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  • Christie Pearl, LMHC, LPC

Why ACOAs struggle with career decisions

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

We all struggle from time to time with decision fatigue, especially if you’re running a business. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to wear that day or what to have for dinner. With all the information coming at us on any given day, it can get exhausting. This is why some entrepreneurs remove certain decisions from their day, such as deciding to wear the same thing every day, like Steve Jobs with his black turtleneck and jeans or President Obama with his blue suits. But what about big decisions, like your career? Making career decisions can be hard to navigate for many people, but it can be especially difficult for Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACOAs). But why is that? What about being an ACOA makes career decisions more difficult? Here are 3 reasons why career decisions are hard for ACOAs:

1. You don’t know what you want

Being an ACOA means you have probably developed a strong tendency to notice other people’s thoughts, feelings and preferences more than your own. This skill helped you stay aware of your environment so that you could react however you needed to at the time. However, as an adult this survival skill no longer serves you because it interferes with your ability to know what you like because you’re so used to worrying about what other people prefer. You also might not have ever had someone reflect back to you what you are good at, so you might wonder about what your skills or strengths are. Or you weren’t allowed to have fun, play or experiment, so you might struggle to identify things you enjoy.

2. You never saw decisions being made

If you were to run a movie of your childhood in your mind and hit “pause” on each scene where big changes or events were happening in your family, what would you see? How were decisions modeled? Do you notice any themes? For example, if you never actually saw decisions being made, you might have magical thinking about how they happen, i.e. you might think things “just happen.” Or maybe decisions were associated with fear or secrecy or impulsivity in your family. If you didn’t have a healthy model for how decisions are made, it is very difficult to know how to approach complex decisions as an adult. 3. You feel safer having a lot of options

Choosing a career means committing to something and excluding other possibilities, at least for the time being. When you grow up in a chaotic or emotionally unstable environment, it can feel unconsciously safer to have a lot of options. It’s almost like your nervous system is always looking for the “Exit” sign, so you might notice a feeling of resistance to commitment, even to a career path. Additionally, making a choice means you are proactively asserting yourself, which can be very difficult for ACOAs. Adult Children are often used to being reactive to others, as opposed to being active participants in their own lives. Even though ACOAs can struggle with career choices at times, they can also learn to move out of these old survival strategies from the past and into more life-giving patterns in the present. My blessing for you is that you would be able to take a step on the path toward the work that your true self was made to do.


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