Adult Children of Alcoholics and Codependency
All children require a sense of safety and predictability in order to develop a healthy sense of self. One’s self concept can be understood as the cornerstone of life. Every thought, belief, and decision will be born from the vantage point of one’s beliefs about oneself.
Parents who are attuned to their children help them explore their environments in a way that fosters self value. It is important for children to be encouraged to explore their environments and when they fall, it is essential their missteps are met with warmth, tenderness, and acceptance. Parents whose faces light up when their children walk into a room, instill their children with a sense of worthiness and belonging. Feeling accepted even when one fails, is an integral aspect of developing a positive concept of self. Children who are raised by parents who struggle with addiction, are denied the consistent, predictable, attention, affection and love required to develop a positive sense of self. Alcoholism for instance, is a disease that robs a child of the emotional connection they need in order to feel anchored and grounded to their parent. Parents with addiction issues are lost within a world of denial. The disease itself hijacks a parents ability to put the needs of their children first. In the eyes of the child of an alcoholic, alcohol is what is most important to their parents, not them, and certainly not their emotional needs.
Coping strategies develop as a way to help a child feel safe in an unpredictable world. Hypervigilance develops as a result of being forced to stay aware of what is happening on the outside, in an attempt to avoid pain and to perhaps, find a way to feel connected to a parent. The end result is a lost connection to the self. A negative self concept is an additional consequence. Children of alcoholic parents are denied the positive, consistent, mirroring needed in order for a child to be impressed with the notion that they are worthy of parental love. All too often, children feel responsible for feeling unloved. This sense of responsibility leads to shame.
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In my Coaching and Mentoring practice, I have had the honor of working with adult children of alcoholics who are learning to appreciate how their childhoods have impacted their adulthoods. Overcoming denial is often the first step. Adult children have relied on denial to help them pretend that their lives were happier than they actually were. Children from homes rattled with addiction have lost their voice and their
connection to the divine self. In order to survive and to avoid harsh treatment, or to prevent an outlandish blowout, children from alcoholic homes have learned it is safer to say and feel nothing.
Perfectionism, self denial, caretaking, fawning, rescuing and fixing have become coping strategies. Below the veil of consciousness adult children of alcoholics have been conditioned to adapt to unacceptable conditions. Appearing perfect and without needs, while catering to the needs of others in the family system, is an attempt to run from internal pain, as well as to avoid abandonment. Many adult children also hold the
fantasy that has them believing that they will be able to save their family and one day be whole. Perhaps the greatest tragedy, is the fact that adult children from alcoholic homes struggle with a negative self concept, live in fear, and do all they can to hide the shame they feel internally.
Many adult children of alcoholics will present with codependency traits in their relationships. Feeling unseen and unheard, gives rise to a deep need for external approval. As adults, many ACOA’s go about their daily lives running from their pasts, stuck in states of survival, operating from subconscious coping strategies, unaware they are unaware. Unmet emotional needs, the fear of abandonment, aching to feel
loved, are the breeding ground for codependency. In an attempt to feel in control, as the result of a childhood that felt out of control, adult children of alcoholics find ways to take control. Codependency is a subconscious effort to alleviate the aching of an abandoned inner child.
Codependents struggle with their emotions, whether we come from homes impacted by alcoholism or not. We have a difficult time identifying our emotions, and expressing them. Our childhoods have taught us that it is not safe to share our emotions, so we find safety in stuffing our truth, no matter the cost. Codependency can be understood as a cluster of symptoms that include denial, lack of boundaries, hypervigilance, a need
for control, and difficulty knowing what one feels or what one needs or wants.
Symptoms of codependency also include needing to be needed, and the fear of other people’s anger. Feeling needed is a substitute for feeling wanted, although many adult children of alcoholics who have yet to understand how their childhoods have impacted them, rarely make this connection until they begin the heroic process of self awakening.
The fear of other’s anger is a reflection of the forgotten reality of their wounded inner child.
Adult children of alcoholics often present with symptoms of codependency. Children who suffer emotional neglect often assume blame for not feeling loved, which is tied to shame and manifests as codependency later on in life. Adult children of alcoholics and codependent adults, share common childhood experiences, which result in codependency traits, and is the basis for this article.
The good news is Codependency Recovery is possible and the truth sets you free. Adulthood is always a childhood pushed out. Patterns are the organic nature of reality. It is not your fault if you present with codependency symptoms, or that your childhood home was impacted by alcoholism or some other form of addiction. It is never the fault of a child, born to unhealthy dynamics when their natural, innocent, valid needs go unmet. Learning to become more objective about the way you think, feel, express, and respond to your emotions is an important first step on the codependency recovery journey, as well as the healing journey of the Adult Child of an Alcoholic.
Codependency has been labeled a feeling dis-ease. Due to childhood experiences we were powerless to control, we don’t know how to honor our emotions in a way that empowers our lives. However, it is possible to learn the life skills you were denied as a child and to live a life that honors your authentic self despite the
If this message resonates with you in a powerful way, please know there is a reason.
Dear One, you are enough, however, your subconscious mind may not yet know that. It’s not you, it’s your programming and the good news is, we can fix that.
In addition to being a regular contributor to the #1 Online Magazine For Codependency Recovery, Lisa A. Romano is a Codependency Recovery Coach and Bestselling Author