As a recovering alcoholic in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and as a doctor of clinical psychology and a psychotherapist in private practice for over ten years, I have observed and treated many people diagnosed with alcoholism and their family systems.
By definition, the alcoholic is a narcissist: self-obsessed and self-seeking. Alcoholics do not live life on life’s terms. Instead they are prone (even biologically wired) to take most things that don’t go their way in life quite personally; almost as if the universe had declared war against them as an individual human being. The alcoholic can be grandiose and intractably stubborn, utterly short-sighted and envious, and nearly incapable of being present with their own experience of life (read: mindfulness) without needing to numb it out with booze, drugs, anger, blame, sex, or materialism.
When an alcoholic mother has a child, she subconsciously dictates her child’s purpose in life as being little more than an extension of her motherhood. Onto her child the alcoholic mother projects: her own adult fears, anxieties, psychological stuckness and trauma, and unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. Then the mother energetically (and sometimes very directly) communicates these purposes to her child. While young children are not verbal, they are very emotionally sensitive, and highly attuned to the emotional energy of their parents, so when mom’s emotional energy shifts, the child is well aware of this shift, and she is biologically wired to respond to it.
This leaves the child in a very precarious psychological position. Mom’s behavior is confusing, disorienting, erratic, and even wounding at times, but then she can shift back to the “nice mom” just as suddenly. For example, when drunk and happy, Mom may be playful and laughing, making room for her daughter to be present and to engage and play freely for the most part. But two hours later, when Mom’s blood sugar has crashed, and she is irritable and needs another drink, then the emotional energy has shifted again. Dominated by this irritable “hang over” mood, when her daughter asks for a sandwich, Mom yells at the daughter, telling her she is “selfish” and that she “always asking for things.”
The child is disoriented by this sudden and hostile shift in mom’s emotional energy, and because she is only a child (and because she cannot risk becoming angry at Mom – as that would risk her very survival), she instead becomes angry at herself. And therein lies the basic ACA dynamic: the child serves the neurotic and addictive needs of loved ones so we can “blend into the wallpaper,” take less damage, and thereby be in some relative control, so she can survive her childhood. But the problem is, while the child is serving the neurotic needs of the alcoholic parent, she did not discover and develop her own needs as a human being. In essence, the child’s natural development is coopted by the parent’s ongoing alcoholism.