Thursday, August 26, 2010

Childhood Issues Can Create Dysfunctional Relationships For Adults

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.


Darlene Ouimet said...

First of all, thank you so much for highlighting my two blog posts from this week and for your beautiful compliments too. I love your blog and the comments that you leave on my blog too.

I love the quotes that you have from those books in this post too.

When we are children we have to believe that our family is right, because if we believe that it is them that is doing something wrong, there is no hope for us. We can't make them change, so we change, and we try hard to be what they want so that we will be loved.
When we grow up, we take our child hood belief system with us, all our damaged self esteem, and we keep trying hard to be loved. So even when we are adults, we still don't often see that our families do not love us according to their own definition of love, and we do know that we are enough, that we are lovable, that we deserve better then what they offered us then and what they offer us now. It is very hard to tell the secret, because our childhood belief system tells us that if we tell, we will not be able to survive without them, and we will surely die. We have to realize that this is a lie, or we will never break free from the prison that they put us in.

Hugs, Darlene

Patricia Singleton said...

Darlene, you are very welcome for the links to your two posts. You touch the lives of many people with your articles. I am one of those people.

Don't talk. Don't share our family secrets with others are two of the rules within a dysfunctional family system. These rules don't protect the family members other than maybe the abusers. These rules certainly don't protect the children. They protect the family system. Hugs to you too.

Hold Fast said...


Great post! Unfortunately I could have written it. I followed the exact same path you did from childhood into adulthood.

Even though the path was not ever easy, we are so blessed that we were able to break out of the pattern and have our eyes opened to the real world. What a relief it was when I finally realized I was not the one who was crazy or bad.

You have helped me so much and I can't thank you enough for your posts. It brings forward so many emotions that I don't have words for.

Patricia Singleton said...

Hold Fast, it saddens me that anyone had to go through the kind of childhood that I did. It is a blessing that we survived and were able to eventually see the truth of what we were taught and to recover from how we were treated as children. Have a glorious weekend.

Sheila said...

Hi Patricia,

I read your post earlier this morning on Darlene's page and I would like to say again how much I enjoyed your post. I have read it at least 3 times this morning. You have helped me immensely and for the first time in many years I feel validated. For years I have been the family scapegoat and keeper of many family secrets, seen as the unstable one, and right now I am feeling many things, mainly anger and grief, but these will pass and hopefully now the healing can begin and I can move on with my life. Even though I have physically and geographically isolated myself from my family, it is great to know that I am not alone.

What brought me to tears this morning is the fact that I never knew what my role was in bad relationships.....I am a controller for the same reasons and never realized why until now. I felt that I had to protect myself at all costs.

Thanks again.

Patricia Singleton said...

Sheila, wow, 3 times this morning. I am honored and glad that I could help.

Controlling is always about fear. For me it was mostly terror from my childhood of abuse in the form of incest from my dad and emotional manipulation from both of my parents.

Because I didn't have a safe childhood, nothing about being an adult made me feel safe either. Controlling isn't the answer. Most of it can't be controlled anyway.

Control is just an illusion that can be blown away at any moment revealing the fear and pain beneath. As long as I was controlling, I wasn't seeing the real me. I wasn't seeing or respecting my inner children who lived through all of that pain from my childhood.

Sheila said...

I discovered this thing about me and my controlling ways yesterday before I saw your post this morning. It made quite an impact on me. You are right; control is always about fear and I had a lot to fear while growing up. I didn't have a safe childhood either because of sexual abuse by my stepfather and my mother who didn't support or protect me. I was forced to keep the secret....even today she tells me that she doesn't like for me to "talk to others about the molestation." To my family, it all about appearances and I played my role very well for them. I was sacrificed for appearances sake. Back then I felt that I had no one to protect me, so it was up to me to protect myself.

I didn't realize the negative impact of my controlling behavior until my husband brought it to my attention just recently. We just got married this past April and I realize how this is affecting my marriage. I was blaming everything on him when I wasn't happy about something. I have major trust issues that I can link directly back to my childhood. I trusted no one. The scapegoating role that I was assigned by my family didn't help things. I wasn't able to see things more clearly until I moved. It was painful for me to face an abuser? I think I am getting closer to finding the real me, and I am peeling off the layers that protected me one at a time. I hope that it is not too late.

Patricia Singleton said...

Sheila, it is never too late to become the real you. I have been working on my incest issues for over 20 years now. Before that I had over 30 years of ignoring what was wrong.

I did the controlling in my marriage for about 10 years before I got into 12-Step programs and saw what I was doing. I went to 12-Step meetings for the first time because my dad was an alcoholic and because I had so many characteristics of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic. Today I am so grateful that he was an alcoholic or I might never have gone to my first meeting.

I was told to focus on myself and what was causing my pain rather than to focus on my dad being an alcoholic. Those 12-Step meetings saved my life and my marriage. Thank you for leaving your comments and letting me know that you really get what I am saying in my post.

purple cupcakes said...

yey i found you this is jumpinginpuddles from lifespacings and our new blog for you.

This was a great post and reminded us a lot of the book we once read called toxic families it was a book that opened our eyes in ways we didnt know possible.

Patricia Singleton said...

Purple Cupcakes/Jumping In Puddles, I am glad you came to visit. I will check out your new blog. I haven't been to see you in a long time. I haven't been spending as much time online reading other blogs or writing on my own lately. Some minor health problems have slowed me down more than usual for awhile now.

Paula said...

I know so very well how hard it is to set healthy dynamic boundaries and not wavering. I am learning to co-parent my inner child and just yesterday I she had her very first birthday celebrated. Yeah, I turned 52 and I am happy that I could pamper my little angel the very first time.
Hugs to you

Patricia Singleton said...

Paula, what a wonderful way to celebrate your inner child by giving her her very own birthday party. I love it. My husband was the first one to ever give me my very own birthday party that wasn't shared with someone else. I was born 3 days before my youngest aunt's birthday. My grandmother always made a birthday cake for the two of us to share every year. I wonder how my aunt felt about that. I will have to ask her next time that I see her.

Patricia Singleton said...

Paula, Happy Birthday to you and to Little Paula. I hope you both had a glorious day.

Anonymous said...

Patricia-great post here and over at Darlenes blog. These issues are so pertinent to my own journey. I wish I could find a way to take thecollective knowledge of all who are or have been on this healing journey and download it into my brain:). Thank you for sharing such great information and insight. Susan (zebras)

Patricia Singleton said...

Susan, Thank you. I think anyone who has been abused in any way can relate to the dysfunctional family system information. It isn't true just for incest survivors. I only "get" this stuff a little at a time because too much is so overwhelming and my mind and body will shut down if fed too much information at one time. In re-reading this book, I know I got information this time that I didn't catch the first time.

katie said...

thank you for writing about how our dysfunctional childhoods affect our own adult relationships, patricia. i've been dealing with this lately and it's so comforting to read about other people's experiences with this too. i think i've put pressure on myself for my partnership to be perfect, which made it hard to deal with the actual problems which inevitably surfaced, as would in any relationship. the more we're willing to face what's going on and see it and our behavior for what it is, remove those blinders, the more we can be not defined by our pasts. living with free choice, just like darlene wrote about too.

thank you and thanks for linking to her articles. great stuff~~

safe hugs to you :)

Patricia Singleton said...

Katie, again, you are very welcome. I used to do the perfectionism too. We do put a lot of unnecessary stress on ourselves and those that we love when we are perfectionists.

It helped me to decide that mistakes that I made were simply lessons to be learned rather than who I was. I am not a mistake. I am not bad. I am perfect as I am warts and all. I don't have to pressure myself with unacceptable stress levels to be something that I am not. Today I love myself enough to not do that. Life is a growing process for all of us.