Counseling for Adult Children of Alcoholics, Childhood Trauma, and other Toxic Family Dynamics

At some point in life, we look back at the past to make sense of the present. Some of us question if we were raised in a toxic or abusive family. Some of us realize we are still trapped in one.

What is Trauma?

Childhood trauma occurs when we experience or witness negative events we aren’t prepared for or don’t have support in recovering from. This might look like physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, neglect, substance abuse by a parent or other adult, witnessing violence or abuse toward someone else in the home, or not having our basic physical and emotional needs met.


Was my family toxic?

A toxic family dynamic includes things like scapegoating, criticism, unrealistic standards, constant and unnecessary conflict, or feeling powerless or controlled or like a you’re a little kid again when around your family members. Toxic family members often issue ultimatums, ignore boundaries, treat others unfairly or unequally, prioritize their own feelings over others, have blow-ups and act like victims after hurting others. They take things you say out of context or personally, minimalize your beliefs and accomplishments, and rarely apologize or take responsibility for their actions.



How Does this Affect me as an Adult?

Growing up with trauma or toxic family dynamics makes us more likely to experience stress and anxiety later in our lives. Survivors of such situations are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses, have difficulty with attention spans, struggle with academic or professional performance, and have difficulty coping with stress.

Workplace, social situations, and romantic relationships often trigger behaviors and patterns from our childhoods. You catch yourself being defensive, anxious, people-pleasing, or in co-dependent relationships. You wonder why you so often find yourself in toxic workplace environments or why you’re attracted to the same type of partner over and over. Often, we don’t realize that the origins of these behavioral patterns is the programming we received from our families in childhood.


    Realizing you’re not alone helps, and knowing that others who have experienced what you have experienced have healed lets us know it can be done. The Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families World Service Organization published a “Laundry List” describing common traits of adults who grew up in alcoholism and other dysfunction.

    ACOA Laundry List:

    1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
    2. We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
    3. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
    4. We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our abandonment needs.
    5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
    6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc.
    7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
    8. We became addicted to excitement.
    9. We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
    10. We have “stuffed” our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).
    11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
    12. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
    13. Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
    14. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.


    At the end of this list is a statement that this Laundry List is a description, not an indictment. You may identify with all or just some of these items. Studies show that counseling can help and improves self-esteem, reduces feelings of shame, and helps develop tools for healthier relationships.


    Click here to schedule your appointment with a counselor who specializes in healing from abusive and toxic family dynamics.