16 ACoA Characteristics (Interesting Article)


"A Primer on Adult Children of Alcoholics" by Dr. Timmen L. Cermak

1. Fear of losing control. ACoAs maintain
control of their feelings and behavior. In addition,
they try to control the feelings and behavior of
others. They do not do this to hurt themselves or
others, but because they are afraid. They fear their
lives will get worse if they lose control and they
become uncomfortable and anxious when they
cannot control situations, feelings, and behaviors.

2. Fear of feelings. Since childhood and continuing
as adults, ACoAs have buried their feelings
(especially anger and sadness). In addition,
they’ve lost the ability to feel or express emotions
freely. Eventually they fear all intense feelings,
even good ones such as joy and happiness.

3. Overdeveloped sense of responsibility.
ACoAs are hypersensitive to the needs of others.
Their self-esteem comes from how others view
them. They have a compulsive need to be perfect.

4. Guilt feelings. When ACoAs stand up for
themselves instead of giving in to others, they
feel guilty. They usually sacrifice their own needs
in an effort to be “responsible.”

5. Inability to relax/let go/have fun.
Having fun is stressful for ACoAs, 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, spontaneity suffers.

6. Harsh, even fierce, self-criticism.
ACoAs have very low self-esteem, regardless of
how competent they may be in many areas.

7. Denial. Whenever ACoAs feel threatened,
their tendency toward denial intensifies.

8. Difficulty with intimate relationships.
To ACoAs, intimacy equates to being out of control.
It requires love for self and expressing one’s
own needs. As a result, ACoAs frequently have
difficulty with sexuality. They repeat unsuccessful
relationship patterns.

9. Living life as a victim. ACoAs may be either
aggressive or passive victims. They are often attracted
to other “victims” in love, friendship and
work relationships.

10. Compulsive behavior. ACoAs may work
compulsively, eat compulsively, become addicted to
a relationship or behave in other compulsive ways.
ACoAs may drink compulsively and become alcoholics
themselves.

11. Tendency to confuse love and pity.
Because they don’t differentiate between these two
emotions, ACoAs often “love” people they can pity
and rescue.

12. Fear of abandonment. In order not to experience
the pain of abandonment, ACoAs will do
anything to hold on to a relationship.

13. Tendency to view issues in terms of
black or white. When they are under stress, the
gray areas of life disappear and ACoAs see themselves
facing an endless series of either/or alternatives.

14. Tendency toward physical complaints.
ACoAs suffer higher rates of stress related illnesses
(migraine headaches, ulcers, eczema, irritable bowel
syndrome, etc.) than the general population.

15. Suffering from delayed grief. Because the
alcoholic family does not tolerate intensely uncomfortable
feelings (such as sadness and anger), children
in such homes rarely, if ever, grieve over their
losses. Losses in their adult lives usually cannot be
felt without calling up these past feelings. As a result,
ACoAs are frequently depressed.

16. Tendency to react rather than to act.
As children, ACoAs became anxious and hyper
vigilant. They remain so in their adult lives, constantly
scanning the environment for potential catastrophes.
Problem solving and stress management
techniques are something they consider after the
fact if at all.

Atreasure Atreasure
46-50, F
1 Response Jan 23, 2013

Thank you for this article. It is crazy how many of these characteristics I possess. I am trying to change but it is so hard to change a characteristic about yourself that has been instilled in you since you were so young. Thanks again for sharing.

You're welcome! I have been in ACA for almost 2 months and I have seen a difference in how I do things and how I am aware of some of my triggers. I know that this will be a very long process but to have what I have now even at my age is amazing. Keep working............it does work. Good luck!