By Licia Ginne, LMFT

In the mid 1970’s the first Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) meeting was started in Manhattan by a group in Alanon who found they had a lot in common from growing up in alcoholic families. Out of this group “The Laundry List” created by Tony A. became the foundation of ACA and when others heard this list felt as if it could have been a list they had written about themselves. You can learn more about the ACA program at their web site

Out of the alcohol treatment community, concepts of dysfunctional family dynamics started to come forward in articles by Claudia Black, Stephanie Brown and Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse. The general public seemed to be introduced to dysfunctional families by the John Bradshaw 1988 PBS series and his first book, Bradshaw on the Family. This launched the Co-Dependency and Inner Child movement, opening up treatment programs, the John Bradshaw treatment program here in Los Angeles for one and workshops across the country helping people to reclaim their inner child.

These characteristics of growing up in an Alcoholic family seem to fit growing up in any family that experiences a lot of chaos and trauma. Here is the original “laundry list” if you are curious click on the picture and it will open in a separate window:The-Original-Laundry-List-1977

Here is a list of possible characteristics; it is not the original “laundry list”

  • Isolation, fear of people, difficulty trusting others and self.
  • Need to seek others approval.
  • Compulsive / Addiction issues of your own. In relationship with compulsive or addictive person.
  • Difficulty identifying feelings in self and others. Frightened by angry people and personal criticism.
  • Putting others needs first and neglecting your own needs and wants
  • Feeling responsible for the world and everyone in it. Ready to accept blame for any failure.
  • Guilty and fear about standing up for self, terrified by thought of abandonment
  • Living as the victim.
  • Addiction to excitement, drama and chaos.
  • Relationships are often based on how you take care of them. Finding people that need fixing,
  • Avoidance of feelings related to traumatic childhood experiences.
    Unable to feel or express feelings because it is frightening and / or painful and overwhelming.
  • Low self-esteem. Strong self-critical voice and desire to be perfect.
  • Strong dependency needs and terrified of abandonment, to the point of remaining in destructive relationships.
  • Fear of being proactive or taking risks.
  • Afraid to let others see who you truly are. Can be easily manipulated by others, people pleasing.

by Dr. Janet G. Woititz.
You may recognize some of them.

Adult Children:

  • …Guess at what normal is.
  • …Have difficulty in 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 are different from other people.
  • …Are either super responsible or super irresponsible.
  • …Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is undeserved.
  • …Tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences.

In working with John Bradshaw he would use the term compulsivity to describe all addictive/repetitive behavior, which is a term I have adopted.  With ACA people they have grown up in a world without boundaries and stability which has compromised their sense of self. This lack of self- identity often leads to confusion (inability to locate one’s needs & wants), self-loathing, and a feeling of  loss of control of their environment.

The first step is recognizing these characteristics in yourself and understanding your view of the world and yourself has been shaped from the world you grew up in. That many of these beliefs about yourself are not accurate and now you are searching for a better view of yourself. This view of ourselves comes from how people respond to you, we all learn things about ourselves from how people talk to us, what they tell us about us and we are now searching for a new a view. The role of ACA meetings or psychotherapy can be to help you find an alternate sense of yourself, not that the old one leaves completely but you now have the opportunity to stop yourself and say is this true? You can choose an alternate behavior or path, learn your needs and wants, which leads to better relationships with yourself and others.

To find ACA or Coda meetings for Santa Cruz area and link to organization websites: ACA-CODA