Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics
By Steve Frisch, PsyD
Adults who were raised in homes organized around chemical dependency or physical abuse may display certain behavior characteristics. These behaviors may be the tip of the ice berg of an underlying emotional or behavioral disorder that is damaging to the emotional and spiritual well-being of the individual. The following list is intended to help you identify the ways in which you may have been affected by familial alcoholism or physical or sexual abuse.
We have feelings of low self-esteem that cause us to judge ourselves and others without mercy. We cover up or compensate by trying to be perfect, take responsibility for others, attempt to control the outcome of unpredictable events, get angry when things don't go our way, or gossip instead of confronting an issue. For example:
o I find myself constantly finding fault with people.
o I am hard myself, often to the point of self-hatred.
o I make myself important to others by doing for them because I don't believe that people could like me for me.
o I continually think about maintaining the upper hand in any relationship.
We tend to isolate ourselves and to feel uneasy around other people, especially authority figures. For examples:
o I feel uncomfortable when people focus on me.
o I lose my voice when I have to stand up for myself. I isolate myself rather than getting involved with groups of people.
We are approval seekers and will do anything to make people like us. We are extremely loyal even in the face of evidence that suggests loyalty is undeserved. For example:
o I worry about what others are thinking and saying about me.
o My fear of rejection keeps from standing up for myself.
o It's hard for me to admit that I came from a troubled home.
We are intimidated by angry people and personal criticism. This causes us to feel anxious and overly sensitive. For example:
o I say what I think what other people want me to say rather than what I truly feel.
o I avoid conflict at all costs.
o I panic at the thought of somebody finding a mistake with me or my work.
We habitually choose to have relationships with emotionally unavailable people with addictive personalities. We are less attracted to healthy, caring people. For example:
o I always attract people who are unable to care for me the way I care for them.
o I never seem to remain in a relationship for more than six months.
We live life as victims and are attracted to other victims in our love and friendship relationships. We confuse love with pity and rescue. For example:
o I always come up short in the end.
o I always listen to my friends problems but they're never there for me.
We are either overly responsible or very irresponsible. We try to solve others' problems or expect others to be responsible for us. This enables us to avoid looking closely at our own behavior. For example:
o I am always the one who rescues my friends and family members.
o No one cares as much about things as I do.
o When things go wrong around me, I feel like it's my fault.
We feel guilty when we stand up for ourselves or act assertively. We give in to others instead of taking care of ourselves. For example:
o I always doubt myself once I stand up for myself.
o I have a great deal of anger inside of me because people walk all over me.
We deny, minimize, or repress our feelings from our traumatic childhoods. We have difficulty expressing our feelings and are unaware of the impact this has on our lives. For example:
o I can barely remember anything about my childhood.
o I often times am overcome with anxiety without knowing why.
o I never act in a spontaneous, joyful manner.
o When I start to feel things too much I look for some activity or substance to distract me from experiencing my feelings.
We are dependent personalities who are terrified of rejection or abandonment. We tend to stay in jobs or relationships that are harmful to us. Our fears can either stop us from ending hurtful relationships or prevent us from entering healthy, rewarding ones. For example:
o When I believe someone is ignoring me, I blame myself.
o If I'm not praised for what I've done, I assume I have displeased that person and they'll no longer want anything to do with me.
Denial, isolation, control, and misplaced guilt are symptoms of family problems. Because of these behaviors, we feel hopeless and helpless. For example:
o I just wish that I could off myself and not be bothered by anybody.
o Circumstances keep getting in the way of me having the kind of life I want.
o I keep everyone from getting to know me.
o I feel safest at home, shut off from the world.
We have difficulty with intimate relationships. We feel insecure and lack trust in others. We don't have clearly defined boundaries and become enmeshed with our partner's needs and emotions. For example:
o I feel threatened by the anger of those people who are close to me.
o I can have sex with my partner but I can't get emotionally close to them.
We have difficulty following projects through from beginning to end. For example:
o I put things off until the last minute.
o I never seem to be able to get my house in order.
o I'm great at starting projects, but finishing them never happens.
We have a strong need to be in control. We overreact to change over which we have no control. For example:
o I'm constantly on guard, always looking for ways that things can go wrong.
o I'm not good at delegating, taking over for everyone else.
We tend to be impulsive. We take action before considering alternative behaviors or possible consequences. For example:
o I settle for less than what I really want.
o I always find myself in the middle of chaos, never understanding how I got there.
o I agree to activities that I later regret agreeing to.