There is an interesting conversation going over at Emerging From Broken. You will find this article at the following link http://emergingfrombroken.com/?p=796 . Several of the comments at the end of the article are mine. This article is going to be an edited version of one of my comments plus some others thoughts that I have had on the topic of Dysfunctional Family Systems.
There are quite a number of books written on the topic. I visited Amazon.com earlier to see what was available and quit after page 17 of the list. Two of the best, in my opinion are Healing The Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families, written by Charles L. Whitfield and Healing the Shame That Binds You, written by John Bradshaw. Two others that were life savers for me are both by the same author Melody Beattie Codependent No More and her second book called Beyond Codependency. I highly recommend each of these four books.
This is just a small definition of what it means to grow up in a dysfunctional family system. For more information, read any of the four books that I mentioned above.
In dysfunctional families, the individual members don't talk about what is wrong or what's missing from the family system, things like communication and trust. They don't usually love themselves. Sometimes there is neglect of individual needs. The child doesn't have a healthy adult to model how to take care of themselves so the child doesn't learn this.
In some dysfunctional family systems, there are secrets that everybody knows but nobody talks about. In my family that secret was alcoholism. In A.A. and Al-Anon, they call this having an elephant in your living room that nobody wants to see. The elephant (alcoholism in my family) is there. Everyone walks around it like it isn't there. Nobody talks about it. Another secret that some of my family members either knew about or suspected was incest. Everybody knows not to talk to outsiders about what is really going on inside the family. I learned in Al-Anon that we are each only as sick as our secrets.
Everybody is afraid of change. The dysfunctional family system is very rigid and doesn't allow for change in any form. Anybody that dares to want to change comes up against resistance from the other family members, sometimes resulting in being ostracized or cast out from the family. Nobody welcomes change. Often if you get into recovery as an adult, nobody in the family acknowledges that you have made changes in yourself, that you are different. They continue to see you in the role that you were assigned as a child. That can be very frustrating especially for survivors who have worked really hard to make these healthy changes.
Nobody feels supported by the other family members. Feelings are not shared. There are often unexpressed, unfelt emotions. Emotions are often ignored or stuffed rather than acknowledged, especially fear and anger. There is usually a lot of underlying stress. Any time you have secrets. There is stress. There is sometimes loneliness even when the family is together in the same room because nobody feels connected to anybody else.
Each member is assigned a role to play in the family. Some of these roles are family hero, scapegoat, family maintainer, peacemaker, the invisible child, the sick child, and others. Some people play more than one role at a time. I played hero, family maintainer, and peacemaker at different times. I was also my mother's emotional protector at least by the age of 3. I have a very clear memory of this.
Everyone is fearful, often without knowing why. Sometimes, as in my case, the fear is so deep that I didn't even realize until I was 19 years old that I lived in daily fear for my life and sanity. I didn't recognize the fear because it was constantly, always there in the fabric of my life. I don't remember a time that I wasn't fearful.
In my dysfunctional family, my dad was a dictator of what we did, what we thought, how we acted. He dictated through his rage. Not all dysfunctional families are this extreme. Some are. Some are not. Some families are so disconnected from their feelings that nothing seems wrong on the surface.
These are just a few symptoms of living in a dysfunctional family system. The family system is more important than any of its individual members. Nobody is supposed to become a separate individual as they are expected to in a health family system. There is no separation in a dysfunctional family system. Everyone is so emeshed that there are no healthy boundaries. I used walls to keep you out and to keep me protected. This separation was such a big issue in my family that I waited until I was 19 to run away from home. My dad was not going to let me leave if he had known in advance. I told my mom that I was leaving. My dad came after me two days later. He threatened suicide if I didn't come back home to live. He didn't commit suicide and I didn't go back home to stay. I went home for the weekend to say goodbye to my sister and brother. I left for good on Monday morning. I knew in my heart that if I didn't run away that my dad would never have let me escape from under his rule. Again, this is an extreme example of a dysfunctional family system.
These are just some of the symptoms of growing up in a dysfunctional family system. There are many more. Not all families have all of these symptoms. Do you personally know any families that don't have some dysfunction? I know some that are working on getting healthier. Our society is full of families dealing with addictions and codependency. Some families are healthier than others.
You may ask why am I willing to write a blog about incest, about my own dysfunctional family system. Why am I making all of my families dirty laundry public? Some might say that I am being judgmental of others when I talk about my own recovery and my very unhealthy childhood in a home with incest and alcohol. I am not doing that. I am sharing what my journey has been like for me.
Many of us are choosing to go "public" with our issues and our recovery. You might ask or even demand to know why I would do this to my family. I am not doing this to anyone. This is what was done to me and to many other abuse survivors. Incest is just one of many abuses that are happening to the children of countries around the world. This abuse will continue unless I and other survivors start to speak out. Breaking the silence of abuse means that I sometimes get attacked because others don't like having all of this "family" stuff being aired in public. You won't shut us up any longer. The survivors of abuse are beginning to speak out on their own behalf and on the behalf of those who are still afraid to speak out.
I thank Carla Dippel and Darlene Ouimet for speaking to others through their blog Emerging From Broken. By thanking Carla and Darlene, I am not claiming that they have been abused. That is for them to decide. Not me. I am thanking them for being an inspiration to me personally. I always welcome comments from my readers.