Living with Dysfunctional-ism
A very small percentage of human beings can say that their life has literally been perfect, and not because they got everything they ever wanted, but because it all went off without a hitch.
Somewhere along the way, my parents decided to conceive a child, 9 months later I was born. Things seemed to be 'perfect' to my toddler sized brain. Then along came my sister and yet still things seemed to be pretty good. I am not sure at what age I started to feel it, but maybe it had something to do with the fist fights I would get in with the neighbor boy. We would go at it, until nearly every time, I got the bloody nose, and he would stop to prevent from getting covered in blood himself. On one of these prestigious ringside gatherings, my mother stood by cheering for me. That's right, she didn't stop it, she actually encouraged me to use what I had to my advantage, my weight. She was yelling, 'sit on him, sit on him,' yet still it was not enough.
This activity carried on for many years, well into 7th grade. Usually most often with friends. What I did not realize as a younger child, is that this kind of behavior was a direct result of my fathers drinking. It seemed so normal growing up, watching dad drink beer in front of us while watching the television, I never really thought much of it, until the first time I can remember him quitting. Through the years he 'quit' half a dozen times or more. Then one day there would be an excuse and he would bounce back to his old behaviors, but worse off than before. It was at these points where I began to realize really what my dad's drinking meant for me. I would come home after an awesome weekend camping with the boy scouts and see my dad rinsing out his beer cans. I wouldn't even talk to him, I would just run to my room crying.
It was at this turning point, about age 12 when I turned from angry into an introvert, avoiding all confrontation when at all possible. Sure there was the occasional sumo wrestling match when I was in high school, but hey, I was to put what I had to my advantage, right? While in high school, my sister started to turn from this all-star athlete into a dark, angry pre-teen. Again, I attribute all of this to my dad's drinking. Of course, our mom was around all of this time, sober and sweet as can be. If it weren't for her, my father and my sister would probably be committed by now. They had a rocky relationship during those years. Between my sisters inner thug and my dad's alcoholism in full swing, thank goodness there was mom. She was the glue that held this dysfunctional family together.
As I grew into adulthood I started to realize that, other than the couple of friends I had, who seemed to have completely 'normal' families growing up; nearly every single family is dysfunctional in one sort of way or another. Many were just like my family growing up in a sense. Others far worse where kids or spouses were beaten. I never really have understood everything about it, but one thing that I do know is: we are human.
No matter what you feel about that strange neighbor, the homeless person on the street corner, or your mother-in-law: we are all human. As science has pointed out, we are not just born the way we are. Mostly, we are a nature/nurture hybrid. Of course some of who we are is instinctive and natural (yes some are born 'that' way). The rest of us, what we become is based upon how we are raised and what we are exposed to. Of course, people will point out that there are always exceptions to the rule, but for at least 99 out of 100 of us, this is, and will be the case until science weaves its way into how we develop (think science fiction and controversial lab studies).
Attempting to Stay Functional
So what does a person do if dysfunction and being human seem to just go hand-in-hand? I would like to think through everything I have gained enough knowledge to be able to share a few things. I am not a mental health specialist, although I sometimes feel I have the education to be one. But there are a few things I have learned through the years and my many relationships, personal and professional, that have taught me the following:
1. Stay positive - no matter what the situation is, it can and will get better. Very few things are so important that staying positive should not be a difficult challenge if you just focus on it. When you are in a positive mindset, you will see things positively and possibly even avoid seeing the negative. When you are thinking negatively, most positive things are out of your range of vision and its easy to stay in this 'funk'. Even in the face of death, one can think positively that the person who is dying will soon be in a 'better place'. If you don't believe in the afterlife, this can simply mean they are no longer suffering. It goes far deeper than that, and this is where a mental health expert would be able to assist.
2. Remember very few things in our daily lives are truly urgent - it is so easy to become flustered with things when we are in a hurry. Work quality can be degraded, stress increased, and anger can reach dangerous levels. Think bullfighting, someone is going down before it's all over. Unless someone is dying, risking physical harm to themselves or others, or a mother is about to give birth, it probably is not as urgent as you may think. Our go go go lifestyles today tell us otherwise; however this simply is not so. An old leader from my time in the service once told me "don't sweat the small stuff - and it's all small stuff." If I had only listened to him back then.
3. A little kindness goes a long way - this might sound tired and cliché, but it is scientifically proven that when we perform, receive, or observe acts of kindness our bodies serotonin level is boosted, which increases our feeling of well-being and happiness. I'm not saying you have to be bubbly and annoying, but kindness can definitely help keep more good things coming into our lives and help minimize dysfunctional relationships.
4. Listen to people objectively - we need to be able to communicate with each other in order to have good relationships and part of that is removing personal emotion from what other people are saying. This is for me the hardest one to heed, my wife will attest to that. 'Anything worth having is worth fighting for' but fighting for no good reason is pointless. Both personal and professional relationships will benefit from trying to better ourselves.
5. Keep active - now don't go thinking I'm promoting going to the gym. I for one need that just a bad as anyone. Although working out does help keep your mind in shape, just keeping your brain engaged in some kind of activity is enough to support good mental health. How does this help with 'staying functional'? Activity such as hobbies can help keep stress low and keeps the neurons in your brain firing which can reduce the activities that many people would consider dysfunctional. When we are happy, we are less likely to get caught up in negative behavior.
Remember - everything needs to be done in moderation, don't take yourself too seriously, and most of all, have fun. We'll all go crazy soon enough, might as well enjoy the long road home rather than catch the short bus!