People who grow up in a home with an alcoholic parent can have a difficult childhood. Our childhoods are so important in our development that, even when we become adults, we can have lasting changes to behaviour and our personalities which can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem or relationship issues. These personality traits are also seen in those whose parents had other compulsive behaviours including gambling, drugs or excessive overeating or difficult circumstances including chronic illness or very strict upbringings.
Some of the most common characteristics of adult children of alcoholics include:
Alcoholics can sometimes be angry, aggressive and irrational so adult children of alcoholics tend to fear or avoid conflict. If we don’t experience healthy conflict resolution when we’re young, we often expect the worst when we’re older, sometimes misinterpreting assertiveness for anger. This can lead to ‘people pleasing’ or approval seeking behaviour because the desire to please people is learnt as a safety mechanism.
Fear of Losing Control
When you grow up in an unpredictable environment it becomes important to maintain control over your behaviour and feelings for two reasons – so you don’t provoke anger and to avoid facing feelings of upset, anger and fear. This can result in a strong desire to control your own behaviour, other people and situations and can result in anxiety when this isn’t possible.
Many adult children of alcoholics develop unhealthy or troubled relationships in later life. They may lose themselves in relationships, finding themselves attracted to emotionally unavailable people or those with compulsive issues. They sometimes feel the need to rescue other people which can lead to co-dependent relationships where their own needs become neglected and their self-esteem depends solely on the approval of their partner.
Fear of Authority
A parent figure is usually an example figure of authority but when their behaviour is unpredictable or threatening this can lead to the child developing a fear of authority later in life. It can cause issues at work or other social situations.
Low Self Esteem
The children of alcoholics are often subject to degrading behaviour which produces low self-esteem in adult life. If you haven’t had praise or support as a child it can be hard to give or accept it in an adult relationship.
Whatever issues you think you may have I help many clients whose childhoods have had a big impact on the way they feel today. Even the most resilient of us might benefit from talking about our childhoods or exploring their effects a little more.
If you’d like to talk to me about any of the issues raised here please do get in touch and I’d be happy to help.