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Myron Suvorov
Myron Suvorov

ACoAs Listening (Part 1): Strategies for Being Present, Mindful, and Empathic in Your Relationships



ACoAs Listening (Part 1)




If you grew up in a family where one or both of your parents abused alcohol, you may identify yourself as an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACoA). ACoAs often face many challenges in their adult lives, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, codependency, addiction, and relationship problems. One of the areas that ACoAs may struggle with is listening.




ACoAs LISTENING (Part 1)



Listening is a vital skill for any healthy relationship. It allows us to understand, connect, and support each other. It also helps us to express ourselves, resolve conflicts, and grow together. However, listening is not always easy, especially for ACoAs who may have learned to listen in dysfunctional ways in their alcoholic families.


In this article, we will explore some of the common barriers to listening that ACoAs may face, such as survival strategies, emotional triggers, and communication patterns. We will also discuss some of the ways that ACoAs can improve their listening skills and enhance their relationships with themselves and others.


How ACoAs learned to listen in their alcoholic families




ACoAs often develop certain survival strategies and coping mechanisms to deal with the chaos, unpredictability, and trauma of living with an alcoholic parent. These strategies may have helped them to survive as children, but they may also interfere with their ability to listen as adults.


Scanning for danger and people pleasing




Children who live in alcoholic families become very adept at scanning their environment and the faces of those around them for signs of emotional danger. They are constantly reading the mood and behavior of their alcoholic parent, trying to anticipate their needs, avoid their wrath, or calm them down. They may also try to please their parent by being good, helpful, or invisible.


These scanning and pleasing strategies may carry over into adult relationships, where ACoAs may be overly sensitive to the emotions of others and neglect their own feelings and needs. They may also have difficulty trusting others or expressing their opinions or preferences. They may listen with fear or anxiety, rather than curiosity or interest.


Tuning out and shutting down




Another way that children cope with the stress of living with an alcoholic parent is by tuning out or shutting down. They may learn to numb themselves or dissociate from their emotions and sensations. They may also withdraw from their family or isolate themselves from others. They may avoid conflict or confrontation at all costs.


These tuning out and shutting down strategies may prevent ACoAs from being fully present and engaged in their adult relationships. They may have trouble paying attention or remembering what others say. They may also avoid intimacy or vulnerability with others. They may listen with detachment or indifference, rather than involvement or care.


How ACoAs listen in their adult relationships




ACoAs often bring their childhood listening patterns into their adult relationships, where they may cause misunderstandings, conflicts, or disconnection. Some of the common ways that ACoAs listen in their adult relationships are:


Reacting instead of responding




ACoAs may have learned to react to their alcoholic parent's mood swings, outbursts, or violence with fear, anger, or sadness. They may have also internalized their parent's criticism, blame, or shame. As a result, they may be easily triggered by certain words, tones, or gestures that remind them of their past trauma. They may overreact or underreact to what others say, without checking the facts or the context.


For example, if their partner says something like "You never listen to me", they may react with defensiveness, guilt, or resentment, rather than asking for clarification or feedback. They may listen with judgment or bias, rather than openness or curiosity.


Projecting and assuming




ACoAs may have learned to project their own feelings and thoughts onto others, or assume what others are feeling and thinking, without verifying them. They may have done this as a way of coping with their own emotional pain or confusion, or as a way of trying to understand their alcoholic parent's behavior. However, this may lead them to misinterpret or distort what others say, without listening to their actual words or intentions.


For example, if their partner says something like "I need some space", they may project their own fear of abandonment or rejection onto them, or assume that they are angry or unhappy with them, rather than listening to their actual need or request. They may listen with projection or assumption, rather than empathy or understanding.


Interrupting and defending




ACoAs may have learned to interrupt others or defend themselves when they feel threatened, attacked, or misunderstood. They may have done this as a way of protecting themselves from their alcoholic parent's abuse or neglect, or as a way of asserting themselves in a chaotic environment. However, this may prevent them from listening to others fully and respectfully, and from acknowledging their feelings and needs.


For example, if their partner says something like "I'm feeling hurt by what you did", they may interrupt them with excuses or explanations, or defend themselves with counter-accusations or justifications, rather than listening to their feelings and perspective. They may listen with interruption or defense, rather than validation or acceptance.


How ACoAs can improve their listening skills




ACoAs can learn to overcome their listening barriers and improve their listening skills by practicing some of the following strategies:


Being present and mindful




ACoAs can learn to be more present and mindful in their listening by focusing on the here and now, rather than the past or the future. They can pay attention to their own body sensations, emotions, and thoughts, and notice when they are triggered by something that reminds them of their childhood trauma. They can also pay attention to the other person's body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions, and notice how they are feeling and what they are saying.


Being present and mindful can help ACoAs to listen with awareness and attention, rather than fear or anxiety. It can also help them to distinguish between what is happening in the present moment and what is happening in their memory. They can use techniques such as breathing exercises, grounding exercises, or self-compassion exercises to calm themselves down when they feel triggered.


Validating and empathizing




ACoAs can learn to validate and empathize with others by acknowledging their feelings and needs, and showing that they care and understand. They can use statements such as "I hear you", "I see how you feel", "I appreciate your perspective", or "I'm sorry that happened to you". They can also use nonverbal cues such as eye contact, nodding, smiling, or touching to convey their interest and support.


Validating and empathizing can help ACoAs to listen with respect and compassion, rather than judgment or bias. It can also help them to build trust and connection with others, and to express their own feelings and needs in a healthy way. They can use techniques such as reflective listening, paraphrasing, summarizing, or mirroring to show that they are listening and understanding.


Asking and clarifying




ACoAs can learn to ask and clarify questions when they are listening by seeking more information or feedback from others. They can use open-ended questions such as "What do you mean by that?", "How do you feel about that?", "What do you need from me?", or "How can I help you?". They can also use closed-ended questions such as "Is that what you said?", "Did I understand you correctly?", "Are you okay with that?", or "Do you agree with that?".


Asking and clarifying questions can help ACoAs to listen with curiosity and interest, rather than projection or assumption. It can also help them to check their understanding and avoid miscommunication or confusion. They can use techniques such as probing questions, feedback questions, or confirmation questions to elicit more information or feedback from others.


Conclusion




In conclusion, listening is a vital skill for ACoAs and their relationships. Listening can help them to understand, connect, and support themselves and others. However, listening can also be challenging for ACoAs who may have learned to listen in dysfunctional ways in their alcoholic families. Some of the common barriers to listening for ACoAs are survival strategies, emotional triggers, and communication patterns.


ACoAs can overcome these barriers and improve their listening skills by practising some of the strategies discussed in this article, such as being present and mindful, validating and empathizing, and asking and clarifying. By improving their listening skills, ACoAs can enhance their relationships with themselves and others, and enjoy the benefits of intimacy, trust, and growth.


Here are some resources and tips for further learning:



  • Read more about ACoAs and their characteristics on HealthyPlace or UC Davis.



  • Learn more about listening skills and how to practise them on LearnEnglish or Indeed.



  • Join a support group for ACoAs such as Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization or Al-Anon Family Groups.



  • Seek professional help from a therapist or counsellor who specializes in working with ACoAs.



  • Practise your listening skills with your partner, friends, family, or coworkers by using the strategies discussed in this article.



FAQs





  • What are ACoAs?



ACoAs are Adult Children of Alcoholics, who grew up in a family where one or both of their parents abused alcohol. ACoAs often face many challenges in their adult lives, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, codependency, addiction, and relationship problems.


  • Why is listening important for ACoAs?



Listening is important for ACoAs because it can help them to understand, connect, and support themselves and others. Listening can also help them to express themselves, resolve conflicts, and grow together.


  • What are some common barriers to listening for ACoAs?



Some common barriers to listening for ACoAs are survival strategies, emotional triggers, and communication patterns that they learned in their alcoholic families. These barriers may interfere with their ability to listen accurately, respectfully, and empathically.


  • How can ACoAs improve their listening skills?



ACoAs can improve their listening skills by practising some of the strategies discussed in this article, such as being present and mindful, validating and empathizing, and asking and clarifying. These strategies can help them to listen with awareness, attention, curiosity, interest, respect, compassion, openness, understanding, validation, acceptance, and feedback.


  • What are some resources and tips for further learning?



Some resources and tips for further learning are:


  • Read more about ACoAs and their characteristics on HealthyPlace or UC Davis.



  • Learn more about listening skills and how to practise them on LearnEnglish or Indeed.



  • Join a support group for ACoAs such as Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization or Al-Anon Family Groups.



  • Seek professional help from a therapist or counsellor who specializes in working with ACoAs.



  • Practise your listening skills with your partner, friends, family, or coworkers by using the strategies discussed in this article.



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