Dysfunction Creates an Adult Child
If you grew up in a dysfunctional household, you may have spent your entire life wondering what was normal. Adult Children of Alcoholics began as a way of coping with a parent’s substance use disorder. Today, it provides structure and support for people from all backgrounds. Read on to learn the facts about ACA, the criteria for being an Adult Child, and what to expect when you attend a meeting.
Origins of ACA
Along with members of an Alateen group, a New Yorker named Tony A. founded the Adult Children of Alcoholics in 1978. This faction broke away from Al-Anon to focus on recovering from childhoods spent in a dysfunctional, alcoholic household. When one or both parents find themselves powerless over alcohol, the result is often lasting trauma. Tony A. explained this experience through The Laundry List: a set of 14 criteria outlining the Adult Child personality. The group then adapted the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to fit the needs of family members.
Today, the organization has spread around the world. It has also undergone a rebrand; today, it is known as the Adult Children of Alcoholic and Dysfunctional Families.
What is Dysfunction?
Every family comes with its own history, personalities, and dynamics. A few quirks are to be expected, but when negativity reigns supreme, your family is officially dysfunctional.
The official definition of dysfunction is the presence of ongoing conflict, neglect, abuse, or bad behavior. This perpetual insecurity creates an environment in which children often feel unsafe or anxious. As a result, kids from chaotic homes grow up assuming that their situation is normal. Adult children in ACA are encouraged to reflect on their experiences, grow from them, and break harmful generational cycles.
Adult Children Definition: Am I an Adult Child?
ACA’s definition of “Adult Child” has evolved alongside the organization. While the group used to pertain exclusively to children of alcoholics, today, almost anyone qualifies for membership.
ACA says that an Adult Child is “someone whose actions and decisions as an adult are guided by childhood experiences grounded in self-doubt or fear.” We invite you to consider the below questionnaire. If any of these items resonate with you, you may benefit from attending ACA meetings.
- Do I perceive criticism as a targeted, personal attack?
- Do I fear anger or authority figures?
- Do I struggle to identify my feelings?
- Do I feel more “alive” in times of crisis?
- Do I get involved with other people’s drama?
- Do I have to guess what is “normal”?
- Do I remember anyone in my household drinking or using drugs?
- Did one of my parents defend the other’s bad behavior?
- Do I still feel immature, like a child on the inside?
- Do I judge myself harshly?
Plenty of parental behaviors can create a dysfunctional environment. Addiction, workaholism, an obsession with perfection, and neglect all count. ACA programming is intended for people from all types of families, including:
- Authoritarian parent(s) with strict religious or moral beliefs and harsh punishments
- Environments with high levels of secrecy
- Sexually abusive households
- Mentally ill parent(s)
- Hypochondriac parent(s)
- Divorced parents
- Foster homes
No matter what your history, you will be welcome at an Adult Children meeting!
What to Expect at Your First Meeting
Like AA, NA, and other 12-Step groups, ACA adheres to a regimented meeting format. This is especially comforting for adult children—once you know what to expect, you can confidently attend in-person, phone, or video meetings around the country.
Each session lasts for 1.5 hours. It will begin with an address from the facilitator, who will introduce themselves. This person will explain the purpose of the meeting and lead a moment of silence. Then, the whole group will recite the Serenity Prayer. It’s okay if you don’t know the words at first; you’ll pick it up in time.
Next, pre-selected group members will read The Problem (The Laundry List), The Solution, and The 12 Steps of ACA. These readings offer helpful information for new attendees. They also provide structure for regulars.
At this time, the facilitator will ask any newcomers to introduce themselves. Group members will also share their names so that you can become familiar with them.
Each person will get an opportunity to share their experiences. The facilitator will ensure that all members know that what is said in the room stays in the room. Like all 12-Step programs, anonymity is a crucial bastion of ACA.
After group sharing concludes, the facilitator will convey a message related to the overall purpose of the meeting. Some will be Step Studies, which focus on specific stages of recovery for Adult Children. Others are open discussions or conversations around a topic. Speaker meetings are led by people who offer inspirational or informational stories for the group. The session will then conclude with a reading of The Promises.
No matter which type of meeting you attend, there is much to gain from participating in ACA.
Help for Adult Children of Alcoholic and Dysfunctional Families
If you feel anxious, insecure, or struggle to cope because of childhood experiences, help is available. We understand that when trauma stays with you, it can be challenging to recover on your own. If you are an Adult Child of an alcoholic or dysfunctional home, you need specialty care.