I had a breakdown a few nights ago after my business meeting ended with Tai Khuong, co-founder and CEO of Psych2Go. I almost didn’t want to share this story, but what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t want to open up? It’s never easy admitting this, but my relationship with my mother is a delicate one that consists of a lot of pain and breaking. For as long as I can remember, I grew up with a lot of inconsistency, unpredictability, and unfair disciplinary actions. My mother’s obsessive-compulsive disorder has always affected me in the sense that whenever she feels triggered by situations that make her feel unsafe, she has a tendency to use anger and control to cope with her fears.
As a result, I’ve always walked on eggshells, and even though it hurt, I learned to suffer silently because I grew fearful of setting her off even in the tiniest ways. Often, people don’t see this side of her because she’s good at saving face from her cultural upbringing and wears a convincing mask with her polished mannerisms. But, it’s a completely different story at home. Her predispositions of dismissing my emotions and shutting down opinions that are not her own grew worse over the course of time when she faced immense trauma, losing her own mother to lung cancer and then being diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after.
My mother never took a break her whole life. She married my father when she was only 18 years old and the two of them moved to the U.S., having to learn a new language, work irregular, strenuous hours, and getting used to calling this place her home. She had me when she was 21. My mother once told me a story about the time she was trying to give me a bath when I was a baby. I was crying and squirming in her arms when she was trying to place me in the small tub. I made it hard for her to hold onto me, so I accidentally slipped and fell into the water.
She quickly pulled me out and started crying. Already, we were off to an unstable start. My mother had to grow up fast and responsibilities always came one right after the other.
Luckily, her breast cancer was found in the early stage two years ago and she successfully finished chemotherapy. Hard times are supposed to bring you closer to your family, right? But, this year was filled with many episodes of harsh eruptions. I became afraid of the good days between us because I never know how much time I have left before the next bomb goes off. On Sunday night, it went off again in the worst way possible. My suicidal thoughts returned and I desperately wished that I wasn’t born. I told myself that my parents would’ve been a lot happier if they never met and had me. They could’ve lived such different lives. My mother faced a lot of trauma from her lack of being ready for the life she has led up to this point that, in return, she gave me trauma from the unhealthy ways she copes with it. This made it immensely difficult for me to realize it was okay to make mistakes and failures as a child.
On Sunday night, I wished that my mother dropped me harder in the tub and I grieved over the fact that she didn’t let me drown in it. The idea was originally reinforced when she began telling me to go die during her angry episodes. The very thought of wanting to kill myself terrified me and I realized I needed to talk things out. My boyfriend was already asleep at the time, so I messaged Tai and confessed to him that I depend on work to get me to stop experiencing nights like that. I felt lucky that his time zone is three hours behind mine, and he stayed on the phone with me until I was clear-headed again. Overall, I’m grateful that I work with people who care about me.
During our conversation, I mentioned to him that my boyfriend once recommended that I look up information on how alcoholic parents affect their children. I told him that when I was a college student, I tried to find research on how parents with OCD affect their children, but found little to no information online. He told me it was the same for his circumstance, but because alcoholism is more common, all the articles he read on children of alcoholic parents were eerily relevant that he was able to identify with most of the listed traits and behaviors. I told Tai that I was able to resonate with every single one of them, too. That’s when he opened up to me about his alcoholic father.
As a result, we realized that the experiences we’ve been through are more commonly experienced than we originally thought. Although I often write articles that include helpful statistics, I never fail to be surprised when I discover that one of my coworkers, lover, or friend falls within those percentages. The numbers mean a lot more when someone you care about makes that statistic true. That’s why I didn’t want to start this with just another number.
But in case you’re wondering, according to American Addiction Centers, roughly 45% of the U.S. population has been exposed to some form of alcoholism or alcoholic behavior within their family. That translates to as many as 76 million people and approximately 26 million of those individuals are children. Our purpose is to create a space where you feel safe, heard, and connected in regards to the struggles you face.
Even though this article pertains to alcoholic parents, if you were raised in a household that had overly strict religious attitudes, parents with chronic illnesses, or parents exhibiting other compulsive behavior, such as gambling, drug abuse, or overeating, then you may also find it relatable. We hope that by passing along the following information, it helps you understand what’s happening, whether that pertains to the relationships you have with others or the conflict you experience internally. Psych2Go shares with you 7 ways alcoholic parents affect their children:
1. You have a hard time understanding what “normal” healthy family relationships are.
Adult children struggle with understanding what a normal family is like because they didn’t have an example to follow during their childhood. As a result, they have to guess what it means to be normal. They may also not understand the difference between good role models and bad ones. I think when you’re little, you expect your parents to be superheroes, so their behaviors and actions are never wrong, even if they hurt you.
I always gave my mother the excuse that she was just having a bad day whenever she lashed out on me. I’d tell myself her angry episodes were only temporary and that she’d be okay again soon. But looking back, I think I adapted to that cheerful outlook because I didn’t know how else to cope with the fears I had. It was my attempt at normalizing her erratic, frightening behavior.
2. You’re hard on yourself and find it challenging to relax or make light of situations.
Children of alcoholic parents have a hard time giving themselves a break. They often feel like they have to go the extra mile and do things to the best of their ability because they feel like a failure otherwise. As a result, children of alcoholic parents may grow up with identity issues because they’re unsure about who they are when they aren’t doing more to fulfill themselves.
When people first meet me, they often get the impression that I’m this bubbly, open person, but they don’t realize that it’s taken me years to become that way. Sometimes, I’ll crack jokes and feel like I’m on top of the world, ready to take on anything. But, it’s a different story when I come home even after such a great day at work. I never know what’s going to hit me. Sometimes, I try not to get too attached to happiness. It comes and goes in waves.
3. You have trust issues which makes it difficult for you to establish close, intimate relationships.
Children who grow up with alcoholic parents find it hard to trust others when they experience such a chaotic relationship with them. It’s their first relationship they ever built, which leaves a huge scarring effect that unfortunately influences the way they form relationships later on in their adulthood. They have difficulty being vulnerable and opening up, afraid that someone will hurt or betray them because they’ve been continuously let down by their parents’ toxic behavior.
I can go out and have fun with others, but very few people know me. Even if I’m going through a hard time, I often feel like I’m burdening someone if I want to talk about what’s bothering me. I can’t tell if people only want to hear about the problem because they’re curious or if it’s because they genuinely care about me. I still struggle a lot with that to this very day.
4. You’re frightened by conflict, angry people, and authority figures in general.
Alcoholic parents can be angry, mean, and abusive. As a result, children who grow up with them may experience verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse. Because their parents may not have created a safe space where they were allowed to express their emotions, they may try to avoid conflict at all costs because they fear upsetting their parents. This makes it hard for children to confront their alcoholic parents about issues that hurt or bother them.
When I try to confront my mom about problems, she’s quick to dismiss my thoughts. It’s hard for us to communicate and cultivate understanding towards one another. She has a difficult time relinquishing her control in exchange for a common ground we can meet on. Her cold behavior is tough to work with when I try to make things right between us.
5. You have a fear of being abandoned.
Alcoholic parents are often emotionally or physically unavailable. As a result, children who are raised by them often develop a fear of being abandoned. When they find themselves in relationships that are bad for them, they don’t always know how to leave them because the thought of being alone scares them more. I’ve experienced this before and looking back in retrospect, I realized every person I ever tried to hold onto, whether it was a friend or a romantic partner, actually made me feel more alone than I would’ve been if I never met them.
6. You’re either super responsible and have perfectionistic tendencies or the opposite.
Children who grew up with alcoholic parents may have faced a lot of harsh criticism from them. This often causes the child to try to be perfect in order to avoid hearing hurtful words. As a result, children of alcoholic parents may grow up to be workaholics and overachievers. They also tend to blame themselves, so they may take responsibility for problems that weren’t even their own. On the other hand, children who grew up with alcoholic parents may become irresponsible, too, when they’ve given up on trying to be perfect. Since their parents always criticized them, they may not see the point in trying at all.
I have experienced both sides of this. I was your typical good student that always made the Dean’s list, and then when things fell apart at home for me in my last year in college, I just wanted to sabotage myself. I threw out almost every single award I ever received throughout my life and hit rock bottom when I felt uncertain about who I was and what kind of future I was going after. There was a severe degree of hollowness that I couldn’t seem to shake off. I’m still careful nowadays not to touch it.
7. You may often be attracted to excitement and want to save people, confusing love with pity.
Children of alcoholic parents are often attracted to excitement because they have experienced an unpredictable roller coaster of chaos. As a result, they mistake that sort of instability as passion, so they seek the same kind of experience within their romantic relationships. Often, adult children of alcoholic parents are attracted to cold and emotionally unavailable partners who they try to “fix” or “save.” It makes them feel wanted, but those types of relationships inevitably sour when they entered them all for the wrong reasons initially.
Living in a household that negatively affected your personal growth can be difficult. We want to let you know that you’re not alone and encourage you to share your story with us. You’re welcome to leave a comment down below!
Characteristics and Personalities of Adults Who Grew Up with Alcoholism in the Home. (2017). Retrieved December 14, 2017, from www.searidgealcoholrehab.com
Children of Alcoholics. (2017). Retrieved December 14, 2017, from americanaddictioncenters.org
Nicosia, C. (2017). How Alcoholic Parents Affect Child Development. Better Addiction Care. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
T, B. (2017, October 30). The Effects of Parental Alcoholism on Children. Verywell. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
The Laundry List. (2017). Retrieved December 14, 2017, from www.adultchildren.org