Many years ago I was introduced to a life changing book entitled, “Grandchildren of Alcoholics” by Ann W. Smith. Like all good books I eventually put it on the shelf, lent it out several times and was convinced that it was one of the many books that never found its way back to me. So I was shocked to discover the book in my office a few weeks back. When the reader is ready, the book appears and so I spent the next week fully absorbed. A bit embarrassed to admit to anyone that this is what I was doing with my Friday night. I was surprised by how new the book felt to me. In many ways it felt like a different read. Now that I am a parent, older, married longer and more seasoned as a life coach/therapist, the message resonated on a much deeper level. It felt current and yet it was published in 1988.
Twenty five years later Ann W. Smith continues to be a powerful figure in the addictions field (she also looks younger, the 80’s was such a hair fashion disaster!) but in my limited research appears to have dropped the subject related to grandchildren of alcoholics ( I plan on emailing her to discover if this is indeed true). In fact the book is out of print (however you can get it on Amazon for 99 cents). I was really surprised to discover in a quick search online that no one else seems to have written about or researched this unique group. Please prove me wrong!
Until then, I am making it my mission to blog about patterned characteristics that Grandchildren of Alcoholics carry so that these often “closeted” individuals may learn they are not alone and that there are things they can do to change the deeply ingrained patterns of their roots. Both my grandmothers were alcoholics. Although I never met them, the way they parented my parents carried the generational characteristics found in active alcoholic homes.
So why are GCoA’s (grandchildren of alcoholics) so closeted? Why aren’t there books? More extensive research? Perhaps it’s because of the pain associated with alcoholism. Many grandchildren aren’t even aware their grandparents were alcoholics. GCoA’s parents are often vague about their growing up years, minimize the pain of their childhood and live with the intention that they do not have any need or desire to revisit their history. If an individual has little info about their background it can be indicative of trauma. Often GCoA’s know internally/intuitively that something doesn’t feel right about their family history but often can’t quite put their finger on it. Many of these individuals do not feel justified in their pain and current life problems and therefore do not seek help. Some GCoA’s are very aware of the pain their parents carry, know they are true surivors and so minimize their own struggles saying things like, “my parents had it so much worse than me,” or “my parents sacrificed their entire life for my happiness and so I should be happy.”
I share the concern with Smith that this unidentified group is hurting in silence. Even after skipping a generation and despite the fact that problem drinking may not be an issue anymore, there remains a family system that has become very skilled at adapting to dysfuntion and has no tools with which to cope with a lack of crises. Therefore, a crisis is quickly recreated with new addictions or compulsions, physical and/or emotional illness or even relapse in an effort to maintain the status quo (Smith, 1988).
So here are just a few characteristics that grandchildren of alcoholics carry as stated by Ms. Smith.
Distorted Family Image
Unable to see anything wrong in their family of origin, despite evidence to the contrary.
Often rave about how good their childhood was, while they themselves are dysfunctional as adults.
Have trouble attributing any of their present difficulties to their family background.
Tend to be positively deluded with “rose- colored” glasses and does not notice dysfunction or insanity around them.
Accustomed to living in two realities, an inside one and and an outside one and no longer trust their own instincts.
Can smile and say things are great when they are really hurting inside.
Learned ability to ignore pain.
Are often surrounded with people in crisis and believe they are unaffected by it.
Do not seek help because they believe they do not have a problem.
In their intimate relationships grandchildren may find themselves taking the role of the “all together” one who others depend upon.
Can appear arrogant or superior and find themselves isolated because they look “too good.”
In their marriages GCoAs may be overly defensive about their families, unwilling to admit to even the slight human flaws.
So this is just a beginning sketch. I would love to hear your thoughts. I plan on diving in to this very important topic (in my opinion) with future blogs posts.