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Emotional Intelligence and ACAs Adult Children of Alcoholics

Emotional Intelligence and ACAs (Adult Children of Alcoholics)   by Susan Dunn, MA, Emotional Intelligence Coach and Consultant

Everyone in the alcoholic's family suffers effects from the disease. Typically everyone involved in the life of the alcoholic and dysfunctional family has low or no emotional intelligence. They don't know what they think or feel, and don’t think they have a right to.

Many of the challenges facing Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACAs) can be addressed by developing Emotional Intelligence. Here are some examples.

[Source: Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization ( )

1. ACAs tend to over-react to anger and criticism, and are afraid of authority figures.

EQ COMPETENCY: Constructive discontent.

If you’re an ACA and someone gets angry at you, you shrink inside and shut down or panic, reacting in a way that isn’t always appropriate to the actual real-life situation. Learning constructive ways to deal with the emotions engendered by disagreement and criticism are part of EQ.

Emotional Intelligence means not taking constructive criticism personally and emotionally, but getting the message and benefiting from it. Experiencing fear and anger, strong emotions designed for survival, can’t be controlled, but we always have a choice in how we respond to them.

2. ACAs often feel isolated and lonely and uneasy with other people.

EQ COMPETENCY: Interpersonal skills, Emotional Expression and Communication.

Isolation is one of the worst things we can do to ourselves. To live in emotional isolation can be worse on our health than such things as smoking and being overweight. Learning to communicate well, and express feelings appropriately is part of the EQ experience.

3. ACAs feel like victims when something bad happens to them.

EQ COMPETENCY: Personal Power.

Personal Power is the opposite of victim-ology. Instead of asking “Who will take care of me?” you learn to ask, “How will I take care of myself?” It means building confidence in your ability to handle your life and believing that you can do it.

4. ACAs are often uncomfortable with emotional intimacy. They’re afraid to reveal their feelings and who they are, and reluctant to become vulnerable.

EQ COMPETENCY: Emotional Expression.

The first step in EQ is self-awareness; to become aware of your feelings. Only then can you learn how to express them accurately and appropriately.

5. ACAs tend to confuse pity with love, and to be more concerned about others than they are about themselves.

EQ COMPETENCY: Interpersonal skills, Empathy.

Healthy Empathy means being able to understand where the other person is coming from, but with respect for one’s own boundaries. You can understand how the other person feels, but not have to join them in the feeling. Empathy does not involve the feeling of pity.

6. ACAs judge themselves harshly and are over-responsible. Often they are perfectionists.

EQ COMPETENCY: Being adamantly and relentlessly self-forgiving.

Understanding that we’re human, and that we all make mistakes is what this is all about. It takes a lot of practice for most of us to ‘get’ this competency. It involves self-talk and learned optimism, and managing the emotions of failures, losses, rejections and mistakes. It isn’t good for your health, your work, or your relationships to be a perfectionist!

7. ACAs have difficulty in identifying, understanding, and expressing their feelings.


The cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence is self-awareness – being able to identify and understand your feelings. If you lived in an environment where feelings were not welcome, denigrated, mocked, punished, ignored, denied, or lied about, it will take some practice to be able to bring them up, identify them, and understand them. That’s what EQ coaching is all about!

8. ACAs over-value the approval of others, and will ignore their own values, preferences and beliefs in deference to others'. Feeling vulnerable, they protect themselves by being overly anxious to please others.

EQ COMPETENCY: Integrated Self, Personal Power and Intentionality.

These competencies help us stay centered, and act with intent, based on our own values, preferences, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. When we own and claim our Personal Power, we can aim to get along with others with good will, but are no longer driven to please someone else at our own expense.

9. ACAs tend to be addicted to excitement. They are risk seekers who prefer constant upset to workable solutions.

EQ COMPETENCY: Understanding, accepting and processing emotions, operating with Intentionality, and often being able eventually to modulate emotions.

EQ means learning where emotions come from and how they operate and being able to make choices instead of knee jerk reactions. We learn the different ‘feel’ or emotions from the reptilian brain and the limbic brain, and when and how to blend this with the thinking brain, the neocortex. Understanding where the need for excitement comes from allows us to manage it, and avoid chaotic situations that self-sabotage. EQ is all about workable solutions and how to achieve them.

10. ACAs are imprisoned by childhood reactions.

EQ COMPETENCY: Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence means understanding where emotions come from, and being able to experience them, consider them, learn from them, and then make a decision to respond (or not), instead of reacting without thinking. Developing your Emotional Intelligence will help you avoid being entrapped in any unrealistic, rash or un-reasoned reaction.

About Author Susan Dunn :

©Susan Dunn, MA, Emotional Intelligence Coach and Consultant, . Coaching, internet courses, business program, teleclasses and ebooks around emotional intelligence. Susan is the author of “EQ’s Answer to Addiction: the 14th Step”, . for FREE eZine.

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