ACA’s Identification and readings

ACA is not a replacement for addicts working an abstinence program in other Twelve Step fellowships.  However, Adult Children of Alcoholics is often the only program for many adult children recovering from the effects of alcoholism or other family dysfunction, including the effects of alcoholism and drug addiction.  (Adapted from the ACA Fellowship textbook.)

Meetings are intended to be safe places where we can share our experience, strength and hope without judgement or criticism.  We have the right not to share unless we are ready.

This program is grounded in spiritual guidance and not affiliated with any specific religion.  We are individuals struggling through rigorous honesty to become the best we can be.  We respect one another’s anonymity.  Who we encounter at meetings and what they have said there is treated confidentially.

We meet together to share our experience, strength, hope and fear; we offer friendship and understanding.  We love one another in a very special way.  We welcome you to join us.

Since each meeting is autonomous, and each meeting is a different experience, we recommend that you try as many different ones as possible before deciding if the ACA program can be helpful to you in your journey from discovery to recovery.

If you can relate to some of the characteristics, or exhibit any of the identifiable traits written in ACA’s Laundry List (Problem) or ACA’s Other Laundry List that possible can reveal past abuse or neglect, you probably, without knowing, grew up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional environment. In the ACA fellowship you are not alone.
Experience from our ACA members has shown that many adult children who attend regularly our ACA meetings, work the ACA Twelve Steps, find a Higher Power of their understanding, living the ACA traditions, actively practise reparenting on themselves, try to connect with others on a deeper level and learn to listen and feel their inner child(ren) start to experience ACA recovery – the deep healing of the body, mind, and spirit.
The ACA Twelve Step fellowships is one of the few that embraces the difficult task of trauma work, which can often lead to an exciting journey to the Inner Child to find the True Self. Some experiences of members has shown that along with ACA’s helping others with their ACA program, plus trauma-informed therapists that can give trauma therapies/ trauma-informed therapy like EFT or remapping the brain can be of help for the adult child and together with ACA program accomplish the greatest level of emotional healing from an abusive or neglectful upbringing. While others reach strong level of emotional healing by only work fully on the ACA program. Please consider what will work best for you, because it is your recovery process and nobody can say or give you advice what will work for you. It is up to you to find a good way to recover.


The Laundry List (Problem) or Other Laundry List describes the thinking and personality of an adult reared in a dysfunctional family. A sample of the 14 Laundry List Traits reveals how we judge ourselves and others harshly. We remain in destructive or loveless relationships because we fear abandonment. The term “adult child” means that we respond to adult interactions with the fear and self-doubt learned as children. This undercurrent of hidden fear can sabotage our choices and relationships. We can appear outwardly confident while living with a constant question of our worth.

The Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic

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 sick 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.

Tony A., 1978

Note: The Laundry List serves as the basis for The Problem statement.

The Problem

Many of us found that we had several characteristics in common as a result of being brought up in an alcoholic or dysfunctional household. We had come to feel isolated and uneasy with other people, especially authority figures. To protect ourselves, we became people-pleasers, even though we lost our own identities in the process. All the same we would mistake any personal criticism as a threat. We either became alcoholics (or practiced other addictive behavior) ourselves, or married them, or both. Failing that, we found other compulsive personalities, such as a workaholic, to fulfill our sick need for abandonment.
We lived life from the standpoint of victims. Having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, we preferred to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. We got guilt feelings when we stood up for ourselves rather than giving in to others. Thus, we became reactors, rather than actors, letting others take the initiative. We were dependent personalities, terrified of abandonment, willing to do almost anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to be abandoned emotionally. Yet we kept choosing insecure relationships because they matched our childhood relationship with alcoholic or dysfunctional parents.
These symptoms of the family disease of alcoholism or other dysfunction made us “co-victims”, those who take on the characteristics of the disease without necessarily ever taking a drink. We learned to keep our feelings down as children and kept them buried as adults. As a result of this conditioning, we confused love with pity, tending to love those we could rescue. Even more self-defeating, we became addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable relationships.
This is a description, not an indictment.

Adapted from The Laundry List


The opposite or Other Laundry List


We must note that most of the 14 Traits of the Laundry List have an opposite. Our experience shows that the opposites are just as damaging as the counterpart. For example trait 1 of the Laundry List, if we feared authority figures, as the first trait suggests, we also became authority figures to our children, spouses, or others. When we stop and think about it, we realize we were feared as authority figures. If we lived our life from the viewpoint of a victim (Trait 5), then many of us have become persecutors or perpetrators who created victims. If we got guilt feelings for standing up for ourselves (Trait 7), we could also feel guiltless by shaming someone verbally. We could take from others what was not ours without feeling guilty. These examples represent the reverse side of The Laundry List, The Other Laundry List Many of us would like to deny that we have been a dominating authority figure, but we have. We don’t like to think about victimizing others or projecting blame onto them, but we have. Many of us have reenacted what was done to us, thinking we were justified. Some of us have engaged in fights that go beyond mere words. We have slapped and slugged others in a fit of rage. Some of us have used a violent cursing with threats of physical harm to intimidate others. A few adult children have willingly committed crimes. We have stolen merchandise, written bogus checks, or embezzled money for various reasons that don’t hold weight in the light of our explanations. We can feel shame or disgust when we think about our actions. This is healthy guilt, which is different from the toxic guilt that we were raised under. Our behaviors, whether we are a victim or creating victims, highlight an ACA truism: “ACA is not an easy program to work.” Yet, the effort it takes to work ACA is far less than the effort it takes to live in codependence or trying to control others or circumstances out of our control. If we apply half the effort to ACA that we apply to living codependently, we will see amazing results. We will find clarity and self-worth.

The Other Laundry List

1) To cover our fear of people and our dread of isolation we tragically become the very authority figures who frighten others and cause them to withdraw.
2) To avoid becoming enmeshed and entangled with other people and losing ourselves in the process, we become rigidly self-sufficient. We disdain the approval of others.
3) We frighten people with our anger and threat of belittling criticism.
4) We dominate others and abandon them before they can abandon us or we avoid relationships with dependent people altogether. To avoid being hurt, we isolate and dissociate and thereby abandon ourselves.
5) We live life from the standpoint of a victimizer, and are attracted to people we can manipulate and control in our important relationships.
6) We are irresponsible and self-centered. Our inflated sense of self-worth and self-importance prevents us from seeing our deficiencies and shortcomings.
7) We make others feel guilty when they attempt to assert themselves.
8) We inhibit our fear by staying deadened and numb.
9) We hate people who “play” the victim and beg to be rescued.
10) We deny that we’ve been hurt and are suppressing our emotions by the dramatic expression of “pseudo” feelings.
11) To protect ourselves from self punishment for failing to “save” the family we project our self-hate onto others and punish them instead.
12) We “manage” the massive amount of deprivation we feel, coming from abandonment within the home, by quickly letting go of relationships that threaten our “independence” (not too close).
13) We refuse to admit we’ve been affected by family dysfunction or that there was dysfunction in the home or that we have internalized any of the family’s destructive attitudes and behaviors.
14) We act as if we are nothing like the dependent people who raised us.

Unknowing of growing up in a toxic family system dynamic, were the family dysfunction infected all family members, all members are innocent victims, robbed of their innocence and left with deep and powerful scars of PTSD, internalized trauma.  Powerful feelings, such as panic, terror and desperation were swallowed and buried deep in everybody’s beings.  Survival views and concepts of “how the world works” and “how to keep ourself safe” are seriously skewed being formed under extreme duress.  Throughout the life’s of every family member, all recreate childhood trauma – it is all everybody knows.

When we find ACA, we begin to understand what really happened, what family dysfunction is and the devastating impact our trauma plays in our current lives as we manifest self-harming thinking and behaviors – the Laundry List Traits and or the Other Laundry List Traits.  Yet, these traits are normal reactions or consequences of an adult traumatized as a child!
Adults traumatized as children are pushed to the point of exhaustion and collapse as part of the family’s “bop ‘til you drop” scenario. The ACA 12 Steps can be used to uncover and reverse this process of “group intoxication” that we internalized as children and keep acting out as adults.

The 20 Characteristics

  1. I guess at what normal is.
  2. I have difficulty following projects through from beginning to end.
  3. I lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
  4. I judge myself without mercy.
  5. I have difficulty with intimate relationships.
  6. I have difficulty having fun.
  7. I take myself very seriously.
  8. I over-react to changes over which I have no control.
  9. I feel different from other people
  10. I constantly seek approval and affirmation.
  11. I am either super responsible or super irresponsible.
  12. I am extremely loyal even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.
  13. I look for immediate as opposed to deferred gratification.
  14. I lock myself into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternate behaviors or possible consequences.
  15. I seek tension and crisis and then complain about the results.
  16. I avoid conflict or aggravate it: rarely do I deal with it.
  17. I fear rejection and abandonment, yet I am rejecting of others.
  18. I fear failure, but sabotage my success.
  19. I fear criticism and judgement, yet I criticize and judge others.
  20. I manage my time poorly and do not set my priorities in a way that works well for me.

See also: Characteristics of an Adult Child, by Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D., 1987

Click here to download: “The ACA Laundry Lists Framework”

Click here to download: The Complete Picture Characteristics of an Adult Child

Click here to download the given presentation handout about “Completing the Circle in the Cycle of Violence”

Click here to listen to the given presentation about “Completing the Circle in the Cycle of Violence” by Don C

ACA is a Twelve Step, Twelve Tradition support group focused on understanding the specific behavior and attitude patterns we developed while growing up in an alcoholic or other dysfunctional environment.  These patterns continue to affect us today.

By attending regular meetings we come to a better understanding of our past so we can more effectively restructure our lives today.  We begin to see more clearly what is positive and healthy in ourselves.

Effects, Defenses and Recovery from Abuse
Notes on Abuse – Effects of Abuse

  1. Low or no self-esteem
  2. Often feels responsible and blames self
  3. Inability to trust self and others (may trust, but trusts wrong people)
  4. Sense of worthlessness
  5. Isolation
  6. Sense of being helpless
  7. Strong denial system
  8. Low or no body awareness
  9. Numb the pain with drinking, drugging, sexing, eating, etc.
  10. Physical and medical symptoms – may be a lot of body complaints
  11. Prostitution
  12. Suicide – taking anger out on self
  13. Sense of emptiness
  14. Loss of playfulness and spontaneity
  15. Many become abusive

Protective Defenses Used to Deal With Abuse

These defenses interfere with developing relationships on an adult level.

  1. Silence
  2. Denial – may be believing it’s not happening
  3. Dissociation – “becoming the spot on the ceiling”
  4. Numb feelings
  5. Change feelings – from anger to __.
  6. Change meaning of abuse – child may be told, “This is good for you”, so child may think “Doesn’t this happen to all kids?”
  7. Isolation – stay away from home, etc.

Recovery From Abuse

  1. Share your story – you don’t need to deal with pain alone
  2. Believe your story – you have a tendency to discount
  3. Establish perpetrator responsibility – recognize it isn’t about you
  4. Address the addictions used to numb the pain
  5. Realize you can deal with the pain without mood altering substances
  6. Learn to recognize, then accept, and then communicate feelings
  7. Learn to nurture yourself
  8. Build self-esteem and positive body image (affirmations)
  9. Deal with family of origin – break the code of secrecy – by writing and talking with other people
  10. Learn to be playful
  11. Learn that now you do have a chance to live, you do have choices – YOU NEED NOT BE A VICTIM
  12. Take back your power – act responsibly, set boundaries that feel comfortable, control sexual
    behavior – you can control who enters your life
  13. Remind yourself of your strengths
  14. Learn you can say “No”
  15. Learn to give and receive criticism
  16. Stop abusing others

(Taken from: http://thelistacagroup.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/effects-of-abuse-and-how-to-get-past-them/ and the ACA WSO website)


A Spiritual Dilemma Rather Than a Mental Illness
“ACA (takes a) spiritual approach to the disease of family dysfunction. In ACA, we view our compulsive thinking and dependent behavior as a spiritual dilemma rather than a mental illness. We have no quarrel with science and medicine, which have made great strides in mapping and studying the brain. Such clinical work is of great importance in understanding human behavior and brain functions. We freely use such clinical labels as depression, panic disorder, bipolar, dissociation, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some ACA members have been diagnosed as multiple personalities and as schizophrenic.

“We do not believe our brains are missing any elements. We start with the premise that we are whole and that we had a normal reaction to an abnormal situation of being raised in a dysfunctional home. Our normal reaction to protect ourselves has created survival traits, compulsions, and self-harming behaviors, which respond to the ACA Steps and spiritual remedies. We are not minimizing the severity of our situation as adult children. The disease of family dysfunction manifests itself in dependency, addiction, and dissociative personalities. The disease can kill. Every day, adult children commit suicide, die in addiction, or die one day at a time in silent isolation, thinking they are hopeless. In ACA, we believe we were born whole and became fragmented in body, mind, and spirit through abandonment and shame. We need help finding a way to return to our miracle state.”

(ACA Red Book, Page 142)


Updated Family Roles
“The following is an update on family roles from ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics).

Family Hero – An achiever, usually (but not always) the oldest child. Often a workaholic who can identify other’.4 needs and meet them, but is without an understanding of their own needs. This is often a child who uses their success to find a sense of belonging — the one who shows the family is “all right,” but who is unable to feel the benefit of his/her achievements. They feel like a fraud and are subject to depressions which they hide from those around them.

The Rescuer – Similar to the Family Hero, -but without the visible success. The Rescuer finds those in needs, lets them move in or marries them or finds a job for them while supply other needs and is very understanding of the frequent betrayals. The rescuer has a deep seated self-hate that drives them to their role as a savior, because they know that anyone not already at the bottom of the barrel would have nothing to do with them. They tend to feel inadequate in their giving and unable to accept help for their own needs.

The Mascot – Often a younger child who uses humor or other distracting behavior, such as being exceptional clumsy or always in trouble, to take the focus of the family away from the problems of the family dysfunction. If the parent is violently drunk, the Mascot may take the abuse to “save” the rest of the family, or may be able to crack a joke at the necessary moment to take everyone’s mind off the pain of their reality.

The Adjuster – The one who is never bothered by what is happening; there is no reason to be excited because everyone had to lie with family problems. The child never becomes too attached to goal or a desire because they have learned to change their direction at any moment. They float, knowing something is wrong but coping, often successfully, with one chaotic situation after another by surrendering their identity to the needs of the moment.

The Doormat – The abused child who survives by lying down and letting others walk all over him/her, rather than risk an unpleasant or dangerous confrontation. This child is very understanding of the need someone else may have to injure him/her, but cannot identify his/her feelings about the abuse in the past or present.

The Acting Out Child or The Rebel – This child is in action at the slightest provocation, whether as an heroic action to prevent abuse to someone else (by distracting the abuser) or to protect himself/herself with wildness. This is the child who is most visible to the outside world and who may adopt alcoholism, drug addiction or other compulsive behavior early in defiance of the family system.

The Scapegoat or Family Jerk – This child takes the blame and shame for the actions of other family members by being the most visibly dysfunctional. This child serves the family by being sick or crazy to allow the other members of the family to ignore their own dysfunction. This is also the child who holds the family together — the family rallies to help the family jerk. He/She learns to remain dysfunctional to continue receiving the little attention available in a dysfunctional home by making the family “okay” by being the focus of all that is “not okay” which all members of the family vaguely sense.

The Bully – This child is usually the victim of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, who successfully makes the mental transition to stop being the victim by victimizing others. Often the Bully is genuinely remorseful for the pain and suffering caused to others, but will continue inflicting that abuse rather than face his/her own pain.

The Lost Child – Often a younger (or the youngest) child, this personality type has learned to stay out of the way, not make his/her wants known and to expect nothing. They avoid feeling by denying that they have feelings. They adopt whatever behavior will allow them to stay invisible within the family, at work, at school or in a relationship. This is the child who can assume whatever personality those around him/her find least threatening.

The Last Hope – Similar to the Lost Child, the Last Hope is the caretaker for the family when all other members have become unable to continue their roles. Often the Last Child is raised on comments like “You’ll never hurt me like so-and-so.” These children may work themselves to death trying to do “what’s right” for blood relations or adopted families, no matter what the expense to their own life.”

(From: http://kathyberman.com/updated-family-roles/)

ACA’s Completing the Circle (in the Cycle of Violence)

To understand how the Cycle of Family Violence is transmitted (from parents to children) it is necessary to identify and delineate all of the components of the inter-generational transfer of traumatically generated internal addiction and emotional intoxication. These are: repetition of dialogue (self talk and self recrimination), re-creation of scenes (the symbolic movies in the mind) and situations (with real-time “stand-ins” – the “Replacements”) which together can be called “The Distractors”, the recapitulation of emotions (feels the same) through the reconstitution of the biochemistry (internal uppers, downers, pain-killers and thought regulators) and reconfiguration of the body (held the same way), all of which is called the process of traumatic reproduction (Freud/Ferenczi). This results in a predictable dissociative forgetting which leaves a person numb, unconscious and stuck in the past.


Children who are caught up in the frightening, erratic, chaotic and demoralizing environment of a severely dysfunctional family are constantly searching for clues and indicators as to what their highly conditional “providers” demand and will tolerate in meeting the basic needs of the children. The children have no way of knowing that their caregivers themselves are relying on a confusing, hurtful, “superstitious” mix of sane and insane behaviors and beliefs about survival that was passed on to them. The beat goes on with one generation pounding its insanity into the next. In order not to go completely mad children have to dissociate or partially separate from their unbearable reality. The dilemma of dissociation is that traumatized people can’t afford to forget what they do not want to remember. The memories of early trauma experiences represent how the world was, who to fear, and what must be done to maintain some degree of safety. Therefore, early trauma memories and emotions are always threatening to break through into consciousness. A dissociated person is preoccupied with dividing energy and attention into maintaining dissociation and attempting to live some kind of meaningful life in the present.

The Problem says we are “dependent personalities” who are “terrified of abandonment,” and will “do almost anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to be abandoned emotionally”. However we keep “choosing insecure relationships because they” match “our childhood relationship with alcoholic or dysfunctional parents.” The “almost anything” we will do is to hold on to the “package deal” of dissociative living we were given in childhood in the not unreasonable belief that that is the best we can do. The form of the package deal follows Eric Berne’s life game of “alcoholic”. However, for adult children, Berne’s variation of “dry drunk” is the best fit. As in all of Berne’s games there are a series of moves by the players (transactions) that result in a “payoff”.
In the “game” of dissociation there are two basic positions, victim and victimizer (persecutor). The victim may have a confederate, the earnest, “helpful”, ineffective rescuing friend or pal (Type I Rescuer). The Type I Rescuer is essentially a victim waiting to happen.
The persecutor may be disguised as a highly conditional rescuer – “I’ll ‘accept’, ‘love’ you if and when” (Type II Rescuer). Of course the conditions can never be met and the Type II Rescuer can flip into the persecutor at the drop of a hat. The persecutor is the one who gives the insults and injuries that maintain dissociation (dissociative dosing transactions) while the victim is the one who does the receiving. A “successful” dosing transaction is one in which the insult and injury exchange leaves both (or all) the players in the game more absent than present (unconscious–stupefied) and more there then (regressed) than here now, in other words, dissociated (hypoxic, hypercarbic, hypoglycemic).
Both victim and persecutor are terrified of abandonment. The victim is more obviously desperate and needy while the persecutor is so terrified of falling into the abyss of abandonment that the terror has been completely walled off. The only form of love or connection that can be tolerated is to be the one who punishes and abandons, to not be the one who is punished, neglected and finally abandoned.


Children don’t know they are targeted to become objects of addiction in the “game” of dissociation, that the adults will overtly and covertly force the children to accept (introject) their demands that they embrace the addict way of life. To put it bluntly the demand from adults to children in a conflict-addicted family is “we need you to be a player (addict) to cope with and endure our hyperdependency syndrome”. The forced introjection is the means-whereby the “game” of dissociation is transmitted intergenerationally along with the twisted, superstitious justification / rationale for continuing the family’s insanity.
The solution is to use the 12 Steps to eject the introjects and stop the “game”, to regain personal integrity, to become sober and sane. The essential point is the traumatic etiology of addiction – stop the trauma / re-trauma; stop the dissociation / addiction. The word addiction comes from the Latin “to say to”, to say yes to a strong habit (denial). Essentially recovery is a matter of turning that around and just saying “No!”

Family Types That Can Create Adult Children

Since ACA’s beginning, ACA groups have seen new members from at least five distinct family types that did not include alcoholism or addiction. While these families are labeled non addicted, there can be alcohol or drug use in the family. For example, the adult child from a home with a chronically ill parent may have witnessed the parent misusing drugs even though the parent was ill. This is also true of the mentally ill parent taking drugs prescribed by a doctor. Many clinicians aware of the adult child dynamic believe that most mental health diagnoses are actually adult child related. In addition to alcoholic and addicted families, there are at least five other family types that can produce Adult Children.The five family types that can produce adult children even though alcoholism is not always present are
• Homes with mental illness in the parent(s).
• Homes with hypochondriac parent(s).
• Homes with ritualistic beliefs, harsh punishment, and extreme secretiveness, often with ultra-religious, militaristic, or sadistic overtones. Some of these homes expose children to battery and other forms of criminal abuse.
• Homes with covert or actual sexual abuse, including incest and inappropriate touching or dress by the parent(s).
• Perfectionistic, shaming homes in which expectations are often too high and praise is typically tied to an accomplishment rather than given freely..

Thank you for being here. It is time to give ACA a go and to work the ACA program. Working these ACA Steps and ACA Traditions requires reading, writing, sharing, and living our understanding of these ACA Steps, ACA Traditions and ACA Concepts.
To find ACA Emotional Sobriety— the deep healing of mind, body and spirit in becoming your “True Self”. To be Happy Joyous and Free at last

Six Essential Recovery Tasks

1) Recognition
This task centers around our recognition of dysfunction including physical responses, cognitive problems and interpersonal difficulties in social situations and with significant others. The fellow traveler’s task is to encourage this vital recognition of the signs of distress in a way that builds trust and creates the sense of unity needed to continue in the recovery process.

2) Recollection
This task involves uncovering and embracing the hidden dissociated parts of the self. Because of traumatic conditioning, these hidden parts of our selves perceive, evaluate and respond automatically as independent operating systems. Each system holds a specific set of memories, beliefs and related habits that maintain dissociation. The fellow traveler’s task is to provide assurance that recovery is possible and the return of memories and sensation will not be self-destructive.

3) Disobedience
The basic belief in a traumatizing family is that the practice and support of destructive behavior by adults should be tolerated and accepted without protest by the children. Children are threatened, punished, and coerced into keeping the adults’ behavior secret. They also incorporate the adults’ dissociative and destructive patterns into their own being. Disobedience includes breaking these habits of avoidance and denial and relinquishing our beliefs about maintaining destructive behavior. This may require detoxification from addiction to exogenous substances and the deconditioning of habitual body tension and cognitive hypervigilance. The main subtask is to disobey irrational authority by challenging the belief that we need to continue these behaviors.

4) Retaliation
The motivating force being inhibited is the talionic response (direct eye for an eye retaliation for abuse [Reik]). This instinctive rage toward people who have caused us harm has been forcefully inhibited and is often directed back toward the self (retroflexion – going against the reflexes) or displaced onto others. Unblocking this energy and safely expressing the talionic response opens us up to feel other inhibited emotions and accelerates the process of mourning and grief. The primary subtask is learning to discriminate hostile introjects that have been pounded in and swallowed whole from the people who first caused us to live in fear and to stop displacing rage onto symbolic stand-ins in the present. The fellow traveler can support the differentiation process and the appropriate expression of talionic rage which strengthens reality testing about expected retaliation.

5) Separation
The task of separation is to distinguish between what has been termed “me and not me“ (Sullivan). This includes recognizing the internalizations and confusing beliefs of people who hurt us, as well as considering the concept of locus of control and the possibility of independent thought and action.

6) Independence
This final task centers around completion of reflective grieving (mourning the loss of possibilities, opportunities and self-actualization), learning to reparent ourselves, and mastering developmental stages that may have been missed or poorly negotiated. The fellow traveler can assist in the overall process by encouraging the development, rehearsal and implementation of effective social skills and self determined actions that increase self-esteem and selfworth. Most importantly, completion of this task establishes the capacity for genuine intimacy and successful present-directed, goal-oriented living.

The Sequence of ACA Recovery

Not everyone recovers using the same path, at the same rate, or using the same methodology.   The following 12 Step type sequence has helped millions in various recovery programs. 

  • Hitting bottom /Asking for and accepting help
  • Admitting powerlessness and unmanageability
  • Becoming open to spirituality and a spiritual solution
  • Getting honest / Inventorying our past
  • Telling our story openly and honestly with another
  • Humbly seeking the removal of shortcomings
  • Finding self-forgiveness
  • Making amends to those harmed
  • Continuing inventory of daily thoughts and behavior
  • Finding discernment
  • Meditating and seeking spiritual direction
  • Practicing love and self-love
  • Carrying the message of recovery to others

Source: Fellow Travelers trifold

What Does ACA Recovery Look Like?

By working the Twelve Steps of ACA and by attending meetings regularly, we begin to realize that ACA recovery involves emotional sobriety*. That is what ACA recovery looks like. But what is emotional sobriety?
To understand emotional sobriety, we must first understand emotional intoxication, which is also known as para-alcoholism. Para-alcoholism represents the mannerisms and behaviors we developed by living with an alcoholic or dysfunctional parent. As children, we took on the fear and denial of the alcoholic or nondrinking parent without taking a drink.
Emotional intoxication can be characterized by obsession and unhealthy dependence. There also can be compulsion. Even without drugs and alcohol, we can be “drunk” on fear, excitement or pain. We can also be drunk on arguing, gossip, or self-imposed isolation.
In essence the Laundry List, the 14 traits of an adult child, offers a textbook example of the behaviors and attitudes that characterize an emotionally intoxicated person. We fear authority figures and judge ourselves harshly while being terrified of abandonment. Without help, we seek out others to reenact our family dynamics. We can recreate our family dysfunction at home and on the job indefinitely until we find ACA. This means that our adult relationships resemble the template relationship we developed as children to survive an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional home. We find others to create chaos, conflict, or unsafe relationships.
Emotional sobriety involves a changed relationship with self and others. We measure emotional sobriety by the level of honesty, mutual respect, and the acceptability of feelings in our relationships. If our relationships are still manipulative and controlling, we are not emotionally sober no matter what we tell ourselves about our recovery program. Emotional sobriety means that we are involved in changed relationships that are safe and honest. We feel a nearness to our Higher Power. We cultivate emotional sobriety through the Twelve Steps and through association with other recovering adult children.

“Emotional sobriety was formally introduced to the ACA fellowship through the Identity Papers. The 1986 paper, “Finding Wholeness Through Separation: The Paradox of Independence,” shows the genesis of emotional sobriety. The possibility of emotional sobriety is created through the broadening and deepening of the Steps and Traditions.

From Hurting, to Healing, to Helping ..


I put my hand in yours, and together we can do, what we could never do alone. No longer is there a sense of hopelessness. No longer must we each depend upon our own unsteady willpower.

We are all together now, reaching out our hands for power and strength greater than our own. And, as we join hands, We find love and understanding beyond our wildest dreams.~

Rozanne S, 1968

ACA Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change,
The courage to change the one I can,
And the wisdom to know that one is me

TERRY KELLOGG DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY SHAME AND COMPULSION