Saving our Dysfunctional Families

Saving our Dysfunctional Families is no easy task, especially when the families don’t realise they are dysfunctional. There is seldom a case we treat today at our mental health and wellness facilities that has not been effected by the family system. Enabling mothers. Absent or alcoholic or narcissistic fathers. Disgruntled siblings and family rules that hide the truth of how people within the family system operate.

If Mom or Dad breaks promises and denies the problems in the family that are difficult and painful to expose, children learn not to trust.  Dad promises his children that on Sunday afternoon the whole family is going on a picnic in the country.  Everyone becomes very excited and starts making plans about what they will wear, what food they will eat and which games they will play.  When Sunday comes, Dad is in bed with a hangover from the night before and he has decided to cancel the picnic.  In fact, Dad cancels many family activities because of his alcoholism.  Mom covers up for Dad by saying he had the flu, but the children know why Dad is sick because they have seen it before.  These children by now have probably developed a survival tool that allows them to outlive the pain of broken promises and untrue excuses that would give them a shot at Saving our Dysfunctional Families.  This tool says:  “If I don’t trust, I don’t have to get close.  If I don’t get close, I don’t have to risk feeling disappointment, pain, rejection, abandonment and shame”.

In a dysfunctional family system, family members also learn to discount their own perception about what is taking place.  When Mom says that Dad is sick with the flu, she not only is rejecting what she knows is the real problem, she also is renouncing what her children are seeing and feeling.  This process of discounting the children’s reality makes it difficult for them to trust others and themselves.

By nature children are self-centred.  They see the world rotating around them, even as they enter adolescence.  This perception is a normal part of the developmental process.  Children also view Mom and Dad as the Higher Power because they are bigger and provide food, clothing, shelter, nurturance, love and emotional support.  If Mom is a prescription drug addict and not emotionally available for her children, the children may develop a concept of a Higher Power that cannot always be trusted to be available.  Children use magical thinking:  if Mom is unavailable, the children may begin to believe she isn’t available because they are bad.  The children’s feeling of shame begins to build within to become a shame core.  The children may act out with eating disorders, using chemicals, fighting at school, sleeping difficulties or regressing to earlier behaviour such as bed-wetting.

Saving our Dysfunctional Families Rules

Because of the three dysfunctional family rules:

1) Don’t talk about what is really going on

2) Certain feelings are not acceptable

3) Don’t trust – the world is not a safe place; we find that addiction is a way to turn off and shut down the pain around us. 

Many of us believed for years that one day everything would be fixed if we just ignored it.  It is hopeful we eventually discover that we have a responsibility to ourselves to break these family rules.  Breaking these long-standing rules does not have to do with not loving our families or blaming them, but instead with learning how the family system has impacted our lives in the past and continues to do so in the present.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to change those ideas, values and behaviours that we are unaware of but nevertheless have.  Many of us are not capable of making changes within our lives until we know what we need to alter.  Beginning to explore the patterns in our family system is an appropriate place to start.

We try to control when we feel inadequate in stead of doing the real work of Saving our Dysfunctional Families. When we feel powerless, when we feel compelled to put others’ needs before our own, when we desperately need approval, when we don’t dare to face our true feelings, when we can’t trust others to care- then we think we need to control. We try to manage things in our environment to raise our self-esteem and shift responsibility elsewhere for how we feel and what we want. 

After all, what can we control? Only ourselves. We cannot control anything else. But we are in charge of our own actions, our attitudes, and our behaviour toward others, our values, and our feelings about ourselves. This is a great gift which we overlook in our attempt to shape our external environments. 

When we stop trying to get someone else to give us what we long for, we will find we have alternatives to consider and choices to make. Perhaps we haven’t dared to set goals for ourselves before. Perhaps we haven’t believed what we really want is possible. Or perhaps what we long for isn’t what we really need, after all. It’s up to us to decide where to put our energy. It’s just habit to feel powerless and angry at others for refusing to change instead of taking action to change things ourselves. 

8 Characteristics of Dysfunctional Families

1. Honesty. Nothing works better at healing this and almost all other negative family systems models. Just don’t keep secretes betwixt and between, spoken or unspoken. Speak up and speak honestly. Nothing will develop more healthy mechanisms, rules and roles than this.

2. Forget the family image. Just settle on a normative and honest image. Don’t fake it.

3. Be open and communicate properly. Keeping secrets keeps families sick.

4. Don’t triangulate. Parents must be parents and siblings and kids must be what they are. Don’t make them what they are not, even if they are willing to play mom or day, it doesn’t work. Create clear boundaries and decent family hierarchies, that are open and positive.

5. Don’t play the blame game. Be quick to forgive and move on. Each day anew is sunshine for the soul. 6. All family members need permission to fail, permission to succeed, to be, to grow and learn.

7. Seek a spiritual path and follow spiritual principles. When healing starts these principles will already be in place. 8 characteristics of Narcissistic Families can be healed, through differentiation therapy, or it is likely to stay on long.

8. Flexible families flourish. Don’t minimize the rigid, authoritarian parent. It is known to be the most damaging kind of parent there is on the planet. Yes, it is even worse than a parent who ignores the child and let’s them do what they want. We meet so many people in therapy who are over policed and over parented by authoritarians. It can create the worst kind of trouble for the child and the family. Authoritarian or Narcissistic? You decide on definitions as they apply to your family.

for more information on Saving our Dysfunctional Families get in touch. sanctuaryplett@gmail.com

failure to launch emotionally
Saving our Dysfunctional Families

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