The sixth characteristic listed on the Dr. Janet Woititz list of 13 Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics is that we take ourselves very seriously. Since the fifth characteristic is that we have a difficult time having fun, us being too serious is not at all a surprise.
We had to grow up in a very chaotic and confusing environment – never sure what we’d wake up to or come home to or what a single comment could do to make a seemingly mellow family moment turn into an awful one in under a minute.
OF COURSE WE TAKE OURSELVES SERIOUSLY. WE WERE SURVIVING.
When I first read this long ago as a teenager, I was very offended. Mind you, I was a teenager who got straight As and was in a gazillion clubs and looking at a gazillion ways to get into college. I DID TAKE MYSELF QUITE SERIOUSLY, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. And I didn’t think it was a bad thing. In fact, I thought it was a strength. So reading this for the first time and many times after brought up a bit of anger in my, a bit of pride. “We should take ourselves seriously,” my body cried!
I took care of my younger brother, I made sure we were fed, the clothes ironed, our schoolwork done, our grades good and so much more. All while navigating chaos at home while also wanting some help, some support. All while wanting someone to SEE ME, understand me, tell me I was going a good job, tell me I should not have to be doing all this.
So yes, I took myself very seriously then and I do now. I struggle with this ACoA “characteristic” because it implies that seriousness is a bad thing and I don’t think it is. We survived because we were serious. Our parents and their drinking made being serious a necessity for us. I’m ok with that and I embrace my seriousness.
BUT! It’s always been clear to me from the way this list of characteristics is written that the real prescription here is having more fun. Finding joy. Letting things be easy instead of so serious and hard. That is something I definitely need more of in my life and that I actively work towards.
So my challenge to all of you this week is: how can we make it easy? where can we play a bit more? when you find yourself clenching your jaw and worrying about the next thing (which feels ever so familiar to us — so familiar, we sometimes create tension where none exists just so we feel comfortable again), can you remind yourself to release the jaw, relax and breathe? can we be present to what IS here right now and find some silliness in it all?
An easy assignment: pursue joy. 😉