Episode 64: Dr. Robert Ackerman, Co-Founder of Adult Children of Alcoholics, Author of Perfect Daughters: Adult Daughters of Alcoholics
Robert J. Ackerman
In this episode, Karen speaks with Dr. Robert J. Ackerman, Professor Emeritus from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, an author, and the previous Director of the Mid-Atlantic Addiction Research and Training Institute. He is the co-founder of the National Association for Children of Addiction and the previous Editor of Counselor: The Magazine for Addiction and Behavioral Health Professionals, and currently the Chair of the Advisory Board. Dr. Ackerman talks about his bestselling book, Perfect Daughters: Adult Daughters of Alcoholics, a pivotal book in the Adult Children of Alcoholics movement.
Dr. Robert J. Ackerman
Dr. Robert J. Ackerman is a Professor Emeritus and the previous Director of the Mid-Atlantic Addiction Research and Training Institute. He is co-founder of the National Association for Children of Addiction. He is the previous Editor of Counselor: The Magazine for Addiction and Behavioral Health Professionals and currently is the Chair of the Advisory Board. .
He has published numerous articles and research findings and is best known for writing the first book in the United States on children of alcoholics. Twelve books later, many television appearances, and more than 1200speaking engagements he has become internationally known for his work with families and children of all ages. His books have been translated into fifteen languages.
He has served on many advisory boards and has worked with the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, and the U.S. Department of Education. He served on the White House Task Force on Resiliency and At-Risk-Youth.
He is the recipient of many awards including the Distinguished Alumni Awards from three universities, the 2006 Special Recognition Award from the U.S. Journal of Alcohol & Drug Dependence, the 2008 Father Martin Appreciation Award and the 2014 Professor of the Year from the University of South Carolina, Beaufort. He is a veteran of numerous TV appearances and his work has been featured on CNN Headline News, the New York Times, and the Today Show, USA Today newspaper, Newsweek Magazine, Oprah, National Public Radio and other social media.
Intro Voices 00:04
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me? This is You Matter, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman 00:36
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Public Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Dr. Robert Ackerman. Dr. Ackerman is Professor Emeritus from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, an author, and the previous director of the Mid-Atlantic Addiction Research and Training Institute. He is the co-founder of the National Association for Children of Addiction, and the previous editor of Counselor, the magazine for addiction and behavioral health professionals, and currently the Chair of the Advisory Board. Dr. Ackerman is here to talk about his book, Perfect Daughter, Adult Daughters of Alcoholics, a pivotal book in what was originally called Adult Children of Alcoholics, and now Adult Children of Addiction Movement. Dr. Ackerman, welcome to You Matter.
Dr. Ackerman 01:48
Well, thank you, thank you very much. It's great that you put this together, we've been going back and forth for a couple of months to try to condense our thoughts down to an hour. So thanks a lot.
Karen Ortman 02:01
My pleasure entirely. I'm really happy to have you here. So, let's talk about Perfect Daughter, what inspired you to write this book?
Dr. Ackerman 02:12
One of the things is that, in the late 80s, there was a lot of interest in adult children of alcoholics. I had started earlier with most of my work on childhood age, up to age 18, but the adult children's movement really caught on. As I went to conferences and different things, it was not unusual fr there to be 1000 to 1500 people attending, etc. One of the things I noticed was that those who are the most willing to do something about it, maybe set up programs for children and addicted families, were more likely to be the daughters of alcoholics than it was the sons.
Karen Ortman 02:57
What year was this?
Dr. Ackerman 03:00
All of this was leading up to the first edition, and I was working on this in '87 and '88, with the studies and everything. The first edition was published in 1989, and then it has been revised several times since then.
Karen Ortman 03:14
Okay. So what is a Perfect Daughter?
Dr. Ackerman 03:19
It really started when she was still living at home and a child, and started to have this belief around age 10 or something, if I do everything perfectly then everything will be perfect. So, she stepped in and tried to do everything she could in her house, tried to do a lot of different things to fit that, to help. She also thought that, if I'm perfect then that means that I'm also good enough to be loved. It was a very, very strong issue.
Karen Ortman 03:53
Is this unique to Daughters of alcoholics, or is this something that is common in daughters of other addictive parents?
Dr. Ackerman 04:08
Well, I think that where we really should be honest about this is that in many ways, and this is not unique to daughters of alcoholics only, it was not the drinking, per se, that was driving them up the wall and creating the anxiety and everything else, it was the the extent of the dysfunction that occurred in the family. As I looked and interviewed women from other types of things, it really was the dysfunction. I mean, just think of all of how many people have really suffered over the last 15 years with opioid addiction and the dysfunction that causes in the family. There was speculation many, many years ago about what's the most difficult type of family to be raised in? Clinically, what the professionals at that time said, was a family where you had two schizophrenic parents. The second highest was an alcoholic family.
Karen Ortman 05:19
Dr. Ackerman 05:21
So, is it unique? That's kind of a yes and no, but again, the dysfunction overrode everything.
Karen Ortman 05:31
So what is unique to you about daughters of alcoholics that interested you, to the extent that you not only wrote the book, but prior to writing the book, did some research on that subject anyway?
Dr. Ackerman 05:49
Well, thank you. I think one of the things that I noticed is that, and no disrespect to any of them because we were all great friends, but what I heard many times was that people were talking about the characteristics of children who grew up in alcoholic families. I said to myself, well, how do you know that? Is that just speculation, or is that just a clinical observation that you just want to say, how do you know that? So one that set me on the path to try to quantify, if you will, as well as qualitative. The other is that I literally asked myself a question, and that was, how do we know, if at all, if our daughters and sons raised in alcoholic families are equally impacted? Do they have the same issues? One of the things that I noticed, which really stood out, is daughters of alcoholics were much more willing to talk about their experiences, talk about the emotional impact that they had, but also to admit in many cases that they just felt lost, they were much more likely. Sons of alcoholics portrayed it as, it doesn't bother me, this doesn't come up, etc. I really started to look at that. The other reason was a lot of my work and a lot of the different kind of research and things I was interested in were towards gender, just literally, what's going on between women and men who were raised in addicted family? So, that's what really got me into it.
Karen Ortman 07:43
Can you speak to your research conducted for Perfect Daughter, and how it was conducted? How many women did you survey, and how did you even come up with the test questions?
Dr. Ackerman 08:07
Let's start out with what you said first. Overall, there were about two studies that I was running simultaneously. One of them was interviews with 125 adult daughters of alcoholics who represented 38 states, so different places around the country. The interviews were really qualitative, it was really talking about the different impacts, etc. Then I did a quantitative study that had a total of 12,009 women in the study, 624 of them were raised in alcoholic families. How did I put these together? Some of the strongest questions really came to me as I listened to the 125 women share what was going on. The other thing is that I thought, for example, if daughters of alcoholics were different from women who were raised in, say, quote/unquote, more functional families, is there's a difference between them? I believe that the difference was on a scale, that it wasn't an absolute. You just couldn't say daughters of alcoholics- this, women who were raised in non-alcoholic families - that. If they were affected, they were affected by degree. What I wanted to do was to be able to look at just how significant that degree was. The other thing was, there was a something floating around at the time called the laundry list of children of alcoholics which you had about 20 items in it. I looked at it and I said, well, this is fine, this is a clinical observation that the children of alcoholics guess at what's normal, that they have trouble with relationships, etc, etc. I looked at it and I thought, how do you know that all people don't identify with this, again, to some degree? I took those and I put them on a Likert type scale from one to five, and then went all in. That's where I started to see the differences and go back through it, and see which differences were in fact clinically relevant.
Karen Ortman 10:43
Did anything about your research, or the outcome of your research surprise you?
Dr. Ackerman 10:51
Yes. One of the things that was a surprising and enlightening was to see that some of the things that that clinicians had suggested and had talked about, were, in fact, issues. It was nice to see, in many cases, that it was validated. Some of the things that just jumped off the off pages for me was that, when we looked at the gender, which I mentioned earlier, the important thing was that we had to go beyond something, and that was we just couldn't talk about, you had an alcoholic mother, you had an alcoholic father, in fact, you could have an alcoholic mother, an alcoholic father, or you could have both parents alcoholic, which happened in about 1/5 of the cases, about 20% of the time it's both parents. I wanted to know, is there any difference for a daughter, who has an alcoholic mother, as opposed to a daughter who had an alcoholic father?
Karen Ortman 11:59
And is there a difference?
Dr. Ackerman 12:01
Yes, and not only quantitatively, but qualitatively. Daughters of alcoholic mothers, for example, were much more willing to talk very direct about their mother, they were much more willing to admit that they were angry, that in many cases they missed seeing a good role model to learn how to do particular things, and really held their mothers accountable. In one way they were, more what I called attacking, the way they talked about their mother. Daughters of alcoholic fathers, regardless of how many shenanigans this guy pulled, in overwhelming cases, the daughters were much more protective the way they talked about their fathers. That was really very different and they had different issues that that came up.
Karen Ortman 12:54
Dr. Ackerman 12:55
Well, number one, daughters of alcoholic fathers, some of the most dominant things was it that it showed up most in their relationships, their partner relationships in their lives, Daughters of alcoholic mothers were more likely to talk about that they were angry, and they looked at their mom in many ways, and talked about the anger. The other thing was, we hear a lot about this and I wanted to test it, is that it's often said that daughters of alcoholics disproportionately wind up doing is that they marry alcoholics. This has been like conjecture out there, and I said, whoa, whoa, man, how do you know that? Let's really take a look at it. What I found out is that daughters of alcoholics did not disproportionately married an alcoholic any more than women in general. That could be a really strong blaming the victim statement. What I found out is that daughters of alcoholics disproportionately married men who later developed alcoholism. In other words...
Karen Ortman 14:21
Dr. Ackerman 14:21
Unbelievable. At the time that they were dating, this guy may not even have used alcohol, but they disproportionately wound up with that person who later developed alcoholism.
Karen Ortman 14:34
And what do you attribute that to?
Dr. Ackerman 14:36
Well, I boy, I wish I knew. Maybe the partner had some of the characteristics that she thought were positive about her dad, even though there was all this negative stuff. Another thing is a lot of women wound up with partners that they just should not have had, and when you talk to them, you would get to things like, well, you don't know him like I do, that was really surprising. It was also good to say, wait a minute, don't go saying right off the bat that daughters of alcoholics marry alcoholics, that's blaming the victim. wThere's a big difference between someone who later in the relationship develops alcoholism.
Karen Ortman 15:39
What can you say about daughters of an alcoholic father or mother, and how it manifests in their adult relationships with their partners, regardless of which parent was the alcoholic?
Dr. Ackerman 16:00
Her own level of role confusion, because she was often - remember the idea about being perfect - she often took on all these other roles in the family, because now somebody wasn't fulfilling those; that was that was there. Intimacy issues, as you might suspect, very pronounced and very...
Karen Ortman 16:22
So how does being the daughter of an alcoholic impact intimacy?
Dr. Ackerman 16:28
Often she was confusing intimacy with being needed. What happens is, you can be in a very dysfunctional relationship, and you're needed to tolerate the inappropriateness, to cover up, to do all kinds of different things. My response usually was, what about your needs? She could find herself in a relationship where she feels she's totally responsible for the success of the relationship that the other party doesn't have to really contribute anything. That led to a very high degree of isolation. The issue of intimacy, I think, is that so many women were thinking this and share this thought, am I good enough to be loved?
Karen Ortman 17:30
But what about having an alcoholic parent makes a child feel as though they are not good enough to be loved? And then that transfers into adulthood.
Dr. Ackerman 17:44
Yeah. Let's go a couple of different directions. Can you imagine growing up in a family, and you realize you will never be as important as a bottle of liquor? Can you imagine that feeling that you come second or third to what's going on? Let me give you an example. I was raised in an alcoholic family. The alcoholic in my life was my dad. He was, God loved him, he was a pretty tough character even when he wasn't drinking. My father was a practicing alcoholic for 29 years. My mother stayed. When it came to parenting, and no disrespect to my mom and dad, but when it came to parenting, what I got was leftovers, because all those emotions, and especially for my mom, the emotions, and the pain, and the dysfunction, and the chaos and all of this. She was just trying to deal with that, let alone with me. What I did was I quietly tried to try to be supportive, because my mom would never talk about it. Towards the end of my father's drinking career, my dad was probably incapacitated 21 days out of every month at least, so all of a sudden you're on your own.
Karen Ortman 19:49
Did you feel abandoned?
Dr. Ackerman 19:55
When I was 10, 11 years old, right around in there, I started to think, is my life is going to get better? I mean, can you imagine being 10 or 11? So, if my life was going to get better, I'm going to have to make it better, I can't rely on somebody else. That started to have an impact. I think there are tons of young people out there who can imagine having to be second to an opiate, or second to alcohol?
Karen Ortman 20:29
Mm humm. What do you say to some people out there who did not grow up in an alcoholic family and they encounter somebody who's in their 40s, or 50s, and, you learn of this 25-year experience, their first 25 years living with one or both alcoholic parents, and their responses is, get over it, you're an adult? How could that impact your life today? You like, move on. What is your response to that?
Dr. Ackerman 21:19
The response is, and what about you? Sometimes they'll say, well, you know, and then go on and on and on, then, I will come right back with, what about you?
Karen Ortman 21:31
And I'm sure that's a difficult question for them to answer.
Dr. Ackerman 21:34
Karen Ortman 21:34
Because it's never been about them.
Dr. Ackerman 21:36
That's right. You can see the tears welling up in the eyes, you can see the fighting not to have those tears. When you when you have put other people first, and I don't mean in a way that we should help each other, but when you when you strictly put other people first, you start to think that, probably he wouldn't be interested in me. Example, I'll go back to I probably was six or seven years old, and I knew this at the time and never said it to anybody, but I never really believed that I was as good as the other kids. I don't mean, like physically, like planning games. You and I have talked about this, but one of the reasons is that, and I'm not going to get into it that much, is that I never got parents until I was six or seven years old. I lived in institute for kids, I lived in foster care, etc. The impact was, I would meet somebody in second grade, something like that, so I'd meet you Karen, and I'd talk to you and I'd be thinking to myself, wow, she probably comes from a really good family. Now I'm not gonna tell you, but that's what I believe. Alot of times it was not believing that I was as good as the other children. I have to be honest with you, I went through a lot of my adult years, and I looked great on paper, I think I accomplished a lot of things, people say thank you to me, but it took a long time for me to believe that I was as good as other people. That stays with you.
Karen Ortman 23:32
How does control become paramount in the life of an adult child of an alcoholic?
Dr. Ackerman 23:43
Okay, that's,as you know, that's one of the major issues that was always brought up when people talked about children of alcoholics. Interestingly, I challenged that idea as well. What they were saying, is they were accusing a lot of adult children that were control freaks; we got to control everything, we got to do this and this, and this. Well, there were some studies done on women who came from alcoholic families as to what kind of occupations did they go into? I remember finding this, it was in some obscure thing from years ago, but I remember finding it and reading the occupations they went into. I thought to myself, wow, most of them chose occupations in which they are the ones who are in control; they were really attracted to the medical profession, they were attracted to teaching professions. Here's the real thing, if you're living in a family with all that chaos, and drinking, and everything else you're not in control, you're living in a situation that's out of control. The best thing some people try to do when a situation is out of control is try to make a sense of order about it. How you do that - by anticipating people's behaviors, by I'll take care of this, I'll do this before you need it, etc. The reality is, you're never in control. How do I survive chaos- I know, let's get it organized because that lowers my level of anxiety? I think where this started was, there were so many people, therapists, and social workers, and psychologists, and psychiatrists talking about adult children, but they kept talking about control, as you said, as a negative. It just seemed that all daughters have control problems, which is not true.
Karen Ortman 25:52
But if you presume that somebody who grew up in an environment like that, whether it's one or two parent alcoholic family, there's very little normal, I would assume?
Dr. Ackerman 26:08
You're all over the issue. One thing is that, unfortunately, we use this phrase a lot now, unfortunately, you realize that in that alcoholic family, you're in the new normal? It's not some great episode, some great negative thing that happens in the family, what really impacts is the daily devastation. What I mean by that is, nothing changes, it's the same this, this, this, this and this and that's the norm, that...
Karen Ortman 26:52
The confusion is the norm.
Dr. Ackerman 26:54
Yes, that becomes the norm. My mom used to get mad at me for this, I could almost look at my father's calendar and say -about - which days he's going to be incapacitated. She would just say, how do you know? Well, Ma, I've been living here for many, many years watching behavior, and that's the normal thing.
Karen Ortman 27:22
How did you assign a normal day versus an abnormal day based upon what was on the calendar?
Dr. Ackerman 27:28
Well, the abnormal days, I have to say, what I did was become even quieter and more withdrawn from the activities. In other words, on those days, it was tough enough as it was and I wasn't going to rock the boat about something.
Karen Ortman 27:52
But how did you know, looking at the calendar, if it was going to be a good day or a bad day?
Dr. Ackerman 27:57
Oh, well, it...
Karen Ortman 27:58
It depends on how many events were on the calendar?
Dr. Ackerman 28:00
Yeah, there was certain events, but also, I knew this; Saturdays for example, my father worked in corporations, and this, this and this, but Saturdays, many times they were also at office. If my dad wasn't back by Saturday at noon time, or 12:30, we knew we probably won't see him now for 10 or 11, 12 hours, that he's just gone, he's wound up someplace and he's just going to keep drinking all day and all night.
Karen Ortman 28:34
Wasn't that better, though, if he was out of the house doing that, as opposed to being in the house?
Dr. Ackerman 28:39
Well, yes. My dad really didn't drink that much in the house until he was fairly inebriated to begin with. Then what he would do is, he hid bottles around the house and he would just keep drinking out of those, and certainly holidays were very, very difficult to get around. I was raised in a religion where there was lent leading up to Easter, and people would often change or give something up. My mother would try to talk my dad into giving up alcohol. It was like, oh, this is gonna be fun! But you know come St. Patrick's Day - oh, no, no, no, no, no! St. Patrick's Day is always in the middle of lent, so we're never going to get over that.
Karen Ortman 29:50
But he would actually try to give up alcohol?
Dr. Ackerman 29:53
He did. He would try, and boy, seven or eight days was like a record. I want to say this, is all the shenanigans and everything that my father did, and it was so difficult for me to finally get up enough nerve as an adult to confront my dad, etc., but one of the things is, believe it or not, after 30 years of being inebriated my dad got in recovery.
Karen Ortman 30:27
Wow, that's great.
Dr. Ackerman 30:28
Yes, he got in recovery, and the person I was the happiest for was my mom. You know it was wonderful to stop in and see my parents, and if they were kind of disagreeing on something, my mother would speak up.
Karen Ortman 30:45
Dr. Ackerman 30:46
And this is a totally new behavior. They had about 20 years together in sobriety.
Karen Ortman 30:52
Dr. Ackerman 30:56
I thought, I don't know if my dad will ever stop, but he did.
Karen Ortman 31:04
That's wonderful. When it comes to seeking approval and setting boundaries for these perfect daughters, what is behind the inability to live without the approval of others, and the difficulty with setting boundaries? Where does that come from in in the life of a perfect daughter?
Dr. Ackerman 31:43
The boundary issue, an example of that was almost like in relationships, after a while she wasn't really sure where she belonged in the relationship. Is it my is it my responsibility to take on issues that I don't have? There's a thing of tolerating your boundaries. So many of the perfect daughters tolerated stuff that was painful physically, emotionally, spiritually, whatever it is, and they felt that they didn't have a choice, so people violated her boundaries. So many of the women said to me, hey Rob, this is all great, but I can't say no. I don't know how to say no.
Karen Ortman 32:56
But why does having an alcoholic parent prohibit you, in your own mind from saying no to somebody?
Dr. Ackerman 33:05
A lot of it for the women was, they had a wonderful person and a wonderful model right there who was not able to say no. She didn't learn that from her dad, she learned it from her mother. One of the biggest things, you asked me earlier, one of the unique things about perfect daughters is that often the women, the daughters, had just as many issues with their non-alcoholic mother as they did with the alcoholic. So what she did is, she held her mom accountable for teaching her that - Why? Because mom was a role model. My mother, for example, women of my mom's generation back then getting married in the 40s or maybe early 50s, were less likely to ever ask for a divorce. They were less likely to leave this and took on enormous responsibilities. One of the things that they believe very, very strongly is, if they got married, they took on a commitment. The other thing is that women's - quote/unquote - social context was, women don't leave.
Karen Ortman 34:30
What about the approval part though?
Dr. Ackerman 34:34
The approval part really goes back to the first thing I said about disproportionate need for approval. It's just like some of the other things, but a disproportionate need for approval. The number one thing, based on that is, am I good enough to be loved? The second thing, it's based on this perfectionism, that's what we talked about, if I just do this perfect. I found out what worked better for me was, if someone liked a book that I wrote for instance, if they liked that, and let me know about it - that was great, that was very nice of them - but when in reality they're telling me, hey, your book is worth something. What I'm incorrectly thinking is, well, if my book is worth something I must be worth something, so once that dissipates and I need to be worth something again, what do I do? I gotta go write another book, I guess. Right? As opposed to that thing that...
Karen Ortman 35:39
Knowing you're great, without being the author.
Dr. Ackerman 35:42
Let it in, as opposed to saying that, oh, what I did, people liked it. But, it's external, isn't it?
Karen Ortman 35:51
That's interesting. You spoke earlier about daughters being protective of their alcoholic fathers and more attacking of their mothers when alcoholics. Regardless of which side you're on, whether it's the father or the mother, I would think that, even so, it's still something you keep private, and are probably taught to keep private.
Dr. Ackerman 36:22
Karen Ortman 36:22
For certainly your entire existence in that home, but then I'm sure that has to become part of your adult life, even when you're gone from that home, and you're still sort of portraying this sort of image of one or both parent parents that really is not accurate. How does that adult person come to terms with the reality of their life as adults negotiating relationships, negotiating their own parenting their professional life in truth?
Dr. Ackerman 37:15
Well, that probably would take us 10 to 15 months to discuss.
Karen Ortman 37:22
That's pretty loaded, right?
Dr. Ackerman 37:26
Let's run this real quick. Let's say that I'm 7, 8, 9, 10 years old, whatever, and I'm in that house, and there's all this, this and this. What I do is I learned how to handle it, I learned how to try to stay out of the problem, so I shut down and don't deal with certain things, I don't risk etcetera. Now, if I was able to look at myself in that family as that 10-year-old child and watch the interactions or the lack of interactions, would I think that my interactive skills, in that context, are positive or negative for me? Well, I'm likely to see them as positive - why - because they work; don't bring it up, don't do this, don't do that. Now, I leave there and I'm in fourth grade, I'm in fifth grade, I hardly ever contribute anything, I stay to myself, I do this, this and this. In that context what I have learned may, in fact, become dysfunctional. Here's the thing, when I'm in that dysfunctional situation, these things work. When I'm out over here with healthy people, and growing up as an adult around healthy adults, and I keep doing the same thing, they may not work, and that's what's confusing is ever. A lot of times with children, if there's something that's working for this child, in that context of the abuse in families that's working to keep that child safe, I'm not taking that away from the child by saying, that's inappropriate or something like that. I'm trying to convince people of is that when you're in a healthy thing, you have something now as an adult that you did not have as a child. What we now have in our adult life is we have choice. It can scare us to death, you know, she says no, I want to do what I know best, and then your relationships aren't too good - you understand what I'm getting at that. Here's the thing, how could the very characteristics that help me survive the crisis be the same characteristics now that are creating a crisis for me?
Karen Ortman 39:55
Yeah. I guess that's what they're that's what therapy is for. That's what all these wonderful organizations are for.
Dr. Ackerman 40:02
Learning how to let some of this go, and not just letting go but learning and replacing it with healthy thoughts and behaviors. It's not just because you quit doing that, what did you replace it with?
Karen Ortman 40:19
Can you speak to the certain behaviors that are specific to adult children of alcoholics? And if there are any that are specific to the perfect daughter, what they might be?
Dr. Ackerman 40:36
Basically, what we found was that there were about six or seven and we'll just mention a couple of these. I want people to know that there's no particular order, a perfect daughter might put them in a different order, etc. Number one, we thought it was a very strong sense of isolation, feeling isolated, and we can understand that based on the things that we've talked about. That isolation could start when you are a young child, etcetera. Another example of isolation is, well, if you really knew all about me and my family or the way I was raised, if you really knew all about me, I don't think you'd like me, so I don't let you know too much. Another one is inconsistency, which was a strong characteristic, and what that meant was inconsistent with taking care of yourself, you take care of other people - you do this, this and that, but you're not very good at trying to meet some of your own needs. That was very strong. One that was really, really strong was self-condemnation. Daughters of alcoholics scored very high on the self-condemnation scale, being very, very difficult on themselves and tried to balance that off with perfectionism. These things are obviously all interrelated. Disproportionate need for control, which we talked about, disproportionate need for approval, we talked about, rigidity was another characteristic, this is why I do it, this is how I handle it, etc. The most rigid belief was I don't need change, change doesn't help, you know, nobody would learn anything from therapy, I just couldn't talk to anybody else.
Karen Ortman 42:39
Dr. Ackerman 42:39
Those are all rigid for sure. The one that people don't hear about too much, but I certainly thought it was there, was the fear of failure. It means staying away from the things where you've got to take a risk, you got to try. It takes a lot to be able to say, I I failed as opposed to I gave it my best.
Karen Ortman 43:07
Does that go to what you said similarly early earlier about your sense of achievement when you get complimented on a book?
Dr. Ackerman 43:18
Karen Ortman 43:19
So are there any positive attributes associated with an adult child of an alcoholic?
Dr. Ackerman 43:26
You know, there are a lot, there are a lot of great qualities. All we have to do is say, I don't know how to find any adult children, how can I talk anybody? Well, you know, disproportionately, almost all the adult children work in some type of Human Services, occupation. They're helping people in medical, etc. The work that you've done in your life, that's a helping profession, teaching, etc. So, where do you find people? Well, we find them there. What may happen, however, is, oops, did you forget to help yourself?
Karen Ortman 44:14
If you could speak to someone listening right now who grew up in an alcoholic household and still carries that shame associated with their upbringing? What guidance would you offer?
Dr. Ackerman 44:27
Well, number one, I think if someone's listening or watching this, my first thing to you is you are not alone unless you choose to be so. That as adult children now, as I said earlier, we have something that we didn't have growing up and that is choice, our growth, or change. We don't have to do it alone. There are a lot of people out there who will help us, there are a lot of people out there who, whether they are 12 step program, whether it's the desire to realize not only that you'd like to change, but also that you're willing to work on change. That's the ultimate goal. I forget who's saying it is, be the change that you want to see. Those are the things, but the biggest thing is that you're not alone.
Karen Ortman 45:29
And then there's the National Association for Children of Addiction, which was formerly known as the National Association for Children of Alcoholics.
Dr. Ackerman 45:43
Yeah. I'm one of the cofounders for it, and it's moved on. We officially founded NACoA in 1983.
Karen Ortman 45:54
Long time ago.
Dr. Ackerman 45:55
Yeah. So, for anybody listening, if you just look up the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, or just NACLA.org, I think you'll be amazed at all the things that are there, all the things that you can utilize, stuff that you can get, and 95% of everything on there is free.
Karen Ortman 46:17
Great. Is there anything else that you'd like to add that I have not already asked? But, I will say this before you answer that question. You did write a, I'll call it, a partner book to Perfect Daughters, and it pertains to sons of alcoholics. The book is called?
Dr. Ackerman 46:42
Karen Ortman 46:44
Silent Sons, we will be doing an episode, you and I.
Dr. Ackerman 46:47
That's very nice of you, very gracious, thank you.
Karen Ortman 46:51
And I will now let you answer the question, if there's anything you'd like to add that I have not already asked.
Dr. Ackerman 46:56
No, I think that in the time that we've had together, we've touched on a lot of different things. I think it's just the idea of letting people know that we don't have to do this alone anymore.
Karen Ortman 47:16
I really appreciate everything that you have shared today. I know that this episode is going to be impactful. Just doing the work that I do at NYU in victim services, I have come across countless adults who grew up in alcoholic families and have heard of the different ways that experience has impacted them. That's why I reached out to you, and I'm very grateful for your presence here today. So, thank you.
Dr. Ackerman 47:50
Thank you, and you are most welcome.
Karen Ortman 47:53
Thank you to my guest, Dr. Ackerman and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter if any information presented was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Public Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like, and subscribe to You Matter on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Tune in or Spotify.