For several days now, I have been breaking out in tears that I can’t control. A young relative in Oakland told me her boyfriend’s father hit him in the head with a beer bottle. There was much blood streaming in rivulets down his face. It was hard to see. This father is an alcoholic, and his good son has done much all his life to solve the problem. He failed once again. Once again……….his father SHAMED him! Was this the first time he shamed his begotten son – who is a good son?
My father was a violent father. He went out of his way to invent new ways to shame his two sons, because, this is what he claims happened to him. He says he would have been a better father – and husband – if he wasn’t shamed. The thought that we would grow up un-shamed, and be better men than he – drove him insane! He began to whittle us down.
One evening, when quite drunk, he lined three eldest children at the bottom of the stairs, had us bend over, then – he kicked upstairs! We flew through the air, and we landed about four steps up. Vicki did not get The Shame Treatment, because she was too young. She was always too young. My little sister was spared. She was The Test Case that proved both alcoholic parents did nothing wrong to screw their three eldest up – all the hell! That two creative people arose from this upbringing – one a world famous artist – is a miracle that should be studied by professionals. Why this is not happening – is more abuse – that needs to be studied.
The paragraph you just read, might be stolen by outsiders who want to author another book about my family, or, use it the sell it as a movie. For outsiders to use the systematic shaming of children – to make money and own the good life they deserve – is pure evil. This is why I am cautious with the new friends I make, like Belle Burch, and Kim Haffner. From the get, I give them a warning. I tell them I spend much time writing in isolation. I am leery of people because many have betrayed my trust. Of course they did not hear that, because very few people have my problem. To them it sounds like a GREAT PROBLEM! They don’t have famous folks in their family. They can’t relate and conclude I am trying to make it appear I am better than they. They got – real problems1
I just stopped myself from saying just how bad it was, and is. I must finish my biography.
What brought tears to my eyes was the image of Jesus being whipped by authority figures. Fathers are authority figures. The idea of Jesus dying for ones sins, is repulsive to me. Many want to believe their SEX SINS will be washed in the blood of the lamb. They want to believe their MONEY SINS will be taken away via the blood, and they will know wealth.
I attended ACOA meetings held in a church in Eugene for two years. I took steps to save my life – once again! My low self-esteem, and hatred of authority figures, would probably cause me to have my next drink. I admitted I am a shame-based person. When I went to Eugene dressed as the Antichrist, I was facing my fear of being shamed. Righteous folks were suggesting I am in league with the Antichrist, because I am not giving them SIGNS I am one of them, and, am willing to be taught the Evangelical goosestep.
At this time, I read Alice Miller, who concluded the Nazis were shame-based, and in throwing Jews in the oven, they were throwing their cruel childhood upbringing -in the oven! Alice said this was a rebellion against the strict punitive father who had a thousand rules to follow – or else! The German fathers – were appalled! This is why very few German’s could admit to the Holocaust Atrocities. Many knew this spelled DOOM for Germany on so many levels. STOP SHAMING PEOPLE……..IS THE MESSAGE OF JESUS ON THE CROSS!
I suspect what really got me Good & Shamed, was adding “The Nazarite” to my name. All six members of my natal family suffered from alcoholism. In a Twelve Step Program we are encouraged to get a Higher Power. Taking the Vow of the Nazarite, and never consuming alcohol again – works for me! Problem solved – alas!
What this vow meant to others, was, I was going to kidnap a fifteen year old virgin, take her to a high tower, and shoot it out with the Feds! Sounds like King Kong!
John Presco ‘The Nazarite’
If you grew up in an alcoholic home, you’re probably familiar with the feeling of never knowing what to expect from one day to the next. When one or both parents struggle with addiction, the home environment is predictably unpredictable. Argument, inconsistency, unreliability, and chaos tend to run rampant. Children of alcoholics don’t get many of their emotional needs met due to these challenges, often leading to skewed behaviors and difficulties in properly caring for themselves and their feelings later in life.
If you were never given the attention and emotional support you needed during a key developmental time in your youth and instead were preoccupied with the dysfunctional behavior of a parent, it may certainly be hard (or perhaps impossible) to know how to get your needs met as an adult. Furthermore, if you lacked positive foundational relationships, it may be difficult to develop healthy, trusting interpersonal relationships later on.
Children of alcoholics often have to deny their feelings of sadness, fear, and anger in order to survive. And since unresolved feelings will always surface eventually, they often manifest during adulthood. The advantage to recognizing this is that you’re an adult now and no longer a helpless child. You can face these issues and find resolution in a way you couldn’t back then.
Many children of alcoholics develop similar characteristics and personality traits. In her 1983 landmark book, “Adult Children of Alcoholics,” the late Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D, outlined 13 of them.
Dr. Jan, as she is known, was a best-selling author, lecturer, and counselor who was also married to an alcoholic. Based on her personal experience with alcoholism and its effect on her children, as well as her work with clients who were raised in dysfunctional families, she discovered that these common characteristics are prevalent not only in alcoholic families but also in those who grew up in families where there were other compulsive behaviors, such as gambling, drug abuse, or overeating, or where other dysfunctions occurred, such as the parents were chronically ill or held strict religious attitudes.
She cited that adult children of alcoholics (ACoAs) often:
- Guess at what normal behavior is
- Have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end
- Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth
- Judge themselves without mercy
- Have difficulty having fun
- Take themselves very seriously
- Have difficulty with intimate relationships
- Overreact to changes over which they have no control
- Constantly seek approval and affirmation
- Feel that they’re different from other people
- Are super responsible or super irresponsible
- Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved
- Are impulsive—They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.
Of course, if you’re a child of an alcoholic, that doesn’t mean that everything on this list will apply to you. But it’s likely that at least some of it will.
The Laundry List
Before Dr. Jan’s book was published, an adult child of an alcoholic, Tony A., published in 1978 what he called “The Laundry List,” another list of characteristics that can seem very familiar to those who grew up in dysfunctional homes.
Tony’s list has been adopted as part of the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization’s official literature and is a basis for the article, “The Problem,” published on the group’s website.
According to Tony’s list, many adult children of alcoholics can:
- Become isolated
- Fear people and authority figures
- Become approval seekers
- Be frightened of angry people
- Be terrified of personal criticism
- Become alcoholics, marry them, or both
- View life as a victim
- Have an overwhelming sense of responsibility
- Be concerned more with others than themselves
- Feel guilty when they stand up for themselves
- Become addicted to excitement
- Confuse love and pity
- “Love” people who need rescuing
- Stuff their feelings
- Lose the ability to feel
- Have low self-esteem
- Judge themselves harshly
- Become terrified of abandonment
- Do anything to hold on to a relationship
- Become “para-alcoholics,” people who take on the characteristics of the disease without drinking
- Become reactors instead of actors
ACoAs and Relationships
Many adult children of alcoholics lose themselves in their relationship with others, sometimes finding themselves attracted to alcoholics or other compulsive personalities, such as workaholics, who are emotionally unavailable.
Adult children may also form relationships with others who need their help or need to be rescued, to the extent of neglecting their own needs. If they place the focus on the overwhelming needs of someone else, they don’t have to look at their own difficulties and shortcomings.
Often, adult children of alcoholics will take on the characteristics of alcoholics, even though they’ve never picked up a drink: exhibiting denial, poor coping skills, poor problem solving, and forming dysfunctional relationships.
If you identify with the characteristics outlined in either Dr. Woititz’s or Tony A.’s book, you might want to take our Adult Children Screening Quiz to get an idea of how much you may have been affected by growing up as you did.
Many adult children find that seeking professional treatment or counseling for insight into their feelings, behaviors, and struggles helps them achieve greater awareness of how their childhood shaped who they are today. This is often overwhelming in the beginning, but it can help you learn how to express your needs and cope with conflict in new and constructive ways.