Until integration occurs, the traits can cause great despair for the adult child. We seem unable to change them until get help. The Laundry List traits represent the false self, which is convinced that it is real. The false self disbelieves recovery and the loving nature of a Higher Power. The false self once protected us, but it now has to be retired. – ACA book, p. 112. Chapter 7 – “The Twelve Steps of ACA”, under “Character Defects vs. Laundry List Traits”

In my own work in the ACA program and my work as a sponsor, I find that it is often difficult for us all to comprehend how the 14 survival traits become integrated. It is hard to imagine functioning any other way than the way in which we have been programmed. I hope to provide a little insight and some inspiration from my own experience, hope and strength  below as we work to retire the false self and integrate the 14 traits.

The traits represent the nature of the false self, the ACA book says that the traits are all linked by fear. Most, if not all, of the dysfunctional behaviors in which adult children become trapped assert the power of the false self. In other words, the false self is built out of the material of the 14 traits. But as we recover, we begin to let go of the power of the traits, we change our behavior. We do this be decreasing the power of the traits through recovery. We locate the exact nature of the wrongs done to us, the wrongs we have done to others. We break the family rules of “don’t talk,” “don’t trust,” “don’t feel,” and we being talking, trusting and feeling. We name the ways in which these traits have helped us survive, but have kept us from true peace, serenity, sanity and a manageable life. We take inventory of our families and ourselves. The gifts of the True Self, the true nature begin to show up in our lives and we begin to trust that there is, in fact, a Higher Power guiding us.

We find safe harbor, as the book says, in our ACA meetings and working the 12 steps regularly, in sponsors and fellow travelers.  However, because we have spent most of our lives jumping from quick fix to quick fix, it is difficult for us to comprehend that the traits give up their power over us slowly and gradually, in small increments.  We must be patient with ourselves and with the process and continue to allow the Higher Power to heal us as we offer our wounds to the Great Healer. Some of us hold on to our wounds for a very long time, because we are afraid to trust. But, over time and with experience, we realize that as we gain the courage to offer our hurt and wounds in the supportive environment of our ACA group, a miraculous thing happens, we begin to heal.

The traits are deeply anchored because they are the defense system we developed as children under difficult circumstances. We must acknowledge a certain amount of respect for the traits and for ourselves for figuring out how to survive our dysfunctional homes. As children, they were the difference between living and dying in some cases. We survived, but in ACA we must move beyond mere survival. – p. 112

It is a paradox that in order to continue to survive, we must move move beyond our survival traits. That is because we are being transformed by a Higher Power who works in us through our True Nature. Gradually, the Inner Child comes out of hiding and learns to trust the Loving Parent and the Higher Power within.

All of this, over time, adds up to the need to retire the false self. Give it a gold watch, thank it for its long, enduring and faithful service.

As we learn to integrate the traits, we build a foundation that enables us to retire the false behaviors. One of the resources I have found helpful in learning how to go about this integration work is the second workbook produced by ACA, found at this link: “The Laundry List Workbook” 

One example of an integrated trait is offered in the reading I quoted above on p. 112:

We learn the the integrated trait of people pleasing might look like this: we do helpful things for ourselves and accept praise instead of constantly pleasing others and pushing away compliments. By transforming our people pleasing manner, we do not stop caring about others. However, we stop going over the line to ensure that we are never abandoned.

So, go ahead, plan a retirement party for your false self. Someday, it’s services will no longer be needed, maybe for you that day is today, maybe it’s a few months off, maybe it feels very far away. But know, that as you continue to work this program, go to meetings and learn to trust your Higher Power, Inner Child and Loving Parent, a new being will emerge in you that will feel natural. It may be surprising at first, even anxiety producing, but give yourself permission to feel rooted in this program. Eventually, you will begin to employ the true you.

Prayer: Today, I will ask my Higher Power to help me live courageously and sanely on a daily basis. One day at a time, I will recover from the disease of family dysfunction.


-Sherry C.