In a healthy family, parents and children have a relatively healthy self image. Each member of the family is encouraged to accept themselves and their own unique gifts. Emotion is permitted, including anger. So is failure. All of this is ultimately possible because of the belief and acceptance of the fact that we are ultimately OK.
It is this last piece of the puzzle that is the cause of dysfunctionality in the family. In such families, there is an unspoken assumption that there is something fundamentally wrong with each member of the family. This, then, leads to all sorts of pathetic attempts to look for validation from some source outside of ourselves.
We turn, as a culture, to food, drugs, possessions, sex, power and worldly titles. Of course, there is nothing inherently unhealthy about any of these activities. It is just that none alone will compensate for an inner sense of inadequacy. In the end, we only find stability by seeing ourselves as a part of something bigger than ourselves and serving that greater whole.
In the meantime, the dysfunctional family struggles along, following a set of “rules” that only succeed in shaming one and all. Psychologist John Bradshaw lists several of these “rules” of all dysfunctional families.
1. CONTROL. Never trust yourself. Never be spontaneous. Closely monitor you “corrupt” impulses and feelings.
2. PERFECTIONISM. This is a “biggie.” Never make a mistake. You must, for your sake and the sake of the family image, appear to be perfect at all times.
3. BLAME. A great way to feel good about yourself is to “put down” other people. When we are pointing out the negative in others, including members of our own families, we feel “better” about ourselves.
4. DENIAL OF THE FIVE FREEDOMS. Even though human beings have the inalienable right to perceive, think, feel, desire and imagine for themselves, this is not tolerated in dysfunctional families.
5. THE NO TALK RULE. Since feelings are not to be trusted, there is an attempt to hide one’s thoughts and feelings at all costs. Everyone swallows their feelings and lives in their own private hell because family members are afraid to communicate with one another on a deep and honest level.
6. DO NOT MAKE MISTAKES. See blog #41.
7. UNRELIABILITY. If you never make yourself vulnerable in relationships, then you will never be hurt or disappointed. So you always hold back a little. You are unreliable, afraid to commit yourself to anyone or anything.
There is probably some level of dysfunctionality in almost every family, organization or church community. Fortunately, however, there is a way out of this, a way to break the cycle of shame. We do this by doing something very simple but hard to do: accepting the fact that “God” loves us unconditionally. This will not be easy, not at all. the old tapes of self-rejection keep spinning. But it is possible to get a new set of tapes and play them at a louder volume. Do this either by yourself or with the help of someone else. But do it, for “God’s” each time there is a new posting, sake, and for your families and for future families.
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