How Beth from Queens Gambit Perfectly Lived As An Adult Children Of Alcoholics
At Queens Gambit, Beth Harmon’s character development demonstrated few of the many characteristics of an Adult-Children of Alcoholics.
Similarly, spoilers alert — if you have not yet watched Queens Gambit, I would not recommend you to continue reading the article!!!!!
Adult Children of Alcoholics
Adult Children of Alcoholics, also known as ACOA. The term often refers to individuals who grew up in a dysfunctional or isolated family, just like Beth. These people had an unpleasant childhood memory to look back and had no role models to follow at a very young and critical timing of their lives.
According to the book Adult Children of Alcoholics, by Janet G Wotitz, ACOAs do wonderfully well in crisises, however, they do not learn the day-to-day process of “doing life”. Primarily because most learn by “projecting” what “normal” looks like instead of feeling that first-person and consistently have somebody to seek support from.
ACOAs are perfectionists — they have internalized the need to be perfect to be fine from a very young age. The lack of parental warmth or any role model has cultivated a mentality that ACOAs need to consistently achieve something to prove their competency and self-worth.
ACOAs are anxious — growing up in an isolated place has inevitably altered one’s perception of self-worth. They behaved very passively and quietly when they are young because they do not want to get into any trouble, and have gotten used to solidarity. Surprising the phenomenon has sustained itself even though these ACOAs have grown up into independent working class.
ACOAs have a poor sense of their limitations — ACOAs have an illness of saying “No” to their drinking parents, and that has translated to self insecurity when one grew up. Saying no is extraordinarily difficult for them so ACOAs do more and more. They do it not because they have a bloated sense of themselves but rather afraid that others will find them incompetent.
ACOAs can rationalize shortcomings — ACOAs are very great in coping with stress, relationship tensions, however, most of the reasonings are tied with inferiority. “I didn’t get this internship because I sucked”, “My parents left me because I was not a great child”, “My crush rejected me because I didn’t do this or that…”
Beth Harmon, the chess prodigy and the main character of the drama who was orphaned at a young age and scarred from Methuen Home’s mistreatment. By accident, Beth was introduced to Chess by the house janitor and has secretly developed her skill throughout high school. She has begun participating in open tournaments and have tumbled through obstacles such as mum’s death, lust, medical addiction, etc. Eventually, she overcame the obstacles and beat the grandmaster at Moscow’s Tournament of Champions — successfully retire at 22 with an open mind to enjoy her life to the fullest.
Early Days: Before Kentucky State Championship (1st Competition)
Beth, who have witnessed her mum died from a suicidal car accident with the intention of kill Beth at the same time, has led to an unrecoverable trauma for Beth as she lost trust in human being. At the time when she was sent to Methuen Home, she has to sleep and behave in public spaces at all times, she is conditioned to perform housework and assignments at any given time. To describe her mental being, she does not feel sad, she is hopeless and has no clue what would bring joy to her life.
The vitamins, which had created illusions for Beth had also played a critical component in the drama. Beth has quickly developed a reliance on vitamins due to her strong will to escape from reality — to play chess with herself at the flat ceiling. The scene where she lied, sneaked out, and violated rules to steal the vitamins has manifest ACOA’s anxious and perfectionist mentality — she did not care about consequences nor her capability.
Chess Tournament Taster: Before Middle Game at Mexico City
After being adopted from her new parents. She lived at Kentucky and was obsessed with chess tournaments and any literature, books, people that are associated with the subject. She studies very hard, with a focus that is not found anywhere else — has also manifest an ACOA’s “nothing to lose” mentality. Simply, she just did not any expectations to meet, any opportunities to give up in order to do what she wants to do.
The perfectionist personality has shined through the few episodes as she took opponent by opponent until she lost against Benny, the US Champion in Cincinnati. It has created a sense of insecurity for her and she started to rely in substance usage and have casual sexual relationships with others. The sense of insecurity from one loss has thrown her confidence under the bus.
Desperation: After Her Mum Died From Substance Abuse
When Beth convinced her mum to travel to Mexico for chess tournaments. Her mum has accused Beth multiple times saying she is being too serious bout chess, and shall take time off to relax. Both characters have had a very pessimistic view of reality, and one sees chess as a gateway, and one used to see piano as a gateway but not anymore. Now her mother is into lust, luxuries and drugs — which had caused her death after being very excited about Beth’s success attempts into making finals and meeting a man she likes.
Beth’s place in Kentucky was taken from her father, and now she is indebted to pay off the mortgage if she wants to keep the place. Beth felt extremely lonely, helpless and began to suffer from substance abuse and sex again. Until Harry reached out to her and posed questions about life, i.e. “why do great chess players retire at such an early age?” — hinting that life is much more than chess, and have physically testified by moving on to study engineering at a university, leveraging his logical skills developed through chess.
Beth’s ACOA’s trait is repeatedly reinforcing her insecurity and perfectionism. Whenever things did not go her way, she fed herself with alcohol to alleviate the stress she has onto herself. She lives a very miserable life that was all about reaching her expectations.
Improve and Evolve: Settlement at New York and Moscow
Beth continues to develop a relationship with Benny by rapidly playing chess against each other. Beth has not only overcome the addiction to a substance, but she started to play chess in a way that is reactive than proactive, where she usually stands. As a result, she has been able to see further and make radical moves that she could not beforehand — which is a great metaphor for giving up some of the perfectionist views.
After all, your earliest influences are the most powerful ones.
The main takeaway of the article is that everyone is shaped very differently, and the difference diverges over time. The general intelligence of any people varies greater among adults than children because of repeated self-reinforcement in their own thinking.
The connection between ACOA and Beth Harmon is fascinating as Beth portrays exactly how an ACOA behaves in the real world. These people are often high-achievers and performers whom people enjoy working with a lot. However, they feel emotionally discharged and exhausted over time when they do not consistently receive credits or validations, which is a very unhealthy way to determine self-worth.
Queens Gambit is a phenomenal drama that is entertaining and meaningful as it exploits gender inequality and substance abuse. However, I believe the lens of ACOAs really unpacked children’s attribution to one’s personality and psychological thinking over time.
Credit to where credit is due:
Book Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet G Woititz
Queens Gambit Drama by Netflix Originals