11) We are super responsible or super irresponsible. So much of our lives are all or nothing when trying to please our parents we did more and more and more; some of us realized early in our childhood, that there simply was no pleasing them, so we did nothing. We people please until we burn out for two basic reasons; one, because we don’t have a realistic sense of our own capabilities or, two because if we say NO, we’re afraid someone might find out how inadequate we feel and no longer like us.
12) We are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved. Since starting a relationship is so difficult and frightening, when we do so we expect it to be permanent. This loyalty is usually caused by fear of abandonment. At home we always “hung in there” enabling the addict and denying the disease.
13) We are impulsive. As children our impulsivity was usually denied or covered up by our parents. We seldom suffered the consequences for impulsivity, leaving us with no deterrent, and we allow our impulsive behavior to continue in our adult lives.