Monday, December 20, 2004

A dysfunctional family

A dysfunctional family

By Bob Garon
TODAY Newspaper
Monday, December 20, 2004 12:01 AM

Part 1 of 2 parts

The only one who is without blame is the child. He is the victim, at least initially. Later on he could become a victimizer. But he isn’t the only victim. His parents and possibly family members who are now the abusers might have been, at one time, victims too.

In so many cases, the abuse goes down from one generation to the next until the cycle of abuse is broken by some kind of intervention.

If you come from a dysfunctional family, it is almost certain that you have suffered some kind of woundedness (physical, emotional or sexual). You know that things were not right at home and perhaps you have spent lots of time trying to make sense of your woundedness.

You are in pain, but it might be that you cannot understand where the hurt is coming from. Still there is an impact on your life, your relationships and your quest for happiness.

One therapist said that “the only way out of this is truth.” No healing is possible until you have the courage to face the truth, no matter how ugly and painful it might be.

Do you come from a dysfunctional family? Below are some of the characteristics that dysfunctional families have in common.

1. There was secrecy and denial. Secretiveness, denial and deflection of the truth are marks of a toxic family environment. This means that the problems, what was wrong, the incest, the violence, the alcohol, the emotional putdowns, the blatant favoritism were not talked about. The child got used to these painful circumstances and was forced to cooperate with it. He did not dare to speak the truth for fear of reprisal.

Therapists know that if you come from a dysfunctional family, you might not want to talk about what really happened. You might even gloss over the truth and try to paint a rosy picture of what was, in truth, ugly. People who tell you that they had a perfectly happy childhood almost always are covering up awful wounds. They need to do this, otherwise they could not live with themselves.

2. You have a distorted sense of yourself. “Children of dysfunctional families, deprived of their childhood, not seen for who they are, experience extremes of either abandonment or over- protection.

Never mirrored, their needs subordinated to that of the family, and thus denied the ability to develop a distinct identity, they instead forge characters or roles to help them cope.” (Harville Hendrix)

If you are from a dysfunctional family you tend to go to extremes. Either you have few boundaries and lack discipline, or you tend to be too rigid and inflexible. You either go along meekly with the crowd, or you rebel aggressively. You had to adapt to the home situation to survive, but now that you are no longer in those circumstances, you continue to behave in ways you have been conditioned to over the years.

More tomorrow.


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