First a note about nomenclature. Many of us have heard of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, and their affiliated groups like Al-Anon or even Gambler's Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous. But there is another 12-step program that doesn't get a lot less press. It started out about 30 years ago as Adult Children of Alcoholics and was just that. A group for people who grew up in alcoholic homes. Over time as the group grew nationally more and more members realized that there were core features they all shared, like being afraid of people and/or authority figures, or feeling guilty standing up for themselves, or having a very low sense of self-esteem. Members started to realize that not only did they have these traits in common with people from alcoholic homes, but they could see these traits in people from homes where alcoholism was absent but other forms of poor parenting abounded. Homes where parents struggled with depression, bipolar disorder, physical abuse, sexual abuse, narcissism or other mental problems. People in these "Adult Children of Alcoholics" groups started to see that more properly they should be called "Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families". Somehow that name did not stick but what did was "Adult Children Anonymous", or "ACA".
Dr. Tian Dayton has written a wonderful book about this very problem. Children raised in dysfunctional homes who learned maladaptive relationship patterns and skills that end up causing all kinds of problems in adulthood. Her writing is clear and engaging and she uses lots of case examples to bring things to life. She discusses the neurobiology of trauma and how it re-shapes the brain, the ways in which kids from these families try to cope such as substances or other addictions including sex and over-eating and finally how to heal from this devastating family pattern.
If you come from a dysfunctional family I strongly recommend checking out this book. Another great resource is the website adultchildren.org. There is a listing of traits that are common to kids from dysfunctional homes called "the Laundry List" that I really recommend checking out. If you see yourself in those traits you may consider checking out an ACA meeting, which can be found in almost all parts of the country and even in smaller towns.
Whichever way to approach healing, whether it's reading books, going to 12-step meetings or finding a good therapist, I encourage you to keep trying. People can and do change and often in ways so dramatic that it surprises me even though I have been doing this for 20 years. No one is beyond hope for a better future.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Krista Jordan, Ph.D.
Dr. Jordan has been in private practice for 20 years in Texas. She is passionate about helping people to overcome hurts and obstacles from their past to find more happiness and health in their current lives.