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Thirteen Characteristics Of Adult Children
(As written by Janet Geringer Woititz, Ed.D.)


The purpose of this page is to provide a "self check-up" or "checklist" of potential emotional issues to see if there are any areas in your life that you may want to improve. If you understand the statement that "We don't know what we don't know", this page can help you realize areas within you that you may not have been aware of, so that you may then decide to work on and improve. While there are many other lists like this that are beneficial, I've found this list is good because the book written around these characteristics is good at helping you to learn how to overcome any of these shortcomings. This can help you towards a goal of improving your emotional well-being, which can help you have a more positive life.

Note: Have compassion on yourself and all others when reading this, for you might feel less than happy when reading the following. Remember, it's not your fault. You were taught these by people that also often had the same issues.One can choose to "unlearn" any trait that they want in their life. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to change and adapt due to experience. It continues through adulthood.

The Characteristics

Unless you grew up in a perfectly emotionally healthy family, you may have one or more of these characteristics

The following is a list is taken from here (amazon). Some people:

1. Guess at what normal behavior is.

2. Have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.

3. Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.

4. Judge themselves without mercy.

5. Have difficulty having fun.

6. Take themselves very seriously.

7. Have difficulty with intimate relationships.

8. Overreact to changes over which they have no control.

9. Constantly seek approval and affirmation.

10. Usually feel that they are different from other people.

11. Are super responsible or super irresponsible.

12. Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.

13. Are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.


  • If you read this list, and find yourself thinking, "What's wrong with that characteristic, it sounds fine to me?", then you can find a clear answer to the problems with that characteristic by reading her book.
  • Janet's New York Times Bestseller book, Adult Children of Alcoholics is available here (amazon). One of the great attributes of the book is that for each characteristic, you could read, "How you got it", and then go to another chapter on "How to fix it." The book provided great solutions!
  • Many years ago, when I first read this list, I thought the following: 1) I could identify with some (or many) of those characteristics. 2) I didn't like any of those characteristics, and I really didn't want to be a person who had those characteristics throughout my life.
  • I took action. I would go a couple times a week to a 12 Step program meeting that followed her book in the meeting. We would a) say hello, b) read one of the 13 "how we got it" in a round robin reading. c) take a short break, d) read the solution round robin, e) discuss what we chose to, keeping the focus on our own issue. You could get friends together and do the same. When you do that, you find how many people have what you thought was only your problem, but they offered different views and solutions. Hint Hint :)
  • If you read this list, and you can see some of these characteristics in you, then I invite you to consider this: Is this something you want to live with, or would you like to learn how to live a better life? Spending time on improving emotional strength and knowledge is very similar to staying physically fit through exercise.
  • I believe that in most or all cases, parents do try to do the best that they can, but their parenting job highly depends on the emotional education that they were given from their parents or caregivers or learned on their own.
  • Remember that even if you are a great parent, it could be harder to teach your children these characteristics if you work many hours. Education takes time and effort, but it can really pay off in the long run.
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics (adultchildren.org) has evolved, and I have not gone to them in many years. I don't know that they would still use her book for a meeting, and I can not speak for how their meetings would fit for you. The great news is that they are free, and group sharing with Love in mind can be very powerful as well as very nurturing and supportive.
  • Janet points out that adult children can be children of alcoholics or children from many other types of dysfunctional situations. Examples include growing up with people who had other compulsive behaviors (such as gambling, drug abuse, emotional abuse, workaholic, overeating), experienced chronic illness, profound religious attitudes, were adopted, lived in foster care, lived with divorced parents, or had taken on the role as an adult parent to their younger sisters or brothers because the parents were not at home. Children need to be children, and children need to be nurtured. This gives them a better ability to "settle into adulthood responsibilities" and maybe know how to have fun while they do it :)

See also Laundry List from AdultChildren.org


After reading this list, you may identify with some of these characteristics, and you may at first find it a bit overwhelming. It's important to realize you are not the only one. I invite you to consider going to a few Adult Children of Alcoholics (adultchildren.org) meetings, and you are likely to feel comfort in knowing you're not the only one, and you be with people who want to grow past these obstacles. 

As always, remember to listen to your heart.

Thank YOU for reading this!

By David M

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This page updated 02/02/23 09:29 AM