ACA co-founder Tony A. wrote the 14 Traits of an adult child of an alcoholic in 1978. When read in New York at the first ACA group, an adult child said: “Oh boy, that’s my laundry list!” Since that time, the 14 traits have been referred to as the “Laundry List“. (From the Red Book, p. 3).
Have you ever wondered about the basis for your fear of rejection and abandonment? Experienced difficulty with having true intimacy and love in relationships? Grew up in a dysfunctional family where there was active substance use, neglect, abuse (physical, spiritual, and sexual)? Ever thought about the driving force behind your quicken temper and emotional reaction? According to the Red Book of Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families – there are 14 distinct and powerful personality traits that provides insight in the way an individual thinks, feels, and behaves because of the toxic family environment they were brought up in. These traits define our own perception of self and how we believe other’s perceive us as individuals.
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.Red Book, Chapter 1, p. 3
What are the characteristic traits of an adult-child?
What follows are the original 14 characteristic traits (or the Laundry List) from the Red Book (p. 5)
- We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures
- We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process
- We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism
- We either become alcoholics, marry them, or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs
- We live life from the viewpoint of victims, and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships
- 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
- We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others
- We became addicted to excitement
- We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue”
- 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
- We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem
- 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
- Alcoholism (or any other substance use) is a family disease; we became para-substance users (co-dependents) and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the [substance]
- Para-substance users (co-dependents) are reactors rather than actors
These traits define an adult-child as a co-dependent individual who desires to focus on the wants and needs of others while allowing sacrificing their own wants and needs. It is emotional suffering that causes physical ailments and health issues.
One of the most challenging aspects of an adult-child is the inability to fully and truly allow a Higher Power to work in their life. This is rooted on the nature of how we were brought up in our toxic family. Some of us were even brought up in homes where religion played a significant role – and unfortunately for many of us, it played a significant role in turning us away from any right understanding of God and Jesus Christ. It is fear based as we come to believe that even God is unable to love us. Or, we are not worthy for his love and fear God abandoning us.
Fear binds us from living a spiritually enriching and fulfilling life
As the new year begins, the challenge is for us to overcome our own personal fears about God and Jesus Christ. The central theme for this year is to have a significant spiritual influence and impact. And, this may happen through one’s prayerful study of the Book of Mormon. Our challenge is to come and follow Jesus Christ.
Yes – for many, it is a challenge to seek out God and come follow after Christ because of these personality traits. Yet, it is our own fear that binds us in captivity of isolation and from living and experiencing a real authentic spiritual and mindful life. In 2 Nephi 1:23, an aging father by the name of Lehi pleaded with his sons – especially Laman and Lemuel:
Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust2 Nephi 1:23, Book of Mormon
In the October 1986 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Marvin J. Ashton shared these words of insight:
Those words apply to us today. Who among us hasn’t felt the chains of bad habits? These habits may have impeded our progress, may have made us forget who we are, may have destroyed our self-image, may have put our family life in jeopardy, and may have hindered our ability to serve our fellowmen and our God. So many of us tend to say, “This is the way I am. I can’t change. I can’t throw off the chains of habit.Shake off the Chains with which ye are bound: Marvin J. Ashton, 1986
Ashton continues his words of insight:
Lehi warned his sons to “shake off the chains” because he knew that chains restrict our mobility, growth, and happiness. They cause us to become confused and less able to be guided by God’s Spirit. Lehi also reminded his sons that their new land should “be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity” (2 Ne. 1:7). He could have said, “If so, it shall be because ye have been bound into captivity by the chains of unrighteous living.” Samuel Johnson wisely shared, “The chains of habit are too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken” (International Dictionary of Thoughts, Chicago: J. G. Ferguson Publishing Co., 1969, p. 348).
These 14 Characteristic traits – or Laundry Lists – are those chains that hold us captive in fulfilling our roles as adults. They are spiritual chains that bind us and bring us down into suffering and misery.
Chains weigh heavily on troubled hearts and souls. They relegate us to lives of no purpose or light. They cause us to become confused and lose the spirit. We need to arise from the dust and enjoy the fresh air of righteousness. We need to move forward in patience, understanding, love, and never-ending commitment.
The truth that sets us free from these 14 spiritual chains of captivity is this: Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God who came to redeem humanity from their sins – he overcame the adversities of life, experienced his own Gethsemane, carried his cross, was crucified, and rose on the third day.
The antidote to our spiritual captivity is rooting ourselves in Jesus Christ. This is where our mindful and prayerful study through the Book of Mormon will take us this year. Want to have a true and real authentic spiritual influence and impact in your life? Spend some time reading through the Book of Mormon.
How ‘Come Follow Me’ and studying the Book of Mormon will set you free
There are three main truths that one will come away with from reading and studying the Book of Mormon.
- To show us what great things the Lord has done – and will do – in the lives of those who follow Him
- Come to know the sacred and eternal covenants of God’s promises and see them fulfilled in each of our lives
- To come to know and understand that we are not cast off forever
All of this to convince us that Jesus is the Christ – The Eternal God that has manifested himself unto all people and all nations.