ACOA Children of Alcoholics


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“I often have to guess what normal behaviour is ”

“I often lie when it would just be easier to tell the truth”

“I judge myself (and others) without mercy”

Sound familiar? Yes, No?

What about the following statements?

Have you ever lost sleep because of a parent’s drinking?

“I take myself very seriously”

“I have difficulties with intimate relationships”

Got an alcoholic mother or alcoholic father? Were you raised by alcoholic parents?

Hi! My name is Flavio Cernotta. I have been affected by this condition myself and managed to heal with the help of therapy. I am a children of alcoholics therapist/counsellor with many years of experience helping children of alcoholics overcome the effects of being raised by an alcoholic mother or alcoholic father. Fully qualifiedBACP registered and happy to help you!

Ask about Single Session Therapy when enquiring

***FREE*** First Step to Recovery

Contact me with a brief description of the problem. The first conversation is FREE OF CHARGE

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“I overreact to changes over which I have no control”

“I constantly seek approval or affirmation”

Did you ever feel alone, scared, nervous, angry or frustrated because a parent was not
able to stop drinking

“I am super responsible or I am super irresponsible”

“I am extremely loyal even when loyalty is undeserved”

“I am impulsive. I lock myself into a course of action without seriously considering alternative behaviours or consequences. This leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over the environment. In addition I spend excessive amount of time and energy cleaning up the mess.”

SINGLE SESSION THERAPY FOR ACOA – ADULT CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLICS

Single Session Therapy is an emerging trend in therapy that offers a refreshing and focused approach. Instead of contracting a minimum number of sessions, client and therapist start working together on the assumption that one session might be enough. Additional sessions can be booked if needed.

This approach can bring renewed focus, energy and empowerement to the work. It also enables therapists to help more clients as research has shown that 40% of clients need no more than one session to help resolve their presenting issue.

A brief assessment is carried out that the start of the session to manage and contain risk.

Single Session therapy is now available for ACOA Children of alcoholics. The sessions last 90mins and the fee is £99. Contact me today for a brief introductory conversation.

 

 

Can you recognise yourself in any of the above statements or questions? Are you unsure whether or not they apply to you?

Two helpful exercises

1) Take yourself to a safe space and read those statements aloud. Notice what it feels like to hear those words. You may want to look in a mirror. If you recognise yourself in a significant number of these statements then chances are that you are affected by a condition known as either:

  • “adult children of alcoholics” (adult child of addicts)
  • “adult child of dysfunctional families” or
  • ACOA Syndrome

These statements are adapted from the 13 characteristics of adult children of alcoholics as defined by Dr Janet Woititiz.

2) Another exercise is to list specific examples for each statement. I have found that using examples makes the exercise more real and has helped stop the denial I have felt.

How children become children of alcoholics

Children of alcoholics or addicts are referred to as adult children because they are forced to step into an adult role from a very young age. Their parents unconsciously recruit them into maintaining a dysfunctional family system. The childhood of an ACOA revolves around the needs of the addicted family member and those who collude with the addict. In a healthy family, adults look after the needs of children. In a dysfunctional family, the roles are reversed and the child is coerced into accommodating the needs of the adult. The result is that the child’s developmental dependency needs go unfulfilled. The child then grows into an adult who continues to experience all the unmet needs of her childhood.

Got an alcoholic mother or alcoholic father? Were you raised by alcoholic parents?

Hi! My name is Flavio Cernotta. I have been affected by this condition myself and managed to heal with the help of therapy. I am a children of alcoholics therapist/counsellor with many years of experience helping children of alcoholics overcome the effects of being raised by an alcoholic mother or alcoholic father. Fully qualifiedBACP registered and happy to help you!

Ask about Single Session Therapy when enquiring

***FREE*** First Step to Recovery

Contact me with a brief description of the problem. The first conversation is FREE OF CHARGE

Please double check that you have entered all the digits.
West London, East London, Online Therapy, telephone counselling - please enter above
Please specify if you are looking for daytime, evening or weekend appointments
By submitting this form you agree that I can use your details to contact you regarding your enquiry. If you have entered a valid mobile number I will text to confirm that I have replied. If you have not received a reply please check your spam/ junk folder. I aim to respond to all enquiries by the end of the day or start of the following day.

What are the characteristics of a child of an alcoholic?

Adult children of alcoholic traits are:

  1. You are isolated and fearful of people and authority figures
  2. You are an approval seeker, which leads to a loss of your identity
  3. You fear angry people and criticism
  4. You have become an alcoholic yourself, married one or both or find another compulsive personality, such as a workaholic who will meet your need for abandonment
  5. You live life like a victim and are attracted to people who do the same or collude with this
  6. You are super-responsible and concerned about others. This helps you deflect from your own problems and faults
  7. You feel guilty standing up for yourself
  8. You are addicted to excitement
  9. You confuse love with pity and love people who you can pity and rescue
  10. You have repressed your feelings from the trauma you experienced in childhood so much so that you have lost the ability to feel and express them.
  11. You judge yourself without mercy and your self esteem is very low
  12. You are a dependent personality (co-dependent), terrified of abandonment and prepared to do anything to maintain a relationship in order not to re-experience the pain of people leaving you.
  13. You have become para-alcoholic and taken on the characteristics of the dis-ease without touching a drink
  14. As a para-alcoholic you react rather than act.

A dysfunctional family

The family of adult children of alcoholics is shaped by the unpredictable, abusive, violent, manipulative, disruptive and neglecting behaviour of an alcoholic mother or alcoholic father. These behaviours are brought on by the misuse of alcohol. This toxic substance loosens inhibitions and enables repressed emotions and behaviours to surface. Alcoholic parents exhibit these behaviours because often they have themselves experienced neglect, instability and abuse whilst growing up.

Dysfunctional behaviours can also be displayed by the non addicted parent or an older sibling as they collude with the alcoholic family member to keep the family going. This is also referred to as enabling the alcoholic. It is a distorted way to keep the peace in order to manage fear and anxiety.

Relentless tension and fear is another key trait of the alcoholic family but often goes unnoticed because everyone is used to it. One day, during my counselling sessions in my early thirties I recalled how different it felt to sleep over at a family friend. Going to the the bathroom in the middle of the night felt very safe. Our friend knew I was scared of the dark and had provided me with a torch to help me find my way to the toilet. At many levels she showed care and concern in a way that my mother didn’t. Not because she was incapable of love but because her attention was focused on placating my father’s alcohol fueled temper. The same visit to the bathroom at home felt unsafe. I would walk to the bathroom constantly feeling on guard as if I feared meeting a stranger who could harm me.

This constant tension, fear neglect and instability causes children of alcoholics to develop a range of dysfunctional behaviours. It is their way of managing the chaos that surrounds them and the overwhelming feelings they experience.

ACOA Trauma Syndrome

The combination of learned behaviours and symptoms that children of alcoholics manifest are known as syndrome. Family members are repeatedly exposed to the distorted behaviour of the alcoholic parent and so they internalise it as their own.

Repressing feelings: In an alcoholic family the only feelings allowed are often the anger, sometimes rage, of the alcoholic father or alcoholic mother as well as their anxiety. The sadness, despair, fear and helplessness which constantly linger in the background, are often disregarded but equally toxic.

It is impossible for a child to change or leave their family. The only thing they can do is to cut themselves off emotionally by repressing or burying their feelings to avoid being swamped. Usually parents set children up to disregard feelings by pretending that everything is going well and by minimising outbursts of anger of the alcoholic parent. This attitude invalidates the children’s feelings who soon learn to bury the terror and anxiety they experience. It is not uncommon for these to resurface as panic attacks in adult life.

Exerting control: The fear of unpredictability stays with a child long after they have stopped living with their alcoholic mother or father. To counter this fear children of alcoholics will try hard to be in control.

Whilst growing up they might stop their alcoholic parents fighting, look after their alcoholic mother or care for a sibling, for example. Later in life they will repeat these patterns at work and in intimate relationships by rescuing and taking care of people around them. People on the outside may start resenting this behaviour but to children of alcoholics, this is a very effective way to counter the vulnerability they feel when faced with unpredictability.

The fear of vulnerability is what makes it very hard for children of alcoholics to commit to intimate relationships. It is important to surrender a degree of control and risk being hurt in order to love another person but for the child of an alcoholic even just the thought of getting hurt again can be very frightening.

Don’t feel, Don’t talk, Don’t trust: Differences of opinions turn into fights and feelings make people upset or cause them to over react. It is best then to become invisible and avoid drawing attention particularly from the alcoholic parent. Who can you possible trust in this emotional and psychological minefield? Nobody! So it is safer to learn not to trust anyone, say little or nothing and pretend that you are not upset or angry – indifference to any emotion, feeling or reaction is the best way to avoid being impacted.

Denial and the Adapted/ False Self: Telling the truth in an alcoholic family is a dangerous enterprise. Denial is part of what keeps a dysfunctional family system going. Relatives find it unbearable to face up to the horror of the truth. They fear the consequences of the actions they would need to take to confront the alcoholic and restore the family to a functional state. Instead relatives will quickly scapegoat any family member highlighting the impact of dysfunction and blame them, instead of the alcoholic, for the family problems.

Adult children of alcocoholics soon learn that denial is key to survival. Lying instead of telling the truth becomes second nature to them. The lack of honesty with one self and others enables the ACOA to survive, but they pay the ultimate price: the development of an adapted (or false) self.

The false/ adapted self is like an alter-ego or persona that contains behaviours, thoughts and feelings that are acceptable to the dysfunctional family members. Therapy can help the ACOA to rediscover their true self and get them to value the thoughts, feelings, hopes, needs and aspirations that they hide from the dysfunctional family.

Isolation and lack of external support: Families affected by alcoholism become increasingly dysfunctional over time. The covert shame resulting from this and the secrecy used to hide it, can lead to increased isolation from other families. Many ACOA often find a renewed sense of hope by spending time with grandparents, neighbours or having a fulfilling job.

Power Imbalance: Children rely on their parents for everything. If they stand up to their alcoholic parent they are hit, abused (verbally, physically or sexually), confined to their room, have their pocket money stopped, their soft toys torn to pieces or their game console smashed up.

An older sibling might trap a younger one in the same power dynamic. They younger sibling soon gets stuck at the end of this trauma chain, feels dis-empowered and learns to say yes even if she wants to scream “No!”.

Later on as adults, when confronted with challenging situations where they need to stand up to family , friends or employers, children of alcoholics re-experience the same powerlessness. On the outside they look grown up. On the inside they feel like that helpless, trapped child that had no choice. This lack of power is often compounded by guilt and shame for daring to assert themselves. Therapy can help you correct the power imbalance by supporting you to release the anger, shame, guilt and frustration you have repressed during childhood. You can then use your anger in a positive way to constructively assert yourself and move past the shame and guilt that are diminishing you.

Freezing: When situations in the present trigger memories and repressed pain from past hurtful experiences, children of alcoholics feel like a frightened, helpless child even though, on the outside, they look like a grown up. Naming what is happening by referring to the ACOA syndrome can help you to unfreeze and recognise the adult part in yourself.

Guilt & Shame:

Guilt is a very powerful feeling that children of alcoholics experience time and time again.

  • “What if something happens to my alcoholic parent and I’m not around?”
  • “I feel guilty for leaving behind personal relationships even though I was being bullied or diminished by them”
  • “I have so much guilt for distancing myself from my sibling who was mean to me throughout my childhood because I know they need my support”

According to Bradshaw (1996 p.2), feeling guilty is the equivalent of our inner critical voice saying “I have done/ I ‘m doing something wrong”.

Guilt is essentially designed to keep us trapped in the dysfunctional system and neutralise our will power so it is easier to force us to comply with the demands of a dysfunctional family system.

I often use the analogy of a defendant being found guilty in a criminal court. The defendant is then imprisoned and becomes part of a system where they have no control and everything is decided for them. The dysfunctional family is the prison that keeps the prisoner (the person feeling guilty) trapped. The prisoner is powerless and has no choice but to go along with the rules/ regime of the prison system.

Guilt can also be viewed as the opposite of shame.

Shame tells us “There is something wrong with me” whilst feelings of guilt stand for “I have made a mistake”

In alcoholic families, feelings of guilt abound and become very toxic. The first step to tackle your feelings of guilt is to recognise that they are a symptom of the dysfunctioning family system that you grew up in (Bradshaw 1996).

 

ACOA Impostor Syndrome

Many children of alcoholics often feel like an impostor at work, whilst studying at Uni or playing sports, for example. They share how well they are doing, their achievements and skills. Amidst the enthusiasm, there is another part of them that fears that someone will find out that they are not as good as they are. In other words, they fear that they will be accused of not being who they are. Looking from the outside it is clear to me that the sense of not being who they are is linked to the lack of mirroring in the family of alcoholics where parents are unable to recognise the qualities and abilities that children possess so the child never learns to trust who they really are. Later on when the personal qualities and abilities start to emerge in life, adult children of alcoholics are unable to connect with them just in the same way that the parent was unable to recognise and none-mirroring them back to them in childhood. It’s like the adult child seeing themselves through the eyes of the parent. Feeling like an impostor is another way of saying that you are not trusting who you are or that you are doubting yourself and your qualities.

Dysfunctional traits in the wider family and community

Characteristics of the Alcoholic Family

Family members focus on alcohol

In alcoholic family the alcoholic focuses on the alcohol and the stages of intoxication. Their partner focuses on the alcoholic’s mood swings. The child focuses on survival and the needs of his parents or siblings. The latter contributes to the development of the adult child of alcoholics.

Family members are driven by shame

Most alcoholic families are defined by blaming and abusive behaviours such as physical, emotional or sexual abusive. Family members may start feeling unlovable, unworthy or unacceptable. This leads to them feeling profound shame about their family of origin but most of all of themselves.

Double binds, looped or indirect communications

In alcoholic families, members communicate indirectly by using another relative as a third party. Members are also given conflicting messages whereby one message negates a previous one. This is called a double-bind. This is driven by fear of conflict and desire to avoid conflict (using an intermediary) but also the confusion and chaos that alcoholics bring about.

Denying feelings and addictions

In alcoholic families, the alcoholic denies the impact of addiction on himself and others. Their partner in turn denies their own feelings. They fear abandonment, deny the impact of alcoholism and place unreasonable expectations on their children. The child becomes parentified and takes on the role of the absent partner.

Inconsistency and Insecurity

In an alcoholic family the security is distorted by stage of drinking and intoxication which will dictate to what extent rules are established and followed. Boundaries may be established one day but moved or scrapped the next day depending on how much the alcoholic has had to drink. This inconsistency also applies to the level of care and support that the alcoholic parent shows to his children. On a sober day the alcoholic parent may attend to the child’s need but when drunk the parent may tell the child that they are nothing but a burden. In a healthy family parents are more consistent in the way to set and uphold boundaries. This inconsistency and insecurity get internalised over time and lead the child to develop a deep-rooted ambivalence towards people and goals in life.

Reoccurring emotional cycles

When the drinking and related chaos ceases, family members become overly cautious in their words and actions as they fear setting off the drinking again. Emotional cycles of self-blamed, fear, anger and guilt are repeated again and again.

Hypersensitivity and Hypervigilance

Being raised in an alcoholic family is comparable to surviving a war zone, which teaches children how to survive; not thrive. Children learn to look out for the slightest changes in behavior, mood or emotions in adults. By the time they become adults themselves they have learned to pay more attention to the feelings and needs of others as opposed to their own. This also affects their focus which is directed externally instead of internally.

Broken Promises

In an alcoholic family children realise quickly that the promises of an alcoholic parent can not be trusted because they are usually too hung over to fulfill them or because they make promises when drunk and then accuse the child of being spoiled when the child reminds the alcoholic parent of their promise when they are sober. Children then struggle to feel that they are worthy of receiving, which causes problems in relationships when a partner wants to give them a gift or spoil them. Being unable to trust promises children learn to only rely on and trust themselves.

Unspoken Rules

These are known as don’t trust, don’t talk and don’t feel. Feelings are blocked from an early age because children experience them as overwhelming. Trusting the alcoholic parent is impossible as their volatility makes them unreliable. Family members who collude with the alcoholic are also untrustworthy as they collude with an unreliable person. Children of alcoholics realise this quickly and learn to only trust themselves. Talking about what happens in the family is not an option as the fear of embarrassment and shame can trigger angry outbursts from the alcoholic parent or family members colluding with them so children of alcoholics learn to keep everything to themselves.

Doubting perceptions and feelings

Being raised in an alcoholic family is like in a family where people continuously fail to see and recognise the writing on the wall. The child can see that their mother is drunk but father may will dismiss it by saying that mum is just angry because they have issues at work. This repeated dismissal of feelings and experiences leads children to question whether or not they have actually seen what they have seen and whether they feel what they feel. In my experience this also seeps into the perception children have of themselves and their abilities and qualities to the point were it affects confidence and self esteem.

No interaction or chaotic interaction

Behaviors in alcoholic families are characterised by isolation, chaos and enmeshment. Family members are either deeply enmeshed or widely detached.

Fear of conflict

Life in an alcoholic family is marred by the codependent behaviour of parents and the intoxication of the alcoholic. The members of an alcoholic family rarely experience how to to manage and resolve conflict safely. Instead they are exposed to the threat of emotional and physical violence. They are paralysed by the fear and guilt of making a mistake, saying something wrong. Family members dread causing disruption or not being a good person. When the ACOA comes across conflict in their own home or workplace later in life they may feel triggered by it and experience irrational fears as a result of the unmanageable conflicts they witnessed whilst growing up.

Survival and coping roles

Children of alcoholics learn to play survival roles at a very early age and adapt to those roles to the point where they become second nature to them. As adults they can no longer tell which behavior stems from adaptation to the survival roles and which comes from their true self.

ACOA Survival Roles

Survival roles help children of alcoholics protect their emotional sphere whilst trying to survive in the chaotic and frightening environment of the alcoholic family. Children of alcoholics can move beyond these behaviours by unpicking the limitations as well as the qualities or strengths that these behaviours hold. This promotes awareness and the freedom to chose when to draw on qualities and when to avoid limitations.

Hero Caretaker Over-Achiever

  • Feels much older than current age
  • Usually the oldest child in the family
  • Goal oriented
  • Overly reliable & responsible – assumes parental role
  • Perfectionism helps her avoid shame
  • Feels like a failure when faced with low grades but would never give self a high grade
  • Feels disappointed when losing
  • Brings pride to family so it looks its best
  • High academic achiever
  • Seen as popular
  • Split view of self: either good or bad. Feels inadequate, not good enough
  • Self image based on achieving, giving, being helpful and positive attention from people
  • Replaces love and nurturing with applause and accolades, which are not perceived as genuine or warranted
  • Feels guilty neglecting others but no understanding of self care
  • Great leader but struggles as a team player

 

Dysfunctional behaviour in wider family and community

Dysfunctional behaviours might also be adopted by relatives. Grand parents or aunts might normalise the abusive behaviour by telling the child how it was normal for them to get beaten or yelled at by their own parents.

Authority figures in the community can also become part of the dysfunctional relationship system that the child is exposed to. An example of this is an authoritarian and co-dependent teacher whom the dysfunctional parents might regard as a model of discipline. The parent and teacher form an alliance, which complements the dysfunctional family system. As a result, the child is exposed to further abuse as the teacher uses manipulation and violence on the pretence of imparting discipline. Parents of a healthy family on the other hand, would recognise the teacher’s behaviour as unhealthy and step in to protect the child.

Got an alcoholic mother or alcoholic father? Were you raised by alcoholic parents?

Hi! My name is Flavio Cernotta. I have been affected by this condition myself and managed to heal with the help of therapy. I am a children of alcoholics therapist/counsellor with many years of experience helping children of alcoholics overcome the effects of being raised by an alcoholic mother or alcoholic father. Fully qualifiedBACP registered and happy to help you!

Ask about Single Session Therapy when enquiring

***FREE*** First Step to Recovery

Contact me with a brief description of the problem. The first conversation is FREE OF CHARGE

Please double check that you have entered all the digits.
West London, East London, Online Therapy, telephone counselling - please enter above
Please specify if you are looking for daytime, evening or weekend appointments
By submitting this form you agree that I can use your details to contact you regarding your enquiry. If you have entered a valid mobile number I will text to confirm that I have replied. If you have not received a reply please check your spam/ junk folder. I aim to respond to all enquiries by the end of the day or start of the following day.

Growing up with an alcoholic mother or an alcoholic father

As adult children of alcoholics are repeatedly exposed to violence and abuse, they grow up experiencing instability, disruption and unpredictability. As these are internalised, adult children of alcoholics grow up craving control in order to balance these feelings of instability.

Repeatedly experiencing disruption means that an adult child will later struggle to complete projects. Others will feel a lack of direction in life and seek constant guidance in an attempt to experience the continuity that they lacked at home.

Adult children of alcoholics are frequently flooded with overwhelming stress, terror, sadness and shame as they are subjected to dysfunctional behaviour. In order to survive, they learn to shut off their feelings. They also become people pleasers in the hope that they can keep the peace in the family and prevent their dysfunctional parents from lashing out.

In a home dominated by fear and stress, there is little room for feeling carefree and joyful. As such, adult children of alcoholics will often become overly serious and super responsible adults who struggle to have fun.

Adult children of alcoholics will try hard to comply with unreasonable expectations. A young girl might be expected to become mother to her siblings or a wife to her father in order to compensate for her drunken mother. As they learn to accommodate the needs of others, adult children of alcoholics forgo the opportunity to learn how to look after their own emotional needs.

Because they experience little love and affection, they are very unlikely to learn what it means to be in a safe and loving relationship. This means that, as adults, they will often struggle with intimate relationships.

Why are adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) afraid of authority figures

There are two reasons why children of alcoholics fear authority figures:

Distrust

Alcoholic parents are inconsistent, self centred, volatile and lack the ability to care and nurture their children in the way that sobre parents do. This leads to children repeatedly experiencing abandonment, loneliness and neglect. They soon learn that the parent can not be trusted to take care of their needs so they become very self reliant. I still recall the loneliness, inadequacy and shame I felt on school related matters when my father failed to grasp the importance of his support in supplying a material that I needed to complete a DIY project. I never suffered hardship whilst growing up, but his lack of understanding felt wounding. I don’t blame him for not knowing how to help but I resent his inability to understand my need and offer reassurance that everything would still be ok. The lack of mirroring was profound. Over time I learned not to turn to him again.

Fear of violence

In addition to being unreliable, alcoholic parents can be violent and abusive. Their mood changes without warning and they shout, lash out or hit their children for petty, irrational reasons or sometimes for no apparent reason at all. The child soon learns to fear the parent and they walk on egg shells trying to avoid any behaviour that might trigger the outpour of abuse and violence. In later adult life many ACOA will become wary of their team leader or manager or even just a store manager in their local shop. I recall very well how fearful I felt of a librarian in my local town. He was clearly short tempered and impatient and I can still recal his outburts of anger when I failed to locate a book based on his directions. I was a young teenager and at the time I felt mortified. I felt I had done something wrong and felt completley useless. The librarian did not only behave like my father, ironically, he also resembled him physically. His colleague on the other hand, was much kinder so I would always wait to turn to him to avoid another telling off.

ACOA Triggers

Adult children of alcoholics are often triggered by situations such as :

  • parenting their own children
  • developing intimate relationships
  • dealing with authority figures such as a manager at work
  • encoutering situations that are or appear to be unfair
  • encountering situations where they experience having no control
  • conflict at work

These are situations that many people are able to cope with calmly and successfully. Yet for an ACOA they can re-awaken the fear, anxiety and lack of control that they experienced whilst growing up in an alcoholic family. The feelings become so overwhelming that their rational brain shuts down so they are unable to regulate the emotions in the moment. What follows are a range of behaviours that are dictated by either fear or anger leading to withdrawal (physical or emotional) or aggression depending on what the threat is and what memory it has evoked.

Learning to outgrow such impulsive reactions to a trigger is possible.

1. learn to recognise what is happening to you i.e that the situation is triggering a strong rational response.

2. Acknowledge that your response is coming from a younger fearful part inside you.

3. Ground yourself into the present moment by accessing each of your five senses in turn. By grounding yourself in the moment you are also accessing your Adult Self.

4. Use the positive parent inside you to build a positive reassuring dialogue with your younger fearful part. If you have any children or nieces/ newphews, imagine how you would talk to them or comfort them if they were distressed. Use those same attitudes and words to sooth your younger fearful part.

Being able to practice this in the moment is very challenging. What you can do is to set time aside once or twice a week and revisit triggering scenarios in your imagination and apply these steps. If this is difficult to do on your own then practice with a fellow ACOA or find a therapist who is willing to guide you through these steps. Whilst going through the steps, take time to notice how your body feels at the start and how it feels at the end. It takes time to develop this awareness so don’t be hard on yourself. Everyone develops at their own space.

Some ACOA prefer to take a more scientific approach to defuse their reaction to the triggers by talking about the emotional brain and the rational brain. You can substitute the words “inner child” with emotional brain and “adult” with “rational brain”. The end result is the same. Some prefer to look at this using neuroscience as the “inner child” has negative connotations and feels too scary a place to access. It doesn’t matter what language or framework you use. Both ways work equally well and the end result is the same: enabling you to step out of a triggering scenario and help you to calm your nervous system.

 

How do you overcome ACOA?

ACOA is rightly defined as a syndrome. A syndrome is a combination of different patterns, traits and behaviours which make up a specific condition. ACOA syndrome can be overcome by exploring, unpicking and transforming these different facets.

Transformation entails working on past factors that have led you to develop those behaviours. It is also about working with the here and now by using an experiential approach so that we can reach and address the patterns, habits and behaviours that are not readily available to the conscious mind.

What follows are some of the steps that ACOAs working with me have found useful:

  1. Recognise and fully accept that it is not your job to rescue others and start practicing detachment. For some ACOA detachment is sufficient. Others have an urge to estrange themselves from the alcoholic family for some time until they have created a safe and secure base that allows them to reach out to others without undermining their mental, emotional and physical stability. Either is ok depending on what you need and how deeply the toxic impact of the alcoholic family affects you.
  2. Learn to become more accepting of your emotions especially guilt and shame, which many ACOA struggle with. This does not mean that you ought to feel guilty or shameful but rather that you need to notice when you are feeling that way. Instead of reacting to it or reacting out of guilt and shame. By noticing your feelings you are stepping into your inner observer and the more you do that the less power your feelings have. Stepping into the observer is also a gateway to finding your inner Adult self.
  3. Recognise and contain your inner critic, which in many ACOA is harsh and unforgiving beyond words. The critic often goes hand in hand with guilt and shame.
  4. Develop a nurturing inner parent by starting to recognise your qualities and what you are doing well.
  5. Identify activities and people that bring you joy and start cultivating those activities and relationships.

These steps are not a quick fix and not a prescribed way of overcoming ACOA. They are meant to be starting points and are based on what many ACOA clients struggle with. Perhaps think about which step feels more important right now and start from there. Take your time and be gentle with yourself.

Children of alcoholics COA/ ACOA Counselling London – Children of alcoholics counsellor COA therapists

Got an alcoholic mother or alcoholic father? Were you raised by alcoholic parents?

Hi! My name is Flavio Cernotta. I have been affected by this condition myself and managed to heal with the help of therapy. I am a children of alcoholics therapist/counsellor with many years of experience helping children of alcoholics overcome the effects of being raised by an alcoholic mother or alcoholic father. Fully qualifiedBACP registered and happy to help you!

Ask about Single Session Therapy when enquiring

***FREE*** First Step to Recovery

Contact me with a brief description of the problem. The first conversation is FREE OF CHARGE

Please double check that you have entered all the digits.
West London, East London, Online Therapy, telephone counselling - please enter above
Please specify if you are looking for daytime, evening or weekend appointments
By submitting this form you agree that I can use your details to contact you regarding your enquiry. If you have entered a valid mobile number I will text to confirm that I have replied. If you have not received a reply please check your spam/ junk folder. I aim to respond to all enquiries by the end of the day or start of the following day.

Bibliography

Content based on and developed from the following books :

Woititiz, J (1983). Adult Children of Alcoholics

Bradshaw, J (1996). Bradshaw on: The FamilyUS, Florida

Dayton, T (2012). The ACOA Trauma Syndrome

Middleton-Moz – J Dwinell, L (2010) After The Tears


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6 comments

  1. Good afternoon.
    I am the child of an alcoholic, but 45 years old.

    I am looking for some help to deal with this.

    Can you recommend someone in the Berkshire/ Oxfordshire, preferably somewhere between Henley and Newbury please who I could speak to?

    1. Dear W

      thanks for your post. I have replied to you privately by using the email address provided.

      kind wishes

      Flavio

  2. Hello this is a great article and related a lot to my experiences growing up in an alcoholic home. There are still traits which are effecting me in my marriage and also ability to let go have fun and speaking up in the new job I’ve started. I would be interested in counseling once I know the prices. Thanks B

    1. Dear B,

      Thanks for your comments and enquiries. I have replied to you directly in private by using the email you provided.

      kindest regards

      Flavio

  3. Hello, I have found your website today and I would like to know what treatment of the syndrome do you offer? I am a 39 yr old female struggling almost all her life with that burden. Also, I am a mum to a 2 yr old.

    1. Dear L

      thanks for your enquiry. So sorry to hear about your struggle. I have replied to you privately, by using the email provided.

      kind wishes

      Flavio

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