Monday, April 28, 2014

Breaking the Dysfunctional Family Cycle

Picture this: your parent tells you you have a new pet. You walk this pet, feed it and show it off to the neighborhood kids. Then one day you wake up and the same parent who gave you this new pet, and subsequent joy, decides it's time to slaughter it. And slaughter it they do, right before your very eyes. Amidst the screaming pleas your pet is dead. Sure, this pet of yours was a goat, but your bright-eyed, bushy-tailed self wholeheartedly believed this was your new pet - a pet not meant to be served up with a warm slab of tortillas. That parent knew all along the pain they'd cause by proclaiming this was your "new pet", but they did it anyway.

Or how's this story? Your parent tells you to hurry and get dressed for your little league game. Eagerly you're up and at it dressed in your favorite baseball gear. As you drive excitedly to your game your heart suddenly breaks. You weren't in fact headed to a ballpark. You were actually headed to mow lawns for pay (not your pay, but your parent's). You were dupped in the saddest of ways and proceed to spend the rest of a long day dressed as a little leaguer, carrying on as the gardner. 

One final "fairytale"... imagine searching frantically for your favorite watch. Only to have it appear years later in the hands of your parent. You're puzzled, when that parent says, "I took this from you to give it away, but then I just didn't have the heart." Sure, a glimpse of remorse in the last story. But what kind of parent steals from their own child? 

The previous stories are all true. In fact, these are some if the more bearable tales to tell. These incidents happened to different children at different times. What did these children all have in common? They had the same parents. Year after year, generation after generation, these kids dealt with the same dysfuctionality. 

Today, these children are grown and together they must break the cycle of dysfunction. In fact, they could be worse off after what they've endured, but they're actually not half-bad, just a little broken.

For these children, like many others, one task remains: breaking the cycle of dysfunction. But how do you do that? I am no doctor, no expert, but this is what's worked for me: 

Firstly , don't blame your parents for your adult behaviors. If you grew up screwed up, own it, and then change it. Using your upbringing to create more chaos well after your upbringing is over is downright irresponsible and cruel.

Next, be open and be honest especially with those that must heal with you. Dysfunctional families tend to repeat mistakes which become habits. Speak out against the mistakes and don't stand for them. When you regress, apologize. When you are unsure, ask for help.

For me, I grew up with anger-induced yelling and cursing as a norm. Such language isn't normal, of course. I must fight against such a "norm" to never become the parent I saw growing up. It's hard work, but I stand by a deep need to break the cycle of dysfunction and save my children from the cruelty of it all.

Lastly, become aware. Acknowledging your past brings you closer to a healthier tomorrow. To neglect the pain doesn't resolve it. To dwell and lament doesn't justify it. Nothing makes dysfunction work. Zip. Ziltch. Nada. Nothing! So become aware - not to repeat the chaos, or hurt from it, but to become different and break the cycle of dysfunction.

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