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Adult children of Alcoholics

The retreat Adult children of alcoholics

Characteristics

Many adult children who grew up in a dysfunctional home have been deeply affected by their experiences and often seek counselling and professional treatment to help resolve these issues.
They often lose themselves in their relationship with others and sometimes find themselves attracted to alcoholics or other compulsive personalities – such as workaholics. They are generally attracted to those who are emotionally unavailable. Adult children sometimes like to be the “rescuer” and will form relationships with others who need their help, to the extent of neglecting their own needs. What happens is that they place the focus on the needs of someone else so they do not have to examine their own difficulties and shortcomings.
Often, these adult children will acquire the characteristics of alcoholics, even if they never drink themselves. They can be in denial, develop poor coping strategies, have difficulties with problem solving and form dysfunctional relationships. They develop similar personality traits and characteristics as their alcoholic parent(s).

Characteristics and personality traits

A number of characteristics and personality traits of adult children of alcoholics, and of those who grew up in dysfunctional families, have been identified:

► Fear of losing control

they maintain control over their behaviour and feelings.  They also try to control the behaviour and feelings of others. They do this because they are afraid, not because they want to hurt themselves or others.  They fear that if they let go of control their lives will get worse, and they can become very anxious when they are not able to control a situation.

► Fear of Emotions or Feelings

they tend to bury their feelings (particularly anger and sadness) since childhood and are not able to feel or express emotions easily. Ultimately they fear all powerful emotions and even fear positive emotions like fun and joy.

► Avoid conflict

they have a fear of people who are in authority, people who are angry, and do not take personal criticism very well.  Often they misinterpret assertiveness for anger. Therefore, they are constantly seeking approval of others while losing their identities in the process.  Frequently they isolate themselves.

► A high burden of responsibility and constant approval seeking

they are oversensitive to the needs of others. Their self-esteem comes from others’ judgments of them, thus having the compulsive need to be perfectionists and be accepted.

► An inability to relax and have fun:

they cannot have fun because it is stressful, especially when others are watching. The child inside is frightened, and in an effort to appear perfect, exercises strict self-control.

► Harsh self-criticism and low self esteem

they are weighed down with a very low sense of self-esteem and respect, no matter how competent they may be.

► Denial

whenever they feel threatened, they tend to deny that which provoke their fears.

► Difficulties with intimacy

they fear intimacy, because it makes them feel that they lost control.  They have difficulties expressing their needs and consequently have problems with their sexuality, and repeat relationship patterns.

► Develop a victim mentality

they may either be passive or aggressive victims, and are often attracted to others like them whether in friendships, career and love relationships.

► Adopting compulsive behaviour

they may eat compulsively or become workaholics.  They may become addicted and co-dependent in a relationship, or behave compulsively in other ways. They may abuse alcohol and become alcoholics like their parent(s).

► More comfortable living in chaos or drama than in peace

they become addicted to chaos and drama, which gives them their adrenaline fix and feelings of power and control.

► The tendency to confuse love with pity

they are often in relationships with people they can rescue.

The above tendencies can cause children of alcoholics to experience difficulties right into adulthood. However, they can also develop a strong resiliency,  which can be a powerful personal resource for growth. With professional help they will be able to work through the emotional and psychological impacts of growing up with an addicted parent, identify and balance more problematic ways of thinking and behaving, and turning seemingly negative traits into strengths:The above tendencies can cause children of alcoholics to experience difficulties right into adulthood. However, they can also develop a strong resiliency,  which can be a powerful personal resource for growth. With professional help they will be able to work through the emotional and psychological impacts of growing up with an addicted parent, identify and balance more problematic ways of thinking and behaving, and turning seemingly negative traits into strengths:

  • Loyalty: when loyalty is directed into healthy relationships, this trait makes adult children exceptionally loyal friends and partners.
  • Responsability: very often adult children can be overly responsible. However, when people learn not to take responsibility for other’s actions, their level of personal responsibility contributes to their ability to succeed.
  • Intuitition: adult children of alcoholics can be incredibly intuitive, a trait they developed in order to manage their early home life.
  • Empathy: along with intuition, adult children can be empathic, caring and compassionate. They are able to understand the struggles of others.
  • Drive: when the need for perfectionism is balanced, and harsh self-criticism tamed, adult children can be driven to accomplish many things and do them well.

But “out of sight is not out of mind”. You do not outgrow the effects of an alcoholic family when you leave home. Healing the wounds growing up in a family where one or both parents have an alcohol problem can be so painful that years later the adult child can still suffer negative consequences. Unless you can free yourself from the impact alcoholism had on your life and find ways to heal and grow from this trauma, only then it is possible to move forward to lead an emotionally fulfilling life and form and sustain meaningful healthy relationships that provide a new sense of richness to life that you may have missed in the earlier years.Read more on next page: The Path toward healing: rewrite your lifescript (workshop)

Resiliency in Adult Children of Alcoholics

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