Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs) are intimately familiar with feeling powerless, out of control, and terrified.
As children raised by an alcoholic parent or primary caregiver, ACOAs were innocent hostages in a world filled with unpredictability, chaos, confusing roles, illogical thinking, and intense fear. They struggled to navigate a game that was always changing by attempting to control the drinker, themselves, and even other family members. Perhaps you can identify with some of these control attempts:
- Begging your parent to stop or reduce their drinking
- Taking care of the alcoholic when they were drunk and acting in embarrassing ways
- Hiding and/or watering down alcohol, hiding car keys, dumping liquor out
- Trying to control another family member who behaved in a way that “caused” the person to drink
Long-term effects of being raised by an alcoholic
The effects of being raised in an alcoholic household are pervasive and long-lasting. Most notably, ACOAs crave being in control. It is understandable that control would be a primary need for an adult who was traumatized by situations which were out of their control. Unfortunately, this desire often results in behaviors and beliefs which harm the ACOA and their adult relationships.
By carefully controlling themselves, situations, and the people in their lives, ACOAs live with the illusion of safety and predictability. It is not sustainable, however, because life and relationships are dynamic and always changing. Control issues in adulthood often manifest in the following ways:
- Dictating what others must do/must not do
- Being inflexible in making/changing plans
- Experiencing persistent anxiety
- Being overly critical of yourself and others
- Having difficulty expressing and acknowledging emotions
- Manipulating and giving ultimatums
Moving forward and healing from the past
The first step in addressing the troublesome control issues ACOAs face is learning to separate the past from the present. This involves developing personal insight, and being able to distinguish whether a present emotional reaction is actually an overreaction stemming from experiences in the past. Like learning any new skill, developing the insight and ability to analyze and then change behavior is extremely challenging, but with consistent practice is gets easier and more natural.
It also involves redefining what “normal” means in relation to trust, vulnerability, flexibility, and expectations in relationships. This requires the willingness to relinquish long-held beliefs about control and stability in order to grow as an individual, friend, partner, and even parent. Through this process the survivor learns to live life as it comes, to take personal responsibility for his/her own actions, and to allow others to take responsibility without trying to change or control them. The survivor also learns that vulnerability is an essential part of a loving and trusting relationship, and that flexibility and reasonable expectations enhance healthy personal connections.
Counseling is an effective way to help you identify how being raised in an alcoholic household may impact your adult life today. It can also help you learn and practice different coping skills to improve your life and relationships.
Contact NewPoint of View Counseling today to get started on your personal path of hope and healing! As a professional therapist, I look forward to helping you to live your most authentic life, filled with love, trust, and joy.