A Comparison of symptoms and responses in BPD to Adult Children of Alcoholics

Comparison of BPD (borderline personality disorder) with

ACOA (adult children of alcoholics)

The following statements taken from the following 3 books shows the similarities between BPD and ACOA.

Children of Alcoholism, A Survivor's Manual by Judith S. Seizes and Geraldine Youcha, Crown Publishers, NY 1985 AC

Borderline Personality Disorders, the Concept, the Syndrome and the patient by Peter Hartocollis, MD, Ph.D.; International Universities Press, Inc. 1977 PH

Borderline Personality Disorder by Dr. John G. Gunderson, American Psychiatric Press JG


AC pg. 60: There are three kinds of control involved: the control other people have over them; the control they have over people and events; and the control they exert over their own bodies and minds.

JG pg. 88: ...these acts are used to sustain a belief in the ability to exert omnipotent control over an object as well as to prevent the consequences of object loss.


AC pg. 80 Any switch - a rained out picnic or a canceled appointment ... will bring on hours of internal despair because these events are experienced as reenactments of scenes from a helpless childhood.

JG pg. 80: Borderline patients had much more separation, abandonment anxiety, object hunger and intolerant responses to feeling needy or angry.


AC pg. 49: ...sexual identity problems...and may become an overeater.

JG pg. 9: Sexual deviance is highly related to impulsivity...

AC pg. 80: ...confuse physical contact or sexual involvement with emotional warmth. They therefore become promiscuous, but with little satisfaction from the sexual wanderings.

I see this apparent more in Histrionic Personality Disorder, but histrionic 65% of Histrionic is BPD


AC pg. 63: ... to see the world and the people in it fairy-tale fashion as all good or all bad.

JG pg. 179: The polarizations (good/bad, all/nothing, now/never) within borderline patients repeatedly evoke polarized responses from their environment.


AC pg. 79: It does seem to be extraordinary for children of alcoholics to make long-term commitments, marriage included.

JG pg. 4: Devaluation, manipulation, dependency and masochism characterize and cause the intensity and instability of interpersonal relationships.


AC: Wish for closeness, yet fear it.

JG pg. 33: Two major organization and sustaining beliefs are: "Should I want more from you, or should I be angry at you, you will leave: and if I'm compliant, something will be given to me that will make me invulnerable and less destructive."
Behind these conscious beliefs are concerns with the destructiveness of their own aggressive wishes to find a powerful protector. in any event, the basic tension between wanting more from the object and fearing that less will be received accounts for the sustained dysphoric characteristic of borderline functioning.


AC pg. 80: there are those who can't tolerate being alone and therefore cling to friends, relatives, and just about anyone who happens to be around.

JG pg. 8: Borderline persons tend to be compulsively social because their sense of their own coherence and value depends on the presence of others.

JG pg. 97: ...desperate to find someone, anyone, to "hold onto," someone to feel in control of...

JG pg. 36: ...is evident in the need to have people around -- even if without any evident emotional contact, in using radio and television as hypnotics, or in heavy use of transitional objects.


AC pg. 170: ...feelings of depression, uncontrollable anger, and incapacitating fears of disorientation.

JG pg. 9: In general, the occurrence of any mild or brief ego-dystonic psychotic-like experiences in the absence of severe, widespread psychotic symptoms at any time in the patient's past life is a strong indicator for the borderline diagnosis.

JG pg. 3: ...four characteristics identify what they called the "borderline syndrome." These were (a) failures in self-identity, (b) anaclitic relationships, (c) a type of depression based on loneliness, and (d) the predominance of expressed anger.

JG pg. 86: ...the depressions of borderline patients differed from other patients with depression by their impulses to hurt themselves.

JG pg. 16: Probably the most common form of affective disorder found in borderline patients is unipolar nonmelancholic depression.

JG pg. 103: ...manipulative behaviors are often indirect expressions of anger...


AC Have a low opinion of yourself

PH: They feel low, inadequate, or wrong.


AC pg. 49: ...most likely to kill himself, either accidentally or on purpose.

AC pg. 169: "Most people, when their car breaks down on the highway, either get out and fix it or call a mechanic. When my car had a flat tire, I called the suicide hot line."

JG pg. 85: ...suicide gestures emerge as one of the major discriminating characteristics of borderline patients...
JG pg. 86: Almost all the patients were involved in suicide threats, overdosing or self-mutilation.


AC: deny or suppress feelings
AC: feel unnecessarily embarrasses and ashamed

JG pg. 169: ...may cling to a pharmacotherapist because of a fearful reluctance to open their personal and interpersonal lives up for review.

Characteristics Of Adult Children Of Alcoholics

1) We guess at what normal behavior is. Because of our environment, we had no role models for normalcy, so we acted the way we saw other people act, people we thought were normal, and continue this performance into our adult lives.

2) We have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end; we procrastinate. Procrastination in the usual sense is the result of laziness. Adult children of alcoholics have never been taught how to solve a problem in systematic, manageable amounts. It was always all or nothing. Consequently, we don't have adult life skills.

3) We lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth. Lies, specifically lies of denial, were used to benefit the alcoholics and pari alcoholics of our homes.

4) We judge ourselves without mercy. Since there is no way for us to meet the unattainable standards of perfection we have internalized from childhood, we are always falling short of the mark we have set for ourselves. If we are responsible for some positive outcome we dismiss it by saying, "Oh, that was easy," and so on. This is often confused with humility but is actually poor self-esteem. We should keep our poor self-esteem in mind when taking the Fourth and Fifth steps.

5) We have difficulty having fun. For most of us having fun was just a childhood fantasy. We were always imprisoned by the anger and hostility of alcoholism, even if physically removed from the alcoholic, the disease was already part of us.

6) We take ourselves very seriously. The normal spontaneity of childhood was squashed so many years ago by the pressure to be adult. Living with one or more addicts forced us to be on guard constantly. Seriousness was the only option. Now we can't have fun.

7) We have difficulty with intimate relationships. For most of us the only reference of intimate relationships was that of our parents. Our inconsistent parentˇchild relationships caused us to feel an overwhelming fear of abandonment. We are left too inexperienced and fearful to let ourselves get close to anyone.

8) We overreact to changes over which we have no control. As young children the addict's life was inflicted on us as part of our environment. Our only recourse was to try to take control totally. Now any change which we are unaware of or have no control over leaves us feeling desperate and vulnerable.

9) We constantly seek approval and affirmation. The love we received as children was very erratic. The affirmations we didn't get on a day to day basis as children, we interpreted as negative, leaving us with low selfˇimages. If someone likes us, gives us affirmation and accepts us, we usually judge them worthless. Our low self images thrive on this.

10) Because of our secretive childhood sufferings, we thought that things were always better in the "house next door." NOBODY could possibly feel the same way as we did. Therefore, we felt unique, not a part of the group, and always looking in through an imaginary barrier.

11) We are superˇresponsible or superˇirresponsible. So much of our lives are all or nothing when trying to please our parents we did more and more and more; some of us realized early in our childhood, that there simply was no pleasing them, so we did nothing. We people please until we burn out for two basic reasons; one, because we don't have a realistic sense of our own capabilities or, two because if we say NO, we're afraid someone might find out how inadequate we feel and no longer like us.

12) We are extremely loyal, even i n the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved. Since starting a relationship is so difficult and frightening, when we do so we expect it to be permanent. This loyalty is usually caused by fear of abandonment. At home we always "hung in there" enabling the addict and denying the disease.

13) We are impulsive. As children our impulsivity was usually denied or covered up by our parents. We seldom suffered the consequences for impulsivity, leaving us with no deterrent, and we allow our impulsive behavior to continue in our adult lives.

Adapted from Adult Children of Alcoholics, by Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D., 1987.

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