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Fear of Loss of Self

Excerpted from

Adult Children of Alcoholics


This fear is present because you never clearly established your sense of self while you were growing into adulthood. The early messages that you received from your parents were very confusing. The lack of clear messages forced you to create many of your beliefs and values, rather than learning them through example.

Because your parents didn't consistently care for you in all the ways that a child needs care, you have had to do a lot of self' parenting. This has left you with an inconclusive sense of who you really are. Your selfhood is still in the state of evolving and is easily influenced. Ideally, by the time one reaches adulthood, the inner messages are much stronger than the outside influences. In other words, your decision making evolves out of what your knowledge and instincts tell you, rather than depending upon what you are reading or being told at the moment.

For ACOAs, this state of confidence in your ability to make decisions and act upon them is not reached so easily. Someone (anyone) else's opinion often influences yours. So, if you have been working on being your own person, and having confidence in your decision making skills, you may feel threatened by the idea of involvement with another person whose opinions and ideas will be important to you-and may influence you in ways you don't want.

Feeling this sense of insecurity does not automatically mean the "loss of self." What it does mean is that you will "check out" many of your perceptions, opinions and responses more carefully, to see where they are coming from. This provides valuable information for you. Your next step is to not automatically dismiss your opinions in favor of new input. Think it over. Give yourself a little time to assess and consider the situation.

This gives you three choices in every situation: You may maintain your original position, change your position or adopt an entirely new position which incorporates both your thinking on the subject and that of others. You will feel much more confident about the decisions that you make, and less threatened by other people's opinions.


"If you really knew me, you wouldn't care about me."

Truth: You probably aren't as good an actor or actress as you think you are. Your beloved probably already really knows you. And cares about you anyway!

Fear of Being Found Out

Many ACOAs constantly worry that the person they love would want nothing more to do with them if he or she really knew them. Although it's a little vague to you about just who that real and horrendous person may be, you still feel the anxious feelings very strongly.

You try to stave off this possibility by acting out your fantasies of how a perfect person would act. You try to behave as though you have your entire life in order and are totally problem-free. After all, the simply human, real you with human frailties will never be good enough for someone you love.

This belief is not something you made up. Since childhood, you have been told overtly and covertly that you are the cause of family difficulties. Getting close to a loved one will expose your dark side and cause that person to negate the positive side of you that they have loved until now.

Changing this belief as an adult begins with hard, cold logic. Think about it. Were you really powerful enough as a child to cause your family problems? Truthfully, you will have to answer "no."


"If you find out that I am not perfect, you will abandon me."

TRUTH: Nobody is perfect. And perfection does not exist.

Fear of Abandonment

Fear of abandonment is very strong in ACOAs and differs from the fear of rejection. Adult children of alcoholics seem to be able to handle rejection and adjust to it. Fear of abandonment, however, cuts a lot deeper because of childhood experiences.

The child who experiences living with alcoholism grows into an individual with a weak and very inconsistent sense of self, as we have already discussed. This is a very, very critical self which has not had the nurturance it needed. It is a hungry self and, in many ways, a very insecure self.

This is caused by the fact that you never knew when, or if, your parents would be emotionally available to you. You expected unpredictability and inconsistency. Once the drinking began, you simply did not exist. Your needs would not be met until the drinking episode and any accompanying crises were over. There was no way to predict when this would occur. What a terrible, terrible feeling. No matter what you did to try to prevent it, it would happen anyway.

Some children living in this situation continue trying to get their needs met, and others give up entirely. Those children who give up entirely are not as anxious to enter into adult relationships as are those who still hold onto the fantasy that maybe, just maybe, this time things will be different.

The constant fear, however, is that the person you love will not be there for you tomorrow. In an attempt to guard against losing your beloved, you idealize the relationship and idealize your role in the relationship. Your safeguard against being abandoned is to try hard to be perfect and serve all the other person's needs.

Whenever anything goes wrong (and in life, things go wrong), and when there is conflict (and in life, there is conflict), the fear of being abandoned takes precedence over dealing with the pertinent issue which needs to be resolved. This fear is so great that it is not unusual for ACOAs to completely lose sight of the actual problem.

A typical example of this is illustrated by the argument that Mary A., aged twenty-six (one of six children whose father is still actively drinking), had with her boyfriend. It erupted because he was paying attention to other women, and Mary got angry. The boyfriend responded defensively, told her that she was being paranoid, and the argument continued.

Tags: Addictions