ACOA Adult Children of Alcoholics Presented by Gary B. Neumann
What is ACOA? Initials stand for Adult Children of Alcoholics
ACOA Any adult who was raised in a family where one parent or step-parent, or both parents were alcoholics.
Alcoholism : The abuse of alcohol to the extent that it interferes with major life functions of the individual such as work, health, family, friendships, etc. Alcoholism is a progressive, chronic, and frequently fatal disease. (as defined by the NIAA (National Institute for Alcohol Abuse)
Characteristics of ACOA may include: Fear Of Losing Control: ACA’s maintain control of their feelings, their behavior and try to control the feelings and behavior of others. They do not do this to hurt either themselves or others, but out of fear. They fear that their lives will get worse it they let go of their control, and get uncomfortably anxious when control is not possible.
Fear Of Feelings: ACA’s have buried their feelings (especially anger and sadness), from childhood on and have lost the ability to feel or express emotions freely. Eventually all intense feelings are feared, even good feelings, such as joy and happiness. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
Fear Of Conflict: ACOA’s are frightened by people in authority, angry people and personal criticism. Common assertiveness, displayed by others, is often misinterpreted as anger. As a result of their fear of conflict, ACOA’s are constantly seeking approval, but they lose their identity in the process. They often end up in a self-imposed state of isolation. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
An Overdeveloped Sense Of Responsibility: ACOA’s are hypersensitive to the needs of others. Their self-esteem comes from how others view them, and thus they have a compulsive need to be perfect. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
Feelings Of Guilt When They Stand Up For Themselves Instead Of Giving In To Others: ACOA’s sacrifice their own needs in an effort to be “responsible” and to avoid guilt. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
An Inability To Relax, Let Go, Have Fun: Fun is stressful for ACOA’s, especially when others are watching. The child inside is terrified, exercising all the control it can muster to be good enough just to survive. Under such rigid control, it’s no wonder spontaneity suffers, for spontaneity and control are incompatible. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
Harsh, Even Fierce, Self-Criticism: ACOA’s are burdened by a very low sense of self-esteem, no matter how competent they may be in many areas. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
Living In A World Of Denial: Whenever ACOA’s feel threatened, their tendency toward denial intensifies. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
Difficulties With Intimate Relationships: Intimacy gives ACOA’s a feeling of being out of control. It requires self-love and comfort with expressing one’s own needs. As a result, ACOA’s frequently have difficulty with sexuality. They repeat relationship patterns without growth. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
Fear Of Abandonment: ACOA’s will do anything to hold onto a relationship in order NOT to experience the pain of abandonment. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
The Tendency To Assume A Black And White Perspective Under Pressure: The gray areas of life disappear, and ACOA’s see themselves facing an endless series of either/or alternatives. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
A Tendency Toward Physical Complaints: ACOA’s suffer higher rates of stress related medical illness. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
Suffering From A Backlog Of Delayed Grief: Losses experienced during childhood were often never grieved for, since the alcoholic family does not tolerate such intensely uncomfortable feelings. Current losses cannot be felt without calling up these past feelings. As a result ACOA’s are frequently depressed. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
An Ability To Survive : If you are reading this list, you are a survivor. Characteristics of ACOA may include:
1. Fear Of Trusting 21 Characteristics of ACOA: 2. Pervasive Sense Of Guilt 3. Hyper responsibility or Chronic Irresponsibility 4. Perfectionist 5. Counter - Dependence Fear of Dependency 6. Need To Be In Control 7. Difficulty Hearing Positives
8. Over-Achievement or Under-Achievement 21 Characteristics of ACOA: 9. Poor Self Image 10. Compulsive Behaviors 11. Need To Be Right 12. Denial 13. Fear Of Conflict & Anger 14. Chaos Junkies
15. Fear Of Feeling 16. Frequent Periods Of Depression 17. Fear Of Intimacy 18. Fear Of Incompetence 19. Hypersensitivity To The Needs Of Others 20. Repetitive Relationship Patterns 21. Inability To Relax, Let Go & Have Fun 21 Characteristics of ACOA:
Characteristics of Children of Alcoholics: There is no sure way to identify children living in alcoholic homes. Many of their behaviors are similar to behaviors of children with other types of problems. However, there are certain indicators that should raise “red” warning flags in the minds of teachers and alert them to the possibility of alcoholism in the family. The development of patterns, rather than the recognition of symptoms, is the most important aspect in identifying these children: single acts do not constitute a pattern. Following are symptoms which could indicate alcoholism in the home.
Characteristics of Children of Alcoholics: 1. Changes In Appearance 2. Failure To Return Report Cards Promptly 3. Fluctuating Academic Performance 4. Avoidance Of Argument Or Conflict 5. Hunger 6. Fatigue & Listlessness 7. Concern About Getting Home On Time Or Avoiding Going Home 8. Social Isolation 9. H.A.L.T.
Characteristics of the Alcoholic Family: 1. Focus On Alcohol 2. Shame Based 3. Denial 4. Inconsistency & Insecurity 5. Emotional Cycles Of Family Members 7. Chaotic Interaction or No Interaction 8. Hyper-Vigilance / Hyper-Sensitivity 9. Unspoken Rules 10. Doubting Of Perceptions 6. Looped Communication 11. Fear of Normal Conflict 12. Survival Roles
Family “Roles”: Alcoholic Behavior Aggression (abuse) Very Emotional Grandiose Behavior Perfectionism (very seldom completes A project, then no one can criticize) Rigidity Charm Anger What is really going on inside Feelings Pain Guilt/Hurt Fear/Shame
Family “Roles”: Where the Alcoholic Fits in the Family Circle Family A
Family “Roles”: Enabler Fragile Self-Pity Martyr Don’t Talk/Feel/Trust Self-Blaming Very Serious Acting Disciplinarian What is really going on inside Hurt Anger Resentment Pain/Guilt Family Purpose: Responsible A
Family “Roles”: Where the Enabler fits in the Family Circle Family A E
Family “Roles”: Hero Child Over-Achiever All-Together Appearing Disappointed With Anything Less Than 1st Place of “A” Special (Narcissistic) Develops Independent Lifestyle Applause Replaces Love/Nurturing But Applause Is Never Enough What is really going on inside Lonely Hurt/Anger Confusion Inadequate Family Work Hard For Approval Extremely Reliable Super-Responsible Takes on parenting role Success Oriented Purpose: Brings Pride to family Protect Family Worth A E
Family “Roles”: Where the Hero Child fits in the Family Circle Family A E HC
Family “Roles”: Scapegoat Sullen Defiant “ Acting Out” 80% of people in jail are Scapegoats High Sense of Peers What is really going on inside Fear Anger Rejection Hurt Family “ Fire Breathing Dragon” Early Chemical Use Early Pregnancy Rate Withdrawn Low Achiever “ Milk Spiller” Purpose: Distraction A E HC
Family “Roles”: Where the Scapegoat fits in the Family Circle Family A E HC S
Family “Roles”: Mascot Humorous Fun Around Clowns A lot Does Anything To Attract Attention Away From Problems What is really going on inside Confusion Fear/Insecure Loneliness Low Self Esteem Family Hyper-Active Reads Family Well/Audience Well Fits In Anywhere Fragile “ Super Cute” Emotional Caretaker Purpose: Fun & humor to Cover feelings in self and family A E HC S
Family “Roles”: Where the Mascot fits in the Family Circle Family A E HC S M M M M
Family “Roles”: Lost Child Withdrawn Distant Fantastic Imagination Suicide As A Way To Get Out Of Pain/Rage/Self, What is really going on inside Intense Loneliness Inadequate Anger=Rage Family Quiet Shut Out External Reality Assumes Others Know What They Need Will Not Ask For Help Super Independent Stays Out Of Way Purpose: Sponge For Family Tension Follower Loner Introverted Shy Invisible Aloof Slips in and out quietly A E HC S M M M M
Family “Roles”: Where the Lost Child fits in the Family Circle Family A E HC S M M M M LC
Survival Roles: ENABLER HERO CHILD SCAPEGOAT MASCOT LOST CHILD
As play therapy follows a natural progression, so do symptoms of growing up with alcoholism in individual children. The chart that follows shows the progression of symptoms and recovery as observed in working with children of alcoholics Young Children of Alcoholics:
Start Young Children of Alcoholics: Child begins to react to family with distinct roles Control beings by Being overly good, bad or withdrawn Sense of being trapped in family Doesn’t talk about it Tries drinking High tolerance for unacceptable behavior builds Need drinking parent to maintain place in family Fears Abandonment Ongoing guilt: Can’t set boundaries Childhood depression begins Ongoing fear of violence Doesn’t invite friends over Stays away from home
Cont. Young Children of Alcoholics: Illness, allergies increase Ongoing confusion Is the rule Problems or extreme over-achievement occur at school Role changes with Sisters/brothers may occur May drink more with or without parent Learning disabilities Feels unloved, unwanted, useless, failure, hopeless Emotional disturbances manifest Suicidal fantasies Death wishes for parents Child reaches out for help, creates crises, or is intervened upon by Social Service Agency
Young Children of Alcoholics: Doesn’t trust Crises lessen Talks some in safe situations Learns alcoholism is disease Shows resentment at parents and disease Gives up some of the rigid role mechanisms Tries trust, talking in family Negative emotions lessen as self-expression increases Feelings expressed (more appropriately) Illnesses lessen greatly Realizes “perfect family will not happen Able to focus on self, school, peers Sense of belonging to family Continues group/Alateen Recovery
Children of Alcoholics: The Progression and Recovery through the Cloud of Alcoholism Childhood Frequent illnesses, bed wetting, lack of attention span, night terrors, problems in school, hyperactivity, immature for age/parental child, begins lying/stealing, lack of spontaneity.
Children of Alcoholics: The Progression and Recovery through the Cloud of Alcoholism Adolescence Feeling over responsible, helpless, identifies family as different, becoming more withdrawn/acting out, learning disabilities, special education, low self-esteem, seeks inferior peer group-drug/alcohol use, shutting down feelings, procrastination, manipulation, distorted sense of power, fights, school truancy, drop out.
Children of Alcoholics: The Progression and Recovery through the Cloud of Alcoholism Young Adult Drugs/alcohol abuse, can’t keep a job/workaholic, can’t relax, compulsive behaviors, eating disorders, denial of family dysfunction, promiscuous/isolation, feelings of being crazy, not belonging increasing, unrealistic expectations of self, people pleaser/defiant, guilt for leaving or staying, no sense of what normal/reality is, all or nothing thinking, can’t complete a task, lying is a habit, judges self without mercy, relationship problems, approval seeking then rejecting it.
Children of Alcoholics: The Progression and Recovery through the Cloud of Alcoholism Adult Increased low self-esteem, eating disorders/alcohol or drug addiction severe, intimacy problems, fear of success/failure, can’t identify feelings or express, overreaction to life’s circumstances, no trust level/over trust and oversensitive, psychosomatic illnesses, isolation, over-involved with others, desperate need to stay in control, self neglect/extravagance, job problems, panic attacks, feeling hopeless, and helpless, constant anxiety, phobias, suicide thoughts/attempts.
Children of Alcoholics: The Progression and Recovery through the Cloud of Alcoholism Definition of Cloud Our definition of a Cloud is a defense mechanism the COA develops to protect themselves from the pain. The cloud intensity increases creating isolation and confusion. The recovery process dissipates the cloud. The symptomolgy above has been compiled from our personal experience and the experience of other experts in the field.
Children of Alcoholics: The Progression and Recovery through the Cloud of Alcoholism Childhood Comes in contact with ACA Therapy and begins recovery. Discovers ACA self-help groups and is further relieved, but needs more. Feels some intellectual relieve but still stuck. Tries different kinds of therapy. Reads self-help books. Becomes willing to get help. Defense system starts to break down.
Children of Alcoholics: The Progression and Recovery through the Cloud of Alcoholism Childhood Gets in touch with damaged child within and learns how to nurture self. Becoming more honest. Gaining confidence and letting go of guilt. Self esteem building. Begins to understand they are not crazy/hopeless and develops optimism. Support of therapy process begins to build trust level. Pain increases. Fear sets in and tempted to withdraw. Begins breaking out of denial.
Children of Alcoholics: The Progression and Recovery through the Cloud of Alcoholism Childhood A feeling of belonging. No longer threatened by a hostile world. Feels genuine self-esteem. Lets go of victim role and claims power as an adult. Improves intimacy skills. Spontaneity returns. Accepts rights to assert self. Trust level increases. Begins to learn what normal is and what are realistic expectations.
Cause and Effect: One Women’s Story - By Juanita - Tualip Tribes As the eldest of ten children I became, at an early age, the “junior mom” in my family. My mother and father were both alcoholics so someone had to do the chores and care for the smaller children. I guess I was about eight years old. I remember standing on a chair over the stove trying to cook dinner for us kids. I don’t know why I remember this particular time, but it must’ve been the beginning of my adulthood responsibilities. My parents were gone a lot so I was in charge of keeping the house. I had complete control within the family. If I directed orders to the other children, they had to carry them out.
Cause and Effect: By Juanita - Tualip Tribes If they wanted to go somewhere they had to ask me first because I might have needed their help with the housecleaning, dish washing, sweeping or mopping the floors, or washing the clothes. My responsibilities became greater as time went by. I was 12 or 13 years old when my mother had two more children. Two more babies born for me to care for, a toddler and an infant. I was a good little mother to them. I bathed them, fed them, and changed their diapers. If they got sick I knew what to do for them. I gave them baby aspirin or if their fevers were too high, I’d rub them down with rubbing alcohol. I always know what to do in any case of emergency because is was now natural instinct.
Cause and Effect: By Juanita - Tualip Tribes It seems that I was always protecting the younger children just like an old mother hen. I made sure the younger children wouldn’t wander off while playing outside; I made sure they had their shoes and coats on, and I checked on them so that no one hurt them. At the age of 15 or 16, I felt a new protective instinct toward my younger sisters who were between the ages of 8 and 12. I had been sexually abused by a couple of my uncles so I made sure they weren’t. My “junior mom” role continued until I was able to leave home and care for myself, finally.
Cause and Effect: By Juanita - Tualip Tribes I sometimes regret not being a child like my younger sisters and brothers. I never had time to play with dolls, hide’n’seek, tag, or have special childhood friends. There was not time for me to dream up fantasies like becoming a high school prom queen, or an honor roll student. My time was filled with the real realities of surviving and caring for everyone else. I missed being loved and nurtured by someone who cared for me. Even though I knew my parents loved me the best way the knew how, I wanted and needed a hug just to know that I was somebody important in some kind of way.
A - Alcoholic ED - Eating Disorder D - Drug Abuse DI - Diabetic C - Cancer L - Liver Disease CD - Co-Dependant G - Gambling W - Workaholic DD - Dead DV - Divorced SA - Sexual Abuse ACOA - FAS - Fetal Alcohol Syn. PA - Phys. Abuse Adult Child of Alcoholic FAE - Fetal Alcohol Effect. EA - Emotional Abuse Other: HC - Hero Child SG - Scapegoat M - Mascot LC - Lost Child Other: ___ - ___________ ___ - ___________ ___ - ___________ Self _____________________ Name
12 Things To Do If Your Love One Is An Alcoholic: <ul><li>Don’t regard this as a family disgrace. Recovery from alcoholism can come about as in any other illness. </li></ul><ul><li>2. Don’t nag, preach, or lecture to the alcoholic. Chances are he has already told himself everything you can tell him. He will take just so much and shut out the rest. You may only increase his need to lie or force him to make promises he cannot possibly keep. </li></ul>
12 Things To Do If Your Love One Is An Alcoholic: 3. Guard against the “holier-than-thou” or martyr-like attitude. It is possible to create this impression without saying a word. An alcoholic's sensitivity is such that he judges other people’ attitudes toward him more by small things than outspoken words. 4. Don’t use the “if you loved me” appeal. Since the alcoholic’s drinking is compulsive and can not be controlled by willpower, this approach only increases this guilt. It is like saying, “if you loved me, you would not have tuberculosis.”
12 Things To Do If Your Love One Is An Alcoholic: 5. Avoid any threat unless you think it through carefully and definitely intend to carry it out. There may be times, of course, when a specific action is necessary to protect children. Idle threats only make the alcoholic feel you don’t mean what you say. 6. Don’t hide the liquor or dispose of it. Usually this only pushes the alcoholic into a state of desperation. In the end, he will simply find new ways of getting more liquor.
12 Things To Do If Your Love One Is An Alcoholic: <ul><li>Don’t let the alcoholic persuade you to drink with him on the grounds that it will make him drink less. It rarely does. Besides, when you condone his drinking, he puts off doing something to get help. </li></ul><ul><li>8. Don’t be jealous of the method of recovery he chooses. The tendency is to think that love of home and family is enough incentive for seeking recovery. Frequently the motivation of regaining self respect is more compelling for the alcoholic than resumption of family responsibilities. Or you may feel left out when the alcoholic turns to other peoples for help in staying sober. You wouldn’t be jealous of the doctor if someone needs medical care, would you? </li></ul>
12 Things To Do If Your Love One Is An Alcoholic: 9. Don’t expect an immediate full recovery. In any illness there is a period of convalescence. There may be relapses and times of tension and resentment. 10. Don’t try to protect the recovering alcoholic from drinking situations. It’s one of the quickest ways to push him into a relapse. He must learn on his own to say “no” gracefully. If you warn people against serving him drinks you will stir up old feelings of resentment and inadequacy.
12 Things To Do If Your Love One Is An Alcoholic: 11. Don’t do for the alcoholic that which he can do for himself or which must be done by himself. You cannot take his medicine for him. Don’t remove the problem before the alcoholic can face it, or suffer the consequences. 12. Do offer love, support, and understanding in his sobriety.