For ACoAs- (Adult-Children of alcoholics, abusers, abandoners & other narcissists)

ACoAs know how they would like their life to be: TO have a fulfilling career, loving relationships, less pressure, a little fun... and they try, struggle, obsess - but not much changes. They become more & more frustrated & depressed.

They grew up around chaos addictions, criticism, rage, depression, abuse & neglect. They learned to survive by adapting 
to what the adults seemed to want, so they cobbled together a set of behaviors as best they could, with very little help, which allowed them to survive - but not thrive. They became ‘human doings’ instead of a human beings.

SO, ever since, they deal with the world (& themselves) in that same old way, never quite getting what they need or want--
& alternately thinking that it's - a) somehow all their fault, or ?b) the universe is against them! Either way, it hurts!

Actions that lead to any type of success are usually the exact ‘Positive-Opposite’ of one's life-long patterns. 
ACoAs have tried to do things differently, to no avail. They truly have tried. Just one problem - they've probably been doing the exact ‘Negative-Opposites’, and with great effort & sincerity!

They may have swung from isolation to clinging, from totally goofing off to workaholism, from poverty to overspending, from starving to stuffing yourself, from deprivation to promiscuity, etc. - back & forth, year after year, in a vicious cycle.
They've based their decisions & choices on their early training, which was incomplete, inappropriate & often just plain wrong! 

That's not their fault. Everyone follows their programming.

As a result of this confused training, ACoAs come into adulthood with weak personal boundaries, a deep fear of abandonment & crippling self-hate. The nasty ‘Greek Chorus” in their head tells them that they’re unattractive, boring, stupid, unlovable, fraudulent & without hope. 

Instead, the reality is that they are:  Damaged, NOT Defective.

You see, if children were defective - it would mean that they had been born ‘bad’ / broken / useless. It would be impossible to expect anything good from such a person - like cracked china coming out of the kiln - it gets thrown away. However, this does NOT apply to Human Beings.

There’s a saying: ‘God doesn’t make garbage!’  Every person is valuable - part of the greater whole & precious to Higher Power. That includes EVERYONE!  One don’t have to be religious or a believer - one just needs to know that one has worth - even if one's family couldn’t see it.

OK, so does this get changed?  The KEY is BALANCE - to live in the mid-range of experience, as much as possible: from +5 to -5 (NOT -20 to +20) on the emotional/ reactive scale.

                 IT HELPS TO KNOW THAT:

? It’s the YOUNGER part of oneself (the Inner Child)  who is making these negative choices - as a way to be loyal to one's family & their teachings. This is normal for everyone.

? Most people in the world are damaged. Internally they’re run by 2 main ego states:  the ‘Bad’ voice (Introject) & the wounded Child. There are other aspects of a person, like a functioning Adult, but not strong enough to be truly in charge. 

? ACoAs tend to first ‘over-value’ someone/ something and then, when disappointed - ‘under-value’ to the point of rage. They expect too much of others (the impossible) but don’t expect what IS possible. They go to the wrong people for their needs, inevitably getting let down, like when they were kids.

? ACoAs need to develop 2 new ego states (inner voices); the ’Healthy Adult‘ that deals with facts, & the ‘Loving Parent‘ in charge of nurturing & guidance. This new unit must take over the responsibility of running one's life, & to care for that vulnerable, wounded part - protecting oneself from the ‘bad voice’ that continually beats one up.
? ACoAs can outgrow much of their damage by being willing to honestly identify the layers & layers of pain & denial, be willing to gently correct harmful behavior patterns & utilize as many forms of support/ information / books / therapy as possible.

? As Healthy Adults, one needs to choose what actually works & what doesn’t - in the present - rather than blindly following what was learned originally. Staying ‘awake’ for the physical & emotional results of old patters makes the old behaviors less palatable & so leads to a willingness to change.


Co-dependence   ? Inter-dependance / Addictions   ?    Sobriety / Dramatic   ?   Calm /
Be a Victim    ?     Be Responsible / Aggressive   ?   Assertive / Be abused    ?    Have Boundaries /
People-please  ?   Make Choices / Rescuing   ?    Helping / Isolated    ?    Sociable /
Shame-filled  ?   Self-respecting

TO HELP make these SHIFTs, one can use the 3 A’s of ALANON (a 12-Step group for Families & Friends of Alcoholics) :

? AWARENESS - Honestly identify, without white-washing it, what truly happened growing up, the resulting negative patterns of thinking & actions, & the depth of one's hidden emotional pain. “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical”.

? ACCEPTANCE - Acknowledge & digest what one has uncovered, for as long as it takes, patiently & with compassion, in stead of self-judgement. This ‘A’ has nothing to do with liking something. Just WHAT was / is the truth !  It also does not mean giving up, that it’s hopeless! On the contrary - ACCEPTANCE is a prerequisite for change.

? ACTION - Whenever possible, one can change behavior to match a more compassionate and realistic present-day
view of oneself & the world. Great patience is needed. (ACoAs have a lot of trouble with patience!)
Sometimes, no action is required or appropriate. That too is a change.
Sometimes the action may be the same - what’s needed is a change in the MOTIVE, such as for yourself, instead of others.

Gradually correcting distorted beliefs and changing actions (Positive Opposites)  will produce:

? self-esteem / ? less anxiety / ? feeling effective / ? getting needs met / ? being more comfortable in one's skin /
? respect/ admiration / ? ability to have fun / ? express creativity / ? improve living/working conditions / ? make true friends / ? be loved by good/ kind people / ? take appropriate risks / ? smoother relationships / ? trust one's judgement    etc    
 Over time, these changes will add up, giving one a sense of worth -- permission to be one's true self, be part of the human race & actually enjoy life !


Author's Bio: 

DONNA M TORBICO is an NYC psychotherapist in private practice for over 20 yrs, specializing in ACoA Recovery.

She works with individuals & couples/partners, in person or by phone.

She has appeared on television, radio & at the New Life Expo, created & presented an ACoA / Alanon intensive weekend workshop on Long Island & ran an ACoA therapy group for 6 years.

She was an instructor at the NY OPEN CENTER for 9 yrs, teaching her 12-week interactive lecture course
“Knowledge is Power : What makes an ACoA”, which is now available elsewhere.