The Dysfunctional Family
First, a Definition
“You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you toward success - or are they holding you back?”
From our friends Merriam-Webster we have this definition of dysfunctional:
: impaired or abnormal functioning <gastrointestinaldysfunction>
: abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group <family dysfunction>
Well alrighty then! Sound like anyone you know?
And that brings us to a phrase that has become quite popular in today’s culture, namely the “dysfunctional family.” We’ve all heard of it; hell, many of us have claimed it as a description of our own family….but what exactly does it mean?
For the answer to that question I turned to several health sites. I found this definition from Healthline:
“A family whose interrelationships serve to detract from, rather than promote, the emotional and physical health and well-being of its members.”
The site goes on to list several characteristics of a dysfunctional family:
- Blaming, or failure to take responsibility for personal actions and feelings.
- Boundaries between family members are either too rigid or too loose.
- A tendency of family members to enact set roles…..caregiver, hero, scapegoat, saint…that serve to restrict feelings, experience, and self-expression.
- A tendency to have an “identified patient”…one family member who is recognized as mentally unhealthy.
Again, does this sound like anyone you know?
Is This a New Phenomenon?
I’m trying to remember when this phrase “dysfunctional family” came upon the scene. I certainly don’t remember hearing it when I was a teen or for that matter most of my adult years, so this must be a new catch-phrase to help us all understand something most of us have lived for decades. I know for a fact that there were dysfunctional families when I was growing up in the 60’s. The Norlins across the street certainly had their problems, as did the Streitz family four houses down. The Mertz’s were in no way “normal” and now that I think about it, their oldest daughter married and had what can only be described as a dysfunctional marriage and family.
Hell, folks, my own family was dysfunctional. I loved my parents for sure, but their marriage was shaky at best, and they kept a deep, dark secret for years that I only found out about by accident after my father’s death. You see, the thing of it is, back then dysfunction was alive and well, but people chose not to talk about it. Stiff upper lip and all that. Families were every bit as messed up then as they are now, and children were every bit as affected by the dysfunction as they are now, but we just didn’t have a name for it back in the old days, and we certainly didn’t have the desire to air our dirty laundry and declare to the world how messed up we were.
So I am quite pleased that today we have a name for it….dysfunctional family…and a willingness among many to discuss that which needs to be discussed. It is only through openness and a desire to improve that true growth can happen, so I raise my glass in toast to all of you who hail from a dysfunctional family and are willing to share your experiences so that others may learn from them.
An Interesting Theory
There Is No Shame in Dysfunction
I think this is such an important truth to grasp. If you are the child of a dysfunctional family, the first thing to understand….the first thing to internalize…is that you are not to blame and you should not be embarrassed by it. Obviously this is easier said than done, but nevertheless it is true. Abuse is never the fault of the abused. Those who live in an addicted household are certainly not to blame for the one addicted.
And I truly believe there is no shame in it. Look around you right now. Step outside your front door and survey your neighborhood. How much dysfunction do you know about right there in the area in which you live? As I write this I can hear the next door neighbors screaming at each other as is their norm in the mornings. They have two small children but that does not prevent them from calling each other vile names in the heat of anger. Dysfunctional? You bet! There are three other families on our block that are without a doubt dysfunctional.
So if it is everywhere then for goodness sake put an end to the shame you are feeling. You are by no means unique. What you are experiencing is being experienced a thousand times over across this country this very minute, and has been experienced for centuries prior to your lifetime.
More Food For Thought
Discussion and Willingness to Change the Patterns
As I said before, I grew up in a family of secrets. Take the bad experiences and stuff them in the closet. That’s how our family dealt with ugliness long ago….and….it was how I dealt with the ugliness in my life for a good part of my adulthood. We learn from behavior that was modeled for us, and unless we find an alternative we will continue to model the behavior we were taught. That is a simple truth that is being enacted daily in millions of families around the world.
But it does not have to be that way! For the love of all that is holy, read that last sentence again….it does not have to be that way!
Try this simple exercise. Log on to Facebook and spend about ten minutes reading the feeds. I guarantee that you will find evidence of dysfunction. LOL I also guarantee that you will find people discussing dysfunction in a healthy manner, and you will find support groups where you can feel at home. Go online and search for support groups in your area. Join one and discuss the things that are bothering you.
If you are a writer then you have the platform just waiting for you to discuss the dysfunction in your life. People need to hear your story. People want to know that they are not alone. People are desperate to know that what they are feeling is valid and that someone understands.
And yes, to do those things there must be a willingness to change.
I am living proof that dysfunction does not have to cripple us, and we do not have to be living legacies of that dysfunction. My loving partner Bev is another perfect example. We both come from dysfunction and yet we have formed a loving relationship that has survived, and thrived, because we were both willing to discuss and grow.
And you can do the same!
Join me on my blog, The Dysfunctional Playhouse
- The Dysfunctional Playhouse | Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever
Open discussions about dysfunctional families and what can be done to change the legacy.
Do You Come From A Dysfunctional Family?
So Here Is the Bottom Line
Dysfunction is like a cancer. It will continue to grow, continue to spread into living organs, and continue to kill its host, until steps are taken to eradicate it. Unlike cancer, however, there is a cure. It is possible to permanently end the dysfunction that has been handed down through families. It is possible to eliminate the unhealthy cells so that new, vibrant healthy cells can grow and spread.
The choice is yours.
There is help available. You can find solace and understanding. You can become a symbol of hope for your family and for others like you have had similar experiences.
No, dysfunction is not a new phenomenon. I suspect it is as old as mankind, and I have no doubt that it will continue to spread its sickness throughout society for many years to come….but….
You do not have to be a part of that sickness.
End the cycle!
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)