We all know that our childhood directly impacts our adulthood, yet most of us rarely stop to think about it. Naturally, one of the largest contributing factors in our life is our parents. They literally give us the genetic makeup that creates who we are, and they shape every aspect of our early lives. We assume that everyone reflects fondly on their childhood, and probably many people do. However, one demographic in particular constantly lives in the shadows of a childhood that they may never even speak of: the childhood of someone who has an alcoholic parent.
Children of alcoholics develop many traits that even they don’t always realize are directly related to the warped home life they survived. In fact, there are even support groups directly geared towards these lost children: Adult Children of Alcoholics.
If this is you, here are five things people don’t realize you’re doing because you’re the child of an alcoholic.
1. Misunderstanding social norms.
You grew up in a home filled with dysfunction. Whether dad spent his evenings downing beer after beer or mom quietly kept a flask in her purse, nothing was ever normal because someone was under the influence of that mood-altering elixir. What people don’t realize is that this means you never developed understandings of commonly accepted social norms because these behaviors we all assume are inherent were never modeled for you.
As an adult, this lack of understanding can manifest in many forms. Maybe you misinterpret cues that others think seem obvious. Maybe you ask questions that your friends feel you should know better than to ask. Or maybe you even appear as an awkward cat at social gatherings because you just don’t know how to act. Nobody may understand, but deep down you know it’s because one or both of your parents were alcoholics.
2. Frantically trying to control everything.
Your home resembled controlled chaos at best or flat out anarchy on the worst of days. As a child, you felt lost and unable to control the turmoil taking place all around you. If your parents stayed together and only one consumed the drinks, you also probably witnessed one parent frantically working to “keep up appearances” and corral the other parent to keep their alcoholism under wraps.
As an adult, this lead to you developing many codependent tendencies. Not only do you obsess over every detail in your own life, but you feel compelled to control the lives of others, too. You crave some sense of normalcy and fear the unknown. Therefore, you try to “fix” everything and everyone so that there won’t be any pain or turmoil for anyone involved. Many people don’t understand this and see your efforts as unsupportive and even a hindrance of their lives. Nobody understands the discomfort that you experience, but then again you also don’t understand why they can’t stand your controlling ways.
3. Show extreme loyalty (even to harmful people).
You feel a massive void left by parents who could never really show you the love you truly deserved. As a child, you probably tried seeking the attention you craved in any way that seemed to get the job done. You feared being alone and worried that you’d end up spending the rest of your life with that emptiness inside your heart.
As an adult, you’re extremely loyal to your friends and romantic partners. You refuse to give up on anyone and often go out of your way to show everyone in your life that you love them completely. While many find your fierce loyalty endearing, sometimes close friends question why you continually maintain relationships with people who appear emotionally unavailable or even downright abusive. Unfortunately, you not only see these behaviors as normal due to your upbringing, but you fear that if you let someone go, in the end, everyone will flee. So, you hold on tight to everyone, because any form of love feels better than none at all.
4. Live for others more than yourself.
You quickly learned that your needs and wants never really mattered as a child, and you probably even watched one of your parents sacrifice their own wellness to caretake their alcoholic partner. Once we develop behavior patterns from a young age, it’s often hard to break those habits.
As an adult, this means many things regarding how you approach relationships and everyday interactions with other people. You’re highly sensitive and often appear to be attuned to others’ emotions. You fear conflict and seek praise, meaning you work hard to be perfectionistic and self-sacrificing so that others will notice you (and hopefully adore you). You latch onto people you can rescue because that chaos feels more comfortable that focusing on yourself. And finally, you often avoid your own struggles for the sake of others because you simply believe that your needs never matter.
5. Criticize yourself constantly.
In your childhood home, nothing was ever good enough. You rarely received praise, and you learned to see every breath you took through a critical lens. These feelings were even more heightened if your alcoholic parent became aggressive or attacked when drinking.
As an adult, you cannot accept compliments, no matter where they come from. Even the highest collegiate honors or major workplace accolades are never enough. You still judge every decision you make with that critical eye and even talk to yourself in a degrading and verbally abusive manner. Your friends tell you to stop saying hurtful things about yourself and even accuse you of trying to coerce them into singing your praises. What they don’t realize is that you’re only speaking the truth from your perspective, because you never learned to see yourself in a positive light.