I am reading a book called Becoming Your Own Parent, The Solution for Adult Children of Alcoholic and Other Dysfunctional Families. The author of this book is Dennis Wholey who also wrote the book The Courage to Change. I read both of these great books back in the 1990's when I was first involved in recovery and 12-Step meetings. If you haven't read them, I encourage you to check them out. They are both a great resource for Adult Children from dysfunctional homes.
Today, I visited one of my favorite blogs Emerging From Broken written by Darlene Ouimet. In choosing to tell her own story of recovery from abuse, Darlene is constantly told that she is also telling the story of others, both women and men, who read her blog. She often tells bits and pieces of what could be my own story of incest. For awhile Darlene has been writing about the lies that formed her belief system during her childhood. She talks about the dysfunctional family that gave her this false belief system. Darlene posted two blog articles this week talking about dysfunctional relationships.
Here are the links for Darlene's two blog articles:
Standing up to Dysfunctional Relationship:
Standing up to Dysfunctional Relationship Part 2:
Click on the above links and go read the blog articles. Be sure to take the time to read each of the blog comments too. They are well worth your time to read. So many of us know what Darlene is talking about - the dysfunctional family system and its effects upon us in our adult relationships. Many of us recreate those childhood relationships when we are adults.
Here I am going to paraphrase,combine, and add to my comments that I left on each of her blog articles. Much of the information also comes from the book Becoming Your Own Parent that I mentioned above.
Dennis Wholey quotes a number of expects in the field of recovery in his book in explaining the differences between a healthy family system and an unhealthy or dysfunctional family system. One of the experts that Mr. Wholey quotes is "Therapist, lecturer, and consultant Terence T. Gorski, M. A." (page 175) On page 176, Mr. Gorski says about dysfunctional families that "The norm is struggle, chaos, confusion, and pain. Relationships chew you up. Sometimes a relationship gets really good for a short period of time, but doesn't last. It returns to the norm of being a painful, horrible place to live."
Continuing on Page 176, Terence Gorski says, " In a dysfunctional home the child learns that relationships entail a difficult, painful struggle; they temporarily feel good, but will rapidly decay back into a difficult, stuggling, and painful situation. The child learns that at five or seven or ten or fifteen years of age."
"Children from dysfunctional environments often end up in bad relationships because they believe on a fundamental level, 'I'm not worthy of being loved and the only way I can get somebody to love me is to trick them into believing I'm somebody that I'm not.' "
On page 177, Mr. Gorski says, "People who come out of a dysfunctional home unconsciously either re-create their family of origin or the polar opposite. A person either blindly conforms with, or blindly rebels against, what he or she was unconsciously taught as a child. In both cases there is no free individual choice."
Also, on page 177, Gorski says, " In making the decision to conform, the child decides that the family of origin is good and he or she therefore is bad. To be good, the child must make the family right. In making the decision to rebel, the child believes that the family is bad and he or she is too good to live like that. To be good, the child must do the opposite, whether or not it is in his or her best interest."
Here is part of my comment to Darlene's first post, "Something that I have found true for me is that when I work on my own childhood issues, the relationship issues with my husband often take care of themselves. I don't say that to mean don't work on your relationship issues. Believe me when I say that you should work on any abusive or dysfunctional relationship issues that you have. Many, if not all, of my relationship issues came from my childhood issues. Relationship issues are often built upon the lies about love and respect that we were taught as children. Mine sure were."
In my childhood, my dad played the role of dictator and rage-aholic. My mom played a role of being passive-aggressive. She was mild and meek, following my dad's lead. She allowed him to make all of the decisions in our family life. I saw my dad as strong and having all of the power in their relationship. I saw my mother as weak and powerless. I did not want to be weak and powerless like my mother so I chose the role of controller and that left the passive-aggressive role for my husband to fill. I promised myself when I left home that I would never be controlled by another dictator like my dad. In rebelling against my dad's control in my childhood, I stepped into that role in my marriage. I thought if I could control everything and everybody that I would feel safe and not be so afraid. It seemed to work for a little while. My husband and I both played our roles well in the beginning. Nothing about those early years of our marriage made me happy. I can't speak for my husband and his feelings about those early years but I doubt that he liked it much when his brothers called him henpecked. I doubt he liked it any better than I did when his grandmother asked early on which one of us was going to "wear the pants in the family." I didn't see myself as a controller back then and I was very hurt by her comment at the time. I was continuing the belief system unconsciously as Mr. Gorski talked about in the quote above. By making myself the strong and powerful controller, I abused my husband as my dad did my mom with his controlling. By choosing to marry a passive-aggressive person, I also chose to continue the cycle of abuse. My controlling was right out there in front for everyone to see. Passive-aggressive behavior is much more difficult to see and overcome because it is more hidden. It can sometimes be more destructive because it isn't out in the open.
I want to share with you here, just in case you didn't take the time to go and read the comment section of Darlene's second article, the comment that I wrote about dysfunctional families assigning roles: "Dysfunctional family systems assign roles to each of its members. The roles are not flexible and are not up for discussion. The system is very rigid.
Someone is always the scapegoat. The scapegoat is the one who is always wrong, always blamed for everything that goes wrong in the family. The quickest way to become a scapegoat [as an adult] is to dare to be the one to want change, to be the one who demands that the truth be told instead of continuing to believe the lies and secrets of the family.
The dysfunctional family system will do everything possible to keep the family system in tact, even resorting to disowning the one who wants to change or the one who suddenly is willing to share the family 'secrets.' Yes, it hurts to be that person and you are worth the end result that you get - freedom from abuse."
I remember being hurt once by a comment one of my uncles made about me being an Adult Child of an Alcoholic. It wasn't want he said. It was the derisive tone of his voice that hurt. I haven't been disowned by my family for breaking the silence of abuse. I was the one who chose not to have contact with my dad for over ten years before he died because he was still an alcoholic and I wasn't convinced that he wouldn't do something to try to hurt either of my children. Many Adult Children are disowned by their families when they decided to talk about the family secret of abuse and dysfunction. Many of us are labeled as crazy, drama queens and troublemakers because we refuse to continue to play the roles assigned to us in our dysfunctional family of origin. Many of us decide to stop playing those roles when we realize that the role is not who we are and we realize that in playing the role, we somehow lost ourselves. Finding out who I am is what most of my journey of recovery has been all about.