Basic Characteristics Of CoAs In The Workplace
Adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal is.
The significance of this statement cannot be overestimated, as it is their most profound characteristic. Adult children of alcoholics simple have no experience with what is normal.
After all, when you take a look at your history, how could you have any understanding of normalcy? Your home life varied from slightly mad to extremely bizarre.
Since this was the only home life you knew, what others would consider” slightly mad” or “ extremely bizarre” were usual to you. If there was an occasional day that one could characterize as” normal”, it certainly was not typical, and therefore could not have had much meaning.
Beyond your chaotic day-to-day life, part of what you did was to live in fantasy. You lived in a world that you created all your own, a world of what life would be like IF… what your home would be like IF…. the way your parents would relate to each other IF…the things that would be possible for you IF… And you structured a whole life based on something that was possible impossible. The unrealistic fantasies about what life would be like if your parent got sober probably helped you survive, but these added to your confusion as well. It becomes very clear that you have no frame for reference for what it is like to be in a normal household. You also have no frame of reference for what is O.K. to say and to feel. In a more typical situation, one does not have to walk on eggs all the time. One doesn’t have to question or repress one’s feelings all the time. Because you did, you became confused. Many things from the past contributed to your having to guess at what normal is.
What this means in the workplace is that CoAs are:
(1) Ideal candidates for exploitation because they don’t know when to say”no!”
(2) Very frequently scapegoated because they ask a million questions.
(3) Will pick inappropriate role models because they make assumptions and don’t check them out.
Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end.
The topic on evening in a adult children of alcoholics’ meeting was procrastination. When I asked the group members to talk about what it meant to them, the opening response was,”I’m the world’s biggest procrastinator”, or “ Somehow I just don’t seems to be able to finish anything that I start,”
These comments are fairly typical, and it’s not too hard to understand why a difficulty exits. These people are not procrastinators in the usual sense.
The great job was always around the corner. The big deal was always about to be made. The work that needed to be done around the house would be done in no time…the toy that will be built…the go-cart…the doll house…and on and on.
“I’m going to do this, I’m going to that”But this or that never really happened. Not only didn’t it happen, but the alcoholic wanted credit simple for having the idea, even for intending to do it. You grew up in this environment.
There were many wonderful ideas, but they were never acted on. If they were, so much time passed that you had forgotten about original ideas.
Who too the time to sit down with you when you had an idea for a project and said,”That’s a good idea. How are you going to about doing it? How long is it going to take you? What are the steps involved?” Probably no one. When was it that one of your parents said,”Gee, that idea is terrific! You sure you can do it? Can you break it down into smaller pieces? Can you make it manageable?” Probably never.
This is not to suggest that All parents who do not live with alcohol teach their children how to solve problems. But it is to suggest that in a functional family the child has this behavior and attitude to model. The child observes the process and the child may even ask questions along the way. The learning may be more indirect than direct, but it is present. Since your experience was so vastly different, it should be no surprise that you have a problem with following a project through from beginning to end. You haven’t seen it happen and you don’t know how to make it happen. Lack of knowledge isn’t the same as procrastination.
What this means in the workplace is that CoAs:
(1) Are shortsighted.
(2) Will operate superbly under pressure.
(3) Will be unable to complete long-term projects
Adult children of alcoholics lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
Lying is basic to the family system affected by alcohol. It masquerades in part as overt denial of unpleasant realities, coverups broken promises, and inconsistencies. It takes many forms and has many implications. Although it is somewhat different from the kind of lying usually talked about, it certainly is a departure from the truth.
The first and most basic lie is the family’s denial of the problem, so the parense that everything at home is in order is a lie, and the family rarely discusses the truth openly, even with each other. Perhaps somewhere in one’s private thoughts there is a recognition of the truth, but there is also the struggle to deny it.
The next lie, the cover up, relates to the first one. The non- alcohol family member covers up for the alcoholic member. As a child, you saw your non-alcoholic parents covering up for your alcoholic parent. You heard him or her on the phone making excuses for your mother or father for not fulfilling an obligation, not being on time. That’s part of the lie that you lived.
You also heard a lot of promises from your alcoholic parent. These,too turned out to be lie
Lying as the norm in your house became part of what you knew and what could be useful to you. At times, it made life much more comfortable. If you lied about getting your work done, you could get away with being lazy for a while. If you lied about why you couldn’t bring a friend home, or why you were late coming home, you could avert unpleasantness. It seemed to make life simpler for everybody.
Lying has become a habit. That’s why the statement,” Adult children of alcoholics lie when it would be just easy to tell the truth,” is relevant. But if lying is what you have heard comes naturally, perhaps it is not as easy to tell the truth,”mean that you derive no real benefit from lying.
What this means in the workplace is that CoAs:
(1) Second-guess the person who asks so that they can give the answer they think the person wants.
(2) Will agree to perform tasks they cannot perform although they assume that they should be able to do them or they would not have been asked.
Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy.
When you were a child, there was no way that you were good enough. You were constantly criticized. You believed that your family would be better off without you, because you were the cause of the trouble. You may have been criticized for things that made no sense.” If you weren’t such a rotten kid, I wouldn’t have to drink.” It makes no sense, but if you hear something often enough, for a long enough period of time, you will end up believing it. As a result, you internalized these criticisms as negative self-feelings. They remain, even though no one is saying them to you anymore.
Since there is no way for you to meet the standards of perfection that you have internalized from childhood, you are always falling short of the mark you have set for yourself. As a child, whatever you did was not quite good enough. No matter how hard you tried, you should have tried harder. If you got an A, it should have been an A+. You were never good enough. A client told me that his mother was so demanding that when he was in basic training, he found the sergeants loose. So this became a part of you… who you are, a part of the way you see yourself. The “ shoulds” and “ should nots” can become paralyzing after a while.
Your judgement of others is not nearly as harsh as your judgement of yourself, although it is hard for you to see other people’s behavior in terms of a continuum either. Black and White, good or bad, are typically the way you look at things. Either side is an awesome responsibility. You know what it feels like to be bad, and how those feelings make you behave. And then if you are good, there is always the risk that it won’t last. So either way, you set yourself up. Either way there is a great amount of pressure on you all of the time. How difficult and stressful life is. How hard it is to just sit back and relax and say, “It’s O.K. to be me.”
What this means in the workplace is that CoAs:
(1) Will assume that they responsible for anything that goes wrong.
(2) Will not accept strokes if the task was easy to accomplish.
(3) Will downplay any credit they receive for completing a difficult task because “it’s all a part of the job”,
Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun.
What this means in the workplace is that CoAs have difficulty separating themselves from the job.
Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
These two characteristics are very closely linked. If you’re having trouble having fun, you’re probably taking yourself very seriously, and if you don’t take yourself all that seriously chances are you can have fun.
Once again, in order to understand this problem, you need to look back at your childhood. How much fun was your childhood? You don’t have much fun. One child of an alcoholic described it as” chronic trauma”. You didn’t hear your parents laughing and joking and fooling around. Life was a very serious, angry business. You didn’t really learn to play with the other kids. You could join in some of the games, but were you really able to let yourself go and have fun? Even if you could have, it was discouraged. The tone around the house put a damper on your fun. Eventually, you just went along with everyone else. Having fun just wasn’t fun. There was no place for it in your house. You gave it up. It just wasn’t a workable idea. The spontaneous child within was squashed.
Having fun, being silly, being child-like, is to be foolish. It is no wonder that adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun, life is too serious.
You also have trouble separating yourself from your work, so you take yourself very seriously at whatever job you have to do. You can’t take the work seriously and not yourself. You are therefore a prime candidate for burnout.
One night a client turned to me with a very angry face and said,” You may make me laugh at myself, but I want you to know I don’t think it’s funny.”
What this means in the workplace is that for the CoAs the intensity from childhood carries over into the workplace and everything is taken very seriously.
Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty with intimate relationship.
They want very much to have health, intimidate relationship, but it is extraordinarily difficult for a number of reasons:
The first and obvious reason is that they have no frame of reference for a healthy, intimidate relationship because they have not seen one. The only model they have is their parents, which you I know was not healthy.
They also carry with them the experience of” come close, go away,”the inconsistency of a loving parent-child relationship.
They feel loved one day and rejected the next. The fear of being abandoned is a terrible fear they grow up with. If the fear isn’t overwhelming, it certainly gets in the way. Not knowing what it is like to have a consistent, day-to-day, healthy, intimate relationship with another person makes building one very painful and complicated.
The fear of abandonment gets in the way of the developing of a relationship. The development of any healthy relationship requires a lot of give and take and problem-solving. There is always some disagreement get very big very quickly for adult children of alcoholics, because the issue of being abandoned takes precedence over the original issue.
These overwhelming fears of being abandoned or rejected prevent any ease in the in the process of developing a relationship. Coupled with a sense of urgency,” This is the only time I have; if I don’t do it now, it will never happen,” tend to put pressure on the relationship. It makes it much more difficult to evolve slowly, to let two people get to know each other better, and to explore each other’s feelings and attitudes in a variety of ways.
This sense of urgency makes the other person feel smoothered, even though it is not the intent. I know a couple who have tremendous problems because whenever they argue, she panics and worries that he is now going to leave her. She needs constant reassurance in the middle of the argument that he’s not going to leave her, and that he still loves her. When he is in conflict, which is difficult for him as well, he tends to want to withdraw and be by himself. Needless to say, this makes the issue at hand more difficult to resolve than if it were only the issue itself needing to be confronted.
The feelings of being insecure, of having difficulty in trusting, and questions about whether or not you’re going to get hurt are not exclusive to adult children of alcoholics. These are problems most people have. Few people enter a relationship fully confident that things are going to work out the way they hope they will. They enter a relationship hopeful, but with a variety of fears.
So, all of the things that cause you concern are not unique to you. It’s simply a matter of degree; your being a child of an alcoholic caused the ordinary difficulties to become more severe.
What this means in the workplace is that
(1) CoAs have trouble with boundaries so don’t know how much and what information about themselves to share with fellow workers and supervisor.
(2) They will not know how to assess what is a compliment and what is exploitation — be it sexual harassment or a personal favor.
Adult children of alcoholics over react to changes over which they have no control.
This is very simple to understand. The young child of the alcoholic was not in control. The alcoholic’s life was inflicted on him, as was his environment.
In order to survive when growing up, he needed to turn that around. He needed to being taking charge of his environment. This became very important and remains so. The child of the alcoholic learns to trust himself more than anyone else when it’s important to rely on someone else’s judgement. As a result, you are very often accused of being controlling, rigid and lacking in spontanety. This is probably true. It isn’t because you are spoiled or unwilling to listen to other ideas. It comes from the fear that if you are in charge, if a change is made abruptly, quickly and without your being able to participate in it, you will lose control of your life. When you look back on your reaction and your behavior later, you feel somewhat foolish, but at the time you were simply unable to shift gears.
What this means in the workplace is that for the CoA:
(1) Any change involves some loss of one’s identity.
(2) Adjustment to change involves experiencing the old fears of inadequacy and discovery.
Adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval and affirmation.
We talk about an external and an internal locus of control. When a child is born, the environment pretty much dictates how he is going to feel about himself. The school, the church, and other people all have influence, but the most important influence is what we call “ significant others,” In the child’s world, this means his parents. So the child beings to believe who he is by the messages that he gets from his parents. And as he gets older these messages become internalized and contribute significantly to his self-image. The movement is toward the internal locus of control. The message that you got as a child was very confused. It was not unconditional love. It was not,” I think you’re terrific, but I’m not clear and the messages were mixed. “ Yes, no, I love you, go away.” So you grew up with some confusion about yourself. The affirmations you didn’t get on a day-to-day basis as a child you interpret as negative. Now, when affirmation is offered, it’s very difficult to accept. Accepting the affirmation would be the beginning of changing one’s self-image.
What this means in the workplace is that:
(1) Since the CoAs cannot affirm themselves, they look for it from supervisor and co-workers.
(2) They will overworked in other to strokes.
(3) They become convinced that the next promotion will provide personal validation.
Adult children of alcoholics feel that they are different from other people.
They also assume that in any group of people everyone else feels comfortable and they are the only ones who feel awkward. This is not peculiar to them. Never,of course, does anyone check it out and find out that each person has his own way of trying not to look awkward. Is that true of you, too? Interesting enough, you even feel different in group of adult children of alcoholics. Feeling different is something you have had with you since childhood and even if the circumstances does not warrant it, the feeling prevails. Others children had an opportunity to be children. You didn’t. You were very much concerned with what was going on at home. You could never be completely comfortable playing with other children. You could not be fully there. Your concerns about your home problems clouded everything else in your life. What happened to you is what happened to the rest of your family. You become isolated. As a result, socializing, being a part of any group became increasingly difficult. You simply did not develop the social skills necessary to feel comfortable or a part of the group. It is hard for children of alcoholics to believe that they can be accepted because of who they are and that the acceptance does not have to be earned.
What this means in the workplace is that CoAs will comply with any requests and demands, regardless of how appreciate or inappropriate they are, because they don’t want to be discovered as being different.
Adult children of alcoholics are either super responsible or super irresponsible.
Either you take it all on, or you give it all up. There is no middle ground. You tried to please your parents, doing more and more, or you reached the point where you recognized it didn’t matter, so you did nothing. You also did not see a family that cooperated with each other. You didn’t have a family that decided on Sunday, “Let’s all work in the yard. I will work on this, and you work on that, and then we’ll come together,” Not having a sense of being a part of a project, of how to cooperate with other people and let all the parts come together and become a whole, you either do all of it, or you do none of it. You also don’t have a good sense of your own limitations. Saying “no” is extraordinarily difficult for you, so you do more and more and more. You do it-- not because you really have a bloated sense of yourself — you do it (1) because you don’t have a realistic sense of your capacity, or (2) because if you say “ no” you are afraid that they will find you out. They will find out that you are incompetent. The quality of the job you do does not seem to influence your feelings about yourself. So you take on more and more and more…until you finally burn out.
What this means in the workplace is that:
(1) CoAs have difficulty shearing responsibility since they have no experience with operating in a cooperative atmosphere; so, they take it all on or back away entirely.
(2) They find it difficult to trust that others will do what they have agreed to do.
(3) They may judge the performance of others and the organization in the same merciless way they judge themselves.
Adult children of alcoholics are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.
The alcoholic home appears to be a very loyal place. Family members hang in long after reasons dictate that they should leave. The so-called “ loyalty” is more the result of fear and insecurity than anything else; nevertheless, the behavior that is modeled is one where no one walk away just because the going gets roug. This sense enables the adult child to remain in involvements that are better dissolved. Since making a friend or developing a relationship is so difficult and so complicated, once the effort has been made it is permanent. If someone cares enough about you to be your friend, your lover, or your spouse, then you have the obligation to stay with them forever. If you have let them know who you are, if they have discovered who you are and not rejected you, that fact, in and of itself, is enough to make you sustain the relationship. The fact that they may treat you poorly does not matter. You can rationalize that. Somehow, no matter what they do, or say, you can figure out a way to excuse their behavior and find yourself at fault. This reinforce your negative self-feelings and enables you to stay in the relationship. Your loyalty is unparalleled.
What this means in the workplace is that:
(1)”If they were kind enough to hire me, I owe them my loyalty.”
(2) The CoAs will give loyalty immediately and automatically.
Adult children of alcoholics are impulsive.
They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behavior or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self loathing, and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess,
As a child you could not predict the outcome of any given behavior, so you don’t know how to do it now. Also there was no consistency at home. As a result, you haven’t the following framework of” When I behaved impulsively in the past, this happened and that happened and this person reacted in that way. “ Sometimes it would go O.K., and sometimes it wouldn’t Essentially, it may not have really mattered. Not did anyone say to you, “These are the possible consequences of that behavior Let’s talk about other things that you might do.”
What this means in the workplace is that:
(1) CoAs have difficulty with decision-making so well behave impulsively.
(2) Since separation issues are so difficult, they will tend to move on quickly rather than deal with them.