Adult Children Of Alcoholics Characteristics

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This  video covers the characteristics of the adult child of an alcoholic very well.  You can follow along by reading the transcription of the clip provide on this page.

Male Speaker: Welcome to this video covering the topic of adult children of alcoholics. This is a topic that’s very near and dear to my heart as I myself am an ACOA.

I will share some personal perspectives throughout this as well. As you can see here and you probably know from our various studies around addiction, the debilitating effects of alcoholism and other chemical dependencies are certainly not confined to the addict alone.

The spouses, the parents, children, friends, colleagues, the entire social network could suffer a deterioration. The pain of a spouse child or parent certainly may not be quite as visible but it’s definitely not any less severe.

According to the Children of Alcoholics Foundation, one in eight Americans is an adult child of an alcoholic. There are some common characteristics that the ACOA shows.

One is they adopt certain roles to cope with parental alcoholism. There’s difficulty in separating from their family of origin. They’re unable to establish stable commitments in love and work oftentimes and then often there is just severe depletion of self-esteem and that’s something that I struggled with myself and I know is a major factor.

They’re three to four times more likely to become addicted to alcohol or drugs. We know that there is a genetic predisposition there and environmental factors and genetic factors come into play, so definitely a lot of interesting information out there.

There are some researches here with a particularly interesting take on it… here from Black where he poignantly describes the suffering of children who grew up with an alcoholic parent and find themselves so encumbered by parental needs, that they cannot proceed normally toward the development of satisfying adult commitments to love and work.

women from alcoholic familiesJust to give you some examples in how I can relate to some of this as well. I definitely have struggled in my early adulthood especially with trust issues, with building self-esteem, co-dependency in my relationships and not until I went through therapy myself that I start recognizing some patterns and understanding how it was tied back to a lot of the dynamics that were at play within my family growing up.

So it’s very important for the adult children of alcoholics to reach out whether it be through support networks, through therapy, through 12-step programs, to really work on the issues that they have that could still be impacting their current day lives.

I also found that there is a very well-known doctor Janet Woititz who really is a pioneer in the research in this area. So I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of her information and so I wanted to play the video here where she goes over some very interesting things about adult children of alcoholics.

Janet Woititz: For most of us, when we get double messages, we get to pick one. If you grew up in an alcoholic family system and the double messages that you get are somewhat different because both parts of the message are true. And the early messages are internalized and you carry them with you into adulthood and they play out in different kinds of ways over and over and over again.

dysfunctional teenagersThe first of these messages is, “I love you. Go away.” You knew somehow that your parent loved you. Just because they were alcoholic or just because they were addicted to the alcohol, and I’m never really sure who causes the most distress in children, whether it’s the alcoholic or the codependent. I’ve never been really able to figure that one out but the message that the child gets from both parents is, “I love you. Go away.”

The “go away” part relates to, “I don’t have the time or the energy to give you what you need.” Now what happens when you grow up with this as your messages? What happens as an adult is that this is the way that you understand love. Did you ever wonder why the person that is most attractive to you is the one who is warm and loving one day and rejecting the next?

Those are the ones that really hook you in because it plays right into your childhood fantasy of, “This time, things will be different.”

Male Speaker: Important organization for adult children of alcoholics is the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization and that organization accesses a central agency of an overall support program really tied to the 12-step programs such as AA and built on that foundation.

They see themselves as a recovery program for adults whose lives were affected as a result of being raised in an alcoholic or other dysfunctional family. It’s definitely based on the success of AA.

They carry the 12 steps, the traditions, the promises. So I wanted to outline the promises for you here and I think these are pretty compelling to at least review these.

  • Step number one is we will discover our real identities by loving and accepting ourselves.
  • Number two, our self-esteem will increase as we give ourselves approval on a daily basis.
  • Number three, fear of authority figures and the need to people-please will leave us. That is something that I’ve struggled with, definitely the people-please nature wanting to seek that approval.
  • Number four, our ability to share intimacy will grow inside us.

Number five, as we face our abandonment issues, we will be attracted by strength and become more tolerant of weaknesses.

  • Number six, we will enjoy feeling stable, peaceful and financially secure.
  • Number seven, we will learn how to play and have fun in our lives.
  • Number eight, we will choose to love people who can love and be responsible for themselves.

That was a big one for me personally, having gone through some codependent relationships with some folks who broke my trust and really damaged things for me. So that’s a biggie.

  • Number nine, healthy boundaries and limits will become easier for us to set.
  • Number ten, fears of failures and success will leave us, as we intuitively make healthier choices.
  • Number eleven, with help from our ACA support group, we will slowly release our dysfunctional behaviors.
  • And number twelve, gradually with our Higher Power’s help, we learn to expect the best and get it.

Prospective ACOA womenSo you can see there is that spiritual element that really originates from the Alcoholics Anonymous founders and the foundation of that program.

I also wanted to share the information just overall from a mutual help group benefit standpoint with studies that have been done and research that’s out there. The mutual help groups or the 12-step programs are found to enhance three types of perceived benefits from problems. Those are improved relations with others, a change in life philosophy and an improved self-concept.

So whereas the first type is tied to giving and receiving social support, the second and third types are linked with changes in identity and status-related perceptions.

As participants experience the benefits of mutual help group involvement, they come to realize that these changes would not have been possible if they had not first experienced the problem, worked through it with [0:09:35] [Indiscernible]. With this recognition, then participants can actually attribute benefits to those problems and things that they’ve learned from their initial problems and issues.

J & L Friel’s research also shows a model for the inner child stages which I think is important for those of us suffering as adult children of alcoholics. There are different stages that you can go through to tap into your inner child and try to have some healing take place.

These different stages for the process are:

  • Number one, you have to identify the things you have been through as a child.
  • Number two, you must experience your feelings concerning these things. It is not enough to just talk about them.
  • Number three, you have to really feel these feelings which means that you have to make them as strong as they were when that situation occurred.

So for me, I had some violent things that were attributed to my mother’s alcoholism and so it’s stepping back into that time when I was eight years old and really experiencing that and working through it.

  • Number four, you must share these feelings with other people. Obviously that’s very important to be able to express that and to gain insight from the interaction with others.
  • Number five, you have to make a decision about your relationship with the person or persons who hurt you and are still hurting you.
  • Number six, not until after these steps can you begin to recover and forgive.

So some very powerful information there that I just wanted to share. Also there is quite a bit of information around building self-esteem and so let’s hear a little bit more from Dr. Jan as they call her as she talks about building self-esteem.

Happy ACOA MomJanet Woititz: The way to build self-esteem is to build it on your accomplishments, is to build it on your skills. Take a moment and reflect back into your own childhood and think a little bit about the things that you were able to do, not whether or not you wanted to but the things that you were able to accomplish as a child, that other kids didn’t accomplish.

It’s not unusual for an eight-year-old child to take over all the family responsibilities. It’s not unusual for five-year-olds to take care of younger siblings. These are skills and you need to recognize that it may be at your stage of life. I mean many of you have decided, “I’m not going to get married. I’m not going to have kids. I did that as a kid. I don’t want to do it now.”

But when you look at skills, skills are not roles. Be careful that you don’t confuse them. You may not want to play the role of parent in your life now but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have the skills to do it if you choose and choice is what makes a difference.

In order to build self-esteem, you need to go back into that childhood and to become aware of how remarkable you were; how incredible it was the way in which you learned to survive, the way in which you learn to cope with alcoholism  and the way in which you developed in ways that other children didn’t.

You need to be able to give yourself credit for that rather than just experience the pain and the horror of the fact that you didn’t choose to be born into that family. That is the way that you begin to build self-esteem, without being afraid of who you are because most of you are really very special.

People in your lives know that. You are the ones that don’t know that.

For a list of more adult children of alcoholics characteristics go here: Blog Post for a  listing ACOA characteristics

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