The Most Common Characteristics of Adult Children

The next three characteristics are common in all the roles.  In fact, I think they’re common in all people – well everyone I know, especially the last two.

  1. Overreact to changes over which they have no control.
  2. Constantly seek approval and affirmation.
  3. Usually feel that they are different from other people.

Overreaction looks different among the different roles.  Heroes may get angry because their plans went awry (ever noticed a hero with a screaming two year old in a mall?).  They are frustrated and confused.  After all, they built a plan and then followed it, so things should go as expected.  What other outcome would be expected?  But life is what happens while the hero is making plans. Sometimes their very organization, focus and determination doesn’t allow them to deal easily with setbacks or detours.

Rebels, on the other hand, overreact by exploding, getting drunk, slamming doors or punching walls.  They may quit school, if they were attending, scream at a boss or generally make a scene.  They also can’t deal with their plans going awry, but unlike the hero, their plans are not often set in reality.  Rebel’s plans are often pipe dreams conjured in drugs, booze or fairy tales. But their failure to accomplish great things is best expressed by a line from ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ the text from the organization of the same name “We talked in millions while spending in nickles.”

The Lost Child and the Mascot are often hampered by their failure to make plans, so changes aren’t in their vision. What happens is what happens and if either role doesn’t like it, they tend to slide deeper into their coping mechanisms, trying to hide either figuratively, in humor, or realistically.

All children of emotionally barren homes seek approval and affirmation because they feel they are different from other people.  Early in life, children look around and see the facade of the happy homes of their friends and they intuitively know that their lives are different.  As a result, they learn that their lives and families are different.  But the problem is that they are viewing the world through a child’s eyes and without the discernment of an adult.

from Wikipedia Commons

If you have ever sewed a garment or a toy or some project, you know what the inside looks like.  Others see only the outside and it’s perfection.  But with every compliment, you say to yourself “if they knew what the inside looks like, they wouldn’t think it’s so great.” These are the words of the child who grew up in an emotionally barren family – knowing that things may look all right, but on the inside something was dreadfully wrong.

Heroes seek approval by rescuing people, volunteering, working too much and generally trying too hard.  Ever met someone who volunteered over and over again?  That’s a hero seeking approval.  The rebel acts out their feelings of being different and in the process, ironically creates or joins a community where they are like their associates. But that group of misfits or outcasts all share the feelings of isolation and differentness.

The Mascot and Lost Child are quite different in the demonstration of these two characteristics.  Both feel different than other people, but a deep seated Mascot doesn’t care.  He doesn’t understand why life has to be so serious and doesn’t want to understand.  He feels the rest of the world is out of step because they’re so serious.  The Lost Child, on the other hand wants to be invisible and that doesn’t include appreciation or applause.  Recognition often makes a Lost Child uncomfortable and ill at ease.

But we are social animals and we need approval and affirmation.  The Mascot hides that need (or tries to) under the veneer of humor.  If he’s laughing, no one can see his loneliness and isolation. The Lost Child believes that he is in the way, so by hiding, he is hoping to get approval and appreciation. Ironically the very behavior that he believes will bring him approval is that which drives others crazy.

It is interesting to note that the hero and rebel mirror their reactions to these characteristics, while the Lost Child and Mascot are a little more unique.  But always these characteristics show up in adult children of emotionally barren families.  And most other people unless and until they’ve done some work.

For simplicity’s sake, in this post, I used the male pronoun.  In no wayy do I want you to think this only applies to men – it is just simpler to write with one pronoun.  As always, I’d like to know what you think.  Do you know people with these characteristics? Can you better understand how they developed? Do you see a path for changing them if you have them yourself?  Let me know what you think.


About Louise Behiel

Author, coach, therapist, mother and grandmother. I'm on a spiritual journey and consciously work to grow every day.
This entry was posted in ACOA, adult children, healing, Louise Behiel, recovery, self help and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to The Most Common Characteristics of Adult Children

  1. Diane Capri says:

    Louise, this entire series has been very enlightening in many ways. It always helps to understand ourselves and the people around us. I’m so looking forward to what I hope is coming — strategies for better lives for everyone!

  2. Wonderful post, Louise. I always glean valuable insight from this series. I think I have a bit of hero and rebel in me…though the rebel bits came out in subtler ways—going against the grain, out of the proverbial box, etc. I second Diane’s thoughts as well. 🙂

  3. gingercalem says:

    I’ll ditto both Diane and August here. Love this whole series, so enlightening. Can’t wait for more.

  4. Riversurfer says:

    I haven’t commented before, but must tell that I appreciate your blog sooo much! I hope to find the time to sit down to read it properly, it is incredibly interesting, educational and it’s a true eye-opener. I will come back to read more and only want to say that you are doing such a marvellous job. Thank you so much for sharing and take care!

  5. I still find it so interesting that these same traits can often be seen in people from what you might consider normal families and I know that you said in an earlier post that we can all have some of these same traits. So Louise, what I’m now finally starting grasp is that people from emotionally barren homes have these traits at a deeper, more emotional level? If I’m out to lunch, feel free to tell me. 🙂

    • Yes Sheila, you’re right. I think these traits (especially in todays post) are universal. I have never met anyone who hasn’t had these doubts and concerns at some time. With emotionally empty families, these are deeper than for others. Also, in healthy families, some children may feel less connected or emotionally supported by their parents or family (say a child who’s born and then mom gets sick when she’s very young). She wouldn’t have the same family experience as her siblings so she might develop these characteristics and adopt a bit deeper role than her siblings. Make sense?

  6. Well I’m a planner and an organizer in practically every area of my life. But, I can handle deviating from the plan if need be. My husband says it’s more of a control issue, but I’m not sure that’s it. I just like things to go according to plan – my plan. I rarely don’t have a plan, or a back-up plan, or a plan c.

    That just makes me OCD I guess. I like to think of it as CDO. It’s like OCD but the letters are in the correct order. See how crazy that makes me?

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • LOL, CDO Pat, thanks for the laugh. Doesn’t make you crazy. None of this says anyone is crazy, but it is humorous. Heroes are often controlling and yes we often call it planning and organizing. I have a degree in management, for Pete’s sake, because I like things done my way

  7. Cassandra says:

    interesting blog.I think I was once a hero and a rebel–going by those descriptions but I’ve gotten over it – faced my own internal demons. I did the rebel bit before the hero came aboard. I come from a loving, tight nit family and met my wonder partner young which is probably why I got past most of those issues.

  8. Melanie says:

    I totally relate to the lost child. I am presently being very aware and dealing with the “constantly seek approval and affirmation”. It’s such a frustrating conflict for me since on the one hand I am doing things for approval yet on the other hand I find it hard/don’t want to be around people. I call it the push pull conflict, come close-go away. I find it quite an eye opener to read that the hiding behavior drives other people crazy…… interesting….. never thought they noticed.

    • They notice if they’re trying to interact with you, Melanie. Hiding puts a wall between you and them – it’s a wall of emotional distance. the push pull is hard. for you and the people around you. but the good news is that you’re aware, you’ve owned it and are changing. that’s great news. and indicates recovery is on its way.

  9. I so totally love this series. It’s given me great insight into my life and that of my character’s. Mostly my life, though. Now that I recognize these behaviors in my siblings, it’s made it easier for me to react to them. Instead of always trying to make everything fine, I let things go. Whatever happens, it’s their thing, not mine. When I try to make it all better, it becomes my issue. Life is much less stressful now! The approval and affirmation thing? I finally got over that. It was hard to realize I would never, ever get what I wanted/needed from my parents, but oh, so liberating. I can’t wait for your strategy blogs, but until then, keep these fab posts coming!

    • Tameri, it is so unbelievably freeing to realize what we can’t get from the people we love. then we can go forward and live our own lives. amazing how good it is when we give up, isn’t it? strategies for healing is coming, soon.

  10. iamnotshe says:

    Louise … i just read your response to Tameri. Once we’ve let go of our expectations of others we can “get on” with our expectations of ourselves and design our own life and fate. 🙂 XO mel

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