As long as things are going smoothly, we’re fine. However, when we experience conflict, controversy, or crises we tend to respond with less-than-adultlike reactions.
Over the years, those who have studied the “adult child” phenomenon have compiled a list of common characteristics which many people who grew up in dysfunctional homes seem to share. The following characteristics were developed in 1983 by Dr. Janet G. Woititz. You may recognize some of them.
…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. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self loathing, and loss of control of their environment. As a result, they spend tremendous amounts of time cleaning up the mess.
These characteristics are, of course, general in nature and do not apply to everyone. Some may apply and others not. And there are still other characteristics which are not on this list. But if any of these sound all too familiar, you may benefit by learning more about the phenomenon.
You might want to read Dr. Jan’s book Adult Children of Alcoholics for more detailed descriptions.
You might take the Adult Children Screening Quiz to get an indication of how much you may have been affected by growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional home.
If you would like to learn more about support group programs for those who grew up in alcoholic homes, check the resources from Al-Anon Family Groups or the Adult Children of Alcoholics organization.
By Dr. David Lawson