What’s Your Greatest Asset? 5 Strengths of an ACoA

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel exasperated with the emphasis on problems tied to being the offspring of alcoholics. I can recite the (negative) characteristics of children of alcoholics more accurately than I can say the Pledge of Allegiance! If it exasperates me, I have to believe that you sometimes feel exasperated too. If I had to print t-shirts for a group of ACoAs, I’d put a fist of strength on there, or a symbol of resilience – not a sad face, symbol of silence, or a chameleon.

“…children of alcoholics tend to lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth, don’t cope well with change, have a hard time expressing their needs, tend to be indecisive, tend to suffer from learning disabilities, think in absolutes…” Enough! We are well aware of our hardships. Well aware. Yet how much time have we spent thinking about what positive or beneficial characteristics, emotional and psychological traits that we have, which are actually assets? That kind of emphasis is long overdue.

Today I need to hear the B side of the record, to think about our other characteristics.

I’ve brainstormed a number of talents and traits, which I’ve grouped into five categories. Those are: Independence, Creativity, Resilience, Empathy, and Calm.

I think a sense of humor is another asset that rarely gets acknowledged. I know I needed it in order to survive with my mind intact.

I used to read my horoscope. Once I read that Virgos were meant for “big things.” Really big things. Like changing the world. They said Virgos have remarkable personal traits. But, there’s one little problem. The problem is, Virgos are notoriously self-doubting. So, despite all of their assets, their inability to stop second-guessing themselves seems to get in the way all too often – and that’s why they’re not running things and changing the world.

I can’t help remembering that as I write this. In thinking about all that children of alcoholics have going for them (read on), it’s hard not to think, “Wow. We could really change the world if we wanted to – we’re tough, imaginative, sensitive, and creative.” If anything is in our way, it’s us.


We’re good listeners. Rather, we’re exceptional listeners. We’ve spent so many years thinking about the feelings of others, before ourselves, that we’re deeply talented at putting ourslves in other people’s shoes. Our ability to empathasize is a talent that makes us great freinds, partners, coworkers, mothers, aunts, etc. It also makes us great teachers, counselors, or professional advocates. (And more!) It’s also a great asset in negotiations. We’re likely to speak up for the underdogs, who can’t speak for themselves.


Do you have issues with authority figures?  What’s new?  So, be your own boss. Because we didn’t think highly of the authority figures in charge of us for so many years, we’ve got lots of opinions about how to run things.  And we hold our opinions about those things in high regard.  And, of course, we tend to like to be in control. So, run things!  We’re well-suited to be entrepeneurs, or – to work in jobs where we might have bosses, but we work autonomously most of the time.  Since we raised ourselves in many ways – and many of us took responsibility for raising the rest of our families, too – we tend to be strong and often more able than others. We can handle hard work, paying our dues, and pushing our limits. We’re good with our hands. We’re strong!


So many children of alcoholics go into the arts. They’re actors, writers, and painters. Our sensitivity – to animals, to people in pain – gives us a third eye and ear that allows us to see and hear the realities of the human condition. We’re brave enough not to be scared off by the discomfort of raw emotions, absurdity, intensity, or oddity, which allows it to inform creative work. Creativity and art also allow people to speak truthfully, which is something that children of alcoholics didn’t get many opportunities for growing up. Creating art contributes goodwill to society and it is also, by its very nature, an act of healing.


We are surviors. Not just that, but (if you’re reading this post) we clearly don’t want to repeat the past. Which means we’re doing much better than just surviving, which is the bare minimum. Rather, we’re growing, healing, and redefining our futures. The definition of resilience is synonmous with ‘children of alcoholics:’  “Resilience: the ability to recover from insult or injury.”  In physics, resilience means the ability of a chemical or compound to successfully absorb a foreign or bad element and then purge it – to recover.  Sounds like us.  Resilience is also a term used often in ecology study – to describe how nature copes and revives itself.  We’re a lot like that.  Our drive often stems from an unconscious urge to heal, to recover. To uncover our real self.


(Or seem so!) Children of alcoholics would make great emergency room doctors, nurses, technicians, paramedics, or fire fighters.  We’re hard to shock, and we can stay calm in the midst of chaos. It’s hard to gross out the child of alcoholics. We’ve witnessed so much bizarre behavior that we’re pretty tough folk. We’re far from naive when it comes to what human beings are capable of. I’ve been called “well-wrapped.” While I took offense to that label at first, assuming it meant ‘impenetrable,’ I’m at peace with it now. Much of the time I feel it’s an asset. It’s hard to see nervousness, shyness, anxiety, or fear in a person who’s well wrapped! An accidental benefit of having pretended everything was okay (which most of us did growing up in alcoholic families) is that we can appear as if everything is okay. Now, this does obligate us to share ourselves more than we’d tend to, as well-wrapped people, so that we don’t become isolated.  You may need to remind your friends and loved ones that you’re actually highly sensitive and emotional. In the workplace, a calm exterior is an asset. You can even learn to become that relaxed, together person you appear to be.

Five assets, at least. We’re just scratching the surface.


  1. awannabe says:

    Smiles. I always smile when I read that bit about lying when its just as easy to tell the truth. The first time I saw it I thought, “I never lie. I don’t have a problem with lying.”
    But recently I thought about it in another way… I think I used to exaggerate a lot to get my family’s attention.
    Thank you for sharing these great articles with us.

  2. sadbuttrue says:

    thanks for this post—i was just coming to realize one more thing i had to lose due to the megaton stress i had to bear/ supress/ deny/ freeze and was sinking and sulking…(and no doubt grieving)
    then i found this post of yours!! i’ve always known of my super strength that came from raising me and mom and pop, but to read the assets written this many and this clearly really made me feel good!!!
    and i, we, deserve to feel as good as i/ we could!!!!! yei!!

  3. kimberly says:

    Here are some more positive traits:
    AC’s may have an innate ability to lean on their Higher Power or it may come more easily and naturally to them because they have always needed their Higher Power tremendously.
    AC’s have a kindness and an empathy which, once steered in the proper direction and co-dependent behaviors are unlearned (!), can benefit highly others around him/her.
    AC’s have an excellent working sense of their Higher Power as their “inner voice” or “intuition.”
    AC’s, once healed of core identity issues, have a beautiful humility which is characterized by their knowledge of their need for God – and at the same time have a real fortitude and strength, because humility is strength.
    Once their denial habit is kicked, AC’s have an incredible ability and courage to continue to taking a “fearless moral inventory.”
    AC’s, when healed of core issues, have ability to see pitfalls of other AC’s and can be a help and strength to those climbing out of the same pits.
    Lots of strength and self assurance, humility, dependence on God -all of this comes when an AC is dedicated to finally focusing on themselves with the help of God and others.

  4. Angela says:

    I think I love you just for this.
    We see so many lists of the issues we all share, it was nice to see a study of our strengths for a change.

  5. Millie says:

    Thank you for this list!
    I’m currently going through the grieving process and some days I truly only see the things I have been picked apart for and the issues I have yet to resolve.
    Thanks again:)

  6. Z K says:

    Thank you for creating this web site. Its helped me understand myself better. And maybe start to think about forgiving myself a little bit too.
    Austin, Tx

  7. Lisa says:

    Thank you for all of this. I love your site and read it often. I catch myself lying, so someone will feel comfortable or for absolutely no reason. I had to be a chameleon growing up to survive, so I think it’s a survival mechanism.

  8. Rick Ryberg says:

    What a wonderful article! It is so refreshing to focus on our STRENGTHS rather than our weaknesses or problems adjusting, etc. I am a new ACOA Life Coach and I was wondering if I could post this article on my blog and provide a link back to your site? I am always looking for Great Content and this certanly qualifies! Thank You for your consideration of this request.

  9. amy eden says:

    Absolutely feel free to link to this, or any article here, thanks — amy

  10. Jan says:

    Great, great thing to share! The “calmness” is one that people most comment on for me. I like to joke that “I’m screaming on the inside!” but hey on the outside, steady hands.

  11. amy eden says:

    Same here with the calm on the outside. It sometimes shocks me, in fact, to look in the mirror in times of panic, anxiety, or brief depressions that I actually look like Im FINE. You know what I mean? Ive learned that when I need support, it often helps for me to remind people close to me that I might look OK but Im not. Dont be fooled by my togetherness! And Ive learned to take on the responsibility of that in situations in which my well-wrappedness isnt serving me, in that Ive learned that I have to speak up when I need help, or a lap to cry into. If I dont, it really does appear to others that everything is hunkey-dorey, and so nobody is going to inquire within, Are you OK? So, in that way, its a trait thats taught me to reach out to others. And thats also a good thing.

  12. Normal? What's that? says:

    I was thinking we would also make good military people. The number of times my Dad yelled in my face, it would be pretty hard to get under my skin from my supervisor but then again that authority figure comes into play, oh well. Thanks for coming up with this list. My favorite one is the Resillient one!

  13. amy eden says:

    Yeah, no kidding, right? The military.
    I have a good friend who was in the military and had an alcoholic upbringing. No coincidence there.
    Everyone says (even me) that our parents did their best, but when I read about your dad yelling in your face its just so wrong, and really, really sad. I wish I could hug that little boy.
    Mine yelled a lot, a whole lot. But only hit me once. And it was clear to me at the time that he seemed to feel entirely justified at the time (it was my fault for not doing what Id been told, which I thought I had) and he never apologize and expected me to forget the whole incident and move on. Convenient for all involved (except me).
    Is your Dad in recovery now?
    Anyway–yes, yes–all of the rigidity of the childhood home also makes us ready for a military life. (But then…my authority figure issues would definitely be problematic in that scenario! Id be the one trying to lead people sneaking out at night or bending rules.)
    Im glad you like the Resilient one! Its why were still here, determined to thrive and finally get happy.

  14. Jennifer says:

    Thank you! I am a therapist and will use this piece with my clients.

  15. [...] are some things that I think make us great in spite of our chaotic [...]

  16. Shannon says:

    Military, yes. My dad was a Marine and (is) an alcoholic as well as an acoa (unrecovered). He was a yeller, rager and violent when I was a kid. When I went to college, my decision to pledge a sorority was WHOLLY based on the fact that I had heard that pledging was tough and they yelled at you. I was so angry and looking for a fight, I signed right up. I relished sneering at the sisters who attempted to intimidate me by verbal abuse- it was like a joke, they couldn’t hurt me after what I’d experienced at the hands of my dad. I can see how the military would be an appealing challenge to prove oneself in the wake of an alcoholic upbringing. Also, the order would be comforting.

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