Most of us know if Mom or Dad drank.
What we may not know is that it impacts our adult life a lot more than we think it does. There are common long-term effects among those of us with drinking parents, alcoholic parents, ill parents, and parents we couldn’t count on that follow us to adulthood.
As adult children of alcoholics, we show these traits:
1. We have extremely low self-esteem.
Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy and need a lot of approval and love from other people.
2. We feel guilty.
Many times, we think there’s something wrong with doing anything good for ourselves or feeling good about ourselves — that it would mean we were egotistical or selfish. Or whatever goes wrong or whoever is unhappy, we feel like it’s our fault somehow.
3. We have no minds of our own.
We look to close people around us before we decide how we should feel and what we should think. And it’s always, “What should I feel or think?” not, “How do I actually feel or think?” no matter what the situation is.
4. We’re emotionally numb to our own selves.
Many times how we actually feel comes so late in our experience that we’re grinding-ly, wrenchingly miserable before it dawns on us how we actually wanted or needed things to be.
We say “yes” to please others, believing it will all turn out fine (because they think it will) and then we’re a long way down the wrong road before we see how badly we’re hurting and know we need things to change.
I know an ACoA who actually felt suicidal before he ever questioned how his significant other was treating him and whether it was normal or not. (It wasn’t.)
5. We often say, “But I have to.”
We feel obligated to meet our family’s needs and wants and make everyone else happy. We feel as if we’re bad people if we can’t or don’t want to do this. When someone else’s needs or wants conflict with ours, we feel fused with their upset feelings, as if we have no choice but to make them happy — no matter what we wanted, or what it will cost us.
We may only see one or two extreme options for what to do when really we might have many other choices and they just aren’t showing up on our radar.
6. We think, “Is this how most relationships are?”
We feel like we don’t really know what’s healthy or normal in a relationship.
7. We have a million unfinished projects.
We have trouble finishing things.
8. We always want to please others.
There’s a classic book called When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. That title really is the ACoA theme song. We don’t want to upset anyone by saying “no” so we say “yes” to things we know we don’t want to do or don’t have time to do.
Then we conveniently “forget” them or try to weasel out of them.
9. Any raised voices scare us.
We’ll do or say just about anything to avoid an argument, including lying about our true feelings. We do a lot of giving in and going along, then later we’re angry when something didn’t turn out at all comfortable for us and now we have to live with it.
We “yes”…and resent, “yes”…and resent.
10. We believe that the world’s a somber and sad place.
We don’t get many of our own needs met, we work all the time, we don’t get a lot of rest, and life never feels like a whole lot of fun. We never got to have any fun as a kid, and we still don’t.
We have this sense that we just aren’t like other people. Deep down, we just know there’s something wrong with us, and that’s why no one will ever really love us.
11. We can’t find that middle place that’s just right.
Either we’re the person who always finds ourselves having to take care of everyone else or we’re the person who just can’t seem to do very well. Maybe we’re still living at home, or we can’t get or hang onto the kind of job or salary that our intelligence or abilities suggest we should be able to.
Or we’re the spouse, significant other, or parent of someone like this and we’re the one pulling the weight for that person. And resenting it. This kind of imbalance in our relationships is common, where one person pulls too much weight and the other pulls too little.
12. We stay in a bad relationship a lot longer than we should.
We get a lot of treatment from others that make us feel bad, but we always have a reason why we “should” or “need to” or “have to” stay.
13. We’re very unhappy.
But we don’t see a whole lot of options for how to change our lives. And for the options we do see, we find ourselves saying, “But I can’t do that because…”
Our relationship tends to swing from close to distant to close to distant, from good to bad and back again, over and over.
If this sounds like you, the worst thing you can possibly ever do is stick your head in the sand and say, “I can’t do anything about it.”
It can feel very scary to start therapy or to pick up a book on adult children of alcoholics or about codependency. You feel as if you are about to be told exactly what’s wrong with you that no one treats you better, and how it’s all your fault, but I can assure you that’s not what’s going to happen.
I had a lot of these same feelings being raised by a parent with a personality disorder. Trust me, the best thing that can happen to you is for you to be able to raise your eyes above the horizon of your childhood, how you’ve always been treated, what other people will say, and how life’s always been for you.
You’re not going to hear a lot of terrible things about yourself. You’re not crazy or stupid. You just need a bird’s eye view of your life.
There’s a lot of missing pieces in your understanding of why your life’s turned out the way it has, and it can get a lot better. But it never will if you’re scared of information and good help.
P.D. Reader is a student astrologer who blogs as The Thinking Other Woman. She used self-help books, videos, therapy, (and, yes, astrology!) to make sense of her affair, her life, and her broken heart, and you can, too.