Sunday, August 13, 2006

2006-08-13 How many of these characteristics of 'Adult Children of Alcoholics' do you have?

Last night I was sitting at the Seattle Coffee Company in Hyde Park, with a whole bunch of books from the Exclusive Books next door.

One of them was ADULT CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLICS by Janet geringer Woititz.

She lists a whole bunch of characteristics of adult children of alcoholics, and goes into detail about each one, with some thoughts on how to overcome these things.

When I looked at the list, I was gobsmacked. I'm a 'yes' to many of the items. (My mom was an alcoholic from around the time I was born, and my dad was abusive.)

This is her list. It applies to loads of people... pretty much anyone who grew up in an environment of abuse (alcohol, substance, gambling, emotion, physical, sexual) will have some of these characteristics.

Adult children of alcoholics...
  • guess at what normal behaviour is. (Yup.)
  • have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.
  • lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
  • judge themselves without mercy. (Yup.)
  • have difficulty having fun. (Yup.)
  • take themselves very seriously. (Yup.)
  • have difficulty with intimate relationships. (Yup.)
  • over-react to changes over which they have no control. (Double-yup.)
  • constantly seek approval and affirmation. (Yup.)
  • usually feel that they are different from other people. (Yup.)
  • are super responsible or super irresponsible. (Super responsible is me.)
  • are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved. (Yup.)
  • are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviours or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self loathing, and loss of control. They spend a lot of energy and time sorting our the resulting mess. (Yup.)
I was very surprised about this list. I spent a lot of time reading the book. Learning about how these things manifest. On the last point... I would NEVER have accused myself of being impulsive. But in actual fact, I am.

Breaking up with 'S' was an impulsive act. I felt 'compelled' to clear up a specific issue, and that led to really awful behaviour on my part, putting 'S' on the spot, and giving her no options.

Luckily, most people have some of these characteristics. It's just that adult children of alcoholics DON'T KNOW WHAT NORMAL BEHAVIOUR IS. So we tend to think that our own behaviours 'don't fit', or are abnormal. So while a certain amount of impulsivity is normal for people, when I experience it in myself, it seems overblown, crazy, too much. So I come down hard on myself. With no mercy. Yup. Hard stuff.

But it can be dealt with. And that's what therapy is for.


  1. Dear Roy,

    I am 57 now and first ran into this list at 36 and was shocked - but relieved to relate to something that fit me. Getting better comes in layers for me. For a while I do pretty good; then a trigger and I'm off and running to figure out another piece to where I find myself today, saying to myself that the sexual abuse at the hands of my parents when I was a young is really called incest; wow, a word I always reserved for "certain types of families"; isn't it odd that it took me this long to be able to call what happened to my what is really is? Not sexual abuse but incest. I disengaged from my family of origin two days ago. I'm somewhere between dissociating and panic, but I found an article "Disengagin from your family of origin" that is so on point with me and my stuff that I do believe everything will really be okay. Thank you for sharing your story via the video. I found it to be powerful and touching and real. I loved the way you told your story - no judgment, just the facts. Thanks again.

  2. Thanks Terri/Gillian. Really cool of you to leave your comment on this post. It's a tough thing to do in public. And yet, paradoxically, it's one of the things needed for healing... getting the silence lifted.

    I want to congratulate you for making the move away from your family. As difficult as it might be in the right now, in time the panic will ease, and clarity and perspective will come. You're doing something powerfully 'for you'.

    All the very best to you. Thank you for letting me know your story. And thank you for your kindness about the video.


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